Thursday, June 26, 2014

Avoiding a Spirit of Hostile Competition / Church of God, a Family Community at Six Months


Mr. Brian Orchard gave an interesting sermon last Sabbath on the subject of competition in the Church of God. He addressed the problem of a wrong spirit of competition between Church of God organizations. His sermon is entitled, "God’s Truth is Not Competitive". Here is a link to the Father's Call webpage that lists that sermon:

He also addressed the subject of putting increased focus on the Father more than Christ.

A wrong spirit of competition has certainly been a problem in the Church of God since the Church was split up following the death of Mr. Armstrong in 1986 and the subsequent changes in doctrine made in Worldwide by Mr. Tkach. The Church is now scattered into many competing fellowships and organizations.

I say "wrong spirit of competition" to qualify "competition". There is certainly a wrong kind of competition in the world. Is there such a thing as a right kind of competition? It depends on what you mean by "competition".

It is not wrong to play a friendly game of basketball or chess, for example. In a sense, playing a game for fun or exercise (mental or physical) or training is not necessarily wrong. You can call it "competition". Whether it is wrong, hostile competition depends on the motives of the players.

If the players have a right spirit, each will try to win, but each will also want the other player to do his best. The goal is to use the game to prod each player to do his best, and it may include the goals of improving one's skills through practice and testing one's skills against an opponent to see where one is weak and needs to improve. The goal is also to have fun, and we can have fun in a game or contest simply by facing and meeting a challenge and learning how to improve.

Imagine you are a father teaching your son to play chess. If he makes a good move, taking your queen for example, would you be disappointed? No, you would probably be glad at his success. If you saw him making mistakes, you would teach him to play better. Your goal is to help him do his best.

Likewise, friends playing chess or basketball may also help each other that way. If you see your friend, your "opponent" in the game, making a mistake he does not realize, you can help him and say, "You know, when we play, I notice you are often making such-and-such mistake. You can be more effective if you do it this way..." And likewise if he sees you making a mistake, or knows of a way to help you improve your game or your performance, he can help you.

That is the right kind of competition, if you want to call it competition.

All competitive games are not necessarily in the wrong spirit. If that were true, we could not have basketball in the Church of God. Church members could not play board games or chess or cards.

It is not wrong to try to help others by pointing out their faults, so they can improve. If the motive is love, that is not a wrong attitude of competition that is so much a part of what the world practices. In fact, pointing out to your opponent his mistakes so he can correct them is the last thing competitors in the world will do. They do not want to see their opponents or competitors succeed. If they see their competitor making a mistake, they will keep silent and hope he keeps making the same mistake.

Can you imagine executives of General Motors saying to the executives of Ford, "You know, we notice you are making a mistake in your marketing, and here is how you can improve"? Or the coach of one NFL team telling the coach of another NFL team in his division, "Here is how you can improve your team and maybe beat us the next time"? No, that is not the world's way. It is not Satan's way. Satan's way is love for self, NOT love for neighbor. It is the way of selfishness. Satan wants those he hates, us, to keep making the same mistakes. He will not correct us for our long-term good.

God's way is outflowing love. That is why God corrects us (Hebrews 12:3-11, 1 Corinthians 11:32). And we are to learn and practice God's way, not the world's way. That is why God teaches us sometimes to correct others. "Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins" (James 5:19-20). "Now we exhort you, brethren, warn those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all" (1 Thessalonians 5:14). "Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted" (Galatians 6:1). "Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter" (Proverbs 24:11). "When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand" (Ezekiel 3:18). Indeed, such correction should be appreciated by one who is converted. "Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; Teach a just man, and he will increase in learning" (Proverbs 9:8-9).

But as Mr. Orchard pointed out, there is often a spirit of hostile competition between Church of God groups, where there should be cooperation.

Sometimes, outward actions of those who correct in love may look similar to actions that come from a spirit of hostile competition. It is a matter of motive. God knows the heart and can know if those who correct are giving correction motivated by love or criticism motivated by the desire to promote the self.

Mr. Orchard said that Satan tries to inject the spirit of competition into the Church, and one way is to place over-emphasis on Christ to the exclusion of God the Father, as if Christ competes with the Father. There is no competition between Christ and the Father. But Satan has influenced traditional, mainstream Christianity to speak of Christ to the near total exclusion of God the Father. Yet the Father must be our focus, and Christ set the example of always giving glory to the Father and not to himself.

Mr. Orchard said something that surprised me. He said that in the past the Church of God has focused too much on Christ and not enough on the Father, and that COGFC is trying to put the focus on the Father. It surprised me because I do not think that Mr. Armstrong taught the Church too much emphasis on Christ, rather, when he was alive I thought we were properly focused on the Father. Perhaps Mr. Orchard was speaking of only the past 16 or so years since COGaic formed under Mr. David Hulme. I have not attended that organization enough to know if they were negligent in focusing on the Father. But Mr. Armstrong was not negligent. He focused on the Father, and so did the Church of God when he was alive. I think many or most converted members of the Church of God today in various fellowships put primary focus on the Father, addressing our prayers to the Father for example.

I do not think COGFC is necessarily more focused on the Father than other Church of God fellowships, though they use the name "Father" in their speaking and website more than other groups. Mr. Orchard seems to think this is a problem in the Church that COGFC is positioned to correct. Whether it is a general problem in COGaic, which COGFC came out of, I do not know. Perhaps someone in COGaic can tell me in a comment. But I do not see it as a widespread problem in the whole Church of God, at least not in the fellowships I have attended.

But I agree with Mr. Orchard that there has been too much of a spirit of hostile or worldly competition between Church of God groups, with each group acting as if it alone is the only faithful part of the Church of God, and that there should be more of a spirit of cooperation between fellowships. Some groups express the spirit of competition when they boast that they are better than other groups. I feel that each group should strive to obey God in a spirit of humility and help other groups do the same. Correction in love in matters of doctrine and policy, even one group showing another group where it is in error and how it can improve, is not wrong, but boasting and bragging against other groups is wrong. It is certainly unseemly.

Mr. Orchard and other ministers in COGFC have said in sermons and Bible studies, if I understand them correctly, that they must learn to love one another better and be better reconciled with the Father and each other before they can teach others outside COGFC. Perhaps there is some truth in that. I do not mean in reference to preaching the gospel to the world. Preaching the gospel to the world is a command from God, and you cannot disobey or neglect that command and hope to reconcile with God. He requires obedience as a condition for reconciliation with Him. But I am talking about teaching other Church of God fellowships. COGFC may indeed need to learn and practice God's way of love better before they teach the rest of the Church of God and other COG fellowships.

For example, COGFC may have much work to do to get rid of the spirit of competition within itself. I was reminded, when Mr. Orchard spoke of competition, of his own reaction to Mr. Peter Nathan and other ministers going to Living Church of God. I heard Mr. Nathan's explanation in a question and answer session that lasted about an hour after Sabbath services in COGFC. He basically took the position that we are all one Church of God - and that is the right position. Thinking the best of COGFC, I expected or half expected that session to be made available for later listening in the Father's Call website, as other sermons, Bible studies, question and answer sessions, and meetings have been published. But they did not do this. I was disappointed. There was good spiritual meat in what Mr. Nathan said, as valuable to the Church as the best sermons and Bible studies you can hear in the Father's Call website. But it was never published. I suspected at the time that it was not published because COGFC had a competitive spirit towards LCG and did not want to publish any message in which the speaker said anything good about LCG. COGFC seemed to express an "us against them" mentality in not publishing that session.

I was also somewhat disappointed in Mr. Orchard's personal reaction to Mr. Nathan and others going to LCG in a letter to COGFC brethren dated, I believe, on or around February 26, 2014, which appeared on the Father's Call website. Instead of congratulating Mr. Nathan and the other ministers and wishing them the best in their new positions, recognizing that we are all one Church of God under God's leadership through Jesus Christ (as Mr. Nathan recognized), Mr. Orchard reacted with disappointment, as if Mr. Nathan did something wrong or unfortunate. Mr. Orchard was polite in his letter and told members that they should not vilify those ministers or feel critical about others having interaction with other groups. Nevertheless, he said it disappointed his expectations. There was no expression of a desire that these new minsters do well in LCG or that the members should pray for their success.

