Monday, March 30, 2015

We Need to Respect the Office of the Minister

God's teaching in the Bible is clear that we need to respect the office of minister in the Church. God has placed men in the ordained ministry in various offices, and we need to respect and honor God's decisions in giving those men offices of authority, even when we disagree with their actions.

"And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues" (1 Corinthians 12:28). "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-13).

And God gives us plenty of instruction that we are to respect those He has placed in offices of authority over the Church and obey them when they make decisions within the scope of their authority, except when we must obey God first.

"Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct" (Hebrews 13:7). "Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you" (Hebrews 13:17). "And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves" (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).

Paul himself practiced that respect when he realized one he had disrespected was the high priest. He repented of his words. "Then Paul, looking earnestly at the council, said, 'Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.' And the high priest Ananias commanded those who stood by him to strike him on the mouth. Then Paul said to him, 'God will strike you, you whitewashed wall! For you sit to judge me according to the law, and do you command me to be struck contrary to the law?' And those who stood by said, 'Do you revile God’s high priest?' Then Paul said, 'I did not know, brethren, that he was the high priest; for it is written, "You shall not speak evil of a ruler of your people" ' " (Acts 23:1-5).

What is the scope of the ministry's authority? They have authority over the work of the Church, such as preaching the gospel, teaching of doctrine, feeding the flock, distributing to the poor in the Church, counseling, judging disputes between brethren, and discipline for open and serious sins. "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ—from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:11-16). "And I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven" (Matthew 16:19). "Moreover if your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault between you and him alone. If he hears you, you have gained your brother. But if he will not hear, take with you one or two more, that 'by the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established.' And if he refuses to hear them, tell it to the church. But if he refuses even to hear the church, let him be to you like a heathen and a tax collector. Assuredly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven (Matthew 18:15-18). "Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self-condemned" (Titus 3:10-11). "For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed. In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus" (1 Corinthians 5:3-5).

In matters of the work of the Church and the ministry, we should obey our ministers except if they tell us to break a command or instruction of God, to sin in other words. In that case, we must obey God rather than man.

Moreover, we have examples, both good and bad, in the Old Testament that shows how God thinks regarding those who rebel against authority in the Church without good cause. For example, when king Saul was trying to unjustly kill David, after David was already anointed by Samuel to be king (1 Samuel 16:13), David had the opportunity to kill Saul but would not do it because he respected the office Saul had from God. "And he said to his men, 'The Lord forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the Lord' " (1 Samuel 24:6).

In practical terms, we should not criticize our leaders and pastors where we attend with other members in the same group or congregation, for this weakens the authority of the ministry when we do this. If we have a problem with a leader, we can take it to the leader himself in personal and private discussion, if we think that may help. There is nothing wrong with correction offered privately and respectfully. Naaman's servants "corrected" him, and Naaman listened and God blessed the correction with good fruit. "And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said, 'My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, "Wash, and be clean?" ' " (2 Kings 5:13). See 2 Kings 5:1-14 for the whole story and context. This was correction from the bottom up, yet it was right because it was not a challenge to authority, but respectful and loving advice.

But even in giving a leader "advice", there can be a fine line between respectful suggestions and a power play designed to resist or overturn the leader's actions and decisions.

Look at the situation with Aaron and Miriam. "Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman. So they said, 'Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?' And the Lord heard it....Suddenly the Lord said to Moses, Aaron, and Miriam, 'Come out, you three, to the tabernacle of meeting!' So the three came out.... 'Not so with My servant Moses; He is faithful in all My house. I speak with him face to face, even plainly, and not in dark sayings; And he sees the form of the Lord. Why then were you not afraid to speak against My servant Moses?' So the anger of the Lord was aroused against them, and He departed. And when the cloud departed from above the tabernacle, suddenly Miriam became leprous, as white as snow. Then Aaron turned toward Miriam, and there she was, a leper" (Numbers 12:1-4, 7-10).

