Friday, December 25, 2015

Theory of Evolution vs. Faith in God's Word

Many people in the Church of God may be troubled by what they read or hear about the theory of evolution and what secular science teaches on that subject compared to what they read in the book of Genesis in the Bible.

We in the Church of God have learned a tradition, a tradition of doctrine based on the Bible. We have learned both the doctrines themselves, doctrines that come from the Bible, and the process of learning those doctrines, and that process is simply believing what God says in the Bible. That process can also include first proving that God exists and that the Bible is inspired by God (the proof is fulfilled prophecy), then believing God's word out of faith and trust towards God and Christ, trusting that they cannot lie and will only tell us the truth.

This trust in God's word is the foundation of all the doctrines we have believed, including the Sabbath and holy days, Israel in prophecy, the coming Kingdom of God, the mortality of the soul, and every other doctrine we have believed. It is also the foundation of the doctrines we have believed concerning the creation account in Genesis and the flood during the days of Noah.

Yet, just as our religious doctrines are in conflict with the traditional doctrines of mainstream, traditional religion, which believes that God is a trinity, Sunday is the Christian sabbath, and the soul is immortal, so our doctrines about creation, equally based on the Bible as our other doctrines, are in conflict with mainstream secular teaching in schools and universities.

But this presents a problem to our members and their children. For while almost no Church of God member would send his children to a Catholic or Protestant religious school to learn the traditional, mainstream doctrines that are contrary to Church of God doctrine, most members, unless they home school their children, cannot help but let them receive a secular education in the public schools. Young people attending college must often take classes in biology and evolution, especially if they major in any of the sciences. And it is here that they are exposed to indoctrination diametrically opposite to the doctrines of the Church regarding creation.

Thus, the faith of the membership and young people in the Church in the word of God regarding creation is being directly challenged in a way that it is not challenged in other doctrines of the Church regarding the soul, the nature of God, the Sabbath and holy days, etc.

It is almost impossible to escape the doctrine of evolution. It is taught everywhere: in libraries, on TV, in movies, in news articles, and most importantly, in colleges and even high schools. Evolution has become the established religion of the United States and most of the world. It is the lens through which everything else is viewed.

And it is godless. It is atheistic. It is taught and virtually forced on the public with a militancy that rivals the militancy of false religions throughout history. And that is fitting, for evolution has become the religion of atheists.

What do I mean by "evolution"? By evolution I mean the theory that all species of life on earth have come into existence through natural causes only, that they came into existence from a common ancestor through random mutation and natural selection only.

Atheists hate religion with a passion. They are on a crusade to wipe religion out. They are aggressive, militant, forceful, and intolerant. And they give no quarter. They are not trying to be reasonable or fair. They do not hesitate to "play dirty". They view religion as their enemy, and evolution is a tool in their hands to destroy it. And they are very clever and articulate.

Deep down they hate God, and they express their hatred by denying His existence. They do not believe in God because they do not want to believe in God.

And they directly challenge the faith of our members and young people in the Bible.

But we can maintain our faith in the face of these challenges if we have proved that God exists, if we have proved that God has inspired the Bible, and if we stick to our commitment to God to believe what He says.

Atheistic science uses its interpretation of physical evidence, which they say points to evolution, to contradict what God says in the Bible. And they can present what appears to be very convincing arguments in favor of evolution.

Mr. Armstrong said in his autobiography that before he came into the Church of God he went into a dual study of the Sabbath and the theory of evolution. This occurred in late 1926 and early 1927, as I recall from the autobiography. He said that his head was swimming when he studied evolution because the arguments of science were very convincing. Yet, he felt he disproved, once and for all, evolution.

Yet, as persuasive as science's arguments in favor of evolution were in 1926, they are even more persuasive today. Much physical evidence has been gathered and interpreted according to evolutionary thinking in the last 80 years. Science has learned about DNA and genetics, and the scientific community has accumulated many more fossils during that time. And scientists have had eight decades to polish their theories and sharpen their arguments.

The Church of God may be better equipped to deal with challenges to the Bible than many other religion bodies. That is because we do not share some of the errors in understanding the Bible that some groups outside the Church of God make. Many religious people outside the Church think that the Bible says that the earth is only six thousand years old. But we understand that the earth existed and was covered in water before the six days of creation took place. Mr. Armstrong understood it, and he showed this to us from the Bible. The earth could have existed for millions of years before God renewed the face of the earth during the six days described in Genesis. Yet we know these were six literal days and that the Bible is literal.

Nevertheless, there may be other aspects of what science teaches that our ministers, members, and children of members cannot explain in a way consistent with the Bible, cannot reconcile with the Bible. Does this mean that the real physical evidence science examines, be it genetics, DNA, fossils, or any other evidence, is inconsistent with the Bible? No. It simply means we do not know how to explain certain things. There are some things we do not know.

There are answers. We may not always know what those answers are.

"For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known" (1 Corinthians 13:9-12).

Today, as Paul says, we know only in part. We do not know everything.

But neither do scientists.

At some point, we simply have to choose whether we will trust scientists and what they say or God and what He says. And for myself, I choose to trust God.

I can't explain how every bit of evidence in the earth fits with the events in Genesis. There are parts of the Bible I cannot explain. But I trust that God is telling me the truth. I trust God more than I trust scientists and their interpretation of the evidence.

And as far as those events in the Bible are concerned that are clear and understandable to me, I trust that they are absolutely true. God is faithful, and He cannot lie (Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18).

So when Genesis says that God renewed the face of the entire earth in six days, and gives the details of what He did on each of those six days, I believe what God says, literally. When He says that he destroyed all air-breathing animal life on planet earth in a flood in Noah's day, except for those in the ark with Noah, I believe Him literally. Can I answer every objection a scientist might make? No. But I don't have to.

What is it about the teaching of science and scientists that is more trustworthy than God? The answer: nothing.

What is trustworthy about man? Nothing. What is trustworthy about God? Everything.

Everything science and the scientific community says about the origin of things, everything this secular, atheistic educational system says about the origin of the universe, the earth, biological species, and man, is fallible. Any of it can be in error. From the reporting of evidence to the interpretation of that evidence, there is no part of human activity that is error-free.

They say "to err is human". That is an understatement.

Human lives are catalogs of error. The teaching of man is full of error, just as a general principle. The religions of man are full of error. The governments of man are full of error. And the science of man is full of error. And not just error, but deliberate lies, in many cases.

Politicians lie. Businessmen lie. Religious leaders lie. But are scientists exempt? No, scientists are just as human, just as carnal, as anyone else. Scientists lie.

Not every scientist, necessarily. Some may have high moral standards and always tell the truth, as best they understand it. And that is true for businessmen and some politicians (I suppose). But scientists can lie just as they can make mistakes.

But God neither lies nor makes mistakes. His word is true and is trustworthy.

Everything regarding the physical evidence that science claims proves evolution is based on man's work, and is therefore subject to error and possible deceit. All physical evidence in their teaching, from fossils to DNA sequences, has been collected by man. All physical evidence used to support evolution has been described, reported, and interpreted by man. And at any step of the way - collection, describing and reporting, and interpretation - errors, mistakes, sins, and lies can come into play, especially when you take into account that Satan is the deceiver of all mankind. So what part of man's explanation, contrary to the Bible, is trustworthy?

Not that we have to ignore all physical evidence. Much of it we can explain, and we should explain those parts of the evidence, according to the Bible, that we are able to understand.

But some of it we may not be able to explain, either to ourselves or to others.

But that is exactly the point at which God tests us to know if we believe what He says.

There may be simple explanations for the physical evidence, consistent with a literal reading of the Bible, that God does NOT want us to understand right away. He can reveal that to us later, but first He may want to test our faith in His word.

For what kind of test is it if we have a simple explanation for every fossil, every DNA sequence, every point of evidence, that is consistent with the Bible? Not much of a test. It is easy to believe the Bible under those conditions.

But show us some evidence and an interpretation of the evidence that seems contrary to the Bible, evidence we cannot explain in any way consistent with the Bible, and then we are really tested.

But the test is the same, believe God or believe man. For no matter how convincing man's evidence and the interpretation of that evidence is, it still comes from man and can be in error at any point of the process of gathering, reporting, and interpreting.

The Bible is full of scriptures in which God commands us to trust in Him and His word more than in man and the teaching of man.

"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5).

" 'For all those things My hand has made, and all those things exist,' says the Lord. 'But on this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word' " (Isaiah 66:2).

"Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him" (Proverbs 30:5).

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

"Thus says the Lord: 'Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his strength, whose heart departs from the Lord. For he shall be like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see when good comes, but shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness, in a salt land which is not inhabited. Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, and whose hope is the Lord. For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters, which spreads out its roots by the river, and will not fear when heat comes; But its leaf will be green, and will not be anxious in the year of drought, nor will cease from yielding fruit' " (Jeremiah 17:5-8).

Suppose a scientist showed me physical evidence that he says proves the Bible account false. He shows me the evidence, or he reports the evidence. He interprets it. And he says to me, "Can you explain this any way consistent with the Bible account?" And I say, "No".

But I still believe God, not the scientist. The scientist could have lied concerning the evidence. He could have made a mistake reporting it. He may have made mistakes or lied in the interpretation of it. His argument is not reliable.

But I trust God's word. I have proved God exists. I have proved through fulfilled prophecy that God inspired the Bible and the Bible is God speaking. I trust Him that He will tell me the truth and not lie to me. And when God tells me through the Bible that He renewed the face of the earth in six literal days, and that he destroyed the earth in a flood during the days of Noah, I believe Him, unconditionally. I believe God whether I can answer the scientists' arguments or not. I trust God whether I can explain what the scientists claim is physical evidence or not.

Christ will answer everything when He returns to set up His kingdom. All mysteries will be solved. Today we know in part, but in that day we will know fully. And when Christ reveals the answer to me in the kingdom of God, I may hit myself in the head and say, "Of course. Why didn't I think of that? How stupid of me. It is so simple, why couldn't I think of it before?"

But we humans have minds that are limited. We do not think of everything. And it may be that God does not want us to have the explanation until we first prove to Him that we are willing to trust what He says more than what the scientists say. Then, in the kingdom of God, God can reveal to us all things we have not understood in this life about science.

But to be in that kingdom, I have to prove to God now that I will believe and trust Him unconditionally for eternity.

So maybe it is not such a bad thing if I cannot answer every argument of science according to the Bible. For that gives God the chance to test my faith, and it gives me the chance to pass the test so God can give me eternal life, trusting me to trust Him for eternity because I can prove my trust in Him now.

I believe the Bible is very clear that the six days of creation in Genesis were six literal days, that the renewing of the face of earth prior to the creation of man was a planet-wide event, that the human race started about 6,000 years ago, and that Noah's flood was world-wide, not just a local flood, and that all land animals at that time on the entire planet Earth, except the animals with Noah in the ark, died.

When the Bible is clear, I trust what God says unconditionally, and I don't care what science says, or how much "evidence" they claim to have for their teaching, or what that "evidence" is. Nor do I care if I can answer the arguments of scientists. When science teaches things that are not against the Bible because they fill in details that the Bible is silent about, I can accept those teachings, conditionally. But I do not accept anything science says that contradicts what God clearly says in the Bible. In those cases, science is mistaken or is lying.


