Friday, September 28, 2012

God Expresses His Love Towards Us by the Secrets He Reveals to Us

I don't know how common it is in the Church of God for members to have emotional doubts come into their minds about God's love towards them because of trials or unanswered prayers. I'm not going to take a poll. I am sure thoughts of doubt about God's love pop into the minds of some members because we are human and still have human nature, and Satan wants us to doubt God's love, and he pumps doubts into our minds. Some of us have to fight those doubts.

Maybe we go through many prolonged trials we don't understand, we beg God over and over for deliverance, but the trials only get worse, not better. Maybe we pray, and after we pray things get worse rather than better.

Perhaps God is testing our faith that way. "Do you really believe me?", He asks. "Do you really trust Me, even contrary to physical evidence?" Perhaps He is toughening us to prepare us for persecution to come.

We can remind ourselves of the trials of men in the Bible who went through long and severe trials, men like David and Joseph. Especially consider Joseph. After he interpreted the dreams of two of his fellow prisoners, he may have thought, "now I will be saved," but for two more years nothing happened (Genesis 40:1-23, 41:1). How discouraged he could have become, but he remained faithful to God.

But there is another way, other than answered prayers and deliverance from trials, that God uses to express His love towards us.

As we observe Trumpets, Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the Last Great Day, we hear sermons on the meaning of those days and thus learn, or are reminded of, God's great plan of salvation for mankind. We thus know the future. We know what God has done, is doing, and will do, and we know WHY! But for us to understand these things requires that God opens the mind of each and every one of us to accept the truth.

These things are hidden from almost everyone on earth. They can study the Holy Days all their lives and never figure it out or even believe it when we explain it to them. God has allowed Satan to blind them. Not one of the uncalled people of this world is stronger than Satan and able to resist his deceptions.

Yet God has revealed these secrets to us, not just as a group, but to each one of us individually (1 Corinthians 2:7-16). If you understand God's plan as illustrated by the Holy Days and Feast, it is only because God has opened your mind to understand.

What a gift!

It is an act and an expression of love towards us when God shares His secret knowledge with us.

It is like when we tell things and share our thoughts with our closest friends that we would never reveal to others. We tell our deepest thoughts sometimes to those we love because we want to share ourselves with them and because we long for them to know us and understand us. That is a part of love.

When God opens your mind to share His secrets with you, to share His innermost thoughts, plans, and purposes, He is letting you know these things because He loves you and wants to share Himself with you. He wants to tell you His secrets (Deuteronomy 29:29).

When you sit in services at the Feast of Tabernacles, or any of the holy days, and you understand the messages from the Bible, that understanding is a precious gift from God that shows He loves you. It is as if God goes to you personally and says, "Do you want to know a secret? I don't reveal this to most people, but I am revealing it to you because you are my friend" (James 2:23).

Jesus said, "You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you" (John 15:14-15).

Daniel prayed, and God revealed secrets to Daniel (Daniel 9:1-3, 20-23, 10:1-3, 12-14), and also God called Daniel a man greatly beloved (Daniel 10:11). The revealing of secret knowledge to Daniel was an expression of God's love towards him. He showed him secrets because He loved him. It was God's intent to reveal these things to the Church through the prophets, but He chose Daniel as a tool for revealing the things in the book of Daniel.

Look at the secrets God has revealed to us. We know about the coming Great Tribulation and the Day of the Lord that will bring this world's civilization to ruin in a few years. We know that Christ will return to rule the earth and the saints, the few, the "little flock," will be resurrected to rule with Christ. We know that Satan is the spiritual ruler of this world, but he will be put away after the return of Christ. We know Christ and the saints will rule the earth and bring happiness for a thousand years. We know God will resurrect the billions after the thousand years so every person who has ever lived can be saved if he or she believes God and repents - no one left out because of circumstances of birth. We know that the soul of man is mortal, and those who refuse to believe God and repent will be destroyed, put out of their misery forever, but that the righteous will live forever as children of God, because God's purpose is to reproduce Himself in man!

Anyone can occupy a seat at the Feast of Tabernacles and hear these things or read our booklets yet not understand, unless God has called him. But if you understand, it is because God has opened your mind to share His secret knowledge with you, because He wants to share His life with you, because He loves you.

Something to think about in times of trial.

Two Limitations on Authority of God's Ministry

Ministers in the Church of God have authority over Church members. God has given the ministry that authority. By ministry, I include top human leaders of fellowships, apostles, evangelists, pastors, down to local elders.