What was wrong with Aaron and Miriam going to Moses to offer counsel concerning a problem they thought Moses had? Nothing, except they did not do it privately and respectfully. Instead, they talked between themselves, criticizing Moses behind his back. This was not a case of Aaron going to Moses privately and saying, "Moses, I am concerned about you taking an Ethiopian wife. Are you sure this is a good idea?" And maybe Miriam, not being aware of Aaron doing this, also speaking to Moses and saying the same thing, but privately to Moses, not speaking to Aaron about Moses's problems. When they talk to each other, criticizing Moses behind his back, they may think they are strengthening each other, but they are weakening Moses. If Aaron criticizes Moses in front of Miriam, he weakens Miriam's respect for the authority of Moses, and if Miriam criticized Moses when speaking to Aaron, she likewise weakens Aaron's respect for Moses's authority. Yet that is what they did.

When they did that, as God looked at it, they spoke against Moses, not trying to help him.

One group of leading ministers in a certain Church of God fellowship went to their leader with their complaints and concerns. They requested a meeting with him and came to him as a group. Right there, that shows they must have talked to each other first and criticized the leader behind his back. How else could they have formed a group first and requested a meeting? And in discussing the leader's faults among themselves, they weakened his authority in the minds of each other. Each man's respect for the leader was diminished as he heard his fellow ministers give voice to their criticisms of the leader.

That is what Aaron and Miriam did. And it is not God's way. When Aaron and Miriam discussed the situation between themselves saying, "Has the Lord indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?", God judged that they spoke against Moses. Contrast that attitude with the servants of Naaman who went to him respectfully and said, "My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, 'Wash, and be clean?' ".

We must also realize that God's servants often have faults, but God uses them anyway. Samson had faults. Gideon made an idol and it became a snare to him and to his house (Judges 8:22-27). Yet Samson and Gideon are listed in the faith chapter of Hebrews (Hebrews 11:32-34).

Solomon had faults and was not wholly faithful to God (1 Kings 11:9). Yet God used him, perhaps prior to his unfaithfulness, to write two whole books of the Bible, Ecclesiastes and Song of Solomon, and much or most of a third, Proverbs, and his writings remain as part of God's word, the Bible, which "cannot be broken" (John 10:35).

And God can use even an unfaithful leader in an office and use the authority of that office to accomplish His will.

Here is proof. Around the time when Jesus was about to be crucified, the high priest made a prophetic announcement that Jesus would die for the nation. Yet, the high priest was not faithful to God and actually rejected Jesus and had his part in condemning Him and causing Him to be crucified. Yet, God inspired the high priest, because he was high priest and occupied an office of authority, to make a prophetic announcement from God, that Jesus would die for the nation. What the high priest had in mind was different from what God had in mind, but his words were inspired nevertheless. "Then the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered a council and said, 'What shall we do? For this Man works many signs. If we let Him alone like this, everyone will believe in Him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and nation.' And one of them, Caiaphas, being high priest that year, said to them, 'You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish.' Now this he did not say on his own authority; but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for that nation only, but also that He would gather together in one the children of God who were scattered abroad. Then, from that day on, they plotted to put Him to death" (John 11:47-53).

There are lessons here. Not only does it show that God can use even an unfaithful person in authority, but it shows that one who speaks for God with authority is not necessarily righteous.

The high priest made a prophetic announcement. Probably, he thought Jesus's death would prevent the Romans from taking away the self-government of the Jews and would be good for the Jews. But he spoke the words saying that Jesus would die for the nation, and God had in mind that Jesus would die for not only Israel but the whole world by paying for our sins. The high priest didn't understand his own words, but God inspired those words and we understand them today.

Someone holding an office can speak for God, and God can use that person and perhaps speak through him, perhaps in a sermon or in a counseling session, but that does not necessarily mean that the speaker is righteous or fully understands the impact of what he says. But God can use him nevertheless.

A lesson here is, if God uses you as a teacher or minister or servant, and you are doing God's work in some way, and God is using you, do not assume you are righteous in God's sight. At that moment, the high priest uttered God's prophecy, but that did not make the high priest righteous with God. God used Solomon to build the first temple and to write part of the Bible, but that did not make Solomon righteous with God when Solomon sinned against God.

"Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!' " (Matthew 7:22-23).

