Friday, July 30, 2010

A Lesson from Job

It is well known in the Church that God tests us through trials. Sometimes that test is made more difficult when we do not know the reason for the trial.

God is building character in us, and part of that character is the trait of believing and trusting God even when circumstances and our own reasoning tempt us into thinking that God is wrong. In order to test our faith and develop the character that will trust God implicitly, God sometimes puts us through trials that make it APPEAR. that He is not keeping His word to us, that He is unfaithful to us. God lets us go through circumstances that might appear to our carnal and limited human reasoning that God is unjust. But God is never unjust. God is perfect in righteousness and judgment, and His decisions are always right. We have to choose to trust and believe in God and His righteousness and perfect judgment in every kind of trial, even when we do not understand the purpose or reason for the trial.

There are lessons in the book of Job about suffering through trials. Job is perhaps the greatest example in the Bible of man who went through a trial from God that he did not understand.

Job is often spoken of as an example of a man who had self-righteousness. I have not found the term "self-righteous" or "self-righteousness" in the Bible in the King James or New King James versions. One speaker I heard said that Job was self-righteous, then said that self-righteous people tend to be critical of others. I have noticed that this is how the term self-righteous is often used, to denote someone who feels they are superior to others and tends to criticize and find fault with others. If this is what self-righteousness is, it would apply as much or more to Job's three friends as to Job. They were finding fault with Job where there was none (Job 32:3).

But Job had trouble trusting in the righteousness of God. Job was righteous, according to God's own testimony, and God had blessed Job (Job 1:8-10, 1-3, 31:1-40). Then when God took away Job's blessings, Job did not understand why God had done so. He knew this was from God, but he could not understand why. As the trial went on, Job was tempted to charge God with injustice (Job 27:2, 32:2, 34:5). He thought God was less fair and less righteous than He was (Job 35:2).

But God is not unjust. He is wiser than us and we have to trust His wisdom, justice, and righteousness more than our own, and that was a lesson Job had to learn.

It was easy for Job to believe that God was good when God was blessing him for his obedience. But when God allowed him to suffer greatly for a long time in an unusual way even though Job had not done anything wrong, Job's faith in God's goodness was tested. It seemed to him that God was treating him unfairly. He could not think of anything he could have done wrong, and he questioned God's fairness. When faced with the choice of believing in his own righteousness or God's righteousness, he believed in his own righteousness more than God's. But eventually he learned his lesson and God blessed him again.

The lesson Job had to learn was the lesson of faith.

God often tests the faith of those who believe in Him. The biggest part of faith is not just believing that God exists, but believing God, in other words, trusting God enough to believe what He says even when we do not yet understand the "why", and believing in God's fairness and righteousness. This is a lesson God wants us to learn in this life because it will pay off for all eternity.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

What Is a "Peaceful Separation"?

Mr. Dennis Luker in his sermon titled "Christ is Head" suggested a peaceful separation between United Church of God and ministers who cannot or will not support and cooperate with the Council of Elders. What exactly is a peaceful separation in the Church of God? I have never seen one before. Has anyone?

In this sermon, Mr. Luker had described events in Worldwide prior to the formation of United Church of God, and he said that the ministers who wanted to keep their beliefs asked Mr. Tkach if they could have a peaceful separation, and Mr. Tkach said no. And later in the sermon, Mr. Luker suggested a peaceful separation of those who disagree with the Council of Elders and will not or cannot cooperate with and support the Council, rather than for them to stay in UCG and fight the Council. So Mr. Luker must have a pretty clear idea what a peaceful separation might be and what it might look like. But he did not elaborate.

In all the many splits in the Church of God since the death of Mr. Armstrong, and even before, I have never seen anything that could be described as a "peaceful separation" of one group of ministers and brethren coming out of an organized fellowship and organizing separately. I don't know what that means. I don't know what it would look like. I have never seen a model of that in the Church of God.

If Mr. Luker is offering that as an serious option for ministers who disagree with the Council, it would be interesting if someone could elaborate on what that would actually mean.

United Church of God has accumulated considerable assets since its formation, paid for by the tithes and offerings of many members over the years including members who might be part of a peaceful separation. Would separating ministers and brethren be able to leave with a fair share of those assets, assets which they have helped pay for?

What about copyrights? Much literature has been developed, written by writers paid out of the tithes and offerings contributed by the entire membership, including those members who would be part of a peaceful separation. Would the Council of Elders, Mr. Melvin Rhodes, and Mr. Dennis Luker be willing to say that if ministers and members separate peacefully and form a new organization (or several organizations), those organizations will be given permission to publish UCG copyrighted booklets, articles, Bible courses, and the like? Giving permission to publish those materials would cost UCG nothing, so it would seem like a reasonable accommodation. And if the Council is serious about getting a message out to the public to help do God's work, I would think they would be in favor of helping another Church of God group be successful in preaching the gospel by letting them publish the booklets, since we all serve the same God (John 4:37-38).

What about songbooks and the copyrighted songs in the songbooks? Will UCG allow groups separating peacefully use those same songs in their hymnals?

What about other assets, such as office equipment, contracts, and money balances in bank accounts? Would there be some sort of formula for sharing some of these assets with groups separating peacefully, based on the proportion of these assets paid for by those members who are separating?

Would ministers be able to freely communicate between the two groups and give advice to each other across organizations in matters of difficult decisions (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 24:6)? Would members be allowed to visit a congregation of the other organization, especially when traveling? Would a minister in one organization be allowed to speak to a congregation of the other organization if invited by the pastor of that organization (perhaps Mr. Aaron Dean would not object to this).

What about mailing lists and subscription lists. You have two kinds. You have membership lists. But you also have the subscription list of magazine subscribers who are not members of the Church. This subscription list has been built up over the years with Reader's Digest ads and other means paid for by the entire membership, and is a valuable resource for helping to bring new members into the Church of God, as many as God may call. Would there be a sharing of this list? Perhaps UCG would not want to share the list because it might violate the privacy of the subscribers. But if a group separating peacefully starts a magazine, UCG could send a letter to the subscriber list offering the magazine and mentioning that it is published by a separately incorporated Church of God which shares the same doctrines. That would not violate subscriber privacy, and those subscribers who wish could subscribe to the magazines of both groups.

Then there is the issue of follow up for prospective members who express an interest in attending Sabbath services or baptism. If a pastor and a congregation in a particular city choose to peacefully separate, UCG may not have a pastor in that city to serve the needs of prospective members in that city. So what will UCG do when a magazine subscriber from that city writes in and wants to start attending Sabbath services? Will UCG suggest that the prospective member contact the other group, or will UCG tell the subscriber to stay home and wait until UCG has enough members in that city to start up a new congregation? This is a serious question. Prospective members are potential sons and daughters of God whom God may be calling. How can you tell them to wait and stay home if there is a pastor and a congregation in that city that is able to serve their needs and has the same doctrinal beliefs, but is separately incorporated and organized? Of course, UCG might miss the tithes and offerings of that new member. But is UCG serving God or their bank balances? Besides, in such a case an arrangement of tithe sharing could be worked out, even if it is simply an agreement of both groups that such a member could split his tithes if he wants, sending half to UCG which publishes the magazine through which he was called and half to the organization he attends with.

