Tuesday, August 27, 2013

How Is God Fair to Punish Those Who Are Blinded?

I started to write the title of this post, "Is God Unfair to Punish...", but I changed it. The question should not be, "Is God fair?". To me, it is a point of faith that God is righteous and therefore just and fair in all His decisions. There is no injustice or unfairness with God.

How do I know this? I believe God. I believe His word, the Bible, because I made a commitment before baptism, to God and to myself, to believe Him. I believe God when He says He cannot lie (Titus 1:1-2, Hebrews 6:17-18). And God says of Himself, in the Bible, that He is righteous, just, and fair.

So the question is not, is God fair. I already know, and anyone who has committed himself or herself to believe God should know, God is fair. The question is, how? Since God is fair and just, why will He punish mankind in the great tribulation and the Day of the Lord for their sins when He knows that the majority of mankind is blinded by Satan and cannot come to Christ unless God draws them (John 6:44, 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, 2 Corinthians 3:14-15, Romans 11:25, Romans 11:7-8, John 12:37-40, Matthew 13:10-17, Revelation 12:9). How is this fair?

A Catholic or Protestant might work on Saturday, go to church on Sunday, observe Christmas and Easter, and pray to images and think he is pleasing God. He doesn't know. Satan has deceived him, and unless God calls him and opens his mind, he cannot know the truth. In a sense, he can't help being deceived. How is God fair to punish him in the tribulation for things he does wrong when he doesn't know better and CAN'T know he is doing anything wrong? Why should he be punished for not understanding what he is not allowed to understand?

The Day of Trumpets is coming up soon, and that day represents the resurrection of the saints and the return of Christ, but it also represents the Day of the Lord, a time when God punishes the world for its sins. The Day of Atonement is also coming soon, a day that represents the putting away of Satan, the one who deceives the world into sinning.

Satan deceives mankind in many ways. He tempts us and leads us to sin. Even in the Church, Satan tempts us and we have human nature. Satan is the great deceiver and tempter, and he even led one third of God's angels into sin (Revelation 12:3-4).

Who is responsible for our sins, Satan who temps us or we who sin?

It is a shared responsibility. Both Satan and we are responsible for our sins. Satan is responsible for tempting us and we are responsible for yielding to the temptation. You might say one-half of the guilt is on Satan and one-half is on us, as a rough illustration.

The two goats Israel sacrificed for the Day of Atonement in the Old Testament illustrates this (Leviticus 16:1-34). The goat that goes into the wilderness represents Satan, and the goat that is killed represents Christ. Our sins are on both goats. Satan bears his own guilt for causing us to sin, but Christ pays the penalty for our share of the guilt.

Christ gives a general principle regarding our level of guilt, and punishment, for our sins. "And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few" (Luke 12:47-48).

The more we know, the more we are able to do right, the greater our punishment if we do wrong. That seems fair.

But what is meant by "few stripes" and "many stripes"? I suppose most people would think of the great tribulation as "many stripes" because the suffering will be so great. I am not so sure that is the case.

I think the "few stripes", the lesser punishment, would be the suffering of this physical life including the tribulation, or corrective punishment during the white throne judgment period. What then would be the "many stripes", the greater punishment? The lake of fire. So if a person is not called and never is able to know the truth in this age, if he sins because he doesn't and can't know better, the worst that will happen to him is the suffering of the tribulation, or the Day of the Lord, and the first death, but he can't lose out on salvation as long as he is blinded.

But if a person is called or able to know the truth, but rejects it, refuses to repent, and deliberately and willfully chooses a life of sin, that person is in danger of the "many stripes", the lake of fire, which is so much worse than the tribulation that there is hardly any comparison. One who just goes through the tribulation will suffer and die but can still enjoy eternal life if he repents in the white throne judgment, but one who dies in the lake of fire loses that eternity permanently. There can be no worse fate for humans.

I don't say that this is the only application of the "few stripes" and "many stripes" passage. That passage illustrates a general principle of God's justice and God's thinking and can be applied to many situations, but this may be one application of that principle.

But this leaves the question, why punish deceived people at all?

I think there are two answers that work together.

Even a deceived person is guilty to a degree. Satan deceives, Satan tempts, but the person does the wrong. Satan leads us to sin, but we give in to it, even unconsciously, even if we are deceived, I think.

For example, a religious Catholic or Protestant celebrates Christmas and thinks he is serving God. Consciously, he tells himself he is doing right. But the heart of man is evil and deceitful and we can deceive our own selves (Jeremiah 17:9). We bury things in our own minds we don't want to face. But at some unconscious or sub-conscious level, the person knows he has not really spent time studying the Bible and believing what God says. He knows he is letting his church do his thinking for him, putting his church in greater control over his life than the Bible. But he buries that thought in the subconscious mind because he doesn't want to face it, and it is Satan who leads him to do it.

He might have come across the information that Christmas is pagan, but as soon as the thought enters his mind, he thinks, "what would my friends think if I stopped observing Christmas?" He can't stand that thought, so his mind searches for a rationalization, some excuse for keeping Christmas, a way he can escape facing the truth, and Satan supplies it - "my church has studied it more than I have and they must be right".

My point is, a deceived person is not totally free from guilt even when Satan deceives him. He is LESS guilty by comparison with someone who knows the truth, but he is not entirely guilt free.

Consider an atheist Nazi military officer in Hitler's army fighting, killing, and oppressing others. He is deceived by Satan into thinking there is no God. But he still knows he is hurting others, but does it anyway because he cares more about his own happiness than that of others. That brings guilt upon him, even though he is deceived.

A selfish man is guilty, even if Satan teaches him to be selfish - the man knows he is hurting other people and he doesn't care, thus he deserves to be hurt himself as he has hurt others.

But more importantly, God uses punishment to teach us lessons for our own good.