Each of use will be judged by God based on how we believe and obey Him, or in other words, how we live by every word of God. We cannot be content to practice sin in our lives and think we are ok because God uses us to do His work.

"My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment" (James 3:1).

Paul said, "But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified" (1 Corinthians 9:27).

"When I say to the righteous that he shall surely live, but he trusts in his own righteousness and commits iniquity, none of his righteous works shall be remembered; but because of the iniquity that he has committed, he shall die" (Ezekiel 33:13).

If you are being used by God in some kind of service to the brethren or to His work, but you have a sin to overcome, you need to work at overcoming the sin and not assume you are ok because you are serving. But while you are working on overcoming sin, should you stop serving? NO! Stay at your post! Keep doing the service or work God has given you. "If the spirit of the ruler rises against you, do not leave your post; For conciliation pacifies great offenses" (Ecclesiastes 10:4).

The opportunity, the talent, the ability to serve God and the Church is a gift from God. It is not a sign of our righteousness.

We also need to love our ministers and pray for them. That is God's way. And if we love them and pray for them, it will be easier for us to obey God's command to respect them and the authority of the office they hold. But if we criticize them behind their back, or willingly listen to such criticism when we should not be listening to it, that makes it more difficult for us to respect them the way we should, and we sin against God.

That is a sin that some in the Church need to repent of and put out of their lives.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Did Worldwide Go "All Out" to Preach the Gospel?

One of the arguments against preaching the gospel that come up from time to time is that Worldwide went "all out" to preach the gospel, but that did not prevent the apostasy and scattering of the Church, and therefore going all out to preach the gospel to the world today will not heal or unify the Church of God. People who make this argument seem to be saying, in reference to making a maximum effort to preach the gospel to the world, "we tried that, and it didn't work."

There are a number of fallacies in that line of reasoning. For one thing, there would never have been a Worldwide Church of God of any significant size to even be scattered if it were not for the zeal and sacrifice of Mr. Armstrong and his supporters who had their hearts in the work of God.

But I want to focus on just one point of this argument, which I regard to be false. It is based on an assumption that is not necessarily true, yet I have not heard it challenged. But I want to challenge it now.

That assumption is the idea that everyone in Worldwide, or even the majority, was going all out to preach the gospel to the world till the time Mr. Armstrong died.

Certainly Mr. Armstrong had his heart in the work and had zeal for preaching the gospel to the world. And I am sure that many Worldwide Church of God members and coworkers likewise supported the preaching of the gospel with zeal and sacrifice. They could be said to be going "all out" to preach the gospel to the world. And they may have been the majority during the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s.

But by the 1980s, even while Mr. Armstrong was still alive, I do not think the majority of the Worldwide Church of God was going all out to preach the gospel. I think that is a myth.

I came into the Church in the early 1980s while Mr. Armstrong was still alive. I do not think the Church became lukewarm and Laodicean after Mr. Armstrong died. It had already become that way while he was still alive. The appointment of Mr. Tkach to succeed Mr. Armstrong was the result of the Church becoming Loadicean, not the cause.

In my opinion, the majority of members and ministers in the Worldwide Church of God had become Laodicean before Mr. Armstrong died, and it was in response to the general lukewarm condition that existed in the Church that God inspired Mr. Armstrong to name Mr. Tkach as his successor. It was that appointment that led to apostasy and the scattering of the Church. This was God's doing in fulfillment of the prophecy of (Revelation 3:16): "So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth."

My observation of the Church in the early eighties was that there was a certain camaraderie, enthusiasm, and general warmth between brethren, and there was zeal for God among some. But I did not see a lot of sacrifice for the work of preaching the gospel to the world, not among the majority. People had nice things: houses, nice apartments, nice cars, nice furniture. But on holy days offerings were taken up in the morning services, counted during the lunch period, and the average offering was often announced at the beginning of the afternoon services. Those offerings were small in comparison to the ability of the members to give, in my opinion. And there was not much talk about the work in conversation among members that I observed. When they talked about God's way of life at all, they talked about the fine points of God's law, about doctrine, about prophecy, and about their personal trials, but not much about getting the gospel message and the Ezekiel warning to the world.

