Thursday, February 18, 2016

Did God Put You Where You Are in the Church, and Should You Stay There?

Speakers in the Church of God giving sermons, Bible studies, and sermonettes sometimes say, "God put you here". Members in conversation with other members sometimes say, "God put me here".

This is usually in reference to 1 Corinthians 12:18: "But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased."

Ministers who tell members, "God has put you here", often are trying to encourage members to stay in the fellowship they are in. The implied message can be, "God put you here, so you should stay here". Members who tell other members, "God has put me here", often are justifying why they stay in a fellowship and at the same time encouraging the members who are listening to also stay. The implied message is, "God has put me here so I should stay here, and God has put you here so you also should stay here".

But is that a right use of 1 Corinthians 12:18? Should we necessarily stay in the fellowship we are in because God placed us there?

Did God place us in Worldwide? Yes. Yet many of us have left Worldwide. Has God placed some members in United Church of God (UCG) after they left Worldwide but while Mr. David Hulme was in UCG? And if so, have some of them including Mr. Hulme left UCG to form Church of God an International Community (COGaic)? And did some of them leave COGaic to form Church of God the Father's Call (COGFC)?

If God places us where He wants in the body of Christ, does He also sometimes change where we are, move us to a different place in the body, as He pleases and as circumstances require for the working out of His plan?

And does this placing and moving happen apart from our participation and free moral agency? Does it happen without our involvement in the process?

God placed Herbert W. Armstrong in Church of God Seventh Day. Whether or not Mr. Armstrong acknowledged membership in that fellowship, he attended there on a regular basis for some years and received a salary from them during some of that time. Yet, when it was God's time, He moved Mr. Armstrong totally out of that fellowship and used Mr. Armstrong to raise up the Radio Church of God later named Worldwide Church of God.

But while God did the placing and moving, Mr. Armstrong had his part in the decision making process. He had free moral agency. He was called by God, and he responded with repentance, faith, and conversion, but God didn't force him to do anything. God led him to Church of God Seventh Day brethren, but Mr. Armstrong had his part in doing research and learning and accepting the truth.

Later, after a period of testing and training, it had come time for God to use Mr. Armstrong to do a work that was independent of the control of the Church of God Seventh Day leadership. God led Mr. Armstrong through circumstances and through the principles taught in the Bible, as well as by giving Mr. Armstrong, through the Holy Spirit, the wisdom and discernment to know God's will, to refuse further salary from COG7D and to start a separate work. But also here, Mr. Armstrong had his part in this. God did not force Mr. Armstrong to do this. Mr. Armstrong could have refused. But God led him to understand God's will and Mr. Armstrong chose to believe God's word, the Bible, and to submit to God's will.

That is often how God places us where He wants us. He opens our minds to understand His truth. He helps us understand the Bible and gives us the discernment to understand how to apply the principles in the Bible to the circumstances of our lives. He puts us in situations where we have to make choices. And God places us in the body according to our choices.

In other words, if we make a good choice, God may put us in one place in the body of Christ. And if we make a bad choice, God may put us in a different place in the body of Christ. And the choice we make may be the very means by which God puts us in a particular fellowship. He puts us where we can learn lessons.

But not every choice we make leads to where God would prefer us to go.

And as we learn lessons or as circumstances change, God can also move us from one place to another.

God placed many of us in Worldwide, but He did not want us to stay there when circumstances changed.

To say that we must stay in one place because God placed us there does not justify staying where we should not be once God helps us grow and learn the lesson that the place we are in is not faithful to God and the Bible or once spiritual conditions in that fellowship change for the worse.

It certainly does not mean we should stay with a fellowship that has proved itself to be unfaithful to God and the Bible by disobeying God's command to love our neighbors as ourselves and to preach the gospel and a warning to our neighbors who need it.

It may suit God's purpose for us to be in such a fellowship for a time, till we learn certain lessons and till we learn the nature of such a fellowship, but once we understand that it is God's will that the Church of God be zealously preaching the gospel now, and when we learn that the fellowship we are in is disobeying the God of the Bible in this matter (and saying we have to get closer to God before we preach the gospel is not an excuse, according to the Bible), then God has placed before us a choice and a test. It may feel comfortable to stay an unfaithful fellowship if it is a "feel-good" fellowship, if there is camaraderie among the members, and if it provides a false sense of spiritual progress, but God may require us to make a choice to leave that fellowship for the sake of our love towards God and our neighbors.