That letter has disappeared from the Father's Call website, otherwise I would provide a link to it. But some of you may remember the tone of the letter.

Kind of strange from a group that teaches reconciliation and non-competitiveness with other Church of God organizations, but maybe not so strange since COGFC admits they have spiritual problems they have to work on - maybe this is one of them.

But one way Mr. Orchard can teach COGFC ministers and brethren to have a non-competitive approach to other groups is not only to give sermons on the subject, but to set an example. He could talk again about Mr. Nathan joining LCG and his letter about it, using himself as an example, and saying what is wrong with that letter and with his reaction to Mr. Nathan going to another group. In other words, he can acknowledge that he behaved in a competitive spirit and make amends, as they say. He can wish Mr. Nathan and others who have joined LCG the best and ask brethren to pray for their success. He can publish Mr. Nathan's question and answer session in the Father's Call website so the brethren who have not heard that session can listen and learn from it, if it was recorded (I would think it was probably recorded by someone).

This would help to show the brethren of all groups that COGFC is genuine in their desire to reconcile with other groups, starting with LCG, and is not just preaching reconciliation and non-competitiveness to please their own members and others they can attract into joining them, to sound good and tell the brethren what they like to hear.

There is a need for COGFC to back up their words with action. Action consistent with their words would do much to improve their credibility. So far as action is concerned, they look just as competitive as any other Church of God fellowship. Can scattered members and members of other groups be faulted for wondering if the stress on "reconciliation with the Father and the brethren" is just a form of "branding" or positioning - a marketing ploy to make it appear to the whole Church of God that they are unique and offer something unique? Is that in fact what it is? Is that why they say that the Church has not placed enough focus on the Father, to position themselves in the minds of the brethren as a group who can teach and correct the whole Church of God in this matter? For COGFC to back up their words of reconciliation with action, to show more respect and appreciation for the decisions of ministers who have left COGFC to join LCG, would give Mr. Orchard's sermon, "God’s Truth is Not Competitive", some of the credibility it needs. It would cause brethren who may doubt Mr. Orchard's sincerity to think, "Yes, he really means what he says, he isn't just saying these things to gain members from other groups, but he believes and practices what he preaches - look, he is reconciling with Mr. Nathan and LCG - he is no longer claiming that COGFC is better than LCG - no longer saying that Mr. Nathan going to LCG is a 'disappointment' with no expression of good wishes for Mr. Nathan and LCG in their new relationship."

Am I being competitive, harshly critical, by pointing these things out? It depends on my motives, and God knows my heart, better than I do in fact. Correction in love is not this world's spirit of competition. The Bible is full of correction, some of it very stern (read Paul's epistles for some examples). That is not because God or the prophets and apostles who wrote the books of the Bible have a hostile, Satan-inspired spirit of competition, but because they want to effect positive change in those they rebuke, for their long-term good.

Mr. Orchard made some good verbal points about competitiveness in the Church of God. If he means what he says, he has an opportunity to show it by his actions in addressing the Peter Nathan issue in a right way, which he did not do in his February letter. He can correct his error publicly and with the COGFC brethren, and that will do more to teach reconciliation by example than any words he gives in a sermon. He can publicly wish Mr. Nathan and other ministers in LCG success and ask for prayers that God bless their work and relationships in LCG. He can publish the recording of Mr. Nathan's question and answer session (if the recording is available). The brethren should hear that session - it was a good session with good spiritual instruction and lessons.

There are a few things in Mr. Orchard's sermon I had trouble reconciling with the Bible. Perhaps I am missing the scriptures that back up what Mr. Orchard said. If so, I would like someone to show me what those scriptures are so I can be corrected. Or, perhaps I misunderstood Mr. Orchard's intent and someone can show me my mistake.

He said that members sometimes ask if it is wrong to pray to Christ, and Mr. Orchard said, Christ said not to. He didn't quote scripture as I remember, but perhaps he is talking about the model prayer where Christ told his disciples to pray to the Father (Matthew 6:9-13). But Christ did not say that we should never pray to Him but only pray to the Father. He simply said, we should pray to the Father. The implication is certainly that most of our prayers should be to the Father, but not that it is necessarily wrong to pray to Christ occasionally. I know of no scriptures that indicate that Christ said never to pray to Him.

Perhaps this is a doctrinal change COGFC wants to make in the Church of God as part of what they say they are trying to accomplish in putting a greater focus on the Father. I say this because I have heard this question come up before in the history of the Church, and in every case, both when Mr. Armstrong was alive and after he died, in every fellowship I have heard this question addressed, the answer has been the same: most of our prayers should be to the Father, but it is not wrong to occasionally pray to Christ.

So the idea that we should never pray to Christ may be a doctrinal change COGFC is making, one that will separate them from the other groups who do not have this new doctrine.

But not only is this idea not backed by any scriptures that say it is wrong to pray to Christ (if you know of one, tell me so I will know), but it is disproved by an example in Acts. "And they stoned Stephen as he was calling on God and saying, 'Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.' Then he knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not charge them with this sin.' And when he had said this, he fell asleep" (Acts 7:59-60).

I address my prayers about 99% to God the Father, but when I thank Him for the sacrifice of His Son Jesus Christ, I also often thank Jesus for being that sacrifice. And I occasionally ask Christ specifically to intercede for me with the Father, and I thank Him for His saving work as my High Priest and for His intercession for me.

We are to honor the Son as we honor the Father (John 5:22-23). If prayer is a way of honoring the Father, then it is certainly not wrong to honor the Son the same way.

I think the Church of God's understanding of this issue has been correct. If COGFC is offering a doctrinal change here, to say we should never pray to Christ, that doctrinal change is in error, according to the Bible.

It keeps going back to what I have said over and over, about preaching the gospel mostly, but also about government or anything else. We must let the Bible guide our doctrinal beliefs and policies, and we must get ALL the scriptures on the subject. Mr. Orchard did not get all the scriptures on the subject of praying to Christ, or he would not have missed the passage about Stephen praying to Christ as he was dying. Christ did NOT tell His disciples not to pray to Him, or else Stephen would not have done so.

Another point. In reference to 1 John 1:3, Mr. Orchard said it shows a beautiful connection of the members to the ministry to Christ to the Father. Perhaps I misunderstood the intent of what Mr. Orchard was saying. This may seem like a minor point to some. Our connection to the Father does indeed go through Christ, but it does not go through the ministry, except in a limited sense. It does not go through the ministry for fellowship with God.

The way Mr. Orchard words this, our connection for fellowship with God looks like this:
members ---> ministry ---> Jesus Christ ---> God the Father.

That is not the case. We have fellowship with God the Father through Jesus Christ, but not through the ministry. The ministry is not the intercessor between us and God. A correct picture of this relationship looks like this:
members ---> Jesus Christ ---> God the Father.

Look again at 1 John 1:3: "that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ". Does any reader of this blog know Greek? Tell me if the Greek word translated "our" in the term "our fellowship" refers only to John and the apostles, not to the membership that reads his epistle. In English, it can mean both.

"But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God" (1 Corinthians 11:3). This does not say that the head of every man is the ministry and the head of the ministry is Christ.

There is a relationship with God that goes through the ministry. That is the decision-making relationship regarding the organized work of the Church. In that case, yes, our connection to God's supervision, for those able to attend a fellowship led by an ordained ministry, goes through the ministry. God leads the ministry to make decisions concerning binding and loosening, resolving disputes between brethren, distributing help to the poor in the Church, preaching the gospel and feeding the flock, establishing official Church doctrine to be taught with one voice, etc.

But not our spiritual fellowship with God. Our fellowship with God is through Christ directly, not through the ministry. We fellowship with God when we pray and when we read God's word.

I address this in detail, with diagrams and scriptural evidence, in the section titled, "Organization of the Church and Limitations on the Authority of the Ministry", in my book, Preaching the Gospel. Here is a link to that section:

Mr. Orchard said there is a danger of having a spirit of competition when we think of ourselves as defenders of God's truth. He said that the way to defend God's truth is to live it. He seems to argue against striving about doctrine. He says that the truth is God's truth and He does not need us to defend it.