God commands that we obey them and submit to them (Hebrews 13:7, 17, 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13), and so we should, unless there is a biblical reason not to. We obey ministers because God commands us, but also to learn the lessons of government and teamwork we will live by in the Kingdom of God forever.

We are to obey those who have the rule over us. That means we obey the top leader of the Church of God organization we are a member of or regularly attend, whether that leader calls himself a pastor general, a president, an apostle, a prophet, a presiding evangelist, or some other title - it doesn't matter, the authority is there just the same. We are also to obey the pastor of the local congregation we are a member of.

There are two limitations on the authority of the ministry. One is well known and almost universally acknowledged in the Church of God, but one is not.

Ministers do not have the authority to make us sin. In other words, God's commandments come first. If a minister or a leader of the fellowship we attend commands us to do something that is a violation of God's word, the Bible, we are to obey God rather than man. A clear example is if a minister tells us to lie. God commands us not to lie (Exodus 20:16, Deuteronomy 5:20, Colossians 3:9, Revelation 21:8). We are to learn to be like God who cannot lie (Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18).

Sometimes a situation may come up where a minister's command may seem to come into possible conflict with a principle in God's word, but we aren't sure. Suppose a minister told me to not accept a certain job. Perhaps I feel he doesn't have a good reason for telling me that. God commands that we support our families (1 Timothy 5:8). I might feel that I need this job to fulfill the spirit of this biblical law. Yet, I think, perhaps there is another way to provide for my family, though it doesn't seem so. In this case, I need to pray about the matter and seek God's will.

In cases like this, it is helpful to understand, from the Bible, the purpose of a minister's authority. It is not so the minister can be like our parents and we like children so he can micro-manage our lives, but so the minister can help us in our relationship with God and with the brethren. "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head - Christ - from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:11-16). "Therefore I write these things being absent, lest being present I should use sharpness, according to the authority which the Lord has given me for edification and not for destruction" (2 Corinthians 13:10). "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 18:15-18). See also Acts 6:1-6 and 1 Corinthians 5:1-5, 9-13.

In other words, God gave ministers authority over the organized work of the Church. This includes teaching doctrine, judging disputes between members, providing for the poor in the Church, disciplining members for serious and open sin, counseling, preaching the gospel to the world, and the like.

There is another limit on ministerial authority that is not so well acknowledged, but it is also important. Ministers and Church of God leaders do not have authority over what we believe. They have no authority over our faith. "Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand" (2 Corinthians 1:24).

Faith must be towards God, not God's ministers (Hebrews 6:1). How does that work? We should read and study our Bibles and believe what God says, directly. When we read the Bible, God is speaking to us, and we are to believe Him. We should only believe the minister as he teaches according to the Bible, not contrary to the Bible.

Does God ever speak through a minister? Of course. Often God will inspire a minister to give us the teachings we need. We pray for God to do this before services, with the man giving the opening prayer asking God to inspire the speaking. But there is a difference. Ministers can make mistakes - God allows that. One minute a minister can tell us something very helpful and true, which God inspired him to say. The very next minute he may make a mistake and tell us something wrong because he is human and because God allows it. That's just the way it is.

How can we know which? By being familiar with the Bible. God wants us to know the Bible and live by it. And as we believe and obey God, God helps us understand by His Spirit.

The difference between God speaking through the Bible and speaking through the ministry is that the Bible is infallible, a minister is not.

Christ is indeed head of the Church, but He allows the Church to make mistakes. Look at the messages to the seven Churches in Revelation to see some of the mistakes they made, though Christ is their head (Revelation, chapters one, two, and three).

We must believe the Bible more than the Church and the ministry or we are making an idol out of the Church and the ministry. God and His word come first, the Church and the ministry second.

Yet the ministry has authority over the organized work of the Church, and that includes teaching doctrine, so if we disagree with the Church on a point of doctrine because we believe God more than man, we must refrain from criticizing and contradicting the Church and ministry in conversation with other brethren. Believe God and wait for Him to correct the error.

We can offer correction to a minister in private in a respectful way, if we think it will be helpful and if the minister is willing to listen. That kind of "correction" of someone above us in authority is approved by God in the Bible because it comes in the form of respectful and loving suggestion, counsel, and advice, as the servants of Naaman corrected their master (2 Kings 5:11-14). But we should not try to correct the situation in the Church by contradicting the ministry in front of other brethren, unless it is something so major that it is absolutely foundational to our faith, something worth leaving an organization over.