Suppose you have a child that wants to play with matches. To teach a lesson, to save the child from burning himself (and your whole house with you and your whole family in it), you may have to punish. But you are not thinking, the child deserves to be punished. You are thinking, I want to TEACH the child so that I can protect him (and others) from harm.

God uses suffering and punishment as a teaching tool.

God's purpose is to teach mankind the consequences of his acts. It is for this reason God allows Satan to deceive mankind for six thousand years so we get a bellyful of Satan's way, so we learn the lesson for eternity that Satan's way brings suffering.

But for that teaching process to work to full effect, God has to be a true witness. He has to let us reap what we sow, even when He knows that Satan is deceiving us into sin. He can't let us off the hook completely just because "we didn't know". If He did that, we wouldn't learn the lesson as deeply as He wants us to learn it.

If God removed ALL the consequences of our sins, He would be giving us a false witness to the effects of sin. Deceived or not, we commit acts that bring wrong consequences, and God wants us to learn the hard way what those consequences are.

The way the human mind works, we will not accept the truth unless it is strongly impressed on us with suffering. Mankind has to experience suffering to learn for eternity the consequences of sin. It is humbling, but it is part of the way God shapes our character.

God uses the process of sin-judgment-penalty as a teaching tool to develop character in the human race.

Paul wrote, "But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath? (I speak as a man.) Certainly not! For then how will God judge the world?" (Romans 3:5-6). Also, look at Romans chapters 9, 10, and 11. For example, "What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? Certainly not! For He says to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whomever I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whomever I will have compassion.' So then it is not of him who wills, nor of him who runs, but of God who shows mercy. For the Scripture says to the Pharaoh, 'For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I may show My power in you, and that My name may be declared in all the earth.' Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. You will say to me then, 'Why does He still find fault? For who has resisted His will?' But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, 'Why have you made me like this?' Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?" (Romans 9:14-24). I don't claim to understand every aspect of Romans chapters 9, 10, and 11. But this does indicate God knows what He is doing, that He can work things out to teach us lessons and to work out His will, and that as our Creator He has the right to work things out as He chooses.

My understanding of this is that God's judgments, for those deceived, is for teaching, and for that teaching process to work, God has to judge the world for its sins even when it is deceived.

But lessons God teaches the world, through judgment and punishment, includes a warning, which is part of the lesson, a warning people will take to heart in the white throne judgment: if God punished so severely when you did NOT know the truth, how much greater will he punish you now after you know the truth if you refuse to repent. That warning is about the lake of fire.

God uses suffering as a tool, to test people and to teach them lessons. Even the innocent suffer (Christ suffered), and Christians go through trials of suffering not always in punishment for sin. How much more can God use the suffering of punishment to teach lessons to those who all their lives have lived selfishly even though Satan has deceived them into thinking the selfish way is best?

God is fair, and His coming punishment of the world for its sins, represented by Trumpets, is fair. After Satan is put away and is no longer able to deceive mankind, those who have survived to live into the millennium will remember the suffering of the last years of this age, and without Satan to deceive them, they will be able to learn the right lessons from it and know that God corrected them for their long-term good.

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

The Day of Trumpets - the Second Coming of Christ, Chapter 2

The Day of Atonement - the Putting Away of Satan, Chapter 2

Saturday, August 24, 2013

How Important Is the Structure of Governance in the Church?

There are many doctrines in the Church of God. There are many issues, points, and details in God's law and way of life. There are a number of questions and controversies among ministers and brethren in the whole Church of God. Some questions are more important than others. Some doctrines are more important than others. How do we know what is more important and what is less important?

Christ rebuked the Pharisees for neglecting the weightier matters of the law while they concentrated on small details (Matthew 23:23-24). This verse illustrates that some matters of God's law are weightier, more important, than others. The three matters Christ mentioned here, justice, mercy, and faith, must be counted as the most important. There are other matters of God's law that are important, not as important as these three, but important nevertheless, and there are matters of God's law that are less important.

How do we know what is more important and what is less important, as a doctrine, or as a question, or as an issue?

First, any issue can be important for an individual if that issue becomes a test of faith and obedience for that individual. If the issue itself seems minor to other people or to the Church of God as a whole, it may be important for a particular member because it is used by God to test the faith and obedience of that member, and it is the faith and obedience that is important to God.

God can use particular details of doctrines or particular specific commands, details or commands that may not seem weighty of themselves, to test a man or woman to see if he or she is willing to believe and obey God. God can use a small matter to test our attitudes towards Him and His law. The doctrines or issue itself may be minor. But if it is used as a test of faith and obedience, it can be of major importance for the person who is tested by it.

Think of a small doctrine or an issue or question about a minor matter in the Church of God. I won't try to mention one as an example. No matter what I mention, it may seem major to someone else. You think of something that you think is one of the less important doctrines or issues in the Church. Now, picture a Church of God member studying this question, doctrine, issue, or point of law in the Bible. He finds instruction in the Bible that tells him he needs to change his thinking or his behavior regarding this issue. But it is hard for him to change. It becomes a test. If he does not believe what God says or refuses to obey, he fails the test. This affects his character. If he chooses to disbelieve or disobey God in this small point, he is building a wrong habit of mind and choice, the habit of disbelief or disobedience. If he is unfaithful in a small matter, he is more likely to be unfaithful later in a bigger matter (Luke 16:10).

What goes on in this person's mind is that he is forced to make a choice, to believe and obey God even when it is hard, or to take the easy route of disbelieving or disobeying what God says.

The choice the person makes will have a long-term effect on his or her character. And that test is the same even if the person is mistaken in his or her understanding of the issue in the Bible. A man or woman who chooses to do what he or she THINKS God forbids is choosing to disobey God, even if the person is mistaken about what God forbids.

