Sunday, June 30, 2013

What Is the Most Important Issue in the Whole Church of God?

What is the most important controversy in the Church of God? It is not the Sabbath or the holy days. We agree about those things. It is not the Holy Spirit, or God reproducing Himself in mankind. It is not the soul or the identity of the lost ten tribes of Israel. Although these things may be controversies between the Church of God and the world, they are not controversial within and among the whole, scattered Church of God.

There are controversies within the Church. Some of these are controversies within certain fellowships, perhaps among a few members, and some are controversies between Church of God fellowships that take opposite views.

There are some small controversies over minor issues. With some members, there is a controversy about eating in restaurants on the Sabbath. With some, new moons is an issue, or the calendar. Some may be concerned about the meaning of a particular verse, such as the verse in 2 Thessalonians 2:3 about a falling away. Some may argue about whether it is wrong to watch football because they view it as a violent and dangerous sport. These are small issues, in my opinion. That does not mean it is wrong to want to understand the truth on these issues. Small issues can be important because they show our attitude towards God. If we are faithful in small things we will be faithful in big things (Luke 16:10). But in my opinion, none of these issues or controversies are basic. None of these answer the question in the title of this post, what is the most important issue in the Church of God. They may or may not be important, but they are not the MOST important things.

Sometimes, small issues are made to appear big by those who have a spirit of division. They take small issues and use them as an excuse for arguing and competing with other Church of God groups. The small issues are tools in their hands for accusing others and trying to draw people away from other groups into their own group.

Some issues are about positions and titles of leaders. One leader or another may claim the title of prophet or apostle. I don't think that is basic either. God knows who His leaders are and their titles. If God counts a man as an apostle, then he is an apostle, if God doesn't count him as an apostle, then he is not an apostle, and God will equip each man to do the work He wants him to do. In any case, it is not fundamental for members to know who God counts as an apostle. There is nothing in the Bible that even hints that we need to know for our salvation. We know who the apostles are in the Bible. God reveals to us that Peter, James, John, Paul, etc. were apostles. That is sufficient for us. Likewise, whether Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong was the Elijah to come is not important for us to know, though some may think it is important. God in the Bible never stressed the importance of knowing who the Elijah to come is.

Some are concerned about details of prophecy and how prophecy is being fulfilled and will be fulfilled. Will the tribulation come in five years or fifteen years? Might Iran be the king of the south? Who will be the beast? Who will be the "man of sin"? All these things can be interesting, but none are critical to our salvation or doing the work of God. They are details, but they are not basics, they are not fundamentals. In that sense, they are not the most important things.

Some things are very important to our salvation and doing God's work, but they are not controversies in the Church of God because we agree about them. We agree that we should love our neighbors as ourselves and God with all our being. We agree that the seventh day is the Sabbath and a sign between God and us. We agree that we should keep the holy days. We agree we should tell the truth, not steal, not hate our brother in our heart, not commit adultery either in the letter or the spirit of the law. We are not perfect in doing these things, but at least we agree about the major points of God's law, that we should try to obey them as perfectly and consistently as we can.

I used to think that preaching the gospel to the world was a controversy in the Church of God because some seemed to be saying that this is not the time to preach the gospel to the world. But those voices seem to have diminished in the last ten years. Some groups may only pay lip service to the need to preach the gospel to the public, not actually doing much in that regard, but at least the vast majority agree that it should be done. I don't think this is any longer the greatest outstanding issue in the whole Church, if it ever was.

What about the structure of governance? Some say that the ministers should ballot to elect top leaders in the Church and others say that God's form of governance in the Church is from the top down only, with God showing by the fruits who He has chosen. Is this the most important controversy or issue in the Church of God? In my opinion, no.

Governance can be important, especially in regards to being effective in doing God's work of preaching the gospel to the world. But in practice, it mostly affects ministers more than members. They are the ones who must choose if they will submit to the authority of those they have elected to office, and they must choose if they will vote and how they will vote. An individual member does not vote to elect his pastor, but he submits to and learns from his pastor as he sees that the pastor is teaching God's truth on most points faithfully, whether that pastor is employed by an organization with voting or top-down governance. There is another issue that is much more fundamental and important than governance.

There is an issue that I think traces its roots to the time when Mr. Armstrong was alive. It may affect our salvation. It can be controversial, and has the potential to become controversial, probably in just about every major Church of God fellowship in existence today. It is not about any particular "doctrine" or group of doctrines, as we think of doctrine. It is more fundamental, more basic I think, even than any doctrine that springs from it.

And it isn't even talked about much.

Yet, it is because of Mr. Armstrong's right understanding of this issue in the beginning of his ministry that we know the truth we have today.

Mr. Armstrong partially addressed the issue, but he may never have completely resolved it for the Church of God before he died. Yet, his example, as shown in his autobiography, shows the position he personally took on it, especially in the early years when he was with the Church of God Seventh Day.

There are many ways the issue can be expressed, in the form of questions.

What should you do if you think the minister may be wrong about his explanation of a scripture or doctrine? What should you do if you hear your minister seeming to contradict something you read in your Bible?

Should you believe the leader of your fellowship in matters of doctrine?

Should you trust the ministry's interpretation of the Bible? Should you believe their interpretation of scripture?

Should you have faith that Christ is leading the ministry or the top leader (pastor general, presiding evangelist, prophet, or apostle), and should you have faith that Christ will make sure that leader teaches the truth faithfully?

That is the issue.

The importance of this issue far outweighs the attention given to it. In a way, it can be a subtle thing. You won't be able to tell usually where an organization or its leader stands on this by reading a statement of beliefs. You might call it an invisible issue. But it is at the core of our relationship to God and to the Church. It has everything to do with faith. It's effects are certainly not invisible even if the issue itself is invisible to most members.

Few ministers talk about it. None has spoken or corresponded with me about it.

Actually, you will find that many ministers talk around the issue. But few go right to the core, in plain language. They will say something like, you need to trust that Christ is the head of the Church and will lead His ministry. But they will not come straight out and say, you need to believe that the interpretation of scripture that the ministry teaches you is correct. But sometimes, that is what they mean.

To understand this issue better, let's look at the history of it.

Mr. Armstrong describes his conversion in his autobiography. He was raised in a mainstream, Sunday-keeping tradition, though as an adult before his conversion he had little interest in religion. A Church of God member spoke to his wife, Loma, about the Sabbath. This member showed Mrs. Armstrong from the Bible that the seventh day of the week is the Christian Sabbath and should be observed, not Sunday. She accepted that and told her husband.

Mr. Armstrong did NOT accept it, and started a six-month study of the Bible to prove to his wife that she was wrong and most mainstream churches were right, that Sunday was the day Christians should observe. Instead, to his surprise, he discovered from the Bible that his traditional belief in Sunday was wrong and that the seventh day is the Sabbath. He did not want to admit he was wrong, but painful as it was for him, he accepted the truth. This challenge from his wife and his study into the Bible was the beginning of God working with him to bring him to conversion. He accepted the truth about the Sabbath and many other truths from the Bible, was baptized, and began to fellowship with the Church of God (Seventh Day).

While fellowshipping with the Church of God Seventh Day, Mr. Armstrong continued his Bible studies and learned new truths from the Bible that this Church did not have. He also noticed that they had some errors in their doctrines - teachings that did not match what the Bible really taught. Mr. Armstrong communicated what he found to the Church of God Seventh Day headquarters, but they never accepted this new knowledge, nor did they correct their errors. Yet, never did Mr. Armstrong for one minute assume that God required that he believe the official Church of God Seventh Day teaching. Instead, Mr. Armstrong believed what he saw for himself in the Bible. Mr. Armstrong was always willing to learn new knowledge and be corrected by the Bible when he was in error. But he always believed the Bible more than the ministers and leaders in the Church. He accepted correction and new truth from the Bible whether the leadership of the Church of God accepted it or not.

Mr. Armstrong practiced this approach, this way of thinking, of believing the Bible more than the Church, BEFORE he was ordained to the ministry, while he was just a lay member.

Mr. Armstrong always trusted Jesus Christ as the head of the Church. Yet, never did Mr. Armstrong believe that trust in Christ meant that he had to believe that the leadership and ministry of the Church of God Seventh Day always taught the correct interpretation of scripture. He always understood that men are fallible, subject to error, and though Jesus Christ leads the Church, that does not mean that Church of God leaders and ministers follow Jesus Christ perfectly. He understood that, being human, leaders and ministers can make mistakes, even in doctrine. The Bible also teaches this by many examples.