So we need to recognize that ministers and the Church have authority, but we need to know the limits of that authority. We need to believe and obey God first, yet respect and love the ministry even when they make human mistakes, and respect and support the lawful authority God has given them, obeying the Church as long as that obedience does not bring us into conflict with God's law and instruction in the Bible.

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Should Each Member Promote His Own Opinion?, Chapter 6

Chapter 6 - Obtaining God's Help -- Practicing What We Preach

Chapter 9 - Repentance

Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Falling Away in 2 Thessalonians 2:3

How important is our understanding of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 as far as what the "falling away" refers to?

"Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God" (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4).

Does this refer to:

a) the falling away that began in the Church in the first century when people turned to a false gospel?

b) the falling away that occurred in the Church after the death of Mr. Armstrong?

c) a future religious deception to occur worldwide when the beast and false prophet described in Revelation rise up?

I am not going to try to answer this question, but I raise it to set the stage for answering my first question, how important is it?

If we know what 2 Thessalonians 2:3 refers to, would it add much to what we already know about past history or prophecy about the future?

At the time Paul wrote this to the Church, none of the events I have labeled a, b, and c had happened. Also, the book of Revelation had not yet been written, and the brethren would not necessarily know all the events that must take place before Christ returns, including the rising of the beast and false prophet, yet to occur in our time. Paul wrote this because some brethren were troubled because some apparently were saying that Christ had already come. The intent was that the brethren not be troubled.

If there is a doctrinal change about what this passage refers to, no one in the Church should be upset over it. We already know about the three events this could refer to, which the brethren in the Church when Paul wrote did not know about.

We know about the falling away that occurred in the first and second centuries because we understand, at least in broad outline, the history of the true Church and the false church. When Paul wrote his letter, the Church did not know about that because it hadn't fully happened yet. We know about the falling away in the Church that occurred in the decade following the death of Mr. Armstrong because we lived through it. And we know about the great religious deception that will occur in the days of the beast and false prophet because we have the book of Revelation which explains those events.

We know what has happened in the past and what will happen in the future from sources other than 2 Thessalonians 2:3.

If Bible research, perhaps based on a better understanding of the original Greek, shows that 2 Thessalonians 2:3 refers to the future religious deception, that is interesting and good to know, and a doctrinal change is appropriate, but does it change what we already know has happened and will happen?

There is one thing we may get from 2 Thessalonians 2:3 that may be important, not because it teaches us something new that we don't already know from the rest of the Bible, but because there is a warning for us, and we need the repetition of the warning for emphasis so that we heed the warning.

Some may say that you can't "fall away" from the truth if you didn't already have it, so this must refer to the Church of God. Others may look at the original Greek and say that what is translated "falling away" could be translated in a more general sense of rebellion against God and thus could apply to the deceiving of all the world by the beast and false prophet. Those who teach that this applies to a worldwide event point out the association of this falling away with the "man of sin" being revealed and his exalting himself above all that is called God or is worshipped. This seems reasonable to me. I do not know Greek, but I can understand why worldly translators would translate Greek wording that refers to rebellion against God as "falling away", because from their point of view, it is the same thing. They think there has been no large falling away. They believe that mainstream traditional Christianity is the truth, and any large-scale rebellious religious deception would be the same as a falling away from mainstream Christianity.

But here is a warning we in the Church can be reminded of. It may not be just the world that will be deceived by the beast and false prophet. Large numbers of those who are attending the Church of God may be deceived at that time as well. So the "falling away" may refer to the future deception of the world (if the Greek really means just deception and rebellion against God even by those who never knew the truth), but also it can refer to a future deception of those who are "in the Church" by the same beast and false prophet and at the same time as the world is deceived. In that case, for those of us in the Church who are caught up in that deception, it would be a literal "falling away".

That the deception will be very strong and great should be no surprise. Christ warned that, if possible, even the elect would be deceived (Matthew 24:24).

Could we in the Church be deceived by the beast and false prophet?

"Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12).

"You will say then, 'Branches were broken off that I might be grafted in.' Well said. Because of unbelief they were broken off, and you stand by faith. Do not be haughty, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, He may not spare you either. Therefore consider the goodness and severity of God: on those who fell, severity; but toward you, goodness, if you continue in His goodness. Otherwise you also will be cut off" (Romans 11:19-22).