Of course, if there are doctrinal differences between the two groups, United Church of God may not want to send prospective members to a group that teaches different doctrines, doctrines which UCG might believe are inaccurate and potentially harmful. But why should there be differences in doctrine? The present UCG leadership has not suggested any doctrinal changes as far as I know, and I don't think the previous leadership has either. So if there is a "peaceful separation," both groups should have the same doctrines because they have the same doctrines now and neither side has proposed changes.

But then that raises another issue. What does a minister tell a prospective member about the split? Even among existing, long-time members, the question arises, why can't the ministry of the various church groups get together since we believe 99% the same things? How much more will this question come up among prospective members? What do you say to a prospective member who asks, "Why are there two groups?" Do you say, "Well, we were fighting each other over elections and balloting and who would hold office, and we could not get along in one organization, so we peacefully separated."

Maybe a group that separates that way could name itself, "Peacefully Separated Church of God." Someone should reserve that name before it is gone. (Only kidding).

Seriously, if there could be such a peaceful separation with real cooperation between the two groups, it would be a first and a milestone in Church of God relations. Of course, it would not be long before members in both groups would want to know if there was a merger coming.

Mr. Luker in his sermon indicated he was going to talk to a number of ministers and he wanted honest answers about where they stand. If peaceful separation is really an option, and not just a phrase to make the speaker sound reasonable, then maybe there should be some specifics offered about what such a separation would look like so ministers understand what their options are BEFORE telling Mr. Luker where they stand. Otherwise, a minister might be concerned that if he openly shared his heart and mind with Mr. Luker, and then asked about a peaceful separation, he might be told, "Peaceful separation? What's that?"

More to come...

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

A Brief History of the Scattering of the Church, Chapter 5

The Cause of the Church's Scattered Condition, and the Solution, Chapter 5


Sunday, July 25, 2010

Am I Sowing Discord Among Brethren?

In these recent posts I have been advocating the view that governance by voting in the Church of God is wrong and should be abandoned. I am doing this, knowing that some United Church of God ministers and brethren may be reading this blog, and some may make the decision to leave UCG because of its system of governance.

By doing this, am I sowing discord among brethren, which God says He hates (Proverbs 6:16-19)? Am I causing division in the Church of God (Romans 16:17)?

God wants unity among brethren in the Church, but only the unity that comes from our common unity with God and His ways, not unity apart from God's way of life. God does not want a false unity, either in the Church or in the world, that is not unity with Him. "Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law’; and ‘a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.’ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matthew 10:34-39).

Men are able to understand the value of unity in their ranks, and leaders of organizations strive for the unity that will strengthen the organization. This is true in the corporations and the military organizations of this world. Sometimes men in this world try to unify themselves against God and His will, but that is not the unity God wants in the long term (Genesis 11:1-9, Proverbs 16:5, 1 Kings 22:13-23, Isaiah 41:6-7, Ezekiel 13:22).

To the extent you and I are unified with God, we will be unified with each other. If you are unified with God, but I am not, then we will not be unified with each other. And if neither of us is unified with God, then we may or may not be unified with each other, but if we are, that unity is worthless to God.

United Church of God leadership wants unity within United Church of God, but they are not seeking unity with the other Churches of God, and they are not practicing the governance that promotes unity with God. They want unity within their own organization. Of course! What organization even in this world does not want unity in its ranks? UCG governance creates division in the Church of God. It tends to separate the UCG ministry and brethren from the administrative leadership of Jesus Christ, because instead of reporting only to Christ, the president must report to the Council of Elders. So if Christ leads Mr. Dennis Luker to do one thing, but the Councel of Elders leads him to do something else, whom does he obey? He obeys the Council of Elders. If the Council was not sure he would obey them, they would not have appointed him in the first place. Does the Council of Elders report to Jesus Christ? No, they are placed in authority and are responsible to about 500 voting ministers, some of whom might not even be converted (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43)! It is unlikely that every minister in Worldwide while Mr. Armstrong was alive was converted, and some ministers in the Church today may not be converted. Yet they vote and collectively decide who will lead God's Church.

Are the 500 voting ministers following Jesus Christ? Which half, the half that voted in favor of the move to Dallas or the half that voted against it?

Will Jesus Christ guide the votes of the ministry so they vote wisely and in accordance with the Father's will? Not necessarily. Not if Christ wants to teach an object lesson to the Church to show that democracy does not work. In that case, Christ may stand back and let things take their natural (or carnal) course. In the message to Laodicea, Christ pictures Himself on the OUTSIDE of the Church knocking to come in (Revelation 3:20).

The decision to use the voting of men to select leaders in UCG has negative effects beyond just UCG. It affects brethren who stay home or attend elsewhere who might be better served by a UCG pastor in their area, but who cannot attend and support UCG with a clear conscience towards God because they know that voting in the Church of God is wrong. So they stay at home or make the best accomodations with other groups that they can. In effect, pastors in UCG have rejected those brethren, refusing to serve their needs, abandoning those sheep in order to retain their man-made system of "checks and balances" (which are really checks and balances against the leadership of Christ).

When division exists because one part of the body of Christ is following the Bible more fully than the other, it is the part that is not fully submitted to the Bible that is causing division, not those who follow the Bible and speak up in favor of biblical principles. We are also taught that there is a time for taking a stand and speaking out (Jude 3, Isaiah 58:1-3, Ezekiel 3:18, 33:8, Leviticus 19:17).

Many of those ministers and brethren who read this blog and other Church of God blogs are looking for answers. The whole Church of God should not be divided like it is, and the fact that the Church is divided into a handful of larger pieces and many small pieces shows that there is something wrong, and brethren want to understand what the problem is, and the solution. Whatever the problem is, it is with us and not God, and whatever the solution is, it must involve submitting ourselves more fully to every word of God (Luke 4:4). I am not causing division by pointing how our ways diverge from the positive examples and pattern of life God shows us in the Bible.

"Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly..." (1 Thessalonians 5:14).

Who is being unruly? Am I being unruly by teaching that governance by voting in the Church is contrary to the biblical examples of government and bears bad fruit, or is it those who practice voting contrary to the examples of the Bible who are being unruly? And if the second, am I to obey the verse above that says, "brethren, warn those who are unruly"?

I am not advocating a spirit of bitterness, contention, and division within United Church of God. Those who choose to stay in UCG at this time have an obligation to love each other and live at peace with each other as best they can, without compromising with God's law. "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). Those who believe that UCG governance is right and who choose to stick with it should try to make the system work as best they can in accordance with God's law of love, as long as they are part of UCG. But if setting up UCG governance by ballot 15 years ago was a mistake, it should be corrected. And if a member or minister finds himself being forced to compromise with God's law in order to stay in UCG, that member or minister should come out of that system.

More to come...

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

The Days of Unleavened Bread - Repentance, Chapter 2

God's Purpose for Mankind, Chapter 2

How Is the Church Organized?, Chapter 7

Government in the Church, Chapter 5

Following the Bible -- Pattern of Government, Chapter 6

Church Government, Chapter 7

Friday, July 23, 2010

Our Commitment Is to God, Part 2

When we were baptized, we made a commitment to God to give our lives to Him, in spite of all trials. We were to count the cost of that commitment. Jesus said, "For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it—lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.' Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is still a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks conditions of peace. So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:28-33). He said this right after He said, "If anyone comes to Me and does not hate his father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple. And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple" (Luke 14:26-27). We must be willing to give up family and friends, if necessary, to be faithful to Christ. Some in the Church have had to do exactly that.

We will go through trials, but God will save us and help us through Him if we remain faithful to Him (Psalm 34:17-22). We will have setbacks, but God will help us recover (Proverbs 24:16).