If that is the case, we have to make the choice. God will not make it for us. And God will place us where He wants us to be after we have made our choice. If we make the wrong choice, if we choose the comfortable atmosphere of staying put, He lets us stay in the unfaithful fellowship and we will reap what we sow sometime down the road. If we make the right choice, if we choose to separate from such a fellowship to be faithful to God, then God provides a place for us to go, a better place, leading us to that place as He sees fit.

In this scattered state of the whole Church of God, God is testing us by providing and allowing a variety of fellowships to choose from. Where we choose to attend and who we choose to support tells God where our hearts are. And one of the ways He places us where he wants us in response to the choices we make, to believe and obey God or not, is by providing and allowing every type of fellowship we can go to. God does not force members to be in a fellowship that preaches the gospel if their hearts are not in it. For such members, He allows fellowships that do not preach the gospel.

I know of no excuse for a man to stay with a fellowship that is deceiving its members about the priority of preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the nations and is doing nothing to support the gospel.

There are fellowships that call themselves "Church of God" that make it a policy not to preach the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel at this time. Typically, they excuse it by saying, "Now is not the time, but we will do it sometime in the indefinite future". Often they justify waiting by saying, "We have to get closer to God first", or some variation of that theme.

The Bible commands that we preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning. It is God's message, not ours, but He commands that we deliver it. We are not correcting the world - God is doing that - but He is using us as a tool to deliver His message, if we believe and obey God's command to deliver His message. We are like a postman delivering a letter. We are not the author of the letter, but the one who delivers it at the author's command.

And the Bible teaching is clear, through the examples of the apostles before they were converted and still carnal enough to want to call fire down from heaven to burn up a village, through the example of Judas whom Christ sent out to preach the gospel along with the other apostles but who was a thief and a betrayer of whom Christ said he would have been better off if he had never been born, and through the example of Jonah who was so carnal he was sorry Nineveh heeded his message and was spared destruction - through all these examples - that God intends us to deliver His message and not use the excuse, "We are not spiritual enough"!

But some groups, some pastors and leaders of groups, do not preach the gospel and the warning. Only God knows the hearts of the ministers who lead such groups, if they are sincere. Perhaps they are concerned that they will not have enough income if some of the tithe money is used to preach the gospel. Yet they could be sincere in their reasons, but mixed up, mistaken in their understanding of the Bible. They could be sincere and simply deceived by Satan.

But ministers of such groups (and there is more than one group like this) must justify their lack of preaching the gospel to the members, and they use a variety of arguments.

It doesn't matter as far as the brethren are concerned. Whether a minister is sincere is not something we have to judge - that is God's business not ours. But we should recognize false or mistaken arguments.

A common theme used to justify keeping all tithe and offering income for the ministers and not spending much or any of it to preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the world, as I mentioned, is the theme that the ministers and members need to concentrate on growing spiritually, getting closer to God, and improving their spiritual condition as a necessary prerequisite to preaching the gospel. Ministers will say, "The Church is spiritually sick and we need to be spiritually healed before God can use us to preach the gospel". Or they might say, "We need to be reconciled to the Father before we can preach the gospel". Or, "We need to get our own act together before we preach to others".

And of course, in this context, they will say, "And this will take time. We cannot rush the process. We must be patient with what God is doing with us."

Or how about this one. "We must not get ahead of what God is doing." Sound familiar?

And of course, "We preach the gospel by our example".

How much time till they are ready to preach the gospel? They dare not say. I know of one group that seems to have been trying to heal itself spiritually for about 25 years since they left Worldwide. I guess, as soon as they are healed spiritually, they will start to preach the gospel to the world. But I think that group has started to claim that they are preaching the gospel. However, their effort is so small it is virtually nil. They preach to their own members, not the world except in a token manner.