He was never willing to believe other men's mistakes over the truth of the Bible.

It had to be that way.

Think. What would have happened if Mr. Armstrong simply accepted whatever interpretation of the Bible and whatever doctrines the Church of God leadership taught? What would have happened if he simply assumed that, because Christ is the head of the Church, He was leading the Church's leadership in doctrine, and therefore the Church's explanation and interpretation of scripture was right?

We would not have the truth we have today.

Not only that, but it is unlikely Christ would have given Mr. Armstrong an open door for preaching the gospel. In God's way, he who preaches must practice what he preaches. Jesus Christ not only taught God's way of life, He lived it. God doesn't say to us, live the way I say, but not the way I am. God is consistent. The way of love that He teaches us is the way of life God Himself practices.

Likewise, God requires His servants to practice what they preach. God does not want His work done by hypocrites.

When Mr. Armstrong went to the public on radio and TV and said, "Don't believe me, don't believe any minister, believe your Bible", what was he really saying? What he was telling people is that they should be willing to believe the Bible more than the churches they attended, more than their pastors and ministers, more than their traditions, more than the top leaders of the churches they attended. He HAD to teach that. He was preaching to people who were raised in and had practiced wrong beliefs and traditions all their lives. The only way they could accept the truth was to believe the Bible more than their churches.

I am an example. I was raised Roman Catholic. The only way I could have learned the truth from Mr. Armstrong was by him pointing me to the Bible. And then I could only learn it if I was willing to do what Mr. Armstrong said, to believe the Bible more than my minister or church.

But Mr. Armstrong didn't just say that, he practiced it himself, as made clear in his autobiography. He could preach, without being a hypocrite, that people should believe the Bible more than their churches because Mr. Armstrong did that himself when he attended the Church of God Seventh Day even before he was ordained. He always believed the Bible more than the Church, even the true Church of God.

God was only able to use Mr. Armstrong to raise up the Philadelphia era of the Church because Mr. Armstrong PRACTICED and was therefore able to TEACH belief and trust in God's word, the Bible, more than in the interpretation of the Bible by any church, EVEN THE TRUE CHURCH OF GOD.

Mr. Armstrong was converted in 1927 and started a work separate from the Church of God Seventh Day at the end of 1933 and beginning of 1934, which work became the Radio Church of God, later renamed Worldwide Church of God.

About 33 years after his conversion and about 26 years after he raised up a work separate from Church of God Seventh Day, Mr. Armstrong addressed this issue. He wrote an article entitled, "Should We Listen to Others?" and published it in the May 1960 issue of the Good News Magazine. Here is a link to that article:

In this article, Mr. Armstrong talks about how to handle the situation in which you find something in the Bible that doesn't seem to fit with what the Church teaches. He says "we ministers" in God's Church do NOT tell you what to believe and command you to believe them without checking in the Bible. He points out that that is what the Catholic Church does, but the true Church of God is different. He says if you see that the Church has an error in its teaching according to the Bible, you are NOT required to close your eyes to it. You should not discuss it with other members, but take it to your pastor or write to headquarters. If you are right, the Church will change, and if you are wrong, the Church will explain your error to you. In the meantime, do not discuss it with other members.

I think all of this is correct. If we see something in the Bible that shows that the Church is wrong about some doctrine, we should only discuss it with the ministry. But we are not required to automatically assume the Church could not be wrong about doctrine. If the Church is wrong, the Church should accept correction from the Bible and change its doctrine. If we are wrong, the Church should explain the doctrine so we can understand it.

But what if, after going through this procedure, we still disagree with the Church? What if we take the issue "up the line" to the top leader of the Church, and he explains it to us, but we still think the Bible teaches something different? Should we assume we are wrong, that the top leader is led by Christ, has more experience, and therefore must be right about the interpretation of the Bible? Should we believe the Church, in other words, even after every effort to resolve the matter in discussions?

Mr. Armstrong did not specifically address this aspect of the issue in his article.

But if Mr. Armstrong intended members, after discussion with the ministry, to accept the Church's interpretation of the Bible, even if the member still does not agree that the Church's doctrine is right according to the Bible, that would go contrary to the way Mr. Armstrong thought and lived when he was a lay member attending with the Church of God from the earliest days of his conversion.

It would also go contrary to the Bible, logic, and common sense.

There are scriptures that show that even true and faithful men of God make mistakes, and not every Church of God leader is necessarily even 100% faithful. All of us have human nature. Moreover, God specifically says that the ministry does not have rulership or dominion over our beliefs. "Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand" (2 Corinthians 1:24).

Who Has Authority Over Your Faith?

Does the leadership and ministry of the true Church of God have authority over the faith of its members, over what they believe? Do they have the authority from God to command members to believe doctrine and the minister's interpretation of scripture?

Does God give the ministry authority over doctrinal teaching? Yes. The leadership of the Church has authority over what is officially taught as doctrine in the Church of God. Ministers and members do not have the right to teach anything they want to each other, each man teaching his own opinion about scripture, contrary to the teaching of the government God has placed in the Church.

"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).

Does God give the ministry authority over resolving disputes between brethren and disfellowshipping for sin or creating division? Yes. Can they make binding decisions that we must obey? Yes.

"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).

"Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them" (Romans 16:17). "Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition" (Titus 3:10).

"For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Corinthians 5:3-5).

"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).

Does God give the ministry authority over your faith and mine? Does He give the ministry authority over what we believe? No. "Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand" (2 Corinthians 1:24). "But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren" (Matthew 23:8).

Our faith and trust must be in God alone. That is one thing He reserves to Himself. Why? Because only God can be trusted never to sin, never to lie. Only God can be trusted to have all wisdom, knowledge, and understanding, so that his word is always true. "Every word of God is pure; he is a shield to those who put their trust in Him" (Proverbs 30:5). "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth" (John 17:17). "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). " hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began" (Titus 1:2). "...that by two immutable things, in which it is impossible for God to lie, we might have strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold of the hope set before us" (Hebrews 6:18). "...Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man. It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in princes" (Psalm 118:8-9). "Thus says the Lord: 'Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when good comes, but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land which is not inhabited. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit' " (Jeremiah 17:5-8).

So in light of these verses, how should we react if we see something in the Bible that seems contrary to what the ministry is teaching? That is the question.

Believing the Bible is a matter of faith. We must believe and trust God more than man. It is because of faith in God's word more than man's word on the part of Mr. Armstrong that we know the truth we have today. It is because of faith in the Bible, faith we exercised when we proved the doctrines we hold in the Bible BEFORE we committed to them, that many of us know the truth of God. Not faith in Mr. Armstrong or in the traditions of the old Worldwide Church of God.

Faith is a matter of trust. We believe God because we trust Him unconditionally. That kind of trust should be towards God alone, not towards man, any man, not even a righteous man of God.

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

Many in the Church of God have gone astray in the past because they have not really proved the doctrines they believe in the Bible. They believed the doctrines first because they believed Mr. Armstrong, THEN they "proved" in the Bible what they already had come to believe. That is the wrong order. They only looked up supporting scriptures to reinforce what Mr. Armstrong taught them, but they did not follow Mr. Armstrong's example of studying the Bible with an open mind and proving doctrine from the Bible BEFORE believing those doctrines. And because they were not well grounded, they fell away when their "faith" in Mr. Armstrong and in his teachings was challenged. Others keep those doctrines because they have become their traditions, but their faith is more in their traditions than God's word.

The question arises, how can we reconcile the principle of respecting the minister's authority over Church of God teaching while believing and trusting God's word, the Bible, more than the ministry? What if we see a contradiction between what the minister teaches and what the Bible says? How do we believe the Bible more than the minister without causing division and undermining his authority over Church teaching?

The only way I know to reconcile these principles is to not openly disagree with the ministry and talk about our disagreement with other members. In other words, keep your mouth shut about it and trust Christ to resolve it in His time. Pray that God shows you where you are wrong and opens your eyes to see your mistake in understanding the Bible, if you are per chance wrong about the issue. Perhaps there are other scriptures you had not considered. There could be a mistranslation you are not aware of. So have the humility to know you could be making a mistake.