Many of us have had to come out of Worldwide between 1986 and 1996 to be faithful to God. Some of us left voluntarily and some of us were put out for our beliefs. Some ministers quit and some were fired. Some members in the Church today have only recently come into the Church of God or were children during those years and did not face that test.

I have had to "go out" of a church more than once. I was raised Catholic, and to come into God's Church I had to go out of the Catholic Church, and that alienated me from most of my family to a degree. Then to remain in God's Church I had to go out of Worldwide, and I lost many of the friends I had made. It was a period of confusion for me, trying to know God's will and make the right decision where to attend. I was encouraged by Christ's message to Philadelphia, when He said, speaking of their reward in the kingdom of God, "He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more" (Revelation 3:12). It seemed to me as I read that verse that God was saying that He understood the trial of those who have to "go out" and He was giving reassurance that if I overcome and endure to the end, I will be with Him in the Kingdom and I will never have to go out again.

We must be so committed to God that we remain faithful to Him no matter how other people may betray or hurt us. And at the same time we must be careful to make sure that we do not mistreat or betray other people. We must not reward evil for evil. "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).

Jesus predicted, "And because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved" (Matthew 24:12-13). We must not let sin so discourage us that we lose our love for God or for man, if we want to be in God's kingdom.

"But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect" (Matthew 5:44-48).

God can and will use the mistakes and shortcomings of others to test us, but we must remember our commitment to God at baptism to strive to love God with all our being and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40).

More to come...

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Our Attitude and Approach Towards God's Word, Chapter 1

The Days of Unleavened Bread - Repentance, Chapter 2

God's Purpose for Mankind, Chapter 2

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

How Does Jesus Christ Lead the Church of God?

For those keeping up with the details of events in UCG, here is a link to a post that gives a timeline of recent events showing, among other things, that Mr. Leon Walker met with UCG's then president Roy Holladay before the Council of Elders requested a second meeting on the same subject, and that the Council of Elders voted to authorize Mr. Holladay to remove Mr. Walker before Mr. Walker left on his trip or refused to cancel his trip after being ordered to do so:

Here is a link to an announcement that Mr. Lauro Roybal is appealing the decision to suspend him and is filing charges of unethical behavior against the president and Council members for their actions:

Here is a link to a post containing a statement that many of the ministry in Latin America have formed an organization called "United Church of God of Latin America":

How does Christ lead the Church?

Mr. Dennis Luker recently gave a sermon titled "Christ is Head." It was a call for peace and unity in United Church of God. It was also a warning to those who would disrupt unity in United Church of God. Towards the end of the sermon, he called for a peaceful separation of those who cannot or will not support the Council of Elders. In the beginning of the sermon, Mr. Luker emphasized that Jesus Christ is always the head of the Church.

Is Jesus Christ the head of United Church of God?

The Church of God is the collective body of all humans who have God's Holy Spirit dwelling within them. Converted Christians make up the spiritual body of Christ, the Church. The Church of God as a spiritual body is not an organization, although it can be organized. You might have several organizations, but one spiritual Church. An organization may have both unconverted and converted people in it, but only those who are converted are part of the spiritual body of Christ, the Church. Sometimes we refer to an organization or a fellowship or a congregation as a church, so we can use the word "church" to mean different things, which we can determine by the context.

Jesus Christ is the head of the Church because he leads every converted Christian by His Spirit. In that way, He lives in us. "Jesus answered and said to him, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him' " (John 14:23). "To them God willed to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles: which is Christ in you, the hope of glory" (Colossians 1:27). "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Galatians 2:20). Paul said that Christ lived IN him.

But does that mean that everything we do is done by Christ living in us? No. Christ will lead us, but we are human and have carnal nature and we do not follow Christ perfectly. And God does not take away our free moral agency and FORCE us to follow Christ. We struggle against our human nature and we do not win every spiritual battle. We sin and we make mistakes. The same Paul who said, "Christ lives in me," also said, "For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice" (Romans 7:19).

Christ leads the Church and its members, but we do not always follow as Christ leads us.

Christ leads us individually and is the head of every Christian to the degree we submit to Him. But does He also lead us organizationally? If a part of God's Church is organized into a corporate fellowship, does Christ lead that organization as its administrative head? Does Christ guide the decisions of that organization, and if so, how?

The pattern in the New Testament which God has given us as an example for our instruction is that God places individuals in leadership positions in His Church by appointment through the authority of those who do the appointing, then He guides those who have been appointed, from the top down. "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). See also Ephesians 4:11. Jesus Christ was appointed by God the Father to be head of the Church. Neither men or angels voted Christ into office. Christ appointed Paul to be an apostle. "Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead)" (Galatians 1:1). "Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, by the commandment of God our Savior and the Lord Jesus Christ, our hope" (1 Timothy 1:1). Paul was not elected to his office by the balloting of men. Other positions in the Church under Paul were by appointment, not by voting of men, as evidenced by Paul's command to Titus in Titus 1:5: "For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you."

The tradition and practice in the New Testament Church of God is that people are placed in their offices and positions by appointment from above, either directly by God or by the authority of those whom God had already appointed. There is no tradition or practice of placing anyone in office by balloting. You can do your own personal Bible study on that. Look up in a concordance "vote," "voting," "voted," "ballot," "balloting," etc.

God gave us the book of Acts and other parts of the New Testament to show us how the New Testament Church of God operated. It is to be our example of how we should do things. The New Testament shows us the traditions of the Church of God. And the tradition for placing people in office in the Church is always by appointment, not voting.

"Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you" (1 Corinthians 11:2). "Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle" (2 Thessalonians 2:15). "But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us" (2 Thessalonians 3:6).

God COMMANDS us through the epistles of Paul to follow the traditions of the New Testament Church of God. Those who say there are no commands against voting in the Bible should consider that.

Look, if there were examples of balloting to select leaders in Acts, if Paul or others wee elected by men and God gave us examples to show us that this is the way leaders were selected, we would be REQUIRED to follow that tradition and use balloting to select our leaders. But it is just the opposite.

Why do we keep the holy days? It isn't just because they are commanded in the Old Testament. There are plenty of commands in the Old Testament that are not in force for the Church today, physical circumcision being perhaps the clearest example. We keep the holy days also because we see the examples in the New Testament Church that they kept the annual holy days. The scriptures that show that they kept those days are not many, but they are critically important, because without them we might be hard-pressed to know whether or not the holy days are part of the Old Testament practices that are no longer in force. Yet there are probably as many or more examples of the selection of men to offices in the Church by appointment from above as there are of people keeping the holy days. That was the tradition, the practice, the way of doing things in the first century Church of God, and God commands we follow those traditions.

How should we approach the question of voting?

As with any question of policy or practice, we should look to the Bible to know God's will on the subject. It is not a matter of indifference, or just saying, there are many forms of government, and it doesn't matter which one we choose. It does matter. God shows us in the Bible what the right form of government is. And government authority is always from the top down. God teaches us that by the examples in both the old and new testaments. We are to live by every word of God, not just by the direct commands and instructions, but by the examples God has given us for our instruction (Matthew 4:4, John 13:15, 1 Corinthians 10:6, 11, Philippians 3:17, 1 Peter 2:21).

God sometimes teaches us by showing the right pattern in the Bible as an example to follow (Exodus 25:8, 40, 26:30, Acts 7:44, 1 Timothy 1:16, Hebrews 8:4-5).

