Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Is It Only Massive Falling Away That We Need to Be Concerned About?

I have long made the point that we need to believe the Bible more than the ministry in all points of doctrine.  And all long-time members of the Church of God remember the example in our own history of the leadership appointed by Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong to replace him after his death turning away from the truth on a massive scale.

Mr. Armstrong appointed Mr. Tkach as his successor, thinking that Mr. Tkach would be faithful to true doctrine in the Bible.  But after Mr. Armstrong died, Mr. Tkach began changing doctrine.  Not right away.  For about a year, as I remember, Mr. Tkach made no significant changes.  Then the changes started, small at first.  But from 1983 for about a decade that followed, the changes came more and more rapidly and were more and more severe.  After about ten years the changes were pretty much complete.  Those who wanted to stay faithful to the truth they learned from the Bible with the help and guidance of Mr. Armstrong were scattered.

There are leaders and ministers in the Church of God today who want their members to believe their interpretation of the Bible apart from what the members can see and understand from their own Bibles.  They see disagreement as a sign of unfaithfulness.  They teach that Christ is the head of the Church, and they teach or imply that this means that Christ will not allow His ministers to teach error.

And if some point out Mr. Tkach as an example of one that Christ allowed to make errors in the Church, these ministers will defend their position by saying that there is virtually no chance or indication that the current leadership and ministry will massively fall away from the truth as Mr. Tkach did.

But that misses the point.  I agree that the chances are very slim that the current leaders of the Church of God will make massive changes to doctrine, such as overturning the Sabbath and holy days, teaching that it is ok to eat unclean meat, etc.  But is it only massive falling away that we should be concerned about?  Should we be concerned over minor errors?

I do not say we should leave a fellowship over minor mistakes.  But we should not believe and follow minor mistakes.  That has to be a matter of principle.  Being faithful to believe what God says in the Bible must be a way of life.

If I see the leadership of a Church of God fellowship make a mistake in the doctrines he teaches, a mistake according to the Bible, my concern is not that this is a first step towards a massive falling away.  My concern is only that I want God to see that I believe Him more than the Church leadership and ministry.  God sees my heart.  I want Him to see that I am more loyal to Him than to man.  I do not want to believe the error no matter how small it is.  I want to believe God in the little things and the big things - all things.

If we are unfaithful in little things, we are likely to be unfaithful in big things, but if we are faithful in little things, we likely will be faithful in big things.  "He who is faithful in what is least is faithful also in much; and he who is unjust in what is least is unjust also in much" (Luke 16:10).  "Then came the first, saying, 'Master, your mina has earned ten minas.' And he said to him, 'Well done, good servant; because you were faithful in a very little, have authority over ten cities' " (Luke 19:16-17).  Sin, like leaven, can start small and grow big.

Besides, how can we be sure that a minister who compromises with the Bible in small things will not some day, if the opportunity comes, fall away in big things?  Mr. Tkach did not start with big changes - he started with small things.

We must develop right habits of thought, and those habits may start with small doctrines.  

We must believe what we believe because we see it for ourselves in the Bible.  When we see a difference in doctrine between what the Church and its leadership and ministry teach and what we see in the Bible, we must at that point make a choice: believe God or believe man.  If we make the wrong choice in a small doctrine, we are developing a bad habit and we are more likely to make a wrong choice in a big doctrine.  Besides that, God sees that we are not completely loyal to Him if we believe ministers more than we believe God.

If the doctrine is a small matter, would I leave a fellowship over it?  Of course not.  Would I discuss it with the brethren in the fellowship I attend?  Absolutely not, for I could not honestly discuss it without contradicting the ministry of the fellowship I attend.  Would I discuss it respectfully and privately with the ministry or the leadership?  Maybe.  I could if I wanted to, but I might not.  If it is a small matter, it probably would not be necessary.  I will wait, if necessary, for Christ to return and set all matters straight.  I am not perfect and I do not expect ministers to be perfect.  In the age to come, those who are in the first resurrection will be made perfect, but in this life we are not yet perfect.  

I will give an example.

A while back, the leadership of a fellowship taught that the marriage supper will take place at God's throne in heaven.  This seems to be a change, or a "clarification", over what I was taught in the past I think, that the marriage supper will not take place in heaven.

I am inclined to agree with the new teaching.  I think the marriage supper will probably take place in heaven.  Maybe I can't prove it definitely because I haven't studied it in detail and I am not sure there is enough Bible evidence to prove the case one way or another with one hundred percent certainty.

But suppose I did not agree.  Suppose I found something in the Bible that made me completely certain that the marriage supper will not be at God's throne in heaven.  I would believe what I see in the Bible more than the ministry.  I would not discuss it with the brethren.  But would I bring it to the ministry and discuss it with them?

Probably not.  Why?  It is a small matter.  It isn't important to me.  It doesn't affect how I live my life.  When Christ comes, He will take us to the marriage supper.  We only need to follow where He takes us (Revelation 14:4).  I probably would not take up my time or the time of the Church to make an issue of it.

In any case, it is not an issue with me because I think the Church is probably right about it.  But I use it as an example of a minor doctrine.

But my way of thinking is firm.  I believe God, His word the Bible, more than the Church and its ministry.  I believe God in the little things and the big things, both.  I don't know how to believe God in the big things but believe man in the little things.  It is one way or the other, a way of thinking, a way of life.

In that regard, I teach and practice the same way of life and thinking that Mr. Armstrong practiced.  But many leaders of fellowships and ministers do not.

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