Certainly we should live the truth. But there is a place for teaching it also, and correcting those who are in error. There is also a place for warning the Church about false teachers and false doctrines that can do harm to the Church. Paul lived the truth, but he also defended the truth with words, even when he had to strongly rebuke and correct. His epistles are full of that kind of strong correction. Moreover, God says through Jude, "Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints. For certain men have crept in unnoticed, who long ago were marked out for this condemnation, ungodly men, who turn the grace of our God into lewdness and deny the only Lord God and our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 3-4). Notice that word, "contend". We are to contend earnestly for the faith.

Did Paul in his writings and teaching attack others for false teaching? "I could wish that those who trouble you would even cut themselves off!" (Galatians 5:12).

Notice God's instructions to Timothy: "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2). Timothy was to convince and rebuke.

Paul told Titus to defend the truth and teach against various false ideas and doctrines, sharply rebuking false teachers: "For there are many insubordinate, both idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision, whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole households, teaching things which they ought not, for the sake of dishonest gain. One of them, a prophet of their own, said, 'Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.' This testimony is true. Therefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith, not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men who turn from the truth." (Titus 1:10-14). And "Speak these things, exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no one despise you" (Titus 2:15).

Look at some of Paul's examples. Was he a defender of God's truth? He certainly was. He strongly defended the truth against many heresies, such as the heresy that we must be circumcised to be saved. Read Romans 2:17 through 3:31, Galatians 1:6-9, 2:11-21, chapter 3, chapter 4, 5:1-15, 6:12-15, and 1 Corinthians 15:12-49.

In Acts 15 there was "much dispute' (Acts 15:7). They discussed doctrinal questions openly and with passion. That is not wrong.

Mr. Orchard said that we have had to make decisions to move from one organization to another and tried to be faithful to truth, but that always comes with a problem, which is, who becomes the arbitrator of truth? We should not become the arbitrator of truth ourselves.

He asks the question, who becomes the arbitrator of truth, but he doesn't answer it or give the solution to the problem. My answer is, to know the truth, go to the Bible. When we have to make a decision, to leave one organization to go to another or to stay, in order to be faithful to the truth, the way we find out what the truth is is to look to God's word, the Bible.

To prevent ourselves from becoming the arbitrator of truth, we have to make the Bible the arbitrator of truth. We have to study the differences between organizations and the positions they teach in the Bible to learn who is teaching and practicing the truth of God most accurately. Is there an issue about governance, such as top-down vs. voting? Study the issue in the Bible. Is there a question about whether Mr. Armstrong's teachings can be changed? Study the issue in the Bible. Is there a question about whether the gospel should be preached? Study the question in the Bible.

God did not create the divisions in the Church, but He allows them and He uses them to test us. In every decision we make about where to attend, we are tested, and to pass the tests, we need to look to the Bible for answers. We go where the truth is being taught and practiced most accurately, and we know what that truth is by the Bible. Those therefore who study and believe the Bible and live by every word of God will know the truth and be able to make right decisions about where to fellowship.

Mr. Orchard quotes or refers to Paul speaking to Timothy about how he should conduct himself in the house of God. "These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:14-15). Mr. Orchard uses this scripture to try to show that it is our conduct, that is, our personal example that is important, and that is how we should defend the truth, not by our words and arguments. But Paul did not use that word, conduct, in a limited sense of only our personal behavior apart from our words. Our words and teachings are included too. He was not just telling Timothy how to personally behave, but also how to teach, how to use his words. He had just told Timothy to charge the ministers and members something. "As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith" (1 Timothy 1:3-4). Paul told Timothy to charge some that they not teach false doctrine or give heed to fables. That involves words and teaching. Timothy was to defend the truth by his words and teaching. That is part of the conduct Paul was instructing Timothy about. Conduct involves words and teaching as well as personal action. We defend the truth by our words as well as our personal behavior. "For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matthew 12:37).

Mr. Orchard said that we should be sure in our own minds about what we believe, and exposure to other believers should be thought of as positive and not a threat. I agree wholeheartedly. I would add that our confidence in our beliefs must be based on what the Bible says. And because our faith is in the Bible, we have confidence that we can turn to the Bible about any question. And that means having the confidence to have an open mind and be willing to be corrected by the Bible, even when the passages in the Bible that correct us are pointed out to us by other members or groups.

In other words, we should be confident in the presence of other groups, not that they cannot change our views, but that they cannot change our faith in the Bible, and therefore cannot change our views except by the Bible. If they tell us something different than what we believe, we have a simple way of knowing if they are right or not: check the Bible. Our faith and trust in God and His word the Bible must be our foundation. Mr. Orchard also, a little later in the sermon, says that we should be confident because we prove our beliefs in the Bible.

Towards the end, he made the point that if we live the truth now and set the right example, the world will not necessarily understand now, but will later. I have to assume that he is talking about after the return of Christ. That is when people outside the Church of God who have known us, our neighbors, our unconverted family members, people we work with, who have seen our example but never understood it, will then understand after Christ returns. They will remember our example and understand the reason for it.

That is fine and good. But I would just give the reminder that our example will not reach the hundreds of millions who need to hear the gospel and the Ezekiel warning before the tribulation begins so they know God was fair to give them a warning. That will take preaching and teaching. It takes words, words publicized for the nations with power, not just the personal example of our members that will be seen by a few people in close proximity to us.

Six Months after the Start of COGFC

Church of God, a Family Community (COGFC), publisher of the Fathers Call website, has been operational for about six months. Their situation has become more clear over those six months.

The ministers and members in COGFC at this time seem to have a kind of unity among themselves. Their form of governance is by mutual agreement among a few top leaders, mainly Mr. Brian Orchard and Mr. Steve Andrews, but also several other leading ministers. Government by mutual agreement is not wrong, but it is limited and it can be weak. It can only make decisions when there is agreement or when the leaders are willing to compromise with each other for the sake of unity. It is not the best structure and practice of government in the Church of God.

COGFC does not preach the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel at this time, not even on a small or token scale. They give no indication of when or if they will ever do so. I myself see clear indications in what has been said in sermons and Bible studies that there is almost no chance that COGFC will make any significant effort to preach the gospel to the world with the leadership configuration it has at present.

I would be happy to be proved wrong about this.

For any member seeking a place to attend and support, anyone looking for a faithful Church of God fellowship that is teaching and practicing God's truth and trying to make a decision about attending and supporting COGFC, the COGFC ministry has never given a good defense from the Bible of their decisions to adopt governance by mutual agreement and not preaching the gospel to the world. If they are making decisions according to the Bible, they are not giving all the scriptures upon which such decisions should be based. For the scriptures they have given so far do not justify their decisions.

I notice that changes, splits, and reorganizations in the Church of God usually happen between the Feast of Tabernacles and Passover. Winter is prime-time for organizational changes. Probably, there will not be any great changes in the Church of God until after the next Feast of Tabernacles.

But after that, more people may leave COGaic. Some may be trickling out now, but if there is another split from COGaic, my guess is it will not happen till after the Feast. And if there is a split in COGFC, or one or more ministers leaving COGFC, it will probably not be till after the Feast.

But COGFC, for now, certainly seems settled in its doctrines and policies. I don't have a lot of questions about them in my mind.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Pentecost Is a Memorial of Preaching the Gospel

A controversy that exists within and between various Church of God fellowships is how to set priorities between feeding the flock and preaching the gospel. Some fellowships believe in preaching the gospel with equal zeal as feeding the flock, while others believe in giving first priority to feeding the flock and second priority, or no priority, to preaching the gospel to the world.

Some Church of God fellowships do virtually nothing to preach the gospel to the world.

And sometimes, within the same fellowship, members and ministers are divided, some wanting to preach the gospel to the world and others saying, no, let's just concentrate on feeding the flock for now.

Just about everyone in the Church of God knows that Pentecost is a memorial of the coming of the Holy Spirit, the promised gift from the Father, upon the Church and the real beginning of the Church of God. We also know that it represents the Church as the firstfruits.

