Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Meaning of Pentecost

This coming Sunday is Pentecost for the Church of God.

The Gift of the Holy Spirit and the Spiritual Law of God

Pentecost is ordained by God in the Old Testament, often called the "Feast of Weeks" (Exodus 34:22, Deuteronomy 16:16). It is called Pentecost in the New Testament (Acts 2:1. Acts 20:16, 1 Corinthians 16:8). It was on the day of Pentecost that the Holy Spirit was given to the New Testament Church of God (Acts 2:1-4). Thus, this day represents for us the gift of the Holy Spirit. And since the Church of God is the collective body of everyone who has God's Holy Spirit dwelling in their minds, Pentecost also represents the start of the New Testament Church of God.

Pentecost also may represent the spiritual law of God. I have heard that Jewish tradition indicates that the ten commandments were given on the day of Pentecost. Under the terms of the New Covenant, God promises to write His spiritual law in our hearts and minds (Jeremiah 31:33), and this is done by God through the power of His Spirit. Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would help us remember the things He said and teach us spiritual truth. And it is the Holy Spirit, first given to the New Testament Church on Pentecost, that enables us to understand the spiritual truths of God (John 14:26, 1 Corinthians 2:9-12).

The Holy Spirit also empowers us to overcome our sins. "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind" (2 Timothy 1:7). "For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God" (Romans 8:13-14). The Holy Spirit is the power by which God and Christ live in us (John 14:15-18, Galatians 2:20, Romans 8:9-11).

The Beginning of the Church of God

It is the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit that defines a true Christian and a truly converted member of the Church of God and the body of Christ (Romans 8:9-11).

In other words, the Church of God is not an organization. The Church of God is organized, but the Church itself is not an organization. It is the collective body of everyone who has the Holy Spirit dwelling in their minds.

I remember hearing Mr. Armstrong talk about this in his radio program. He gave examples. You could have a congregation of one hundred people, and one of them may have the Holy Spirit and the other ninety-nine do not. In that case, he said, the one member of the congregation with the Holy Spirit is a member of the Church of God and the other members of the congregation are not really members of the Church of God. Or, you could have ninety-nine who have God's Spirit and one who does not, and the ninety-nine would be true members of God's Church and the one would not.

And I know from experience living through the time of the apostasy in the Church of God after Mr. Armstrong's death, and many others who lived through that also know, that it can be hard to know from outside observance who has the Holy Spirit and who does not. For there were members and ministers who to me seemed very spiritual, yet they quickly gave up the truth, and I concluded later that many of those I thought were spiritual were probably never really converted.

God Is Not a Trinity

It was the Holy Spirit that caused Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, to become pregnant with Jesus. It was God the Father who impregnated Mary and He did it by the power of His Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26-35). This can easily be proved in scripture and helps to prove that the trinity doctrine is wrong. For if the Holy Spirit is a person, then the Holy Spirit, not the One we know of as the Father, was the father of Jesus Christ, for it was the Holy Spirit that impregnated Mary. But if God the Father was the Father of Jesus Christ, then the Father impregnated Mary by the power of His Spirit working in her body. In that case, the Holy Spirit is the power of God, not a person, which is what the Church of God has always taught.

The Jews knew from the Old Testament scriptures that God has a Spirit, for many Old Testament scriptures refer to the "Spirit of God" (Genesis 1:2, Job 33:4, Ezekiel 11:24), and David referred to God's Holy Spirit (Psalm 51:11). But they never thought of God's Spirit as being a person, and there is not a shred of evidence in the New Testament that Jesus or the Church of God changed or contradicted the understanding of the Jews that the Holy Spirit is the power of God, nor is there any shred of evidence that this was a controversy between the Church and the Jews, which it would have been if the Church taught that the Holy Spirit was a person who was God.

The very verse that many in traditional churches try to use to "prove" the trinity doctrine actually serves as evidence that the trinity doctrine is wrong. If you look up (1 John 5:7-8), you will find this in many Bibles: "For there are three that bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one". But footnotes in many or most Bibles indicate this part was added later and not part of the original text: "in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one. And there are three that bear witness on earth". When you take that part out, the Bible really says, "For there are three that bear witness: the Spirit, the water, and the blood; and these three agree as one". So this does not prove the trinity doctrine at all. But why do I say it serves as evidence that the trinity doctrine is false? Because it shows that some in the early church added those words to try to support their case for the trinity doctrine. Why would they do that if the trinity doctrine were not a controversy? And why would it be a controversy unless the earlier Church did not support the trinity doctrine? And why would the early Church of God not support the trinity doctrine if it were true and taught by Christ to the Church? The answer that explains these added words is that the trinity doctrine is false, Christ did not teach the trinity to the Church of God, and the Church of God in the beginning never taught or supported the trinity doctrine, but as apostasy and heresy in many doctrines crept into the Church of God organizations, so did the false trinity doctrine, and this became a controversy so that some felt the need to support the trinity doctrine by changing the Bible to support their case.

Sons of God

The Holy Spirit in a sense begets us to spiritual life. It is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit that makes us true Christians and true sons and daughters of God and brothers of Jesus Christ. Mr. Armstrong used the analogy of human conception and birth to explain the process. After repentance and faith, we are to be baptized (Acts 2:38, Acts 8:34-40). After baptism, hands are laid on us by the minister (Acts 8:14-17, Acts 19:5-7). God then gives us the gift of His Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit unites in some way with our human spirit (Job 32:8, 1 Corinthians 2:10-12, Romans 8:14-17), and the result is that we become a son of God, but not yet born into God's kingdom. Mr. Armstrong compared that with the uniting of a human sperm cell with a human egg cell in the womb of a mother. At this point, we become, in the comparison, like an fetus or embryo, conceived, but not yet born. Then in the resurrection into the kingdom at the return of Christ, we fully receive immortality and become full sons of God, and this can be compared to human birth. Thus Mr. Armstrong taught that we are not yet "born again" but will be born again in the first resurrection.

As Mr. Armstrong worded it, we are now "begotten" of God, but not yet born of God.

Some may have questions about that word "begotten". Some have said that "begotten" refers to the same event as birth, but from the perspective of the father of the child. In other words, some have said that the word "beget" refers to the father's role when the child is born. On the day a son is born, the mother gives "birth" to the child and the father "begets" the child, but the father is not said to have begotten the child before it is born. Before it is born, the child is "conceived", not "begotten", in this view.

I have not studied the meaning of the English words, "beget" or "begotten", nor the Greek or Hebrew words that are thus translated in the Bible. But words can mean different things to different people. To Mr. Armstrong, and in most of the Church of God today, the word "begotten" in this context means "conceived". That is how he used the word.

So when Mr. Armstrong said that upon receiving the Holy Spirit we become "begotten" of God and are not yet born of God till the resurrection, and when he compared this to human reproduction as an analogy to make the process clear, his analogy is correct even if he used the term "begotten" in a different sense than some outside the Church. If it makes it more clear, you can say that we are "conceived" now and will be born at the resurrection, because it is conception that Mr. Armstrong was talking about when he used the word begotten. To Mr. Armstrong, begettal and conception were the same thing, if I understood him correctly. But it doesn't change the analogy, whatever term you use. The analogy is correct. Our state at this time is like an unborn child in the womb of its mother. In this analogy, the Church can be compared to a mother protecting and nurturing her unborn child as the Church protects and nurtures its members. Then, in the resurrection, we will be like children fully born, no longer in the womb. That analogy that Mr. Armstrong used is a beautiful picture of the process of how God is reproducing Himself in us.