That is why Paul said that whatever is not from faith is sin (Romans 14:23).

Study this whole issue in Romans 14:1-23. Paul is using an example of eating meat sold in the market that has been sacrificed to idols. He also uses a couple of other examples, vegetarianism (verses 1 and 2), and observing a day (verses 5 and 6), and God did not inspire Paul to specify what kind of day he is talking about. Today there are people who think it is important to observe new moons, and I do not rule out the possibility that this could be talking about new moons.

What Paul is saying in this passage is that it is NOT wrong, of itself, to eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols. BUT, it is wrong for a person to do so if that person THINKS it is wrong, if he thinks it is against God's will. In that case, he should not eat meat sacrificed to idols, though others in the Church may do so without sinning. But if the one who thinks it is wrong eats, he has sinned. Paul is making the point, do not pressure or entice that person to do what he thinks is wrong even if you know it is not wrong. How important can that be for the person who thinks it is wrong? He could lose his salvation over it! Paul said, "Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died" (Romans 14:15). If a person who thinks it is wrong to eat does what he thinks is wrong, it could destroy him! That is pretty serious. That is not an unimportant matter for that person.

Why? Because if a man who thinks it is wrong to eat meat sacrificed to an idol eats anyway, he has refused to obey God in his mind. He has made the choice to disobey God. That can have a long term effect on his character. God sees his attitude, that he is not willing to submit to God's will.

God can use many kinds of instructions and commands to test our submission to Him and our faith in His word. It is the attitude of trust in God's word and submission to His will that God is looking for, and God can determine that with issues and instructions that can seem minor to other people not being tested with that particular issue.

How did God test Abraham? He tested him with a command to kill his son, to make a sacrifice of him. This is not a permanent instruction, in fact, God specifically calls sacrificing one's children an abomination (Deuteronomy 12:31). This was a one-time special command, but it was important that Abraham obey it. God stopped him from going through with it, but tested him far enough to know that Abraham was submissive to God's will and commands (Genesis 22:1-18, James 2:21-24).

In one example in the Old Testament, a prophet was instructed to go someplace, deliver a message, then return another way and not eat food with anyone. He disobeyed, eating with another prophet, and God killed him for it (1 Kings 13:1-32). How important was it that he not eat with the other prophet? All he did was share a meal. But it was important that he obey God's instruction, and God killed him for his disobedience.

God killed Uzzah for putting his hand on the ark of God to steady it when it was being transported (2 Samuel 6:6-7). Sometimes little things are important when they show what our attitude is towards God and His word.

So any issue can be important for an individual if God uses that issue to test the person's faith and obedience, even if the issue is not major of itself and not of great important to the Church of God as a whole.

Having said that, some issues, doctrines, and questions are fundamentally and inherently more important than others. Christ mentioned three: justice, mercy, and faith, and He said they were weightier than tithing (Matthew 23:23-24).

In the matter of importance, where does the structure or form of governance in the Church of God stand? I am sure it is less important than the three weightier matters of justice, mercy, and faith. But is it of some importance nevertheless? How should we rank it?

By structure of governance, I am referring to a particular question or issue. The question is, is it right in God's sight for a Church of God fellowship to choose its leaders by the voting of the ministry, or is that wrong?

I am asking, is this an important question? Or is the whole matter of Church of God governance a minor matter?

I will use an example of a minor matter, one I have talked about in this blog. The question of whether 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is referring to a falling away in the Church from the truth or a worldwide deception of the unconverted by the beast and false prophet is a minor question. The reason it is not important is that we already know about falling away in the Church and about a worldwide deception of the unconverted by the beast and false prophet from other scriptures. For an explanation of this, see these related posts in this blog:

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

"Is the Falling Away Doctrine a Critical Issue?", dated February 10, 2013,

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

So to go back to my question about governance, is the question of Church of God governance a minor question or issue or matter, like 2 Thessalonians 2:3, or is it of some importance? How do we judge what is important and what is minor?

I will suggest criteria for judging an issue's importance.

If an issue is a temporary detail without a major effect, it is of less importance than an eternal principle that will always be followed in the kingdom of God for which we are being trained.

Why did Christ say that justice, mercy, and faith are more important, "weightier", than tithing? Tithing is temporary. It probably did not exist among God's angels before man was created on this earth. It may or may not exist in the new heavens and new earth. It is not necessarily eternal. Yet justice, mercy, and faith are permanent, eternal aspects of God's character and will be practiced in His kingdom forever, whether or not tithing is practiced in some form for eternity.

I think Church of God governance is important, and I think it is important because it is based on the eternal principle of God governing His kingdom from the top down. Before man was created, God and Christ never derived their authority from angels who voted them into office. Nor will positions in God's kingdom after Christ returns be determined by the voting of those under the authority of those positions. God the Father appointed Christ. God and Christ determine our positions in the kingdom of God. The authority to appoint to a position always is from the top down.

In the millennium, if we rule over five cities, it will be because Christ has appointed us to rule over those cities, not because the residents of those cities vote us into the office of mayor of those cities. Nor will the people be able to vote us out of the office God gives us.

God's way of governing and choosing persons for position and office is from the top down because the one at the top knows best who should hold a position.

In the examples of United Church of God (UCG) and Church of God a Worldwide Association (COGWA), who knows best who should be chairman and who should be president of those fellowships, Christ the head of the Church or the hundreds of ordained ministers in those Churches? I think, in effect, the leadership of UCG and COGWA say (or imply without saying), the ministers know best, but I say, Christ knows best. Christ would make a better choice than the ministers will make by their voting because Christ has greater wisdom, knowledge, and understanding than the ministers. The ministers can only judge by what they see and hear, but Christ knows the heart.