When we select men by the balloting of those who will be under the authority of those elected, we are not living by every word of God. Will God bless that?

Does Christ guide the voting of UCG ministers in their selection of leaders if the whole system of voting is contrary to the Father's will? Does Christ bless the outcome? Or does He allow the voting to follow a natural, carnal course to teach the Church lessons by the results?

Even though Christ is the head of the Church, there is still a right and a wrong way of doing things, and we in the Church do not always do things the right way. And when we do things the wrong way, we should not be surprised when Christ corrects us by bringing the natural results of our wrong ways on our heads. The Church is not always right, as evidenced by many of the messages to the seven Churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3.

Mr. Luker emphasized that Christ is the head of the Church. But Christ cannot lead a corporate organization further than it is willing to follow, anymore than He can lead an individual Christian further than that person is willing to follow. And it seems to me, in light of the biblical examples of government and Paul's instruction to follow the traditions of the original, first century Church of God, that United Church of God as an organization has rejected Christ's rule and headship in favor of being ruled by the balloting of the collective ministry. If that is the case, Christ can only lead us as individuals to the degree we will individually submit to Him, but He does not lead the organization. He is the head of the Church, but he doesn't force anyone to obey Him.

In Old Testament Israel, the people wanted a king to rule them so they could be like all the other nations of the world. In asking for a king, they had rejected God as their king. "Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, 'Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.' But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, 'Give us a king to judge us.' So Samuel prayed to the Lord. And the Lord said to Samuel, 'Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them' " (1 Samuel 8:4-7). God chose a king for them (1 Samuel 9:15-17, 10:1, 10:20). Even in this case, God made the decision who the king would be - God did not allow the people to choose their own king in an election. But though God gave them a king and ruled the nation through that king, Israel still sinned by rejecting God when they asked for a king (1 Samuel 10:19, 12:16-19). And God warned Israel that it was a mistake for them to have a king and that they would suffer the consequences, but they chose to have a king anyway (1 Samuel 8:9-22).

Likewise, in my opinion, United Church of God, as an organization, has rejected Jesus Christ as its head. And just as ancient Israel, and even Israel today, suffers the consequences of rejecting God as their king and chosing to have a human king, so God is letting United Church of God suffer the consequences of rejecting Christ as head of the organization and submitting to the rule of the collective ministry. The consequences include division and turmoil now, and there may be worse consequences in the future.

Has God abandoned UCG and its members? No. "...For He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you' " (Hebrews 13:5). "...and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age..." (Matthew 28:20). Just as God did not abandon ancient Israel because of their sin of rejecting God as king (1 Samuel 12:20-25), so God will not abandon the members of United Church of God. But also, just as Israel suffered the consequences of rejecting God as their king in favor of a human king (1 Samuel 8:9-18), so I believe Christ will allow UCG to suffer the unpleasent consequences of breaking with the tradition of the first century Church of God of selection of leaders by appointment from above, and instead, adopting the democratic ways of this world to govern themselves.

"As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent" (Revelation 3:19).

More to come...

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

How Is the Church Organized?, Chapter 7

Government in the Church, Chapter 5

Following the Bible -- Pattern of Government, Chapter 6

Church Government, Chapter 7

Friday, July 16, 2010

Our Commitment is to God, Part 1

For those of us who have been baptized, our commitment is to God. Not to a church organization, not to our friends, not to our family members, not to the ministry, but to God. And if we know that the Bible is God's word, then our commitment includes believing and obeying the Bible.

Many brethren in the United Church of God are about to go through a trial in the Church. Not necessarily everyone will go through the trial. It may come sooner for some than for others. It will probably be harder for some than for others. For some, the trial has already started. For others, if may start in six months, a year, or two years. For some brethren the trial may not come at all. It has been fifteen years since United Church of God began, and just prior to that time the Church of God had gone through about 10 years of increasing trial as doctrinal change swept through the Church and the Church became scattered. In a sense, UCG was born in trial.

There have been splits from United Church of God before, probably the biggest being when Mr. David Hulme left and formed the Church of God, an International Community about three years after UCG was organized. A period of division has begun again, and this would be a good time for us to remind ourselves that in spite of the trials created by the mistakes, weaknesses, and unfaithfulness of men, God is faithful and He will be loyal to us if we are loyal to Him. As in any trial, we should place our trust and faith in God and look to the Bible to know his will, and then do it. Mr. Luker in his recent sermon called for members to set aside a day for fasting as they see fit. I would also suggest that this is a good time for members to get in the habit of spending more time in prayer and with the Bible. Decisions will have to be made, decisions that can have enormous consequences later, and drawing closer to God by spending more time in prayer and Bible study (and less time with TV and movies) may be a good way to improve our chances of having God's help and wisdom to make the right decisions. This may be a long trial.

"Listen to Me, you who follow after righteousness, You who seek the Lord: Look to the rock from which you were hewn, And to the hole of the pit from which you were dug. Look to Abraham your father, And to Sarah who bore you; For I called him alone, And blessed him and increased him." (Isaiah 51:1-2). Notice that God says that He called Abraham alone. Abraham did not have a church to attend and a multitude of spirit-filled brethren to encourage him. Yet he and Sarah were faithful to God. Abraham BELIEVED God, and became the father of the faithful (Romans 4:3, James 2:23). God counted him as righteous because he believed what God told him (Genesis 15:6). He was obedient to God (Genesis 26:5, Hebrews 11:8-10) and was even willing to give up his own son to be loyal to God (Genesis 22:1-18, Hebrews 11:17-19).

Abraham believed, trusted, and obeyed God through every trial, and we have committed to God at baptism that we will do the same. And God is faithful and will not permit us to be tried more than we can stand (1 Corinthians 10:13).

No matter what mistakes men may make, no matter how men may prove unfaithful or fall short, God is faithful. "...Indeed, let God be true but every man a liar..." (Romans 3:4).

Our faith must not be in men, but in God. It is God who will help every converted member through his or her trials, including trials in the Church.

More to come...

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Our Attitude and Approach Towards God's Word, Chapter 1

How to Understand the Bible, Chapter 1

The Source of Our Beliefs, Chapter 6

How Is the Church Organized?, Chapter 7

Proving the Truth, Chapter 6

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Oil and Water, and Does the Bible Contradict Itself?

In Mr. Dennis Luker's July 1 member letter announcing the decision of the UCG Council of Elders to remove Mr. Leon Walker from his supervisory duties in Latin America, Mr. Luker provided a link to a pdf document entitled "Background to Leon Walker and Latin America." Here is a link to Mr. Luker's letter:

Here is a link to the document he mentioned giving background information:

One of the key parts of that document is a copy of Mr. Walker's communication to several ministers about issues that they would vote on, dated April 6 according to this document. The position of Mr. Luker and the Council, as I understand it, is that this communication is wrong and unethical because Mr. Luker in effect advised these ministers how to vote.

I ask the question, was this message from Mr. Walker wrong or unethical? And what standard should be used to judge if this message was wrong or unethical?

The whole subject of the message is voting. And the criticism of Mr. Melvin Rhodes and Mr. Dennis Luker in this document is that Mr. Walker in this memo wrongly tried to influence voting. So if you are going to use a standard of right and wrong, you might look for a standard that has to do with voting. The question becomes, what are the right and wrong priciples of voting? In a system of voting, is it right or wrong to advise someone else how to vote?