My own zeal also was not as strong as it should have been at that time. It has increased since then I hope, as I have learned lessons.

I do not think it is true that, "we tried that" (going all out with zeal to preach the gospel to the world) and "it didn't work" (to keep the Church unified and on track). Rather, the majority of the Church had drifted away from strong zeal for the preaching of the gospel and had become lukewarm about God's work, and THAT (lukewarmness) did not work!

I think it was a lack of zeal for the work of God among the majority that was a cause of God's judgment to scatter the Church. And that same lack of zeal for preaching the gospel today among the majority in the whole Church of God (all fellowships added up together) helps to keep us divided.

If there are those among us who want to help to reunite and heal the Church of God today, the first thing they should do is rekindle a burning zeal and passion for finishing God's work of preaching the gospel to the world as a witness (Matthew 24:14), making disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:18-20), and delivering the Ezekiel warning to Israel while there is still time for Israel to repent (Ezekiel 3:16-19, Proverbs 24:11-12, Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 22:38-39). Each of us should get "on fire" to get that message out, and our motivation should be love towards God and love towards our neighbors. That is the path towards Church of God repentance, healing, and unity.

And it is that zeal that the Worldwide Church of God lacked at the time Mr. Armstrong died and Mr. Tkach became pastor general. When Mr. Tkach became leader of Worldwide, events were set in motion that caused the Church to be scattered, and we are still in that scattered condition today.

In speaking of the work of preaching the gospel to the world, I have called it "God's work" as many in the Church have done. Some may object to this terminology, saying that it should be called "the work of the Church" and that "God's work" should be a term for what God Himself directly does or for God's work in reproducing Himself in Church members. But preaching the gospel is indeed God's work which He does through the Church. It is part of His work of reproducing Himself in mankind, because preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning just before the end of this age is a vital part of preparing Israel for the great tribulation and the millennium that follows.

It is also proper to call the work that God gives us to do, "God's work", for Jesus also called the work that the Father gave Him to do, "His [the Father's] work".

"Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work' " (John 4:34).

We must FINISH God's work, and Christ will lead us to do that as we yield and submit to His leadership, for Christ no doubt has the same zeal for the Father's work as He leads the Church of God today as He did when He spoke to His disciples after His conversation with the woman by the well as recorded in John 4:31-35.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Is Matthew 24:14 a Command to Preach the Gospel to the World as a Witness?

Some people who are against preaching the gospel to the world say that Matthew 24:14 is not a command to preach the gospel, but nothing more than a prophecy which says that the gospel will be preached, and therefore should not be viewed as a command, commission, or instruction for the Church to preach the gospel.

Matthew 24:14 says "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all the nations, and then the end will come".

On the surface, this seems to just be a prophecy. But when you look at God's instructions and examples further, it becomes apparent that this is also an instruction for the Church to preach the gospel to the world as a witness as best the Church of God is able.

We are commanded to love God with all our being (Matthew 22:37-38). Jesus set an example for us to follow. He sought to do God's will and finish His work in every way. "Jesus said to them, 'My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work' " (John 4:34).

Matthew 24:14 shows that it is God's will that the gospel be preached in all the world as a witness before the end. We know we are near the end. We have the opportunity, the freedom, to preach the gospel to the world as a witness. As we have ability, we should do it to fulfill God's will.

Matthew 24:14 therefore reinforces other commands in the New Testament to preach the gospel.

Did Jesus ever do something in order to help fulfill prophecy? If so, He set an example for us to follow. If Christ looked to prophecy to know the Father's will, and then make choices to help fulfill prophecy, then we should do likewise. We should do what we are able to do to fulfill Matthew 24:14 knowing that Matthew 24:14 shows that it is the Father's will that the gospel be preached in all the world as a witness before the end.

