Friday, July 25, 2014

Suggestion for COGFC Members Contributing Articles for a Website to Preach the Gospel

COGFC has recently announced plans to build a website for preaching the gospel to the world, and it has asked members to contribute articles for that purpose.

If COGFC ministers are sincere, this may be a good sign. The real test will be, if they spend necessary money after the website is completed to advertise it and draw traffic to it. Having a great website does little good if few people read it.

Nevertheless, building a website with articles oriented towards the public is probably a necessary first step to preaching the gospel to the world for a small fellowship like COGFC.

I would like to suggest some things for those who contribute articles to consider and think about.

Learn something about copyright, and consider the long-term consequences of what kind of permission and rights you may give COGFC over your articles.

None of what I say here is intended as legal advice - I am not a lawyer. But I offer some things to think about before making decisions. If you learn about copyright, either by consulting with a lawyer or simply reading up on the subject, here are some considerations you can have in mind as you do your research.

Consider NOT donating copyright of your articles to COGFC as an organization.

Consider keeping the copyright yourself, and giving COGFC non-exclusive permission to publish your articles. Or, as an alternative you might consider putting your articles in the public domain, which means anyone, including COGFC, can publish them.

Remember what happened to Mr. Armstrong's writings after his death. Copyright of his books and articles was owned by Worldwide Church of God as an organization, which meant others could not print and distribute them without Worldwide's permission, even after Worldwide fell into the control of those who were against Mr. Armstrong's teachings and writings.

Today, some individuals and small organizations publish his works electronically only in websites, under "fair use doctrine" I would presume, but I think it would be legally risky and difficult for any Church of God fellowship to make and distribute printed copies of Mr. Armstrong's literature without permission of the copyright owners, unless the copyright for a piece of literature has expired.

What can happen is that copyright can be used to suppress the publication of an author's work even against the wishes of the author if the author permits someone else to own the copyright.

That is why, if a Church of God organization wants to publish Mr. Armstrong's teachings in printed form, they sometimes have to rewrite his articles in their own words.

None of that would be a problem today if Mr. Armstrong had his writings put into the public domain before he died. Mr. Armstrong wanted and expected his writings to continue to be freely published. What he did not realize is that Worldwide as an organization, which owned the copyrights, would change when new leaders had control.

Organizations sometimes change, even in the Church of God. That is a fact. History proves it.

Suppose you invest many hours writing an article or even a booklet or book for COGFC to use to preach the gospel to the world. You give it your best effort, working dozens or even a couple of hundred hours writing it, editing it, polishing it, till it is as good as you can make it. You invest your emotional and mental energy in it. You put your heart and soul into it, and you give it your all, because you know you are serving God. You want it to be used as a vehicle for teaching the truth to people who need it. You want COGFC to be able to freely publish it on their website and print and distribute it if they wish.

Suppose you donate the copyright of your article to COGFC as an organization. Suppose you totally and permanently transfer copyright of your article to COGFC. Now COGFC can publish it. But if they own the copyright, you don't. If COGFC puts it on their website, but never advertises the website, never spends money (or spends very little) on pay-per-click search ads or other Internet advertising to draw traffic and readers to the website, probably few people outside the Church of God will ever read the article you worked so hard on and have high hopes for.

Or, suppose COGFC starts to publish the article now, and even advertises the website, but later things change in COGFC, and they no longer agree with its teachings (just as Worldwide changed), so they stop publishing it.

Can you publish your own article in printed form? Or can you give it to a new organization, a different Church of God fellowship to publish? I don't know how, not without COGFC's permission. If COGFC owns the copyright, if you have given up the copyright and permanently donated it to COGFC, then as I understand it, COGFC can probably block anyone but themselves from publishing printed copies of it, including you or any other COG organization you might want to give it to.

They might be able to "bury" forever the article you put so much effort into.