What does the Bible say about voting? What principles does the Bible give for wise voting? Does the Bible give guidelines, principles, instructions, commandments, laws, statutes, or judgments about the giving and receiving of advice about voting? What exactly does the Bible say about voting specifically?

Nothing. Nada. Zilch.

If you look up the words "vote," "voting," "ballot," or "balloting" in a concordance, I don't think you would find anything in the Bible. You might find "elect" and "election," but not in the context of a group of people casting votes to elect someone. In the Bible, "election" refers to a selection by God. Christians are God's "elect" in that sense.

The Bible says nothing about voting specifically. The Bible shows by example that God's government is not by voting, but the Bible says nothing about how to vote in a right way or how to discuss voting decisions with others, not directly anyway.

If you look outside the Bible, you can find the example of the United States Constitution. The Constitution says a great deal about voting and advice given and received about voting decisions. Basically, the Constitution guarantees not only the right of citizens to vote as they choose, but also guarantees freedom of speech and press. There are no restrictions on discussions and advice about voting or any other matter. Any citizen can express his opinion to any other citizen about how to vote, whether verbally or in writing. Citizens are free to campaign for or against candidates and to seek to persuade others to vote a certain way. They are free to criticize the president of the United States or any other elected official or member of the government. If the memo written by Mr. Walker was concerning an election in the United States, and a government official charged Mr. Walker with wrongdoing in a court of law, the case would rightly be thrown out. If the government passed a law forbidding the kind of communication Mr. Walker engaged in, the law would be voided as unconstitutional. If you use the United States Constitution as the rule of right and wrong behavior, Mr. Walker's communication would certainly be ruled as right and lawful, not wrong and unethical.

The Constitution of the United States includes freedom of speech along with the right to vote because the second is worthless without the first. Voting is useless as a way of ensuring checks and balances to prevent doctrinal heresy in United Church of God unless freedom of speech is including with voting, otherwise those in power can stifle speech critical of them which is needed to inform and organize any voting opposition. That is basic.

What, you say? Our standard is the Bible, not the U.S. Constitution?

Ok, let's look at Mr. Walker's letter in light of the principles taught about government in the Bible.

Even though the Bible does not talk about voting specifically, there are two basic principles taught in the Bible that can be used to judge the lawfulness of Mr. Walker's letter. One is the principle of respect for and submission to authority. The other is the principle of getting counsel before making an important decision.

Here are scriptures that show we should respect, support, and submit to those in authority over us. "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).

"And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves" (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).

"Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10).

"For God is not the author of confusion but of peace, as in all the churches of the saints" (1 Corinthians 14:33).

"Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses....Then the Lord came down in the pillar of cloud and stood in the door of the tabernacle, and called Aaron and Miriam. And they both went forward. Then He said,'...Why then were you not afraid To speak against My servant Moses?' So the anger of the Lord was aroused against them, and He departed. And when the cloud departed from above the tabernacle, suddenly Miriam became leprous, as white as snow..." (Numbers 12:1-10).

In practice, the principle of submission to those in authority includes the policy that those under authority are not to weaken the office and undermine that authority by criticizing the man in authority in front of those under authority. This has always been understood in the Church, at least during Mr. Armstrong's years and even later. It is understood in companies, corporations, government, the military. You can't function effectively otherwise. If you work in an office, and the boss tells everyone something they have to do, and you loudly undermine the boss and criticize the decision, telling everyone, "the boss is no good, what he told you is wrong," you can certainly expect to be fired, and justly so. Open criticism of the boss in not permitted. Mr. Roy Holladay made that point in his December 28, 2009 letter to the ministry.

You can give advise, even corrective advise and constructive criticism to your boss in private, provided it is done in the right way, as shown in the example of Naaman the Syrian who was healed by Elisha of leprosy when his servants advised him to do what the prophet said (2 Kings 5:1-14), and wise bosses will appreciate and encourage such advice. But you don't publicly criticize the boss and his policies.

According to this principle, Mr. Walker's communication is clearly wrong because he is criticizing the Council or some of its members, suggesting they should not hold the office (see Numbers 16:1-33 for the example of the rebellion of Korah), yet that Council has authority over Mr. Walker as well as authority over all employees in UCG.

But wait! What about the principle of getting, and by necessity giving, advice? The Bible has something to say about that too. "Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety" (Proverbs 11:14).

"Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established" (Proverbs 15:22).

"For by wise counsel you will wage your own war, And in a multitude of counselors there is safety" (Proverbs 24:6).

"Test all things; hold fast what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

"The first one to plead his cause seems right, Until his neighbor comes and examines him" (Proverbs 18:17).

These verses teach the principle of getting the facts, getting advice, proving the truth, before making important decisions. This of necessity must mean that we must be able to give advice as well as receive it, because if no one gives it how can anyone receive it? In fact, Mr. Walker in one of his statements indicated that some of the ministers in his area indicated that they wanted to know some or all of the information he gave them. They were asking advice, according to God's principles in the Bible, and as a servant of Christ and of those ministers (Matthew 23:11) Mr. Walker was obligated to give them the information and advice they wanted and needed. So according to that principle, what Mr. Walker wrote was right, in fact, he would have been wrong to withhold that information and advice, because without it the ministers he is obligated to serve would not be able to obey God's instructions to prove all things and seek safety in a multitude of counsel.

What gives? By one biblical principle, what Mr. Walker wrote was wrong. By another biblical principle, what he wrote was right. Is the Bible contradicting itself? Is Mr. Walker caught in an impossible situation in which he is wrong if he speaks and wrong if he is silent? Or should he give false witness and say what he doesn't believe, pretending to support the Council and saying they are right when in his heart he believes they are wrong? That would be a violation of the ninth commandment (Exodus 20:16, Deuteronomy 5:20, Matthew 19:18, Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20, Leviticus 19:11, Colossians 3:9, Revelation 21:8). But the Bible also says, "...God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13). There is ALWAYS a course of action that is not sin. We are never trapped in circumstances that force us to sin, provided we are overall faithful to God's way of life. God's law provides a lawful course of action. And God does not contradict Himself in what He teaches.

Here is the answer.

In God's way of life, in His government, those under authority never have the responsibility for choosing whether to vote for or against those over them, so that is never a decision they need advice about. The proving of facts, the giving and receiving of advice, is only for the purpose of making decisions we are given the responsibility for making. And God does not give us the responsibility for making decisions about who is over us in authority by voting them in or out of office.

God did not forget to give us instructions in the Bible on how to vote or how to give or receive information and advice about voting. It isn't necessary because God's government is always by appointment from the top down, so there is no voting. God is teaching us and preparing us for the kingdom of God, and there will not be voting in that kingdom. God is teaching us and letting us practice in this life the way of life we will be living for eternity in His kingdom. Abraham, Moses, David, and the apostles will not have to stand for re-election every two million years. We won't vote for them or against them, ever. God will assign them their offices, and we will all respect and submit to God's decisions. That's it.

So the Bible doesn't judge Mr. Walker's letter because the whole context is outside the scope of God's way of life. God will certainly judge Mr. Walker's words and actions based on his attitude and various principles such as telling the truth, loving his neighbor, loving God with all his heart, etc. But not about voting or the giving of advice about voting. Voting is part of Satan's way, one of the systems of Satan's world that will be abolished when Christ returns, and God does not give instruction in the Bible on how to make Satan's way work better by teaching us how to vote.