Consequently, it is easy for some to associate Pentecost with the Church of God in the sense of Pentecost putting a focus on the Church. And thus, Pentecost can be an occasion for ministers who are against preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel to give sermons emphasizing the Church's responsibility to feed itself, to focus on itself, at the expense of preaching the gospel. Pentecost can be a perfect occasion for such ministers to teach that we should put the Church first. After all, isn't Pentecost all about the Church?

But the Bible gives a different perspective.

It was on Pentecost that the disciples received the gift of the Holy Spirit. "When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance" (Acts 2:1-4).

Today, some ministers claim that the Holy Spirit leads them to postpone preaching the gospel so that the Church can focus on the Church, focus inwardly. They may have meetings with other ministers, pray for God to guide them, come to agreement in their meetings that the preaching of the gospel should be postponed, then assume and claim that God through the Holy Spirit answered their prayers and guided them to agree not to preach the gospel at this time.

But what was the first thing the Holy Spirit guided the Church to do on that day of Pentecost?

"But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, 'Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words' " (Acts 2:14). "Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know - Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it' " (Acts 2:22-24). " 'Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.' Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?' Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.' And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, 'Be saved from this perverse generation.' Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them" (Acts 2:36-41).

Did the Holy Spirit lead Peter and the other apostles to have a meeting to discuss whether they should preach the gospel right away or wait till they preach to the Church, to themselves, for a few months or a few years, then lead them to decide to wait with preaching the gospel? No, the Holy Spirit led them to preach the gospel to those OUTSIDE the Church that very day, and God blessed their efforts by adding 3,000 people to the Church that very day.

In fact, the Church was given the Holy Spirit for the express purpose of preaching the gospel with power. Jesus spoke to them before He ascended to heaven. "And being assembled together with them, He commanded them not to depart from Jerusalem, but to wait for the Promise of the Father, 'which,' He said, 'you have heard from Me; For John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.' Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, 'Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?' And He said to them, 'It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth' " (Acts 1:4-8).

Jesus said that the disciples would receive power when the Holy Spirit would come upon them and they would be witnesses to Christ to the end of the earth. Does that not sound like one of the reasons they would receive the Holy Spirit was so that they would have power for preaching the gospel? Not the only reason, but one of the reasons?

Of all the Holy Days, which one most represents preaching the gospel to the world? Pentecost! Why? Because it was on Pentecost that the New Testament Church first began to powerfully preach the gospel to the world. It was on the day of Pentecost that the most dramatic account of preaching the gospel and getting results in the entire Bible occurred.

There is another example of how the Holy Spirit leads. Saul was persecuting the Church of God (Acts 8:1-3). He was struck blind by Christ to get His attention, and after that, he was converted and spent some days with the disciples at Damascus (Acts 9:1-19). Then what did the Holy Spirit lead him to do? "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 9:20-22).

Pentecost is a memorial of the preaching of the gospel just as it is a memorial of the gift of the Holy Spirit, because both happened dramatically on the day of Pentecost in Acts. God's Holy Spirit leads and empowers the Church to preach the gospel to the world, so the two go together. That is what the examples in Acts show.

Yet, on the very day that is a memorial of the preaching of the gospel to those outside the Church and a lesson in its importance, the very day that shows that one of the major purposes of the gift of the Holy Spirit and the Church itself is the preaching of the gospel to the world, some ministers may take advantage of the day to teach the Church to focus on itself inwardly, selfishly, as if Pentecost represents an inward, self-centered focus for the Church of God. That is the exact opposite of what the Bible teaches.

But it is no wonder, for such ministers ignore many other scriptures and lessons in the Bible about preaching the gospel, so why would they not ignore what the Bible says about Pentecost? If such ministers ignore scriptures in Ezekiel, Proverbs, the gospel accounts, and the rest of Acts, why would they not also ignore Acts chapters 2 and 3?

I wish that all ministers, before taking it upon themselves based on their own human reasoning to teach and to lead the Church, or part of it, to postpone preaching the gospel and just concentrate on nurturing the Church for a while, would first check the Bible to see if God endorses their idea in the instructions and the examples of the Bible about preaching the gospel, and then follow what the Bible actually says.

Reasoning and making judgments is fine - that is what God has given us a mind for - but we must always check our reasoning with the scripture. We should also use our reasoning to understand what the Bible really says. We should get all the scriptures on a subject and let the clear scriptures and examples interpret the unclear ones. Always we should pray that God, through His Spirit, will help us understand and reason about the scriptures correctly. We must also strive to believe and obey the Bible so that God continues to open our understanding with the Holy Spirit. Then, when we reason and make judgments about the circumstances the Church is in and whether we should preach the gospel now or not, we should compare what we think against God's word, and if the Bible tells us differently, we must accept God's judgment even when we do not understand God's reasons for His judgment.

God does not call us the "first" fruits as a way of telling us, "put yourselves FIRST". That is Satan's way of thinking, not God's.

Jesus Christ is the first of the firstfruits (1 Corinthians 15:20). Did He put Himself first? Did He say, "I am important. I must put Myself first. Why should I become a human, have the possibility of sinning, and suffer and die? Everything depends on Me. If I am lost, what point is any plan of salvation? I must think of Myself first"? No, but rather, He gave up His divine power and became a man, setting us an example of humility and self-sacrifice. "Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross" (Philippians 2:5-8).

For the Church to use the Day of Pentecost to exalt itself, to stress its own importance, to focus inwardly, self-centeredly, to say, "We are important, the whole plan of salvation depends on us making it into the kingdom," is the exact opposite of the way of life Jesus Christ taught. For us to use the term "first fruits" to say of the day of Pentecost, "this day is about us, we are the firstfruits, and that means we must put ourselves first" is a total misuse of the term firstfruits. We are firstfruits in the sense that we are the first in time sequence to be called to salvation. We are NOT to put ourselves first in priority. "First" in "firstfruits" refers to time sequence, not self-importance, not an inward focus.

"And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, 'If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.' " (Mark 9:35). "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake and the gospel’s will save it" (Mark 8:35).

We are to be willing to lose our lives for the sake of the gospel, as Christ said.

God's way of life is a way of self-sacrifice, of sacrificing ourselves for the sake of others, a way of outflowing love and concern for others outside of ourselves. That way of life applies to the Church as a family as well as to each of us individually. God did not focus on His own family when He sent His Son Jesus Christ to preach the gospel and then die. God's love was outgoing, outside of His family, to an unconverted world. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16). "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).

As Mr. Armstrong taught, there are two ways of life, the give way and the get way. God practices and teaches the give way of life, an outgoing concern and focus, while Satan practices and teaches the get way of life, an inward focus, a focus that says, "Me, me, it's all about me." On a group level, this can be worded, "Us, us, it's all about US."

It is Satan's teaching that the way to success and happiness is to focus inwardly, that you can help yourself succeed by focusing on yourself and putting yourself first. But God's way of life is the opposite, and He teaches that the way to true happiness is to focus outside of oneself, and on a group level like the Church of God, the same is true for the group. Success requires an outward focus, outside the Church of God. This seems contrary to human reasoning. Satan would argue that focusing on the self will bring greater happiness and success and accomplishment, even success for salvation, but that is not what God teaches. God has put a law into effect, and that law requires sacrificial love for others. We won't get salvation as a Church if we focus on trying to get our salvation more than obeying God and serving others outside the Church.

There are many false arguments against preaching the gospel to the world. You can spot them if you listen carefully and think and call to mind what the scriptures say (John 14:26). But these tend to have some things in common, though they come in many varieties.

One false idea is the idea that the Church will do better spiritually, will become more like God, if we feed the flock only while not preaching the gospel for a while. This is similar to the idea that we can only feed the flock effectively OR preach the gospel to the world, not both at the same time. Both ideas are false, for two reasons.

One reason is, feeding the flock and focusing inwardly on the Church's spiritual growth only while not preaching the gospel to the world teaches a wrong spiritual lesson. It sets a wrong example and teaches a wrong, Satanic way of life. It adopts and promotes Satan's view that the way to success, the way to achieve what is best for yourself (or your group) is to focus inwardly on your own needs (or the needs of your group), not outwardly on the needs of others (outside your group). In the case of the Church, Satan promotes the idea that success in getting saved and making it into the Kingdom of God is best achieved by the Church of God by focusing on our own spiritual needs as a Church more than the spiritual needs of the world. God teaches differently.

