Monday, April 12, 2021

An Experiment in the Church of God for Our Learning

God teaches us by His word, the Bible.  He also teaches us by experience.

God is in the process of teaching the whole human race a lesson that God's way is better than Satan's way.  The seven-thousand year plan of God is designed to teach us that lesson.  We are living in the 6,000 years of man's self-rule under Satan's influence apart from God and His way of life.  Mankind is experiencing the suffering that results from Satan's way.  This will be followed by the 1,000 years of Christ's rule when God's way of life is practiced, and that will be a period of joy and happiness.  The contrast will be evident, and it will teach the human race a lesson, both for those who live in the millennium and for those who come up in the general resurrection - the white throne judgment period.

God also teaches us lessons in the Church today by the things we experience and by the experiences of others in the Church of God that we can observe.

There may be an "experiment" going on in the Church for that very purpose right now.  It is not an experiment for God to learn what will happen.  He knows what will happen.  It is an experiment, or a series of experiments, like the experiments students do in a high school chemistry class lab session.  It is a demonstration experiment to show students what the instructor already knows will happen.  It is for our learning.

The experiment can be the efforts of a COG fellowship - any fellowship, any group, not just one particular one - to preach the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel apart from practicing Mr. Armstrong's way of life of believing the Bible more than tradition and being willing to learn new things from God's word.

So here is a scenario to consider.  This may apply to a particular group, or to several groups, but even if it doesn't apply to any group, it is worth thinking about.

A minister and a group of followers separate from a larger group that is preaching the gospel to the public.  They form a new group.  Nothing unusual here - it has happened many times in Church of God history.

The new group claims to be Philadelphian.  They say they want to preach the gospel.  They have not done it for a while since they started as a new fellowship several months ago or longer.  But they have been making plans and preparations.  Or, maybe they have actually started on a very tiny (one might say token) scale.  A number of their members are hot for the gospel, and the leader does not want to offend them, so he claims he is zealous for the gospel, and he will make some kind of effort, even if very small, just to appease those members.  Or, perhaps the leader really is zealous for the gospel and is sincerely working and preparing to preach it.

But the leader has taken a stand against the way of life practiced by Herbert W. Armstrong that made Mr. Armstrong a Philadelphian and allowed God to give him an open door for preaching the gospel.  Though this new COG leader holds fast to a list of doctrines (which Mr. Armstrong did not hold fast to during the time he was learning and researching those doctrines, a time when he had an open door for the gospel), he has departed from Mr. Armstrong's way of life.  He is not willing to believe the Bible more than any man, even any man in the Church of God, and any tradition, even the traditions of the Church of God, as Mr. Armstrong did.  Mr. Armstrong believed the Bible first, everyone and everything else second.  But this man puts Church tradition and the writings of Mr. Armstrong above what he can see for himself with his own understanding in the Bible.  He believes man more than God, in other words.  And he teaches that same practice to others.

Also, he is not willing to learn new things from God and from the Bible as Mr. Armstrong was.  He is not willing to learn what God is able to teach him.  He just wants to stick with what he already knows, like Church of God Seventh Day.  That is his comfort zone.  He is not willing to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ (2 Peter 3:18).  

He also practices hypocrisy if he tells the public to believe God rather than man and learn new things from the Bible, since he is not willing to practice what he preaches to the public.  And yet, that is the only thing he can say to the public if he wants to preach the gospel effectively.  The public can only believe our message if they believe the Bible more than their traditions and if they are willing to learn new things.  So we have to say, don't believe us, don't believe any man or tradition - believe God, believe what you can see and understand for yourself in your Bible.  Yet, if the leader says that, he makes himself a hypocrite because he won't do it himself and he won't teach it to the Church of God membership, his own supporters.

In many respects, such a leader and those in his group who support his stance are like the Pharisees.  Christ condemned them for their hypocrisy.  They put burdens on the people that they were not willing to lift themselves (Matthew 23:1-4).  They asked others to do what they were not willing to do.  They followed their traditions more than the word of God (Matthew 15:1-9).  They were not willing to learn new things.

But this leader and many of his followers do not believe what Christ said when he said, "Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old" (Matthew 13:52).

But still this leader wants, or claims to want, the open door promised to Philadelphians (Revelation 3:7-8).

Will Christ give that man a wide-open door for the gospel?

That is the experiment.

Will Christ overlook his hypocrisy?  Will Christ give him an open door to preach to the public that they should believe what they see in their own Bibles with their own eyes and understanding more than their churches, ministers, and traditions, even though the man and the group that preaches this is unwilling to practice it?  Will Christ give him an open door to tell the public to learn new things when this man is unwilling to learn new things?

Or can this man force the door open if Christ has closed it to him?  Hopefully, he must know he cannot force open a door Christ has closed (Revelation 3:7-8).

Or, perhaps, for the sake of a few faithful members of his group who are willing to believe the Bible more than man and learn new knowledge, Christ may give that man a door that is only slightly open.  So this man and the group that he pastors may do a very small work towards the public.  A token result for a token effort.  But enough for the man to claim to his group that he is preaching the gospel to the world.  Yet, though God may open the door a little for the sake of those few in the group who are willing to believe the Bible more than the Church and learn new things, God may desire that those few members learn a lesson and return to a group that is preaching the gospel effectively - or in some cases, start a new group.