It may be that this issue becomes a crisis for many Church of God members and their children at some point in their lives. It may even become a crisis for the Church of God or in various Church of God fellowships at times.

But that is not necessarily a bad thing. God wants us to face trials, crises, and tests to know where we stand. He wants us to believe and trust Him unconditionally. So He has to test us. He sets us up with challenges that may make it hard to trust Him, not easy at all. It must have been hard for Abraham to trust God when God told Him to sacrifice his son. But Abraham passed the test, and we have to pass the test also.

These trials of our faith can be hard, but they contain within them the seeds of an eternal reward IF we choose to trust and believe God all the way and remain steadfast in our commitment to believe Him and His word, the Bible, right to the end.

"In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials, that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter 1:6-7).

"For what does the Scripture say? 'Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.' " (Romans 4:3).

One more thing. If we look at or hear about physical evidence, and we cannot think of an explanation of the evidence that is consistent with the Bible, and if we then conclude, "the Bible must be wrong", are we not showing more faith and trust, not only in scientists more than God, but in OURSELVES more than God? For we are really saying, "I am so smart, if I cannot think of an explanation consistent with the Bible, then there is none. I can't think of any way this evidence can fit with the Bible, so because I cannot explain it, the Bible must be wrong".

Here is a link to chapter one of Preaching the Gospel. This chapter shows how to prove the existence of God and how to prove that the Bible is inspired by God and is God speaking. It also has a section on evolution, a section on the respect we should have for God's word, and a section on how to understand the Bible:

Chapter 1 - The United States and Britain in Prophecy

Monday, December 21, 2015

Incorporation of Church of God, The Father's Call

There has been some organizational activity recently in Church of God, the Father's Call (COGFC), the fellowship that came out of COGaic (David Hume) and is currently led by Mr. Brian Orchard. COGFC has formed a corporation, and this was announced in a sermon by Mr. Orchard given on December 12, 2015 entitled, "Review, Refresh, Reaffirm". A couple of weeks before that he gave a sermon entitled, "The Importance of the Identity of Israel", on November 28, 2015. I want to comment on both sermons before I discuss the incorporation.

Links to both sermons can be found in the COGFC sermons page, link:

The Importance of the Identity of Israel

Why did Mr. Orchard and several other ministers and some members separate from David Hulme and COGaic a couple of years ago?

There have been a number of issues that were voiced as contributing reasons:

1) In the matter of governance, many of these ministers seemed to feel that Mr. Hulme should have submitted to their views on certain issues, though the exact issues on which Mr. Hulme failed to submit to these ministers was not necessarily clearly articulated. But in discussions and explanations, there was heavy emphasis on the need for "mutual submission", with the implication or assertion that Mr. Hulme should have been more submissive to these ministers while they were in COGaic (even though Mr. Hulme had authority over them).

2) There was an issue about the doctrine of the identity of Israel. Ministers and members leaving COGaic seemed to feel that Mr. Hulme was de-emphasizing or abandoning the doctrine of the modern identity of the lost ten tribes of Israel and that this doctrine was important and should be retained and taught.

3) Many members, and some ministers, seemed to be concerned with Mr. Hulme's failure to effectively preach the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel.

I don't say these were the only issues, but these three seemed to be important to many people at the time.

Many lay members in particular, if not many of the ministers, seemed to have a strong desire to preach the gospel to the world, and they knew that Mr. Hulme was not doing that to any significant degree. They had hopes that this new group would allow them to finally do that.

But the lay members did not have to deal personally with Mr. Hulme very much. The ministers did, and any personality conflicts or offenses over the leadership style of Mr. Hulme loomed larger in the minds of the ministers than the members.

And of course, when pastors left COGaic, it was common for many members of their congregations to go with them simply because the members wanted to continue to be pastored by them.

At that time, around January 2014, nine leading ministers formed a council of elders. They had a conference and came to some agreements. They agreed to try to develop a new model or form of governance, something they said would be based on the family model and "mutual submission". They also seemed to agree to postpone the preaching of the gospel and just feed the flock for a while till the Church was spiritually strengthened, but with the implication that they agreed that the preaching of the gospel should be done and they wanted to do it, but not right away. No time frame was decided on how long they would feed the flock only, whether a month, a year, or ten years. They said that the Holy Spirit led them to reach their agreement.

They began giving sermons and Bible studies to the membership of their congregations, and in many of the sermons there was a focus on the importance of the identity of Israel, the preaching of the gospel, right governance, and drawing closer to God. But a few months later, four of the nine left the fellowship for other groups, three going to Living Church of God (LCG), which does preach the gospel, and one going to United Church of God (UCG).

During the rest of that first year, the primary leaders of COGFC seemed to be Mr. Brian Orchard and Mr. Steve Andrews. They seemed to work in agreement, and both regularly gave sermons and Bible studies. COGFC was not incorporated but functioned as an association. Then around the beginning of this year, Mr. Steve Andrews no longer gave sermons and Bible studies. The fellowship was led by Mr. Brian Orchard with the support of the remaining three of the original nine leading ministers besides himself.

I have gotten the impression that since COGFC formed, some COGFC members have been unhappy with the fact that COGFC is not preaching the gospel to the world.

I give this background because it may be important for understanding the reason for and content of Mr. Orchard's sermon on the importance of the identity of Israel.

At the time COGFC came out of COGaic and started to function as a Church of God fellowship, I sensed, and I think many members sensed, a close connection between the doctrine of the identity of Israel and the doctrine of preaching the gospel to the world. They seemed tied together. To me, the identity of Israel doctrine helps us focus on the way we preach the gospel, to whom, and why.

But I found no such strong connection between those two doctrines in Mr. Orchard's sermon. He said that the identity of Israel doctrine is important, but he seemed to give reasons other than preaching the gospel, primarily. You can listen to the sermon and form your own opinion.

The sermon is presented as explaining why the doctrine of the identity of Israel is important, or why the doctrine of Israel in prophecy is important. To me, that means explaining why it is important to know that the United States and other English-speaking nations are descended from Joseph, one of the sons of Israel, and are thus part of the lost ten tribes of Israel, along with several other western nations in Europe that are descended from many of the other tribes. That, after all, was one of the issues that many thought was a cause of separation from David Hulme two years ago.

But Mr. Orchard really didn't talk about that. Instead, he seemed to talk about why Israel's role is important, both anciently and in the millennium. He also made a comparison with the Church. He said that Israel was to be an example, a role model, for the rest of the world, and that this job of being an example is now passed on to the Church. He talked about how important Israel is in God's plan for salvation.

But he never said why it is important for us to know that the Jews are not all of Israel, that the United States, Great Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and several other European nations are all part of Israel in addition to the Jews.

That is what the "identity of Israel" doctrine is. Not just that Israel is important in the Bible or in ancient history, or that Israel is important for God's plan of salvation, or that the Church should set a good example as ancient Israel was supposed to do but failed, but that the Jews are only part of Israel, and that the United States, Britain, and other major nations are Israel.

That is what the term, "identity of Israel doctrine" means to me. That is what the term, "United States and British Commonwealth in prophecy doctrine" means to me.

We English-speaking people are Israel, not just the Jews. Why is it important to know that? Mr. Orchard didn't explain this. Yet, this was apparently a reason for separation from David Hulme.

He certainly talks about the doctrine. He gives some interesting background about it, including the similarities and differences with British-Israelism. But he doesn't really explain its importance.

In other words, just about everything he says about the importance of Israel can apply just as well even if you think that all Israel is only the Jews.

I will tell you why I think the doctrine that the United States and many other modern nations ARE Israel is important. It is not that the Church is to learn the lesson that we need to set an example for the world which ancient Israel was supposed to set, but didn't. It is not just the lesson that Israel will be important in the millennium as the model nation. You can learn those lessons just as well even if you think that only the Jews are Israel.

The identity of Israel doctrine teaches us that we have to WARN the people of the United States, Britain, Canada, and several other nations of the coming of the great tribulation if they do not repent of their sins, because the tribulation falls first and foremost on those nations. Not China. Not Russia. Not Japan. Israel, that is, the English-speaking people.

"Alas! For that day is great, so that none is like it; And it is the time of Jacob’s trouble, but he shall be saved out of it" (Jeremiah 30:7). "Then Israel stretched out his right hand and laid it on Ephraim’s head, who was the younger, and his left hand on Manasseh’s head....and said....'The Angel who has redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; Let my name be named upon them...' " (Genesis 48:14-16).

Jacob put his name on the sons of Joseph in a special way, and God says through Jeremiah that the great tribulation will fall on Jacob. It is important for us to know who Israel is today so we can warn them.

Jesus also placed emphasis on preaching the gospel to the "lost sheep" of the house of Israel when He sent out his disciples (Matthew 10:5-6).

We need to know the identity of Israel today so we know who to primarily preach the gospel to, who to warn, and what to warn them about.

Mr. Orchard does make the point that God in His mercy warns, and if the warning is not heeded, He punishes. But he does not connect the dots to say, that means we need to deliver God's warning to the people of the United States and Britain.

The identity of Israel doctrine is important also for proving that the Bible is inspired by God. The very prophecies that prove that the United States and Britain are Israel also prove that God inspired the Bible, for no man could predict these things thousands of years in advance.

But being able to prove that the Bible is God's word may not seem important to those who think that God's Holy Spirit is leading them apart from and contrary to the Bible.

Finally, he repeats his past teaching (and wrong teaching) that you have to preach the gospel by example first, because your example and teaching have to be consistent, or as I might word it, you have to practice what you preach.

Why do I say that is wrong? You should practice what you preach and set a good example. But there is no excuse for waiting till you are setting a better example before you preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning, as I have made clear from the Bible in many previous posts. You have to do both at the same time. You have to preach the gospel from day one even while you are working to improve your example. This is proved by examples in the Bible, which I explain in my previous posts.

Jonah was a carnal man who ran from his responsibilities, hated his neighbors, and was angry with God for showing mercy. But God sent him to warn Nineveh. Judas was a thief and became a betrayer, but Jesus sent him to preach the gospel.

It is God's warning, anyway, not ours. We are only the delivery boy. And God's example is perfect. He does not need to wait two years before He gives a warning until He, God, learns to set a better example. And He can use us as tools to get HIS warning message out, not ours.

Yes, it is important to set a good example and to live what we preach. And if we do, our preaching will be more effective than if we don't. But failure to even start to preach the gospel is itself a bad example. COGFC is showing the world, and the rest of the Church, that they do not believe the Bible and they do not love their neighbors as themselves.

Mr. Orchard didn't say anything like this, and I didn't expect him to.

You can learn the lesson that the Church should set a good example, which Israel failed to do, even if you think that the Jews are all of Israel, not the United States and Britain. But for giving a warning to those who are going to go through the tribulation, you have to know that the United States and British nations are Israel so you know who to give the warning to. Otherwise, we would warn the Jews, but not our own nations.

Review, Refresh, Reaffirm

In the sermon, "Review, Refresh, Reaffirm", Mr. Orchard first reviewed certain principles that COGFC stands for in a general way before he went into details of incorporation.

He said that their basic foundation is family-style governance. He said it takes time to develop this because, while it is easy to say, "family-style governance", it is not easy to implement. He said that all members of the Church must have full access to Christ. He also talked about submitting one to another, quoting Ephesians 5:21, and referred again to governance in the Church.