The ministry can sometimes be helpful in explaining things here, so you might consider asking questions of the ministry (not other members because that can lead to discussion of your disagreement).

Then, you can also pray that, if the minister is wrong, God will, in His time frame, help the minister to see his mistake and change the teaching.

Then leave it in Christ's hands and don't worry about it. He will teach all of us the truth, even if we have to wait until we are in His kingdom for some details to be made clear.

Yet, be careful in speaking to the ministry. Be respectful. As much as possible, ask questions rather than make statements. Because there have been so many rebellious dissidents in the Church of God who create division and controversy in the congregations, perhaps tares (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, Jude 16-19), and because ministers have had unpleasant experiences with such rebels, they may be on the defensive and not realize you are not trying to cause division. Also, some men, because of personality and temperament, may simply not like being contradicted. We still have human nature - that is a fact. If your minister has a problem listening to views of those who disagree with him and does not have an open mind but becomes hostile, don't judge him for it, because you have human nature too (Matthew 10:16). Pray for him and let Christ judge him. But be aware of it, and consider whether it is safe to discuss things you disagree about with him at all (Amos 5:13).

But never submit to the idea that we should believe what the ministers teach in spiritual matters more than the Bible because Christ leads them. Never submit to the idea that we should believe a minister's interpretation of the Bible. That is the Catholic way of thinking. Christ indeed leads the ministry, but the ministry is not perfect and does not follow Christ perfectly, and that can include doctrine. The Bible is clear that even true servants of God make mistakes.

Any minister in the Church of God worth his pay can prove the major doctrines and many small doctrines from the Bible. He doesn't need to require that you take his word for anything - "we've studied this, and here is the way it is". He can point you to the answers in the Bible, the same scriptures he used to prove the doctrine for himself, and he can direct you to believe God, believe your Bible.

Ministers should not compete with God for the faith and trust of the members, and if they do, you should quietly and peacefully put your faith and trust in God and His word, the Bible.

Who has authority over your faith? Who has authority over your beliefs? God alone. God has delegated authority to the ministry over many things, and we should respect that authority, but one thing he has not delegated to the ministry is authority over our faith, over what we BELIEVE. God has not given the government or ministry of the Church of God the right to tell members what they must believe. God has reserved that authority to Himself. And God speaks to us through the Bible first, the ministry second, because the Bible is infallible, the ministry is not. When God speaks to us through the ministry, He is speaking through fallible human instruments, and sometimes ministers garble the message. But when God speaks through the Bible, He is speaking to us directly, and His word is infallible, because scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35). Nowhere does God say that the minister's word cannot be broken.

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

God Speaks to Us Today Through the Bible

God speaks to His people differently today than in the Old Testament and New Testament times. In Bible times, God spoke to Israel and the Church primarily through prophets and apostles. God backed up the words of His servants with miracles and healings of various sorts so the people would know that these men were speaking the word of God. That is why Paul could say, "For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe" (1 Thessalonians 2:13). How did the people Paul preached to in his various congregations know he was speaking the word of God? By the "signs of an apostle" he did among them, by the miracles. To the Corinthians he said, "Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds" (2 Corinthians 12:12). The Bible was not freely available to most of the people of Israel and the Church as it is today, for several reasons.

Throughout the time of the history we read in the Bible, the Bible was not complete. Even the books of the Bible that had been written were not easily available to the common people. The printing press was not invented. Books of the Bible were copied by hand and were expensive - few people had them.

The Bible translated into the many languages of the common people must have been even more rare.

But today we have the Bible. It is complete. Due to the invention of the printing press, it is inexpensive and widely available. It is translated into most or all major languages on earth. Almost everyone can afford a complete Bible in his native language.

Today, we do not have living prophets and apostles on earth who speak God's word to us directly AND are backed up by public and well-known miracles and signs. I believe Mr. Armstrong was an apostle, but God did not back up his words with public miracles so that people who heard him could say, "Look - God is performing miracles for this man to show us he is speaking God's words." That is what God did with Jesus and the first century apostles, but not today. Why? Because today, people have the Bible.

Not only is the Bible complete today and readily available to lay members of the Church of God and even the world as a whole as never was the case in the first century, but we have proof of God's inspiration of the Bible.

Just as God backed up the apostles in the first century Church with signs and miracles, so God has given us miraculous proof today that the Bible is His inspired word. God has given us the miracle of fulfilled prophecy. The prophecies of the Bible that have been fulfilled in just the last 200 years prove that the Bible is God speaking, because only God can know the future thousands of years in advance.

These fulfilled prophecies serve the same purpose as the signs and miracles the first century apostles showed - they prove that God is speaking. They are God's "signature" in a sense, like a "certificate of authenticity" that says, "This is the all-powerful, all-knowing Creator God speaking." Only, these signs of fulfilled prophecy do not point to human apostles and prophets living today on the earth, but to the Bible, God's written word.

God speaks to us today primarily through a different means of communication than in Bible times - He speaks to each of us directly through his written word, the Bible, not through prophets and apostles in a direct sense as in the first century.

Ministers and Church of God leaders still have a teaching role, and God is able to help them in that role by inspiring their words to a degree and increasing their understanding by His Holy Spirit. But the role of the ministry is to teach from the Bible. God does not speak through ministers directly as He speaks through the Bible directly and as He spoke through first century apostles and Old Testament prophets directly.

So while God helps the ministry in its teaching role today as in the past, today God's direct and infallible communication to us is through the Bible. In the first century it was through the apostles.

Mr. Armstrong understood that God speaks to us through the Bible today more than in the past. He said he thought the Bible was primarily written for the Philadelphia era, by which I think he meant modern times.

No minister today has the right to say, "thus says the Lord...", except when quoting the Bible.

Yet, even in Bible times, some of God's direct communication was through the scriptures, even though the Bible was not complete and available to most people. And God has the examples of scripture in the Bible, while the Bible was still being written, to show us that His direct written word is infallible and takes precedent over the word of man.

Christ quoted Old Testament scripture and said scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35). The Bereans are given as a positive example in that they searched the scriptures to know the truth, if Paul was speaking the truth (Acts 17:10-11). We are taught to disregard the words of even miracle-working men if their words contradict the Bible (Deuteronomy 13:1-5, Isaiah 8:20). So even before the Bible was complete, God showed that the Bible has precedence over the word of apostles and prophets, even if they show miracles.

Some ministers may quote 2 Peter 1:20: "knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation", and say that this means that members should not interpret scriptures in the Bible but let the Church interpret them. But this is a misreading of this verse.

The context shows that this is talking about the writing of scripture, not the reading of it or the understanding of it when we read it. The context shows that "private interpretation" is referring to the prophet's understanding - the writings of the prophets are not based on their private and personal interpretation and understanding of events and of the future, because this passage goes on to say, "for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). These verses set up a contrast between verse 20 and verse 21. The subject of verse 21 is the inspiration of God's word in the speaking and writing of it. The contrast with verse 20 would make no sense if the subject of verse 20 was the reading of scripture. This verse in effect says that no prophecy is written based on the prophet's private understanding or interpretation, but rather it is based on God's inspiration. A perfect illustration of this is some of the prophecies in Daniel. Daniel certainly wasn't writing from his private understanding or interpretation of the future when he recorded prophecies given to him from God that he admitted he did not understand himself (Daniel 8:27, 12:8).

2 Peter 1:20-21 has nothing to do with how we read the Bible, except that we need to believe what we read because God inspired it.

Mr. Armstrong taught us to let the Bible interpret the Bible. If a verse is not clear, it would be as wrong and as dangerous for a member to follow any minister's personal interpretation of that verse, not backed up by the Bible's interpretation of the verse, as it would be for that member to believe his own personal interpretation of a scripture. We need to put all the scriptures on a subject together to let the Bible interpret itself, then believe the Bible. We need to interpret unclear verses by other verses that are clear.

Consider this verse: "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). Does this mean we are to follow the faith of the ministry in the sense that we are to believe what the ministry believes and teaches, unconditionally? This is a good place to follow the principle of letting the Bible interpret the Bible.