So if you are going to follow the Bible, you are not going to have governance by voting, and the issues raised by this letter never come up.

But if you want have voting anyway, and you want to learn how to make voting as effective as possible in providing a system of checks and balances, I suggest using the United States Constitution as a guide. The Constitution protects freedom of speech and the press, and any form of democracy in the world that functions successfully as a democracy is going to protect free speech, including the freedom to criticize government, and any government on earth that starts as a democracy but does not protect freedom of speech will become a dictatorship in short order. That may be what is happening in United Church of God.

You can't have God's way and the world's way in the same organization and expect it to function smoothly. Respect for authority (God's way) and government by voting (the world's way) cannot mix, just like oil and water cannot mix. Trying to govern by the ballot box while allowing those in office to restrict speech is a recipe for division, contentions, hostility, bitterness, strife, and anger. It tempts those in power to abuse their power by unfairly restricting the free flow of information and opinions necessary for the voters to be able to discern when they need to vote against those in office. That abuse then arouses anger in those who are victims of it because they know it is unfair. They then retaliate, and you have a vicious cycle that gets more and more emotionally charged. It brings out the very worst of human nature.

Look at the fruits! Was there ever such anger and hostility between ministers in one Church of God group? Have emotions ever run so high as now? Someone tell me, I'm curious. Was there even such anger when Mr. Tkach was making changes in doctrine in Worldwide?

I see a pattern, that whenever ministers justify voting in UCG, they do not start, as Mr. Armstrong might do, by asking, what does God say, and then turning to the Bible. Instead, they rehearse the decisions they made 14 or 15 years ago and their reasons for their decisions, as if that is the standard. They might talk about "cooperation" or "getting counsel" as if that is what voting is. Or they talk about the bad fruits of one man rule under Mr. Tkach. They might say they want a system of checks and balances so no one could do what Mr. Tkach did.

Well, what about the fruits today in UCG? Is the system working? Is there unity, peace, and doctrinal stability? If those in power want to change doctrine, they can certainly do it. Voting will slow them down, but not stop them. And if over time the majority of people in UCG want to liberalize doctrine and become Protestant, the UCG form of governance will not stop them. They can simply use the accusation of "wrong speech" to push out of the way and expel from the organization anyone who disagrees with what they want to do until they have a large enough majority to authorize the changes they want to make. And they can use their authority to pull in people from the outside, members of traditional churches who are not grounded in the truth of God, to boost their voting ranks, if that is what they want to do.

More to come...

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Should Each Member Promote His Own Opinion?, Chapter 6

When and How to Judge, Chapter 5

Government in the Church, Chapter 5

Following the Bible -- Pattern of Government, Chapter 6

Proving the Truth, Chapter 6

Church Government, Chapter 7

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Disunity in UCG and the "Divine Right of Kings"

When Mr. Dennis Luker published an announcement that the Council of Elders had ordered the removal of Mr. Leon Walker as regional coordinator for Latin America, he accused Mr. Walker and "most ministers in Latin America" of causing division in that region. The full text of Mr. Luker's statement can be found here:

I find it curious that Mr. Luker would also accuse "most ministers in Latin America." How are Latin American brethren to understand that? Will this not translate into "my minister" in the minds of most brethren in that region? Is such a general and broad sweeping statement like this not likely to offend both ministers and members in that region? Is this a way to promote peace, unity, and reconciliation? For a recent sample of a reaction in Latin America, see:

Mr. Luker accuses Mr. Walker of "efforts to wrongly influence ballots for the Council of Elders." How do you "wrongly" influence someone's vote? Are not the UCG voters free to vote as they think best? Are not UCG voters free to listen to advice, to give advice, on voting or any other matter as they see fit? Are not UCG voters free to discuss their voting decisions according to the principles given in the Bible of seeking counsel before making decisions (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 24:6)? Or are only those in power, in elected office, free to give advice and recommendations on how to vote? And if the correct vote is to vote against those in office, would those in office ever advise the voters to vote against them?

Why is it that those in power in UCG think they have a right to block or impede the free flow of information, ideas, and opinion between voters in their organization when those views are against them and in favor of other candidates and other policies?

The answer has to do with the unique blend of ideas and elements that were designed into UCG governance 15 years ago. At least it seems unique to me. I have never heard of this combination of principles before, either in the Church of God or in the world. There is certainly no example of anything like this in the Bible.

United Church of God leaders have built a system that tries to be a blend of God's way and the world's way. They have taken elements of both and combined them to produce United Church of God governance and organization. They pick and choose those parts of God's system they want to use and those parts of the world's system they want to use, like someone ordering dinner from a menu.

So from the world's system, they select voting. They learn from the world's system that voting should be secret. They learn from the world's system about "absentee balloting" so that ministers who cannot or do not travel to the meeting can vote remotely. They learn to have the voters elect a board and have the board select a president (learned from the example of this world's business corporations). They learn not to have the entire board come up for re-election all at once, but different board members at different times (as in the United States Senate, where there are elections every two years, but only a third of the senators can be replaced in one election because the term of office is six years). I do not know the mechanics of how the votes are obtained and counted, but I have no doubt the equipment and the procedures used have been modeled after what the world uses. They also learn and use the concept of "checks and balances" so that no one man can become powerful enough to do much harm (or do much good?). Can anyone in UCG say that they learned about voting systems from the Bible?

And from God's system and from the Bible they select respect for authority and a moral obligation to strive for unity. They select the concept that God Himself, through Jesus Christ, leads the Church of God, and they use that concept to say that God inspires the voting and the selection of the board and the decisions the board makes, thus enhancing the authority of those who have won election.

Before the United States government and other democracies were formed, many governments in Europe were ruled by kings who invoked the "divine right of kings" to rule, based on the scriptures that show that all authority comes from God (Romans 13:1-7). This was rejected by those who wrote the United States Constitution. Instead, they invoked the concept of government by the consent of the governed, and they used a concept of checks and balances to limit the power of any one man or group of men. In doing so, they gave up the concept that any president or person in authority could rule by divine right. They also included freedom of speech and press in the Constitution because they understood that the right to vote was useless without the freedom of voters to discuss their votes and exchange information about the issues and those up for election. If those in government can inhibit the expression of dissenting views and control the flow of information, ideas, and opinion, then voting becomes meaningless because the government can withhold from the voters information and opinions that they would need in order to know that those in the government are doing a bad job and need to be replaced and to know who alternative candidates are that they could vote for.

United Church of God has managed to build a fusion of elements of both systems. They want voting, but without the freedom of speech that makes voting effective. They want elections, but they also want to invoke the "divine right of kings" concept by saying that Jesus Christ directly leads the administration of the organization, through voting. Not even the President of the United States can make that claim.

How brilliant! Using the divine right of kings concept, those who are elected can accuse those who disagree with them of disagreeing with God! They can forbid the discussing of voting options among the voters when such discussion goes against those in power. But when they are out of office, they can use the ballot box to appose those in office so they can try to get back in!

If this works, maybe the world can learn something from UCG. Maybe the architects of a United Europe can learn lessons on how to merge church and state, religion with civilian rule, a tradition based on democracy with the "divine right of kings." They can hold elections, then make it a sin for anyone to ever vote against them. Actually, a study of history may show this isn't so new after all.