"For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame" (Hebrews 6:4-6).

Mr. Tkach and other leaders in Worldwide changed just about all of doctrines that made Worldwide different from mainstream churches. In just one decade, thousands in the Church went along with those changes. Yet Mr. Tkach performed no signs and wonders. If so many in the Worldwide Church of God fell away from what they believed at that time, even without signs and wonders, how much greater will be the danger to the brethren when the beast or false prophet and other false prophets begin working great signs that cannot be explained as natural occurrences?

Let's not underestimate the spiritual danger ahead or our need to draw close to God while we can. We need to take 2 Thessalonians 2:3 as a strong warning to us in the Church. We need to do whatever is necessary to draw close to God and stay close to Him, zealously believing, trusting, and obeying Him, to the end. What happened in Worldwide from 1987 through 1996 may be just a tiny foretaste of the danger ahead for anyone in the Church of God who neglects to be close to God.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Speaking the Same Thing in the Church of God

This is a continuation of some of my recent posts about handling doctrinal disagreements in the Church of God.

I will start with some Bible admonitions, and then ask, how can we put all these together to correctly apply them in the Church of God.

"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).

"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).

"Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct" (Hebrews 13:7).

"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).

"Likewise also these dreamers defile the flesh, reject authority, and speak evil of dignitaries. Yet Michael the archangel, in contending with the devil, when he disputed about the body of Moses, dared not bring against him a reviling accusation, but said, 'The Lord rebuke you!' But these speak evil of whatever they do not know; and whatever they know naturally, like brute beasts, in these things they corrupt themselves. Woe to them! For they have gone in the way of Cain, have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit, and perished in the rebellion of Korah" (Jude 8-11).

"They are presumptuous, self-willed. They are not afraid to speak evil of dignitaries, whereas angels, who are greater in power and might, do not bring a reviling accusation against them before the Lord" (2 Peter 2:10-11).

"Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away" (1 Corinthians 13:8-10). "For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known" (1 Corinthians 13:12).

"Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. And if anyone thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know" (1 Corinthians 8:1-2).

"...and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation—as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures" (2 Peter 3:15-16).

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

"Do not put your trust in princes, Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help" (Psalm 146:3).

"Thus says the LORD: 'Cursed is the man who trusts in man And makes flesh his strength, Whose heart departs from the LORD' " (Jeremiah 17:5). "Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, And whose hope is the LORD" (Jeremiah 17:7).

"So Jesus answered and said to them, 'Have faith in God' " (Mark 11:22).

"Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God..." (Hebrews 6:1).

"All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

"Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth" (John 17:17).

"If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken)..." (John 10:35).

"Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds" (Colossians 3:9).

How can we reconcile and obey all these verses?

We must believe and trust God more than man. The scriptures of the Bible are inspired by God and cannot be broken. We must have faith in God, not man, and the ministry does not have dominion over our faith. We must, therefore, believe the Bible.

But the Bible is like a jigsaw puzzle with many pieces to put together correctly, and some of it is hard to understand, and it can take time to understand it. Right now, we only know in part. We understand and learn different things from the Bible at different rates of speed. I might be slow to understand a portion of scripture and doctrine that is difficult for me but easy for you, yet there may be other portions of scripture and doctrine that are easy for me, but difficult for you. We need to be patient with each other. Some learn faster than others on certain subjects, but none of us knows everything perfectly and completely, and we won't till the resurrection.

God is concerned with our attitude and heart more than intelligence. He is able to discern why someone "doesn't get it" regarding a particular verse, passage, or doctrine. If our heart is right, if we have a willingness to understand and believe the Bible, He is patient with our mistakes. But if we do not understand because our heart is not right, perhaps because of pride and conceit (which we have all had because we are human, and still have to a degree, but must continuously strive to overcome and humble ourselves), perhaps because our pride, vanity, and conceit blocks us from admitting to ourselves that we have been wrong, God knows that too. He also knows if we fail to understand the Bible because we do not trust God enough to believe him but rather make an idol out of human leaders, believing them more than God, letting men interpret the Bible for us rather than letting the Bible interpret the Bible.

So if we believe God, if we believe the Bible, but our understanding of it is not perfect, we can disagree about doctrine.