Let's start out with this passage itself. There are two conditions. Those whose faith we should follow are those speak the word of God to us. Their faith should be in God's word, which they preach to us, and in this they should be setting the example of believing God's word and living it. As they show by their example that they believe God's word, we should follow their example. Setting the right example is part of the job of the ministry, as other passages indicate (1 Peter 5:1-4, 1 Timothy 4:12, 2 Thessalonians 3:7-9, Philippians 3:17), including the example of Christ (John 13:12-15, 1 Peter 2:21). Someone who does not speak God's word to us but preaches from his own opinions is not one whose faith we should follow.

Also, we are to consider the outcome of their conduct, the end result of their faith. This could mean that we look at the positive results, the fruits (Matthew 7:15-20) of the minister's life as he believes and lives by every word of God (Matthew 4:4). It might also mean we consider the consequences of his understanding and teaching of a verse in light of other passages and doctrines. If other parts of the Bible contradict the minister's understanding or faith about a particular verse, we should not follow the minister's teaching on that point.

The one thing this passage cannot mean is that we are commanded to believe the minister's interpretation of the Bible, because that would directly contradict 2 Corinthians 1:24: "Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand." The ministry does not have dominion, authority, or rule over the faith of the members, that is, what they believe. There are also many scriptures that show we should trust God but not trust man. This is how we let the Bible interpret the Bible.

There are also passages in the Bible that show that even true ministers can make mistakes in their opinions about doctrine. Look at the example in Acts 15. The apostles and elders came together to resolve an issue about circumcision and the law of Moses, but before it was resolved, there was "much dispute" (Acts 15:6-7). No doubt different ministers held different views for a long time before this conference. This means that some true ministers before this conference believed something wrong, that physical circumcision was required for salvation.

How can we correctly apply the principle of following the faith of those who preach God's word to us considering the outcome of their conduct (Hebrews 13:7)? Here is an example of how to apply this, and I have done this earlier in this post. We can consider the example of Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong.

Mr. Armstrong is one who preached God's word to us, from the Bible. We can follow his faith, considering the outcome of his faith, conduct, and teaching. We can study the example of his faith by reading his autobiography. Then we can follow those good examples of faith as we consider the outcome, the positive fruits of his faith.

So we can see, as I have shown, that his faith was in God's word, the Bible, more than in the ministry of the Church of God, even while he was just a lay member, not yet ordained to the ministry. Then we can consider the outcome. What was that outcome of his faith in the Bible more than in the leadership of the Church, and what was the outcome of his conduct that was based on that faith? The outcome was that God used him to teach much new truth to the Church, which truth we have today. Seeing that this is a good fruit, we can then follow Mr. Armstrong's faith, his example of believing the Bible more than the Church.

But what if the "outcome" is not good? We may have an example of that kind of faith in Mr. Armstrong's life also. We are to "consider" these things as the Bible teaches us.

I said earlier that Mr. Armstrong may not have completely resolved this issue for the Church. In his article, "Should We Listen to Others?", he described a procedure for consulting with the ministry about disagreements over our understanding of the Bible. But he didn't quite answer the question, what if a member still disagrees even after discussing it with the Church ministry and top leadership? After following the procedure of discussing it with the ministry, must we believe the Church?

We have the example of Mr. Armstrong's faith in the early years as given in his autobiography. He always believed the Bible more than the Church. What about later?

Towards the end of Mr. Armstrong's life I remember him saying a couple of things in sermons that suggested to me the possibility that he had changed. It is possible he came to believe that members of the Church should trust the government God put in the Church more than what they see for themselves in the Bible. I could be wrong, and I didn't find his position on this totally clear, for me anyway.

Here is what he said. I don't have exact quotes handy, so I will paraphrase from memory the best I can. I, or someone, may find exact quotes later - his sermons are on the Internet.

In one sermon, he spoke about makeup. At one point, he said that some women were refraining from wearing makeup, not because they agreed with the doctrine against it, but only in obedience to Mr. Armstrong because Mr. Armstrong made the judgment against it. Mr. Armstrong didn't like that. He said that they better start agreeing with God. Then, at some point he said: You call me God's apostle. You better listen to what I say. But he didn't use a lot of proof from the Bible in that sermon about the issue of makeup.

So was Mr. Armstrong teaching that we should believe and trust his interpretation of scripture because he is an apostle, even if we don't see the doctrine proved in the Bible so we understand it? I don't know if that is what Mr. Armstrong meant, but it could be.

The second example is more clear. In what was perhaps his last sermon, he spoke of his impending death and of the pastor general who would come after him (he had not yet named Mr. Tkach). He said, if I should die, Christ will provide a new pastor general and you better follow that pastor general if you want to be in the kingdom of God. He did NOT say, you better believe and follow the Bible if you want to be in the kingdom of God. In some of his last words to the Church, his emphasis was on following government in the Church, not on following the Bible.

The error of what he said became obvious in the next ten years as the pastor general he said we should follow if we want to be in the kingdom of God overturned just about every important doctrinal truth that the Church had. Half or more of those attending Worldwide followed Mr. Tkach into error. Had they followed the Bible, they would not have gone into error. In effect, Mr. Armstrong, in one of his last messages to the Church membership before he died, gave the WORST possible advice and teaching he could give about government, faith, and the Bible. And this bad advice he gave was NOT what he himself practiced more than half a century earlier when he attended the Church of God Seventh Day.

Here again, we can apply the principle of following the faith of those who preach God's word to us considering the outcome of their conduct (Hebrews 13:7). Only this time, when we consider the outcome, we can see that the kind of faith Mr. Armstrong taught, faith that the pastor general would follow Christ more than faith in the Bible, was a wrong kind of faith we should NOT follow. Because when we consider the outcome of Mr. Armstrong's teaching, his emphasis on members' loyalty to government in the Church more than the members' individual faith in what they see in the Bible for themselves, we see that it was the kind of teaching that, when followed, would lead a member to eventual loss of salvation, unless repented of. Many of those who followed Mr. Tkach to this day probably were never converted, but if any converted members followed his errors, they may have lost their salvation. That is how serious this issue is.

God allows things to happen in the Church to teach us lessons, and we better learn those lessons.

Here is another scripture one might consider: "Hear me, O Judah and you inhabitants of Jerusalem: Believe in the Lord your God, and you shall be established; believe His prophets, and you shall prosper" (2 Chronicles 20:20). Does this endorse believing and having faith in God's servants because it says we should believe God's prophets?

When this was written, the main way God communicated with His people was through his prophets speaking God's message to the people directly. The Bible was yet being written and was not available to most people. They had to believe God's prophets, for that was the only way God communicated with them. In many cases, God showed who his prophets were by signs and miracles and by fulfillment of their words in a way He does not do with Church of God leaders and ministers today. But the Bible changes things. Today, the only miraculous proof of God speaking is fulfilled prophecy that points to the Bible. The Bible is how God primarily and directly speaks to us today, not through prophets, apostles, and ministers.

Yet, we do obey this verse when we believe the Bible because it is those very prophets who wrote the Bible, under God's inspiration. We believe God's prophets by believing what they wrote in the Bible, understanding that by believing their writings we are really believing the God who inspired those writings.

"...Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). God never says that the word of a pastor general, apostle, prophet, presiding evangelist, pastor, or elder cannot be broken. That puts the Bible above the teachings of any man on earth.

Let's Be Logical About This

Think about this. How can it be right for a Church of God member to trust his Church's interpretation of the Bible or to trust that their doctrines are right without first proving them in the Bible for himself or herself? How can it be wrong for a member to believe what he or she sees in the Bible more than the leadership of the Church?

Let's reason about this. God gave us minds to think with. Enemies of the Church accuse us of "not thinking", of blindly accepting whatever is funneled into our minds. Is that true? I hope it isn't true of most of us. It should not be. Despite what our detractors say, the Church of God is not a "cult".

Human reasoning is wrong when it is a substitute for God's revelation and when it is used to reject what God tells us. Human reasoning is wrongly used when it is used to reason around God's commandments. But it is not wrong to use the powers of reasoning that God gave us to correctly understand his way of life and to meditate on God's law. God Himself has said, "let us reason together" (Isaiah 1:18).

God's way of life is logical. That is one of the strong points of the truth. It makes sense as none of the false religions of this world do.

God is building a certain kind of character in us. That character includes love as its primary characteristic. It also includes faith. You can't read the Bible, especially the New Testament, without realizing that faith is extremely important to God. It is one of the three weightier matters of GOD'S LAW!

