Friday, February 27, 2015

What Is the Cause of Disunity in the Church of God?

Why is there disunity in the Church of God? Why are we scattered and divided into many Church of God fellowships and organizations with some COG members simply staying home because they find no satisfactory option to attend services?

Is it because we can't get along? Is it because of hurt feelings or an unforgiving attitude between brethren? Is it because of personal offenses between the members? Is it because of pride and vanity and selfishness? Is it because of an unwillingness to build and maintain personal relationships?

Or is it because of doctrinal differences between leaders, ministers, and groups?

To a degree, it can be both. But one cause dominates, in my opinion.

Most brethren I have known in the Church are very willing to fellowship with brethren in other groups. It is usually not personal difficulties between the lay members that cause divisions in the Church of God and cause us to be scattered into many groups.

It is doctrine.

And to a degree, it can be unwillingness for the leaders to get along. But if so, they usually make doctrine the point of division that justifies being separate from other groups. A pastor might be personally offended with the leader of the fellowship he attends with and works for. He then leaves and starts his own group. But to justify leaving, he has to establish doctrinal uniqueness. He can't just tell his members, I left because I didn't like the leader of the group I was in and could not get along with him. He finds a point of doctrine he can disagree with, and he tells his members, I left to stay faithful to the truth on this point of doctrine and that point of doctrine.

But the cause of our divisions is not primarily the inability of members to get along with each other. For a fellowship whose leaders left their former group because they could not get along with the leader to stress building personal relationships in its teaching to the members is fine - we should all strive to improve in building our relationships in the Church of God in love. But to say that this was the cause of the division is usually not the case. The ministers who teach this may be preaching to themselves, but they may be more in need of their own teaching than the lay members they preach to.

Those ministers may construct doctrinal reasons for leaving a group or leader when the actual reason my be connected with their personal relationship with that leader.

Doctrine is teaching, and it is a way of life. Disagreements about our teaching, about what the Bible teaches on any subject, and about how we should be living are disagreements about doctrine.

What are some of the doctrinal matters that divide the Churches of God?

Preaching the gospel is one. Some groups do it and teach it, and some do not. Some do it more than others. But this is a doctrinal matter, definitely. The doctrine is about God's teaching in the Bible regarding the work of preaching the gospel that the Church of God is to do.

Government in the Church is another. Some practice hierarchical governance, some practice voting which they call "balloting", and some have said they are trying to discover a new model of governance based on the family. This is definitely a doctrinal matter. The governance we should practice in the Church of God should be the governance God teaches in the Bible. Disagreements about what the Bible teaches on this subject are disagreements about doctrine.

How much authority the ministry has is another doctrinal matter. Some groups seem to teach that the ministry or the leader has authority to command the brethren what to believe while others may teach that the brethren should believe the Bible first.

Whether Mr. Armstrong's doctrines can be changed or not is another doctrinal matter about which some groups differ. Some say that he is the Elijah to restore all things and they teach that for that reason none of his doctrines should be changed, while other groups teach that Mr. Armstrong's doctrines should be changed if we see in the Bible that they have been wrong. That difference of opinion is a difference over doctrine.

Some make it a major teaching of their group, a doctrine in other words, that their leader occupies a particular office or rank, be it apostle, prophet, or whatever. When other groups disagree with that teaching, that is a disagreement over doctrine. Some make it a matter of doctrine that Mr. Armstrong was the Elijah to come.

Many groups also differ over small doctrines, and often the leaders of those groups magnify and focus attention on those differences, claiming they are right and other groups are wrong. Those doctrines can include things like the meaning of the falling away verse in 2 Thessalonians 2:3, whether we go to heaven for the marriage supper, and other smaller points. There are also doctrinal issues that may seem small to some but great to others, such as makeup, eating in restaurants on the Sabbath, new moons, calendar issues, how to count Pentecost when the first or last day of Unleavened Bread falls on a weekly Sabbath, etc. Some make an issue of whether or not we should label salvation through Jesus Christ as "the gospel of the Kingdom of God", or they make an issue of where we should place the emphasis in our teaching to the public.

These are the things that divide the Church of God. Some differences between leaders of groups over these doctrinal issues may be real and sincere, but some may be manufactured just to be "different" so they can attract and keep a following.