A second reason is, trying to focus on the Church and its spiritual needs while neglecting the needs of the world for the gospel and the Ezekiel warning is direct disobedience towards God and His instructions in the Bible. It not only teaches the brethren by example to practice Satan's get way of life, it teaches them that God's commands and instructions can be ignored, even that ignoring or disobeying God's instructions is the best and surest way to get saved. For the Bible is clear that God commands that the gospel be preached to the world, and I find no precedent for postponing the preaching of the gospel many months or years for the sake of strengthening or healing the Church spiritually. If there is a single example of that in the Bible, show me.

In fact, preaching the gospel to the world is good for the Church. It strengthens us spiritually. It is a necessary part of our training for the Kingdom of God. It teaches us the give way of life. It teaches us to focus outwardly on the needs of others, not inwardly on our own needs only. You can't heal, reconcile, or strengthen the Church of God spiritually without also preaching the gospel to the world. They go together, whether certain ministers want them to go together or not. It is God's plan and intent that they go together, and the Church is not going to thwart God's purpose in this.

You cannot reconcile to God by disobeying Him. Obedience to His command to preach the gospel and submission to His will as expressed in the Bible more than our own human reasoning is a necessary step towards reconciling with God and improving our relationship with Him and our spiritual condition.

Another fallacy is that nothing we do to preach the gospel today will have much beneficial effect on God's plan for saving mankind.

Nothing can be further from the truth.

The fact is, preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the world is more important now than ever before because the first generation of the millennium is mostly alive today. We can now speak directly to Israelites that will be the start of millennial Israel. They won't believe what we say now, most of them, but they can remember it, and remembering it later can have a huge effect on their attitude and teachability, even their salvation. When they remember the gospel and the warning while they are going through the tribulation, they will remember that God was fair and just to give them a warning. They can acknowledge their responsibility for ignoring the message, and that will help their repentance. They can more easily trust God, and that is important for their conversion and their teachability.

Our preaching of the gospel to the world today has a HUGE effect on God's entire plan of salvation for the human race.

Another fallacy is that, since time doesn't matter to God, we should not be in a hurry to do what He commands. A variation of this is, God will let us know when it is God's time for us to preach the gospel, and we should not try to get ahead of what God is doing.

But God created us to live in time, and how we use our time tells Him where our hearts are. We make choices in how we use our time, and God wants us to make right choices. Time certainly does matter. God wants us to obey him quickly. Abraham shows the right example. When God appeared to Abraham and told him to be circumcised, he and his entire household were circumcised that very day (Genesis 17:9-14, 23-27). When God told Abraham to sacrifice his son, he started out early the next morning to do what God told him to do (Genesis 22:1-3).

And the idea that we should wait till God shows us we should preach the gospel is ridiculous from the start. God has already commanded us to do so in the Bible. Saying we must wait till God "gives us a special invitation" to preach the gospel is just an excuse for disobedience. If someone is not willing to believe what God says in the Bible, they will not believe God if He appeared in person and thundered from the podium, "PREACH THE GOSPEL TO THE WORLD!" They would find some excuse. "How do we know this is God?", they might say. "Maybe Satan wants us to preach the gospel!"

I strongly suspect that those who say we should not be preaching the gospel now will never be in favor of preaching the gospel to the world. You watch. Watch those who say, now is not the time for the Church to preach the gospel. Watch the months go by, then the years.

Now I understand that there may be some ministers in some groups - the group won't preach the gospel now, but some ministers in that group want to. But they can't because they don't really have the authority in that group to do it. Maybe they cannot control the finances. There could be opposition to the gospel by enemies of the gospel in the group that won't allow that group to preach the gospel. David, for some reason that is not explained in the Bible, did not have total control over Joab (2 Samuel 3:12-39). The time may come when such ministers who want to preach the gospel but right now can't will be able to. But I think those who actively appose preaching the gospel will never support it, unless they deeply repent.

Another argument that is sometimes used is that Galatians 6:10 teaches us to put the Church first by postponing preaching the gospel. Galatians 6:10 says, "Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith". This is not talking about postponing preaching the gospel. This is talking about good deeds and personal service, such as helping widows, serving the brethren, sharing food with the hungry, etc. The context is those things that individual members can do for each other in their congregations and with their neighbors they are near to outside the Church. We should do good deeds for all we come into contact with, but more so for the brethren. So if two people need the same act of kindness but you can only help one, and one is a Church member and the other is outside the Church, help the Church member.

But the context has nothing to do with preaching the gospel to the world. In Paul's day, the apostles preached the gospel, and while the members backed them up with tithes and offerings, they did not have the expenses of TV and printing we have today. Preaching the gospel was a personal activity done mostly by the apostles themselves, and the membership did not have the financing role they have today, except for travel expenses, which they would have anyway for Paul to visit congregations to feed the flock.

In fact, we love God by keeping His commandments, and preaching the gospel is a commandment from God. Loving God actually comes first, before loving our neighbor even in the Church.

Here is an argument that comes up from time to time: Preaching the gospel will not unify (or "fix" or "heal" or "reconcile") the Church of God.

I suppose this is one of the more stupid excuses for not preaching the gospel to the world. It should be easy to see through it.

One could say, keeping the Sabbath will not heal the Church, so let's not keep the Sabbath. Or, honoring our parents will not bring unity in the Church, so let's not honor our father and mother. As a point of fact, giving sermons on the Sabbath will not, by itself, heal the Church of God or bring unity.

No one point or part of God's law or instructions will, by itself, heal the Church. But obedience to God in any part of His instruction will help to heal the Church, and obedience in everything God says will definitely heal the Church. But it will not bring unity between the converted members of the Church and the tares that attend among us. The unconverted tares will separate from the converted no matter how perfectly and completely the converted obey God, in fact, the more the converted obey, the more the tares will separate. You will still have splits (Matthew 13:24-30, 1 Corinthians 11:19, 1 John 2:19).

Most of the division that exists in the Church of God today is not because brethren do not forgive one another. Most of the division that exists today is because ministers and brethren do not agree with each other in doctrine, in policy, and in judgments.

Divisions are created by those who disbelieve or disobey God. When there is division in the Church between those who obey God and those who do not obey God, it is those who do not obey God who are causing the division.

Nor is lack of unity the primary problem in the Church. It is a symptom, but not the underlying problem.

When some want to preach the gospel and others do not, the division that exists between them is caused by those who do not want to obey God by preaching the gospel.

But as far as healing the Church is concerned, preaching the gospel to the world with a sincere heart motivated by love for God and neighbor will certainly help to heal the Church. It is not everything of course, but it is an important ingredient. It is a necessary part of our obedience to God, and God will not bless the Church with spiritual healing without our submission to Him. It is part of God's program for training us in the way of outgoing concern for others. It is part of God's curriculum for teaching us love. We learn to love by putting love into action, and we love the world, as God loves the world, by preaching the gospel to them and by preparing them for the tribulation.

I suppose some of these ministers who speak against preaching the gospel think that love is listening to their sermons about love.

Pentecost is about the gift of the Holy Spirit. It is also about God's plan of salvation that teaches us that the Church is the firstfruits, the first in time sequence to be saved, and that the majority of mankind will be saved later. It is also about preaching the gospel to the world, because the preaching of the gospel to the world on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 was as dramatic an event in its own way as the coming of the Holy Spirit, and in fact, it was the Holy Spirit that led the apostles to preach the gospel effectively and empowered them to do it.

But Pentecost is NOT about the Church adopting a selfish, self-centered, inward focus that puts itself first at the expense of God's plan for the preaching of the gospel to the world as a witness and the Ezekiel warning to Israel. Pentecost is not about disobeying or postponing indefinitely God's command to preach the gospel to the world. Pentecost is not about teaching the Church of God membership a sense of self-importance. That is how Satan thinks, not God.