Faith means trusting and believing what God says. God REQUIRES that we BELIEVE HIM.

There are many scriptures and examples in the Bible that teach us to trust God, not man.

So with that in mind, consider what goes on in the mind of a member who has trouble reconciling a passage of scripture or a doctrine he sees in the Bible with what the fellowship he attends teaches.

Let's say he starts with a right attitude towards the Bible. He knows the Bible is God's word. He has read the Bible, or major portions of it, and he wants to trust, believe, and obey God.

He finds something in the Bible that doesn't seem to "match up" with the teaching of the group he attends.

He respects authority. He thinks, "The leader and ministry of the group I attend made an honest mistake, or else I am making a mistake and they can show me my error. Maybe I am reading a mistranslation, or maybe I am not putting this together correctly with other scriptures. I will talk to the ministry and try to resolve this."

So the member talks about the disagreement with representatives of the organization he attends.

They patiently explain things to him, and he patiently listens. They have a respectful, honest back-and-forth discussion. But in the end, they still disagree. The member still thinks God teaches something different in the Bible than the leader and ministry of the fellowship he attends teaches.

First, let's ask, is this possible? Can a member with a right attitude and a minister with a right attitude have a thorough Bible discussion about a doctrinal subject, and in the end still disagree? YES. Does the fact that they cannot come to an agreement necessarily mean that one or the other (or both) has a bad attitude and refuses to see the truth? No.


We only know in part (1 Corinthians 13:9-12). Our human minds are limited, and being human we make mistakes in our thinking and reasoning, even in trying to understand what God says in the Bible. God Himself tells us that some of the Bible is hard to understand (2 Peter 3:15-16). And because we have different backgrounds, different histories, talents, temperaments, personalities, experience, education, etc., we make different mistakes. I make mistakes you do not make and you make mistakes I do not make.

Most people learn early in life that you can't always resolve differences of opinion between people with honest discussion. Often you can, but not always. If you are right and the other person is wrong, even if he has a right attitude, that is no guarantee you will be able to convince him.

Understanding of spiritual matters comes from God, and He may withhold understanding from someone on a particular point for a period of time to test our attitudes.

So let's continue with this scenario. The one who disagrees with his ministry about what the Bible actually says now has to make a choice. He still believes the Bible says one thing, the ministry something else. He has to choose who to believe, God or man.

The choice is the same whether the member is right or wrong in his understanding of the Bible. Suppose the ministry is right and the member is wrong about what the Bible really says and means. It doesn't matter as far as the choice is concerned. If the member is wrong, he doesn't know he is wrong. In his mind, the Bible says one thing, and the ministry says something else. He still has to make the choice: believe God or believe his church. It is a point of loyalty and trust. Does he trust God more than man?

Remember, trust and faith in God's word are important to God. Believing what God says is part of the character God is building in us. It is part of the faith that is important to God, that God says we are to have. And that faith is sometimes tested, even severely tested, against opposition. God wants to KNOW that we really believe and trust him, so He tests us again and again to find out, "Do you REALLY believe Me, always?"

So what will the member choose? If he believes his ministry, then he has failed to believe God and has broken faith with God. Whatever is not of faith is sin (Romans 14:23).

The member thinks, well, I can see the Bible says this, but I am not going to believe what the Bible says, I am going to believe the ministry. Is the member right to believe man more than God? No he is not.

And in fact, the ministry might be wrong and the member right about the Bible, even if the member caves in under pressure and believes the ministry. In believing the ministry more than the Bible, the member might be rejecting God's truth.

To commit ourselves to believing our ministers' interpretation of the Bible means either denying the reality that ministers make mistakes, or agreeing in advance to believe their mistakes more than God.

Have I missed something? If you think I am wrong, where is my error in the above steps?

If you are a minister in the Church of God and you think I am wrong about this, if you think a member should believe his ministry more than what he is able to see in the Bible, I challenge you to show me where I am wrong. I promise to try to have an open mind if you can show me through the Bible or through logic where I am wrong. You can enter an anonymous comment, or email me using an anonymous Yahoo email address with a nickname or pen name. No one has done this about this issue.

By the way, did I mention that in the above scenario, the "member" is Catholic, the "fellowship" he attends is the Catholic Church, and the ministry is the Catholic priests and leadership of the Catholic Church? I didn't say that, and in fact, I had in mind the true Church of God, but you can read it again as it would apply to a Catholic and the principle still applies. God does not have two standards - His law of faith is the same for everyone. Read the scenario twice, once thinking how it applies to a member in the true Church of God and once as it applies to a member of the Catholic Church or some Church of God group that has many errors in its teaching.

Which leads me to the next section.

Are We Hypocrites to Teach the World One Way of Thinking But Practice Something Different?

How do we build the Church of God? How do we make new disciples as Christ commanded (Matthew 28:19-20). How are we to "go" and baptize new members "of all nations" as this scripture says? In many cases we have to preach a message to members of other religions that is the opposite of what they have been taught by their own ministry.

The only way we can teach them is to teach them to believe the Bible more than their churches. Unless they believe what they can see in their own Bibles more than what their ministers teach them, they cannot come into the truth. Their ministers will try to "interpret" the Bible for them. That is what the Catholic Church does. Some who have never been Catholic might think that the Catholic Church tells its members to reject the Bible. That is not true. What the Catholic Church teaches its members is to believe the Catholic Church's INTERPRETATION of the Bible. They say, "Yes, the Bible is true, but only the Catholic Church is qualified and authorized to interpret the Bible, and Catholic members should not try to interpret the Bible for themselves. God has given us the Bible and God has provided the Catholic Church to interpret the Bible so that each person doesn't interpret it for himself. God leads the Pope and the priesthood to understand true doctrine and the correct interpretation of the Bible."

So we have to say to the world, "Don't believe us, don't believe your ministers, believe what you can see for yourself in the Bible, believe what God says".

Then, when they come into the Church of God, do we say to them, "Believe us ministers in the Church of God. Don't try to interpret the Bible for yourself. We ministers have studied this issue, so you better listen to us. We are the true ministers and this is the true Church, and you need to have faith to trust Christ to lead the Church into true doctrine"?

So we teach one way of thinking to the outside world, then when new members come in we teach them another way of thinking in the Church of God? So the way of thinking we teach outsiders to bring them into the truth is not the way of thinking they should practice once IN the truth and in the Church of God?

If we do that, are we not hypocrites? And if we are doing that, no wonder we are collectively doing such a small work of preaching the gospel to the world. We need God's blessing for an open door to preach the gospel, and I do not think God gives a very big blessing to hypocrites. Christ often rebuked the Pharisees for their hypocrisy.

God hates a double standard. "You shall do no injustice in judgment, in measurement of length, weight, or volume. You shall have honest scales, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt" (Leviticus 19:35-36). "You shall not have in your bag differing weights, a heavy and a light. You shall not have in your house differing measures, a large and a small. You shall have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure, that your days may be lengthened in the land which the Lord your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who behave unrighteously, are an abomination to the Lord your God" (Deuteronomy 25:13-16). "Dishonest scales are an abomination to the Lord, but a just weight is His delight" (Proverbs 10:32). "Diverse weights and diverse measures, they are both alike, an abomination to the Lord" (Proverbs 20:10). "One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you" (Exodus 12:49). "One law and one custom shall be for you and for the stranger who dwells with you" (Numbers 15:16).

If we believe and trust the Church of God ministry and leadership to interpret the Bible for us, how are we different from Catholics when they believe their church's interpretation of the Bible more than what they can see the Bible actually says?

Imagine you are in a conversation with a Catholic about a point of Church of God doctrine that you do not understand from the Bible, but your Church of God minister tells you to believe. The Catholic asks for an explanation of this particular point of doctrine, and you are trying to defend it. But you can't, not honestly, because you don't really see it in the Bible. You try to remember the words of the minister who explained it to you so you can parrot the same words in defending it, but you can't, or the Catholic challenges you with different questions than you asked your minister, and you don't have the answer. In your mind, you are thinking, well I believe this because the minister tells me to, but you can't say that to your Catholic friend because he or she would say, "Wait a minute. You told me before to believe the Bible, not my church. But you believe your Church of God more than the Bible - you are doing exactly what you told me I should not do." So you struggle in your explanation to your Catholic friend because you can't tell him or her what you are really thinking. Sooner or later, you start lying, saying things you don't really believe, or you walk away. What does God think about that?