Government in the Church and Counting to Pentecost

Some members are curious about how to count Pentecost. We count fifty from the day that the wave sheaf offering was made according to God's instructions to ancient Israel, and that fifty is inclusive, so as the wave sheaf offering was made on a Sunday, Pentecost will be on a Sunday fifty days later. The Church of God does not observe a wave sheaf ceremony today since there was no day of rest or assembly commanded and we are not under the sacrificial system that God gave to Israel, but we use it to determine when Pentecost is. The wave sheaf offering was usually made the day after the weekly Sabbath that falls during the Days of Unleavened Bread, and the wave sheaf offering, on a Sunday, also fell within the seven days of unleavened bread. But sometimes the weekly Sabbath falls on the last day of unleavened bread. In that case, you can't have both the Sabbath before the wave sheaf Sunday and the wave sheaf Sunday itself both during the days of unleavened bread. Either you use the Sabbath before unleavened bread and the Sunday that follows that is on the first day of unleavened bread as the wave sheaf Sunday to begin counting for Pentecost, or you use the Sabbath during unleavened bread and the Sunday that follows but is after the days of unleavened bread as the wave sheaf Sunday. Most years this does not happen, but when it does, it presents a controversy with some in the Church of God. Most Church of God fellowships follow Mr. Armstrong's judgment that we go by the Sunday that falls during unleavened bread as the wave sheaf offering to begin counting for Pentecost. But some in one or more other groups say we should use the Sabbath that falls during unleavened bread and the Sunday after that even when the Sunday is outside of unleavened bread. Thus, in some years, there is a difference of opinion that cause some to observe Pentecost on a different day than the majority of the Church.

I have only done a limited study of this, but as far as I can see, I agree with Mr. Armstrong. In any case, this controversy or difference of opinion does not exist in the Church of God this year. This year, both the Sabbath and the wave sheaf Sunday that follows that Sabbath fell within the days of unleavened bread.

One thing I have realized is that judgment is required in this matter. God has given us the instructions in the Bible in a way that requires some judgment to understand and decide. Someone must make the call, and this is more true I think with Pentecost than with any other holy day or any other calendar issue. Since it is evident that God used Mr. Armstrong in a powerful way, and Mr. Armstrong made the judgment call that we count from the Sunday that falls during unleavened bread, and there is nothing clear in the Bible that overturns this judgment, I believe the majority in the Church of God who follow Mr. Armstrong's judgment is right.

God could have made the instructions in the Bible so clear that no judgment would be required. He could have inspired the Bible to say, "count fifty from the wave sheaf offering during the days of unleavened bread", or "count fifty from the wave sheaf offering that follows the weekly Sabbath that falls during the days of unleavened bread", or something even more clear. But God did not inspire the account that way. Instead, He gave us instructions that leave enough question in the minds of some people to require that someone in authority make a judgment call.

And this is fitting. Why? Because Pentecost represents the first fruits, and by its very nature it represents hierarchical government. It also represents the Church of God, and there must be government in the Church. In the very passage where Christ says He will build His Church He talks about government: "And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. 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 16:18-19).

Pentecost represents government in the Church. First of all, you need government to establish when Pentecost is. Someone has to make a judgment call, based on the Bible, to decide if it is the Sunday during unleavened bread or the weekly Sabbath during unleavened bread that is the important factor in determining when the wave sheaf offering was and when to start the count to Pentecost. These things can be determined from the Bible, but you have to put scriptures together correctly, and there is enough study required that it is almost inevitable that some will have different opinions. Mr. Armstrong studied this issue in the Bible, and he made a judgment call based on what he saw in the Bible, and there is nothing in the Bible that clearly indicates his judgment is wrong. Most of the Church of God leaders today agree with that judgment, and I agree with it. Those who disagree have no clear case I can see for overturning that judgment.

But also, Pentecost represents government because the fact that there are first fruits, a first resurrection and a later resurrection, mandates hierarchy in the Kingdom of God. If there was no hierarchical government in the Kingdom of God, we would not need to have first fruits or a first resurrection. We would not even need a Church today. Christ could return at the end of six thousand years to establish the Kingdom of God, and by His infinite power do everything directly Himself, perhaps with the help of angels. Then after the general resurrection when the majority of mankind comes up and has the opportunity to be converted, all mankind who are given eternal life in the Kingdom of God can be changed at the same time, and we would all be equal. No one would be under anyone's authority except the authority of God and Christ directly.

But Christ will not rule the earth by Himself. We in the Church will be given offices of responsibility and authority. "And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations—'He shall rule them with a rod of iron; They shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels'—as I also have received from My Father; and I will give him the morning star" (Revelation 2:26-28). "To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne" (Revelation 3:21). Our struggle against sin is harder because we have to overcome Satan, and our reward will be greater. Those converted in the general resurrection will not have Satan to overcome because Satan will be put away, and they will have an easier struggle, but their reward will not be as great.

But we have to learn the lessons of government now. That is why Christ gave the ministry in the Church of God certain authority to make binding decisions. The authority is limited to a certain scope of decisions. Ministers for example have no authority to command us to break the ten commandments. But within a certain scope of responsibility, the ministry has authority to decide some things, and their authority is from God and it is real. And part of our training for the Kingdom of God is to learn to respect and support that authority now, knowing where that authority came from (Romans 13:1-2, Ephesians 4:11-16, 1 Corinthians 12:27-30).

All Will Have a Chance for Salvation

Pentecost also helps to teach us and remind us that those who are Christians in this age are only the first fruits of God's spiritual harvest. The greater spiritual harvest will occur after the return of Jesus Christ during the millennium and the white throne judgment. That means that, contrary to the teaching of many traditional churches today, all humanity will have the opportunity to hear the true gospel and be saved. In this age, only those called by God and drawn to Christ can have their eyes opened to the truth and be able to repent and be converted (John 6:44). But the rest are not permanently lost. No one will lose out on the opportunity for salvation because circumstance of birth - circumstances of time and location - prevent that person from hearing the true gospel. No one will lose out on the opportunity for salvation because Satan has blinded them to the truth and God has not called them, opened their eyes, and drawn them to Christ.

Many in the world do not understand how an all-powerful and loving God could allow billions to live and die with no chance for salvation. This is a stumbling block to many, yet God has revealed the truth, that no one will lose out on salvation because of the circumstances of their birth and life in this age, to us in the Church. He has revealed this through His holy days and festivals, and it is to us in the Church who believe and obey God by keeping His holy days that God has revealed this truth.

This truth is most powerfully represented by the Last Great Day and by the Feast of Tabernacles, but Pentecost is also a reminder of this, for Pentecost teaches us that the Church today is only the first fruits, and if first fruits then there must be other fruits, a greater harvest, to come.