What the ministers claim is an indefinite period of time of spiritual healing and waiting for God to make His will known for preaching the gospel turns into "forever". The problem is, God makes His will known in the Bible, but the ministers and members of such groups do not believe God.

And the longer they follow that road, the more deceived they probably will become and the less likely it is that they will repent. Why? Because they are showing themselves to God to be unworthy of His truth. They are not willing to share the truth with others. They have the truth because others sacrificed to share it with them, but they in turn will not sacrifice to share it with others. Thus, they are not worthy of the truth and can lose it.

So if you have it in your heart that you want to see the gospel being preached to the world, and if you are in a group that is claiming to be getting closer to God before they preach the gospel, how long do you imagine this will take, and when will they preach the gospel? In a year? Two years? Five years? How about twenty-five years? How about forty or fifty years? How about never?

And if you stay in such a group because they tell you, "God put you here" (after you left group after group after the death of Mr. Armstrong to arrive "here"), what will you say to God when He counts you a murderer because the blood of the people you didn't warn for years is on your head (Ezekiel 3:17-18)?

The very idea that we should not obey God by preaching the gospel and the warning to the world as He commands until we get closer to Him, or more spiritual, is ridiculous on its face. I am amazed any Church of God member would fall for this line. Do we say, "I am not going to keep the Sabbath and holy days until I am closer to God"? Or, "I am not going to obey God's command to honor my father and mother until I become more spiritual"?

And if the ministers think they are not spiritual enough to preach the gospel to the world, what makes them think they are spiritual enough to preach to their congregations every Sabbath?

Does a minister ever say, "I am not going to preach sermons to the Church members until I am reconciled with the Father, until I am spiritually healed, until I am closer to God and more spiritual, until I am setting a better example in my personal life, even if this takes many years"?

What is the difference for a minister in not preaching the gospel to the world till he becomes more spiritual and not giving sermons to the members until he becomes more spiritual? Well, there is this difference: if he does not give sermons, he does not get paid. But he can still get paid without supporting the preaching of the gospel if he can persuade those who pay him (the members) that this is not the time to preach to the world.

Obviously I am not talking about preaching ministers in groups that preach the gospel. There is a division of labor in such groups, with some men and about half the money going to preaching to the world and other pastors and about half the money for giving sermons to members. I am talking here about leaders and pastors of small groups that do nothing or almost nothing to preach the gospel to the world.

We are to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves (Matthew 10:16). While judging motives is God's responsibility, we can at least be aware of the possibility of deception and protect ourselves. Paul had harsh words for those who allowed themselves to be spiritually victimized, who should have known better. "For you put up with fools gladly, since you yourselves are wise! For you put up with it if one brings you into bondage, if one devours you, if one takes from you, if one exalts himself, if one strikes you on the face" (2 Corinthians 11:19-20). "They zealously court you, but for no good; yes, they want to exclude you, that you may be zealous for them" (Galatians 4:17).

I recently heard a sermon about the message to the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-4. Here is what Christ says. "To the angel of the church of Ephesus write, 'These things says He who holds the seven stars in His right hand, who walks in the midst of the seven golden lampstands: "I know your works, your labor, your patience, and that you cannot bear those who are evil. And you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars; and you have persevered and have patience, and have labored for My name’s sake and have not become weary. Nevertheless I have this against you, that you have left your first love" ' " (Revelation 2:1-4).

The speaker contrasted Christ's praise for the work Ephesus was doing (labor, patience, etc.) with His rebuke of them for losing their first love.

The point the speaker seemed to try to make was that Ephesus lost their first love BECAUSE they labored and persevered and had not become weary. In other words, it was the doing good that Christ commended them for that was the cause of their losing their first love, according to this speaker. But this passage does not say that.

The speaker's real purpose seemed to be to say that if we become too focused on God's work, such as preaching the gospel, we can lose our first love because of that, and that keeping or regaining our first love is more important than doing the work.

But read the Bible passage carefully. Not only does Christ not say that their doing good works was the cause of their losing their first love, He does not even say that losing their first love is worse than if they had not labored. Christ does not say in this passage that whether one loses his first love is a more serious issue than whether he labors, does good works, has patience, does not become weary, and tests those who are false teachers and finds them liars.