The prophet Samuel thought David's brother, Eliab, was God's choice for king of Israel to replace Saul. "So it was, when they came, that he looked at Eliab and said, 'Surely the Lord’s anointed is before Him!' But the Lord said to Samuel, 'Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart' " (1 Samuel 16:6-7).

When the ministers in UCG and COGWA vote for and choose who their leaders will be, do they look at the outward appearance, or do they look at the heart? Are they men? If they are men, God says, they look at the outward appearance. It is God, not man, who looks at the heart. Only Christ has all the facts to make the best decision to determine who the leaders of UCG and COGWA should be - the ministers who vote are unqualified to make that decision. Even if they had the wisdom of Christ, which they don't, they do not have enough information to make a right decision. They are taking to themselves a decision that belongs to Christ. In effect, they seem to think they know better than Christ. They do not want to submit to Christ and His authority, nor do they submit to the authority of God's word, the Bible, which clearly teaches that God makes His choices known through appointment and through fruits, not voting.

Which raises another point. There is another criteria that can sometimes be used to determine how important a doctrine or question is. And that is, how clear is the Bible on the issue? If the Bible is very clear about an doctrine, that tends to make it more important than a doctrinal question that the Bible is not clear about. One of the reasons the controversy over 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is not of great importance is that the Bible is not crystal clear whether this one verse is referring to a falling away in the Church or a worldwide deception of the unconverted by the beast and false prophet. You can find plausible reasons in support of either conclusion. It might have a dual application, referring to both a falling away in the Church and a deception of the unconverted. God does not make it that clear one way or another.

How clear is it in the Bible that God's government in the Church is from the top down? It is crystal clear. There are many examples of how God chooses leaders and makes His choices known, and it is always one or a combination of these two methods: appointment from one in greater authority or by the fruits. In chapter 8 of my book, Preaching the Gospel, I go through all, or nearly all, of the examples in the Old Testament and New Testament showing how God chooses leaders and makes His choice known. There is not one example God gives of how He chooses leaders in His government where He makes his choice known through the voting of those under authority to elect those over them. There are many examples of leaders being made known by appointment from above or by fruits.

There are many more passages of scripture that prove governance from the top down, not by balloting, than there are that prove many other established Church of God doctrines. It is one of the clearest and most proved doctrines of the Bible.

But Satan has a controversy with God. He does not want God's government from the top down because that puts God over him in authority. He doesn't want God telling him what to do. He wants to do things his way. Satan is the spirit behind democracy, the inventor of democracy, because it is an expression of his nature. Democracy is an expression of the "me" attitude, the attitude that says, "I don't want anyone telling me what to do. I do not want God appointing leaders over me. I want to be able to choose my own leaders, leaders I know will tell me what I want to hear, leaders who will not make me do anything I don't want to do." It is the attitude of rebellion against God.

In any organization, no matter how large or how many levels of authority, as long as government is from the top down, God is in administrative control right down to the very bottom. But if at any point in the structure that chain of command is broken, if at some point a certain level of leadership is not chosen from the top down but from the bottom up, then the administrative control from the top does not reach to the bottom. God the Father is the head of Christ. A pastor leads the members of his congregation. But the chain of command from the Father to the members is broken if the pastor follows leaders that he and the fellow pastors have chosen through voting rather than the leaders Christ would choose. The members follow their pastor and Christ follows the Father, but the pastors do not follow Christ, they follow men they have voted for, not necessarily Christ's choice at all.

And if you think that is not the case, show me from the Bible or from logic that I am wrong.

We are being trained for the kingdom of God, and we are being taught lessons by experience. We should be practicing all of God's ways, living the righteous way of life we will live in God's kingdom, to learn that way of life by practice and experience. Practicing balloting in the Church of God is contrary to God's way of life. It is contrary to our training for the kingdom of God. It is part of Satan's way, brought into the Church from the world, learned from Satan's world, modeled after the democracies of this world, based on the philosophies of this world. It is the wrong kind of training, teaching us wrong lessons we will have to later unlearn through bitter experience. It takes us backward in our thinking, not forward to the kingdom of God.

That makes governance fundamental and of much greater importance than many other issues and questions, such as which of two events 2 Thessalonians 2:3 is referring to.

I also said that an issue can be important because of its effect, and here the question of governance can have a major effect on God's work of feeding the flock and preaching the gospel to the world. Voting tends to magnify division and cause splits, as it did in United Church of God, as ministers maneuver and "line up" to defend and support their cause, whatever it is. Once this process starts, it tends to grow till an organization can be split in two over minor or in some cases nearly invisible issues. The voting itself becomes the issue. Taking sides becomes the issue. Those in authority tend to protect themselves and the cause they support by getting rid of those who might vote against them. Also, since the ministers who vote are not submitting to Christ and His way, it is likely they will choose the wrong men to lead them, and that can also have an adverse effect on feeding the flock and preaching the gospel to the world, because it is the leadership and the ministers who vote who determine the doctrines that will be "fed" to the congregations, and it is the leadership and ministers who vote who decide how much money will be spent on preaching the gospel to the world rather than on their own salaries and benefits. I would rather leave those decisions to Christ.

If you want an example of how governance by balloting can contribute to a spirit of division and the split of an organization, read some of the posts in this blog around the time of the split of United Church of God, posts dated from around December 2009 through around December 2011, during which time UCG split into two groups. I have chronicled much of the history of that event and discussed the issue of the structure of governance in this blog during those two years.

Governance in the Church of God is a major issue. Governance from the top down in the Church is a major doctrine of the Bible.

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

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The Role of the Ordained Ministry in God's Government

The Church of God is the collective body of all who have God's Spirit dwelling in their minds (Romans 8:9-11). God has promised the gift of the Holy Spirit upon the conditions of faith, repentance, and baptism (Acts 2:36-39). The Holy Spirit helps us understand spiritual knowledge (John 14:26, 1 Corinthians 2:9-16). It is God's life within us that makes us sons of God and members of the true Church of God (Romans 8:10-11). God knows who are His. He knows who has His Spirit and who does not.