I am not a lawyer and this post is not legal advice. You can do your own research on copyright if you have questions, even speaking to an attorney if you want. I have found Nolo to be an excellent publisher of books that help inform people about legal issues, and you can find one or more books about copyright from them or other sources. Search for "Nolo" in Google to find their website or search for "Nolo" as publisher in Search for "copyright" as a key word or part of a title.

But for what it is worth, here is what I myself would do if I were to contribute an article to COGFC for their website. My example can help illustrate some issues and raise questions to research.

I would make it clear to COGFC that I do not want to permanently donate copyright of my article to COGFC. I can retain copyright ownership, putting a copyright notice in the article I submit to COGFC, and simply give COGFC written permission to publish my article on a non-exclusive basis. By non-exclusive, I mean that COGFC can publish it, but I can also give other organizations permission to publish it, or someday publish it myself.

Or, I would first publish my article in my own blog on the Internet (if your don't have a blog, it is easy to start one with Blogger) before sending it to COGFC, and at the bottom of the article in my blog simply say something like this: "As author I put this article in the public domain". Once I put it into the public domain, I give up all copyright protection, but no one can stop it from being published. It is permanent - anyone can publish it for all time.

I cannot think of any legitimate reason why COGFC would not accept one or the other arrangement. If the article teaches God's truth, and if its purpose is to help people, and if COGFC wants to be non-competitive with other COG organizations, which they claim, why should they object to the possibility of letting other groups someday publish the same article? God's truth is God's truth, and if it helps people, it helps people, no matter who publishes it. The important thing is that it not be blocked from publication.

The idea that one Church of God organization can block others from publishing material written for them, even blocking authors of articles from publishing their own material, is not just hypothetical. It has happened. I already mentioned the problem with Worldwide's control over Mr. Armstrong's writings. Worldwide also owned the copyrights on articles written by other writers working for Mr. Armstrong, such as Dr. Meredith's Ten Commandments booklet. There was also a split in 1998 in Global Church of God. Those who obtained control of Global as a corporation gained control of the copyrighted material written by Dr. Roderick Meredith and others that was owned by Global. When Dr. Meredith formed Living Church of God, he and other writers with him had to rewrite their own literature.

More recently, Church of God, a Worldwide Association (COGWA) separated from United Church of God (UCG). As far as I know, they did not take copyrights of literature with them. I do not know if any of the ministers in COGWA wrote some of UCG's literature, but if they did, they probably didn't keep rights to it. They would have to rewrite their own articles for COGWA in order for COGWA to publish them, unless UCG gives them permission, and if UCG views COGWA as a competing organization, that is unlikely.

Having to rewrite something you have written (or rewritten) before, just to make the words different because someone holds the rights to your first writing and won't give them back to you, is a lot of work, and can be very frustrating.

If you are writing an article to serve God, make sure man cannot block it.

For the record, my book, Preaching the Gospel, which I publish online, is in the public domain. I made sure I put it in the public domain when I first published it, partly for the reason that I wanted readers to know I was not trying to make money with it, and partly to encourage other organizations or even individual readers to make use of my material in their own writings, if that will help spread God's truth and be a benefit to others. But another reason I put it into the public domain is so that it can never be blocked from publication.

So my suggestion is, if you write for COGFC, consider donating permission to publish what you have written, but not donating permanent ownership of the copyright. Plan ahead for contingencies, and make sure that if COGFC fails to publish your article, or publishes it but no one reads it because COGFC won't spend money to advertise the website, you can still publish it yourself someday or give another Church of God organization permission to publish it. Take the time to understand the copyright issues involved.

And if you want to learn more about copyright, consult with a lawyer or read a good book about copyright.

What about editing? I might write an article for COGFC, but COGFC might need to edit it before they publish it. Using myself as an example, what would I personally do in that case?

That is fine. As I understand it, I can keep the copyright for the rough draft I send them, and I can give them permission to edit and publish it. As I understand it, they can hold copyright for the editing changes they make, but I can still later publish my own draft, doing my own independent editing later, and I can give other organizations permission to edit and publish my original draft. I and other groups cannot copy the editing changes that COGFC would do - that part, the changes they make, would belong to them - but I can do different editing. The rough draft would still be mine. So what I would do is I would put my copyright notice in the draft I send COGFC, then when I give them permission to publish it, I would also give them permission to edit it for their own publication.