But this won't work in God's Church. God is not pleased with a mixture of good and evil, the world's ways and His ways (Isaiah 1:13, Ezekiel 20:39, Revelation 3:15). If God wanted a mixture of the world's ways and His ways, He could save this existing world by reforming it from within. He could empower His servants to make this a "better world." But He is not doing that. He is letting this world, this society, this civilization, come to total ruin. He is going to let it come crashing down, totally, completely, as an object lesson, and He is going to build a new civilization, a new world and system based 100% on His ways.

Those in leadership in UCG seem driven to repeatedly reaffirm the validity of their decision to base UCG governance on the ballot box, as if they are becoming nervous about the consequences of that decision. Mr. Holladay did it and now Mr. Dennis Luker has done it. He has said in his letter, referring to the reason for a different form of governance established for United Church of God fifteen years ago, "We have seen the destructive outcomes that 'one man rule' in a Church of God organization can wreak." Is there perhaps a tone of defensiveness here and in other statements by UCG leaders?

By the way, when UCG leaders complain about the evils of "one-man government," are they talking about Herbert W. Armstrong or Joseph Tkach? Or both?

It is not consistent to remind UCG ministers and members of the consequences of "one man" rule under Mr. Tkach without mentioning the consequences, or fruits, of that same "one man" authority under Mr. Armstrong. We would not have the doctrines we have today, doctrines which many leaders in UCG claim they want to protect with "checks and balances," if Mr. Armstrong submitted to a 12-man board of directors elected by 500 voting ministers.

Mr. Armstrong broke away from the authority of Church of God, Seventh Day and reported directly to Christ so He would be free to teach the truth of the Bible including new doctrinal truth he was learning from the Bible.

Mr. Dennis Luker thinks "one man rule" wreaks destructive outcomes in the Church of God.

So does that mean he thinks that the knowledge of the identity of the lost tribes of Israel is a destructive outcome because that knowledge came to us from Mr. Armstrong reporting to Christ directly, not to an elected board? Does that mean he thinks that keeping the holy days is a destructive outcome because we learned that from Mr. Armstrong reporting to Christ directly, not to an elected board? Does that mean he thinks that the knowledge that God is a family we can be born into is a destructive outcome because that knowledge came to us from Mr. Armstrong reporting to Christ directly, not to an elected board? Does that mean he thinks that the knowledge of all the truths that God restored through Mr. Armstrong is a destructive outcome because that knowledge came to us from Mr. Armstrong reporting to Christ directly, not to an elected board?

Mr. Tkach did not scatter the Church of God.

Christ led Mr. Armstrong to restore lost truths, and then He led Mr. Armstrong to appoint a successor who was not firmly grounded in those truths and would allow the organization to go into doctrinal error, to test the Church of God members and ministry, to demonstrate how well we had learned (or had not learned) what Christ taught us through the Bible and through Mr. Armstrong. It was inevitable that we who have retained those truths would leave Worldwide, but HOW and WHEN would we leave, and how would we behave after leaving? That was the test. Would we be faithful to God in our decisions and would we love each other and cooperate to the fullest extent possible? In other words, would we love God with all our being and our neighbor as ourselves? We did not have to be divided and scattered after leaving Worldwide. Mr. Tkach did not divide us. We divided ourselves by bad decisions made AFTER leaving Worldwide. We divided and scattered ourselves because we had years before become Laodicean in our attitudes.

By appointing Mr. Tkach pastor general of Worldwide, God showed us something about ourselves that He already knew, but we didn't.

In effect, God removed Mr. Armstrong's authority over the ministry and members to let everyone do what he wanted. We see the fruits of everyone doing what he wanted to do, but was not able to do while Mr. Armstrong was alive.

How hard it is for UCG ministers to admit they made a mistake!

But learn they will, one way or another. Every minister in UCG who goes thru an elected office, and then just as his plans are becoming well formed and he is ready to accomplish something good, is removed from office by the whims of the voters, is learning something about the fruits of this world's system of democracy.

The fruits of top-down government through Jesus Christ and through Mr. Armstrong have been good. The fruits of the appointment of Mr. Tkach have been painful in decade that followed, but that appointment was a necessary step in God's plan, to test us and to show us something about ourselves we were too blind to see. The fruits of man's self-rule through the authority of the ballot box in United Church of God are bad and getting worse.

Sooner or later, one way or another, the ministry and members of UCG will learn by the fruits, even if they are not willing to learn from God's word, the Bible. That is one way God is going to teach the world, and it is a way God is teaching the Church.

More to come...

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

A Brief History of the Scattering of the Church, Chapter 5

Finding the Solution, Chapter 5

Government in the Church, Chapter 5

Following the Bible -- Pattern of Government, Chapter 6

Church Government, Chapter 7

Monday, July 12, 2010

What Started It

The split between UCG headquarters and Mr. Leon Walker started when the Council of Elders received copies of email communications between Mr. Walker and some of the pastors under his authority. In his email communications, Mr. Walker expressed his view on a number of issues that would be voted on in the next election by the General Conference of Elders. He seemed to have provided both factual information and some of his personal opinions on the subjects coming up for ballot.

The Council of Elders and the then president Mr. Roy Holladay took issue with many of the things Mr. Walker said, taking the position that what Mr. Walker said was unethical and wrong. According to Mr. Walker, there was a two hour meeting between himself and Mr. Roy Holladay, Mr. Victor Kubik, and Mr. Jason Lovelady in Hawkins, Texas on June 15 to discuss the matter, and the meeting ended cordially. Mr. Walker said he felt all the matters were satisfactorily answered and resolved.

Then on June 16, according to Mr. Walker, Mr. Holladay phoned him and said the Council of Elders requested that Mr. Walker go to Cincinnati the following week to discuss with the Council the same matters Mr. Walker had already discussed in his first meeting in Texas, even though it would mean canceling a trip that had already been arranged and paid for, a change that would cost thousands of dollars. Mr. Walker said he would be glad to come to Cincinnati after his trip, but he did not want to cancel the trip, and Mr. Holladay said he would relay that decision to the Council. Then, according to a UCG document, Mr. Walker was ORDERED on June 20 to discontinue his trip and report to headquarters. His refusal to do so led to the Council of Elders authorizing his removal from his duties in the Latin American region.

One thing has led to another, and no doubt there will be other actions to come.

But it started with email communications between Mr. Leon Walker and a number of pastors that he supervises. Some of the points of information in the emails may have been responses and answers to questions these ministers had raised. For example, they may not have wanted to vote for Council members who were against the relocation to Texas, but they didn't know who those members were, and they wanted to know. Mr. Walker gave them that information.

What is unethical about the asking for or giving of information, opinion, and advice between ministers concerning decisions they need to make, whether the decision is how to vote or some other matter? Beats me! But this was the core issue that started the split.

It appears that UCG headquarters wants to control communications between ministers and inhibit the free flow of information and opinion necessary for ministers to "get all the facts" and to seek safety in a "multitude of counselors" before making a voting decision. That makes sense from headquarters' point of view if they are primarily interested in solidifying their control over United Church of God, but it does not make sense if they want to live by every word of God and teach the rest of the Church to do likewise (Matthew 4:4, Luke 4:4, Deuteronomy 8:3, Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 24:6). Headquarters has many avenues of official communication to the ministry, but if the ministry is not able to hear and discuss alternative viewpoints, they will hear only one side, the side of those in power. That is not the way to determine the truth and make the best decisions (Proverbs 18:17). We are commanded to "prove all things" (1 Thessalonians 5:21). If anyone is to do that, he needs to try to get all the facts (or as many of them as he can reasonably get in the time available for making a decision) and listen to more than one side in any important decision. You can't do that in an environment of fear and threats for exchanging information and opinions with other people concerning decisions you have a responsibility for making. And voting decisions are decisions every minister in UCG has a responsibility for making, unless, for reasons of conscience, some ministers choose not to participate in the voting process (knowing that voting is wrong).