"Now His betrayer had given them a sign, saying, 'Whomever I kiss, He is the One; seize Him.' Immediately he went up to Jesus and said, 'Greetings, Rabbi!' and kissed Him. But Jesus said to him, 'Friend, why have you come?' Then they came and laid hands on Jesus and took Him. And suddenly, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword, struck the servant of the high priest, and cut off his ear. But Jesus said to him, 'Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?' In that hour Jesus said to the multitudes, 'Have you come out, as against a robber, with swords and clubs to take Me? I sat daily with you, teaching in the temple, and you did not seize Me. But all this was done that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.' " (Matthew 26:48-56).

Notice that Christ restrained the one who tried to protect Him by striking the servant of the high priest. He stated that He could call on His Father's angels to protect Him. But He did not do that for one specific reason. He said, "How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled?" Jesus did not look at prophecy in a passive sense. He actively made decisions and choices to help fulfill prophecy. He knew that it was His Father's will that prophecy be fulfilled, and He made it His responsibility to take an active part in making sure those prophecies were fulfilled.

Earlier, at supper, Jesus spoke of Judas who was to betray Him: "If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. I do not speak concerning all of you. I know whom I have chosen; but that the Scripture may be fulfilled, 'He who eats bread with Me has lifted up his heel against Me.' Now I tell you before it comes, that when it does come to pass, you may believe that I am He" (John 13:17-19).

Jesus knew Judas would betray Him, but He chose him as a disciple anyway. Why? To fulfill prophecy, "that the Scripture may be fulfilled". Jesus deliberately chose one He knew would betray Him so that prophecy would be fulfilled.

There are many scriptures that show that Jesus did this or that thing so that prophecy would be fulfilled. Look at Matthew 4:13-16 for example: "And leaving Nazareth, He came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is by the sea, in the regions of Zebulun and Naphtali, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Isaiah the prophet, saying: 'The land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali, By the way of the sea, beyond the Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles: The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, And upon those who sat in the region and shadow of death Light has dawned' ".

At first reading, it might seem that Jesus may have chosen to dwell in regions of Zebulun and Naphtali but not necessarily for the purpose or even with the awareness that He was fulfilling prophecy. But that is unlikely. He knew the scriptures concerning Himself. He had been studying and asking questions from age twelve (Luke 2:42-49). It is apparent, as Matthew 26:48-56 and John 13:17-19 show, that it was Jesus's practice to choose His actions for the purpose of doing His Father's will regarding the fulfillment of prophecy. He didn't just "let things happen". He did His part to make sure prophecy was fulfilled. For other examples, see Matthew 8:16-17, Matthew 12:15-21, Matthew 13:34-35, Matthew 21:1-6, Luke 4:16-21, Luke 18:31-33, and John 18:7-9.

Jesus was not a passive observer watching prophecy be fulfilled in Himself. He actively did His part to fulfill prophecy. He used Old Testament prophecy to know the Father's will, and He let scriptural prophecy guide His choices and decisions. Fulfilling prophecy was for Jesus Christ part of doing the Father's work.

As Christ chose Judas as a disciple whom He knew would betray Him in order to fulfill prophecy concerning Judas, so we should preach the gospel to help fulfill a prophecy we know about, the prophecy that the gospel will be preached in all the world as a witness (Matthew 24:14). As Jesus restrained those who would fight to protect Him from being arrested so that prophecy would be fulfilled, so we must do what we can to help fulfill the prophecy in Matthew 24:14. As Jesus used prophecy to know the Father's will, and then do it, setting us an example, so we should use Matthew 24:14 as a guide to know the Father's will, then do it.

By itself, Matthew 24:14 is not a command. But putting this prophecy together with other passages in the Bible that show we are to do God's will in everything and the example of Christ of working to fulfill prophecy, it becomes the equivalent of a command to preach the gospel to the world. As we love God, we will seek to do His will, and as we understand that it is God's will that the gospel be preached to the world, we will do it.

That makes Matthew 24:14, not just a prophecy that we are to passively observe, but the equivalent of a command to actively support the fulfillment of this prophecy by preaching the gospel to the world as a witness as best we are able.

Matthew 24:14 therefore supports and reinforces the commission to the Church to preach the gospel to the world.

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

My Comments and Conclusion, Chapter 4

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Two Approaches to Understanding the Bible

Among those who will acknowledge that the Bible is the word of God and is true there are two basic approaches in trying to understand it.