We are being trained for the kingdom of God, and for that purpose and other reasons God has established His government in the Church and over the Church. But in understanding that government, it is important to understand where it starts. It starts with God the Father.

God's government over the Church and in the Church is one government from the top down, and it starts at the top with God the Father.

Under the Father is Jesus Christ. Under Christ are various positions, offices, and roles in the Church of God, which are filled and carried out by fallible human beings whom God has chosen. Human leaders in the Church have limited lifetimes, and are prevented by death from continuing in office for 2,000 years since the time of Christ. Moreover, the Church of God sometimes expands and a need for more leaders arises. For this reason, and to teach us valuable lessons about government, God has established a system whereby the office of ordained minister is passed from one man to another by the laying on of hands. Thus the term, "ordained ministry".

God has given the human leaders in the Church the authority to choose and ordain ministers for the work of the Church (1 Corinthians 12:28, Ephesians 4:11-16, Matthew 16:19, Titus 1:5-9). We are to respect and honor the office of ordained minister that God has established in the Church (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13, Hebrews 13:17).

God has commissioned the whole Church, not just the ministry, to do the work of God. What do I mean by the term, "work of God"? By work of God I mean the work of feeding the flock, preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to Israel and the world as a witness, making disciples of all nations, and serving the brethren. You could call it the "work of the Church" because it is work we must do, but I call it the "work of God" because it is the work God has assigned to us and the work God does through us.

It is for the purpose of this work that God has established His government in and over the Church, and the ordained ministry (apostles, evangelists, pastors, elders) is part of that government.

But in speaking of God's government, we must always keep in mind that God's government starts at the top with God the Father. That is the top of the pyramid, not any human leader on earth.

Why do I say the that the commission to do God's work is for the whole Church and not just the leadership and ministry? As I explain in my book (see links at the bottom of this post), it is evident when you study Acts that the commission to preach the gospel is not just for the apostles but for the entire Church, for when the Church was scattered, the apostles remained in Jerusalem, but the scattered Church preached the gospel everywhere they were scattered.

The primary way members support the preaching of the gospel today is through their prayers and contributions. Usually, the ordained ministry speaks and writes directly to the public and the lay members support them with tithes and offerings, prayers, encouragement, and service. Members also help by being good examples, by answering questions from the people in the world when asked, and by doing acts of service for the Church and their neighbors.

In most of the rest of this post, I want to address two questions. One, does God ONLY determine positions in His work and His Church, positions of leadership and responsibility, through the ordained ministry? Two, does Christ allow division and contention to occur in His Church, division and contention between members and between ordained ministers and leaders?

First, does God ALWAYS choose leaders in the Church through the ordained ministry? Or does God sometimes choose someone for a position or responsibility in His work whom the ordained ministry has not chosen? We need to look at the examples in the Bible and in Church of God history to see how God works.

We can learn some basic principles of how God works from examples in the Bible even before the Church was established. God has established government in Israel and in the Church, but does not always choose one for leadership whom the established government has chosen. God sometimes goes outside of the government He has set up to choose someone for a job.

"Jesus said to them, 'Have you never read in the Scriptures: "The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes"?' " (Matthew 21:42). This obviously refers to Jesus Christ, and there is a lesson in that, but we see this principle in effect even in the Old Testament. God, who chooses leaders, is not limited by other human leaders He has already chosen. God sometimes goes "outside the system" to choose a person for office. We see that in the Old Testament, the New Testament, and Church of God history in modern times.

God established a system and priests, judges, and later kings to govern ancient Israel. God commanded that these offices be respected and obeyed (Deuteronomy 17:8-13). But there was no system or procedure for priests, judges, or kings to appoint God's prophets described in the Bible. God chose His own prophets. This was necessary because God used the prophets to directly rebuke the people including the priests, judges, and kings in the governmental system God has set up.

God did not choose David to be king through the established king, king Saul. Saul had been chosen by God to be king, but God did not use Saul to say to David, "by my authority as king, which office God gave me, I appoint and ordain you, David, to be king after me". Instead, God directly appointed David to be king and arranged circumstances to make known to Israel that David was God's choice to be king. Again, God went "outside the system" to appoint David.

Why did God sometimes go outside the system He Himself had set up to appoint leaders? Some might say, "Because the Holy Spirit was not available to those in the system of priests, judges, and kings, they lacked spiritual discernment, and God sometimes had to go outside that system to choose someone that the establishment could not discern was the right choice". To a degree that was true, but not entirely. Samuel had God's Holy Spirit. He is mentioned in the faith chapter of Hebrews along with Abraham who will be in the first resurrection (Hebrews chapter 11, Matthew 8:11). He is compared with Moses as an example of one who could intercede with God (Jeremiah 15:1) and Moses will be in the kingdom of God and had God's Holy Spirit (Numbers 11:16-17, 24-25, Matthew 16:28-17:9). Yet Samuel, even with the Holy Spirit, could not discern who God had chosen apart from God speaking to him directly and telling him (1 Samuel 16:1-13). Speaking to and about Samuel, who had God's Spirit, God said, "Do not look at his appearance or at his physical stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart" (1 Samuel 16:7). Samuel, even having God's Spirit, would have chosen Eliab, but that was not God's choice (1 Samuel 16:6).

The system of priests and judges continued to the time of Christ, though not necessarily in exactly the same form. Christ said the Pharisees "...sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do..." (Matthew 23:1-4). The scribes and Pharisees were the remnant of the system of government God set up through Moses. Yet God the Father did not choose Jesus Christ through that system. The scribes and Pharisees did not go to Jesus and say, "God has shown us that you are to be the Christ, so we appoint you and ordain you to the office of Messiah." Instead, God chose Jesus directly and gave Him that office, in spite of the opposition of the Pharisees who sat in Moses' seat.