He said that it doesn't matter much what the structure or form of governance is - it is the attitude that is important.

I will only comment that the structure of governance AND attitude are both important. Attitude is certainly important, but the choice of the structure of governance reflects the attitude of the people who choose that structure of governance. If ministers organizing a structure of governance choose an unbiblical model, this reflects a bad attitude towards God and His word.

I agree that every member should have full access to Christ, and we do. I believe that the principle that every member must have full and direct access to Christ and to the Father is one hundred percent compatible with top-down governance. Some see a contradiction. They may ask, if Christ is the head of the ministry and leads the members through the ministry, how can we have direct access to Christ, since our access to Christ is through the ministry?

The answer, as I explain in my book, Preaching the Gospel (see chapter 8, "Government in the Church of God", section "Organization of the Church and Limitations on the Authority of the Ministry" - see organization chart in that section, link: ), is that Christ leads the Church through the ministry only in matters of the administrative work of the Church - teaching, setting official doctrine, resolving disputes, disciplining members for open sin or creating division, distributing to the poor, preaching the gospel, etc. In those matters, Christ indeed governs the Church through the ministry. But in matters of the personal salvation of every member, such as Christ interceding for us with God and helping us to understand God's word and God's law by the power of the Holy Spirit, the access of each member to Christ and the Father is direct, not through the ministry. We all have direct access to Christ and the Father through prayer and Bible study.

Sometimes it is hard for me to understand what Mr. Orchard is saying when he refers to "family-style" governance and submitting one to another. He rarely uses examples to illustrate his points. Perhaps he himself is not fully clear in his mind what he means by "family-style" governance, which might be one reason why he finds it hard to implement it.

What Mr. Orchard is teaching about having a right attitude of governance, what he may call "submitting one to another", may simply be loving authority. The term "loving authority" is not new in the Church of God. This term was used in the Church when Mr. Armstrong was alive. Not every minister in Worldwide practiced loving authority, but some tried to, and even those who did not practice it at least acknowledged the principle in their teaching. Today, Living Church of God uses a term with a similar meaning, "servant leadership".

What "loving authority" and "servant leadership" mean is that those who have authority exercise it for the good of those under their authority. They have an outgoing concern for those they govern, and they make decisions for their long term good. They serve the people, and not themselves. It is the way God the Father and Jesus Christ exercise authority over the members of the Church. They love the Church, and They use their authority for our good. Jesus Christ set the example, and He gave His life for us. "You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you" (John 13:8).

Mr. Orchard often quotes Ephesians 5:21 about submitting to one another. Ephesians 5:21 is really talking about submitting to each other's needs, as Christ submitted to our needs when He gave Himself as a sacrifice for our sins.

Submitting one to another can also include the principle of humility - the humility of realizing that we are human and sometimes need the good advice and counsel of others.

If this is what Mr. Orchard means when he talks about family-style governance and submitting to each other, then there is nothing new about it. It is the same as "loving authority", which Mr. Armstrong taught, and "servant leadership", which Dr. Meredith teaches, perhaps with the added concept of humility to listen to the advice of others.

But if he means a kind of consensus building as a form of governance, where no one man has the authority to make decisions without the consent of the others, then he is talking about something very different. And a structure of governance that does not allow the one in an organization who reports to Christ to make decisions without the agreement of others is NOT biblical as a structure of governance for the Church.

Incorporation and Bylaws - Actual Governance Structure (finally)

Towards the end of the sermon, about the second half or the last third, Mr. Orchard explains some of the details of the new corporation. Here are some points he made.

The legal structure of COGFC has been changed from an association to a corporation. One reason this has been done is to provide stronger liability protection. The corporation is legally a church and a 501(c)(3) corporation.

The bylaws of the corporation are on the Father's Call website, link:

The bylaws can be changed.

The corporation will have a "governing body", which is the same as the "board of directors" and the "council of elders" - all different names for the same thing. At the present time, there are four members of that body. I presume that includes Mr. Brian Orchard as the senior pastor plus three other leading ministers.

Decisions of the council of elders must be unanimous. If they cannot reach unanimous agreement, no decision will be made until they can reach unanimous agreement.

There will be a business management committee to manage and conduct the day-to-day business affairs of the Church. There will be linkage between the council and the business management committee in that the senior pastor on the council of elders will also be on the business management committee. He will be the channel of communication between the two groups.

Mr. Orchard said that requiring decisions of the council of elders to be unanimous is based on Acts 15. He also said there will be no voting. I will comment on this later.

The previous weekend there was a conference to discuss how to effectively work within these bylaws to function as a Church. That conference also focused on website development.

The main tool of any work must be the Internet. The Website will be the primary means COGFC communicates with the world. COGFC plans to build a more reliable and professional website.

They will begin to develop separate material oriented specifically towards the world.

He reminds us that no person can come to Christ unless the Father draws him (true), and unless the Father draws someone, there is nothing we can do. This last part is wrong, and I will explain why later in this post.

He said that COGFC has the opportunity to represent unity of spirit, and that their goal is to offer a place where Christ can bring His sheep where they will receive good food and clean water.

The Bylaws on the Website

After listening to Mr. Orchard's sermon, I read the bylaws from the website, and here is what I have found.

The exact title of the corporation is "Church of God, The Father's Call". Their main address is 261 Oakhurst Lane, Arcadia, California.

The fourth paragraph of the Preamble says that individuals serving in administrative positions cannot at the same time serve as part of the governing body of the Church.

The first paragraph of section 6.1 says that the Business Management Committee will be composed of corporate officers.

Ok, maybe I am missing something, but if the Business Management Committee is made up of officers, and officers are administrative positions, then this seems to be saying that a member of the Council of Elders, which is the governing body of the Church, cannot also be a member of the Business Management Committee. But I thought I heard Mr. Orchard say in his sermon that the senior pastor on the Council of Elders will also be on the Business Management Committee. But how can this be if the Business Management Committee is made up only of administrative positions (corporate officers) and someone in an administrative position cannot also be on the Council of Elders?

I am not a lawyer, and maybe there are subtleties here I am misunderstanding. But on the surface it seems that Mr. Orchard's statement to the Church is in contradiction to the bylaws. Perhaps someone can explain that to me.

But if this is a contradiction, I would think this could be a problem. I assume that the "senior pastor" on the Council Mr. Orchard said would also be on the Business Management Committee would be himself. If the Business Management Committee can only be composed of officers, this would exclude Mr. Orchard from being on that committee. The purpose Mr. Orchard gave of someone from the Council being on the Business Management Committee was to facilitate communication, or in other words, prevent problems from occurring from miscommunication and the two groups going in two directions. This was no doubt said to reassure the membership that this will not be a problem and that it is safe for them to send their titles and offerings to the main office because the Business Management Committee (President, Secretary, Treasurer) will handle the funds properly according to the will of the Council.

But if only officers can be on the Business Management Committee (which the bylaws seem to say), then no one from the Council can be on that committee, and Mr. Orchard's assurance to the members to the contrary is in error. Is it not legally dangerous to make a statement to your tithe-paying financial supporters to assure them that there will be good oversight over the funds if that statement is not true?

Perhaps the answer is that an "officer" is not necessarily an "administrative position", and additional officers can be defined as described in section 7.1. But it seems strange to me that an "officer" of the corporation would not be an "administrative position".

The only other matter of importance in understanding the governance structure defined in the bylaws is in section 6.2.4. A Council member can be removed by the unanimous decision of the other Council members. So, since there are 4 Council members, 3 of them can remove the fourth.

A few minor matters I noticed. There may be a general sloppiness about the bylaws that should be corrected. I have not carefully proofread them, but even with a quick read I noticed typos. Section 7.1 has a grammar error. The last sentence of the first paragraph of section 7.1 says, "Other officers as may be appointed..." As written, this is a sentence fragment. The word "as" should be removed.

Section 6.5.1 paragraph (e) has the word "repeatable". This is a misspelling of the word "repealable", which is clearly the intent given the beginning of the sentence (maybe someone left auto-correct on in the Microsoft Word processor, and it changed "repealable" to "repeatable" thinking "repealable" is not a word).

"Council of Elders" is sometimes capitalized and sometimes not. This no doubt is inconsequential, but the inconsistency gives the impression that the bylaws were put together in haste.

Perhaps the next time these bylaws are revised, minor errors will be corrected and ambiguities will be clarified.

There are a number of places in the bylaws where statements are made that there will be no voting, and I am going to comment on that next.


Is this a system of voting? Yes, I think it is. Why? The Council can only make decisions by unanimous agreement. How do you know if a decision is unanimous? You have to get agreement from each member. And it has to be clear, definite, official, and recorded in the minutes because it is legally required. That is a vote.

It doesn't matter if the agreement is in writing, verbal, or a simple nod of the head. It can be a hand gesture, a simple "ok" sign made with the thumb and forefinger or a "thumbs up" sign - whatever the form of agreement, it has to be clear enough to be recorded in the minutes, and it is a vote.

A vote does not have to be on a paper ballot to be a vote.

My Merriam-Webster's Dictionary and Thesaurus gives a definition of a "vote" as "the choice or opinion of a person or body of persons expressed usually by a ballot, spoken word, or raised hand". I would add, in the context of the way we use the term "voting" in our Church of God conversations, we are talking about expressing a choice or opinion in a way that is legally binding in some way. We don't think of opinion polling as voting when it carries no authority. But when people agree in advance that the expression of choices by people in a group will carry authority based on the number or percentage that agrees, that is voting.

To make decisions, every Council member must express his choice clearly and definitely. That choice must be recorded in the minutes. And it carries legal authority. That is a vote.

But just as United Church of God (UCG) never called their voting "voting" (they called it "balloting"), so COGFC does not want to call this "voting". Statements that there will be no voting are in various places in the bylaws and Mr. Orchard's sermon. But it is voting nevertheless.

In routine matters, a vote of 100%, or 4 out of 4, on the Council of Elders in COGFC is required for every decision. But for extremely important matters, in practical terms, the required vote may be 75%, or 3 out of 4. Why? Because if Brian Orchard and 2 out of the other 3 members of the Council are determined to do something, and one member refuses to go along, they can kick him out and replace him with someone who agrees. And every Council member knows this.

There is nothing about this governance structure that is biblical. Acts 15 is not the model.

Acts 15 does not say that everyone there came to unanimous agreement on a decision. But they knew Peter had authority, and James formalized and summarized Peter's decision, and after that no one opposed it because they respected the authority of Peter. They submitted to the decision even if they did not agree with it in their minds. They supported the decision because they accepted the top-down authority of Peter.  This is at least possible from the account.

Up to Peter's decision, it was discussion time, and everyone could voice their opinion. But once Peter made the decision, it was time for everyone to obey, and they did. They did not even come together for the purpose of making a decision, but to "consider" the matter (Acts 15:6). There is no indication that unanimous agreement was a requirement for resolving the issue.

The model of governance in the Bible, as I prove in chapter 8 of my book, is 100% top-down. That is the structure that will be practiced in the kingdom of God. The Father is the head of Christ and Christ will be king over the whole kingdom of God. David will rule over all Israel and the twelve apostles will each rule over a tribe. The twelve apostles will not have to agree unanimously to do what David tells them to do.

Is this hierarchical governance I have described "family-style" governance? Yes it is, because it is based on God's family, which is 100% governed from the top down.