Preaching the Gospel

Most members know that Pentecost represents the gift of the Holy Spirit and the start of the New Testament Church of God.

But if you look at the example of the very day of Pentecost in Acts when the Holy Spirit was given and the Church of God began, you may notice something else.

"When the Day of Pentecost had fully come, they were all with one accord in one place. And suddenly there came a sound from heaven, as of a rushing mighty wind, and it filled the whole house where they were sitting. Then there appeared to them divided tongues, as of fire, and one sat upon each of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance. And there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men, from every nation under heaven....But Peter, standing up with the eleven, raised his voice and said to them, 'Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and heed my words. For these are not drunk, as you suppose, since it is only the third hour of the day. But this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel: "And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your young men shall see visions, your old men shall dream dreams"....Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God to you by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him in your midst, as you yourselves also know—Him, being delivered by the determined purpose and foreknowledge of God, you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified, and put to death; whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it....Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.' Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?' Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.' And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, 'Be saved from this perverse generation.' Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them" (Acts 2:1-5, 14-17, 22-24, 36-41).

The first thing Peter and the other apostles did after they received the Holy Spirit was to PREACH THE GOSPEL!

And their preaching bore fruit. About 3,000 members were added to the Church of God that very day.

Of all the holy days and festivals, the one that best represents preaching the gospel to the world is Pentecost.

The Church of God did not wait. They did not say, "Well, we just received the Holy Spirit and we still have faults to overcome, so let's wait a while and grow in grace and knowledge and let the Holy Spirit work in our minds to help us overcome our sins for a year or two, and then we will be ready to preach to the world." Within hours of receiving the Holy Spirit, at most, they began to preach the gospel, and God blessed their efforts.

A few weeks previously, all the apostles left Jesus Christ in His time of trial (Matthew 26:55-56), and Peter, the very one who first preached to the crowds on Pentecost, denied Christ (Matthew 26:69-75). They certainly had human faults, and it is unlikely they overcame their faults in just an hour. But that did not stop them from preaching the gospel to the world as soon as they were converted.

Though newly converted, they were more diligent to obey God's will and word than many today who claim to be long-time members of God's Church.

It is not surprising that the first thing that the apostles did after receiving the Holy Spirit was to preach the gospel to the world, because God's Spirit is a Spirit of love (2 Timothy 1:7), and love motivates us to share the truth with others for their own good.

What Pentecost Represents

What does the day of Pentecost represent?

It represents the gift of the Holy Spirit.

It represents the spiritual law of God written in our hearts and minds by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

It represents the power to understand spiritual truth and to overcome our sins that God gives us through the Holy Spirit.

It represents the start of the Church of God.

It represents the Holy Spirit and the knowledge we in the Church of God have that the Holy Spirit is the power of God and not a third person of a trinity.

It represents our spiritual begettal by the Holy Spirit and God's plan and process for reproducing Himself in man, and it represents how we become sons and daughters of God and brothers of Jesus Christ. Pentecost represents the first stage of that process, and the Day of Trumpets represents the last stage of that process when we are made full sons of God in the first resurrection.

It represents government, both now in the Church of God and later in the Kingdom of God.

It reminds us and teaches us, along with the Last Great Day and the Feast of Tabernacles, that God is fair and just and merciful to give everyone who has ever been born a chance for salvation.

It represents preaching the gospel to the world and making disciples of all nations.

These truths that we understand in the Church of God - the nature and role of the Holy Spirit, the spiritual law of God, how the Church of God started and what the Church of God is, God's plan and process for reproducing Himself in mankind, government in the Church of God and the Kingdom of God, and the need for the Church to preach the gospel to the world - are all associated with the Day of Pentecost in the Bible either directly or indirectly. The keeping of Pentecost, and the studying of the scriptures about Pentecost, the Holy Spirit, and the Church of God all help us to understand and remember these truths.

Here are links to other posts in this blog related to the material in this post:

"A Stumbling Block - The Fate of the Billions Who Never Heard of Christ", dated May 21, 2008, link:

"Why God Is Not Trying to Save Everyone Now", dated October 26, 2008, link:

"God Is Not Trying to Save Everyone in this Age", dated November 8, 2008, link:

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

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

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

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

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

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

"We Must Do Our Part to Build God's Church", dated May 18, 2013, link:

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

"Pentecost: Stirring Up the Holy Spirit / How the Holy Spirit Leads the Church and Us Individually in Doctrine, Policy, and Decisions", dated June 5, 2014, link:

"Pentecost Is a Memorial of Preaching the Gospel", dated June 12, 2014, link:

"Our Calling Opens Our Minds to the Truth / Persecution", dated April 24, 2015, link:

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

Pentecost - the Gift of the Holy Spirit, Chapter 2

The Holy Spirit, Chapter 2

God's Purpose for Mankind, Chapter 2



Friday, May 15, 2015

Motivations to Obey God

In times of temptation to sin, it can be helpful to remember those lessons, truths, and principles that motivate us to obey God. That is not always easy. Our carnal minds, with Satan's influence, will try not to think of spiritual things when we are tempted, but our carnal nature and Satan will try to focus our minds on the temptation and the temporary pleasures of sin. When Satan tempts us, he wants us to forget, at that particular moment, why we should obey God. He wants us only to think of the sin that tempts us. And at that moment, when we are in the grip of a temptation, it can be hard for us to focus our minds away from the temptation and on the reasons why we should resist the temptation and obey God.

"Let no one say when he is tempted, 'I am tempted by God'; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death" (James 1:13-15).

"For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin. For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do. If, then, I do what I will not to do, I agree with the law that it is good. But now, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin" (Romans 7:14-25).

"Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double-minded" (James 4:7-8).

"So the Lord said to Cain, 'Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it' " (Genesis 4:6-7).

But though it may be hard to focus our minds strongly on reasons and motivations to obey when we are in the grip of a strong temptation to sin, we can do things ahead of time to make it easier. We can rehearse and remind ourselves of the truths of God that inspire and motivate us, along with the scriptures upon which they are based, when we are not being tempted. By focusing our minds on those things and rehearsing them, meditating on them, continuously in our daily lives, we are more likely to remember them when we are tempted and to turn from the temptation, resisting the sin, and choosing to obey God for the reasons that motivate us.

Jesus promised that the Holy Spirit would help us remember the things He said and taught. "But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you" (John 14:26). Jesus said the Holy Spirit will help us remember Jesus's teaching, but there is a broad principle here, that the Holy Spirit will help us understand, know, and remember all spiritual things and truths that we need, including all the teaching of the Bible that we have read and studied (1 Corinthians 2:9-16).

But to remember the things Jesus taught, we must read the Bible, for the Holy Spirit cannot remind us of things we have never known. So we must do our part, to read the Bible and study the teachings of Christ, so God will do His part by His Holy Spirit to remind us of what we have read and studied in the Bible. Likewise, God's Spirit can help us remember all we learn in the Bible, but we need to do our part to read and study. And also likewise, God's Spirit can remind us of the reasons and motivations to obey that we have understood and accepted, but we have our part, and that includes meditating on these motivations as we go about our day, even when we are not tempted, to thoroughly ingrain them in our minds and our thinking. Then, when we are tempted, we can more easily remember them and God can, through the power of His Holy Spirit, give us the help we need to remember these motivations and reasons to obey so we can turn from the temptation, choose to obey God, and avoid the sin. When we do our part, God will do His part. "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13).