What I am doing here is raising questions to think about and research. Learn something about copyright if you are going to write articles for others to publish. Consider the long-term consequences. Consider contingencies, about what might happen to the articles you work on if things don't work out as you hope in COGFC.

Something to think about.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Christ as Head of the Church

Dealing with Dissension in a Fellowship

Since the break up of Worldwide and the scattering of the Church of God into many separate organizations, even competing organizations, splits and dissensions within organizations have continued. As various groups have had to deal with dissent, grumbling, and contentions within their own fellowships, some leaders and ministers have used the tactic of building faith in themselves rather than in God and the Bible. They speak of faith, but the faith they teach their members is not always faith in the God of the Bible. Some leaders and ministers try to teach the members to have faith in them more than faith in God and His word. They actually compete with God for the faith of the members God has placed under their care.

But they cannot do that openly. The members would see what they are doing and reject it. Members know, at some level, that putting more faith in men than in God is wrong. If a minister or leader said to the members, "Don't believe God, don't believe what you can see for yourself in the Bible, believe me, believe us ministers more than God", the members would reject such ministers and leaders immediately.

So a subterfuge is necessary. A gimmick. A clever twist on words to teach faith in the ministry more than God while seeming to teach faith in God.

And such ministers have found that gimmick. Perhaps some of them have learned it from the Catholic Church, for the Catholic Church uses a variation of this gimmick. It allows them to teach and influence members into having more faith in the word of the ministry and the leadership of the fellowship they attend than in God Himself, yet without those members being fully aware of what is happening.

And this is how some fellowships deal with the problem of dissension. If they can build faith in themselves among the members, the members will trust their teachings and decisions and there will not be dissension. No one will question the interpretation ministers put on the Bible if members have more faith in the ministers than in the Bible.

If you want a model to see what this looks like in its ultimate form, look at the Catholic Church. Members of the Catholic Church do not deny that the Bible is the word of God. But they believe that only the Catholic Church, the pope and the priests, have the authority and ability to interpret the Bible correctly. Good Catholics have faith in that principle. They have faith that God leads and inspires the Catholic leadership, especially the pope, to interpret the Bible correctly in matters of doctrine. This is how the Catholic Church can adopt policies and doctrines diametrically opposite to what the Bible teaches and still claim to believe that the Bible is the word of God.

But in fact, the result is that Catholics have more faith in their church than in God.

That is obvious to us in the Church of God because we can see the errors in Catholic doctrine, but what is less obvious to some of us is how many Church of God leaders and ministers teach the same wrong concept of faith in men more than God that the Catholic Church teaches. It is not as obvious because it has not had a very large effect on the main body of what we call "doctrine" in the Church of God, such as the plan of God, God's law, etc. Because most of our doctrines have not been changed, many members do not notice that our doctrines are now being based on Church of God tradition and ministerial authority rather than on faith in God's word. It is as if the building (doctrine) has been lifted up and moved from its existing foundation under the building (the Bible) and moved to a different foundation (faith in Church of God tradition and ministry).

It is easy not to notice. We still have the doctrine of the United States and Britain in prophecy. We still have the doctrine of God reproducing Himself in mankind. We still have the doctrine of the weekly Sabbath day and the annual holy days. We still have the doctrine that all mankind will have a chance for salvation. We still have the doctrine that Christ will soon return to set up the Kingdom of God ruling over the earth. Etc.

We still have all the major doctrines we had before. But how gradually and subtly the foundation for those doctrines has been changed in some (not all) fellowships. And it is not as if ministers in these fellowships do not quote the Bible. They have a wealth of Bible support for their doctrines, and they use it in their sermons and articles. That support in the Bible exists because Mr. Armstrong based his teachings on faith in the Bible, and he proved the truth from the Bible. We have those same teachings, but is our attitude the same as Mr. Armstrong's attitude? Do we believe the Bible the way he did?