Suppose Christ, through the Holy Spirit, guides Mr. Orchard to make a certain decision. Does Mr. Orchard have the authority to implement this decision according to the bylaws of the corporation? No, not without the consent of two or three other members of the Council. He cannot obey Christ unless two or three other men agree that he can obey Christ. That is a problem because each man on the Council has free moral agency. Christ cannot and will not FORCE any member of the Council to obey Him. Allowing the other members of the Council to have veto power over Mr. Orchard's decisions is a placement of trust in man that the Bible does not teach. By allowing these bylaws, Mr. Orchard is trusting in the other members of the Council to let him obey God, assuming he is trying to obey God.

A godly structure of governance, true family-style governance based on the God family, would give Mr. Orchard full authority, under Jesus Christ, to make decisions for COGFC. He would then not need the permission of men to obey God.

But he would have a problem. If he had full authority, some people might ask him, "Why did you leave David Hulme? I thought you said the governance model under David Hulme wasn't working and you wanted to develop something new. I thought you left David Hulme because you wanted to preach the gospel."

Website Development and Preaching the Gospel

Mr. Orchard made the statement that this new corporation and bylaws will work if COGFC leaders and members submit one to another. He also said that they have an opportunity to represent unity of spirit.

But unity of spirit will not "work" if the direction is wrong. It will not work if it is not truly of God and according to God's word, the Bible. Members of a group headed in the wrong direction can submit one to another. Members of false Christian groups can submit one to another. Members of a football team or a business organization can cooperate and help each other for the good of the team. Even the Nazi party had a certain "unity of spirit" in that they agreed on certain things, such as hatred towards the Jews and the desire for Germany to be militarily great and to conquer surrounding lands.

But COGFC is not heading in the right direction when they teach and practice a policy of not giving the warning to Israel and preaching the gospel to the world as a witness.

It has been TWO YEARS since COGFC began to form, and they are STILL not preaching the gospel or planning to do any more than make their website more professional and add some material developed for the world. I wonder how many members who left COGaic to go with Mr. Orchard, hoping to be a member of a group that preaches the gospel (because David Hulme was not doing it), expected that two years later he would still be doing nothing to preach the gospel to the world. I wonder how many of them would have stayed with David Hulme if they knew that Mr. Orchard would not be preaching the gospel for two years.

Mr. Orchard said that they wanted to provide a place where Christ can bring the sheep to receive good food and clean water. But COGFC is not that place and will not be that place till they repent of their disobedience towards God and Christ in not preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the world.

Right now, the spiritual food that COGFC provides the flock is poisoned and the water polluted. They feed their flock a spiritual poison - the poison of thinking they can ignore and postpone God's teaching to preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the world.

In rejecting the preaching of the gospel to the world, they are rejecting the second greatest commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39). By focusing inwardly on themselves, they are rejecting the very principle of outgoing love itself. And as God makes clear in Ezekiel, the blood of the people will be on their heads. To put it bluntly, God will count us as murderers if we neglect getting the Ezekiel warning out to the world. And this is the way of life that COGFC teaches its members by their sermons and by their example.

COGFC plans to improve the Father's Call website and start to build material for the general public. But that is a small part of preaching the gospel to the world. Without spending money for advertising, the world and the general public will not come to the website. The message will be lost in the general clutter and maze and volume of material on the Internet.

One advantage of incorporation is that it may be easier for COGFC to publish their financials openly. They should do this, not only for their own members, but openly for all who are interested, as Living Church of God does.

The real key to know if they are serious about preaching the gospel to the world is how they spend their tithe and offering income. If all or almost all of it is spent on minister salaries, I say they are not serious about preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel.

I said before, that Mr. Orchard was right in saying that no one can come to Christ unless the Father draws him, but mistaken in saying that if the Father does not draw someone, there is nothing we can do. There certainly is something we can do, even for those the Father does not draw to Christ, and God commands us to do it. We are to WARN. Whether they listen or not, we are to warn them. That is something Mr. Orchard and COGFC seem not to want to accept.

And according to God's message to us in Ezekiel chapters 2, 3, and 33, if we fail to warn the people, we become guilty of murder in the sight of God.

List of COGFC Related Posts in this Blog

Below is a list of posts with links on the subject of "Church of God, The Father's Call" (COGFC). These include all the posts I have published before now about that group, so it is a pretty complete list.

There is a reason why I have posted so often about COGFC. As I explain in one of my posts listed below, COGFC is a kind of experiment or case study of the fruits and consequences of certain approaches in the Church of God. God uses experience to teach us lessons, and we can learn from our own experiences as well as the experiences of others. God is teaching the whole world a lesson in the fruits of Satan's way of life by allowing Satan to deceive and rule mankind for 6,000 years. Likewise, God can teach us lessons about the Church and about certain spiritual principles by letting us see the good fruits that come from good choices and bad fruits that come from bad choices. We can learn lessons from the good or bad choices, and their consequences, of COGFC.

Some of these are not directly about COGFC, but are about issues they discuss or things they teach that tend to separate them from much of the rest of the Church of God, such as not preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel, the structure of governance, and assuming that the spiritual influence in one's mind is from the Holy Spirit but without testing that influence against the Bible to see if it is really from God (that is my wording and interpretation of their position, not theirs).

These posts are listed in the same order I posted them, with the earliest first. You can thus check them out in the order listed and get a bit of the history of how this group has changed since they first formed after leaving COGaic (David Hulme) and where they stand on certain issues.

In some posts, there are links to COGFC sources in their website that no longer exist or now require a password to access.

Be aware in reading these posts that this fellowship consisting of Brian Orchard and various ministers who left COGaic together have not had a permanent, clear, and distinctive name of their fellowship during the last two years, so at various times in past posts I have called them "Church of God, a Family Community" or "Father's Call Church of God" or possibly other names. But they now seem to have settled on the name, "Church of God, The Father's Call", at least for the corporation they use, and this can serve as a distinctive name for their fellowship in writing about them on the Internet from now on. I will abbreviate their name, COGFC.

"Peter Nathan and Other Ministers Leaving Church of God, an International Community?", dated December 28, 2013, link:

"New Website of Ministers Leaving COGaic", dated January 4, 2014, link:

"New Church Coming out of COGaic and 'Mutual Submission' ", dated January 5, 2014, link:

" 'Beam in the Eye', and Preaching the Gospel to the World", dated January 14, 2014, link:

"Decision Time for Ex-COGaic Ministers and Brethren - Where Will they Stand?", dated January 17, 2014, link:

"Will the Nine 'Mutually Submit' to Some among the Fifty?", dated January 22, 2014, link:

"What Is Your Church Identity?", dated January 26, 2014, link:

"Fasting to Know God's Will and Isaiah 58:6-8 ", dated February 6, 2014, link:

"The Importance of the Identity of Israel Doctrine", dated February 8, 2014, link:

"Has God Made the Church an "Ezekiel Watchman" for Israel?", dated February 13, 2014, link:

"Peter Nathan Is Going with Living Church of God", dated February 15, 2014, link:

"Update on Church of God, a Family Community (COGFC)", dated February 19, 2014, link:

"What Good Does It Do to Preach the Gospel If We Do Not Live It?", dated February 22, 2014, link:

"Heart-to-heart to Mr. Brian Orchard and Ministers of COGFC", dated February 24, 2014, link:

"Philadelphia Must Come Out of Laodicea", dated February 25, 2014, link:

"What Is the Church of God's Greatest Sin?", dated February 27, 2014, link:

"Update on Church of God, a Family Community Open House", dated March 3, 2014, link:

"COGFC's Governance Structure and Model", dated March 6, 2014, link:

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

"Brian Orchard's Bible Study on Repentance ", dated March 16, 2014, link:

"LCG Announcement of Hiring former-COGFC Ministers - Wrap-up with COGFC", dated March 18, 2014, link:

"Human Reasoning", dated March 24, 2014, link:

"False Repentance Movement in the Church of God", dated March 28, 2014, link:

"Do Our Choices Really Affect the Preaching of the Gospel?", dated May 16, 2014, link:

"Avoiding a Spirit of Hostile Competition / Church of God, a Family Community at Six Months", dated June 26, 2014, link:

"Suggestion for COGFC Members Contributing Articles for a Website to Preach the Gospel", dated July 25, 2014, link:

"Philadelphia's Open Door - Does It Apply to Individual Members?", dated September 17, 2014, link:

"Church of God, a Family Community (COGFC) at One Year", dated January 1, 2015, link:

"How Do You Know God Leads Your Understanding of the Bible?", dated January 4, 2015, link:

"COGFC Direction", dated January 13, 2015, link:

"New Development in COGFC Governance Structure ", dated February 5, 2015, link:

"Herbert W. Armstrong Taught Loving Authority", dated February 20, 2015, link:

"Two Approaches to Understanding the Bible", dated March 10, 2015, link:

"Is Matthew 24:14 a Command to Preach the Gospel to the World as a Witness?", dated March 26, 2015, link:

"Did Worldwide Go "All Out" to Preach the Gospel?", dated March 28, 2015, link:

"We Need to Respect the Office of the Minister", dated March 30, 2015, link:

"Showing Mercy", dated April 9, 2015, link:

"What Is Wrong with Preaching the Gospel Only by Example?", dated May 3, 2015, link:

"Paradigm Shift from Herbert W. Armstrong to the Father's Call - a Case Study in Progress", dated June 21, 2015, link:

"Oral Tradition in Israel and the Church of God", dated November 12, 2015, link:

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





Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Giving Praise and Thanks to God

God's fundamental spiritual law is love. The two great commandments are to love God with all our being and to love our neighbors as ourselves.

"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength" (Deuteronomy 6:5).

God teaches us in the Bible that one of the ways we are to love Him is to offer thanks and praise to Him in prayer. Thanks and praise go together. Both express appreciation for God's greatness and perfection.

When we praise God, we express our agreement with His character and His way of life, and we express our gladness that God is good, that He is powerful, and that He is wise. He always knows the best thing to do and He has the power to carry out His decisions. When we praise God, we acknowledge to God that we know He is good and great and we rejoice in that.

When we give thanks to God, we are expressing gladness and appreciation for particular things He has done for us or even for His nature. We are acknowledging that we owe Him appreciation and love for what He is and what He has done. Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong has said that one of the things he thanked God for was the fact that the greatest power in the universe, God Himself, is a power for good, not evil.

God's word, the Bible, is filled with commands and instruction for giving God thanks and praise. The Bible is also filled with examples of thanks and praise to God.

"Sing praise to the Lord, you saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holy name" (Psalm 30:4). "Oh, give thanks to the Lord! Call upon His name; Make known His deeds among the peoples!" (Psalm 105:1). "Praise the Lord! Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever" (Psalm 106:1).

Many of the Psalms are examples of praise and thanks to God.

Daniel risked his life to give thanks to God three times a day (Daniel 6:6-10).

Paul's epistles are filled with the giving of thanks to God, and Paul taught that we should give thanks.

"Therefore I exhort first of all that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks be made for all men" (1 Timothy 2:1).

There is a promise in one of our old Church of God hymns that if we pay all our vows to God and give Him praise and thanks, He will hear our prayers when we are in trouble. This is the hymn, "Give Thanks and Offer Praise", on page 40 of the old purple hymnal, which says, "Pay all your vows to God Most High, give thanks and offer praise, and when the day of trouble comes, I'll hear and answer you". This is based on Psalm 50, which says, "Offer to God thanksgiving, and pay your vows to the Most High. Call upon Me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me" (Psalm 50:14-15).