No doubt the greatest motivation for faith and obedience is eternal life. Obedience does not earn eternal life. Eternal life is a free gift. But that gift has conditions, and one of the conditions is obedience to God's spiritual law, God's way of life. "For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live" (Romans 8:13). "...for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified" (Romans 2:13). "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell" (Matthew 5:29-30). Christ is not teaching physical mutilation, but is using figurative language to teach us to go all out to avoid sin, and Christ uses the motivation that sin can cause us to lose our salvation and go into the lake of fire.

We should resist temptation and obey God's commandments so that God can accept us into His kingdom and give us eternal life and so that we do not have to perish forever in the lake of fire.

But it is not just for ourselves that we should obey. We should obey for the sake of others, that they may receive eternal life also. How does our obedience affect the salvation of others?

There are many ways. For one thing, our example, good or bad, can affect others in the Church of God. Our example affects our families. Our example affects those in the Church who see our example. When we obey, we encourage others to obey. When we disobey, our bad example can tempt others to disobey also. "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matthew 18:6). Notice in the following passage, Paul said that his example or the examples of others could cause a brother to perish. "For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols? And because of your knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when you thus sin against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Christ. Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never again eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble" (1 Corinthians 8:10-13). Also, as we pray for others, we want God to hear our prayers, but He will not hear us if we are not obeying Him. "And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight" (1 John 3:22). "If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear" (Psalm 66:18). "Behold, the Lord’s hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, that it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, so that He will not hear" (Isaiah 59:1-2).

We also need to obey so that God will be pleased with us and hear our prayers for the gospel and bless and empower the work we do to preach the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel, to warn the nations of the tribulation to come upon them if they do not repent.

Hundreds of millions of people will die and suffer in the great tribulation if they do not repent, and millions of them deceived by their false religious traditions do not know they are doing wrong. Without a warning, they can easily blame God for their punishment, thinking to themselves that God never gave them a chance because He didn't give them a warning while there was time to repent. That can make it harder for them to trust God and repent, even if they live into the millennium, and it can affect their attitude towards God and even their salvation.

The work we do now of warning the people and preaching the gospel to them can make their salvation easier later, because they will see that God was fair and merciful to send someone to warn them while there was time for them to repent. It will then be easier for them to trust God and choose life.

Our obedience to God in obeying His law and commandments can empower us to do a more powerful work, and that can improve the chances of others to make it into God's kingdom.

If you think our choices do not affect the probability that others will be saved, see my post "Do Our Choices Really Affect the Preaching of the Gospel?", dated May 16, 2014, link:

Not only should our desire to save others by preaching the gospel and Ezekiel warning to them motivate us to obey God, it should motivate us to obey even when obedience seems extremely difficult, almost impossible.

Consider what we are asking the general public to do when we preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to them. We are asking them to repent and turn from their sins. But how hard is that for the majority who hear our message?

The majority of the people are not being called at this time. Repentance is a gift from God when God calls someone (Acts 11:18, 2 Timothy 2:25). God is not granting the majority repentance that leads to conversion at this time. Yet, is it possible for anyone to respond to our message to repent to avoid the physical punishment of the great tribulation even if God is not calling them?

The example of Nineveh shows it is possible. Carnal people can turn from their sins to avoid punishment, even if their repentance is not of a depth that leads to conversion. The people of Nineveh were not called to salvation, yet they repented at the preaching of Jonah and avoided the destruction God pronounced against them. Likewise, people in our nations can respond to our warning message even if they not being called at this time. If they are not called, God is not granting them the depth of repentance necessary for conversion at this time. But they can still repent to a degree and make an effort to obey God, at least physically in the letter of the law, as Nineveh did at the preaching of Jonah. They may not understand the depth of God's law and all the spiritual intent of the law and God's way of life, but they can still make changes to begin to put sin out of their lives, even if only out of fear of punishment. They can stop working on the Sabbath. They can stop committing adultery, stop lying, and stop cheating their neighbors. They can put away their physical idols and images they use in worship, stop keeping pagan holidays, and start to keep the holy days. They can start showing mercy to the poor.

There are many things they can do to try to avoid the wrath of God's punishment. And God may spare some of them from the worst of the punishment just as He spared ancient Nineveh.

But how hard will it be for the average person to do this? Without God's calling, it will be very hard. Yet, that is what we are asking them to do when we preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to them. Our message is not just for those whom God is calling, but for everyone.

Yet, if we ask others to do what is almost impossible for them, we must be willing to do what may seem at times to be impossible for us. We must overcome our sins even in the face of the severest temptations. "For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin" (Hebrews 12:3-4).

To have God's fullest help and blessing in preaching the gospel to help others, we must be willing to do everything we tell others to do. We must practice what we preach. And that should motivate us to obey.

We should be motivated to obey God not just by our love for ourselves, but our love towards our neighbors as well.

I am motivated to obey God because by resisting temptation to sin and by obeying God's commandments, I know things will go better for me and for others for eternity. I want eternal life for myself and for others. I want God to hear my prayers for others and for His work. I know that eternal life in God's kingdom will be joyous beyond our present understanding, and I want that joy for myself and for others.

We should also be motivated to obey God to please God and to glorify His name. We should do those things that are pleasing in His sight to increase His joy and pleasure. We should avoid sin so as to not displease Him. For it is clear in the Bible that God's state of mind is certainly affected by our obedience. God has pleasure in our willingness to obey him, and displeasure when we sin (Ezekiel 6:9).

We should be motivated by gratitude to God for all He has given us, including the sacrifice of His Son (John 3:16, 1 John 4:19, Romans 5:6-10, 2 Corinthians 9:15, Psalm 30:1-14, Psalm 92:1-4).

Another motivation is the spiritual and physical blessings in this life that can come from obedience. God does not promise physical blessings in this life under the New Covenant (Luke 16:19-25). God promises forgiveness of sins, spiritual blessings, and eternal life in His kingdom as our reward under the New Covenant (Hebrews 8:6). Yet, God's way of life does lead to physical blessings. We may suffer in this life in spite of obedience because the world does not obey God and because God may test our faith (1 Peter 1:6-8, Genesis 22:1-12). Yet, by obeying God's commandments, we can avoid many problems that come naturally from breaking God's laws (Jeremiah 2:19).

Alternatively, if we sin, we may provoke God's punishments, to correct us for our good. It is better not to sin rather than sin and be punished. "But let none of you suffer as a murderer, a thief, an evildoer, or as a busybody in other people’s matters" (1 Peter 4:15). "For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil" (1 Peter 3:17). "For this is commendable, if because of conscience toward God one endures grief, suffering wrongfully. For what credit is it if, when you are beaten for your faults, you take it patiently? But when you do good and suffer, if you take it patiently, this is commendable before God" (1 Peter 2:19-20).