But without these differences, leaders would have a hard time justifying their separation from other groups.

And yet, doctrine is important. A group that practices the doctrine most accurately from the Bible should not compromise with other groups for the sake of unity.

But what is the root cause of our division? WHY are we divided in doctrine?

"I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth" (Revelation 3:15-16).

It really does come down to us, the brethren, if we are Laodicean and lukewarm. We can be lukewarm in our love for each other or in obedience to God's commandments or in any point of God's law and way of life. It is because of our faults, our sins, and our lukewarmness that God has given us Church of God leaders that have made mistakes in doctrine and have scattered the Church. The responsibility is ours, for God has given us the leaders we deserve.

We need to respond, each of us, by zealously repenting. But that repentance should not just focus on our personal relationships with other brethren. It should focus on every aspect of the Christian way of life. And love towards God must come before love towards the brethren. We have to really live zealously by every word of God (Matthew 4:4).

Friday, February 20, 2015

Herbert W. Armstrong Taught Loving Authority

The Church of God has taught government and authority in the Church. But the Church has also taught that authority should be used in love. The one in authority should exercise his authority for the good of those under his authority. Those who supervise others should have outgoing concern for their welfare and should serve their needs.

The kind of authority this describes has been called "loving authority". More recently, some have labeled it, "submission", in the sense of those in authority "submitting" to the needs of those under authority.

But whether you call it "loving authority" or "submission", it is not a new concept, a new doctrine, a new teaching, a new idea, a new policy, or a new model of governance. It has been taught by Mr. Armstrong from the beginning. It is not new in any sense.

Mr. Armstrong tried to practice it, and I am sure many evangelists and ministers under his authority also tried to practice it. Did all succeed perfectly? No. We are human and make mistakes. But I think most understood the concept and tried to practice it. Perhaps some made no effort to practice it. God is their judge.

But it was always taught and acknowledged as the right way to exercise authority, the right kind of government.

The Bible certainly teaches it. Christ set the example. He has authority, but He exercised that authority in love, in a spirit of outgoing concern for those under His authority. He loved His disciples.

"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 13:13-15).

Christ also taught the principle of loving authority to His disciples, not only by His example, but by His command and instruction. "And He said to them, 'The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called "benefactors." But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves. For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves' " (Luke 22:25-27).

An example many of us are familar with is the example of parenting. Parents have authority over their children, but they should exercise that authority for the good of their children, in love, to protect them and teach them and even to serve them.

"Loving authority" is one term to describe this, and I think it is an excellent term to make the meaning clear. But it can be described other ways as well. Living Church of God teaches the principle of "servant leadership", which is closely related.

And some, as I mention, refer to this principle as "submission" or "mutual submission".

But in using the term "submission" to describe loving authority, we have to be careful about what we mean by submission.

If "submission" of one in authority to those under his authority means, "submission to the needs of those under his authority", then it can be a good term to describe it, provided we all understand what that means. But if it is intended to mean, "submission to the choices and decisions and will of those under his authority", that is not what is taught in the Bible.

The Bible does not speak of Christ submitting to the decisions and will of anyone but the Father. But it would not be wrong to say He submitted to the needs of others. But not their will. Why? People do not always know what is best, even for themselves. Parents know this about their children. Children do not know what is best for them. That is why parents must make the decisions, even when those decisions go against what the child might want at the moment. Yet, new parents who have to get up in the middle of the night to feed or care for a baby understand the need to "submit" to the needs of their child.

Christ submitted to the needs of others. He healed others. He served them even when He would rather have rested or been alone (Matthew 14:10-14).

But He never submitted to the will of man (Mark 8:31-33, Matthew 21:23-27, Luke 12:13-14, Luke 9:53-56, Mark 10:35-40).

Likewise, one in authority should submit to the will of God and of those over him, but should submit to the needs of those under him.

One should be careful, in using or hearing the term "submit" in regard to someone in authority submitting to those under his authority, to understand this distinction.

We submit to the legitimate needs of others, to serve them and love them, but we should not always submit to their will, their choices, their decisions, or their demands.