Some in the Church do, but some do not.

Each individual member bases his faith on what he chooses. Two members sit next to each other in Sabbath services in the same fellowship. Both are listening to a sermon from their minister or top leader on a particular Church of God doctrine. The speaker quotes scripture to support what he says. One man believes that doctrine because he sees it in the Bible. The other man believes that doctrine because he trusts and believes the minister. Both believe the same doctrine, but for different reasons. The "building" of the doctrines they believe is the same for both men. But the foundation is different. One man bases the building of his beliefs on the foundation of the Bible. The other man bases the building of his beliefs on the foundation of his traditions and his trust in the ministry.

You usually can't tell what the foundation is by talking to these two men. They both profess belief in the same doctrine. The building looks the same. But like a foundation of a building, the basis for their beliefs is invisible. It is a matter of the heart and inward motive. Each man has a different foundation.

Only one man builds and maintains his beliefs on the foundation of Christ. The other man does not. They both believe the same thing, but for different reasons.

An analogy with Catholic doctrine may help to illustrate this. Not all Catholic doctrine is wrong. They have a mixture of truth and error. Some doctrines they have in common with the Church of God. For example, Catholics, like us, are against abortion.

We are against abortion because the Bible teaches against it. They are against abortion because the pope teaches against it. Same teaching, but different reasons.

But the Bible clearly teaches that we should trust God, not man. And for a leader or minister to teach members to put their trust in the ministry more than the Bible is dangerous for the members, because if their trust is in men, they do not have Christ as the foundation for their beliefs.

All of this is so unnecessary.

There is a right way to control dissent. The Bible teaches members to respect and submit to the ministry in a right way. Members can be taught not to contradict the ministry in their conversations with other members. It is the ministry that has the job of administering the organized work of the Church of God, and that work includes establishing standards in teaching the official doctrines of the Church so we all speak the same thing (1 Corinthians 1:10, Ephesians 4:11-16).

But our faith and belief must be in God's word. And in those cases where a member sees or thinks he sees something different in the Bible, until he can resolve it with the ministry (if that is possible), he should believe what he sees in the Bible. He does NOT have to openly talk about it with other members, but between him and God he should believe the Bible more than the ministry.

How We Came into the Church

Many of us, especially older members and many ministers, came into the Church from hearing Mr. Armstrong on radio or television. I have heard several ministers talk about how they came into the truth this way, how God called them. In several cases, a minister will say, "I heard Mr. Armstrong on the radio, and what he said made sense." In other words, they had a favorable reaction to Mr. Armstrong's overall teaching. It just seemed to be the truth. This favorable reaction when they first heard the truth is something these ministers ascribed to God's Holy Spirit working in their minds as God was calling them. I have heard several ministers describe this experience or something similar, including Mr. John Ritenbaugh, Mr. Brian Orchard, and Mr. Bob League. I myself had exactly that experience when I first came into contact with Mr. Armstrong and his teachings. And I also believe my reaction was the result of God's Holy Spirit working with my mind to help me understand and be receptive to the truth. That is how God began to work with me when He was calling me.

But do we stop there? Do we just say, "Well it makes sense to me, so I believe it"? If we do, we are of a different mindset than Mr. Armstrong. He did NOT learn the truth that way. He did NOT accept what other men taught him. Instead, he proved the truth from the Bible. And we should do the same.

I do not know if the three men I mentioned as examples really proved the truth from the Bible. I hope they did. But I know I did. I did not just accept what Mr. Armstrong said because it made sense. He himself said, "Don't believe me, believe the Bible." God opened my mind to see that what Mr. Armstrong taught made sense, but I also proved it from the Bible, and all of us should do that with every major doctrine we believe.