By believing and obeying God and resisting temptations to sin, we can enjoy a closer and more rewarding spiritual relationship with Him. We can enjoy a clear conscience towards God. We can receive answers to our prayers. We can have more confidence with God. And this can give us joy even in the face of trials. "Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight" (1 John 3:21-22). "These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

Sunday, May 3, 2015

What Is Wrong with Preaching the Gospel Only by Example?

In discussing doctrinal issues in the Church of God, matters about which we do not all agree, I have to strive for a balance. I do not want to be too harsh and critical towards those who take doctrinal positions that seem contrary to the Bible, yet I want to discuss what the Bible actually teaches, and I want to do it with power and maximum effectiveness if the issue is important. I am sure I do not always find the right balance perfectly, and sometimes I have to learn by my mistakes.

But always my motivation is to help someone who is in error see their error, or if I am in error perhaps encourage others to show me my error, from the Bible. If you and I disagree, I want you to learn from me or I want to learn from you. If we are both honest with the Bible, perhaps one of us can show the other his mistake, and if we are both wrong, maybe by discussing the issue we can each learn something from the other. Also, my motivation is to protect Church of God members from accepting doctrinal teachings of others that are contrary to the Bible. I try to do this by describing the error and refuting it from scripture, from Church of God history, and from logic.

I know of nothing in scripture that is against this kind of honest reasoning together about doctrine and scripture. There are certainly scriptures that say we should not judge each other harshly, but there are also scriptures that teach that we should take a stand for the truth and warn those who are in error.

I always encourage members to avoid contradicting their pastors and Church of God leaders and ministers in conversation with other members within the congregation and fellowship they attend. Within each COG fellowship, the ministry of that fellowship has the authority to establish doctrine that will be officially taught within that fellowship, and members of that fellowship should not undermine the authority of their ministry from within the organization by criticizing and contradicting within.

But in the whole Church of God, all fellowships included, there is no human authority to establish official doctrine for all the whole Church of God. The Church of God is divided into conflicting organizations. We do not all agree, and the leaders of each fellowship do not recognize the authority of the leaders of any other fellowship over them. And between Church of God fellowships and organizations, there are major and serious doctrinal disagreements.

And in this environment, each Church of God member must choose which fellowship, if any, to support and attend with. To make such a choice, which God has given each member the responsibility for making, a member must exercise judgment. It may not be the member's intention to pass judgment on the character of individuals, but he must at least pass judgment on where God wills that he attend and who God wills he support, and to do this the member must strive to understand, according to scripture, which COG fellowships and ministers are teaching and practicing the truth of the Bible most accurately and faithfully.

Thus, members from different fellowships may discuss major issues in various ways in the spirit of "iron sharpens iron" (Proverbs 27:17), to help find the truth. These discussions can sometimes take place on the Internet in blogs and forums and via email between members scattered all over the world.

It is in that spirit that I want to discuss an error I have heard talked about from time to time. I am not trying to attack individuals or particular groups, but I want to refute the error itself. It is a serious error, one that can affect our salvation and the salvation of others not yet in the Church of God.

This error is a very dangerous error, in my opinion. It involves a major Church of God doctrine. This error needs to be refuted and resisted strongly. Some members and ministers seem to hold to this error and promote it in the Church of God. I will describe the error and show why it is wrong from the Bible, but without naming individuals or organizations that may promote it.

I am going to describe a Church of God fellowship, a "group" or "organization" that calls itself "Church of God" or some variation of that name. I am going to describe their position on the issue of preaching the gospel. Maybe this describes one specific group, or maybe it describes several groups. Or maybe it describes no existing group - it can be hypothetical - but it can be a warning for the future, for such a group may come into being even if it does not exist today. I will paraphrase their position, speaking in the first person. This position, or major parts of it, seems to be held by at least some individuals. You decide if any groups you know of may be teaching this error.

Such a group would say this:

"We need to set the example of God's way of life so that we are very different, and then people will attracted to it. They will be attracted to our example. That is the most powerful way we can preach the gospel. We have been spiritually complacent in the past, but now we are seeking a spiritual renewal and zeal for God's way of life. God is leading us in a different direction, away from complacency. What we have been doing in the past, including preaching the gospel to the world through TV and magazines, has not been working - it has not brought the peace and unity that should be the result of God's way of life.
"Our obedience to the Bible is fundamental to the preaching of the gospel.  Before we preach the gospel to the world through mass communication, we must learn to do it by example, because that is the primary way we preach the gospel.  We are not against preaching the gospel through mass communication (but we don't do it, we just say we are not against it), but we must first learn to set the right example or our mass communication efforts will mean nothing - it will produce no good fruit.  If we just set the right example, we will have a great impact on the world around us, even without using mass communication.  If we are not living God's way of life personally, preaching the gospel by mass communication means nothing.  Preaching the gospel is only effective when people see by our example that God's way of life works.
"We must not fall into the trap of feeling justified because we are preaching the gospel to the world, but are not living it.
"We should not be judging each other based on our personal interpretation of the Bible. We should not each read the Bible and be convinced of our position and judge others who disagree with us as being wrong. That is the way the Pharisees were.

"God is not leading us to preach the gospel through mass communication at this time. We must not try to get ahead of what God is doing through us. We should take the long-term view (in other words, we will not preach the gospel through mass communication for a long time). We must trust God and follow the direction He is leading us. We must know that God is in charge. We must not have disputes over questionable matters in the Bible (such as whether we should preach the gospel to the world).

"People are not brought to a knowledge of God's truth by great books, booklets, articles, radio or TV programs, or by public Bible lectures. They are persuaded by our good examples that they see in the Church."

I don't want to be overly critical, nor do I want to come across as mean-spirited. Groups that concentrate on feeding the flock and getting the bride ready and are sincerely striving to set a good example for the world by living God's way of life can have some good qualities. Sometimes their sermons can have many good things in them that are beneficial and spiritually profitable. But there is an error here that must be addressed. It can affect many people, and it is a dangerous error. If not corrected, it can do damage both inside and outside the Church. There are a number of aspects of this error which I will discuss in this post.

But is it right for me to judge and correct? Am I violating the spirit of Romans 14:4? Should I restrain myself from discussing the Bible doctrine of preaching the gospel so that I do not judge others?

We should not judge each other as individuals in matters that are not our business. If I am going to hire someone, I might judge his character to make the decision. But if I do not have a good reason to judge the character of someone, I should not judge him or her.

But I am not trying to judge anyone individually here. I am discussing Bible doctrine, namely, the doctrine of preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel. Where each minister and member stands on this is a matter primarily between him and God, though there are times when some of us have decisions to make that require judgment, and there may be a time to talk about individuals. But that is not the case here. I am not pointing a finger, but I want to warn about an error in doctrine.

So what is the error?

The error is thinking that the Bible allows, in its teaching, for the preaching the gospel to the world by proclamation, through mass communication in other words, to be POSTPONED until the Church learns to preach the gospel by example. The error is thinking that we should concentrate on our personal example and living God's way of life for a period of time BEFORE we preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the world by radio, TV, magazines, booklets, Internet advertising, and public Bible lectures.