Any teaching that says that "firstfruits" means that the Church should put itself first in importance, first in preference to the needs of the world, first over obedience and love towards God, and first in place of doing what God says, is misusing the term.

But I think those who know their Bibles and who believe God will not be deceived by false arguments against the gospel.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Pentecost: Stirring Up the Holy Spirit / How the Holy Spirit Leads the Church and Us Individually in Doctrine, Policy, and Decisions


As Church of God members know, the Day of Pentecost represents the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the Church. Jesus Christ promised His disciples that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 14:15-18, 26, John 15:26, John 16:5-15, Acts 1:4-8, Acts 2:38-39). On Pentecost, as described in the book of Acts, that promise was fulfilled (Acts 2:1-21).

Pentecost also represents firstfruits. We in the Church are firstfruits to God and to Christ (Romans 8:23, James 1:17-18, Revelation 14:4-5). We are not the main harvest, which comes in the millennium and the white throne judgment. Understanding this helps us understand why the world is not being saved now and how all mankind will have a chance for salvation later.

Pentecost, also called the Feast of Weeks in the Old Testament (Exodus 34:22, Deuteronomy 16:9-11, 16), is one of the seven annual holy days and feasts commanded by God for His people. Old Testament Israel kept these days without fully understanding their meaning. But God has revealed their meaning to us in the Church of God, and we are able to observe them with a fuller understanding of what they represent. God uses these days, as we obey God's command to observe them, to reveal His overall plan for the salvation of mankind to us.

How the Church of God in Modern Times Received the Truth

I emphasize that God reveals His plan through His annual holy days as we observe them because it is those who actually obey God's command to keep these days who are given the understanding. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; A good understanding have all those who do His commandments" (Psalm 111:10). I have discussed the holy days on the Internet with non-Church of God members or members of the Church of God Seventh Day who do not observe these days. Some of them agree that these days represent New Testament truths and lessons, and they say they like to study these days and learn their lessons, but they do not observe them or believe that the Church is commanded to observe them. They do not really believe the Bible on this point. So their understanding is limited. They never quite "get it." Why? God never intended Christians to learn the meaning of these days by studying them only while not observing them.

God gives understanding to those who believe and obey Him (Psalm 111:10). God also gives understanding to those whom He calls (John 6:43-44). But those who are called must respond to the call, and if they reject God's calling by refusing to believe and obey what God says in the Bible, the understanding God gives them is taken away. The world as a whole is deceived by Satan, and those in the world who are not called cannot escape that deception by their own power (Revelation 12:9, 2 Corinthians 4:3-4). But it is because they are not willing to believe and obey God that they cannot understand. Satan deceives them by imparting his attitude of disbelief and disobedience into their minds, as well as imparting false ideas and false doctrines (Jeremiah 17:9).

But if a man or woman is called by God, God opens that person's mind to enough of the truth for him or her to make a choice to believe God and begin to obey Him. And as that person obeys, God opens his or her mind to understand more and more truth.

So it is because we obey God in keeping the holy days that God has given us understanding of what those days mean, and the meaning of those days reveals God's whole plan for the salvation of mankind.

God revealed these things to the Church of God in our time through Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong. Mr. Armstrong was willing to believe and obey what God teaches in the Bible. He and his family kept the holy days alone for years without the Church of God Seventh Day. He didn't keep the holy days because he was following the Church of God, but because He was following the Bible. And because he was willing to believe God first, more than the Church or the traditions he grew up with, God saw his faith and obedience and opened his mind to understand the meaning of the holy days. God was then able to use him to teach the Church.

God revealed in the Bible the truth that the Church should keep the holy days today. God, through the Holy Spirit, helped Mr. Armstrong understand the Bible and understand that the Bible teaches that we should keep these days. Mr. Armstrong made the choice to believe and obey God by keeping these days, and God through the Holy Spirit then helped him understand the Bible more, to understand what these days actually mean. That is how we got the truth we have today.

The holy days and knowledge of the plan of God have become our Church of God tradition. But they didn't start as tradition, not in modern times. They started with Mr. Armstrong's willingness to believe what God says in the Bible MORE than his traditions - more than the traditions he grew up in and more than the traditions of the Church of God Seventh Day he came into after conversion.

Stirring Up the Holy Spirit

Often we are told in sermons that to overcome sin we need to "use" the Holy Spirit. Often, the speaker does not explain exactly how he expects his listeners to do this. But certainly, stirring up the Holy Spirit is a biblical principle. "Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:6-7).

We recently observed Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread. The Days of Unleavened Bread teach and represent our putting sin out of our lives. We must overcome our sins. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death" (Revelation 2:11). "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne" (Revelation 3:21). See also Revelation 2:7, 17, 26-28, 3:5, 12, 21:7.

But to do this we need the help of God's Holy Spirit. We cannot do it by our own power alone. We must strive with all our might to overcome sin, but we need the extra help of God's Holy Spirit to succeed.

God's Spirit helps our minds to understand and know God's law. "But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. For what man knows the things of a man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. For 'who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct Him?' But we have the mind of Christ" (1 Corinthians 2:10-16). But knowing the law is not enough. The history of Old Testament Israel from the leaving of Egypt to the captivities of the house of Israel and the house of Judah show that man, without God's Holy Spirit, cannot consistently obey God in the letter and in the spiritual intent of His law. So God, through His Spirit, gives us the love, the power, and the soundness of mind to obey God and overcome our sins. "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7).

The Holy Spirit helps us overcome by helping us understand spiritual knowledge, including the knowledge of God's spiritual law. But it also gives us power and motivation to obey. It gives us the love of God, which helps to fulfill the spiritual intent of the law (Romans 13:10).

Paul told Timothy, and God tells us through Paul, to "stir up" the Holy Spirit within us. How do we do that?

Although Paul doesn't explain, I think it is obvious that we stir up God's Spirit within us by exercising it.

The Holy Spirit guides our thoughts. It helps our understanding. It inspires our love towards God and man. It helps us believe, trust, and obey what God says. So we exercise it by putting ourselves in situations where the Holy Spirit can guide our thoughts.

The Holy Spirit helps us in prayer. "Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God" (Romans 8:26-27). So one way we can "stir up" or exercise the Holy Spirit is by praying. When we pray, we are talking to God and we are in communication with God. God's Spirit is involved, helping us to pray, helping us understand what we should say.

That does not mean that prayer is always easy. Sometimes it is and sometimes it is not. Sometimes it comes easy, especially when we are in a trial and we cry to God for help. Other times, it may not be easy. We may not know what to pray about.

In terms of general categories, we can praise God for His goodness and His wonderful works (Psalm 30:4, 78:4, 150:1-6). We can give Him thanks for the things He has done and will do for us, for the Church, and for mankind (Psalm 92:1, 1-6:1, 1 Timothy 2:1-3, Ephesians 5:3-4). We can confess our sins to Him and acknowledge our sinful nature and ask for His mercy and forgiveness (Luke 18:13-14, Daniel 9:3-20, Psalm 51:1-19). We can make our requests to him (Philippians 4:6-7, Matthew 7:7-11, John 14:13-14, 16:23-14). We can make our requests, not only for ourselves, but for others (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

The Bible gives many guidelines and examples of prayer. We have the model prayer we can use as an outline, putting these things in our own words and applying the principles to our own situation (Matthew 6:5-15, Luke 11:1-13). There are specific instructions about prayer scattered throughout the Bible. For example, we are to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44), and we are to pray for those in authority (1 Timothy 2:1-3). We also have the Psalms, which are full of examples and instructions about prayer. In fact, I have sometimes found it effective to read the Psalms while praying. I will read a few verses of a Psalm, and then pray about what those verses are talking about. Then I will read a little more, and pray a little more, and so on.

But if prayer is not easy, sometimes you may have to force yourself to put in the time. There have been occasions when prayer has been hard for me, but I would make up my mind to pray for a half hour on my knees. So I would kneel and try to pray, but it would be hard, and sometimes minutes would go by just trying to think of something to say. But I made up my mind, I would at least try. I would put in the time. In other words, I would "show up". And then, after about 20 or 25 minutes of trying to pray, not very successfully, the thoughts would come into my mind like a flood of things I wanted to say to God, and I would begin to pray effectively. And then I would end up praying an hour or longer, not because I was forcing myself, but because I wanted to.