Yet we are to all speak the same thing. Also, we cannot speak the same thing by lying about what we believe, pretending to agree, saying we agree but we don't, because we are not to lie to one another. We cannot bear false witness and tell someone, "such and such doctrine preached by the minister is true" while in our minds and hearts we think "no, it isn't true".

The only way I know to reconcile these verses is to avoid talking about doctrinal subjects with other members where we disagree with those in authority in the Church we fellowship with. We should not contradict our pastor or the top human leadership of the fellowship we attend when we talk with brethren. We have to avoid certain subjects for the sake of unity. How else can we "all speak the same thing" (1 Corinthians 1:10)? How else can there be "no divisions" among us (same verse)?

We can't lie and say what we don't believe. We cannot trust and believe the human leadership more than our own Bibles and more than we trust and believe the God who inspired our Bibles. We aren't always going to agree about what God is really saying in the Bible because that is a learning process that takes time. It took time for Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong to understand many doctrines from the Bible and it takes us time to understand too, even till Christ returns.

I am not talking about taking our disagreements to the leadership or ministry in private. That is permitted. That is a part of the learning process. A pastor, for example, can sit down with us and explain the Church's position in more detail. Or the pastor can research the issue and if our position has merit, take it higher, and if the top leadership is humble enough to accept correction and believe the Bible and admit error, he can make the correction for the whole Church of God fellowship He supervises. He can make the change for the whole portion of Christ's flock God has entrusted him with, to feed them, and all will profit. Correction can sometimes come from the bottom up, if the correction is in the form of respectful counsel and advice, according to the Bible (2 Kings 5:9-14).

I am also not talking about disagreements between fellowships. That is a disgrace to the whole Church of God, but it is a matter for the top human leadership of each fellowship to work out, if possible, with the men in leadership of the other groups. No member can be expected to refrain from contradicting what leaders of other fellowships teach, for those leaders contradict each other.

And I am not talking about doctrines so fundamental and foundational to the true gospel that we have to take a stand with them, and it would be better to leave (or be kicked out of) a fellowship that was in error on those things. An example would be if our pastor said that the law is done away, that we don't have to keep the Sabbath or any of the ten commandments, or if he said the Bible was not always true. I would not keep silent about that issue, nor would I remain in a fellowship that taught that.

I am talking about the custom of some, who may be unconverted (Matthew 13:24-30, 13:36-43, Jude 19), or if converted ought to know better, of openly contradicting those who have authority over them, the ministry of the fellowship they attend, in conversation with fellow members of that same fellowship.

A pastor gives a sermon. During fellowship after the service, one member says to another, "What our pastor said in the sermon about such-and-such doctrine isn't right. Let me tell you what is the real truth from the Bible." Or at a restaurant eating with other members he criticizes the top leadership of the fellowship over one thing or another.

That should not happen. We should not contradict and undermine the authority for teaching God has given to those who have authority over us.

Suppose the ministry of a fellowship I attend teaches it is ok to eat in restaurants on the Sabbath, but I believe it is not ok. I should not contradict the minister in conversation with other members. I will talk to the minister in private, or write a letter to headquarters, but I won't contradict him in front of others. But I will obey the Bible to the best of my understanding, and I will politely and tactfully decline invitations to eat out in restaurants on the Sabbath. Or put it the other way. I think it is ok to eat out on the Sabbath, but the Church of God fellowship I attend says no, don't eat in restaurants on the Sabbath. I will not contradict that teaching with other members by telling members it is ok to visit restaurants on the Sabbath.

The same thing goes for new moons, who the king of the south might be, and many other details of doctrines. If I agree, I will express agreement. If I disagree, I will keep my mouth shut.

The rule I follow is, if I am under a man's authority in the Church, I will not contradict him or appose him in front of others also under his authority, because that would undermine and weaken his authority in the eyes of others, and I have no right to do that according to God's law. It would also create division.

What constitutes a Church of God fellowship's teachings? It would include what is written and published by the ministry of that Church and by employees of that Church and what is spoken by the ministry. That would include sermons, Bible studies, books, booklets, articles, and blogs published by employees and ministers of that Church. That does not include things stated to be opinions. If a minister in a sermon says, "No one knows when Christ will return, but my personal opinion and estimate is that we have about ten years", that is not official teaching of the Church but only the minister's opinion, which he is free to express, and I am free to express a different opinion. But if it is not an opinion but a teaching, then I should not contradict it in my conversation or in my blog, if I am a member of that fellowship and organization and therefore under the authority of the ministry of that Church.