In fact, the Bible teaches that we should ALWAYS do BOTH at the same time.

But does not God teach that we should get the beam out of our own eye before trying to get the speck out of someone else's eye (Matthew 7:1-5)? Yes He does. We should give priority to getting the sin out of our own lives more than judging our brethren. But here is the question. Does that principle apply to preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God and the Ezekiel warning about the great tribulation to the public? When Christ taught the "beam in the eye" principle, did He intend that to apply to the question I am discussing here: should we postpone preaching the gospel through public proclamation until we do a better job of living God's way of life in our relationships with each other?

In this question as in all important doctrinal questions, we should let the Bible answer. We should let the Bible interpret the Bible. Does the Bible show, by instruction or by example, whether the beam-in-the-eye principle applies to preaching the gospel?

Yes, the Bible shows the answer to this question by examples, at least two, and there may be more. Moreover, the Bible shows by instruction that we must announce the good news of the Kingdom of God and give the warning message in any case, whether we have a beam in our eye or not.

First of all, the preaching of the gospel and the Ezekiel warning is commanded by God. He doesn't give us the option to decide if we should do it or not. We have to do it. To fail to do it is itself disobedience. In effect, it is God who is doing the correcting, and we are just the mailman delivering the message from God. Nor are we judging individuals, but we are sharing what we know with the public, and each individual who hears our message can judge himself, and that is between him and God.

Both the good news of the gospel and the warning about the tribulation to come include more than just correction, that is, telling someone he has a fault. The gospel means "good news", and it is the good news of God's coming kingdom and of salvation through Jesus Christ that enables us to enter that kingdom. Announcing good news of a coming happy event, that God will send Jesus Christ to establish peace, justice, and happiness over the earth, is more than just telling your brother, "let me get the speck out of your eye". Nor is sharing the information God has given us about the great tribulation and why it is coming and how to escape just telling your brother, "let me get the speck out of your eye".

Would you fail to wake up and warn your neighbor at night that his house is on fire because you think you may have a beam in your eye, that is, a major character flaw? I don't think so. If you love your neighbor, you would wake him up and tell him. You would share the information you have, that his house is on fire, information that for him can be a matter of life or death. Likewise, if you saw a road hazard at night you might put up a flare to warn other drivers to slow down. Again, that is sharing information. Not to do so would be wrong because you would not be loving your neighbor as yourself.

These principles are direct commands from God, and they are not overturned by the beam-in-the-eye principle: "And the second, like it, is this: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no other commandment greater than these" (Mark 12:31). "Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets" (Matthew 7:12). "Deliver those who are drawn toward death, and hold back those stumbling to the slaughter" (Proverbs 24:11).

When God gives a warning in the Bible, and commands us to deliver the warning to the nations, He is the one removing the speck or beam from our listeners' and readers' eyes, not us. And God has no beam in His eye that prevents Him from seeing clearly to correct others. We are just the mailman, the one who delivers the message. The message is from God.

"Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, 'You shall surely die,' and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul. Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless if you warn the righteous man that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; also you will have delivered your soul" (Ezekiel 3:17-21).

But there are examples in the Bible that leave no doubt that delivering a message from God as He commands or preaching the gospel to the public overrides the beam-in-the-eye principle. I do not mean that these examples contradict the beam-in-the-eye principle. I mean that these examples show that Christ never intended the beam-in-the-eye teaching to apply to situations where one is commanded by God to preach the gospel or deliver a warning. The context of the beam-in-the-eye lesson is different. The context is not preaching the gospel to the world as God commands us in the Bible, nor delivering a warning to Israel as God commands us, but using our own initiative to judge another individual's character and tell him his personal fault. That is what we are not to do until we get the beam out of our own eyes. But preaching a warning message or the gospel to the general public through mass communication, where each person who receives our message can examine himself between himself and God and judge himself if he is at fault is NOT the context of Christ's teaching not to try to remove the speck in our brother's eye till we first remove the beam from our own eye.

Jonah was a man with serious character flaws. He ran from God because he did not want to obey God (read Jonah chapters 1 through 4). You might think he was all right because he repented of that, but he still had serious character flaws because he disagreed with God's mercy towards Nineveh. Later, he became angry with God. This man certainly had a beam in his eye, maybe several beams in his eyes, yet in spite of his faults, God used him to deliver the warning message to Nineveh. And guess what? The message bore good fruit. Nineveh repented. Now, if God does not want someone with a beam in his eye to preach a warning message, why did He send Jonah to warn Nineveh? It was God who warned Nineveh, and Jonah was just the delivery boy. Jonah did not have to be perfect. Nor do we in the Church have to be perfect before we preach the message God has given us to preach to the world. It's God's message - we just deliver it as God commands us.

Here is another example, maybe more powerful and direct. If anyone had beams in his eye, it would be Judas. He was a thief who stole from the money box (John 12:4-6). He betrayed Christ (Mark 14:10-11, John 13:21-30). He would have been better off if he had never been born (Matthew 26:23-25). In the end, he committed suicide (Matthew 27:3-5).

Yet Jesus sent him out to preach the gospel. Along with the other apostles, he was sent out to preach the gospel, heal the sick, and cast out demons (Matthew 10:1-10). Now, if Jesus intended His beam-in-the-eye lesson to apply to preaching the gospel, how in the world could He have sent Judas?

And the other apostles had problems too. James and John wanted to call down fire to burn up a village (Luke 9:51-56). They argued about who would be the greatest (Luke 22:24-27). They abandoned Jesus when He was arrested, most of them (Matthew 26:47-56). Peter denied Christ (Matthew 26:69-75). They had plenty of faults, plenty of carnality. Yet Jesus sent them to preach the gospel, even before they received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost and were converted.

What was Paul's attitude towards those who preached the gospel yet had carnal, competitive attitudes, who did NOT set a right example in relationships? Believe it or not, he rejoiced that the gospel was preached even by carnal men! Read it for yourself. "Some indeed preach Christ even from envy and strife, and some also from goodwill: The former preach Christ from selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my chains; but the latter out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is preached; and in this I rejoice, yes, and will rejoice" (Philippians 1:15-18). Why did Paul rejoice? He was not concerned about the character of those who preached but the benefit towards those who heard the preaching and glory towards God that God's message be preached.

Even in the history of the Church of God in our time, we can probably think of examples of individuals God has used to preach the gospel, yet they had personal faults and did not set a good example. God used many men, taught and trained by Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, working under Mr. Armstrong's authority, to help preach the gospel, men like Dick Armstrong, Garner Ted Armstrong, Herman Hoeh, and many others too numerous to mention. Many of them have set very good examples and have been faithful, but all of them? Were there none that set bad examples? Yet, I think some Church of God members will tell you that God called them into the truth through the preaching of a man who did not set a perfect example even in the Church.

Yet, it is important that we get the beams out of our eyes, that we repent of sin and put sin out of our lives, that we learn to improve our relations with each other and to love each other as Christ loved us. And that certainly affects our preaching of the gospel. The more we practice living God's way of life, the more effective our preaching of the gospel to the world through mass communication will be because God will hear our prayers (1 John 3:22, 1 Peter 3:7) and will bless our efforts.