We are hypocrites if we tell the world to believe the Bible more than their ministers, but do not do the same.

The Church of God needs a greater atmosphere of faith, but if we try to build an atmosphere of faith in the ministry and leadership of our Church, we are building on a wrong foundation. We need to build an atmosphere of faith in God and His word, the Bible, if we want more healings and more power to preach the gospel to the world.

Church of God leaders and ministers should not compete with God for the faith and trust of the membership. Faith is towards God alone. Christ is the head of the Church and the head of the ministry. Christ leads the ministry perfectly, but the ministry can be wrong because they do not follow Christ perfectly. Faith in the ministry and in the ministry's teaching is NOT, therefore, faith in Christ. Only the Bible is perfectly free from error and is a perfect reflection of God and God's teaching. As Mr. Armstrong taught, the Bible is the Word of God in print just as Christ is the Word of God in person, the same word (John 1:1, 14, Revelation 19:13). We feed on Christ by feeding on the Bible. We must let the Bible interpret itself.

The ministry has a teaching role and can help us find answers in the Bible. Sometimes discussions do resolve issues, and the ministry can sometimes explain things to us so we can be in agreement. But if not, we must choose to believe God, not man, until God opens our minds, or the mind of the minister, to see the true answer from the Bible.

Faith in the Bible Does Not Cause Division

While we disagree with the ministry about a doctrine, we should not discuss our disagreements with other members or contradict the ministry, and that may mean avoiding discussion of certain doctrines. Although God has not given authority over the faith of the members to the ministry, He has given them authority over official Church teaching, and if we contradict the ministry, teaching members of the fellowship we attend doctrinal views different from the ministry, we are taking a role God has not given us, we are undermining the authority of the ministry in the eyes of other members, we are creating division, and we are disobeying God. We should keep our disagreements with the ministry to ourselves and wait for God to make the correction in His time, whether that means He corrects the ministry or corrects us by opening our minds to understand our errors.

No minister or Church of God leader should say that members should believe what God's government in the Church teaches about the Bible and about spiritual matters, even when the member does not see and understand it himself IN THE BIBLE, and make the excuse, "Well, if the member doesn't believe us, he will inevitably grumble, murmur, complain, contradict, spread his wrong ideas, and cause division." THAT IS NOT TRUE! And that is not an excuse for teaching members to believe the ministry more than what they see and understand in the Bible. Those are separate issues.

Just because a member does not believe a minister DOES NOT MEAN he is going to complain and contradict the minister. Members know, or can learn, to respect authority and keep quiet about things they don't agree with. Many already know this and do keep quiet and show respect to authority even while they believe the Bible more than the Church. I have practiced this, and it works - it keeps peace and does not cause division.

Whether to believe everything God's government teaches before a member can prove it for himself in the Bible is one issue. Contradicting the ministry in conversation with other members and causing division is a different issue. Don't tie them together. THEY ARE TWO SEPARATE THINGS.

Those members who do not respect the minister's authority for teaching and contradict him in conversation with other members are causing division and should be put out of the Church after one or two warnings (Romans 16:17, Titus 3:10). But those who quietly respect the authority of the ministry for determining what will be officially taught in the Church should NOT be told they need to believe the teachings of the ministry whether they can see it or not in their own Bibles.

I think this will prove over time to be one of the most important issues in the whole Church of God between now and the tribulation. It goes to the very heart of our relationship with God. God may test each of us individually on this issue through the circumstances God puts us in. Each of us may have to choose where we stand.

Here are links to related posts in this blog:

"Douglas Winnail Sermon - Characteristics of the True Church", dated Monday, August 2, 2010, link:

"Does Christ Impose His Will on His Church?", dated Thursday, September 2, 2010, link:

"Double Standards", dated Tuesday, October 5, 2010, link:

"The Responsible Use of New Knowledge", dated November 5, 2010, link:

"Should We ASSUME the Church Is Right About Scripture?", dated Friday, November 19, 2010, link:

"Should We Trust God's Ministers?", dated Friday, December 24, 2010, link:

"A Key to Faith", dated Monday, December 19, 2011, link:

"How Should We Listen to Ministers?", dated Thursday, May 24, 2012, link:

"Why Should We Believe?", dated Wednesday, June 13, 2012, link:

"The Lesson of 1 Kings 13", dated Sunday, July 8, 2012, link:

"Faith Is More than Believing God's Promises", dated Tuesday, August 21, 2012, link:

"Renewing an Atmosphere of Faith in the Church of God", dated Monday, August 27, 2012, link:

"Speaking the Same Thing in the Church of God", dated Monday, September 10, 2012, link:

"Two Limitations on Authority of God's Ministry", dated Friday, September 28, 2012, link:

"Should Members or Ministers Be Disfellowshipped for Disagreeing about the Calendar, New Moons, or Eating in Restaurants on the Sabbath?", dated Thursday, November 8, 2012, link:

"Let's Not Focus on Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong - Part 3", dated Thursday, March 7, 2013, link:

"Right and Wrong Examples of Correcting Someone Over You", dated Sunday, March 24, 2013, link:

"Should Someone Who Contradicts Church Leadership Be Disfellowshipped?", dated Thursday, April 11, 2013, link:

"Why Philadelphia Must Be Willing to Change Doctrine", dated Saturday, April 13, 2013, link:

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


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Should You Read "Other Literature" and Websites?

God gives each of us the responsibility of guarding the doors of our minds from corrupt or tempting influences. "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell" (Matthew 5:29). "Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple" (Romans 16:17-18). "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things" (Philippians 4:8). Probably the most important way we protect our minds is by sharply limiting this world's entertainment. We should avoid TV and movies that are filled with violence, sex, foul language, the occult, taking God's name in vain, wrong values, and the like. In our day and age, in practice, this means avoiding most TV and movies.

But we also need to pay attention to what Church literature we read in print or on the Internet or sermons we listen to on the Internet outside of the fellowship we attend. Some of it may be good, but there is also an awful lot of garbage out there, and we need to exercise the discernment to know the good from the bad and avoid the bad. There are writers and speakers "among us" in the whole Church of God and on the Internet who cause division, sow disrespect towards authority, and spread heresy (Romans 16:17-18, 1 Timothy 1:3-7, 6:3-5, 2 Timothy 2:14-26, Titus 1:10-16, 3:9-11, 2 Peter 2:1-22, Jude 4-19).

Sometimes the leadership of a Church of God fellowship must "mark" someone (announce to the fellowship that the person should be avoided) for creating division by teaching heresy or by criticizing the leadership of a fellowship with members of that fellowship. This is in accordance with the following scripture: "Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them" (Romans 16:17). Making judgment calls about putting someone out is part of the binding and loosening authority God has given the leadership and the ministry. "Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 18:18). "For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Corinthians 5:3-5).

Likewise, we have a responsibility to police our own reading and listening habits on the Internet. If we choose to use the Internet, we need to separate the wheat from the chaff and to avoid writers and speakers when we discern that they are having a negative effect on our minds, our spiritual condition, and our relationship with God.

Nevertheless, we also have a responsibility to "prove all things" as God commands (1 Thessalonians 5:21, Acts 17:10-12).

I have heard that some Church of God organizations prohibit their members from reading literature of other groups or listening to sermons of other Church of God groups on the Internet, or visiting other groups. Most fellowships do not make such a general prohibition, but some might. Must members of such a fellowship obey such a ruling?

In general, we should obey our ministers (Hebrews 13:17, 7). But because our first obligation is to God and because of our obligation to prove all things, there are times when we have to research and get the facts before making an important decision. This may sometimes include reading literature or websites outside of the fellowship we attend even if the ministry of that fellowship tells us not to. Sometimes, we have to obey God rather than man (Acts 4:18, 5:29).

The fact is, the Church of God is divided into many fellowships right now. Not only is the Church divided into various groups, many of which compete with each other, but conditions in each Church organization can change.

In these times, when the whole Church is no longer organizationally unified as we were when Mr. Armstrong was alive, some members may find themselves in a situation where they need to prove which Church of God fellowship is doing the best job of serving God and which organization God wants them to support and attend. To do this, we may have to research other groups and read their literature.

Moreover, because organizations can change (Worldwide is proof of that), some may feel an ongoing responsibility to keep aware of the state of other groups and the Church of God as a whole.