But ministers who choose to vote have a responsibility to make the best decision they can in their vote, and they have to be able to hear all sides and get all the facts. Everyone who goes through Spokesman's Club has to give a speech for a lesson entitled "Get the Facts." Mr. Armstrong taught this, the Bible teaches it, and common sense teaches it.

I have heard of cases where some Churches of God, not UCG, prohibit their members from reading any literature of other Church of God groups, even if those members need to read other literature to get information for them to make a decision where to attend. It is the same kind of thing.

But this whole unfolding event may work to the advantage of those in power by tending to solidify their power and make it permanent. The recent votes in the General Conference of Elders have been close, perhaps too close for the comfort of those in power. They came into power by a narrow margin, and they could go out of power by a similar narrow margin. But their margin of power will be increased if some of those who disagree with them leave United Church of God and thus become unable to vote against them in future elections.

Mr. Walker has said he is not quitting United Church of God, though he knows he might be fired from employment and expelled. No doubt something along that line will happen. It is a pretty sure bet, regardless of how churches are named, organized, incorporated, registered in different countries, or financed, that Mr. Walker and the ministers who submit to his supervision will not be allowed to cast votes against any current members of the Council of Elders or their recommended proposals in the next General Conference of Elders. And that will provide a safety margin for those in power to stay in office and be able to do what they want to do. So the refusal of Mr. Walker to cancel his trip to report to Cincinnati may work to the advantage of those in power, because it gives them legal justification for using their authority to force the issue in a way that would prevent Mr. Walker and others ministers who might vote against them from remaining on the registry of elders in UCG eligible to cast votes.

Imagine if President Obama and the Congress had the authority to kick out of the United States any citizen found sending an email critical of them to another citizen. It would be unlikely they would ever have to leave office.

Voting or balloting as a system of checks and balances doesn't work if the free flow of information, ideas, and opinions concerning the voting is not protected.

And those who have been voted out of power must know that if any significant number of ministers who agree with them are expelled or choose to quit, their chance of regaining power within UCG is virtually nil. They will never again have the votes.

This is one example of how power politics can work, when you have authority by ballot.

But this isn't just about power. I am sure of that. The real issues haven't surfaced. But they will, sooner or later (Luke 8:17, 12:1-3).

I often wonder what it will take for UCG ministers to be able to admit, even to themselves only, that they made a mistake in 1995. Maybe some of them already have.

More to come...

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Proving the Truth, Chapter 6

When and How to Judge, Chapter 5

Friday, July 9, 2010

Split Beginning in United Church of God

A split is occurring in United Church of God centered around Mr. Leon Walker and the Latin American region of the church. It appears that UCG will lose some ministers and members, but how many is not clear. The situation is still evolving.

There are many details (and opinions) concerning the cause of the split and its progress, which those who are interested can find online (I will give some links below). But here is a brief summary.

Mr. Walker had communicated with several ministers in his area via email informing them about issues and sharing his opinion on those issues, issues which could affect how they vote in UCG. UCG headquarters became aware of that communication, which it did not like, and asked Mr. Walker to cancel a trip he had planned in Latin America and come to headquarters to discuss the matter. Mr. Walker declined, and headquarters fired him as regional director (or coordinator) for the Latin American region. However, Mr. Walker has stated that he intends to continue to supervise the Latin American region, and it appears that a large number of UCG ministers and members in Latin America, probably a majority, intend to support Mr. Walker in this controversy and accept his continued supervision. UCG is separately incorporated in Latin America, and according to a statement by Mr. Walker, he was made director of that area by Mr. Armstrong in 1979, and in July of 1995 he and the ministers under his supervision joined with UCG as a group, and he has supervised that area since.

Mr. Dennis Luker has given a sermon talking about government in UCG, in which he pleads for unity and warns those who do not cooperate with UCG headquarters.

There have been letters, posts, explanations, etc. on both sides. Here are some links for those who are interested:

COGwriter blog (Robert Thiel):

Inside United: Realtime (an official UCG blog) - earliest posts are listed first: (Spanish language)
(contains a link to a .pdf file that gives more detail)
(Spanish language)

You can find a link to the sermon given by Mr. Luker here:

UCG Current Crisis blog - contains some posts by Mr. Walker explaining his side:

The Shining Light blog - posts below give information and opinion about events in UCG:

It is easy to get bogged down in the details of the accusations, defenses against accusations, and counter-accusations that fly around.

It is not a surprise that there is a split, but what has caught me a little by surprise is how fast it is happening.

It still has not been made apparent what the core issues that divide the two camps in UCG are. It cannot just be personalities and positions. I do not believe that the ministry in UCG would be so carnal as to be split like this without some substantive issues at stake, even if those issues are not visibly on the table for the general membership yet.

There have been some hints, but I won't comment till I find something more substantial.

I have listened carefully to Mr. Luker's sermon. Towards the end he talks a little bit about UCG's efforts to preach the truth to the public, and he seems very enthusiastic. Assuming his zeal is real, I appreciate it. As I point out in my book, Preaching the Gospel, there is a tremendous need for the Church to get a warning message to our nations before the tribulation begins, and I rejoice whenever any Church of God group makes the effort to do that.

To be successful, the TV program and literature must be strong and hard-hitting, must "cry aloud" and must tell the people of this country their sins, and must warn them of the punishment that is coming if we do not repent as a nation. To do this, it must teach the viewers our identity as part of the children of Israel and how Bible prophecy shows that the great tribulation will come primarily on the English-speaking nations in the lifetimes of most people alive today. We must not pull our punches and try to preach a soft message, something smooth, that will be agreeable to most viewers. If we do that, our message will be useless as a warning.

Moreover, to be successful, there must be consistency between what we preach and what we practice. We need to practice what we preach so that God will bless our efforts. We must practice what we preach so viewers will find our message credible and our practices will not be a stumbling block for our message. Part of the message must include the good news of the soon-coming return of Jesus Christ to replace all the man-devised governments of this world with God's government over all the earth. But how can we say that it is "good news" that the various forms of man's government on the earth will be abolished, including the democracies of this world, if we hold to one of those forms of government in the Church?

After Christ returns, elections and voting will be abolished. Why should UCG practice a form of government that will be abolished by Christ, and then tell the world it will be "good news" when Christ abolishes that form of government?

Much of the sermon is a defense of UCG's system of governance, but not much is from the Bible. I will have more to say about that in future posts.

Mr. Luker in his sermon implied that he is prepared to take strong action against ministers who will not accept the form of governance as it stands right now and accept the authority of the present Council of Elders and work with him and the Council to bring unity in the Church, and suggested a peaceful separation for those who cannot do that.

The separation of Mr. Leon Walker from the authority of UCG headquarters may be only the beginning of the leaving of many other ministers before next Passover.

More to follow...

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

God's 7,000 Year Plan -- Are We in the Last Days?, Chapter 1

The Feast of Tabernacles - the Millennial Rule of Christ, Chapter 2

The Ezekiel Warning, Chapter 3

Why the Gospel Must Still Be Preached to the World, Chapter 4

Practicing What We Preach, Chapter 6