Anyone who uses the idea of "submission" to accuse someone who has been over them in authority of wrong governance for not submitting to their will, then uses scriptures and examples in the Bible that teach sacrificing to serve the needs of others, and call that "submission", and do this to justify rebelling against the one who had authority over them, is using the term "submission" to blur the issue. A good parent will not blur the distinction between what their child wants and what is good for their child. A good parent will submit to what his or her children need and is good for them, but not always to what they want.

For a pastor or Church of God leader to sacrifice for the needs of the membership is godly. For a pastor to rebel against a leader because the leader does not submit to the pastor's will on a particular subject is not.

Of course, members can and often should submit to one another, as the scripture says (Ephesians 5:18-21), and this can sometimes include submitting to the desires and choices of others as well as their needs, when appropriate. Even a parent can submit to the choice of his or her child when the parent says, "Ok, what would you like to do today? Do you want to go the park or the zoo?" But we must not use the concept of mutual submission to say that a leader or one in authority MUST ALWAYS submit to the desires, wishes, choices, and decisions, or even to advice, of his subordinates.

Did Christ submit to mankind? If you mean, did He submit to the needs of mankind, the answer is yes, He submitted to our needs by being a sacrifice for us. But if you mean, did He submit to the will of mankind, that is, the decisions, the choices, and the desires of mankind even when those desires are wrong or based on error, the answer is, no, He did not submit to mankind.

Another distinction that is useful to keep in mind when discussing government is the distinction between the form or structure of government, and the right use of government. You can have the right form or structure of governance in the Church, yet misuse and abuse that form of governance. The right form of governance is top-down, hierarchical, yet that form of governance, like any other form of governance, can be misused and abused. A leader of a fellowship can abuse and harm the members of that fellowship. But that does not mean that top-down governance is the wrong structure. God the Father and Jesus Christ rule the universe through top-down government, and they never misuse their authority. Likewise, when we are in the Kingdom of God, our authority will be given to use from Christ, top-down, but we will never abuse our authority.

Mankind understands the possibility of abuse of authority and has invented democracy to try to minimize or prevent abuse. Man's idea is, if the one in authority depends on the vote of the people to stay in office, he is less likely to rule abusively, and if he does, the people can remove him by voting him out of office. But that is not God's way in the Church and will not be practiced in the Kingdom of God.

Here are links to related posts:

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

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Does the Church of God Need Prophets Today, and If Not, Why Not?

Some may say that, because there were prophets in the New Testament Church of God, there must also be prophets in the Church today (1 Corinthians 12:28-29, Acts 11:27-28).

Does the Church of God need prophets today?

A true prophet of God is one who receives a message from God by direct and miraculous revelation, not just through the Bible. God in the past has given His prophets such messages for individuals or for His people as a whole. It is the prophet's job to deliver the message as God instructs. The revelation can come from God through various means, including dreams (Numbers 12:5-6, Daniel 7:1), visions (Ezekiel 1:1-3), voice (1 Samuel 3:1-14), or face-to-face communication with Christ or an angel of God (Numbers 12:7-8).

Mr. Armstrong never claimed to be a prophet. He never claimed to receive revelation direct from God apart from the Bible. Nor did he say in his sermons and articles that anyone else in the Church was a prophet during his time. I think it is safe to say that no man in the Church of God during Mr. Armstrong's lifetime was known and recognized by the Church of God as a prophet. If someone claims that there must be prophets in the Church at all times because there were prophets in the New Testament, that person should explain who such prophets were when Mr. Armstrong was alive.

God does not expect us to be foolish and naive. We are not to automatically believe everyone who claims to be a prophet of God. If a man is a prophet, we can expect God to show us the proof before God expects us to believe the prophet.

"But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. And if you say in your heart, 'How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?' - when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him" (Deuteronomy 18:20-22).

Do we need prophets today?

It may be that the Church will need prophetic revelation direct from God before the return of Christ. If we need prophets, God will provide them. But the Church does not necessarily need prophets at all times.

There is one difference between conditions today and conditions in New Testament times that can explain why there has not been the need for direct prophetic revelation from God in the Church in our time.

In New Testament times, the Bible was not complete and widely and readily available as it is today. Today we have the Bible, and the Bible contains the teachings of the prophets and the apostles, inspired by God and infallibly accurate.