The most important vow to God that we should pay is our vow at baptism to obey Him. We need to obey His commandments, praise Him, and give Him thanks as a way of life, and then trust Him to hear our prayers and deliver us in time of trouble. This is important. It may not seem so important when things are going well for us, but when we are in a severe trial we will know it is important. We will be able to pray with confidence, knowing that we have kept our vows and have given God praise and thanks regularly. We will be able to trust God to save us.

And trials will come. "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all" (Psalm 34:19).

We need to be in the habit of frequently praising God and giving Him thanks.

One of the greatest things we should thank Him for is the sacrifice and saving work of Jesus Christ. We should thank Him for creating us and all mankind. We can thank Him for the universe. We can thank Him for revealing His truth and His wonderful plan for the salvation of mankind to us. This is especially important because so few in this world have that calling and that gift of understanding. Perhaps one out of 50,000 or one out of 100,000 people on earth have that gift. Most of us have it, and we should thank God for it. We should thank Him for our calling.

We can thank God for His plan to save the majority of mankind and for the awesome salvation He offers us - the opportunity to become part of His divine family forever.

We should build the habit of giving God thanks for the good things that happen in our life, even the small things that happen day to day. We can silently pray and give God thanks whenever something good happens to us during the day. For we should know that, without God's protection and help, Satan would no doubt destroy us quickly. Apart from God's restraining influence, Satan has that power, power to take everything away from us, power even to kill us outright if God didn't protect us (Job 1:9-19, 2:4-7). We live and have good things only because God protects us and blesses us, even though God also allows us to suffer some trials for our good in the end.

Obeying God, thanking Him, and praising Him are three important ways we love God.

Here is a link to another post in this blog related to this subject:

"Give God Thanks", dated November 27, 2013, link:

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Oral Tradition in Israel and the Church of God

What part does oral tradition play in the Church of God, and what part should it play? What part did oral tradition play in Israel and in the Jewish religion from the time of Moses to the time of Christ and beyond?

Are there lessons we can learn for the Church in the history of oral tradition among the Jews? And does God want the Church today to rely on its Church of God oral traditions?

Should there be an oral tradition in the Church, and if so, to what degree should we rely on it?

It is easy to see from history and from the New Testament that oral tradition played an important part in the religion of the Jews. Although the Jews by the time of Christ misused the principle of tradition and used it to nullify parts of God's law, some say that the principle of passing on the understanding of the written law of God from generation to generation as an oral tradition is a right principle and comes from God. Some may say that this principle teaches us to use oral tradition in the Church of God in a right way, not as the Jews at the time of Christ used tradition, but as a way of passing on from generation to generation the understanding of the Bible that we have today in the Church of God.

I want to discuss the matter of oral tradition in the Church of God. I will try to show that, while God wants the ministry to teach the members and parents to teach their children a right understanding of the Bible, we must never rely on our traditions as the Jews did as a way of trying to know the truth, but rather we must put primary reliance on the Bible itself. I want to show the dangers of over-reliance on any tradition not confirmed by the Bible, and I want to show that the same danger of abuse of tradition that got the Jews into trouble can also get the Church into trouble today.

Some may say, we are different from the Jews because we have the Holy Spirit to guide us. Yes, converted Christians have the Holy Spirit, yet collectively we are not as different from the Jews as some of us might think. We still have human nature. The warnings Christ gave about the traditions of the Jews are also warnings for the Church today.

The Oral Tradition of the Jews

The Jews have maintained an oral tradition that is supposed to give understanding and fill in details of the written text of the law given in the Old Testament. This oral tradition was passed on from generation to generation, with teachers teaching it to their students and students in turn becoming teachers to teach the next generation of students. By the time of Christ, this oral tradition was used by the Jewish religious leaders to make the law of God of no effect. "Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men' " (Matthew 15:6-9). The oral tradition of the Jews contradicted the Bible, yet the Jews considered their oral tradition more important than the written word of God. This was prophesied by Isaiah, as Christ said, but how and why did this come about?

Jews call the first five books of the Bible, the law, or the "Torah". Many Jews maintain that God taught Moses an oral tradition, an "oral Torah", in addition to the written Torah that is the books of Moses, and that God intended this oral Torah to be passed down from generation to generation. Some Jews may think that this oral tradition, which Jews think fill in details of the law of God not given in the books of Moses, was given to Moses by God when Moses was on the mountain with God.

Many Jews think that this oral tradition is intended by God to teach the understanding of the written Bible. Over time, many began to think of the oral tradition as superior to the Bible because when a teacher teaches his student personally, if there is anything ambiguous in what the teacher says, the student can ask questions and get clarification, which you cannot do with the written Bible.

But it is clear that by the time of Christ, the oral tradition of the Jews did NOT give accurate understanding of God's law and God's word. Christ condemned their oral traditions, and those who held those traditions rejected Christ and were responsible for His murder.

"Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 'Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.' He answered and said to them, 'Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? For God commanded, saying, "Honor your father and your mother"; and, "He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death." But you say, "Whoever says to his father or mother, 'Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God' - then he need not honor his father or mother." Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition' " (Matthew 15:1-6).

In fact, God never said that such an oral tradition should be handed down from generation to generation and have authority to interpret the written text of the Bible, God's word. You will not find any instructions from God to Moses that say, "You will teach the priests everything I told you, both that which you write and that which you do not write, that they may teach the people the understanding of the law from Me that you write. And each generation of priests will teach the next generation, that you may understand the written law."

Instead, it was God's practice to have Moses write God's word. There are many scriptures referring to writing the law in a book and "the book" of the law. "Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Write this for a memorial in the book and recount it in the hearing of Joshua, that I will utterly blot out the remembrance of Amalek from under heaven' " (Exodus 17:14).

"And Moses wrote all the words of the Lord. And he rose early in the morning, and built an altar at the foot of the mountain, and twelve pillars according to the twelve tribes of Israel" (Exodus 24:4). "Then he took the Book of the Covenant and read in the hearing of the people. And they said, 'All that the Lord has said we will do, and be obedient' " (Exodus 24:7). Notice in verse 4 that Moses wrote all the words of the Lord. There is no suggestion that God told Moses things for an oral tradition that Moses did not write down.

"Then the Lord said to Moses, 'Write these words, for according to the tenor of these words I have made a covenant with you and with Israel' " (Exodus 34:27).

"And it shall be, on the day when you cross over the Jordan to the land which the Lord your God is giving you, that you shall set up for yourselves large stones, and whitewash them with lime. You shall write on them all the words of this law, when you have crossed over, that you may enter the land which the Lord your God is giving you, 'a land flowing with milk and honey,' just as the Lord God of your fathers promised you" (Deuteronomy 27:2-3).

"If you do not carefully observe all the words of this law that are written in this book, that you may fear this glorious and awesome name, THE LORD YOUR GOD, then the Lord will bring upon you and your descendants extraordinary plagues—great and prolonged plagues—and serious and prolonged sicknesses" (Deuteronomy 28:58-59). "The Lord would not spare him; for then the anger of the Lord and His jealousy would burn against that man, and every curse that is written in this book would settle on him, and the Lord would blot out his name from under heaven. And the Lord would separate him from all the tribes of Israel for adversity, according to all the curses of the covenant that are written in this Book of the Law" (Deuteronomy 29:20-21).

"The Lord your God will make you abound in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your body, in the increase of your livestock, and in the produce of your land for good. For the Lord will again rejoice over you for good as He rejoiced over your fathers, if you obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in this Book of the Law, and if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul" (Deuteronomy 30:9-10). Notice, God would rejoice over the people for good and bless them if they obeyed His commandments and statutes that are in the written book of the law. There is no hint of a requirement that the people needed to obey any oral tradition not written in the Bible before God would bless them.

"So it was, when Moses had completed writing the words of this law in a book, when they were finished, that Moses commanded the Levites, who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, saying: 'Take this Book of the Law, and put it beside the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there as a witness against you; for I know your rebellion and your stiff neck. If today, while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the Lord, then how much more after my death?' " (Deuteronomy 31:24-27).

Notice, in the last quote above, that the book was to be a witness against Israel because Moses knew Israel was rebellious against God. So if Israel was rebellious, how could they keep an oral tradition that was faithful? The very purpose of the written law was to be a witness, in writing, against a carnal people who could not be trusted to keep a faithful oral tradition.

In God's instruction to Joshua, He said, "This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success" (Joshua 1:8). Notice, it was the written word of God that was to be in Joshua's mouth, not an oral tradition. He was to observe all that was in the book of the law, and if he did, he would have good success. There was no requirement that he observe an oral tradition in order to have good success.

If God wanted an oral tradition to be trusted, He would have given instructions for the keeping and obeying of an oral tradition in the written law.

There is no hint that God gave Moses instruction to give to Israel concerning the law, doctrine, and truth that Moses did not write down. There is certainly no indication in the Bible that Moses received any oral instruction when he was on the mountain with God apart from what he wrote in the Bible. Rather, God spoke to Moses, and Moses wrote down what God told him. There is no biblical evidence than an "oral Torah" from God ever existed.

You do find scriptures that say that parents should teach their children, not only the law but what they themselves were eyewitnesses to, the great intervention and miracles of God. And there are scriptures that show that the priests and Levites were to teach the law and the understanding of the law to the people. But the understanding of the written law was to come from a study of the written law, not from an oral tradition passed down separately from the law that had the power to interpret the written law. Any oral teaching was to be a reinforcement and reminder of the written law.

"Only take heed to yourself, and diligently keep yourself, lest you forget the things your eyes have seen, and lest they depart from your heart all the days of your life. And teach them to your children and your grandchildren" (Deuteronomy 4:9).

"And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up" (Deuteronomy 6:6-7). "These words" refer to the written text, not a separate oral tradition.

These passages refer always to either the written law itself or God's saving miracles that ancestors have personally witnessed, not to a separate oral tradition that had authority to interpret the written law. Parents were to teach their children the law from the scriptures, from the Bible. People did not have personal copies of the Bible in those days. Yet the nation had the written law, and the priests taught the people from the written law and parents could in turn teach and remind their children what the written law says.

Although there are no scriptures that teach the maintenance and passing down of an oral tradition with authority to interpret the written word of God, there are many scriptures that affirm the importance of the written word itself in both the Old Testament and New Testament.

I have already quoted a number of them. Let's look at a few more examples in the Old Testament.

The priests and Levites were to read the written law to the people every seven years. "So Moses wrote this law and delivered it to the priests, the sons of Levi, who bore the ark of the covenant of the Lord, and to all the elders of Israel. And Moses commanded them, saying: 'At the end of every seven years, at the appointed time in the year of release, at the Feast of Tabernacles, when all Israel comes to appear before the Lord your God in the place which He chooses, you shall read this law before all Israel in their hearing. Gather the people together, men and women and little ones, and the stranger who is within your gates, that they may hear and that they may learn to fear the Lord your God and carefully observe all the words of this law, and that their children, who have not known it, may hear and learn to fear the Lord your God as long as you live in the land which you cross the Jordan to possess" (Deuteronomy 31:9-13). This would keep the people anchored firmly to the written law of God, not to a separate oral tradition.