Among those who do not acknowledge that the Bible is true, atheists and agnostics for example, there is a third approach, and that is, they approach the Bible as if it is nothing more than a collection of human devised fables. I am not talking about that approach.

There are two basic approaches to trying to understand the Bible as the word of God and as truth.

These two approaches lead to different results.

One approach is most often used among members of traditional, mainstream churches. Either of these two approaches may be used by individuals in the Church of God.

One approach, used by many or most members of traditional, mainstream churches and by some members of the Church of God, is to trust and believe what they think is the guidance and inspiration of the Holy Spirit in their minds, but without objectively proving by the Bible if this "inspiration" or "guidance" is really correct and from the Holy Spirit. They never consider the possibility that the thoughts that come into their minds on spiritual or doctrinal subjects are thoughts of their own carnal imagination or even inspired by Satan and his demons.

They assume that God's Holy Spirit is leading their "understanding", and they think they are exercising faith in God by believing their own thoughts. They have "faith" that the Holy Spirit is leading them.

Do they study the Bible? Yes. Do they think they understand and believe the Bible? Yes, they think they do. But they interpret what they read in the Bible according to what they want to believe.

They will often ask in prayer that God will guide their understanding of the Bible. Then when they read a scripture, whatever "understanding" or interpretation of that scripture that pops into their heads they think is an answer to their prayer. And their interpretation, which varies from person to person, is often shaped by both their human opinions and desires and by the traditions they have been taught.

So for example, a member of a traditional Sunday keeping church might read the fourth commandment to keep the Sabbath. Then the thought comes into his mind, well, this established the principle of resting one day in seven, then Christ through the New Testament church changed the day of rest to Sunday, but the principle is the same. Then that person thanks God for answering his prayer to guide his understanding. He thinks he is exercising faith in the Holy Spirit by believing the thought in his mind that the Sabbath was changed to Sunday. After all, didn't he pray that God would help him understand the Bible? To doubt the interpretation in his mind would seem to be doubting the Holy Spirit.

But he never checks other scriptures to find out if his interpretation is wrong.

The same thing can happen in the Church of God. A member or minister may read the scriptures that say that the Church should preach the gospel and warn the people. Then he reads the scripture that says we should get the beam out of our own eye before correcting others. He prays for understanding, and the thought comes into his mind, the Church of God should focus on feeding the flock, reconciling ourselves to God and each other, and getting the beam out of our own eye before we try to preach the gospel to the world or warn the world. Immediately, that member or minister assumes, without real biblical proof, that his idea is an answer to prayer, that he is being led by the Holy Spirit to think that he and the Church of God should not preach the gospel to the world and warn Israel at this time.

But he doesn't prove his idea in the Bible before he believes it. He believes his idea first, and interprets everything else in the Bible according to this belief. But he never searched out, found, and believed the scriptures that show that the "beam in the eye" passage was never intended to mean postponing obedience to God's command to preach the gospel (see my post entitled " 'Beam in the Eye', and Preaching the Gospel to the World", dated January 14, 2014, link: ).

I will call this approach, "trusting one's own thoughts", because that is what it is. It is NOT really trusting God's Holy Spirit, not without really proving the truth from the Bible.

What are the fruits of this approach?

Just about every possible kind of heresy you can imagine.

Traditional, mainstream religious doctrines such as Sunday keeping, the trinity, pagan holidays, going to heaven at death, and immortal souls being tortured forever in hell fire are the results of this thinking. Catholics and Protestants alike think God has led them and their church to believe these doctrines through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. They have "faith" in that, and you can't shake their "faith" by showing them the scriptures that prove them wrong.

This approach also creates chaos in the Church of God. It is partly responsible for the division in the Church and the scattered condition that exists. As I pointed out in my last post, it is our collective Laodiceanism and Christ's response to our Laodiceanism (Revelation 3:16) that is probably the greatest root cause of our scattered condition, and because the majority of us are lukewarm Christ allows us to have doctrinal differences that tend to scatter us. But this approach too many in the Church of God follow, of trusting in our own thoughts apart from proving what we believe in the Bible, is one mechanism that promotes division and magnifies the divisive influence of differences of opinion in matters of doctrine. This approach was also responsible for the apostasy among thousands of Worldwide Church of God ministers and members after the death of Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong. God allowed the Church to become divided and scattered to test and chastise us, but it is this process of not putting the Bible first that was the mechanism by which the heresies and the divisions in doctrine came about.