When the Church of God first started in the first century, the Bible was not complete. It was actually being written during the time that there were prophets in the Church. Not only was the Bible not complete, it was not readily available. The printing press was not invented yet. Individual books of the Bible were made by copying the text by hand and were rare and expensive. The Church had access to the scriptures that were already written, but not every individual member could afford to have even most of the books that were already written. God gave us instructions regarding scripture so that we know it is infallible and is inspired by God (John 10:35, 2 Timothy 3:16-17, Acts 17:11), but Church members did not have complete Bibles in their homes they could study every day.

But today, the Bible is complete. It has been translated into all major languages on earth. It is affordable for almost all Church members. Moreover, today we have proof of the inspiration of the Bible in the form of the historical fulfillment of prophecy, which had not yet occurred in New Testament times.

And since we have the Bible, there has been less need for prophets in our time.

But when and if the time comes for God to give the Church of God messages by direct revelation, God will provide whatever prophets we need to deliver those messages. And He will give us the evidence we need to know they are prophets.

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

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

"Christ as Head of the Church", dated July 3, 2014, link:

Thursday, February 5, 2015

New Development in COGFC Governance Structure

After their January 2015 ministerial conference, Church of God a Family Community (COGFC) announced that Mr. Brian Orchard would be leader. Here is a link to that announcement:

They also announced a name and address for correspondence and tithe payments. They are using the name "Church of God", without any descriptive words to identify their fellowship as distinct from other Church of God organizations. There was no indication of incorporation at this time in their announcement.

As a matter of clarity, in my posts I will continue to refer to them as COGFC, Church of God a Family Community, since this seems to have been their name till now. If that is no longer their name, then just think of it as a descriptive term I will use so you know who I am referring to. If I just say, "Church of God", that could refer to any number of organizations or to the Church as a whole.

Alternatively, I can refer to them as COGWCOCOGaicAILBBO (Church of God, which came out of COGaic and is led by Brian Orchard).

I think "COGFC" is better.

When COGFC ministers and members first separated from Mr. David Hulme, it was unclear what structure of governance they would have. There were a number of leading ministers in that group, but there were three in particular that seemed to be the main leaders: Peter Nathan, Brian Orchard, and Steve Andrews. After Peter Nathan left COGFC to join LCG, Mr. Orchard and Mr. Andrews seemed to be the main leaders.

What form or structure of governance did they have throughout 2014, the first year of their existence?

It was not democracy as UCG and COGWA practice. There was no institutionalized voting of ministers to set policy and select the top leaders. Nor was it top-down government with one man at the top responsible to Christ directly, as practiced by the old Worldwide when Mr. Armstrong was alive and is practiced by LCG, COGaic, and several other Church of God fellowships.

As I have described in a previous post (see link below), it seemed to be a loose organization based on governance by mutual agreement. When the ministers agree, they act. When and where they cannot come to agreement through discussion or compromise, they do not act.

In my earlier post on this, I said it is a weak form of governance compared with top-down, hierarchical governance. God teaches hierarchical government in the Bible.

I think what has happened is that COGFC has learned through experience what the Bible has taught by revelation. A stronger form of governance is needed. Now, they have a top-down, hierarchical structure of governance.

Mr. Brian Orchard will lead COGFC. He will be responsible to Jesus Christ for how he leads COGFC. And while he is likely to listen to advice and counsel from other ministers and members and respect their input, and he is likely to try to maintain good relations with all the ministers and members in COGFC, final decisions will be his. He will not be limited to what he can get Mr. Andrews to agree to.

This will be a somewhat stronger form of government than existed before in COGFC.

In a sense, this may represent a fresh start. Time will tell.

The issue still remains that to be successful and faithful in serving God and doing the work God wants the Church to do, COGFC will have to follow the Bible as a guide to God's will and will have to make a major effort to preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the public. I think they will have to treat the work of preaching the gospel to the world as approximately equal in importance to feeding the flock, if they will be faithful to the Bible. And if they do that, their yearly budget will show it. It will also be shown by their actual accomplishments in preaching the gospel to the world.

Here is a link to a related post in this blog. This post describes in more detail what I think their governance structure has been during the year 2014:

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

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