Kings were instructed to write a copy of the written law and to read it all their life. "When you come to the land which the Lord your God is giving you, and possess it and dwell in it, and say, 'I will set a king over me like all the nations that are around me,' you shall surely set a king over you whom the Lord your God chooses; one from among your brethren you shall set as king over you; you may not set a foreigner over you, who is not your brother....Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes" (Deuteronomy 17:14-19).

Prophets were commanded to write their prophecies. "Now go, write it before them on a tablet, and note it on a scroll, that it may be for time to come, forever and ever: that this is a rebellious people, lying children, children who will not hear the law of the Lord" (Isaiah 30:8-9).

"The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, 'Thus speaks the Lord God of Israel, saying: "Write in a book for yourself all the words that I have spoken to you" ' " (Jeremiah 30:1-2). "Now it came to pass in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah, king of Judah, that this word came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying: 'Take a scroll of a book and write on it all the words that I have spoken to you against Israel, against Judah, and against all the nations, from the day I spoke to you, from the days of Josiah even to this day' " (Jeremiah 36:1-2).

So there is instruction that the written law was to be followed, but no instruction for a separate oral tradition that had authority to interpret the written word in the name of "understanding".

In fact, such an oral tradition that would "fill in details" was forbidden to be added to God's written word as binding instruction. "Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it" (Deuteronomy 12:32). And as Jesus pointed out, Isaiah condemned the adding of an oral tradition when such a tradition originated with men, calling such "oral tradition" the "commandments of men" (Matthew 15:7-9). A Jew might say, these oral traditions were not from men but from God. But how can a Jew know where oral traditions came from? Isaiah gives the warning that some traditions would be the commandments of men, and God condemns them. There is no way to know that oral traditions are not from men, therefore, in light of God's word through Isaiah, oral traditions should never be trusted as "commandments".

Did the priests and the judges have authority to make binding decisions, decisions that the people were required to obey? Yes. When the law was broken, the judges had authority to issue sentences and command compensation for victims. They had authority to tell people what to do. They had authority to resolve disputes. The priests had authority to make decisions concerning the details of how the law was to be obeyed and administered.

"And you shall come to the priests, the Levites, and to the judge there in those days, and inquire of them; they shall pronounce upon you the sentence of judgment. You shall do according to the sentence which they pronounce upon you in that place which the Lord chooses. And you shall be careful to do according to all that they order you. According to the sentence of the law in which they instruct you, according to the judgment which they tell you, you shall do; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left from the sentence which they pronounce upon you" (Deuteronomy 17:9-11).

But nowhere is there instruction that gives each generation of priests binding authority over the judgments of the next generation of priests. Nowhere is there authority for one generation to impose its mistakes and sins on the next generation. Each case was to be decided based on the evidence and on the written word of God. Each generation was to obey the written law.

In the case of the daughters of Zelophehad, God made certain judgments, and those judgments set precedent for future generations because the judgments were from God and they were written as part of the law of God (Numbers 27:1-11, Numbers 36:1-12). But there is no instruction from God that the judgments of human priests and judges in particular cases, not recorded as part of God's written word, must be applied by future priests and judges in similar cases.

Were the priests to teach both the written law and the understanding of that written law? Yes. "So Ezra the scribe stood on a platform of wood which they had made for the purpose....And Ezra opened the book in the sight of all the people....Also Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodijah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites, helped the people to understand the Law; and the people stood in their place. So they read distinctly from the book, in the Law of God; and they gave the sense, and helped them to understand the reading" (Nehemiah 8:4-8).

But where did that understanding come from? Did the priests get that understanding from an oral tradition handed down generation to generation from the time of Moses, giving instruction that God gave Moses but was never written down? There is no evidence of that. Rather, the priest, being a priest, could devote his life to studying the written law so he could teach the people.

The priests had greater understanding of the written law, not necessarily because of an unwritten oral tradition, but because they had the opportunity to study the written law all their lives. They lived off the tithes and offerings of the people and did not have to spend their time raising crops or earning a living some other way than being priest. They had time to devote to the written word, and they could use that time to develop an understanding they could then teach to the people.

In other words, the priests had the opportunity, if their hearts were right with God, to gain a greater understanding of the written text of the Bible by studying it so they could teach others. That is exactly how Mr. Armstrong gained his understanding of the Bible, not by receiving some oral or written tradition from the Church of God Seventh Day, but by spending many hours every day, both before and after conversion, in studying the Bible, which is the written text of God's law. Before he was converted, while God was calling him, he learned the truth of the weekly Sabbath and also the holy days (Church of God Seventh Day did not know that we should keep the holy days). After he was converted and received God's Holy Spirit to guide him, he learned new truth from the Bible at a faster rate. But he did not learn most of what he learned from the oral or written traditions of any church.

I don't say that the priests did not get help in understanding the written text from the older priests who went before them. Just as Mr. Armstrong helped those at Ambassador College learn the Bible, so priests could help each other understand the written text. I am just pointing out that such an understanding is NOT evidence that there was an oral tradition, separate from the written text, that God gave to Moses and was handed down from generation to generation. Rather, those who understood the written word of God from a life-long study of that written text could help the next generation understand the written text as that next generation studied the text and learned to prove for themselves what it said.

The New Testament also reaffirms the importance of the written word of God. The New Testament says that scripture cannot be broken. "Jesus answered them, 'Is it not written in your law, "I said, 'You are gods?' " If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, "You are blaspheming," because I said, "I am the Son of God" '? " (John 10:34-36). Many times gospel writers said that something happened for the very purpose of fulfilling written scripture (Matthew 1:21-23, 2:14-15, 23, 4:13-16, 8:16-17, 12:16-21, 13:34-35, 21:4-5, 26:53-54, 27:35, Mark 14:49, John 13:18, 15:24-25, 17:12, 18:8-9, 31-32, 19:24).

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

"For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (Revelation 22:18-19).

The New Testament directly condemns the oral traditions of the Jews. I have already quoted the passage where Christ said that the Pharisees made the law of God of no effect by their traditions. Here is another example of how they could twist scriptures by their traditional "understanding": "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you" (Matthew 5:43-44). I do not find in the Bible that God ever commanded Israel to hate their enemies. But it was evidently in the oral traditions of the Jews. Christ said it was wrong.

The Problem with Using Oral Tradition to Interpret the Written Word of God

What is wrong with an oral tradition to give understanding and fill in details of the law that would be passed on from generation to generation?

The problem is, such a tradition can never be trusted, for two reasons.

One reason is that an oral tradition can change. Verbal instructions given from one generation to another can drift into error. Many people have played or heard about a game some play at parties. People sit in a circle and one person whispers a story to the person on his or her side, and that person does the same to the next person, and so on around the circle. By the time the story goes all the way around the circle, it has completely changed. Why? Errors are bound to creep into the repeating of the story, and those errors accumulate because they are not corrected.

Later, the Jews put their oral traditions into writing, first into the Mishnah, later into the Talmud. But by that time, their traditions had become utterly corrupt. The fact that the Jews felt the need for putting their traditions into writing merely underlines the recognition of the fact that oral traditions, if not put into writing, can change.

Can errors creep into the replication and passing down of a written text? Yes, but there is much less chance. Why? When a written text is duplicated by copying by hand, the copyist can make small errors. But the original remains and can be painstakingly compared with the new copy to identify errors. It can be checked and double-checked. Letters can be counted to make sure nothing was missed or added. And over time there will be many copies around to help insure that no one generation deliberately changes the text. But without these safeguards, an oral tradition can change greatly from generation to generation.

And how will the oral tradition change? In the direction of greater and greater understanding of the written text? No, not in this age when Satan deceives the world. Ancient Israel as a whole never had spiritual discernment to rightly understand God's word.

That brings us to the second reason why an oral tradition in Israel cannot be trusted. Israel was, and is, carnal and unfaithful to God and his law and word. You cannot trust carnal men to faithfully transmit understanding of God's word as an oral tradition.

This world as a whole, including Israel, is blinded and deceived by Satan. You do not ask Satan to give you "understanding" of God's word. Except for a few prophets and righteous leaders who had God's Spirit, Israel DID NOT HAVE SPIRITUAL UNDERSTANDING of God's word. So how could they transmit an oral "understanding" of the written text when they themselves did not understand it? A student might well ask his teacher a question about the written text, but the teacher cannot give a correct answer if he does not have the correct answer.

"Yet the Lord has not given you a heart to perceive and eyes to see and ears to hear, to this very day" (Deuteronomy 29:4). "For I know that after my death you will become utterly corrupt, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you. And evil will befall you in the latter days, because you will do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke Him to anger through the work of your hands" (Deuteronomy 31:29).

"For who, having heard, rebelled? Indeed, was it not all who came out of Egypt, led by Moses? Now with whom was He angry forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose corpses fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief" (Hebrews 3:16-19).

"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9). "And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: 'Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, so that I should heal them' " (Matthew 13:14-15).

"But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them" (2 Corinthians 4:3-4). "For I do not desire, brethren, that you should be ignorant of this mystery, lest you should be wise in your own opinion, that blindness in part has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in" (Romans 11:25).

"So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him" (Revelation 12:9).

I have already quotes Deuteronomy 31:24-27, which shows that Moses knew that Israel was rebellious by nature and would not be faithful to God after the death of Moses.

The history of Israel shows that they were not faithful, from the time of the Exodus to the time of Christ. Over and over they rebelled against God, they turned to idolatry, and they were unfaithful to His word. Exodus through Deuteronomy show Israel's unfaithfulness to God in the wilderness. The book of Judges shows that as soon as Joshua and the elders of his time who witnessed God's mighty miracles were gone, the people turned to sin. They sinned, God punished them, then God raised up a leader to save them, and when the leader died they sinned again. This cycle was repeated over and over (Judges 2:11-19).

Similarly, in the times of the kings of Israel and Judah there was continued unfaithfulness to God. Once the kingdom was split, the northern house of Israel never had a righteous king, and the southern kingdom of Judah sometimes had a righteous king and sometimes went into idolatry. Eventually, God sent both houses into captivity.

What about the Levitical priests? Could they be trusted to maintain a faithful oral tradition even while the nation as a whole was unfaithful? No, they had the same human nature. Even in the wilderness, Aaron made a golden calf and the two sons of Aaron disrespected the word of God by offering profane fire and God burned them up (Exodus 32:1-35, Leviticus 10:1-3). In the time of Samuel, Eli's sons were corrupt and sinned and he did not restrain them (1 Samuel 2:12-17, 21-36, 3:11-14).

"Therefore I will give their wives to others, and their fields to those who will inherit them; Because from the least even to the greatest everyone is given to covetousness; From the prophet even to the priest everyone deals falsely" (Jeremiah 8:10).

And in the time of Christ, the priests condemned Jesus to death and rejected His teachings. They had, by that time, developed and passed on an oral tradition contrary to God's written word, though they no doubt claimed it gave "understanding" of that word.

Why? From the time of the sin of Adam, this world has been cut off from God and His Holy Spirit and is blinded by Satan. God has called only a few prophets to be faithful to record God's written word, and God has given those prophets His Holy Spirit, and He has preserved that word from Him that they wrote.

By the time of Christ, the oral tradition of the Jews had become completely corrupt. "Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch" (Matthew 15:14). Christ acknowledged the authority of the Pharisees who sit on Moses seat to rule but said we are not to follow their ways (Matthew 23:1-7).