It is not wrong, for the sake of God's work, to leave one group to start a new, more faithful group, if that is necessary to be totally faithful to God and if it is God's will.  Mr. Armstrong did it when he left the employment of Church of God Seventh Day.  Dr. Meredith and others did it when they left Worldwide.

But back to the hypothetical group I have been discussing that claims to want to preach to the public but won't learn new things as they must ask the public to do.  They may do a very small work.  Then will come various excuses for the smallness of the work. "Now is not God's time for a large work", they might say.  They may never publish financial statements to the whole Church of God membership, for if they do, it would become obvious that they are spending far less on the preaching of the gospel than on other things, and their hearts are not in it.

This is the experiment for any group that finds itself in this situation as I described.  The lessons are not for that group only, but for the whole Church of God that observes the history of such a group.  

Will God give any COG group a wide-open door for the gospel if that group is not willing to learn new knowledge from the Bible and believe the Bible more than the Church and also teach the same way of life, the way Mr. Armstrong practiced, to their members?

If there is such a group, let's see what the results will be.  

We may be able to see some results already.

Let's all watch and see what happens.

If it is in the heart of a leader of a COG fellowship to preach the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel, it should not take a long time to see the fruits.  If many months go by after he starts a fellowship and he has not yet shown a zeal for preaching the gospel, his heart is probably not in it.  If he gives greater priority to summer camps, youth camps, winter weekends, and buying permanent property for his group than he gives for warning our nations to repent as God commands, his heart probably is not in the work of God.

How does God give an open door for preaching the gospel?  One way is to arouse zeal in the heart of the leader to do such a work.  If Christ closes the door for that man, He will not arouse zeal in that man's heart.  And his zeal, or lack of it, will be known by his actions, by his fruits, not just his words.

By their fruits you will know them (Matthew 7:15-20). 

Look at the timing.  When the Church of God started on the day of Pentecost, they immediately, the same day, started preaching to the public and about 3,000 people were added to the Church (Acts 2:1-41).  When Mr. Armstrong left the employment of the Church of God Seventh Day to do an independent work, within a few months, maybe about six, he was on radio.  When Dr. Meredith left Worldwide and started Global, within about six weeks he was on radio.

So if many months go by after a fellowship starts and they are not preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the world, the hearts of the leader and most of his supporters are probably not in that part of God's work.  They are content to just feed the flock, fellowship with each other, and leave the world alone.

Let us see what happens.  God may be teaching us something.

Friday, April 2, 2021

The Sixth Commandment and the Days of Unleavened Bread

During the days of unleavened bread we avoid leavening to learn the lesson of putting sin out of our lives, and we eat unleavened bread to learn the lesson of putting the righteousness of Christ into our lives.  We focus on examining our lives to find and root out sin.  As part of that self-examination, both for Passover and during the days of unleavened bread, we may review the ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21), the sermon on the mount (Matthew chapters 5 through 7 and Luke 6:20-49), and other scriptures that teach us about obeying God's law in the letter and the spirit.

One of the ten commandments says, "You shall not murder" (Exodus 20:13).  Spiritual applications of this include the principles that we must not be angry with our brother without a cause (Matthew 5:21-22), we must love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 5:43-48, 22:39-40), and we must forgive others who sin against us (Matthew 6:14-15).  These princples are timeless and apply to all of us in the Church of God at all times and in all eras.

But there is a particular application of the sixth commandment that applies especially to the Church of God in our time when we are close to the end of the age.

In order not to be guilty of murder, we must warn our neighbors about the coming tribulation that will come upon them if they don't repent of their sins.

This warning to us to warn our neighbors is the message of the Ezekiel warning given in Ezekiel 3:16-21.  Ezekiel 3:20 says that the blood of the people will be on the heads of the "watchman" if we do not warn them.  "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" (Ezekiel 3:18).  Also, "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" (Ezekiel 3:20).

What does God mean when He says He will require the blood of the people "at the watchman's hand"?  It means there will be blood guilt on the watchman's head if he doesn't give the warning.  It means God will count the watchman as a murderer if the watchman doesn't warn.

Has God made the Church of God and its members a watchman for our Israelite nations and the world in our time to warn them about their sins and the coming great tribulation to punish them if they do not repent?  Yes.

How has God made us the watchman, and how can we know this?

God has given us knowledge of the need for a warning, plus the opportunity to warn, plus the knowledge that He wants us to warn.  He has done this by revealing to us the identity of the tribes of Israel in the modern nations of this world and by revealing to us the truth that the great tribulation will soon come in our time.  He has done this by commanding us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:39-40) and to do to others as we would want them to do to us (Matthew 7:12).  He has also specifically commanded us to hold back those stumbling to the slaughter.  "Deliver those who are drawn toward death, And hold back those stumbling to the slaughter" (Proverbs 24:11).  The only we can deliver and "hold back" this sinning world is to warn.  

Finally, He has given us the passages in Ezekiel that help to show us our responsibility and the seriousness of our calling to this job.

These things, in combination, make us the Ezekiel watchman.

How do we fulfill our responsibility so that God does not count us as being guilty of murder?

The most obvious way is to support with our tithes and offerings a Church of God fellowship that is getting the warning message out and the true gospel to the people of Israel and the world.

Making sure we are doing this is part of obedience to the sixth commandment and part of putting sin out of our lives.  And that should be part of our focus during the days of unleavened bread.