What about in the Church of God after the gift of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost? Did God always appoint leaders through the apostles? No. Christ established His Church and chose His apostles and gave them authority (Matthew 16:19) and the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4). But Christ also went outside of that system to choose Saul who was renamed Paul. Peter did not chose Saul, and neither did any of the other twelve. God did not choose Saul THROUGH the apostles He already had appointed. He went outside His own system on that occasion (Acts 9:1-16).

Did Saul wait till he was ordained a minister or evangelist or apostle by Peter or the other apostles before he began doing the work God had given him to do of preaching the gospel to the people?  Not according to the biblical record. "And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.' Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized. So when he had received food, he was strengthened. Then Saul spent some days with the disciples at Damascus. Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. Then all who heard were amazed, and said, 'Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?' But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ" (Acts 9:17-22). Notice, Saul IMMEDIATELY began to preach. If Peter and the other apostles first ordained him to preach before this occasion, there is no hint of it in the Bible, and why would God leave that out of the record if ordination was a requirement before one could preach?

What about recent Church of God history?

Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong was already doing the work of God directly, by feeding the flock by giving sermons to the Church of God, by preaching the gospel to the world, by baptizing new members, and by doing doctrinal research and submitting new doctrinal knowledge from the Bible to the Church leadership, all BEFORE he was ordained by the hands of men. You can read of this in his autobiography. God had a system of ordained ministers in the Church of God Seventh Day, yet it was not through that system, or through Mr. Andrew Dugger, or through ordained ministers that God chose Mr. Armstrong to do His work. Eventually, AFTER God had already been using Mr. Armstrong, the Church of God Seventh Day did ordain Mr. Armstrong. But they did not choose him. God chose him APART from that system of ordained ministers. In fact, just as the Pharisees opposed Christ, so most or all of the ordained ministers in that Church opposed Mr. Armstrong. I have read that several years after Mr. Armstrong raised up a separate work, the ministry of the Church of God Seventh Day disfellowshiped or marked him. So again, even in modern times, we have an example of how God sometimes goes outside the system to choose one to do a job of some kind, even when human leaders IN GOD'S GOVERNMENT IN THE CHURCH are against God's choice, as the ordained ministers in the Church of God Seventh Day were against Mr. Armstrong.

So, returning to my first question, does God ONLY determine positions in His work and His Church, positions of leadership and responsibility, through the ordained ministry? As I have shown, no, not always. Ordinarily, yes, through the ordained ministry, but not always. The Bible and history show that God sometimes goes outside the system to choose someone to do some kind of work in support of God's purpose.

Second question, does Christ allow division and contention to occur in His Church, division and contention between members and between ordained ministers and leaders? Examples in the New Testament show the answer is yes.

Christ does not approve of division and contention among human leaders in His government in His Church. But He allows it to occur. He gives us free moral agency. Human leaders, being human, sin and make mistakes. There is sometimes contention between members. Christ gave instructions for handling disputes between members (Matthew 18:15-18).

There was division in some of the congregations Paul supervised (1 Corinthians 1:10-11, 3:1-3, 11:17-18). Paul gave instructions to Titus to put out those who cause division after the first and second warning (Titus 3:10-11). Some must have caused division, or why would Paul write about this? Yet, he did not presume those causing division were not converted Church members, else why give a warning before putting them out? The fact that a warning is given shows that there is hope - the one causing division may be a converted Church member who can repent and learn not to cause division anymore. But that also shows that division can occur.

When the apostles came together to resolve a doctrinal matter in Acts 15, there was "much" dispute before it was resolved (Acts 15:2, 7).

Even between Paul and Barnabas there was contention that caused them to separate (Acts 15:36-40).

The messages to the seven churches in Revelation show that the Church is not perfect (Revelation chapters 2 and 3).

After Mr. Armstrong died and Mr. Tkach made doctrinal changes, even the ministers who stayed with the truth overall did not stay together but scattered and were divided among themselves. You can't say that they were all unconverted.

Christ Himself is not divided, nor is there any division between God the Father and Christ or among the holy angels. Christ always leads the Church perfectly, but the Church of God does not follow Christ perfectly because we are imperfect humans, and that goes for the ministry as well as the members. We sin and we make mistakes, and sometimes we are divided because of our mistakes and sins. But Christ is not the source of that division. Our carnal nature, our human weakness, and Satan's temptations are the source of our divisions.

We must not blame God or Christ for our sins and mistakes and the sins and mistakes of others in the Church of God. But just as we do not blame Christ for the sins of men, even men in the Church, we must also not attribute infallibility to our human leaders because Christ is the head of the Church. Human leaders, even those Christ works to lead, sometime choose because of human weakness not to follow where Christ leads, and Christ allows that to happen. And when it does, division can result. We must not blame Christ for the division, but neither should we say that such division is impossible because Christ leads the Church. Division is possible, and we have seen it, and the Bible records it even in the first century (3 John 9-10). Leaders in the Church of God who unfairly and harshly criticize other leaders and thereby cause division will be judged by Christ (Matthew 24:45-51).

What this all means is that God and Christ do not necessarily work only through one united Church of God fellowship and one leader, especially in this Laodicean era. God may work primarily through one leader to the extent that that leader is more faithful than other leaders, because Christ can work through us in proportion to our faithfulness and submission to Him. So Christ can work through one leader more than another, and perhaps some who claim to be Church of God leaders Christ may not be able to work through at all (because they do not submit to Christ at all).

But to say that there can be only one Church of God leader, called an apostle or evangelist or prophet or pastor, and only one fellowship that is really part of the true Church of God, and that all other leaders, ministers, and groups are outside the true Church of God, not converted in other words, and to make that an article of faith, is simply wrong. It is not according to the Bible.