Some of the problems that exist in the Church today exist because so many who became members and ministers in the Church of God heard Mr. Armstrong say, "Don't believe me, believe the Bible", but they didn't do it. Mr. Armstrong said, "Don't believe me", but they believed him. Mr. Armstrong said, "believe the Bible", but they didn't take the time to really prove doctrine by the Bible. They just took Mr. Armstrong's word for doctrine. Then they learned some scriptures to use to support those beliefs, but they didn't look at both sides without bias and really prove from the Bible what is true. They simply added a few scriptures to the doctrines they already decided they would believe from Mr. Armstrong's mouth. Why? Because it made sense to them, and THAT'S ALL.

I do not think God opened our minds to see that what Mr. Armstrong taught made sense just so we could accept it on that basis. I think He opened our minds to see that it made sense so we would be willing to research it with an open mind in the Bible. But I don't think everyone in the Church of God took that second step. We should.

No matter how much Mr. Armstrong's teaching "made sense" to me, I would have rejected it if I could not prove it in the Bible.

God used Mr. Armstrong to teach us the truth. But Mr. Armstrong also pointed us to the source of that truth, the Bible. He set the example of unconditional belief in the Bible. When I was called, God opened my mind to be receptive to the doctrines Mr. Armstrong was teaching. But I did not stop there. Mr. Armstrong pointed me to the Bible, and it was through believing the Bible that I developed a relationship with God.

I am reminded of what Paul said about the law. It pointed us to Christ. It was a temporary schoolmaster. "But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor" (Galatians 3:23-25). Likewise, many members and ministers are first attracted to the true gospel through the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong and the ministry of the Church of God because "it makes sense". But that attraction to the teaching of the ministry should bring us to the Bible. Just as Paul said that the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might have faith in Christ, but after faith has come we are no longer under a tutor, so the job of the ministry is to bring us to faith in the Bible, but once we have faith in the Bible we are no longer to base our beliefs on the ministry.

Now, in quoting Galatians 3:23-25, I understand that we know that Paul is not speaking against the spiritual law of God. The word "law" can mean different things depending on the context in which it is used, just like many words. Paul here seems to be referring to the Old Testament administration of the law. It's purpose was to bring people to Christ. And I am only using this as an analogy, to show that some things are intended to bring us to something better. Just as the Old Testament administration of the law was intended to bring people eventually into a relationship with Christ, to prepare for us to have faith in Christ and to understand His sacrifice, so our reaction to Mr. Armstrong's teaching and the teaching today of the ministry of the Church is intended by God to bring us into a relationship with the God of the Bible and with Christ by teaching us faith in God's word.

The ministry should point us to the God of the Bible and teach us by word and example to believe and have faith in God's word, the Bible, NOT in the ministry. The purpose of the ministry is not to direct the faith of the members to the ministers themselves.

The purpose of Mr. Armstrong's message was to bring us to the Bible. Then we should believe the Bible. Everything should point to the Bible which alone points accurately to God. Anything else as a guide to faith is an idol. How many ministers were attracted to the teachings of Mr. Armstrong, yet stopped there and did not prove whether or not Mr. Armstrong's teachings were true? And how many of those ministers, whose real faith at that time was in Mr. Armstrong, now also teach the members to have faith in the ministry more than the Bible?

Mr. Armstrong pointed us to the Bible, and he trained and appointed ministers in the Church of God to do the same. But some ministers, instead of directing the faith of the members to the Bible, pointed back to Mr. Armstrong as the source of truth and authority for belief. Likewise today, some ministers try to direct the faith of the members to the ministry in the Church, not the Bible.

"Jesus Christ Is Head of the Church"

Everyone in the Church of God knows that Jesus Christ is the head of His Church. Even Protestants and Catholics know that. It is undeniable, for the Bible directly states it. "For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body" (Ephesians 5:22). "And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence" (Colossians 1:17-18).

But ministers often state it more than some other obvious truths such as "Paul was an apostle to the Gentiles", or "God made the universe", or "Christ died for our sins", or "God inspired the Bible". More than this, some ministers put special emphasis on Christ being the head of the Church, even encouraging members to have faith that Christ is the head of the Church.