Sometimes we may also need to research the teachings of other groups in order to prove particular doctrines from the Bible, when issues come up. I do not say we should look for disputes, but sometimes we have sincere questions about doctrine or about scriptures and we need to really prove something that concerns us. You cannot prove something by only looking at one side. Anyone can make a case for or against any particular doctrine by selectively quoting scripture to support only one side. If you only look at one side, if you only look at scriptures that seem to support one point of view, that is not proof. "The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him" (Proverbs 18:17). "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

If we know a group or a COG leader or a website is teaching doctrine contrary to the Bible or is displaying a wrong attitude or encouraging us to sin, we certainly need to avoid spending a lot of our time with such sources. We should not read that kind of material just for idle curiosity or entertainment (Romans 16:17-18). "If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds" (2 John 10-11).

There is certainly a time to avoid divisive groups, leaders, and websites as the ministry of the group we attend instructs.

But our relationship with God must always come before any relationship with the Church of God organization we attend and its leadership. It is a judgment call we must make, and if we discern that we must research or read COG literature or websites outside the group we attend to preserve our relationship with God, by obeying His command to prove all things, for example (1 Thessalonians 5:21), or to know where God is working and who is doing God's work most effectively and preaching His word most faithfully, or to receive needed spiritual instruction that the group we attend does not provide on a particular subject or in general, or for any other serious and necessary reason, then it is not wrong to read material outside the group we attend. Sometimes our loyalty to God requires it.

I wish this were the Philadelphia era and that we were all Philadelphians, united under one faithful leader in one organized fellowship, not scattered into competing organizations. Then, this question of reading other COG literature would not be an issue. But that is not the case. We are scattered, and sometimes we have to look at the state of the whole Church of God, not just the group we are in.

Here are some quotes from my book, Preaching the Gospel:

"Among the various Churches of God that trace their roots to Herbert W. Armstrong, there are one or more Church of God organizations that may seem to place great importance on Mr. Armstrong and his teachings, and they also say that it is very important to know who God is working through today. I have also heard that one or more of these organizations strictly instruct and command their members to not read any literature from any other church including other Churches of God that claim to be continuing in the teachings of Mr. Armstrong....

"I also notice that one or more Churches of God may place a very heavy emphasis on the principle of God working through a man. It seems to me that those who say this are in effect saying that we should follow that man alone, even to the point of letting that man interpret the Bible for the membership and believing that man's interpretation, even without real proof from the Bible that his interpretations of Scripture are correct. In this view, we follow God by following the man.

"Is this all consistent? Didn't Mr. Armstrong teach by word and example that we prove what is true by looking at both sides of an issue?

"The Bible teaches us, and Mr. Armstrong taught us, that we are to 'prove all things' (1 Thessalonians 5:21). If knowing who God is working through today is important, then this should be one of those things we should prove and not carelessly assume that we know without proof.

"How do we prove something? Mr. Armstrong taught us by his example in his autobiography that to prove something we have to look at both sides of an issue. The Bible also teaches this, in Proverbs 18:17: "The first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him." You can't prove anything by looking at only one side or one set of arguments. The first side will always look right if that is the only side you look at. You have to look at both sides with an open mind. Mr. Armstrong set the example. When he set out to prove whether or not evolution was true, he looked at both sides. He read everything he could against evolution, but he also read everything he could in favor of evolution. When he set out to learn the truth about which day is the Christian Sabbath, he looked at both sides. He read everything in favor of Sunday keeping as well as everything against it and in favor of the seventh-day Sabbath. He taught us to GET THE FACTS. There is even a speech in the Spokesman Club manual called 'Get the Facts'....

"Should a member of a Church of God obey his minister if his minister commands him not to read the literature of any other Church?

"If a member must prove where God is working, and in order to prove the truth on that question the same way Mr. Armstrong taught us to prove things, if that member must read the literature of more than one Church of God in order to get all the facts on both sides of an issue, then this is a case where the member must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29). In that case, even though the member should respect the office held by the ordained minister, the member should give higher priority to God's command to 'prove all things' than to the minister's command to 'not read another church's literature'. So the member should read whatever literature he needs to read and to get whatever facts he needs to prove the truth on any important question the member needs to answer, such as where or through whom God is working.

"This does not mean we read whatever garbage we find just for our personal entertainment. I am talking about particular circumstances where there is a valid reason to read certain literature to get facts needed to prove something in a balanced, objective way on an issue God has given us the responsibility for deciding."

That is from "Chapter 6 - Obtaining God's Help - Practicing What We Preach, Section "Proving the Truth", link:

We should obey our ministers in what they say, unless there is an overriding principle from the Bible that requires, for the sake of our relationship with God, that we obey God rather than man. This is a judgment call we must make as individuals, and God will judge us for what we decide, not any man.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Being in the Right Fellowship Won't Save You

Each of us must have a personal relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ in order to please God and to be saved.

In our relationship with God, we must desire to do God's will. Part of doing God's will includes supporting God's work of preaching the gospel to the world and feeding the flock with spiritual instruction. To do this effectively we should want to support an organized fellowship that is doing that effectively.

We should also have the humility to realize we ourselves need to be fed by God's ministry, and we should seek out a fellowship that will give us good instruction according to God's word.

Usually if we are studying and believing the Bible, we will be able to discern if a minister's preaching to us is speaking according to the Bible or not. We can learn to tell if we are hearing the voice of Christ speaking through the minister or the voice of a stranger. "I am the good shepherd; and I know My sheep, and am known by My own. As the Father knows Me, even so I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold; them also I must bring, and they will hear My voice; and there will be one flock and one shepherd" (John 10:14-16). "My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me" (John 10:27). "Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers" (John 10:5). Christ says that members of His Church will leave a fellowship if they hear the voice of a stranger more than His voice.

Choosing the right organized Church of God to support and attend can be extremely important.

Yet, membership in a Church of God fellowship, no matter how righteous the leadership, ministry, and membership might be, will not by itself save us. God will judge us based on the fruits we produce individually. He will judge us according to our faith, obedience, and works, not that of the leaders and members of the fellowship we attend.

Notice this passage: "The word of the Lord came again to me, saying: 'Son of man, when a land sins against Me by persistent unfaithfulness, I will stretch out My hand against it; I will cut off its supply of bread, send famine on it, and cut off man and beast from it. Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness,' says the Lord God. 'If I cause wild beasts to pass through the land, and they empty it, and make it so desolate that no man may pass through because of the beasts, even though these three men were in it, as I live,' says the Lord God, 'they would deliver neither sons nor daughters; only they would be delivered, and the land would be desolate" (Ezekiel 14:12-16).

The specific context of this is national punishment that comes upon a land for its sins. But there is a principle involved that can apply to the Church of God because this shows how God thinks. We are judged individually. We will not escape a punishment because of our leaders in the Church. We cannot ride other peoples' coattails into the kingdom of God or the place of safety.

So if the top leaders and your pastor in the fellowship you attend are the most righteous men on the face of the earth, that does not guarantee you a seat in God's kingdom or the place of safety during the tribulation. You must believe and obey God personally or you will not make it. Being in the right organization isn't enough if you are not seeking a close personal relationship with God.

Your first responsibility is to draw close to God in Bible study, faith, obedience, prayer, fasting, and meditating about God's plan, His law, His way of life. Then, let God lead you to the fellowship He wants you to support.

Putting an organization first is the wrong priority.

Put God first, and you will have the right priority. Then God will lead you to know what organization you should attend and support, and He can empower you and equip you to serve Him most effectively in that organization.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Preparing for the Coming Crises

One or more crises are coming upon us. We know about the great tribulation. It will be the worst time of trouble for the nations of Israel and for most of the Church of God (Jeremiah 30:4-7). Though a few faithful Church members will be accounted worthy to be protected, probably most of us will have to go through it (Luke 21:36, Revelation 3:7-22, 12:13-17). How we face the trials of the tribulation may determine if we are ultimately saved or lost. Perhaps half of those of us who go through the tribulation will not make it into the kingdom of God (Matthew 25:1-13). Those who go through the tribulation and survive spiritually will probably have to endure martyrdom, and maybe torture, and thus prove themselves to be faithful.