Christ can have more than one man report to Him directly in the work of God. A president of a company can have more than one department head report to him. In the first century, Christ directed the work of Peter and Paul at the same time. Peter did not supervise Paul. And sometimes they disagreed (Galatians 2:11-14).

God's government is from the top down, but the top starts with God the Father, not with any human leader on earth. Under the Father is Christ. Under Christ is the human government in the Church, and that government can branch out into several leaders starting with the next level directly under Christ. It does not always branch out immediately under Christ, but it can.

It is to our shame that we are divided. Our divisions are real, but they are not a reflection of Christ and God's way of life. They are a reflection of our carnal nature.

A leader who teaches that there MUST be only ONE leader under Christ, and who claims that therefore He is the ONLY leader that Christ supervises and that the fellowship he leads is the only true Church of God in its entirety, and teaches that as an article of faith, is not gathering God's people but is further dividing them.

Rather, any faithful leader of a Church of God fellowship should recognize and cooperate with any other leader in the Church of God that is teaching God's truth faithfully, just as Paul recognized Peter and Peter recognized Paul (Galatians 2:6-10).

We build unity by recognizing that, just as God called us, so God has called others, that as we serve Christ, so others in the whole Church of God serve Christ.

"Now John answered Him, saying, 'Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.' But Jesus said, 'Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side' " (Mark 9:38-40). Christ did not say, "he is neutral" but "he is on our side". Christ recognized that anyone empowered by the Father to do God's work is "on our side", and Christ did not look at him as a competitor. In this, as in all other things, Christ set the example.

A key test of a leader is, is he teaching the truth faithfully, or, is he effectively doing God's work faithfully, not, is he submitting to the authority of another Church of God leader faithfully.

If a Church of God leader sees by the fruits that God is working through another man not under the leader's authority, he should not view that man as a competitor to be shunned but as a fellow servant working for Christ, and he should extend the right hand of fellowship to him (Galatians 2:9-9).

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

Organization of the Church and Limitations on the Authority of the Ministry, Chapter 8

How Is the Church Organized?, Chapter 7

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

Can We Make an Idol out of a Man or Church?, Chapter 6

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

We Need to Repent, Chapter 9

We Need to Be More Zealous for the Things of God, Chapter 9

Is the Church Commissioned to Preach the Gospel to the World?, Chapter 5

Saturday, August 10, 2013

We Should Judge Our Own Decisions, Not the Guilt of Others

God gives us responsibilities, and to carry out those responsibilities we have to make decisions and choices. God requires that we make choices in this life, not only choices about right and wrong, but choices in how we carry out the business of living. Often we have to make judgments about other people to make those choices and decisions. We may have to hire an employee. Two applicants apply for the job, but we can only hire one. Which one do we hire? We choose who we will marry. We choose what Church of God fellowship to attend or support. Someone invites us someplace, and we have to say yes or no. We may have a job offer from two companies - which one do we accept? We may be accepted at two colleges, which one will we choose? A pastor must choose who in his congregation will give sermonettes, who will lead songs, who will serve in various capacities, and if someone is asked to serve, he must choose to say yes or no. He must balance his responsibilities to serve with his responsibilities to care for his family.

Many choices have nothing to do with judging other people and their qualifications and character, but many choices do, and we may have to judge others before we make a decision. So in choosing a wife or a husband, a person has to judge their compatibility. In judging whether to hire someone, an employer must judge his or her qualifications as well as character. And so on.

Sometimes, in judging others before making a decision, we have to know something about their character to be able to estimate the results of our decision. If I know something about a prospective employee's past performance, I can estimate what his future performance will be if I hire him, for example. If you are dating someone and you see that person's behavior in a wide variety of situations over a long period of time, you will be better able to judge what their behavior is likely to be if you marry that person.

It is not wrong to form judgments about a person's character when you are making a decision that requires that you know his or her character to make a wise decision. It is not wrong to notice that some people seem to be easily angered. We have to know that in order to apply Proverbs 22:24-25: "Make no friendship with an angry man, and with a furious man do not go, lest you learn his ways and set a snare for your soul." We are instructed not to be friends with people given to anger, but to obey this we have to judge and discern who is given to anger.

It is not wrong to avoid the company of those who would harm us. It is not wrong to judge others to know if being in their presence can harm us, spiritually or physically. It is not wrong to avoid dangerous situations. "A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, but the simple pass on and are punished" (Proverbs 22:3).

We should, with the wisdom and foresight God has given us and continues to give us, anticipate the results of our choices, to discern the best we can the consequences that are likely to result from various courses of action, so that we may chose a course of action that leads to good results.

What loving and wise parent does not teach his or her teenage children to avoid making the wrong kinds of friends, to avoid the company of those who have a bad influence on those around them? Likewise, God teaches us to avoid those that will draw us away from Him and His way of life or may do long-term physical, emotional, or spiritual harm to us. But to do this we have to judge other people. We have to judge what kind of people they are, what their character is like, what their habits of thinking, speaking, and acting are.

We also have a responsibility to judge ourselves, not in the sense of rendering any kind of final verdict on our character, which is God's prerogative alone, but to see where we fall short and what our faults are so we can work on them (1 Corinthians 11:31, 2 Timothy 4:1, John 5:22, 2 Corinthians 13:5).

Yet, Christ teaches, "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you" (Matthew 7:1-2).

We are not to judge the guilt of others, whether they are worthy of punishment or reward, in God's sight. That is God's prerogative alone. Nor should we judge what is not our business, things that go beyond the responsibilities for decision making that God has given us. "Then one from the crowd said to Him, 'Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.' But He said to him, 'Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?' " (Luke 12:13-14). If Christ did not judge matters beyond the responsibilities that the Father had given Him at the time, neither should we.