The problem is, we have no authority to set aside or postpone obedience to God's commandments to deliver His message to the nations and instead decide for ourselves that we will wait until we make more spiritual progress in our relationships within the Church. We must do both at the same time. We must obey God in everything, including preaching the gospel to the nations and giving the Ezekiel warning. We must preach the gospel by mass communication (which is the only way to reach the millions who need the message) at the same time as we improve our relations with each other. Then, as we improve our relations with each other, God will see our progress and will bless our efforts to preach the gospel with more and more power. But we must start to do both simultaneously because both are commanded by God.

To try to draw closer to God without preaching the gospel and warning to the nations through mass communication is futile. Why? Because we are choosing to disobey God. Is that a way to get close to Him? We are trying to achieve a closeness with God and a unity and peace among ourselves our own way, contrary to God's commands. That is what the world does. That is what traditional, mainstream churches do. They ignore God's commands about pagan holidays, using images in worship, the weekly Sabbath and annual holy days, etc., and they think they can draw close to God by doing what is right in their own eyes, but not by submitting to the Bible.

That is what we do if we try to improve our relationship with God while not preaching the gospel to the world through mass communication.

But what is wrong with preaching the gospel just by our personal example alone? Isn't that the most powerful way to preach the gospel?

No, it is not. Why? Because you can't reach enough people that way. How many people are watching your example or even the examples of everyone in the Church of God close enough to come to know God's truth? Hundreds of millions? No way. How about tens of millions? No. Even millions? No. Perhaps a few tens of thousands. Yet, hundreds of millions will go through the great tribulation, and they need a warning before the tribulation begins.

Look at the example of Jesus Christ. Did He preach the gospel only by His personal example? You can't get a more perfect example than His. How many people learned about the good news of the Kingdom of God just by His example? He lived without sin for about 30 years before beginning a public work, and there is not the slightest hint in the gospel accounts that anyone came to know the truth of God from him before He began to publicly preach to the crowds. In fact, the people who know Him best, who had the closest look at His personal example, rejected Him. "When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, 'Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things?' So they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, 'A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house.' Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief" (Matthew 13:54-58).

"So He came to Nazareth, where He had been brought up. And as His custom was, He went into the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and stood up to read....So all bore witness to Him, and marveled at the gracious words which proceeded out of His mouth. And they said, 'Is this not Joseph’s son?' He said to them, 'You will surely say this proverb to Me, "Physician, heal yourself! Whatever we have heard done in Capernaum, do also here in Your country." ' Then He said, 'Assuredly, I say to you, no prophet is accepted in his own country'....So all those in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, and rose up and thrust Him out of the city; and they led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city was built, that they might throw Him down over the cliff. Then passing through the midst of them, He went His way" (Luke 4:16, 22-24, 28-30).

"His brothers therefore said to Him, 'Depart from here and go into Judea, that Your disciples also may see the works that You are doing. For no one does anything in secret while he himself seeks to be known openly. If You do these things, show Yourself to the world.' For even His brothers did not believe in Him" (John 7:3-5).

So much for Jesus Christ preaching the gospel by personal example only. Those who saw His example most closely were NOT led to the truth of the gospel by only His example. And unlike our example in the best of times, Jesus's example was perfect at all times.

Suppose Mr. Armstrong preached the gospel only by his personal example. If he did that, he never would have gone on radio or published a magazine, and we would not have the truth today. Those who say that preaching the gospel by personal example is the most effective way of preaching the gospel seem to have forgotten their roots. Would Revelation 3:3 apply here?

How many would Paul have reached if he only preached the gospel by his personal example and did not go to different towns and cities and preach publicly to the crowds?

And consider how the Church of God grew during the 1930s, 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s. Did people come into the Church because of the personal examples of members in their local congregations? Not often. In the early years, there were few local congregations. Ministers would go on baptizing tours across the United States, baptizing those who were ready, even in the absence of local congregations for them to attend. Newly baptized members had to wait until there were enough members in an area to start a local congregation. They didn't see any examples, good or bad. So how did they believe? They heard Mr. Armstrong on radio and he said, "Don't believe me, believe your Bible", and they believed their Bibles.

Actually, any Church of God fellowship that does not preach the gospel by mass communication is setting a terrible example for their children, for other Church of God groups, for each other, and for visitors whether those visitors be members from other groups or prospective members. For what will a prospective member think, if he visits services because of the example of a member he knows, and finds out that we know the tribulation is coming but we are not getting a message out to the nations and we are not preaching the gospel to the world with mass communication? Will he not conclude we are self-centered and have no love for our neighbors? Will he not ask, "Why aren't you preaching the gospel? Why aren't you warning the world to repent? Why do you not have a TV program or a magazine for the public?" And what will the answer be? That we don't have enough money? Tell him that while you spending money for a nice restaurant meal with him after the Sabbath at a nice restaurant. We are one of the richest countries in the world. We certainly do not lack money for preaching the gospel by mass media.

And what will our own children think when they hear us say that we should obey the Bible, but they see we are not obeying the Bible in the matter of preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning? Will they not conclude that their mother, their father, and their minister are just hypocrites, picking and choosing to obey those things in the Bible that are convenient and ignoring the rest? Or just as bad, twisting scriptures to suit our own desires? Or might our children, as they grow up to an age of reason, conclude that the ministers in their "parent's church" are just feeding their own bellies, keeping the full tithe of the members for their salaries and not spending any of it on preaching the gospel via mass media so they can personally have more money?

Most of the world never sees our example, nor can they see it. Time and distance prevent this. Only mass communication can reach hundreds of millions. And it is hundreds of millions who need our message, not just a few thousand who are "lucky" enough to know a Church member.

The preaching of the gospel and the Ezekiel warning is not just for bringing people into the Church. It is for preparing them for what is coming in the near future. Thus, it is important for everyone, all the hundreds of millions who will suffer, not just the few that God is calling to salvation in this age right now. God wants all Israel (the United States, Britain, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc.) to hear a warning as a witness (Matthew 24:14, Ezekiel 2:5, Ezekiel 3:10). The people need to know that God has warned them before the tribulation begins so they know they have no excuse. They can't blame God and say, "No one warned me these things were wrong, so it's not my fault". They need to be warned as a witness so they can accept responsibility for ignoring the warning. We can't let them have the excuse, "I didn't know better - I never had a chance". Not hearing a warning would be bad for them and bad for God's plan to set up Israel as a model nation for the world to follow in the millennium. That is harder if the people have a bad attitude thinking God was unfair because He never got a warning to them. That can even hurt their chances for salvation. It can make it harder for them to trust God.

We are fools if we think God's plan only centers around us and the small circle of family members and friends who see our personal example.

Moreover, failure to preach the gospel to the world automatically divides and separates brethren because it separates those who want to obey God by preaching the gospel to all Israel and to the world from those who do not.

Should we judge each other based on what we read in the Bible? If it is a matter of making a decision we have a responsibility for making, we have to make certain judgments. We all have to judge which Church of God fellowship to support or attend, if we are able to support and attend anywhere. And our judgment better be based on what we see in the Bible.