Even before the tribulation, I think there will probably be at least one more major upheaval in the Church of God, comparable perhaps to that which occurred in Worldwide. Members of many fellowships may have to face difficult choices. While it is likely the tribulation will not begin for about ten or more years yet, a crisis in the Church of God can come at any time.

Besides all that, we individually can face severe trials, even trials that test our faith and trust in God and His word, the Bible. We can be going along peacefully, then WHAM, something hits us that throws our life into turmoil.

Each of us needs to be preparing now, spiritually, for times of trial ahead.

It is dangerous to think we can prepare at the last minute. The parable of the ten virgins reminds us of this. The five foolish virgins did not prepare ahead of time, and they lost out. They could not prepare "last minute", and neither can we.

God is training us, but He is also testing us. As merciful as He is towards us individually, He cannot afford to let someone into His kingdom who is not wholly committed to His way of life. He needs to find out if we really believe in His way of life, or if we only want the rewards of eternal life but only kid ourselves that we believe God's way of life is best. If we tell ourselves and God that we want to be in His kingdom, but our hearts are not really with God, then His mercy towards His whole family will override His mercy towards us individually, and He will not let a potential rebel into His kingdom.

This is serious business.

So God has to test us throughout our lives. He gives us a variety of circumstances, sometimes peacefulness, sometimes trials and turmoil, to see how we react.

How well we pass these tests depends on how well we prepare, and the preparation comes before the trial if we are to get through the trial the best possible way. It is during times of relative peacefulness that we need to be "redeeming the time" (Colossians 4:5) to draw close to God.

A key is how we spend our time, for our time is our life. We need to be spending time in Bible study, prayer, fasting, and meditation about God's way of life. And of these four things, I think the most important is Bible study.

With any trial, Satan seeks to deceive us, and God's word, the Bible, is our greatest protection against deception, if we use it properly.

We need to regularly read or study the Bible, all of it, so that we can live by every word of God (Matthew 4:4). We need to read it in an attitude of faith and respect, believing what God tells us. " 'For all those things My hand has made, and all those things exist,' says the Lord. 'But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word' " (Isaiah 66:2).

We are to feed on Christ, and we can do this by feeding on the Bible, because the Bible is the word of God in writing as Christ is the word of God in person. "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14). "As the living Father sent Me, and I live because of the Father, so he who feeds on Me will live because of Me" (John 6:57).

God's Holy Spirit can bring to our minds the scriptures we have read when we need them. "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you" (John 14:26). But we have to do our part to study and read the Bible. God does not remind us of scriptures we have never read.

God tests us by seeing how we spend our time. How much time do we spend with TV, movies, games, recreation, entertainment, and friends? How much time do we spend with Bible study? When we spend time with the Bible, we are taking into our minds God's thoughts and teachings. When we spend time with TV and movies, we are usually taking into our minds Satan's way of thinking and teaching.

God gives us free moral agency to choose life or death. But we do not make this choice just at baptism. We make the choice our whole life, and part of the way we make that choice is where we we invest our time over our entire lifetime since God calls us.

There is a great, worldwide deception coming upon the world and upon those in the Church of God who are not spiritually prepared (Revelation 13:4-8, 11-15, Matthew 24:23-24, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, 2 Timothy 3:13, and Matthew 24:4-5).

There can also be deceptions now in the Church of God. We need to prepare ourselves to resist those deceptions also, if they come.

We can protect ourselves from all deceptions by reading the Bible in an attitude of faith and repentance, showing God that we are willing to believe and obey Him in everything.

One method of Bible study I find effective and simple to apply is to start reading in Genesis 1:1 and read the Bible straight through to the end of Revelation, reading a little each day, slowly, pausing when there is something to think about, and moving a bookmark as I go. Then when I am done, I start over again. I read the New King James Version because it is a literal translation, more accurate than most, and it is easy to read. Then, when a circumstance comes up when I need a scripture or group of scriptures to guide a decision I have to make, those scriptures come to mind, and I believe that God, through the Holy Spirit, reminds me of the scriptures I have read, as Christ promised (John 14:26).

If we study the Bible we will notice several scriptures that, when applied, can further protect us from deception. "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16). "Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his deeds" (Colossians 3:9). "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (Galatians 6:7). If we deceive other people, God may let us reap what we sow. If we sow deception, we may reap deception. See Genesis 27:1-35, Genesis 29:15-25, and Genesis 37:12-35 for a lesson in how Jacob reaped what he sowed - he lied to his father, then he suffered as a victim of lies for much of his future life.

If we lie to others, God may say, "Ok, you think it's ok to lie, you believe in lying, I'll let you become a victim of lies, and see how you like it. Others will lie to you and you'll believe their lies and suffer as a result, till you see what it is like, till you learn your lesson to stop lying."

So if we want God to give us wisdom and spiritual discernment to protect us from Satan's lies and the lies of men, do not lie to others. Speak the truth, or do not answer, but don't lie.

If we immerse ourselves in the Bible and believe and obey what we read, we will find scriptures to protect us from deceivers who teach that the Sabbath and holy days do not need to be kept.

If we live by every word of God, we will find scriptures to protect us from the deception of those who teach that this is not the time to preach the gospel to the world. We will find scriptures to protect us from the deception of making an idol out of Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, a deception promoted by those who say that his doctrines should never be changed. We will find scriptures to protect us from the teachings of false prophets and false apostles. We will find scriptures to protect us from any false doctrines.

If we study the whole Bible and live by it, we will find scriptures to protect us from the deception of those who are overly critical of God's appointed servants and who are against all organization.

But we won't find those scriptures if we don't take the time to internalize the whole Bible and learn to live by it.

There is no shortcut, no substitute for regular, believing Bible study all our lives as a way of life.

To respect the Bible as we should and tremble before its authority over our lives (for the Bible will judge us - see John 5:45-47, 12:48, Revelation 20:11-15, Isaiah 66:2), we need to prove the Bible is inspired by God, and we can do that by using fulfilled prophecy. See chapter one of Preaching the Gospel to learn how to do this (see links at the end of this post).

Once we have proved that the Bible is inspired by God, that it is God speaking, we can then choose to believe and trust God, that His world is true. We can reinforce our faith by building the habit of proving all doctrine by the Bible.

Here is a list of related posts in this blog.

On when the tribulation may start, see:

"When Might the Great Tribulation Start?", published July 1, 2012, link:

"The Groundwork for the Great Tribulation Is Being Laid", published December 28, 2012, link:

On the dangers of future deceptions, see:

"The Falling Away in 2 Thessalonians 2:3", published September 13, 2012, link:

"Is the Falling Away Doctrine a Critical Issue?", published February 10, 2013, link:

"Is the Great Deception to Come a 'Falling Away?' ", published February 18, 2013, link:

"How Should We Prepare to Resist Satan's Deceptions?", published May 5, 2013, link:

On basing our beliefs on the Bible, see:

"Should We Trust God's Ministers?", published December 24, 2010, link:

"A Key to Faith", published December 19, 2011, link:

"How Should We Listen to Ministers?", published May 24, 2012, link:

"Why Should We Believe?", published June 13, 2012, link:

"The Lesson of 1 Kings 13", published July 8, 2012, link:

"Faith Is More than Believing God's Promises", published August 21, 2012, link:

"Renewing an Atmosphere of Faith in the Church of God", published August 27, 2012, link:

"Let's Not Focus on Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong - Part 1", published December 12, 2012, link:

"Let's Not Focus on Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong - Part 2", published February 24, 2013, link:

"What Are the Characteristics of Philadelphian Christians?", published March 3, 2013, link:

"Let's Not Focus on Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong - Part 3", published March 7, 2013, link:

"Let's Not Focus on Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong - Part 4", published March 11, 2013, link:

"Why Philadelphia Must Be Willing to Change Doctrine", published April 13, 2013, link:

On reading the Bible to prepare for future trials, see:

"Preparing for Trials", published August 19, 2010, link:

"Will United Church of God Liberalize Doctrine? - How to Prepare", published September 14, 2011, link:

On why we should not lie to others, see:

"Preaching the Gospel - We Reap what we Sow", published March 6, 2010, link:

"Will United Church of God Liberalize Doctrine? - How to Prepare", published September 14, 2011, link:

"Lying to God", published February 10, 2012, link:

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

Chapter 1 - The United States and Britain in Prophecy


We Need to Repent, Chapter 9