Without God's Holy Spirit, the mind of man cannot properly understand the law and the word 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....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" (1 Corinthians 2:11-14). "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).

For those without God's Spirit, there is a veil that prevents them from understanding the Bible. "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). And if they cannot understand the Bible, how can they accurately transmit an oral understanding of the Bible?

No oral tradition passed on by carnal men claiming to interpret or understand the written word of God can be trusted. Only God's written word, written by a few men inspired directly in their writings by the Holy Spirit and carefully preserved word for word, can be trusted.

Did those who teach in Israel have God's authority to teach? God certainly authorized certain roles. Parents were given the authority, office, and responsibility of teacher of their children. Priests and Levites were given the office and authority to teach the people. Their offices were from God, and their responsibility to teach the people came from God. They were commanded to teach. But they only had the authority to teach what is consistent with the written word of God, and the people were not commanded to obey or believe any teaching that was wrong and not according to God's law.

Just because God authorizes a certain role and office, that does not mean He requires our unconditional submission to that office.

Here is an extreme example. Satan is on a throne over this earth. He rules mankind. God gave him that role and office, and until Christ returns to rule the earth, Satan continues in that office. That office that Satan presently holds comes from God. God will not allow anyone, not any angel or demon, not any righteous angel such as Michael or Gabriel or any demon or group of demons, to knock Satan off his throne. God presently maintains Satan's office. But that does not mean God requires that we believe and obey what Satan teaches.

One of God's purposes in giving a written text was to prevent corruption from carnal men. The majority in Israel was never faithful unless led by a faithful leader. It was only the minority, the few, who were faithful, and God directly inspired a tiny number of them to write His word so God could use them to insure His word would be transmitted faithfully, so He had a written text produced that would be transmitted word-for-word apart from the interpretation of carnal men.

What About Oral Tradition in the Church of God?

How about tradition in the Church of God? What part should oral tradition or even written tradition, apart from the Bible, play in our doctrines and practices? Should we have oral and written traditions of how to understand the Bible, and should those traditions be passed on from generation to generation in the Church of God, being taught by ministers to members and by parents to children?

To a degree, yes, we have and we should have traditions in our understanding of the Bible that are passed on from generation to generation in the Church. But those traditions should never have AUTHORITY to interpret the Bible for us or to command and enforce belief in doctrines not in the Bible. Our traditions, used in a right way, can be helpful. But they must always be subject to correction from the Bible, and practices that are our tradition only and not commanded in the Bible must never become mandatory upon future generations.

"Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it" (Deuteronomy 12:32).

"For I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: If anyone adds to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the Book of Life, from the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book" (Revelation 22:18-19).

We in the Church have traditions of doctrine and traditions of practice. Both can be helpful as long as they are subordinate to the Bible itself, which is God speaking to us directly.

We have, for example, a number of traditions in doctrine that are unique to us in the Church of God. We have the tradition of the understanding of the Bible that God's purpose is to reproduce Himself in mankind, that we will be God in the Kingdom of God. We have the tradition of understanding that God's plan is revealed in the holy days. We have the tradition of understanding that Christians should observe the holy days. We have the tradition of understanding the modern identity of Israel, particularly the tribes of Joseph.

But where did we get these traditions in doctrine? Did we get them from an oral tradition passed on generation to generation in the Church of God from the time of Jesus Christ and the original apostles? No, absolutely not. One member found these truths and this understanding in the Bible, and he showed others were to find them in the Bible. That one member was Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, a man we in the Church recognize now as an apostle because of his fruits. But that one man did not get these things from any oral tradition passed on to him from the Church of God Seventh Day. He got them directly from the Bible. And those who heard him looked up these truths in the Bible and believed what they saw in their own Bibles. They believed God. They in turn taught others and taught their children, and that is how we received these doctrines as our tradition.

The Church of God Seventh Day, which should have accepted these truths, rejected them, though they are from the Bible. They kept their traditions, but rejected the Bible. They, like the Pharisees, put their traditions over the word of God. Yet they were part of the true Church of God (Revelation 1:12-20, 3:1-6), not a church of this world. Still, they put tradition over the Bible, and God could not use them to do a powerful work.

Because the Church of God Seventh Day put their oral tradition over the Bible, as the Pharisees did, God had to reject them from being used by Him to do a powerful work to the nations. And it was not just because they lacked the knowledge to preach the gospel that God had to reject them. There was another reason, which I will explain later.

So, we have our traditional understanding of the Bible. And we should teach our understanding of the Bible to the next generation of the Church. Ministers should teach the members and parents should teach their children. But we should teach it from the Bible. Our teaching should primarily be showing the next generation where to find these doctrines and prove them in the Bible. And we should never hold on to any tradition if and when we are shown and can see in the Bible that our tradition is in error. We should always let the Bible correct our traditions. That is one thing the Pharisees did not do and Church of God Seventh Day did not do.

So the traditions of doctrine we have are not passed on from one generation to the next generation in the Church, but they are passed on to each generation directly by God through the Bible. What may be passed on from one generation to the next is the knowledge of where to find the answers to questions and the proof of doctrine, in the Bible.

Is there a doctrine we hold in the Church of God that we received from generation to generation in the Church, from the first century to now, that is not in the Bible? Name one, if you know of any. I do not know of a single doctrine we know by tradition and not by the Bible. All of our doctrines come from the Bible, unless any of our doctrines are in error, and if a doctrine can be shown by the Bible to be in error, we should change it.

The same thing that happened in Israel with the Pharisees using their traditions to make the word of God of no effect happened also in God's own Church, the Church of God Seventh Day, even though that Church had God's Holy Spirit. They rejected the truth of the holy days that Mr. Armstrong found in the Bible and many other truths of the Bible.

Thus, oral tradition in the Church of God is not reliable and does not carry God's authority from one generation to another, but God teaches each generation directly from His word, the Bible.

We also have traditional practices in the Church of God. Sometimes these are things that are based on Bible principles but are not specifically commanded in the Bible. Sometimes these are judgments those in the Church with authority have to make.

We have the tradition at the Feast of Tabernacles of having services every day. We have a tradition of having a family dance and a senior citizen's lunch. We have a certain order of services on the Sabbath - we sing three hymns, someone gives the opening prayer, there is a sermonette, then another hymn before announcements and the main message, then another song, then the closing prayer. We have the blessing of little children once a year. These are just examples. These practices are not commanded in the Bible in detail, but they are based on biblical principles, and the leadership of the Church has made certain judgments to do things a certain way. At other times in history and in other places the Church may have had different traditions, but also based on the Bible.

But these details are not commanded by God in the Bible, and the judgments the leadership in one generation makes are not necessarily binding on the next generation. These details and traditions can change because they are not commanded by God.

We do not know how Christ will have the nations keep the Feast in the millennium, and many details may be different from what Mr. Armstrong gave us.

Family traditions can be of this type. One father may make it a tradition of his family to have a special dinner every Friday night to start the Sabbath, or maybe a family Bible study. This is based on the Bible and on the law of God, but it is not a requirement. The next generation in that family is not required to observe the same custom. The son of that man, when he moves out of his father's house and starts his own family, may have a different tradition. His father had an office from God, the office of being the head of the family, and he had the authority to make a Friday night special dinner a tradition in his house. But that does not mean that the tradition he observed had permanent authority from God. When his children grew up and started their own households, that tradition was optional for them.

God can give a man the role and office of teacher and give him the authority to teach others. But that does not mean that everything that man teaches is infallible and every judgment he makes has permanent authority.

Paul gave certain traditions to the congregations he raised up and supervised (1 Corinthians 11:2, 2 Thessalonians 2:15, 2 Thessalonians 3:6). In matters of doctrine, the doctrines God wants us to have, including the traditions of doctrine Paul gave his congregations, God had recorded in the Bible. In matters practice and custom, we do not have every detail of every decision and judgment Paul made. Did Paul have his congregations observe a certain order of Sabbath services similar to what we have today? The Bible doesn't say and we can't know.

When a teaching Paul gave is recorded by God in the Bible, for us it becomes mandatory because the Bible is God speaking to us directly. That is not necessarily true for every decision and judgment Paul established for his congregation. As I pointed out, we do not know their order of services.

Did Paul have opening and closing prayers at services? Did he have his congregations sing three hymns at the beginning of services, one before the main message, and one at the end? Did he have one sermonette and one main sermon? Is it possible that those were his traditions? Yes, it is possible. But if so, those traditions were not binding on new generations of those who followed simply because God did not put them in the Bible.

Likewise, Mr. Armstrong gave us a tradition for the order of services. And we keep that tradition because it has borne good fruit, because Mr. Armstrong developed this over time by trial and error, and because we have no good reason to change it. But we are not bound by God's law to continue in it.

There is a difference between what God puts in the Bible and what God does not put into the Bible. If it is in the Bible, it is God's word, and we are bound by it (unless it is clear from the context that it is not intended for all times and circumstances). If it is not in the Bible, then it is voluntary, we are not bound by it, except we must obey our current leaders. But our leaders do not have the authority to make binding decisions upon future generations apart from what the Bible binds, not when it comes to traditional doctrines of the Church. Thus, current COG leaders can change details of Mr. Armstrong's doctrines if they have good cause from the Bible for doing so.

Some might say, because we as a Church are to grow in understanding and because we have the Holy Spirit, our understanding of the Bible as a Church should grow from generation to generation, and we should preserve and build upon our oral and written traditions. We should regard our traditional doctrines as truth because they were built by men with God's Holy Spirit. Thus, we should regard them as having authority in how we understand the Bible.

That is wrong.

Look at the history of the Church of God in the last 100 years.

The Church of God Seventh Day was wrong in some of their traditions. They were wrong not to keep the holy days. Did they have the Holy Spirit? Some of them must have had the Holy Spirit or they would not be God's Church. But that Church as a whole refused to be corrected by the Bible. Like the Pharisees, they held to their oral traditions more than the Bible.

Look at the history of the Church since the death of Mr. Armstrong. Did the leadership and ministry of the Church make right choices because they had the Holy Spirit? Would you trust Mr. Tkach to faithfully pass on a correct understanding of the Bible to the next generation by oral or written tradition?

And what about the many scattered groups that exist today in the whole Church of God? Which one would you trust to pass on by oral tradition a correct understanding of the Bible to the next generation? One group differs from another - all the scattered groups do not believe in the same set of doctrines.

Are we so different from carnal Israel because we have the Holy Spirit that our oral traditions can be trusted more than the Bible itself?

We are still human. We make mistakes. We have human nature, and we sin. This is true for leaders, ministers, and lay members alike. And we can make mistakes in our oral and written Church of God traditions.

Moreover, we are wrong to assume we can always tell who has God's Holy Spirit and who does not. Remember, God allows Satan to bring tares into the Church of God (Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43, 2 Peter 2:1-22, Jude 3-19, 1 John 2:19, 3 John 9-10). I, for one, could not have told you before Mr. Armstrong died who would stay with the truth and who would leave. Many of those who went into apostasy were members who seemed to me to be very spiritual. Either they were never converted to begin with, but seemed to be converted, or they were converted but fell away. I don't rule out the possibility that some of them may yet be able to repent.