It was as if God was testing me to see if I was willing to pray even if it took some work, and once He tested me on that, He helped me by His Holy Spirit to pray, and then the prayer was easy.

Prayer is an effective way of stirring up, exercising, and "using" the Holy Spirit.

Bible reading or Bible study is also an effective way of stirring up the Holy Spirit within us, if we study with an attitude of belief and obedience. God's Spirit helps us understand the Bible. Because of our calling and because of the Holy Spirit working with or in our minds, the veil that is over the Bible for the world is taken away for us. "But their minds were blinded. For until this day the same veil remains unlifted in the reading of the Old Testament, because the veil is taken away in Christ. But even to this day, when Moses is read, a veil lies on their heart. Nevertheless when one turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away" (2 Corinthians 3:14-16). But it is important to believe the Bible and be committed to obeying it. The Holy Spirit helps us to understand the Bible, but if we see something in the Bible but choose not to believe God, then rather than exercising the Holy Spirit we could be quenching it. "Do not quench the Spirit" (1 Thessalonians 5:19). So we must study the Bible with an attitude of belief and obedience. We must believe what God says. And as we believe and obey, the Holy Spirit opens our minds to understand the Bible more and more accurately. In this way, we are to grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18).

Bible study and Bible reading can be a tool to stir up God's Holy Spirit in our minds. The Spirit of God helps us understand the Bible and spiritual knowledge (1 Corinthians 2:10-16), so the more we study the Bible, the more the Holy Spirit will be active in our minds, helping us to understand what we read.

Fasting, with prayer, is also a way to stir up God's Spirit. Fasting can humble us and help us draw closer to God. When we fast we should spend extra time in prayer (Matthew 17:21). We can work, but we should not seek our own pleasure when we fast (Isaiah 58:3).

Meditation is also a way to exercise God's Holy Spirit. What can we meditate about? We can meditate about God's law as the writer of Psalm 119 did. "Oh, how I love Your law! It is my meditation all the day" (Psalm 119:97). We can meditate about how to obey God's spiritual law in all the choices and decisions we have to make all day long. Then, we can submit our will to God's law and make the choices that will please God, not ourselves.

One way I have done this effectively is to try to keep my thoughts on God and what He wants me to do moment by moment as I go through the day. If I am shopping, I ask, does God want me to buy this? When deciding what to eat, or where, I ask, where does God want me to eat, or what does God want me to eat? When I am trying to organize my work and decide what to spend time on, I ask, what does God want me to work on next? In other words, I ask myself, maybe as often as every ten minutes, whatever tiny choices I have to make, what does God want me to do? And in seeking the answer, I try to think of scriptures and scriptural principles that apply to the decision. The Holy Spirit will help us remember the scriptures we need to make decisions, even small decisions all day long, if we have a submissive attitude to God and are willing to do God's will more than our own. "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). The Holy Spirit can help us remember those parts of the Bible we have studied when we need them to make decisions, and the more often during the day we seek to remember scriptures and scriptural principles to make even small choices and decisions, so that the Bible is guiding us and we are really living by every word of God (Matthew 4:4), the more the Holy Spirit is stirred up and exercised in our minds, the more we are using God's Spirit, because it is the Holy Spirit that helps us remember Bible passages and understand those passages.

This of course works together with Bible study, because we can't remember what we have not read.

Also, I sometimes review God's law in my mind, checking myself as I go about my daily routine, asking myself, am I falling short somewhere? Am I obeying the first commandment? Am I obeying the second commandment? The third?, etc. I try to keep part of my mind monitoring everything I do, comparing it will the principles I have studied in the Bible.

I have not often succeeded in meditating like this, seeking to let God guide me in my minute-by-minute decisions all day long, but on those occasions when I have done it, God seems to bless me more than usual.

Prayer, Bible study, fasting with prayer, and meditating about God's law and how to apply it to what we are doing in the present moment, are all ways of using the Holy Spirit, stirring up the gift of God that is in us, to help us overcome our sins.

I should mention that watching TV and movies and playing video games is NOT a way to stir up God's Spirit in us.

As I have said in a recent post, to overcome our sins we have to make a maximum effort. We have to go all out. It is not a question of overcoming by our power or God's power. It is both. We must go all out to use all the power we have to strive against sin.

But our power is never enough. We can't do it by our power alone - we can't even come close. We need the help God gives us through His Holy Spirit. We have to always realize that and learn to rely on God's help and trust God to help us even while we are making maximum effort to obey. And when we make spiritual progress, we must realize it is a gift from God through His Holy Spirit and acknowledge that, and not think we did it by our power alone.

Passover, the Days of Unleavened Bread, and Pentecost all work together to picture the process of our conversion, spiritual growth, and overcoming in this life. Passover represents the sacrifice of Christ that makes our salvation possible and opens the way for God to forgive us and help us. The Days of Unleavened Bread represent repentance, putting sin out of our lives, putting the righteousness of God into our lives, and overcoming. Pentecost represents the gift of the Holy Spirit, which alone can give us the extra power we need to overcome our sins.

The Days of Unleavened Bread show us that we need to put sin out of our lives. But we cannot do that alone without the Holy Spirit. So God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit to empower us to put sin out. And that gift of the Holy Spirit, represented by Pentecost, only is available from God because Jesus Christ paid the penalty of our sins so we can be forgiven, and His sacrifice is represented by Passover.

How the Holy Spirit Leads the Church and Us Individually in Doctrine, Policy, and Decisions

I was raised Catholic. My sister became a nun. All my immediate family members were Catholic. I understand Catholic thinking.

There is a trap that many Catholics, and the Catholic Church in general, and many Protestants also fall into regarding the Holy Spirit and the Bible. I am not talking about the trinity doctrine.

I am talking about how the Holy Spirit leads the Church into truth.

The trap I am talking about is a trap that some Church of God members may fall into. It is certainly a trap, in my opinion, that Mr. Tkach and other leaders in Worldwide fell into. But it can happen with leaders, ministers, and members in the Church of God today, even among those who hold to the basic doctrines taught by Mr. Armstrong. And if a man falls into that trap, it can be invisible to others around him.

We all agree that the Holy Spirit leads the Church, or we could say, Christ leads the Church by the power of the Holy Spirit. We can also say, God the Father leads the Church through Jesus Christ, because Jesus Christ is the head of the Church and the Father is the head of Christ.

Catholics have no problem with that idea. Neither do Protestants. Mr. Tkach Jr., I am sure, would agree. God leads the Church through the Holy Spirit. Mr. Armstrong understood that correctly.

The Holy Spirit teaches us the truth. We trust and rely on God to lead us into right doctrine and right decisions by the power of the Holy Spirit leading our minds.

The question is, how?

And more specifically, the question I am addressing is, how does the Holy Spirit guide our understanding of doctrines and principles that guide our decisions when the Bible itself explains those same doctrines and principles?

In other words, how does the Holy Spirit work with the Bible in teaching us truth and guiding our decisions?

We might say, the Holy Spirit opens our minds to understand the Bible, to understand what God is really saying in the Bible, and without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we cannot understand the Bible accurately.

That is absolutely true. But what do those words mean? Because, if you say that to a Catholic or Protestant, he would agree with you. Mr. Tkach would agree with you. Mr. Armstrong would agree with you. The pope, I am sure, would agree with you.

But I think what Catholics and Protestants have in mind and what Mr. Armstrong had in mind are light-years apart in actual practice. Mr. Armstrong correctly understood how the Holy Spirit opens our minds to help us understand the Bible. Most Catholics and Protestants do not, and I do not think the leaders of Worldwide who made doctrinal changes after the death of Mr. Armstrong correctly understood this. They made the same mistake Catholics and Protestants make, but Mr. Armstrong did not make that mistake when he came into the truth and was learning new knowledge from the Bible.

I will use a simple illustration to show the difference between these two views of how the Holy Spirit helps us understand the Bible.