The sermon was about priorities. The speaker seemed to be trying to convince his audience that having a first love with Christ should be higher priority than doing what God says, that is, preaching the gospel. That is not how he worded it, but he does seem to think a first love should have higher priority than doing any kind of work.

The speaker asked this question several times in a variety of ways: is it possible that the Ephesians were so busy doing a work that they lost their focus on Christ? Since the speaker asked the question, I will answer it for him (he may be reading this post).

No, it is not possible. They may indeed have lost their focus on Christ, but being busy doing God's work was not the cause. It could not possibly be the cause.

He said that he has witnessed people doing the work in the past and equating that work with righteousness and spiritual growth.

Yes, that is possible, and it is a danger. We should never equate doing the work with having a close relationship with God. One can do the work for wrong motives, such as pride, status, vanity, self-image and justification, personal ambition and self-seeking, etc. That is wrong, and we deceive ourselves if we think we will automatically be close to God just by doing the work even if our motives are wrong. Moreover, even while doing the work we can neglect our personal relationship with God and Christ, and a person who does this may deceive himself into thinking he is ok with God because he is doing the work even while he neglects prayer, Bible study, and loving God with all his being.

Doing the work does not justify or save us. We are justified by the sacrifice of Christ, and we are saved by God and Christ working in us and with us.

But God commands us to preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to a world that needs it, and if we are not doing that, we are sinning, are we not?

It is the very love towards God that we express by seeking Him that should be our motivation for doing the work, that plus love for our neighbors, which God commands.

In other words, we should focus on our personal relationship with the Father and Christ by seeking a deeper repentance, by exercising faith, by appreciating the sacrifice of Christ and all that God does for us, by prayer, by giving of thanks, by meditating on God and Christ and their goodness, by Bible study, etc., but also by doing what God says.

"If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15).

"He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him" (John 14:21).

Christ equates love towards Him with doing what He says. And that includes preaching the gospel just as it includes everything God commands, including keeping the Sabbath, avoiding idols, honoring our father and mother, not stealing, not murdering, etc.

It is the world's concept of love that love towards God is only an emotion. Many in the world "love" God, they think, but they do not do what He says. "But why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46).

"He who says, 'I know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him" (1 John 2:4).

Is it possible for a person to substitute strong engagement and focus on doing a work for a close relationship with God and Christ, thinking that their doing of the work makes them right with God when it does not? Yes. Can a person fall into this trap without realizing they are in the trap? Yes. Has it happened in the past? Probably it has.

But, it is not the intensity of the engagement, focus, and effort in doing the work that causes this problem, as the speaker implied or stated. It is simple neglect of drawing close to God that causes a neglect of our relationship with Christ and the Father and can cause us to lose our first love. Not the effort we put into doing the work.

But neglect of the work is a sure sign that one has not drawn close to God and in fact is not even in the process of drawing close to God. It is evidence that one is on the wrong track. For one who thinks he does not need to be supporting the preaching of the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the world at this time has not even taken the first basic step of drawing close to God, which is simply believing what God says and submitting to His will.

Everyone in the Church of God is being tested on this issue, and it is a major test. We are being judged by what we do.

The speaker in this sermon kept reiterating that he is not saying we should not be preaching the gospel or doing the work. Yet, ironically, by his actions, that is exactly what he is saying because he is not preaching the gospel and doing the work. His example says it.

I am amazed that members are taken in by these arguments against the gospel. But apparently some are.

The speaker said that a number of members of his fellowship have come to him and said that they have found a new enthusiasm for God and Christ over the last couple of years. Perhaps they have. But this new found enthusiasm, if not accompanied by obedience to God's commands to preach the gospel, must be false, a kind of euphoria that seems pleasant but is deceptive, like a false conversion. Many people in traditional religions of this world have that kind of feeling. They feel an enthusiasm for their faith and their concept of God, but they are deceived. They do not know the real God. They do not know God because they do not believe and obey Him, and the same can be true in the Church of God as it is in the world. And for someone in the Church of God who has been called by God and whose mind has been opened, it can be a deadly danger, for such a person has no excuse. Such a person deceives himself, and he is responsible for his own self-deception in a way that the uncalled of the world are not.