"Judge not, and you shall not be judged. Condemn not, and you shall not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven" (Luke 6:37).

We should not be in the habit of dwelling on the faults of others, judging them as unworthy of our help or favor or love. This is a common habit of mankind, a character trait of human nature, and because it is part of human nature it is a temptation for us in the Church. People tend to dwell on the faults they think they see in others as a way of magnifying themselves in their own mind, whether they realize it or not. It is an expression of vanity. People like to think they are better than others. The Pharisees had that problem (Luke 18:9-14). But we are to avoid that kind of judging. We should strive to esteem others better than ourselves (Philippians 2:3).

Each of us has a full-time job of searching for, finding, and correcting our own faults. We do not have time to look for the faults in others, to compare ourselves with them, to think we are better than they are (2 Corinthians 10:12).

We should judge those things we have to judge to make the decisions God gives us the responsibility for making. But judging if our neighbor is worthy of our love or his degree of guilt or innocence before God is not our right. Let us make the judgments we have a responsibility to make, and above all let us examine ourselves and correct our thinking and behavior where it is wrong.

If someone, because of his or her faults, is a danger to us or a bad influence on us, we can judge that we should avoid that person, as God instructs us (Proverbs 22:24-25, Proverbs 22:3), but we should still love the person in the sense that we want the long-term best for him or her and we should pray for that person, that God shows mercy in judgment as we want Him to show mercy to us.

Above all, we should not hold grudges, desiring that God punish a person and bring suffering on him or her because that person offended us, unless God punishes to correct the person for his or her good in the long run. We must have an attitude of forgiveness, even if it must be, for our physical or spiritual safety, from a distance from an abusive person for now. We can express that attitude of love and forgiveness by doing good for a person, even the good of praying for him or her.

"For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses" (Matthew 6:14-15).

"But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matthew 5:44-45).

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

When and How to Judge, Chapter 5

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Will War Come Soon?

The United States has closed a number of its embassies in the Middle East and North Africa and issued travel alerts. This is supposed to be in response to information about possible terrorist attacks.

It is possible that terrorist groups are planning an attack or a series of attacks soon against American targets and that the United States government has been alerted to these plans through its intelligence sources. But there is another possibility here.

It may be that the United States or Israel is planning military action of some kind soon in the Middle East or Persian Gulf areas. There has long been speculation about and anticipation of a pre-emptive attack against Iran to prevent Iran from developing a nuclear bomb. This has been talked about for many years, but so far, no attack against Iran has occurred and Iran has not yet developed an atomic bomb. There are other possible conflicts that the United States and/or Israel may get involved in, perhaps involving Syria. In any case, if the United States government plans military action, anticipates being drawn into military involvement by the actions of other states, or anticipates major action by Israel, the United States government may also anticipate terrorist acts to follow in retaliation for military action by the United States or Israel. That may be the reason for the closing of embassies and travel advisories.

So this may be a clue that a new war involving the United States and/or Israel may break out soon, perhaps before the Feast of Tabernacles.

We will have to wait and see what happens.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

"Good Intentions", without Believing God, Is a Recipe for Disaster

I was going to name this post, "Good Intentions without Faith...", but I realized the word "faith" is easily misunderstood. People in the world can have "faith" - faith in themselves, or faith in mankind, or faith in the religion they were raised in.

But the faith I am talking about is faith in God's word, that is, belief in what God says, or as I put it in the title of this post, believing God.

Belief in God's word, believing what God told him, is the kind of faith Abraham had, who is a father of the faithful and example for us to follow (Genesis 15:2-6, James 2:23-24, Romans 4:3-25, Isaiah 51:1-2). It is this kind of faith we should imitate. We exercise the kind of faith Abraham had when we read God's word, the Bible, and believe what God says as Abraham believed God, "and it was accounted to him for righteousness" (Romans 4:3).

Why is believing God important?

Have you ever known someone, maybe a friend or family member, who was about to make a big mistake based on their "good intentions", but you could see it would lead to bad results? You tried to talk to the person and explain, but he or she did not believe you? Have you ever been hurt by someone who was just trying to do what he or she thought was right (but it was not right)?

There is a saying, "The road to hell is paved with good intentions." That saying makes the point that people can do bad things leading to bad results but based on their intention to do what they think is right. The problem usually is that the person who does the bad thing doesn't accurately know what is right or good and what is wrong. The person doesn't understand the bad results that will come from his actions. He thinks good will result. But his knowledge and understanding of consequences is limited.

But that is true of all of us. Our knowledge, understanding, and wisdom are limited because all of us are human. Only God has perfect wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. Only God's mind is infinite.

That is why, "there is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12).

So it is easy for any of us, using our human opinions and reasoning only apart from God's word, to make mistakes in our decisions and choices, thinking we are doing the right thing that will lead to good, but instead it leads to disaster.

But faith in God's word is our protection against disastrous mistakes.

God's knowledge is perfect even though ours isn't. And God teaches us in the Bible the way of life that is right and leads to everything good. We can trust Him that He knows what is best and will never lie to us.

Faith in God's word, believing what God says in the Bible and channeling that belief and trust into obedient action and choices, will protect us from making serious mistakes based on "good intentions" that lead to disaster, suffering, and death.

But we should not just think of this truth in terms of this physical life only. God is building in us the character of faith and trust in His word, not just for this temporary, physical life, but for eternity in His family.

When we are fully born into God's kingdom at the return of Christ, we will continue to trust and believe and obey God and Christ as they direct us in ruling the entire universe. We will never doubt what they tell us thinking we know better. And it is that eternal pattern of faith and obedience that will ensure that the results of our decisions and actions will always be good. Never again will suffering result from somebody's "good intentions".