I have spoken of this approach from the point of view of one who reads the Bible and forms beliefs, but there is another aspect of this issue, that is, the approach of those who lead and teach in how they teach.

Some leaders of churches and groups and their ministers teach their members to believe that God's Holy Spirit leads the ministry to interpret the Bible, even apart from what members can prove for themselves in the Bible, and they teach their members to believe the ministers' interpretation of the Bible, as a matter of faith! How do they do this?

They teach that Christ is the head of the Church (Ephesians 1:20-23, 4:15-16, 5:23, Colossians 1:13-18, 2:18-19). That is true. They teach that Christ through the Holy Spirit guides the leadership of the Church and the ministry into truth. This also is true. Then they "connect the dots" to say, in effect, "Since Christ leads us to teach you the truth, even to interpret what particular Bible passages mean, you should believe us, the leadership and the ministry, in order to trust and have faith in Christ's leadership of the Church. Because if you doubt what we teach you, you are doubting Christ and you are doubting the Bible which says that Christ is the head of the Church." But that conclusion is wrong.


They are not correctly connecting the dots when they say this. They are skipping something important.

Christ perfectly leads the Church, the ministry, and the members of His body. But the Church of God and its ministry do not follow Christ perfectly. That is why you cannot assume that everything the leadership and ministry say and do is from Christ and approved by Christ and you cannot look to the actions and teachings of the ministry to "see what Christ is doing". Much of it may be Christ's doing and have Christ's approval, but not necessarily everything. That is the missing factor some ministers do not mention and leave out of their reasoning when they try to connect the dots to say that if you doubt the ministry you are doubting Christ.

You are not trusting and exercising faith in Christ by believing the ministry to interpret the Bible for you more than you see for yourself in the Bible. They can help you prove for yourself what the Bible says. They can help you find the scriptures you need. But you must believe what you can see for yourself in the word of God even more than you believe your ministers.

Who practices this approach of teaching the members to believe their ministers' interpretation of the Bible? The Catholic Church, to name the biggest group. Catholics believe that Christ guides the pope to correctly interpret the Bible. It is a matter of faith for Catholics to believe their church in matters of doctrine.

And this approach is also taught by some ministers and leaders in the Church of God.

But there is a different approach practiced by many in the Church of God and among those God is calling out of this world and into the Church.

That second approach is to seek and rely on God's help to understand the Bible, but to let the Bible interpret the Bible, seeking all the scriptures on any important question and letting clear scriptures interpret difficult or unclear scriptures.

It is the approach of proving doctrine and beliefs in the Bible before accepting them. It is the approach of then believing what is proved in the Bible more than church tradition, more than the teachings of ministers and men in authority, and more than one's own personal opinions and preferences.

And in the matter of ministers and Church leaders teaching others, it is the way of proving doctrines by the Bible and teaching others, "Don't believe me, believe your Bible".

This is the approach Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong practiced.

I call this approach, "putting the Bible first".

What are the fruits of these two opposite approaches to trying to understand the Bible?

The fruit of putting the Bible first is the body of true doctrine God has given the Church of God in this end time. God restored much truth to the Church of God through Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, but it was because Mr. Armstrong put the Bible first and PROVED doctrine by the Bible that he was able to understand what God was revealing to him through the Bible.

The truth we have today is the direct result of putting the Bible first.

But the fruits of trusting one's own thoughts, even if one thinks those thoughts are inspired by the Holy Spirit, has been heresy and warfare in the history of the traditional churches of this world and painful division, scattering, and weakening in the Church of God today.

What result do you want in the Church of God? What result or fruit do you want in your own life?

Choose the way of trusting your own thoughts or the way of putting the Bible first, and you will reap the fruits, good or bad, of the way you choose.

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