Am I the only one who lacked insight into people's conversion and character so I could not see in advance who was deeply converted and would remain faithful to the Bible and who was not? No, it was Mr. Armstrong who named Joseph Tkach as his successor. He expected Mr. Tkach to teach the same truth from the Bible that Mr. Armstrong taught. But he was mistaken. There was something about Mr. Tkach that Mr. Armstrong could not discern.

The only protection we have against deceit is the Bible. Only the Bible is God speaking to us directly. We cannot go by oral tradition more than the Bible. Nor can we regard oral tradition as having authority over our beliefs from one generation to another. Certainly we should teach what we know to the next generation, but the teaching should be to show the answers in the Bible, and each generation is responsible for studying their Bibles and proving or disproving the things taught to it by the previous generation. Each generation is responsible for correcting errors it finds in its traditional doctrines.

Effect of Trusting Oral and Written Traditions on Preaching the Gospel to the World

There is another problem with over-reliance on oral tradition. It disqualifies us from preaching the gospel to the world. It makes the powerful preaching of the gospel impossible.

Why? We cannot preach a different message to the world than we teach to our own members (Deuteronomy 25:13-16, Exodus 12:49, Numbers 15:15-16). It must be the same. If we preach something different than we practice, or if we preach something different to the world than we teach our own members, two things will happen. One, new members coming in will see the difference. They will see right away that what we preach to others is not what we practice. Those who are initially attracted by what we say to the world will be repelled when they come among us and see we are living by a different standard. They will walk in, then walk out. Two, God will see our hypocrisy and will not bless us with the power to preach the gospel to the world.

We cannot teach reliance on our oral and written traditions in the Church of God and at the same time teach the world, "Don't believe us, don't believe your own ministers, don't believe your own traditions, just believe your Bible". It won't work.

The world of traditional, mainstream religion has its own oral and written traditions, particularly the Catholic Church. If we teach our members that oral traditions can govern and have authority over our understanding of the Bible, Catholics will wholeheartedly agree. They will say, "Yes, that is exactly right, it is the church's oral and written traditions that determine how the Bible is to be understood."

But the traditions they hold are not the same traditions we hold.

How can we say, "We have the right traditions and you have the wrong ones"? Where is the proof? The Catholics will say, "Our traditions come from Christ and the apostles in unbroken succession". Apart from the Bible, how can you prove that is wrong? I suppose some can delve deeply into the history of the last 2,000 years and find books and quote passages to show certain inconsistencies in someone else's traditions, but that is beyond the scholarly skills (and time available for study) of most people. And Catholics and Protestants will always have an explanation based on their interpretation of the Bible and their traditions.

And how can we prove, apart from the Bible, that our traditions come in unbroken succession from the first century Church of God? We can't. The history of the true Church of God is spotty at best. We get little clues here and there of where the true Church was. But our identification of that true Church is always based on what we know about them from the Bible. First we determine true doctrine from the Bible, then we look for clues in history to determine where there were groups that held that true doctrine.

It comes back to the same place - you can only prove the truth from the Bible. And we can only prove the truth to others in the world by the Bible, not by traditions of the Church. And if we teach the world that only the Bible has authority over our faith and belief and they should let the Bible interpret the Bible, but teach our members that our oral traditions have authority over how we understand the Bible, how are we not hypocrites in God's sight and in the sight of those we preach to? We cannot succeed that way.

That is why God could not use the Church of God Seventh Day to do a powerful work of preaching the gospel to the world. It was not just that they didn't have the knowledge God wanted preached. It was that they refused to accept new knowledge from the Bible when it went against their oral and written traditions. Because they refused to let the Bible correct their traditions, God could not use them to teach the world to let the Bible correct the world's traditions. "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being priest for Me; Because you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children" (Hosea 4:6).

Our preaching to the world must be consistent with what we are willing to practice. And if our reason for believing what we believe is that it is a tradition of the Church of God, we will have to teach the same reason for belief to the world when we preach the gospel as we ourselves hold and practice.

If the reason we believe what we believe is that we believe our Church of God traditions, then we must teach the world that they also should believe our Church of God traditions. If that is our reason for belief, we must teach that same reason for belief to the world, or else we are hypocrites.

But the world has its own traditions, and they have no reason to give up their church traditions to embrace our church traditions. If we say, "We believe our church", they will say, "We also believe our church", and they will not change.

But if we say, as Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong did, "Believe God, believe the Bible", they can check up in the Bible and believe the Bible. But to do that without being hypocrites in God's eyes and in the eyes of the world, we must do the same. We must believe the Bible more than our traditions. So an emphasis on Church of God tradition as authority for belief can make it hard or impossible for us to powerfully and effectively teach the world. Our only authority for belief must be the Bible.

And if a tradition practiced by Mr. Armstrong is right because we can prove it in the Bible, we should continue it, but not all Church of God organizations do. For example, there are several Church of God fellowships, at least two I know of and probably many more, that have abandoned one of Mr. Armstrong's major traditions he found in the Bible and can be proved in the Bible. That tradition is the tradition of preaching the gospel to the world.

These Church of God fellowships have started a new tradition for themselves of NOT preaching the gospel to the world. They have started a new tradition of rejecting God's law of love, the law that says, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself". In this, they have changed the tradition of the Church of God under Mr. Armstrong, not for the better but for the worse, for the tradition of preaching the gospel which Mr. Armstrong gave us (and even Church of God Seventh Day held) is totally based on the Bible and on God's spiritual law of love, whereas the tradition of being self-centered and inwardly focused and ignoring the needs of the world for the gospel and the Ezekiel warning is in direct rebellion against God and direct disobedience to His word and His spiritual law of love.

These groups have started a tradition based on Satan's way of life, "Me first", or in the case of an entire fellowship, "US first". One group has established this tradition for itself and its members for only about two years, and another group has made this their tradition for about two decades, and both call themselves, "Church of God".

In this case, their tradition of refusing to love their neighbors as themselves is a tradition that such groups need to reverse and correct by the Bible, just as the Pharisees needed to reverse their traditions that contradicted the word of God and the law of God (Matthew 15:1-9). But most of the Pharisees refused to do this, and many members and ministers in groups that have a tradition of not preaching the gospel to the world may also refuse to do this, and that can be their downfall.

The Bible Must Correct and Control Our Traditions

We must always go by the Bible more than our traditions, and we must not assume that the traditions of the true Church of God are always right because we have the Holy Spirit. If we say that we should always believe and obey the oral and written traditions of the Church, even when they go beyond the written word of God, because the Church has the Holy Spirit and thus its traditions must be right, we are on dangerous ground and can never, with sincerity, effectively preach the gospel to the world.

Oral traditions in the Church of God can be useful in passing on from one generation to the next the knowledge of how to find answers in the Bible. But those traditions do not carry authority from one generation to the next. The only authority for belief and practice from one generation to another is the Bible, and each generation is responsible for correcting the errors of the previous generation, IF errors are found, by studying and believing the Bible.

Did Paul say that the congregations he supervised should keep the traditions as they were given to them by Paul? Yes. "Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you" (1 Corinthians 11:2). "Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle" (2 Thessalonians 2:15). "But we command you, brethren, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you withdraw from every brother who walks disorderly and not according to the tradition which he received from us" (2 Thessalonians 3:6).

Does this mean that every person in every church in history should keep the traditions he or she grew up with? No, because the traditions of many churches are not the traditions Paul taught. When Paul spoke of the traditions his congregations were to keep, he was talking about the traditions that he and the other apostles gave them. How do we know what those traditions were? By the Bible. There is no other way.

How did the people know that the traditions Paul gave them were from God? They could know because Paul performed miracles and because the Old Testament scriptures backed up what Paul taught (Acts 17:11-12, 2 Corinthians 12:12). There were more miracles in Paul's day to prove the authenticity of his message than today because the Bible was not complete and widely available and provable by fulfilled prophecy in Paul's day as it is today.

The Church of God Does Not Always Increase in Knowledge

Do we grow, as a Church, in understanding of the Bible because we have the Holy Spirit? Does our having the Holy Spirit mean that the Church's progress is always forward, never backward, because the longer the Church exists the longer we have the Holy Spirit and the more accurately we will understand the Bible? No, the history of the Church of God proves that is not true. You only need to read the messages to the seven churches in Revelation, which show the future history of the Church of God as a series of church eras, to see that the Church sometimes goes backward. Laodicea follows Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7-22). That is not forward progress.

Or, if you don't believe in eras of the Church, look at the history of the Church of God in the last 100 years. Did the Church of God make forward progress after the death of Mr. Armstrong? Was Church of God Seventh Day more accurate in its oral traditions and understanding of the Bible than any Church of God since the time of Christ? No.

God works with each of us individually. The decision to repent and make the effort to overcome our sins is individual, not group. God judges us as individuals. We are not saved or judged by our association with a group (Ezekiel 14:12-20).

Each of us individually grows in understanding of the Bible the longer we live after we are converted and receive the Holy Spirit, provided we are faithful to believe, obey, and strive to overcome. And we grow in knowledge and understanding to the degree we believe and obey God's word, the Bible. So our own choice comes into play. We have to do our part to grow, and if we do not, we will not grow. And if we neglect to live by the truth we have and to SHARE IT WITH OTHERS as God commands, we can go backwards, lose the truth we have, and go into error, and maybe even fall away completely and lose our salvation.

And even if we are faithful to overcome and grow and our knowledge and understanding of God's truth increases, that increased knowledge does not automatically pass on to our children no matter how much we teach them. They have to make their own choice to repent, be converted, and live a life of faith and obedience to God's word, the Bible. To the degree they do this, they also will grow in understanding, but they still start out as babes in Christ. Our teaching can help them, but they still have to do their part. It is not an automatic given that each generation understands the Bible better than the previous one.

What Israel and the Jews did with their oral traditions is a warning to the Church of God. They allowed their oral traditions to interpret the Bible for them, but we must not do the same with our traditions. We must always count the Bible as having greater authority over our beliefs and practices than our traditions, and we must change or abandon any tradition of ours that we find in conflict with the Bible. We must always let the Bible interpret the Bible, and not let our traditions interpret the Bible.

If we don't do that, we can be led astray by our traditions and our ministers, as the Jews were led astray, and if that happens we can lose the truth that we have.

And if by our own wrong choices we place our traditions above the Bible, we disqualify ourselves from preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel. And because we do not give the warning because of our bad choices, the blood of the people will be on our heads (Ezekiel 3:17-21).

In other words, God will count us as murderers. That is what Ezekiel 3:17-21 means.

The Right Use of Oral Tradition in the Church

In the Church of God, parents need to teach their children and ministers need to teach their members. And that teaching can and should include the traditional doctrines and practices of the Church. But only the Bible has absolute authority from one generation to the next over doctrine and practice. The Bible has authority over our traditions, not the other way around, and traditions in doctrine should be primarily used to teach members how to find and prove true doctrine in the Bible.

Our oral and written Church of God traditions should NEVER be used to interpret the Bible. If we do that, we are overthrowing a major Bible-based tradition of Mr. Armstrong that we must let the Bible interpret the Bible, and that tradition is important and necessary for understanding the Bible correctly. Instead, we must use the Bible to examine our traditions and change any traditions that are found to be in error. No generation of the Church's leadership and ministry has the authority to make its errors binding on the next generation, but each generation has the responsibility to correct any errors in its tradition according to the Bible.

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