Why this emphasis? I seldom hear ministers telling members, "you need to have faith that Christ died for our sins", or "pray for faith that God made the universe". Yet, ministers emphasize the leadership of Christ over the Church, saying we should have faith in that fact.

What are ministers really saying?

Certainly Christ is the head of the Church of God, but why the emphasis on this?

What effect do ministers want to have on the membership?

We might well ask, what effect does Christ's leadership of the Church have on the Church?

Christ obviously does not control everything that happens in the Church. He does not cause every mistake and every sin. He allows men to sin and make mistakes, but He does not force men to sin. Nor does He force men to make right choices.

Christ leads the Church, but the Church does not always follow where Christ leads. If that were the case, the Church would not be divided right now. That should be obvious.

Christ shows the way. He leads the Church both by the Bible and by the Holy Spirit. He can also control circumstances and intervene in events to bring about a result.

But when it comes to doctrinal and policy decisions made by the leadership and ministry of various fellowships, the actual effect of Christ's leadership does not only depend on the leadership Christ gives but on the willingness of men to follow Him.

To put it bluntly, if Christ, through the Bible and through the Holy Spirit, leads a top leader of a Church of God organization to teach a certain doctrine or carry out a certain policy, but the man refuses, then it does not happen. Christ's leadership of men in the Church has no effect if those men refuse to go where Christ leads them. That should be clear.

Yet, when ministers teach members to have faith in Christ's leadership of His Church through the Holy Spirit, they are not teaching members to have faith in something that has no effect. They are teaching members to have faith in something that has a very important effect. They are teaching members to have faith in something that will have the effect of the Church teaching right doctrines and having right policies.

But that effect only exists as human leaders are willing to follow Christ.

What ministers are really teaching the members is to have faith that those same ministers will follow Christ! And that is faith in men, not God.

In effect, they teach members to believe the doctrines of the Church based on faith in two things: Christ will faithfully lead the ministry and the ministry will faithfully follow Christ. The first is faith in God and the second is faith in men. But both would be required for the members to believe and have faith that all the decisions of the leadership are correct, both in policy matters and doctrine.

And this is how such ministry hopes to squelch dissent and disagreement. Not by teaching members the right way to respect authority in the Church while believing the Bible first, but by teaching the members to trust the ministry to be faithful in following Christ.

The result? Members are taught to believe the interpretation of the Bible that the ministry teaches them. So when a doctrinal question comes up, if a member disagrees, he is told, "We have studied this, and Christ has led us to this understanding, and you have to have faith that Christ as head of the Church has led us ministers to correctly interpret this scripture, or you do not have faith in God."

Yet, many ministers who teach this idea may not practice it themselves.

Suppose a doctrinal question comes up and the leader of a fellowship assigns one of his high-ranking ministers, or maybe a committee of such men, to study the issue in the Bible. Maybe it involves examining whether or not a detail of doctrine should be changed. In order for the men to do their job, each man must study the scriptures without bias, then report his findings even if it involves changing what has been previously taught. But in order to do this, he must first be able to doubt if the original teaching was correct. If he cannot doubt, if he must make it an article of faith that the teaching up till now has been correct (that Christ as head of the Church has made sure that doctrine is correct), then his research is worthless. He has no choice but to reject change or correction and stick with past teaching.

Yet, if he is required to have the same kind of "faith" that is taught to the lay members, faith that the leadership faithfully follows Christ as Christ leads the Church in doctrine, and therefore the lay members should not even privately and quietly disagree with the Church about anything he sees in the Bible, he must believe that the old understanding is correct.

In other words, if it is wrong for a member to disagree with the leadership of the Church based on what he sees in the Bible, even quietly in his own mind, how can a minister assigned by the leader to research a doctrinal question even doubt for a minute that the old teaching is correct? How can the leader himself accept correction from the Bible if he cannot doubt that Christ has led Him in his previous decisions and teachings?