Let's say, the Bible says that 2 + 2 = 4. Satan deceives the world into thinking that 2 + 2 = 5. A Catholic or Protestant, who already believes or wants to believe that 2 + 2 = 5 will say, "the Holy Spirit is helping me understand that when the Bible says, '4', that is only a metaphor for '5', so the statement in the Bible that '2 + 2 = 4' really means '2 + 2 = 5'. So the Holy Spirit helps me understand the Bible, that 2 + 2 = 5. Without the Holy Spirit, I would think the Bible is saying '2 + 2 = 4' ". But Mr. Armstrong or a Church of God member who really believes the Bible will look at the Bible and see that it says '2 + 2 = 4', and will say, "I don't care what the rest of the world thinks, I can see with my own eyes that the Bible plainly says '2 + 2 = 4', and I believe the Bible." And in fact, it is the Holy Spirit that is helping Mr. Armstrong and members of the Church of God to see that the Bible really says, and really means, that 2 + 2 = 4.

Why do we need the Holy Spirit to help us understand something so plain? Because Satan deceives the world into thinking that 2 + 2 = 5, and there is a veil over the scriptures for the world (2 Corinthians 3:14-16), and God through the Holy Spirit helps us understand the Bible correctly.

So if the Bible says that 2 + 2 = 4, the Holy Spirit helps us understand that correctly, that the Bible really says and really means that 2 + 2 = 4. But Satan deceives the world into thinking that 2 + 2 = 5. And the religious people of this world, those who consider themselves Christian, think that the Holy Spirit is "interpreting" the Bible to mean something different from what it actually says. So they see the words in the Bible, that 2 + 2 = 4, but they think that the Holy Spirit is interpreting the words of the Bible for them so that it really means 2 + 2 = 5.

In other words, traditional, mainstream Christianity falls into the trap of thinking the Holy Spirit interprets the Bible for the church to mean things other than what the words of the Bible actually say in their normal, ordinary meaning.

So for example, "three days and three nights" does not mean "three days and three nights". It is coded language to mean something other than what it says. It really means, "a day and two nights". When God said, let there be light, and evening and morning were the first day, that is coded language that only the Holy Spirit can reveal to the Church to mean an indefinite period of time, maybe millions of years. I could go on and on. This is how traditional Christianity views the Bible. They are not willing to say, "We don't believe the Bible." They feel compelled to acknowledge that the Bible is God's word. But they are not willing to believe what it says. So they have to justify that somehow, even to themselves. So they choose to believe that the Holy Spirit must "interpret" the Bible for them to mean something different than the words of the Bible actually say. This enables them to disbelieve what the words of the Bible actually say while still claiming to respect and follow the Bible as the word of God.

So while Catholics and Protestants would agree with Mr. Armstrong and the Church of God that the Holy Spirit guides Christians to understand the Bible, the way they understand that and the way we understand that are as far apart as can be.

We understand, or should understand, that the Holy Spirit leads us to understand what the Bible really is saying, not something that is different from what the Bible really says.

Words mean something. You cannot just twist words any way you like, and be right. You cannot throw logic out the window.

The Holy Spirit does not guide us into doctrinal knowledge, or into spiritual principles taught by the Bible, apart from what the Bible actually says. The Holy Spirit does not contradict the Bible. The Holy Spirit does not contradict the plain words of the Bible. Rather, the Holy Spirit helps us correctly understand the plain words of the Bible, even in the face of Satan's influence to try to deceive us by twisting the meaning of the words of the Bible.

When I was growing up Catholic, I thought that for me to understand the Bible correctly, or to understand true religious doctrine, the Catholic Church had to "interpret" it for me. It was as if the plain words of the Bible didn't necessarily mean what they said. I don't know that I thought about it a lot, but to the extent I did there was a very simple background assumption in my mind, that only the Catholic Church could interpret the Bible rightly. I thought, God guided the pope, and the pope taught the rest of the Catholic Church, and the Catholic priests explained true doctrine to me. I think one person on the Internet put it this way: God gave us the Bible and He gave us the church (Catholic, or Orthodox) to interpret the Bible. The two must go together.

In other words, people who are deceived think that the Holy Spirit leads them apart from and contrary to what the words of the Bible actually say in their natural and normal meaning. They think the Holy Spirit leads them either individually or through their church leaders and traditions to change the meaning of the words of the Bible.

That is their error.

This error often works with another error in the way people think about the Holy Spirit.

We all have our opinions. We may think many things. But some people have a hard time knowing the difference between their opinions and God's Holy Spirit working in their minds. In other words, they believe their own reasoning, and they attribute that reasoning to the Holy Spirit. They think that the Holy Spirit is guiding their thoughts, ideas, and thinking, that God is putting their thoughts into their minds, and then they believe their own thoughts, ideas, and opinions because they think they are from God.

Rather they should check their own thinking against the Bible, and let the Bible correct them by what the Bible actually says, NOT by what thoughts pop into their heads as they read the Bible. "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is not of God. And this is the spirit of the Antichrist, which you have heard was coming, and is now already in the world" (1 John 4:1-3). "Test all things; hold fast what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21). "These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11).

This is why people of different religious denominations and groups can read the Bible and come up with wildly different opinions about what the Bible says. Each person reads his own opinion or tradition into the Bible, and then attributes his opinion or tradition to the Holy Spirit, thinking, "it is the Holy Spirit teaching me this". But it is not.

Mr. Armstrong had it right when he said that we must let the Bible interpret the Bible. We can do that by getting all the scriptures on the subject and letting clear scriptures interpret difficult ones. God's Holy Spirit is a Spirit of a sound mind, and it helps us reason about the scriptures accurately. "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7). God's Holy Spirit helps us separate in our minds our own opinions and what we want to believe from what the Bible actually says. Because we have human nature, our own minds try to deceive us, even as we read the Bible, to make the Bible say what we want it so say. "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). The Holy Spirit gives us the help that the world does not have, to see past our own biases and rationalizations, and to read the Bible accurately.

This is why having a Bible discussion with someone in the world who is not called but claims to believe the Bible goes nowhere. You can reason with him correctly about scripture, putting verses together correctly. But the other person isn't listening with an open mind, though he may seem to for a while. He has a built-in bias towards his traditions, and that bias is in control. He has a kind of faith in that tradition, and it would violate his own faith for him to admit the truth of what the Bible says. So he will use any argument, no matter how silly, to deny the truth of the Bible, and he will believe his own argument. He has to do this, because to do otherwise would be to deny his faith in his church, and he is not willing to do that. His whole world view, his personal identity as a "Christian", his confidence in his relationship with God, would collapse like a house of cards. That is more than most religious people can bear, if they are not called.

Yet it seems that members, or so-called members, of the Church of God also can sometimes fall into the trap of attributing their own opinions to the Holy Spirit when those opinions are contrary to the plain and ordinary meaning of the words of the Bible.

If you have an idea or opinion about doctrine or a decision you are making, don't assume that because you are in the Church of God that the Holy Spirit must be guiding your thoughts that lead you to your opinion. Test what you think against the Bible. Let the Bible correct you. Take the Bible for what it really says. Don't twist or "interpret" words, phrases, and sentences beyond their normal meaning. Get all the scriptures that relate to the matter, and let the clear and easy ones interpret the vague or difficult ones. If your thinking is right, the Bible will confirm it, and if you are wrong, the Bible will correct you, and if you are willing to believe and obey God, then God, over time, will help you understand the truth by the power of His Holy Spirit.

Here are links to posts in this blog related to this subject:

"Pentecost is Unique", dated June 7, 2011, link:

"Pentecost Should Remind Us to Be Thankful", dated June 9, 2011, link:

"Pentecost Helps Us Understand What the True Church Is", dated May 14, 2013, link:

"Pentecost Teaches Hierarchy", dated May 15, 2013, link:

"Lack of Controversy about Holy Spirit in New Testament Text - What That Tells Us", dated May 16, 2013, link:

"We Need the Holy Spirit to Overcome Our Sins", dated May 17, 2013, link:

"The Subject of Pentecost Is an Opportunity for Preaching the Gospel to the World", dated May 21, 2013, link:

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

Pentecost - the Gift of the Holy Spirit, Chapter 2

The Source of Our Beliefs, Chapter 6