There are many things to talk about where the Church we attend simply does not take a position. These are open to speculation and discussion. Most fellowships do not say how much time we have left before the tribulation, and rightly so because we don't know, and if ministers or leaders say, they are careful to label it as their opinion. So we are free to talk about it around a meal or in Church fellowship. There are many other such things, especially concerning how end-time prophecies will be fulfilled in detail.

"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..." (1 Corinthians 1:10).

I don't often recommend fiction movies, but there are some good lessons in the Caine Mutiny about respect towards authority. Humphrey Bogart played the part of a captain of a ship in the Navy who had mental or emotional problems. The officers belittled him, criticized him behind his back, made jokes about him, and refused to give him the loyalty and even emotional support in times of crisis that he needed. They undermined his authority by so doing, and he sensed it, and that made his problem worse, to the point that in a crisis he cracked up and had to be relieved of command by one of his officers. Later, that officer faced trial on a charge of mutiny. He was acquitted, but at the end of the movie the defending attorney (Jose Ferrer) gave the officers a tongue-lashing for not supporting their captain more, and he pointed out that they really were guilty in a sense of mutiny because they withheld their support of the captain when he needed it.

If I am a member of a fellowship, and the ministers in that fellowship teach it is ok to watch boxing, but I feel boxing is wrong because it is violent, it is not my right to publicly contradict the ministry of my fellowship in my blog. Or if they teach that watching boxing is wrong, but I think it is ok, the same thing - I will not post about boxing. I should not publicly contradict the ministers of a fellowship I attend.

Why is pride dangerous? It makes it harder for us to admit to ourselves we have been wrong, and that makes it harder to receive correction, and that can be dangerous. "He who is often rebuked, and hardens his neck, Will suddenly be destroyed, and that without remedy" (Proverbs 29:1).

The sooner we accept correction, the easier it is for us. It is like holding on to a rope of a hot air balloon. The balloon, on the ground, has broken loose and started to rise with no one in it. Quickly, I grab a rope to hold it down. But slowly I begin to be lifted off my feet. I haven't the strength to climb the rope but only hold on. I am three feet off the ground. Someone yells, "let go of the rope". But I hang on. I don't want to look foolish. I don't want to admit I made a mistake grabbing the rope. I am ten feet off the ground and rising. Now, if I let go, I might injure myself, and I will look even more foolish. So I hang on. The balloon is now thirty feet in the air, and my grip is weakening. Need I continue?

But if I had let go early, it might have been painful, but still better for me in the long run.

God is merciful. He corrects us gently at first, but if we don't respond to gentle correction, the correction becomes more severe later.

Let's all strive, as much as it is possible, to speak the same thing within the fellowship we attend so there is no confusion or division, but peace. And let us recognize that God has given the ordained ministry special authority for teaching that non-ordained members do not have, the authority to determine the teachings of the Church we attend.

Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Should Each Member Promote His Own Opinion?, Chapter 6

Chapter 6 - Obtaining God's Help -- Practicing What We Preach

Chapter 9 - Repentance

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Poll Results and New Poll

In a poll I asked two questions.

The first question was, "What do you spend more time with per week, on average: entertainment and recreation (TV, movies, games, hobbies, etc.) or prayer and Bible study?"

Of 28 people who responded, 14 (50%) said, "Entertainment and recreation", 8 (28%) said, "Prayer and Bible study", 4 (14%) said, "About the same", and 2 (7%) said, "I don't know".

The second question was, "What do you spend more money on per year: unnecessary spending (recreation, entertainment, restaurants, junk food, nicer clothes, furniture, and cars than we need, vacations, etc.) or offerings to God's work?"

Of 23 people who responded, 15 (65%) said, "Unnecessary spending", 3 (13%) said, "Offerings to God's work", 4 (17%) said, "About the same", and 1 (4%) said, "I don't know".

These questions were put up around the Days of Unleavened Bread and answers were closed 8/30/12.

I want to thank everyone who responded.

Today I am putting up a new poll, with two questions:

In your opinion or estimate, what percent of adults in English-speaking nations will hear a strong warning from the Church of God about the tribulation BEFORE the tribulation begins?

In your opinion or estimate, what percent of adults in English-speaking nations HAVE ALREADY HEARD a strong warning from the Church of God about the tribulation?

This poll will run through the Feast of Tabernacles.

Comments on these polls are welcome.