Our priority must be to seek closeness with God by believing and doing what He says in the Bible, and that includes preaching the gospel, NOT by seeking God some other way. If we try to seek closeness with Christ and God by disbelieving what the Bible says, we will fail.

The speaker actually suggested that Satan gets us distracted by focusing our minds on doing the work of preaching the gospel or on organizational issues.

I think the idea that Satan wants us to preach the gospel to the world as a witness and the Ezekiel warning to Israel, as God commands, is ridiculous. Rather, I think Satan goes all out to use anything to distract us from preaching the gospel. Preaching the gospel is the last thing he wants.

I am not sure why the speaker said that Satan distracts us with organizational issues when it seems that this speaker left a "former association", as they say, over organizational issues and has spent a lot of time focusing on organizational issues.

God is testing the whole Church of God in a major way over the gospel issue. He is testing our willingness to believe and obey what He says in the Bible. He wants to know if we are really different from traditional, mainstream Christians in the world. He wants to know if we view the Church as a social club and are just looking for a "feel-good" church or if we are serious about serving Him and believing and doing what He says.

We are being tested on our love for our neighbors. We are being tested to see if we will sacrifice to share the truth with others as others before us have sacrificed to share the truth with us. And if we do not, God can take the truth we have away from us. If we are unwilling to share it, we are unworthy of it and we can lose it. For what we sow, we shall reap (Galatians 6:7).

Isn't that basic? Isn't that God's justice?

If God or someone extends a benefit towards us, should we not extend the same benefit towards others?

Look at the parable of the unforgiving servant. "Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents....The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, 'Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.' Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!' So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.' And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt....Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?' And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses" (Matthew 18:23-35).

You might think this parable is only about forgiveness, but think again. Forgiveness is the main lesson here, but this parable also teaches a larger principle, the principle of reciprocity. It is the essence of justice, and justice is one of the three weightier matters of the law, the first that Christ mentions in Matthew 23:23 before even mercy and faith.

This parable is an illustration of the principle that what we sow, we shall reap. What did the unforgiving servant sow? Unforgiveness. What did he reap? Unforgiveness.

What do we sow when we hold back the gospel from the world? We withhold the truth that can save them. What will we reap? God can take from us the truth He gave us, the truth that saves us.

Look at the parable again, not from the point of view only of forgiveness, but of how God's justice works, and see the parallel with preaching the gospel and how one who refuses to preach the gospel to the world is like the unforgiving servant.

What did the king give to his servant in the beginning? Forgiveness. What has God given us? The truth.

Did the servant forgive his fellow servant as the king forgave him? No. Does one who refuses to preach the gospel give the truth to others as God gave it to him? No.

Did the king, when he saw this, take away his forgiveness? Yes. Will God who sees the man who refuses to share the truth with others take it away? I think yes, unless that man repents of not preaching the gospel.

What do forgiveness and the gift of the truth of God have in common? Both are blessings.

And the principle is the same: If we are given a blessing, we should give the same blessing to others. We should bless as we have been blessed. But if we are given a blessing but refuse to bless others, God can take away our blessing.

Just as the king in the parable took back his forgiveness when he saw the servant refuse to forgive, so God can take away from our minds the truth he has given us through the sacrifices of others to preach the gospel to us if we do not make those same sacrifices to preach the gospel to others.

And consider not just the sacrifice of others before us to bring the gospel to us, but God's sacrifice. Look at the price Jesus Christ had to pay to free us from Satan's deceptions. He paid His life. If Christ so sacrificed for us so we could know the truth, should we not sacrifice our time and money so others can also know the truth?

Love towards God and our neighbor is not just an emotion. Real love is active. It expresses itself by believing and obeying God and by doing the work to help others with the same truth with which God has helped us. And doing the work should be motivated by love, not vanity, ambition, or pride.

And if love is our motivation for doing the work, doing the work can never be a cause for losing our first love. If we lose our first love, it is not because we are doing the work. If we lose our first love, it is not because we are obeying God by doing what He says. It is because we are neglecting some other aspect of our walk with God.

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