Effect on Preaching the Gospel

This issue has an effect on any organization's ability and power to preach the gospel to the world effectively. And NO organization today preaches the gospel with more than a fraction of the effectiveness of Mr. Armstrong.

God cannot use us to preach the gospel to the world in a powerful way if we point the faith of the members towards the Church instead of towards the Bible. God cannot use us very effectively if we are hypocrites, telling outsiders to believe the Bible more than their ministers, yet telling our own members to believe their ministers more than what they see in the Bible. We are not consistent when we tell our members to trust Christ to lead the Church and therefore to trust the Church to interpret the Bible for us, but then teach outsiders to believe what they see with their own eyes in the Bible more than how their ministers interpret the Bible for them. God hates diverse measures (Proverbs 20:10, Deuteronomy 25:13-14, Exodus 12:49, Numbers 15:15-16). What we teach our own members must be the same as what we teach outsiders. We fall short and do not live up to the standards we set because we strive against Satan and our human nature, but we must set for ourselves and strive for the same spiritual standards and goals that we teach to the world. And that standard must include pointing the faith of the members, and outsiders, towards God and the Bible more than faith in the Church, its leaders and ministers, and its traditions.

We cannot teach our members to trust the interpretation of the Bible that our ministers teach (because Christ is the head of the Church) more than what they see for themselves in the Bible, then teach the world NOT to trust the interpretation of the Bible that their ministers teach more than what they see for themselves in the Bible.

Moreover, God may be reluctant to bring new members brought in by the preaching of the gospel into a Church that is led by a ministry that competes with God for the faith of the members.

So wrong teaching on this subject can hurt our efforts to preach the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel.

Mr. Armstrong taught that Christ is the word of God in person and the Bible is the word of God in print, the same word. To point people to the Bible is the same as pointing them to Christ. Only the Bible is God's word and therefore unerringly true. Only the Bible points us to God with perfect accuracy.

Where is the leadership and ministry of a major Church of God fellowship today that teaches its members (not just the public), "Don't believe me, don't believe us, believe what you see in your own Bible"?

I know of none. Nor do I know of any Church of God fellowship that has a door for preaching the gospel open as wide as it was for Mr. Armstrong. I think these are related. What do you think?

Temptation for Members to Make an Idol of the Ministry

There is more than one way to break the second commandment.

"You shall not make for yourself a carved image—any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth; you shall not bow down to them nor serve them. For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing mercy to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments" (Exodus 20:4-6).

We in the Church of God have always understood that this commandment prohibits not just using images to worship false gods, but even images to worship the true God. We also understand that the natural carnal mind desires some physical representation of God - something men can see - as an "aid" to worship, but that no limited image can truly represent the infinite and perfect God. God wants men to worship Him in spirit and in truth. "But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:23-24).

But what some in the Church of God may not realize is that the same human nature that worked in the men of ancient times, as well as works in some religious bodies today, that cries out for a physical representation of God, something people can see, still works in the Church of God today. We have that same nature. We also have God's Holy Spirit, and with the power of the Holy Spirit to help us, we can fight against our human nature. But we still have it. And it can still tempt us.

Only we are not tempted to make "holy pictures" or statues of Christ or God. Rather, our human nature can tempt us into seeking a physical representation of God or Christ in a different form. Not inanimate objects, but live men one can see, hear, and go to with questions about doctrine.

I am not exaggerating. We in the Church of God can make idols out of our ministers. We do that when we attribute to them powers, wisdom, and righteousness that belong only to God. We do that when we give them the trust that belongs only to God. We do that when we have "faith" in their teaching, a faith that should be towards God and the Bible alone.

The same carnal nature that motivated ancient pagans to make inanimate idols can motivate us in the Church to give our ministers a kind of "worship" that goes beyond the balanced respect and submission to their office as the Bible commands. That happens when we assume that the doctrines they teach must be true even when we see something different in the Bible. That happens when we let ministers interpret the Bible for us instead of helping us let the Bible interpret itself. That happens when we think our leaders and ministers cannot be wrong.