Certainly we should not "make mountains into molehills" or "major in the minors". We should not have hostile arguments and judge each other personally over minor, questionable doctrines in the Bible. But there is nothing minor about the gospel issue. It is a major, foundational doctrine of the Bible. We are to preach the gospel to the world, and not just by personal example only. And there is nothing questionable about it. It is as clear a doctrine as just about any other major doctrine in the Bible. It is as clear, as definite, and perhaps as important as the Sabbath.

And if we do have disagreements over scripture, we should be able to discuss our disagreements and try to find the answer, as the Church did in Acts 15.

If you think I am wrong about preaching the gospel, feel free to email me or to enter comments in this or other posts in my blog. We can discuss this logically, letting the Bible interpret the Bible. That is what we are supposed to do.

But no one so far has shown me from the Bible that I am wrong about this. And I am obligated by my commitment before baptism to believe God's word, the Bible, more than any church, more than any minister, more than any man, more than any tradition, and more than my own opinion.

God leads His Church. God the Father leads Jesus Christ, and Jesus Christ is head of the whole Church of God, including every converted member having God's Holy Spirit regardless of which fellowship he or she attends. Jesus Christ can lead us through the Holy Spirit and through the ministry, but also He leads us by God's word, the Bible. And He does not force us to follow. He leads us, but we must choose to follow.

And any teaching of a minister, or any sense of being led by a spiritual influence in our minds, must be consistent with the Bible if it is of God. If it goes contrary to the Bible, it is error and not from God.

The Bible therefore must be the final authority for resolving disputes between COG groups in matters of doctrine that we are to believe.

Mr. Armstrong's zeal, and the zeal of thousands of his supporters in the Church in the early years, for preaching the gospel by radio, magazines, books and booklets, public Bible lectures, and TV has produced spectacular results. The disunity and division that exists in the Church today was not the result of our zeal for the gospel, but has other causes (our lukewarmness in the things of God, including being lukewarm about preaching the gospel, to name just one cause).

Just because a group says, "God is not leading us to preach the gospel by mass communication", does not make it true. God may very well be leading the whole Church to preach the gospel by mass communication, but most of the Church of God chooses to disobey God and not follow where He leads. To the degree that God leads through the Bible, He is certainly leading the Church to preach the gospel by mass communication, and groups that say, "God is not leading us to preach the gospel to the public", are really saying, "We will not follow God to preach the gospel to the public - we refuse to follow where God in the Bible leads us".

Certainly we should not feel justified with God if we are just preaching the gospel to the world but not living it. We must do both, and we must do both at the same time. We must live the gospel and preach the gospel to the world, to the nations, in the only way we can reach the masses: by mass communication.

What about judging others as being wrong because they do not agree with our understanding of the scripture?

We should not judge any doctrinal position as wrong just because it contradicts our personal opinions and traditions. If our beliefs and our knowledge of God's truth is only based on our opinions and traditions, then of course we should not judge others who disagree as being wrong. But if we let the Bible interpret the Bible and base our beliefs and knowledge on what the Bible actually says, then we better judge other doctrines as being wrong if they contradict the Bible. Otherwise, we can never say that a false doctrine is wrong, and thus we can never be sure that our doctrines and beliefs are right.

If we never judged those who disagree with what we have proved in the Bible as being wrong, we would have to say that those who keep Sunday and pagan holidays instead of the Sabbath and holy days might be right. We would have to say, those who advocate "marriage" between a man and a man or between a woman and a woman might be right. We would have to say, those who advocate for abortion might be right. We would have to say, those who believe and teach the trinity and the immortal soul might be right.

We have to go by the Bible, or we become hypocrites at many levels. And the Bible is clear: we are commanded to preach the true gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the world by the most effective means possible for reaching the masses, which in our society means mass communication, and to do it even while we are seeking a better relationship with God and with each other. We are NOT to wait for a period of time before doing so while we "get closer to God" (by disobeying Him?).

There is one more aspect of this, one more contradiction in ministers teaching their congregations that they must get the beams out of their eyes before preaching the gospel to the world.

There is a reason why we should get the beam out of our own eye before trying to remove the speck from our brother's eye. The reason is discernment. Until we remove the beam from our own eye, we do not have the spiritual discernment to see clearly to remove the speck from our brother's eye. We might go to a brother in the Church and try to tell him what we think is his "sin", but he may not be sinning at all. We may not have all the facts. Our interpretation of the situation may be clouded by our own pride and vanity until we get the beam out of our own eye.

But is that the situation with preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning? Do we lack the spiritual discernment to know that God is going to send Jesus Christ to this earth to establish the Kingdom of God to bring peace and happiness to all the earth? Do we lack the spiritual discernment, because we have a beam in our eye, to know that Christ will make the spiritual law of God summarized by the ten commandments the law over all mankind on the earth? Do we lack the spiritual discernment to know that the great tribulation is coming upon all Israel as punishment for our individual and national sins and that repentance is the only way of escape? So maybe if we get the beam out of our eye we will see clearly to know that Christ is not coming back to the earth, men do not have to obey the ten commandments, and there will be no great tribulation?

Whatever beams we have in our eyes, we do not lack the spiritual discernment to know that these coming events are real, that the truth of God is real, and that the doctrines we have proved in the Bible are true. And that is the message God commands us to preach to the world as powerfully as we are able, and that means making the financial sacrifices in our daily and personal lives to support a work of mass communication to deliver the truth God has given us for that purpose.

Then there is also the issue of the ministers having a beam in their eyes. For the preaching of the gospel to the world, just like feeding the flock, is the direct work of the ministry. The members support both the preaching of the gospel and the feeding of the flock with their tithes and prayers, but it is the ministry that directly does both. It is the ministry that must have clear spiritual discernment to be effective. Now, suppose the ministers have beams in their eyes that they think prevent them from preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the world. Does that not also disqualify them from feeding the flock?

So does a minister say, "I cannot preach the gospel to the world or give the Ezekiel warning to the world because I have a beam in my eye." But if that minister is so spiritually blinded that he cannot see the sins of the world to warn the world, how can he teach the Church? How can he see clearly to correct the membership regarding their sins if he cannot see clearly to correct the world regarding its sins?

For which are greater, the sins of the world or the sins in the Church? If you cannot see the sins in the world, which are great and obvious, how can you see the sins in the Church?

Yet, what minister has ever said, "We ministers cannot preach the gospel because of the beams in our eyes, and we cannot feed the flock with spiritual instruction on the Sabbath for the same reason. So we ministers will not provide Sabbath services until we get the beams out of our eyes, and since we will be neither preaching the gospel nor feeding the flock in the meantime, we do not need your tithes"?

Here are links to posts in this blog on subjects related to this post:

"Does It Matter Which Fellowship We Attend and Support?", dated March 31, 2013, link:

"To Be Effective in Giving a Warning, We Have to Overcome Even When It Is Hard", dated September 3, 2013, 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:

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

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

"Pentecost Is a Memorial of Preaching the Gospel", dated June 12, 2014, link:

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