And that happens when we think that our ministers always follow where Christ leads.

Only God cannot be wrong. You and I and every human on earth can be wrong. We can and do make mistakes. We can and do sin. Only God and Christ are perfect, and only the Bible is a perfect reflection of Their teaching and truth.

Faithful ministers should warn their congregations against putting faith in them or thinking more of them than they should. They should prove their teachings by the Bible so that the faith of the members is in God, not the Church or the ministry.

Was the apostle Paul aware of the danger of men thinking too much of him, in effect, making an idol out of him? You bet he was, and he warned the brethren about that. He pointed men to God, not to himself.

"Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase" (1 Corinthians 3:5-7).

"And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God" (1 Corinthians 2:1-5). Notice, Paul wanted the faith of the members to be directed towards God, not him personally. He knew there was a danger that they would give more regard to him than they should if he did not direct their faith towards God.

Did Paul think he and the other apostles and ministers had authority over the faith of the members, over what they believed? "Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand" (2 Corinthians 1:24).

Now, keep in mind that in the days of Paul the Bible was not readily available to most of the membership. The Bible was not complete because the New Testament was in the process of being written. Moreover, the Bible was not easily available because the printing press was not invented yet and individual books of the Bible were hand-copied and were expensive. And even if the Bible was complete and available, the PROOF of the Bible that comes from fulfilled prophecy didn't exist yet, because the fulfillment of prophecy that proves that the Bible is God speaking primarily occurred in the last couple of centuries.

So what did the people have for proof of doctrine? They had the miracles of Paul and the apostles as proof that God was speaking through them. Yet even so, God in Acts commends those who searched the Old Testament scriptures to know if Paul was speaking the truth, and God records that for our learning today so we know we should prove doctrine by the Bible (Acts 17:11).

Now, if God worked miracles by the hands of Paul to give his teaching authenticity, he might have a stronger claim to be speaking the word of God than ministers today who do no miracles (2 Corinthians 12:12, 1 Thessalonians 2:13). Yet even with the testimony of the signs and miracles God worked through Paul, Paul never claimed authority or "dominion" over what the members believed (2 Corinthians 1:24). God inspired that statement of Paul for our benefit today. The ministry does NOT have dominion over what members believe.

Today, God has made the Bible complete and available to all members, and He expects us to use it. The Bible is the final authority over our beliefs. Who has dominion over our faith? Not the ministry. God has dominion over our faith in the sense that He has the authority to tell us, through His infallible word, what to believe.

Any minister who teaches the members of his congregation to believe his interpretation of the Bible more than what the members can see for themselves in the Bible is encouraging a spirit of idolatry by competing against God for the faith of the members instead of pointing the members towards God and teaching them to put their faith in God alone.

How sad it is, how evil it is, when God entrusts a minister or high-ranking leader with a portion of God's flock with the assigned responsibility of teaching the flock to worship God, and that minister instead competes with God and directs the faith of the members towards himself more than towards God and His word, the Bible.

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

"Dennis Luker's Sermon on God's Sovereignty", dated August 11, 2010, link:

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

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

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

"What Does Philadelphia Hold Fast To?", dated December 2, 2010, link:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Should You Read "Other Literature" and Websites?", dated June 20, 2013, link:

"What Is the Most Important Issue in the Whole Church of God?", dated June 30, 2013, link:

" 'Good Intentions', without Believing God, Is a Recipe for Disaster", dated August 4, 2013, link:

"The Role of the Ordained Ministry in God's Government", dated August 21, 2013, link:

"If You Hear Your Pastor Preach False Doctrine or Error, Does Matthew 18:15-18 Apply?", dated December 14, 2013, link:

"Does Your Pastor Warn Against Making an Idol out of Him?", dated December 31, 2013, link:

"Does the Ministry Stand between Us and God?", dated March 8, 2014, link: