CHAPTER 5 - SHOULD THE CHURCH FEED THE FLOCK ONLY?
The Church of God is in a far different situation today (this is being written in 2005) than it was in 1985 while Mr. Armstrong was alive. Once, we were united in one organization. A person who was called into the truth through the speaking and writing of Herbert W. Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God did not have to study and search and meditate on which organization to send tithes to or where to attend. There was one Church, one organization, one place to attend that was faithful to the truth, one set of doctrines and practices. The work of preaching the gospel to the world was strong and increasing. Although we never did reach a majority in Israel, we had a Plain Truth magazine circulation in the multiple millions and a television coverage that covered virtually all of the United States. Today, the Church of God is divided and scattered. Even if you combined the main organizations, you would only have a small fraction of the membership, income, and power we once had. Though the gospel is being preached to the world, it is going out with only a small fraction of the impact it had twenty years ago. The various Church of God organizations are not in complete agreement on doctrine, and the relationships between various organizations are usually more accurately described as competitive rather than cooperative. There is a lot of confusion and frustration, and the Church is farther away from reaching everyone in Israel with a powerful warning message than it was even 25 or 30 years ago.
More importantly, how should the events we have gone through in the last two decades affect the priority we assign to preaching the gospel?
Every Church of God organization is faced with a choice concerning the preaching of the gospel to the world. The choice is, what resources will be allocated to teaching and serving the membership (known as "feeding the flock") and what resources will be allocated to preaching the gospel and the warning message to Israel and the world? How will priorities be set in allocating time, effort, personnel, money, and all resources available?
I don't have exact figures available, but at various times when Mr. Armstrong was alive the preaching of the gospel to the public took up between 35% and 45% of the total budget approximately. This went mostly to television production, purchasing time on TV stations, and printing and mailing magazines and literature. Administrative costs took up a small portion (maybe 10-20%) and the rest of the money was spent on feeding the flock (minister salaries, hall rentals, etc.). I could summarize this very approximately by saying that Mr. Armstrong allocated the budget about half and half between preaching to the public and feeding the flock.
The percentages allocated today between the two responsibilities varies enormously among the various Church of God organizations, with a few of the larger fellowships and many smaller ones spending about 15 percent or less on preaching to the public.
And along with the differences in effort, there are contentions and debate among the leaders of different parts of the Church over the issue of preaching the gospel to the world, with some organizations boasting that they do a better job than others and exhorting their members to sacrifice more for that purpose, while at least one Church of God organization has said over the Internet that this is not the time to be spending heavy resources on preaching to the public at the expense of feeding the flock.
This debate takes place against a background in which there is a widespread view among many Churches of God and their members, including those on both sides of the gospel issue, that we are in the Laodicean era, a time in which the condition described in Christ's message to Laodicea in the third chapter of Revelation predominates in the Church. This is a time when the spiritual condition of most church members can be described as "lukewarm". Christ strongly rebukes those who are in this condition.
Are we in the Laodicean era?
Mr. Armstrong taught that the seven churches of Revelation represent seven eras of God's true church. I remember that he taught that the description of each church and the message Christ gives to each church shows the predominant spiritual condition of the whole Church of God during that era. So during the Laodicean era, the predominant spiritual condition of the Church of God is that it is lukewarm. And the Church of God is defined as a spiritual body, the collective body of all those who have the Spirit of God, not an organization.
Yet while the predominant spiritual condition of the Church, the condition of the majority of the members, is that described by Christ for that era, not every individual member is in that condition. So for example, even during the Philadelphia era, some individual members can be lukewarm. This is why Christ tells those with ears to hear to listen to all of the messages to the seven churches, not just the one that applies to the era we are in. We should examine ourselves in light of all seven messages.
This was Mr. Armstrong's teaching about church eras as I remember it.
What era are we in today? I think the scattered condition of the whole Church of God, all those who are converted, and our collective weakness in preaching the gospel to the world is evidence that the majority of members are lukewarm, and that the Philadelphia era has ended and the Laodicean era has begun.
The characteristics of the era are determined by the spiritual condition of the majority of the members of the whole Church of God, and not just by an organization.
Yet there can still be a remnant of members in the Philadelphian condition, not the majority, but small in number, even during the Laodicean era, and there is still time I think for those Laodiceans who are willing to repent to become zealous and be among those God counts as Philadelphian. And I believe God will use those Philadelphians to finish the work of preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to Israel before the tribulation begins.
But time is running short.
Mr. Armstrong taught, and many Church of God members agree, that the seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3 represent seven eras in the Church of God through the centuries from the first century till the return of Christ. I believe that these chapters in Revelation are indeed prophetic, and that these churches represent seven eras in the history of the true Church. I believe the Church was in the Philadelphia era during most of the years under Mr. Armstrong's leadership, but is in the Laodicean era now.
Some Churches of God claim they are remnants of the Philadelphia era while other Churches are Laodicean, but I think most members are in agreement that the majority of the Church of God as a whole, including most of its organizations and scattered members, collectively speaking, is in a divided and weakened state compared to the unity and power we had when we were united under Mr. Armstrong's leadership.
It is in this overall context that questions arise about the priority of preaching the gospel to the world at this time. Should the Church expend major effort and money in preaching to the public when the need for feeding the flock seems greater than ever before? Is this the time to preach to the public when the Church itself is in such disarray? Is preaching to the public likely to bear fruit in new members being brought into the Church when God sees that the majority of the membership is not setting a good example for new members to learn from? Can we properly nourish new members when we ourselves are so confused and divided? Would it not make more sense to first get our own house in order by putting the major effort into feeding the flock, and then afterwards, when the spiritual condition of the Church has improved, take our message to the public once again?
In other words, should the ministry of the Church of God focus exclusively or primarily on feeding the flock in order to improve the spiritual condition of the membership at this time, even if it means postponing or foregoing preaching the gospel to the public in a powerful way?
Along with the above considerations, many members and ministers in the Church of God feel, and hope, that the scattered and divided condition of the Church we see today is temporary, that when God's time comes He will bring us together again in unity and we can do a final work of preaching to the public at that time, but until that occurs we should do everything we can, not to preach a message to the public, but to feed the flock to build a spirit of unity and provide doctrinal consistency that will allow us to be brought together again.
To sum up, should we only feed the flock at this time and give that responsibility the highest priority, even at the expense of preaching to the public?
This is the issue I explore in this chapter.
A Brief History of the Scattering of the Church
God used Herbert W. Armstrong to begin a radio broadcast around January 1934. This was the beginning of what became the Worldwide Church of God. During the remainder of Mr. Armstrong's life, God revealed more and more new truth to Mr. Armstrong through the pages of the Bible, and Mr. Armstrong taught that truth to the public and the Church. Because he was willing to believe what God says in the Bible more than the traditions of established churches, his teachings became very different from the traditional beliefs of mainstream Christianity. The Church and the work of preaching the gospel to the world grew steadily and the truth reached millions. Mr. Armstrong died in January 1986. Shortly prior to his death, he named Joseph Tkach to succeed him as pastor general. Prior to naming Mr. Tkach, in a sermon message to the members of the Worldwide Church of God, Mr. Armstrong said that if he should die, God would provide a new pastor general and we should follow that pastor general if we want to make it into the Kingdom of God. Mr. Armstrong had always taught and practiced the principle of being willing to be corrected by the Bible and to learn new knowledge from the Bible even if that correction or new knowledge was contrary to Church tradition and doctrine up to that time. Many times I heard Mr. Armstrong on radio say, "Don't believe me, believe your Bible." Mr. Armstrong practiced what he preached -- he believed the Bible first even when it meant he had to admit he was wrong. But by doing so, he was able to learn much and God was able to teach Mr. Armstrong many things from the Bible, truths that Mr. Armstrong in turn taught to the Church.
After I came into the Church in 1982, which was after Mr. Armstrong had to re-establish control after certain individuals refused to follow Mr. Armstrong's leadership and tried to promote their own doctrinal ideas in the Church, I heard Mr. Armstrong emphasize that God puts all doctrine into the Church through the apostle. Even though we are to believe and obey the Bible, there should not be confusion and contention in the Church with every member and minister arguing in favor of their own personal interpretation of the Bible. God commands that we all speak the same thing and that there be no divisions among us (1 Corinthians 1:10). The only way that that can occur is if there is government in the Church, and Mr. Armstrong had to emphasize that as apostle he had the authority to determine, based on the Bible, what the official doctrines of the Church would be, and individuals whether in the ministry or not should not take it upon themselves to contradict those doctrines and try to teach their own personal opinions as doctrine in the Church.
At the time of Mr. Armstrong's death there was a strong culture in the Church that said in effect, we need to be "teachable", meaning (as I interpreted it) we need to respect the teachings of the Church and its leadership and we need to be willing to learn new doctrine from the Bible and from the Church. I always understood this to mean that when the Church taught something new from the Bible, we are to check the scriptures ourselves with an open mind and not be prejudiced against the idea just because it was new. I also understood that this does not override the primary principle of believing and obeying the Bible first. That is my interpretation of the principle, but others may have interpreted it differently. My point is, it was not considered extremely unusual for the leadership of the Church to introduce new ideas and teachings, or to correct past mistakes in doctrine or practice, provided the new teaching was according to the Bible. Mr. Armstrong had been doing this for decades. This is the culture that existed. I can contrast that with the culture in the Catholic Church in which I was raised. There is not such a culture of willingness to change in that church. But in Worldwide, there was. I do not know how it is in Protestant churches.
Mr. Tkach, along with several other influential men who were close to him, began to introduce doctrinal changes. I do not recall any significant changes in the first year, but it was about a year I think after Mr. Tkach became the pastor general that he made the change in the policy on makeup. After that, the changes continued. The changes were relatively small at first, but became bigger and occurred at a faster and faster rate over the next decade. Each change was accompanied by an explanation that quoted scriptures and said that the new teaching is what the Bible really says and that we were in error before. Bible scriptures were used heavily to try to support the changes.
There was a pattern to the changes. The changes were all in the direction of reversing the things Mr. Armstrong taught that differed from traditional Christianity, and going in the direction of the traditional Protestant mainstream churches.
By around 1989 and 1990 the first ministers and members began to leave and form new organizations that rejected the doctrinal changes being made by Mr. Tkach and instead retained the teachings of Mr. Armstrong. This process continued. One of the last organizations to form composed of ministers and members leaving Worldwide over the changes was United Church of God, which formed in 1995.
By my estimate, by around the fall of 1996 the doctrinal changes in Worldwide were complete, or nearly so. After that, some changes continued, but at a slower pace. There was a reason for this. There wasn't much else that was left to change! In about one decade, virtually everything Mr. Armstrong had taught had been reversed! Mr. Tkach and other leaders in Worldwide had changed virtually all of the teachings of the Worldwide Church of God completely to traditional mainstream Protestant Christianity.
I am relating this by stating it as a series of statements, but that doesn't begin to capture the enormity of what occurred and the impact it had on the members.
It was an amazing thing!
Mr. Armstrong was honest with the Bible. He didn't try to put his own ideas into the Bible or try to twist the scriptures to fit his ideas, then search for and find any scriptures that would support his own opinions. He was not perfect and he made mistakes, but overall his thinking was honest and accurate. Though Mr. Armstrong was by no means infallible, nor did he claim to be, his teachings overall were accurate and right. The explanations that Worldwide used to justify the changes were not correct. The organization went from truth to error. I was in Worldwide during almost all of this time, and I studied their explanations and their changes. They do not hold up. Before I came into the Church in 1982 I studied Mr. Armstrong's teachings and with an open mind I proved for myself from the Bible that they were true. When Worldwide began changing those doctrines after his death, I studied those changes and their explanations with an open mind, and proved from the Bible, for the second time, that Mr. Armstrong was right and that traditional mainstream Christianity is wrong.
The Church membership and ministry reacted in a variety of ways. Some accepted and embraced the changes, even staying with Worldwide to this day. Some accepted the changes, then left Worldwide to join mainstream Protestant churches. Some left and stayed home. Some left and formed new Churches of God very early in this process before the biggest changes came, and some waited and left towards the end of the changes. Some rejected the new doctrines without considering if they might be right, and some examined them with an open mind, and then rejected them after proving them false.
Some who rejected the changes did not immediately leave Worldwide when the changes were made. They stayed in Worldwide for a time, perhaps out of respect for government and perhaps hoping that at some point the changes would be reversed, but eventually left later. It may be that there are still a very few in Worldwide who do not agree with the changes, I do not know. I stayed in Worldwide through 1995, not because I agreed with the changes, but because I had thought that perhaps the situation in Worldwide might be corrected and reversed. I was in error about that, but it took time for me to sort things out in my mind.
Joseph Tkach died in the fall of 1995 and his son, Joseph Tkach Jr. became the leader. I noticed something in the letter Mr. Tkach sent out when he was ill naming his son as his successor that struck me as unusual at the time. If I remember the letter correctly, Mr. Tkach never said that God had appointed his son Joseph Tkach Jr. to the position, or that God led the decision, only that God would want him to make provision for someone to replace him when he died. That surprised me at the time.
When Mr. Armstrong named Mr. Tkach as his successor in a letter to the brethren and co-workers dated January 10, 1986, Mr. Armstrong specifically stated that God led the decision to name Joseph Tkach as the one to succeed Mr. Armstrong as Pastor General.
But I found no such wording or suggestion that this was God's decision, in the letter that named Joseph Tkach Jr. to succeed his father as leader of Worldwide. To my mind at the time this suggested to me that, if there was any chance at all that from God's point of view the legal authority in the government of God in the Church that passed from Mr. Armstrong to Mr. Tkach was still in force despite the doctrinal changes, that authority ended with the death of Mr. Tkach and was not passed on to his son.
Of all those who left Worldwide for whatever their reasons were, some left and joined with others who left before them and had already incorporated new Church of God organizations, and some left and helped raise up new organizations.
Families were divided. Friendships were broken up. Congregations were scattered.
Today, I would count about four or five main groups of those that came out of Worldwide after 1986 and wanted to keep Mr. Armstrong's teachings to one degree or another, and there are many smaller groups, maybe hundreds. The four or five main organizations agree with most of Mr. Armstrong's doctrines, but all of them do not agree on everything, and they do not agree on every doctrine with each other, and these disagreements are part of what keeps some of those churches divided and separate. The collective ministry of the Church is divided, and thus the members are also divided. All of these organizations are far smaller and less effective in preaching the gospel than Worldwide in the last days of Mr. Armstrong. We have never recovered the size and power we had then, or even come close.
Another result of all this is a certain level of confusion, disappointment, discouragement, and frustration among many members over the fact that the ministry is divided and the Church of God is divided into what seem to some to be competing camps.
That is what has happened, and that is the historical background of the state of the Church today.
But all this only raises more questions.
Why did this happen? How did this happen?
What should the Church of God do now?
Finding the Solution
I ask again, how and why did this happen? Could it have been avoided, and if so, how?
What should the Church of God do now? Can the damage be repaired, and if so, how?
Can the Church of God be reunited? Can we become spiritually strong again?
What is the cause of the Church's scattered and weakened condition, and what is the solution?
How do we look for a solution? The first step should be to understand the cause. But that itself is not simple. There can be many causes. There may be a whole chain of events with each event leading to the next, a whole chain of "causes". There might be an "immediate" direct cause that is recent, and yet another "root" cause farther back in time that set in motion a chain of events leading to the immediate recent cause. Yet, though analyzing the causes is not simple, it is necessary for finding a solution. If we fail to identify and address the root cause that caused everything else, we may end up just treating the symptom and not the real disease. We may come up with a "solution" but it won't really solve anything. We would be like a doctor, prescribing medication to kill pain without healing the illness that is causing the pain, and without removing the cause of the illness.
How do we identify the root cause?
I have heard of many causes and solutions for the existing problems. Many of these suggested causes and solutions have much truth in them. But it is necessary to fit them properly together and in order and not confuse cause with effect.
I think one of the best and most insightful teachings about the cause of the scattering has been taught by John Ritenbaugh of Church of the Great God. He has taught that God has scattered the Church of God because of our Laodiceanism. This would fit the pattern we see in the Bible, where Israel was punished by God and taken into captivity and scattered because of their sins and because they had drifted from God. This would also be consistent with Christ's message to the Laodiceans in Revelation 3:14-22 where He says "I will vomit you out of My mouth" (verse 16). Even while Mr. Armstrong was alive, there are indications he could see Laodiceanism developing. Many times he indicated that many in the Church just didn't "get it". I am convinced that Laodiceanism is one of the main causes of the scattering. I do not think it is the only cause, and I do not think that Laodiceanism is the only reason God allowed the Church to be scattered, but I believe it is one of the reasons. But even this raises questions in my mind, the primary one being, what caused us to become Laodicean in the first place?
Unless we can identify the ROOT cause, the FIRST link in a chain of events, we will not find the right solution to the problem. If it is God's judgment that allowed a chain of events that led us through apostasy and eventual scattering, and if that judgment was triggered by our growing Laodiceanism, then we must ask, what caused us to become Laodicean?
It was not false doctrine that triggered Laodiceanism. False doctrine played a role in the scattering. It is a link in the chain of events. But it is not the root cause. We must find the root cause, the first link in the chain, in order to learn how it could have been prevented and to know what needs to be done now.
When we find the cause the led us to become Laodicean, each of us as an individual can work to remove that cause from our own lives. Each of us must work on ourselves. When we find the cause of Laodiceanism, and remove it from our lives individually so that we are no longer counted by God as Laodicean, God can then remove His corrective judgment and give spiritual strength and power back to his people. If the whole Church does this, God can reunite and strengthen the whole Church, but if only some individuals do it, God can help, bless, and empower those individuals to serve God more effectively. In any case, none of us can work out someone else's problem, though there are things we can do to help, encourage, and instruct each other, but ultimately we can each of us only change ourselves. But that is what we must do, with God's help.
Following the Chain of Events Backward
It may be relatively easy to look at the more recent direct causes of the scattered, weakened condition of the Church. I hope this doesn't offend ministers too much, but the Church is scattered today because the ministry is divided. This isn't the root cause, but it is the immediate cause. When members and ministers began to leave Worldwide, the ministers were still leading the way. Ministers did not agree on how to handle the changes Mr. Tkach was introducing into the Church. They didn't react the same way. Even setting aside consideration of those ministers that went along with the changes, those that opposed the changes had different opinions about how they should react. They didn't leave at the same time. They didn't agree with each other on a number of doctrines, such as government in the Church, changing Mr. Armstrong's doctrines, and preaching the gospel to the world. Some ministers left early in the process, some late. Some joined themselves to leaders who had already left before them to raise up new churches, and some went on their own. Some quit, and some waited till they were fired.
I don't question anyone's sincerity. I would give any minister the benefit of the doubt and assume he carefully considered the matter, prayed about it, studied it, meditated on in, probably fasted about it, then went forward in faith, trusting God, and doing what, in the minister's best judgment, was God's will. I can't read anyone's mind, and realistically I know this may not be the case with every minister, but I would assume this was the situation with most of them.
Part of the problem was that, with Mr. Armstrong the strong leader gone, there was no one minister with the prestige, the standing, and the authority in the eyes of the other ministers to keep everyone united and on the same page.
And the cause of all this was false doctrine.
If Worldwide had correctly followed the Bible and had not introduced error, the ministers would have had no need to leave Worldwide and the Church would not be scattered today.
So this brings us to the next link. If false doctrine caused the scattering of the ministry and the members, what caused false doctrine to come into the Church?
When Mr. Armstrong named Mr. Tkach as his successor, I am sure he never dreamed that Mr. Tkach would end up reversing nearly all of his teachings that made Worldwide different from traditional Christianity. Mr. Armstrong trusted Christ to lead the decision. He named Mr. Tkach believing that Christ had appointed Mr. Tkach to succeed him as pastor general. Did He?
According to Ephesians 1:22, Christ is head over all things to the Church. There are many other scriptures that show that God has authority over all other authorities, principalities, and powers, not only in the Church but outside the Church. He determines who the kings, presidents, and prime ministers of nations will be (Romans 13:1, Daniel 4:17, Matthew 28:18), and even more so does He determine who holds positions of authority in the Church of God (1 Corinthians 12:18, 28). So yes, I believe God appointed Mr. Tkach to the position of pastor general of the Worldwide Church of God, not for the reasons Mr. Armstrong thought, but it was God's will nevertheless.
Did God know the direction Mr. Tkach would take the Church? I believe He knew exactly the direction Mr. Tkach would go. Did God scatter and divide the Church of God? Some might say that Satan scattered the Church. Did Satan scatter the Church? My response would be to ask, who afflicted Job, God or Satan? I think the best way to answer is, both did. It was Satan who was the most direct cause of Job's suffering in the sense that it was Satan who directly caused the wind to knock down a building killing Job's sons and it was Satan who directly caused boils to appear on Job's flesh. But God afflicted Job because it was God's decision and initiative to set in motion the chain of events in which Satan was allowed, and provoked, to afflict Job. Even the whole conversation between God and Satan was God's idea from the beginning, not Satan's. God afflicted Job because God is in control, but God used Satan as a tool to do it (Job 1:8-18, 2:3-7).
Likewise, I believe it was God who made the decision to put into power and influence in the Worldwide Church of God individuals that He knew would make doctrinal mistakes and introduce error into the Church. I believe these men did not have a solid understanding of the Bible, though they may have thought they did. I do not accuse these individuals of deliberately trying to do things that were wrong. I do not know their hearts, and they may have been sincerely trying to do what they thought was right. Nevertheless, their doctrines were in error, and that error led to the result we see today. Satan can play a part in deceiving human beings and leading them into error, but he can only do what God allows him to do. It was God who set in motion the events that led to doctrinal changes that would scatter the Church of God. Simply put, it was God's decision to allow the Church of God to be scattered.
I do not believe that there is necessarily only one reason God has done this. I know it has served as a test for many individuals. God can use this to force people to make decisions to see where their hearts are. I have often thought that our lives in the Church are like going to school. Mr. Armstrong was the lecture, the Bible was our textbook, and the Church was our homework. Mr. Tkach was the mid-term exam to see how well we learned the lessons Mr. Armstrong taught us from the Bible. The changes in doctrine and the subsequent scattering forced all of us to make choices that indicated how well we have learned and internalized the spiritual principles and way of life God wants us to learn.
God has allowed a situation to develop in which everyone can basically do what he wants. Does someone want to go to a church that is ruled by the ministers who vote to select the leadership? God lets them do it. Someone wants to go to a church that has one leader, but believes that the time for preaching the gospel is over? Such a church is available. Someone else wants to go to a local Protestant church because they have great music? God doesn't stop them. God is testing us with questions about the Church, about the gospel, about government, about our personal priorities, and we are marking our answers on the exam paper, not with a number 2 pencil, but with our feet and our checkbooks.
What is most important to us? Fellowship? Preaching the gospel? Music? Short driving distances? Friends and relatives? God wants to know. So He tests us with choices. And we have to make the choices. Even if we stay home, that is a choice.
It has become evident that some ministers and members in Worldwide while Mr. Armstrong was alive were following the pattern that Mr. Armstrong enforced, but they didn't completely agree with it. Some were "going along" but not agreeing. They had never proved the truths Mr. Armstrong taught from the Bible and deep down they didn't have real faith in what God said in the Bible. They were just going with the flow. Others may have agreed with Mr. Armstrong because they heard what he taught and wanted to believe it, but many of these also never really proved from the Bible that the doctrines Mr. Armstrong taught were true. They accepted what he said without real proof. They assumed it was true because they wanted to believe it.
I think that God did not want that to continue. He wants a Church organization, even if it is small, that will follow God's basic pattern and way of life with everyone agreeing with it in their hearts, not just "going along" because it is enforced. I also think God wants members to prove the truth from the Bible, not just accept the teachings of a leader without proving those teachings. So by letting the Church be scattered, God has created the opportunity for everyone to go someplace where they can agree with the pattern. God has given those that never agreed with the pattern a way out. It's not God's way to force people. But we are still being judged and are accountable for our decisions. God sees where we stand by where we go. I think that those who choose the pattern and way of life that has born good fruit under Mr. Armstrong are making the right choice and passing a test. By "pattern" I am not referring to every detail of doctrine, but I am referring to such major principles as striving to believe and obey everything God says in the Bible, proving all things from the Bible, respecting God's government from the top down, zeal for preaching the gospel to the world, etc.
Another possible reason why God allowed the scattering is that a certain percentage of the apparent "membership" of the Church may have been made up of unconverted people, or "tares" as described in the Bible, and when this percentage began to grow large, God allowed the Church to be scattered, thus separating many of the unconverted tares from the converted members. This may be another reason God allowed this, to reduce the number of tares among those that are converted. Also, God may have allowed this to create a change in circumstances that may have been needed for certain individuals to change their environment and to put them in a new environment where they can be better fed and nurtured. For example, the scattering may have served to free some members from abusive ministers. By "abusive", I am referring to cases where a few ministers may have exceeded their authority by trying to micro-manage people's personal lives or by making unreasonable demands on members' time and service. God may have arranged for various members to come into better circumstances where they can best learn the lessons they need to learn and develop in a balanced way as Christians.
I think God may be separating those who believe the Bible from those who do not. I don't think this process is complete yet.
I also think that the trial of these events has forced many to draw closer to God and to examine themselves and their beliefs more seriously and intensely, and that can be a benefit. For example, I talked to one young person who went through these things who had grown up in the Church and took its teachings for granted. The doctrinal changes forced him to examine his beliefs more closely and seriously, and he ended up proving the truths he had previously assumed. I have no doubt he came through this experience spiritually stronger.
I think there may be many other reasons why God allowed this.
But I do agree with John Ritenbaugh that one of the MAJOR reasons God allowed the Church to be scattered was to correct and rebuke us for our collective Laodiceanism. Not necessarily everyone had become Laodicean, but many had.
And if this is true, our response should be to accept God's judgment, to examine ourselves and repent, and no longer be Laodicean. If we are being punished for our Laodiceanism, God wants the punishment to have effect. We have to change.
But how? I don't think just saying, "I am lukewarm, so I will be lukewarm no longer", is sufficient. Nor do I think that an intensified focus on the doctrines of the Church is necessarily going to solve the problem. How and why did we become Laodicean? We have to look at that. If the cause was that we were not focused on true doctrine, maybe a focus on true doctrine is the solution, but if a lack of focus on true doctrine was not the cause, a focus on true doctrine now will not be the solution either.
We have to go back to the first principle of solving a problem. We have to find the cause of the problem before prescribing a solution. What has been the cause of Laodiceanism?
Finding the Root Cause of Laodiceanism -- False Doctrine?
Was false doctrine the cause of Laodiceanism?
First of all, when did Laodiceanism become the predominant condition in the Church? We know that the false doctrine that triggered the scattering of the Church came into the Church after Mr. Armstrong died. Was this the cause of Laodiceanism, or the effect? If we say that it was God's judgment to scatter the Church because we had become Laodicean, and that scattering took place due to doctrinal changes introduced by the man Christ chose or allowed to succeed Mr. Armstrong as pastor general, then God's judgment must have occurred at or prior to the death of Mr. Armstrong, not afterwards. So we must have become Laodicean, lukewarm, self-satisfied, thinking we were in need of nothing, while Mr. Armstrong was alive, not after he died. This can be supported by statements Mr. Armstrong made about the condition of the Church while he was alive. He could see that too many of us just didn't "get it". He could see Laodiceanism developing long before 1986.
Did false doctrine cause Laodiceanism? No. False doctrine is one of the effects, not the root cause. Whatever caused Laodiceanism began while Mr. Armstrong was alive, and when he was alive he maintained control over doctrine, and except for a few cases where certain individuals were allowed to bring some false doctrine in for a short period of time, Mr. Armstrong maintained control over the body of doctrine taught by the Church from 1934 to his death in 1986. The overall body of doctrine in the Church of God during Mr. Armstrong's ministry was sound.
If this is true, that false doctrine is not the root cause of Laodiceanism, then focusing on the true doctrines now, of and by itself, will not solve the problem. Consider how strongly and thoroughly the true body of doctrine was taught to the Church while Mr. Armstrong was alive. I cannot speak from experience about what it was like for a member inside the Church before 1982. I read the Plain Truth magazine and requested and read all the major literature starting in 1968. After being baptized early 1982 I listened to many of Mr. Armstrong's tapes in the tape library dated from about 1979 forward, and I talked with members who were in the Church a long time. But I know from experience that from 1982 to 1986, the whole body of doctrine given to us through Mr. Armstrong was taught VERY thoroughly and strongly. We had the Plain Truth Magazine, the Good News magazine, the Bible Correspondence Course, all the books, all the booklets and reprint articles (literally hundreds if you could find a complete list). I could listen to hundreds of tapes from the tape library. We had twice-a-month Bible studies. We had the sermons and sermonettes given every Sabbath, on the holy days, and every day during the Feast of Tabernacles. We also had the Worldwide News and Mr. Armstrong's letters. The sheer volume of teaching material was so great that it was almost impossible for a person with a full-time job to keep up with it. And all of it (or about 99%) was consistent with Mr. Armstrong's teachings. It was nearly all sound doctrine, well written, well spoken. In addition, each church pastor was able to devote full-time to feeding the flock unencumbered by any responsibility for preaching to the public. Over all, we were well fed, in my opinion, as far as doctrine is concerned.
I might add that in spite of the pastor's heavy workload (two congregations with a combined attendance between 500 and 700 people was ministered to by a pastor and associate pastor, both employed full-time, and several local elders), the pastor was always available to me for questions and counseling. I never felt he was too busy to serve my needs.
Yet with all that sound instruction, it did not prevent or cure Laodiceanism.
That is a reason why I feel that a heavy dose of instruction in the body of true doctrinal knowledge is not the answer to the Church's problems today.
It was Laodiceanism that led to false doctrine, not the other way around. Laodiceanism came first, then God's judgment, then false doctrine, then the scattering. Just focusing all resources on true doctrine is not the solution to the Church's problem.
Was Preaching the Gospel to the Public a Cause of Laodiceanism?
I have heard it implied that an over-emphasis on preaching the gospel to the public may have been a contributing cause of Laodiceanism. If this were true, then NOT preaching the gospel to the public might be a solution. But I have trouble understanding this line of reasoning.
First of all, preaching the gospel to the public is a responsibility God has given the Church. It is a commission for the Church of God (Matthew 28:18-20). For proof of this, see the section on the commission of the Church towards the end of this chapter.
Why would God command the Church to preach the gospel to the world if preaching the gospel to the world would lead to Laodiceanism? Why would obeying God's commission to preach the gospel to the world lead to Laodiceanism? I don't think it would.
It seems illogical to me that OBEYING a command of God would lead to Laodiceanism. In looking for a cause of Laodiceanism, I think it would make more sense to look for something we did that God told us not to do, or something we failed to do that God told us we should do. We should look for some kind of disobedience to God's instructions as a cause of Laodiceanism, not obedience. Why would God command us to do something that would lead us into Laodiceanism?
Secondly, though Mr. Armstrong placed heavy emphasis on preaching the gospel to the world, the Church was well-nourished during this time. There was an abundance of instruction for church members in doctrine and Christian living, and there were hundreds of full-time pastors and assistant pastors who were 100% dedicated to feeding their flocks and did not have to expend any time or effort preaching to the public. The Church did not suffer from lack of instruction and care because of Mr. Armstrong's efforts to preach to the public. At least this seemed to be true in the last years of Mr. Armstrong's life.
Thirdly, what were the fruits of Mr. Armstrong's policy of placing a high priority on preaching the gospel to the world? The fruits are, we wouldn't be here otherwise. I never would have heard the truth and come into the Church if it wasn't for Mr. Armstrong's zeal to preach to the public.
There is another factor that I never considered until recently. When was the Worldwide Church of God strongly Philadelphian? Was it not in the late 1930's, the 1940's, the 1950's, and the early 1960's? Was the Church Laodicean before 1965? Yet if you look at the issue of preaching to the public versus feeding the flock, weren't these the years when there was the LEAST feeding of the flock as compared to preaching to the public? I wasn't in the Church at that time, so I can only speak from what I have read and heard, not from experience, but wasn't this a time when radio listeners who were ready for baptism had to wait a long time for someone to come around and baptize them? And after baptism, didn't they have to wait even longer for a pastor to be trained and hired so they could attend church services? So at the very time when God was blessing the Church with growth and doors wide open, a time when it seemed the Church was Philadelphian if it ever was, that was the very time when there was a shortage of trained ministers and of congregations members could attend. Also, there was not as much literature available then because much of it was still being written.
It doesn't make sense, either from history, or logic, or from Scripture, that zeal to obey God by preaching to the public would be a cause of Laodiceanism, or that putting ALL resources into feeding the flock and virtually nothing into preaching to the public today is therefore a solution to the Church's Laodicean condition.
There has to be a balance. Preaching to the world does not diminish the effectiveness of feeding the flock. We have to do both. Jesus Christ did both. He preached the gospel of the Kingdom of God to the crowds and he personally taught and fed his disciples. Paul did both. Mr. Armstrong did both.
Preaching to the world is commanded by God: "And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.' Amen." (Matthew 28:18-20). See also Luke 24:46-47. You cannot make disciples of all nations without preaching to them.
In searching for a cause or causes of Laodiceanism, rather than looking for a case of obedience to God's commands (preaching to the public), we should look for a case of disobedience as a cause of the problem.
What About Tares?
Jesus gave the parable of the wheat and the tares (Matthew 13:24-30). Jesus explained that the tares are sown by the devil (Matthew 13:36-43). Although Scripture does not directly tie this in with those that attend with us in church services, this parable together with other examples in the New Testament Church and our own experiences in the recent history of the Church indicate that not everyone who is baptized and attends with us is converted. There is an implication that can be drawn, though it is not stated, that Satan may cause some unconverted people to come into the Church of God and be among us, and that God will allow this to some extent. This certainly seems to be what happened in recent decades.
How does it serve Satan's purpose to bring unconverted people into the Church? One reason is that some who do not have a solid understanding of scripture may rise to positions of authority that can be used to try to lead true converted members into error. I think what happened in the Church from 1986 through 1996 may be an example of this. But also, some tares can serve as bad examples to influence converted members in a wrong direction. Some tares can weaken the true Church by their example and influence. Or can they?
What is the answer to the problem of tares? Should the ministry try to do a better job of screening them out? Should members do a better job of learning who they are and avoiding them? I think if we use what Jesus said in the parable of the tares as a guide, this is NOT the answer. In the parable, the servants asked the owner of the field if they should pull out the tares (in other words, identify them and put them out or screen them out or avoid them in the Church), and the owner said, no, because they might uproot the wheat with them (Matthew 13:28-29). Although with actual plants the roots may be intertwined, another reason is that mistakes could be made, since the tares can look very similar to the wheat. In the Church this may mean that we cannot judge people's hearts as God can, and we cannot always know who is a tare and who is not, who is converted and who is not. If we try to avoid or screen out all the tares, we may mistakenly hurt those who are converted members with problems, but who are growing. But somehow there must be a defense against the bad example of some tares.
Can the bad example of tares cause Laodiceanism?
A characteristic of Laodiceanism is that the person in this condition is self-satisfied. They think they are in good shape spiritually: "Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'--and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked" (Revelation 3:17). Could this result from looking at the bad examples of some tares in the Church? Could we be setting ourselves up to have an overly-positive evaluation of ourselves by comparing ourselves with other "members" of the Church, who unknown to us may not really be converted anyway?
Comparing Ourselves Among Ourselves
Jesus commanded "Judge not..." (Matthew 7:1-5, Luke 6:37). The apostle Paul wrote, "...But they, measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise" (2 Corinthians 10:12). Jesus Christ set the perfect example for us, and we should compare ourselves with Him, not measure ourselves by comparing ourselves with other members in the Church. But that is what many of us have done.
I know this from my personal life. I know that I have spiritually weakened myself and allowed myself to get into an overly self-satisfied attitude about myself because I compared myself with other church members. Later, many of these members that I was judging in my mind, evaluating, consciously or unconsciously comparing myself with, and measuring myself against, went along with the apostasy. They may never have been converted, yet I weakened myself by comparing myself with them and thinking I was all right with God when actually I wasn't. How stupid of me! I was evaluating myself by comparing myself with other members of the Church instead of comparing myself with Jesus Christ. No wonder my evaluation of myself was faulty.
I wonder how many have fallen into the same trap.
The defense against being influenced by the bad example of tares is to obey Christ's command to not be judging and evaluating our neighbors. We won't be influenced as much by the bad examples of others if we aren't thinking about those examples. To put it another way, to the extent we are influenced by the examples of others that we dwell on, meditate on, turn over in our minds, we should be thinking about, meditating on, turning over in our minds the example of Jesus Christ. Then we will be influenced to follow that perfect example, not the bad examples (or what we may perceive in our self-righteousness and pride to be bad examples, we may not have all the facts and may jump to wrong conclusions) of other members, who are human and imperfect like us.
It is not just the tares we should not compare ourselves with. Even converted members, because we are still human, are not perfect and have faults. Even comparing ourselves with other converted members can get us into trouble and give us a higher opinion of ourselves than we should have. Our human nature tends to notice the faults in others that are different from our own faults because we don't understand them. Our own faults we understand, and we tend to be sympathetic to those who are like us, but notice the faults of those who are different from us.
Also, if we compare ourselves with Christ rather than with other brethren, it is unlikely that we will come out of it thinking we are spiritually rich and increased with goods and in need of nothing. Rather, when we compare ourselves with Christ, we are likely to see more accurately how very far we fall short of God's nature and how far we still need to go to live up to God's standard.
Note that in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican, it is the Pharisee that compares himself with others, but the publican does not, and it is the one who does not compare himself with others who is justified with God (Luke 18:9-14).
No one is likely to see themselves as spiritually rich, increased with goods, and in need of nothing if they honestly compare themselves with Jesus Christ.
If God allows Satan to bring tares into the Church, and Satan does this to try to weaken us by the bad example of some of them, obedience to God's command to avoid judging others and comparing ourselves with others will give us a measure of defense that can protect us from the Laodicean attitude of self-satisfaction.
When and How to Judge
Because of conversations I have had with brethren about judging, I have thought about it quite a bit. I don't claim to know everything about it, and there is much I need to learn. Nevertheless I want to share some of the things I have thought about it.
Judging is not always wrong. Christ says, "Judge not" (Matthew 7:1-2) in the sermon on the mount because there is in human nature a tendency to want to be judging others all the time, evaluating them in terms that gratify our carnal desire to think well of ourselves. He is correcting a common problem. But in another place He says, "Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment" (John 7:24). We know that judging is not always wrong, that is, it is not inherently wrong, because God himself judges, and we will be judging the world in the Kingdom of God with Christ. God appointed men to be judges in ancient Israel, and even in the Church there is a time to judge. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 5:3, "For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed", so it was lawful for Paul to judge this case. And in 1 Corinthians 6:5 he rebukes the Corinthians for NOT judging: "I say this to your shame. Is it so, that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?"
We need to know when it is right to judge and when we should refrain from judging, even before we get to the case of how to judge. The question then is, when are we authorized to judge a matter or another person?
I will state what I think is a good rule of thumb, then give an example from the life of Christ of how Jesus himself acted, then give examples of how it might apply in the Church today. As I said before, I am still learning about this subject, and I do not claim that I am an expert on it. But I submit this for consideration.
We should judge those matters or people we need to judge in order to make a decision God has given us the responsibility for making, or to carry out any responsibility we have from God. In other words, to the extent it is our business and our responsibility in God's sight, we judge as we need to in order to make a decision, but if it is not our business, we should not judge.
The example from the life of Jesus Christ I have in mind which illustrates this is from Luke 12:13-21: "Then one from the crowd said to Him, 'Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.' But He said to him, 'Man, who made Me a judge or an arbitrator over you?' And He said to them, 'Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses.' Then He spoke a parable to them, saying: 'The ground of a certain rich man yielded plentifully. And he thought within himself, saying, "What shall I do, since I have no room to store my crops?" So he said, "I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build greater, and there I will store all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, 'Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years; take your ease; eat, drink, and be merry.' " But God said to him, "Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; then whose will those things be which you have provided?" So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.' "
Jesus was asked to judge an inheritance question between brothers. Did Jesus need to judge this question in order to make a decision God had given Him the responsibility to make at that time? No. It wasn't a matter of ability or qualification. Jesus had a more perfect understanding of the application of God's statutes and judgments concerning inheritance than the scribes and priests, just as He had a better understanding of all of God's laws. He could have given a right decision in this case. But that wasn't His job at that time. The priests and the judges who sat in Moses' seat had that job and therefore the authority to decide that kind of issue, and Jesus did not usurp their job in that matter (Matthew 23:1-3). The Father sent Jesus not to judge Israel and to rule at that time, but to teach.
Did Jesus judge in this case? Yes, He did, but He judged according to His responsibility that God had given Him for that time. His job was to teach, and as a teacher he had to make the decisions every teacher has to make, which is: what I am going to teach now, what lessons are most needed, and how will I teach those lessons? To carry out the work of a teacher that God had assigned to Him, Jesus had to make the decision, what lesson should I teach right now? Along that line and in order to make that decision, He judged the man that asked Him to tell his brother to divide the inheritance. And in judging, Jesus judged that the man was too focused on material possessions and needed a lesson about covetousness. Then Jesus made the decision to teach that lesson and gave the parable.
Jesus judged the man because He needed to judge him to make a decision about what lesson to teach. He had to make that decision because teaching was a responsibility God had given Him. But he did not judge whether the man was right or wrong on the inheritance question because that wasn't Jesus' job or responsibility at that time.
The same kind of thing can apply in the Church. As a lay member, I do not feel I have a right to be judging or "evaluating" all the other members and everything they do. I do not want to get in the habit of evaluating and dwelling on what others do or say. I have a full-time job working on myself. But for a pastor, it is different. His job is to teach the congregation. Every week he has to make a decision about what to speak on. He has to make those decisions because God has given him the responsibility to teach. And in order to make those decisions, he needs to judge the spiritual condition of his congregation and its members. When he counsels someone for baptism, he has to judge if the person has repented. When he assigns responsibilities, he has to judge who is qualified for those responsibilities. But he does not have the same right to judge other ministers in other areas, or other members in other areas because that is not his responsibility, and usually there are no decisions involved that he has to make that require him to judge outside his area.
As a lay member, do I have a right to judge particular individuals and their character and try to evaluate if they are truly converted or not? I don't think I do. Suppose I know a woman in the Church who has been baptized and in the Church a long time, but never seems to want to talk about spiritual things, rather, prefers to talk about physical things like food, various activities at certain Feast sites, her job, etc. Do I have the right or the authority in God's sight to evaluate her in my mind and say to myself, "I think maybe she's not really converted"? No, I don't think I should do that. God knows whether she has His Spirit or not and I don't need to know. However, supposing I was dating her and was seriously considering if she was the right person to marry? Now that's different. God commands that we only marry "in the Lord" and that we be not unequally yoked with unbelievers (1 Corinthians 7:39, 2 Corinthians 6:14). If I marry, I have a responsibility to only marry someone converted. This responsibility is given by God. If this is a decision I have to make, I not only have the right to judge if this individual is converted, I have a responsibility to do so. I should earnestly pray to God to give me the wisdom and discernment to see anything in this individual that would indicate either that the person is not converted or any other incompatibility that would cause an unhappy marriage. I would be judging and evaluating the character and spiritual condition of another person, which normally I should not do, but it would be lawful in this case because I am required to do it in order to make a decision God has given me the responsibility for making.
Suppose I notice a man in the Church who has ability, but doesn't seem to get involved much in doing any kind of service or work in the Church. He doesn't volunteer, won't be a member of club even though he can speak well, never gives rides or helps people move or even helps set up chairs or run the sound equipment. Do I have a right to evaluate him in my mind and speculate that he must be lazy? I might be tempted to think that, but I think it would be wrong for me to entertain those thoughts. Not only is it not my prerogative to evaluate this man's character, but I cannot possibly know all the facts in his life, what demands are made on his time, how tired he may feel, what physical or mental trials he may be going through, or how it feels to walk in his shoes. But now, suppose I owned a business and needed to hire someone, and this man came to me for a job. Now I have to make a decision. I cannot afford to hire someone lazy, and to make a decision to hire this man or not I have every right to consider every fact I am aware of about the man and anything about him that could affect my decision. I would judge him in order to judge if he would make a good employee for my business, and I would ask God for wisdom to help me do so. Because I have a decision to make, this person's character and behavior patterns become my business. What was once "not my business" has literally become "my business".
Does a lay member have a right to evaluate and judge the leadership of the Church? I am sure many ministers would say no, but sometimes it is necessary for a member to judge the leadership in order to judge where God is working. God commands that we pay our tithes, but God doesn't tell us the name to write on the check or the address to write on the envelope. A member cannot obey the tithing law without making that decision, and sometimes it is necessary to judge the leadership in order to make a decision God has given us the responsibility for making.
If we have no responsibility that requires that we judge, then we should not judge and evaluate others, but rather use our "thinking time" to think about the teachings and example of Christ and compare our own lives, words, actions, and thoughts with that perfect standard, and also with the standard of all of God's law and way of life in the Bible. Only when we need to judge others to fulfill a responsibility should we judge others. Each of us has a full-time job examining ourselves and comparing ourselves with God's standard to see where we each fall short and then working on our own selves.
God instructs us to judge our own selves (1 Corinthians 11:31-32, 2 Corinthians 13:5). Why? Because God has given us the responsibility of putting sin out of our lives, and do to this we have to be able to see where we fall short (Matthew 5:48, Matthew 4:1).
Why was it right for Samuel, David, and Moses to judge? Because they had to make certain judgments to carry out the decision making responsibilities God had given them. Why will we judge angels in the Kingdom of God (1 Corinthians 6:3)? Because God will give us that responsibility. Why are we to judge ourselves? Because we are commanded to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). We have a full-time job to judge ourselves and examine ourselves in order to discern where we fall short, so we can learn to follow God's way of life more perfectly. But we don't have that same responsibility to judge others.
And if I judge or evaluate another person or a matter that I have no right to judge, not only am I judging something that is not my business, but it is unlikely that I will judge correctly. This is because, to judge someone correctly, we need wisdom and discernment from God (James 1:5, James 1:17, 1 Kings 3:5-12, 2 Chronicles 1:7-12, 1 Corinthians 2:10-12, 1 Corinthians 12:4-11). God gives us the spiritual gifts we need to carry out the responsibilities He gives us. But He does not necessarily give us the wisdom to judge someone else's responsibility. If I am judging something I have to judge to carry out a responsibility God has given me, I can go to God in prayer and ask for wisdom to judge correctly, but I cannot do that if I am unlawfully looking at the faults of others contrary to God's will. God gives each Christian the gifts that match his or her responsibilities in the body of Christ. God gave Solomon wisdom in judgment, but He gave him wisdom because Solomon had a responsibility to judge Israel (1 Kings 3:16-28, especially verse 28).
But if we have a valid reason to judge another person or their actions, how should we judge?
We should judge according to God's law, but also according to God's mercy, and we should judge as we want to be judged (Matthew 7:1-2, James 2:13).
Often times I have gotten "burnt" because I have allowed myself to dwell on someone else's fault and turn it over in my mind, and then God corrected me, painfully, by arranging circumstances to show me that I had exactly the same fault, and then causing me to suffer for that fault. I think I am finally beginning to learn to be afraid to do this, but I still have a ways to go. I hope I am learning to not judge matters that are not my business, and to judge mercifully, as I want to be judged, those matters that are my business. If I am not learning this, I may have a lot more suffering to go through. But even so, I still hope God will be merciful with me. So I better be merciful with others.
We need to learn when to judge or evaluate and when not to. But when we judge, we should also learn to judge with mercy, assuming we want to be judged with mercy. The danger is, we too easily forget this at the moment of judging. We forget to consider that we may have the same or a similar fault as the one we are judging. So we judge harshly. Then God brings our own judgment back on us.
Jesus said, "Judge not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you." (Matthew 7:1-2).
There may be a lesson about judging with mercy from the life of King David. This may illustrate the principle Jesus taught when He said we would be judged as we judge others. When Nathan the prophet spoke to him about his sin concerning Uriah the Hittite, Nathan spoke of a rich man who took a poor man's lamb: "Then the Lord sent Nathan to David. And he came to him, and said to him: 'There were two men in one city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had exceedingly many flocks and herds. But the poor man had nothing, except one little ewe lamb which he had bought and nourished; and it grew up together with him and with his children. It ate of his own food and drank from his own cup and lay in his bosom; and it was like a daughter to him. And a traveler came to the rich man, who refused to take from his own flock and from his own herd to prepare one for the wayfaring man who had come to him; but he took the poor man's lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him.' So David's anger was greatly aroused against the man, and he said to Nathan, 'As the Lord lives, the man who has done this shall surely die! And he shall restore fourfold for the lamb, because he did this thing and because he had no pity.' Then Nathan said to David, 'You are the man! Thus says the Lord God of Israel: "I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave you your master's house and your master's wives into your keeping, and gave you the house of Israel and Judah. And if that had been too little, I also would have given you much more! Why have you despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in His sight? You have killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword; you have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the people of Ammon. Now therefore, the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised Me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife." Thus says the Lord: "Behold, I will raise up adversity against you from your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this sun. For you did it secretly, but I will do this thing before all Israel, before the sun" ' " (2 Samuel 12:1-12).
In another translation, David said that the rich man deserved to die, not that he would actually be put to death.
Notice David's judgment of the rich man, that he should restore fourfold for what he had taken.
Did God render David's judgment back upon him? What had David taken? He took Uriah's life. What was David's judgment? Restore fourfold.
I was curious after reading this. Nathan prophesied that the sword would not depart from David's house, and that David's first child by Bathsheba would die (2 Samuel 12:14). I did a study to see how many people close to David in his own house died in the trials and violence that followed. Maybe this is just a coincidence. You can judge for yourself if you think I am reading too much into this. But I counted four, including Bathsheba's son:
1) Bathsheba's and David's son died -- 2 Samuel 12:15-18
2) David's son Amnon was killed by Absalom -- 2 Samuel 13:28-29
3) Ahithophel, David's close counselor, joined Absalom's rebellion and hanged himself when he saw his advice for Absalom's success was defeated -- 2 Samuel 17:23, 1 Chronicles 27:33, 2 Samuel 15:12, possibly Psalm 55:12-21
4) Absalom was killed by Joab -- 2 Samuel 18:14-15
I do not say David was wrong in judging that the rich man should restore the poor man's lamb fourfold. The judgment may have been correct (I have not looked up the judgments that apply) and perhaps David had no alternative but to render that judgment. Nevertheless, this may also illustrate Jesus' statement that with what judgment we judge, we will be judged.
Another point is that if we are judging a decision that another person makes in his or her life, we have to keep in mind that we may not have all the facts that the other person has upon which to base the decision. And in a matter of using wisdom, it seems to me that God is far more likely to give wisdom to the person who has the responsibility to make the decision so that the decision will be correct than to a bystander who is looking at the person and evaluating him and his decision, but who has no direct responsibility in the matter.
Along this line, am I judging matters "not my business" even in the things I say in this book? Am I judging the Church in the things I am writing outside of my area of responsibility? Following my own logic, what responsibilities or what decisions has God given me the responsibility for making that would make it lawful for me to judge and evaluate Church of God organizations in regards to the things I am writing, such as changing doctrine, government in the Church, and preaching the gospel? Do I have the right to evaluate, think about, turn over in my mind, how well or how poorly various church leaders and evangelists are doing in fulfilling Christ's commission to the Church?
God commands me to tithe, but He doesn't tell me what name to write on a check and what address on an envelope. I have to decide what to do with God's tithe. God wants me to attend Sabbath services if possible, and I have to decide where I can attend. In the present scattered condition of the Church of God, I have to look for and if possible find faithful ministers who can serve my spiritual needs and whom I can support with my tithes, offerings, and prayers so that the gospel and the Ezekiel warning may be preached to the public as effectively as possible. I also need to work on myself, and if Laodiceanism is a cause of the scattering of the Church, and if I personally have been guilty of becoming Laodicean to any degree, I need to identify causes and remedies. All these responsibilities and others combine to make it necessary for me and other members in the Church to think about, evaluate, judge, and try to understand what has happened in the Church, what are the problems and the solutions, where God is working now, and how each of us can best contribute to the work God wants us to do. God has also commissioned the Church to make disciples of all nations, and preaching the gospel to the world is an effective way of fulfilling that commission. This is not just for the apostles. Christ also sent out the seventy, two by two, to preach to the public (Luke 10:1-12). The scattered Church preached the gospel everywhere after the stoning of Stephen while the apostles stayed in Jerusalem (Acts 8:1-4). Based on these scriptures and other evidence I have shown I believe that as a Church member I have a responsibility to support the preaching of the gospel. This book is one way I am trying to support it. I am trying to support it by suggesting reasons why it is still important that we preach to the public, in hopes of helping to motivate and persuade those who are not sure about this, and in hopes of encouraging the zeal and sacrifices of those who agree that the gospel should be preached but may not be sure why. I am also trying to support it by suggesting things the Church of God can do to preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning more effectively.
But I am NOT trying to judge persons as far as their character is concerned. I am willing to give anyone the benefit of the doubt to say that they may be very sincere and may be doing the best they can with what they have been given. Anyone can make an honest mistake if God does not grant them the understanding, and those that commit errors in decision making may be sincerely doing what they think is right under the circumstances. God is the one who judges the heart in these cases. I try to have this attitude not only because I think it is the right way of looking at things but also because that is how I hope God will judge me.But if I can offer suggestions that may help, I will try.
The Cause of the Church's Scattered Condition, and the Solution
I suppose as I write this that I will sound arrogant and presumptuous to some, as I suggest what I think the root problems are and the solutions. Who am I to know these things more than others? I don't want to come across that way. I am not trying to appear modest when I say I do not think I know all the answers. And I really am looking for feedback and correction where I may be wrong. But what I am doing is suggesting possibilities for the reader's evaluation. These are things that I have thought about in the context of everything I have read in the Bible and church literature over the years, all the sermons and conversations I have listened to, and everything I have experienced in the Church and in my life. There are a great many things I do not know and am confused about, but what I am writing in this chapter makes sense to me. This is food for thought. Anyone can consider my reasons, and if I am wrong they can judge for themselves according to the Bible and their experiences. If I am wrong, the reader can separate the wheat from the chaff in the things I write with God's Word as his or her guide.
It makes sense to me that God has allowed heresy in the Church to scatter the Church, to test us and to put us through trials that will correct us and motivate us to examine ourselves and take our spiritual problems and shortcomings more seriously. It makes sense to me that God has done this, ultimately for our own good, because we have become Laodicean. It makes sense to me that the response God wants me to make to his corrective punishment is to identify the cause of any Laodicean attitude in my life, either now or in the past, and to get rid of it, and to get rid of it I need to try to know what it is.
As near as I can tell, from examining my own patterns of wrong thinking, as well as what the Bible says, to the extent I have fallen into the attitude of thinking I am spiritually rich and increased with goods and in need of nothing, it is because I have compared myself with other members of the Church in a judgmental attitude. When I do that, I see a tendency in myself to begin thinking I am better than others, and that makes me tend to be self-satisfied. I am speculating that the same pattern I have observed in myself may have occurred with many others. I am concluding that there is a strong possibility that our collective failure to obey God's command to "judge not" is a strong cause of Laodiceanism, and therefore one of the root causes of the scattered condition of the Church of God today.
If I am correct, then part of the solution is for each member of the Church who has a problem with judging others to work on themselves. I know I still have that problem, in fact, I probably only see the tip of the iceberg in myself, but I am sure if I make the effort God will show me more and more of my problem and help me to overcome and change.
One point I haven't mentioned. I have already noted that the Worldwide Church of God seemed spiritually strong, not Laodicean, in the early years when people needed to wait a long time by themselves before a congregation could be established in their area. It was after congregations were established everywhere that the attitudes of Laodiceanism began to grow. This may suggest that when members of the Church were alone they didn't have anyone to judge and compare themselves with so much because they only saw other brethren at the Feast of Tabernacles. But when everyone began to attend services with brethren every week and congregations grew large, members began to look at other members too much and did not look enough to Christ for the standard. We need to assemble together as God instructs whenever possible, but when we come together we should not come with an attitude that wants to judge and evaluate other members.
To sum up if I am right, the chain of events from cause to effect, is: while Mr. Armstrong was alive, we began to judge and evaluate other members of the Church and to compare ourselves with each other more than we should, even when evaluating and judging others was not necessary for decisions we had to make or responsibilities that we held. By comparing ourselves with others in the Church, some of whom were unconverted tares, we were able to see ourselves favorably, and became self-satisfied, thinking we were in need of nothing. This gradually led to a condition of Laodiceanism in most of the Church while Mr. Armstrong was alive. In response to our lukewarmness about our own shortcomings, God made the judgment to correct the Church by scattering it, just as He scattered ancient Israel for their sins. God carried out His judgment by leading Mr. Armstrong to name a man as his successor that God knew was not firmly grounded in the doctrines Mr. Armstrong taught and would lead the organization to overturn nearly all of Mr. Armstrong's major doctrines. This was done gradually, and because of the gradual nature of the changes and because there was no strong leader like Mr. Armstrong, the ministry was divided in their response and the members were scattered with them.
The solution is not to devote total resources to the teachings of Mr. Armstrong's doctrines to the exclusion of preaching the gospel to the world, because neither the preaching of the gospel nor a lack of true doctrine was the root cause the Laodiceanism in the first place. If one of the causes was judging, then that is something we have to work on. If we learn to stop focusing on the faults of others, and instead to focus on the example of Christ and how we fall short of it, God will see our spiritual progress and will bless us and give us more power when the time is right.
As far as the need to regather those who have been scattered (Ezekiel 34:1-10), I think the best way to regather them is the same way they were gathered in the first place. Mr. Armstrong preached to the public and said, "Don't believe me, believe your Bible." In other words, the truth was preached to the public from the Bible, the Word of God. That is the way to gather the lost sheep. Those who belong to Christ and those that the Father is drawing to Christ will recognize Christ's voice in that kind of preaching, if it is done honestly, just as they did the first time when they heard it from Mr. Armstrong (John 10:1-16).
Focusing on the Bible
Possibly, another contributing cause of Laodiceanism may be a neglect of personal Bible study and reading, or an unwillingness to believe the Bible first. I am not talking about studying church literature, correspondence courses, listening to sermon tapes, or attending Bible studies. I am talking about individual personal Bible study and reading in an attitude of being willing to believe what God says.
It may be that with the abundance of church literature, tapes, and activities, members became so wrapped up in the busy-ness of keeping up with everything in the Church that they neglected personal Bible study. Yet personal Bible study and reading is absolutely vital for drawing close to God.
Mr. Armstrong equated the Bible with Jesus Christ in a sense. He said that just as Jesus Christ is the Word of God in person (John 1:1-5, 14), so the Bible is the Word of God in print, the same Word. Jesus Christ must be our foundation (1 Corinthians 3:11). If Jesus is the Word of God in person and the Bible the Word of God in print, the same Word, and if that Word must be our foundation, this seems to indicate that the Bible must be the foundation for what we believe.
God expects us to strive to live by every word of God (Luke 4:4, Matthew 4:1-4, Deuteronomy 8:2-3). But how many members have even read every word of God by reading the Bible from cover to cover? We have been sometimes admonished by ministers to read or study the Bible at least a half hour a day. But how much time do we spend each day watching TV and movies and this world's entertainment?
If we measured the number of minutes each day, on average, that we spend with the Bible and with TV or movies, which would be greater? Do we spend more time watching TV or movies than studying the Bible, praying to God, and seeking to learn and prove the truths of God?
Also, I wonder how much time we spend watching TV and movies on average today compared with the average time spent with TV and movies between 1934 and 1965 when the Philadelphia condition was clearly dominant in God's Work.
How would Jesus Christ divide His time between TV and the Bible if he were a human being on the earth today? Would He spend more time with TV or movies than with the Bible and in prayer and in meditating about the things of God? Suppose God, who sees all things, in evaluating and judging the Church of God as a whole, simply computed the average time spent in private Bible study, prayer, and seeking God by all the members and the average time spent with television and movies by all the members, and compared the two averages? Which would be greater? Does the average church member spend a half hour a day reading the Bible, or less? Does the average church member spend a half hour a day watching TV, video tapes, and DVDs, or more? Consider that we are a people who know that God is offering all humanity life as His Sons for all eternity, and that as first fruits we are chosen each as only one in a million people on earth to receive the greatest rewards and positions for all eternity among all the Sons of God, and do we love TV more than the Bible? How does God view that?
Also, if we are to compare ourselves and measure ourselves with the perfect example of Jesus Christ, we need to spend time with the Word of God to learn more about Jesus Christ, His teachings, and how He thinks and acts, so we can follow His instructions and example more perfectly. If we do this, we will find plenty of areas in which we fall short, and this will protect us from thinking that we are spiritually "rich and in need of nothing".
Spending more time with the Bible and with the things of God than with TV and movies might help to protect us from Laodiceanism.
Romans 10:17 says "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." When this was written, the Bible was not generally available, so the only way those being called could hear God's word preached was by the spoken word when the scriptures were read or when the apostles related directly what Jesus taught them in person. Today, we have that same teaching available to us in the Bible and the Bible is accessible to anyone. Anyone who reads the Bible can exercise faith by making the decision to believe God, but you can't make the decision to believe God if you don't know what God says.
So not giving priority to Bible study, and not putting the Bible first as a source of our beliefs, may be a major contributing cause of the development of Laodiceanism. Considering that the Laodicean suffers from self-satisfaction, and the Bible corrects us where we are wrong, spending time with the Bible in a humble, submissive, teachable, and believing attitude, letting the Bible correct us where we are wrong, can help to protect us from Laodiceanism. And if neglect of Bible study has been a cause of Laodiceanism, part of the solution to the scattered condition of the Church is for members to spend more time reading and studying the Bible with a heart and mind that is willing to believe and strive to obey what God says.
From a practical point of view, many of those who went along with the false teachings during the apostasy may have done so because they did not spend the time with the Bible that they needed to spend, or did not approach the Bible in an attitude of being willing to believe God first. Others may have given higher priority to the teachings of the ministry in the Church than to what God says in the Bible. Some may have made an idol out of the Church in doing so. And if God scattered the Church because too many members were making an idol out of the Church and having the kind of faith in the Church and its leaders that we should only have in God and His Word, the Bible, then that would very closely fit the examples in the Old Testament where God scattered Israel because of their idolatry.
I think that some members may have been deceived by false teaching because they had made an idol of the Church and its leaders, relying on the Church for what they believed instead of the Bible, and that weakened their faith in God and His Word. They then had no defense against Satan's deceptions.
Focusing on the Bible and spending more time learning what the Bible says may be even more important as a protection against deception in the future. Understanding the Bible can be a protection against false prophets and their deceptions, which are prophesied to increase as we near the end of the age (Matthew 24:24-25).
If someone claims to be a prophet of God, how can we know if that person is telling the truth or not? By "prophet" I do not mean anyone who teaches God's truth from the Bible as do pastors and evangelists. And I do not mean someone whom God helps to understand the Bible as God helps all those who are converted. I mean someone who receives direct revelation from God in the form of a dream or a vision (Numbers 12:6, Daniel 7:1, Ezekiel 1:1-3), or an audible voice (1 Samuel 3:2-11), face-to-face as with Moses (Numbers 12:6-8), or some other miraculous means of direct communication apart from the Bible. If someone makes such a claim, that God has directly communicated with him, how can we know if he is telling the truth or if he is lying or deceived?
The Bible gives several criteria. For someone who claims to be a true prophet of God, if he gives predictions about the future which he claims are from God, those predictions must come to pass (Deuteronomy 18:22). More importantly, his teachings must be consistent with the Bible. According to Deuteronomy 13:1-4, God may allow even false prophets to predict the future and work signs and wonders to test us, but our faith must be in God and His Word. God will not contradict Himself by giving a message to His prophet that contradicts what God has said in the Bible. But to use this criteria, you must know what the Bible says, and this comes through reading and study over time.
Also, Jesus said, in reference to prophets, that you will know them by their fruits (Matthew 7:15-20). A prophet's "fruits" would certainly include his teachings. Any doctrine that contradicts what God says in the Bible is certainly a bad fruit, and a prophet that teaches wrong doctrines is bearing bad fruit. There can be other fruits as well, including a man's track record in the Church of God. Two criteria I would look at when examining a man's track record is his understanding and support of hierarchical government in the Church and his zeal and effectiveness in preaching the truth of God to the public. If a man has sided with a system of the voting of men against top-down government under Christ, I don't think that is a good fruit. Also, if a man takes a stand against preaching the gospel to the public, that is not a good fruit either.
In evaluating a man's fruits, I do not place much credibility in allegations spread through rumor or gossip about his personal faults, which are unreliable, but on things that are officially and publicly known, such as his teachings as recorded in print and in taped sermons and the record of his organizational affiliations over the last several decades.
My main point here is, we need to be well grounded in the Bible to be protected from the deceptions of false prophets.
How Could Trained and Experienced Ministers Be Deceived?
This may be a side issue because it has more to do with those who stayed in Worldwide, but I think it may be worth a comment. Many ministers that faithfully taught God's truth for years astonished faithful members by fully going along with the doctrinal changes. Members naturally wondered, how could a minister who has done such a good job of teaching the truth for so many years so easily fall into error and become deceived? You can't say they haven't studied their Bibles!
I am sure that part of the problem may be that many ministers began their ministry when they were sent out as very young men to pastor churches right after graduating from Ambassador College, and that during their time in college they never found the time to really prove the basic doctrines of the Church from the Bible independently and impartially. Proving something means more than just looking at one side of an argument. You have to do independent, objective research on both sides of an issue to really prove it one way or another. If you look at Mr. Armstrong's example in his autobiography, you will find that it took him six months of day and night study to prove that evolution is false, that the Bible is God's word, and that the seventh day is the Sabbath. How many Ambassador College students took the time, or had the time, to do this? In my own case it took about 2,000 hours spread over about 9 years just to prove that the Bible is God's Word, and then almost another year to prove the major doctrines, even with the help of Mr. Armstrong's teachings. I think I was much slower than most would be, but it illustrates a point. To really prove something takes time. It also takes a willingness to be impartial, to accept the truth wherever it leads. How many students at A.C. who became ministers had both the time and the impartiality while at A.C. to prove the truth soundly? I think that some did really did prove the truth, but probably not all. Then, some not being grounded in the truth, they were deceived or they yielded to pressure to teach the changes. This may parallel the situation with the membership, where some members took the time to prove the truth and some just accepted what Mr. Armstrong taught without proof, but with the additional factor in the case of A.C. students of the pressure to conform at A.C.
Another possibility is that some ministers may never have been truly called and converted by God, and even though they understood the Bible well enough to teach it and they taught the doctrines to their congregations as they were taught themselves, they did not have the depth of understanding and faith they needed to see through the error that was later taught from headquarters. Though they may have been very sincere, they did not have the depth of understanding of the Bible because God did not give them that depth of understanding.
I think there may be another possibility that might apply in some cases to even some ministers who did do a thorough job of proving the truth and did at one time have a depth of understanding. Again this is speculation, food for thought.
How should a minister in the Church handle a situation where he is instructed to teach something, perhaps a minor point of doctrine, that he does not agree with? I am not just talking about the doctrinal changes that occurred after Mr. Armstrong died. I am also talking about a hypothetical situation that could have occurred even while Mr. Armstrong was alive, even in small points or details of doctrines. Should the minister teach the doctrine out of respect for and submission to government in the Church, even if he thinks it is wrong according to the Bible? Should he assume that it is okay to teach it, since it is only a small point, and because the Church's doctrines are 99% correct on everything else and he wants to obey government and support the doctrines of the Church?
Mr. Armstrong gave an account in a sermon and/or his autobiography about a man looking for work as a minister who told Mr. Armstrong he would preach whatever he was paid to preach. If I remember, Mr. Armstrong said he lost respect for the man who said this.
In thinking about this, I began to think more about the pressures many ministers may have felt in Worldwide over the years to teach things, even relatively minor points of doctrine, that they didn't "understand" ("not understanding" something can be a euphemism for "not agreeing" with something). How did they react? Did some of them teach and expound on doctrines they didn't really believe just on the principle of submitting to government in the Church?
I am not talking about situations where a minister just reads an announcement or a letter from headquarters without comment, or a minister who, in answering a question from a member about the teaching of the Church, replies "the Church teaches that..." and simply reports factually what the official position of the Church is. I am talking about situations where a minister might actively teach and expound on a doctrine just as if he believes it when he really doesn't.
I never talked to any minister in depth about this. I personally do not know of any cases where a minister taught a doctrine he didn't believe because of pressure from headquarters. But I imagine it could happen. If I were in that situation, I would be afraid myself of saying something I didn't think was true, even if the Church told me to, because I would be afraid that would make me guilty of false witness in God's eyes. We are being trained for eternity in the Kingdom of God, and even a little bit of compromise can grow over a long time into something big. I would think that a better approach would be for a minister to just state as a fact what the official teaching of the Church is ("the Church teaches that...") without expounding on or endorsing things he doesn't yet agree with, or else avoid the particular doctrine altogether. If any ministers have compromised with what they believed in this way, I have wondered if perhaps, to teach a lesson, God permitted some ministers who have compromised by actively teaching, endorsing, and promoting things they didn't believe, to become victims themselves of a larger deception from Satan by taking away from them the spiritual discernment to see the erroneous reasoning behind wrong doctrines. Then they could easily go along with false doctrines. If this is the case with any minister, it may be that God will allow him to wake up later after suffering the consequences for a while.
Letting someone learn lessons by experiencing the consequences of their actions has precedence in the Bible.
Jacob lied to his father Isaac by claiming he was Esau in order to obtain the blessing (Genesis 27:19). After this, was Jacob ever a victim of other people's deceptions? Is it possible that God allowed him to suffer the consequences of deception to teach him lessons he needed to learn on that subject? He was deceived about his wife (Genesis 29:21-25). This caused contentions and rivalry in his family when he ended up with four wives. To some, having four wives might seem like a blessing, but I think a man would be happiest with one wife as God intended. Apparently this was not the only deception Jacob suffered at the hands of Laben (Genesis 31:7). Later, Joseph's brothers deceived Jacob by making him think that Joseph was dead, thus causing Jacob great and unnecessary suffering for years because he mourned for Joseph, who in fact was still alive (Genesis 37:31-35).
The lesson I get from this is, if I want God to protect me from other people's or Satan's deceptions, I must be careful that I only tell the truth to other people and not say what I don't believe. What I sow I can expect to reap. This lesson is even more important in view of the prophesied events to occur that would deceive, if it were possible, even the very elect (Matthew 24:24).
I don't have to answer every question someone asks me. I can keep silent on matters that I regard as confidential, but if I say something I need to strive to make sure it is the truth. We all make honest mistakes, I am not talking about that, but I better not deliberately say what I don't believe.
I have read of an instruction that a supervisor of ministers in a church gave to the ministers telling them they should teach all the doctrines of the Church trusting in faith that God has guided the leadership of the Church. As a former Catholic, I can say that this is a pretty good description of the Catholic way of thinking. But this omits the possibility, which was so powerfully illustrated in our former association, that the leadership may not correctly follow where God, in the Bible, leads.
Papal infallibility is a doctrine of the Catholic Church, not the Church of God. God allows ministers and evangelists to make mistakes. God allowed Mr. Armstrong to make mistakes.
As a member of the Church, I will believe the Bible first. If the Church teaches something that to me seems contrary to the Bible, I can talk about it with a minister and try to get it resolved. I will try to have an open mind and realize that I could be making a mistake, and I will consider what the Church teaches me to show me my error. But even after that, if I cannot resolve it with the Church, if it seems to me that the Bible teaches something different than what the Church is teaching, then I will believe the Bible first. Does this mean I should cause division by openly criticizing the Church's position and promoting my own belief among the membership on that point of doctrine? No. I can simply decline to discuss my views on that point of doctrine with other members, except when I talk with a minister.
A member can avoid talking about matters in which he disagrees with the Church and thereby avoid causing division and confusion. The Bible commands that we all speak the same thing (1 Corinthians 1:10). With a minister it is harder because his job is to teach and he is asked questions that he must answer, so he can't always duck certain issues like a lay member can. But if a minister cannot agree with the Church on a point of doctrine because he believes that the Bible teaches something different, he does not have to speak about that doctrine in his sermons. And if he is told by headquarters that he must teach it, he can decline on the principle of obeying God rather than man (Acts 5:29). And in answering a question from a member who wants to know what the Church teaches on a particular doctrine, a minister can simply report the official position of the Church without representing that he agrees with it. He can reply "the Church teaches that..." If asked his personal understanding of the issue, he can decline to discuss it, saying that his job is to explain what the official teaching of the Church is, not his own opinion where it differs. I don't see anything wrong with a member knowing that his pastor does not agree with the Church on everything. Personally, I would feel more trust and respect towards a pastor who admits he does not agree with and understand every position of the Church, does not say things he doesn't believe, yet declines to contradict the Church, than a pastor who actively teaches and expounds on anything that headquarters tells him to because he wants to submit to government in the Church. The need to submit to government does not override the ninth commandment or the principle that we trust God and His Word, the Bible, first. Trusting the Church is not trusting God.
In the above paragraphs, I am talking about relatively minor issues, not major principles of faith or vital doctrines. Obviously, with the major principles that our faith is based on, there is a time to take a stand by teaching the truth and by leaving an organization if necessary. If headquarters of a church departs from God in major principles, then probably a minister or a member would not want to any longer be part of and supportive of that organization.
Will the Whole Church of God Re-unite?
Some in the Church of God may feel that the Church should wait until God reunites us before we can, or should, do a great work of preaching the gospel to the world. But should we wait for a great regathering of the scattered Church? Can we even be sure that this will even happen before Christ returns?
If the seven churches in Revelation are seven eras of the Church, and I believe they are, then these messages are prophetic and they indicate that the last era will be Laodicean probably right up to the tribulation. Yet Philadelphia is promised protection. This suggests that while the dominant characteristic of the era will remain Laodicean, at some point before the tribulation there will be a smaller group that is Philadelphian.
I don't see any indication in the Bible that the Laodicean condition will disappear, that the majority of Laodiceans will repent before the tribulation. I don't think the Laodicean condition is one that leads to unity and I don't think Christ will be gathering those He is vomiting out of His mouth. Most of those who are in this condition will repent IN the tribulation, and they will be regathered in the resurrection.
I do not think there will be unity between Philadelphia and Laodicea. There probably will not be unity even with the Laodiceans among themselves. But I think a regathering and reuniting of those God judges as not Laodicean, but Philadelphian, is possible and even probable.
I think there is time for many to repent, and God may reunite those, but I do not see how this could happen with the majority and still be consistent with the prophecy of the messages to the Churches.
I think some hope that God will empower one or more of His faithful leaders in the Church of God with the power to perform public miracles and great signs that will make it obvious whom God is working through, to reunite the Church before the tribulation and the special work of the two witnesses. He may well do that, especially to help empower the message of the Church of God and help the world know who is speaking the truth. But there are reasons why He may not. God may prefer to test members of the Church on our faithfulness to His Word, the Bible, apart from the evidence of miracles. God may not use miracles if this tends to point us to a human person more than to the Bible, and God may not use a method that would be so strong that it would tend to gather the Laodiceans with the Philadelphians. Rather, God may judge each of us individually and give discernment to and work out circumstances for those that believe and obey the Bible first, to gather them together to finish the work and go to a place of safety, while the Laodiceans remain scattered right up to the tribulation. We are being tested on our faith and obedience to God and His Word, the Bible, not in allegiance to a human who would work miracles. Even when we choose a human leader to support, it should be because that leader is faithful to the Bible and because of good fruits being shown in doing God's work, not because he is able to work miracles (Deuteronomy 13:1-3, Matthew 7:15-20). Nevertheless, it may be that God will give miracle-working power to a man in the Church, or to several people, as a way of getting public attention so we can get our message proclaimed more powerfully, but even if that happens, it will not ensure that the whole Church would be reunited around those that perform miracles. As one reader of this book pointed out to me, miracles do not convince those whose hearts are hardened, just as Pharaoh was not convinced by the miracles done at the hand of Moses, and the majority of Jews were not persuaded by the miracles of Jesus Christ. In any case, I don't think the Laodiceans will be persuaded to gather with the Philadelphians.
So I do not think we should wait for all scattered fellowships and brethren in the Church to be regathered before doing the Father's will (Matthew 24:14) and Christ's commission (Matthew 28:19-20) to preach the gospel to all nations. We should do it now and with zeal, while freedom of speech still exists in the democracies that allow us to do it. It may be that those who wait may not participate at all.
When David was fleeing from Saul, David was in a sense separated from the rest of Israel, yet when an opportunity came to defend Israel from the Philistines, which was God's "work" at that time, David did not follow the advice of his men who said, "Look, we are afraid here in Judah. How much more then if we go to Keilah against the armies of the Philistines?" Rather, he sought God's will and attacked the Philistines (1 Samuel 23:1-5). I think there are parallels between fighting the Philistines, which was God's work in that day, with preaching the gospel to the world today. David's men questioned David's desire to fight the Philistines because they were fleeing from Saul, and this line of reasoning reminds me of those who say "the Church is divided, so this isn't the time to preach the gospel to the world." Yes, the Church is not setting a good example, but that is no reason to withhold information that the public needs to hear.
In the examples in the Bible and in history where there has been a scattering of God's people, whether of Israel, or Judah, or the early Church of God, I do not see a regathering of the entire group, but only a part of the original whole. Some things have to wait for the return of Christ.
I do not advocate preaching the gospel as a way to achieve unity. I do not think preaching the gospel, by itself, would achieve unity. It would take preaching the gospel to the world with zeal, studying, believing, and obeying the Bible with zeal, and drawing closer to God with zeal in order to please God, and when God is pleased with us He will give us whatever unity He desires at the right time. Unity is not always God's priority (Luke 12:51-53), and may not be His priority at this time. Our objective should not be unity among ourselves while we still have problems in our relationship with God. Our objective should be to believe and obey what God says in the Bible, and to do His will and finish His work (John 4:34-35).We should seek to live the way of life that leads to unity with God, and then trust God to give us the unity with each other in a way and at a time that He sees fit.
Will Focusing Exclusively on Feeding the Flock Heal the Church?
Should the ministry now focus exclusively on feeding the flock in order to heal the Church, and not preach the gospel to the world until the Church is healed?
I have already tried to show that spending all resources to feed the flock and none to preach to the public will not heal the Church because it does not address the root cause of the scattering. It will never bring a healing. It is the wrong medicine. You can feed the flock with this "prescription" from now until the entire current generation in the Church of God passes away, and it will not effect a cure.
You cannot disregard a command of God, to preach the gospel to the world, and expect a good result from that. You cannot use human reasoning to say, "This isn't the time to preach the gospel to the world", when God has already commanded the Church to do so. We might as well stop keeping the Sabbath. If we are to reason around God's instructions regarding preaching the gospel to the world, why not do the same with the Sabbath? If we say, "Circumstances change, and we have to adapt, and this is not the time to preach to the public", why not say, "Circumstances change, and we have to adapt, and this is not the time to keep the Sabbath"? The same God commanded both.
We should not blame the problem on something we were doing that is right and then stop doing it. It was right to preach the gospel just as it is right to keep the Ten Commandments, because the same God that gave us the Ten Commandments also gave us the commission to preach the gospel to the world.
Feeding the flock only, without public preaching, is actually feeding the flock a faulty diet, one that is likely to make the flock more sick, not healthier. It is setting a bad example for the members, suggesting we can reason around God's commands. It also teaches an inward focus. It might not seem that way to some ministers. From a minister's point of view, his personal focus may be outward towards the flock. Individual members may have an outward focus towards helping other members, IF the opportunity is there to serve others in a small local congregation. But what is the Church as a body focused on? Helping itself? That is inward. From an organizational point of view, the focus of the Church would be inward. It is feeding itself only. This is important because we have a group identity. To the extent that members identify with the group, the organization, they are identifying with an entity that is only focused on helping itself, not reaching out to those outside the group. But outgoing love must be at all levels, not just the individual level, but at the group level also. The Church of God must have a focus outside of itself.
Look at the example God the Father and Jesus Christ set. God and the Word are two persons. You could say they are a group. Is that group focused inward or outward? Did God say, "My love for the Word comes first, I'm not going to sacrifice Him for a humanity that is my enemy"? No. They both focused outwardly. They did not focus just on each other, but they extended their focus to others outside the family of God, to the whole world, to even their enemies. God SACRIFICED His own Son for His enemies (Romans 5:6-8). That is an outward focus at the group level, an outgoing concern towards the unconverted we should emulate.
I have heard some offertory messages by those who apparently feel that this is not the time to preach to the public. In one example, the speaker seemed to be saying, not that by contributing you will help others, but by contributing you are investing in yourself. The emphasis can be on the benefit members will receive by giving. This may be an example of the "giving to get" philosophy. One can talk about how God will bless those who give. But if a Church of God fellowship is not preaching to the public, speakers in that group who give offertory messages on holy days might not appeal to the motive of love by showing how contributions will help the lives of others because that is not the organizational focus. The organizational focus is inward, benefiting the group only, not others. The outward focus to help other human beings outside the group may be missing.
To be properly fed, the flock needs more than instruction in God's way of love. They need an opportunity to put it into practice to serve others. We learn by doing. In some situations, this opportunity may exist locally when a member finds a way he can help and serve another member, but that is not always the case for every person, especially in the scattered condition of the Church when many congregations are very small. It can easily be true that in an area where there are only a handful of members, there may not be anyone with a need that a particular member can help with. But preaching the gospel to the world is something everyone can participate in. Anyone with any money at all can make sacrifices on a daily basis, even giving up little things during the day, to be able to contribute a little more. Even if the total amount is small, it can represent a big sacrifice for someone, and God values that sacrifice and can multiply its effect to help others (Mark 12:41-44, John 6:5-13). Those who purchase less expensive clothes, or forgo purchasing a car and take a bus to work, or eat in restaurants less often, or live in a smaller apartment rather than a large home, in order to provide more to help get the message to those who need it, if the motivation is really to help others, are really practicing the give way of life and expressing love towards neighbor every moment of the day. When such a commitment and sacrifice affect the quality and variety of the food we eat, the home we live in, the clothes we wear, it affects us almost every waking moment of the day. How much time do we spend in our home? How often do we eat? That is why I say that making sacrifices in these areas in support of God's message to the world is a continuous expression of the principle of outgoing concern and directly involves every member every day. Also, any member, even if there happens to be no local members going through a trial needing prayers, can practice love by fervently praying for God to bless the preaching of the gospel to the world and to provide more laborers for the harvest, as Jesus instructs us to pray (Matthew 9:36-38, John 4:34-35).
And yet, because the supporting of the gospel by the members requires a measure of self-denial, but not a lot of time, it does not interfere with the need of the members to concentrate on Bible study, personal repentance, drawing closer to God, and overcoming.
I have heard the argument that preaching the gospel to the world was something that Mr. Armstrong did, but the members were not able to directly participate in and therefore had minimal involvement in. According to this view, members did not see themselves as important to the preaching of the gospel to the world. But to say or think that members are not important to the preaching of the gospel to the world is wrong not only for the reasons I mentioned above about the daily sacrifices that are needed to support the preaching of the gospel, but because of the importance of what the members did in comparison with what Mr. Armstrong did. Actually, except in personally meeting with world leaders or in conducting public lectures, Mr. Armstrong did not take the gospel to anyone outside the Church! Neither did the Church pastors. The members and coworkers and donors did with their tithes and offerings!
I think Mr. Armstrong was LESS directly involved in how far the gospel went, how many people it reached, than the average member. Mr. Armstrong didn't contribute a dime to the preaching of the gospel. Neither generally did the other ministers who lived off of the contributions of the membership. All Mr. Armstrong did is speak, write, and manage. When a message is recorded, or something is written, the effort in producing it is the same whether it reaches 10 people or 10 million. Mr. Armstrong did the speaking and writing. He used his communications background to take what God reveals in the Bible and put it in plain language that could be understood by anybody. But it was the members who made it available to millions. Speaking and writing require talent, knowledge, training, and time, and Mr. Armstrong did that part. But sending the gospel to the public requires money, and that is the portion the members did. Mr. Armstrong structured the message. But without the membership, it would be useless because it would go no farther than the four walls of his office or studio. It was the members who took Mr. Armstrong's writings and spoken messages and brought that material to the public. Not Mr. Armstrong. The membership did that. And it went to the public only to the degree that members were willing to sacrifice. Sacrifice a little, and the gospel goes to a few. Sacrifice a lot, and the gospel goes to many. The difference in material prosperity and the physical "quality of life" the members enjoy between sacrificing or not can be measured in numbers of TV stations, the quality of the time-slots, and the magazine circulation figures. And giving up physical prosperity and the nicer physical things is something that can affect how we live every moment of our time. So members are directly involved in preaching the gospel to the world every moment of the day, if they want to be.
Also, the idea of not preaching to the world ignores the possibility, one that I think is very probable, that part of the sin included in the Laodicean condition of the Church was a lack of zeal and spirit of sacrifice for preaching the gospel to the world. Mr. Armstrong had zeal, but I think that as the Laodicean condition grew, the majority of the members did not share that same zeal for the gospel that Mr. Armstrong had. The Laodicean lukewarmness expressed itself in a lack of zeal for preaching the gospel just as much as a lack of zeal for prayer, Bible study, and obedience. If that is the case, not preaching to the world at this time is not going to solve anything.
If God has given the Church the responsibility to reach all Israel with the gospel and the warning, the Church so far has failed. If we have failed because of our lukewarm attitude towards our responsibilities to warn the public, then we need to repent of that just as we need to repent of our lukewarm attitude towards overcoming our other faults.
The Church's job is to preach the truth to the public, and the public's job is to respond to the message. Most members of the public who heard the message failed to respond, but also, most members of the public never heard the message because the Church has failed to deliver it to them. The failure of the Church may be greater than the failure of the public because, to whom much is given, much is required, and the Church has been given much (Luke 12:47-48).
I have heard an argument that we were preaching the gospel when the Church was spiritually deteriorating and becoming Laodicean and preaching the gospel did not prevent the deterioration. But we were also attending Sabbath services, the Feast of Tabernacles, reading church literature, tithing, etc. and those things did not prevent the deterioration either. So should we stop doing them? Should we stop doing what is right because it didn't prevent the problem? We should not blame the problem on something we were doing that is right and then stop doing it. Rather we should look for where we have been wrong and repent.
I have heard it pointed out that preaching the gospel to the world can tend to develop a "crusade mentality" and that there is a danger that members may neglect their personal overcoming because they feel self-satisfied that they are okay with God because they are in a group that is preaching the gospel. I agree that this is a danger. I think that the Bible may in principle warn against this kind of thinking. Jesus said, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!' " (Matthew 7:21-23). These people apparently cast out demons, preached to the public, and did works in Jesus' name, but also practiced lawlessness and did not make the effort to overcome their personal sins that God expected of them, and God rejects them. Paul also talks of those who do great works in God's name but without practicing love towards God and man: "Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing" (1 Corinthians 13:1-3). The Bible is also filled with examples of those who served God by doing God's work for a time, but were not in the end judged as faithful. Even Judas, one of the twelve apostles, preached the gospel to the world, healed the sick, and cast out demons, but that didn't save him (Mark 6:7-12, Matthew 27:3-5).
But there is also a danger that if the focus is only on overcoming, the motive can be selfish, not based on real love. One can seek to overcome his sins only so he can get eternal life, to get into God's Kingdom. He may be seeking the reward for himself alone. This can be the result of an inward focus of a group.
I would also like to point out that preaching the gospel to the world or supporting the preaching of the gospel to the world may be a key to personal overcoming, according to Revelation 12:11. “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death.” The “word of their testimony” can include preaching the gospel to the world.
Is it not selfish for the Church to use the knowledge that has been given to it to work to prepare itself only, but not share that knowledge with others in the world so they have the opportunity to prepare themselves also? Is that not like running out of a burning building to save our skin, but not doing anything to warn other residents of the building so they can get out also? Is that policy really going to help to heal the Church? Is God pleased with that kind of thinking?
Paul was so concerned for the welfare of his fellow countrymen, who were not converted, that he could be even more concerned for their welfare than his own personal salvation! In Romans 9:1-5 he says, "I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, to whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises; of whom are the fathers and from whom, according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, the eternally blessed God. Amen."
We at least know what is coming, so if we fail to prepare ourselves, the suffering we go through will be our own fault, but these other people who never heard the truth are clueless. We received the warning. Shouldn't they receive it also?
I have mentioned this before, but God is a God of justice and there is a principle that whatever we sow that we will reap (Galatians 6:7). If God has given the Church knowledge and also given the Church the responsibility to share that knowledge with others, and we fail to do so, is it not possible that God may take that knowledge from us? Isn't it possible that by selfishly trying to keep God's truth for ourselves only, we could lose it? Satan deceives the whole world (Revelation 12:9) and we would be deceived too unless God opened our minds and gave us understanding (John 6:44, Philippians 2:13, 1 Corinthians 2:9-12). All spiritual understanding that we have is a gift from God, and if we do not use it responsibly, God is able to take it away. There is nothing permanent about the spiritual knowledge and discernment we have in our minds. We can lose it and not even realize what we have lost, if we do not use it responsibly, to serve others (Matthew 25:14, Luke 13:6-9, Mark 4:21-25, Hebrews 6:4-7). God gives us the knowledge and discernment we need to do His work, and if anyone fails to do a job God gives them to do, God may take the job from him and give it to someone else, and along with the job goes the spiritual gifts required for the job (1 Samuel 16:13-14, Matthew 21:33-43).
It may be that this is one of the causes of God's judgment to allow false doctrine to enter the Church. It may be that a lack of sufficient zeal to make the necessary sacrifices to share the truth with the public on the part of the majority of the members of the Church was a cause of God's judgment to allow the Church to be scattered. It may be that some of those in the Church in the past did not really have zeal to sacrifice to support the work of preaching the gospel to the world, and because they were not doing what they could to share their knowledge with others, God took away their knowledge by allowing them to be deceived by the doctrinal changes. And if this is the case, the prescription of not preaching the gospel to the world, rather than being a medicine that will bring healing, is a poison that will make the Church sicker. A better medicine is to repent of our lack of zeal for helping the world and to be on fire to share the truth with others to help them.
Neglecting the work of preaching of the gospel to the world will not heal the Church.
I think there needs to be a balance, and we all need to be on guard to make sure what we do is motivated by outgoing concern for others. But if this love is there, I also think one will feel motivated to do what he or she can to help others outside the Church of God by sharing the truth with them, which they will need.
Some ministers may feel that they are not qualified to preach to the world, but only to feed the flock, or they may say that a minister can only concentrate on doing one thing well. But Christ did many things in His service towards His Father. Christ set us the example of both teaching His disciples (feeding the flock) and preaching to the public (speaking to the crowds). A worker can wear "many hats". Look at all the things Christ did: preach the good news of the Kingdom of God to the crowds, teach His disciples, heal the sick, live a sinless live, and be killed with a torturous death. That is a lot. Did He ever say, I am only going to live a sinless life, but not preach the gospel because I can only concentrate on one thing? That would be silly.
Some might feel that only an apostle or one working under the authority of an apostle has the right to preach to the public. But according to Mr. Armstrong's autobiography, he was preaching to the public before he was even ordained as a minister, much less did he think of himself as an apostle. I never found anyplace in Mr. Armstrong's autobiography or any of his writings where he questioned if it would be presumptuous for him to preach to the public unless he knew he was an apostle. He saw that preaching to the public was commanded by Christ, he saw the need, he saw the opportunity, he saw his ability, and he did what needed to be done without regard to his title. In any case, men under Mr. Armstrong's authority, who were not apostles, also preached to the public in public lectures and by writing articles and booklets for the public. And if one feels that he needs to be under the authority of a living apostle before he can preach the gospel, all ministers of the Church today are directly under the authority of the chief apostle, Jesus Christ (Hebrews 3:1-2, 1 Corinthians 11:3).
Nevertheless, some pastors, because of their limitations in experience, training, energy, and talents, may not be able to handle both feeding the flock and preaching the gospel to the world. If that is the case, that is where the principle of cooperation and teamwork with others applies. In principle, that was the process when we were all together. By pastoring local congregations, ministers freed Mr. Armstrong and a number of evangelists to write articles and books for the public and to prepare broadcasts to preach the gospel to the world. The same principle can be applied today even though we are not all together in one organization. If a pastor, who is independent from any large organization that is preaching to the world, feels he cannot handle both feeding the flock and preaching to the world at the same time, he can work out arrangements to share a portion of God's tithe for preaching the gospel with another Church or leading minister who is effectively preaching to the world, and he can teach his congregation to support and pray for the success of those efforts. That is better I think than belittling those who are trying to preach to the public in obedience to Christ the best they can.
Is the Church Commissioned to Preach the Gospel to the World?
Since I first published this book in March 2006, some have written to me expressing their belief that preaching the gospel to the world is not a command or commission for the Church of God. More than one person has indicated he thought only individuals specially authorized and sent by God to preach the gospel to the world should do so, and unless God commissions the man individually, anyone who preaches to the public is acting presumptuously and without authority. According to this view, Herbert W. Armstrong was sent by God to preach the gospel, but no one since then has been sent by God to do so. This viewpoint sees those Churches of God which are preaching a message to the public as competing entities, and believes that the competitive attitude of these organizations and their leaders shows that God has not sent any of them because God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33). Those who hold this view do not believe that Church of God members have a responsibility from God to support the effort to preach the gospel to the world or the Ezekiel warning to Israel.
Has God commissioned the Church of God to preach the gospel to the world, and are members obligated by that commission or by God's law to support the preaching of the gospel to the public?
Herbert W. Armstrong taught that the Church of God has a commission to preach the gospel to the world.
He taught that the great commission for God's Church today is described in the prophecy in Matthew 24:14, which says that the gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all nations (The Plain Truth About Healing, page 53). He taught that God has given His Church a dual responsibility, to go into all the world and proclaim the true gospel and to feed the flock. He taught that it was primarily the responsibility of the apostles and evangelists to do the preaching and the responsibility of the lay members to back up those apostles and evangelists with tithes, offerings, prayers, and encouragement, with the apostles, evangelists, ministry, and lay members acting as a team (Mystery of the Ages, pages 265-268). He also taught that one of the identifying signs of God's true Church is that it would be fulfilling Christ's commission of preaching the gospel to the world as a whole (Mystery of the Ages, page 249), and that the commission to preach to the world was for the Church (Mystery of the Ages, page 206).
Was Mr. Armstrong right in teaching that preaching the gospel to the world is a commission and a responsibility for the Church? What does the Bible say about this, and what does the Bible say about our responsibility to deliver the Ezekiel warning to Israel?
In this section I want to address this issue, in detail, from the Bible.
In discussing the preaching of the gospel, I include the Ezekiel warning to Israel as part of the gospel message. As I pointed out in the chapter on the gospel, in its broadest sense, the gospel includes the whole message of the Bible. The true gospel is the gospel of the Kingdom of God, and it includes everything about that kingdom. It includes the history of what God has done to prepare for the Kingdom of God. It includes the prophecies of events leading up to the Kingdom of God. It includes the law of God, which will be the way of life in the Kingdom of God, and it includes all biblical examples of blessings for obeying that law and penalties for breaking that law as examples for our instruction. This means that the Ezekiel warning is part of the true gospel. They go together.
The real issue here is, does the Church have a responsibility from God to preach God's truth to the public, or is this responsibility only given to specially called individuals from time to time and not to the Church of God as a team? Specifically, did the Church's responsibility to preach to the public end with the death of Mr. Armstrong or does it continue today?
There are actually two sets of scriptures that show that Church members and ministers should support the preaching of the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the public. One is a direct commission for the Church of God, which I will show later. The other is a point or principle of God's law given in the Bible. I will show that this principle obligates the Church to preach the gospel to the world even in the absence of a specific commission to the Church. The commission for the Church only reinforces an obligation that is already there under God's law.
When God gives a command in the Bible, He expects us to strive to obey it in every circumstance. If the command or instruction is a general command, it automatically covers every specific case that falls within its boundaries, unless God clearly makes an exception for a specific case. For example, when God says, "You shall not steal", that includes every specific case that falls within its general boundaries. You cannot steal a gallon of milk from a store to feed your baby and say that is ok because God never gives a clear scripture that says, "you shall not steal milk to feed your baby"! The eighth commandment covers ALL stealing whatever the particulars.
Proverbs 24:11, says, "Deliver those who are drawn toward death, And hold back those stumbling to the slaughter." This is based on God's law of love which says to love our neighbor as ourselves (Matthew 5:43-48, Matthew 22:37-40, Mark 12:29-31, Leviticus 19:18) and to do for others as we would wish others to do for us (Matthew 7:12). We should deliver those drawn towards death and stumbling towards the slaughter.
Is this world drawn towards death and stumbling towards the slaughter? I think anyone in the Church of God with spiritual discernment knows that it is. Christ said we should "watch" and He rebuked those who could read the signs of the weather but not the signs of the times they were living in, calling them hypocrites (Mark 13:37, Matthew 16:1-3). A Church of God member would have to be blind not to see that this world is headed towards disaster because of its sins.
Do not "deliver" and "hold back" mean warn and teach? There is no other way to deliver someone from going to disaster as a result of his or her sins but to warn and teach. You can't lock everyone in a room and force them to stop sinning. Teaching and warning is the only way.
Do some want to say that Proverbs 24:11 only applies to specific individuals God sends, not to the Church? If they do, then to be consistent they have to throw out the whole book of Proverbs as instruction to Church members, and then they might as well throw out the rest of the Bible as well. There is nothing in Proverbs 24:11 that indicates this is not a principle that should be obeyed by everyone.
There is nothing in the command of Proverbs 24:11 that says it is only for certain people and not for others. It is a part of God's instruction in His way of life, His law, and it applies to everyone. It is one of the ways we put into practice the great commandment, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself". When you see people headed for disaster, you try to help them by warning them just as you would want others to warn you.
Imagine you are driving on a sparsely traveled road at night and almost had an accident because you didn't see a stalled car in the middle of the road around a bend until it was almost too late. If you had flares in your trunk and knew you had an opportunity to maybe save someone's life by using the flares to warn other drivers, if you didn't do it because God didn't specially "authorize" you as an individual, would you not be violating the law of Proverbs 24:11? If you saw a fire that had just started in a building and knew there were people asleep inside, do you need a special "authorization" to warn them? Doesn't Proverbs 24:11 plus Jesus' statement that we are to live by every word of God (Matthew 4:4) REQUIRE you to act on what you know and do something to help those people? The principle of Proverbs 24:11 applies in both of these cases.
This world is stumbling to the slaughter. We have the opportunity to warn. The Church of God has that opportunity. No one else can do it because no one else knows what we know. The two witnesses receive power to do their work at the beginning of the tribulation. By then it is too late. Only the Church can warn the people while there is time to heed the warning and escape. The Church sees this world stumbling to the slaughter and the Church has the opportunity to give a warning. Therefore Proverbs 24:11 applies. Nothing could be more clear.
Proverbs 24:11 is clear. The only way we can say that it doesn't apply to us in a certain way is if God in the Bible clearly authorizes an exception. In other words, the only valid biblical justification for saying that it does not apply to warning the world for Church members is if you can find a clear scripture that authorizes the exception. We have to warn based on Proverbs 24:11 unless God commands us NOT to warn in a particular case. If there are exceptions to Proverbs 24:11, it is God who must authorize the exception. Otherwise, Proverbs 24:11 is binding and in full force in every case.
In order for Proverbs 24:11 NOT to apply to the Church warning and teaching the public, there would have to be a clear scripture that only specific, authorized individuals sent by God may preach the gospel to the world and all others are prohibited. If there were such a scripture, that scripture would override the general principle of Proverbs 24:11 in this case. But I have found none, rather, the commission to the Church reinforces Proverbs 24:11 and indicates specifically that the Church is to preach to the public.
Where is a scripture that shows that only specially authorized individuals may preach the true gospel, and others are forbidden? If there is such a scripture, then that particular case would be an exception given by God to Proverbs 24:11. But unless someone can prove that God requires that only individually authorized persons preach the gospel, then the law of Proverbs 24:11 stands, and it applies to everyone, and like any other law, to violate it is sin. Therefore, Proverbs 24:11 is a REQUIREMENT God places on everyone who knows the truth to do his or her part to warn a world stumbling towards disaster.
So even if there was no commission for the Church in the New Testament, this would not take the Church of God members off the hook about obeying Proverbs 24:11 by warning the world. To do that, you have to prove that Church of God members and ministers are PROHIBITED from teaching and warning the world unless individually authorized. Otherwise, the law of Proverbs is in full force in this circumstance. Proverbs 24:11 is a command from God that every member is obligated to obey when we see people headed for disaster and have the opportunity to help them avoid the danger, UNLESS PROHIBITED BY SOME OTHER COMMAND THAT TAKES PRECEDENT.
Only a command for Church members of equal force and clarity NOT to support the preaching of the gospel can override our obligation under Proverbs 24:11.
Some may quote Jeremiah 23:21, "I have not sent these prophets, yet they ran. I have not spoken to them, yet they prophesied" as a proof text that only those God sends should preach. Yet as I pointed out in the introduction to this book, if you read the next verse, "But if they had stood in My counsel, And had caused My people to hear My words, Then they would have turned them from their evil way And from the evil of their doings" (verse 22), it turns out that God is not just rebuking them for "running" when He didn't "send" them, but for failing to teach the people God's words. He isn't rebuking these false prophets for teaching a true message from God's word without authority. He is rebuking them for teaching a false message while claiming it is from God.
You may be familiar with the watchman God speaks of in Ezekiel, saying the blood of the people is on the watchman's head if he doesn't warn. Is this only for individuals God sends? If you look at Ezekiel 3:16-18 you might think so, but in Ezekiel 33:1-4 God speaks even of a watchman not sent by Him but a watchman nevertheless because he has been made a watchman by the people, saying the blood is on the watchman's head if he doesn't warn. God hasn't made him the watchman but he is still required to warn the people. Why? This is just an application of Proverbs 24:11. And even Proverbs 24:11 is based on the greater law that says "you shall love your neighbor as yourself" (Luke 10:27, Matthew 22:39, Leviticus 19:18). God requires the blood of the people on the watchman's head, even a watchman whom God has not sent or made the watchman, not only because he has not fulfilled the responsibility the people placed on him, but also because the watchman has violated the principle of Proverbs 24:11. God is consistent. Proverbs 24:11 applies to everyone, sent by God or not. And we must obey it if we are to live by every word of God.
There is no scripture that prohibits the Church or any of its members from warning the world. Therefore, God does not authorize an exception to Proverbs 24:11 for warning the world. Proverbs 24:11 is therefore binding on the Church and all of its members. No other "authorization" to preach the gospel to the world is required. See also Isaiah 58:1.
But while I have found no command that prohibits those not specifically authorized from preaching to the public, I have found in the New Testament that there is a clear commission for the Church of God to preach the gospel to the world.
Jesus said to the apostles, "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:19-20). There are two issues here. One, does "make disciples" mean preaching to the public? Two, is Christ commissioning the eleven disciples only, or through them the whole Church?
Some would say that making disciples means feeding the flock, not preaching to the world. But this cannot be right. "Make disciples" cannot refer to feeding the flock because Church members, the flock, are ALREADY disciples. In fact, even prospective members before baptism are disciples because the Bible called Christ's followers "disciples" even before they received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. "Make disciples" means to bring new members and prospective members into the flock. Once they are in the flock, they have already become disciples. This also cannot mean only waiting for prospective members to come to the Church through friends and family members. This is because the active word "go" shows that the commission was for those making disciples to actively go someplace to make those disciples. That the apostles understood that to "go" and "make disciples" means "preach the gospel" is proved by the history in Acts that shows that this is exactly what they did - they preached the gospel to the world.
The order given in Matthew 28:19-20 is "go" and "make disciples of all nations" (preach the gospel, you can't do it any other way), "baptize" (making them Church members), then "teaching them to observe all things" (feeding the flock). Feeding the flock is not "making disciples" because Church members are already disciples. You don't just wait for people to come to the Church either, because Jesus says, "go".
"Make disciples of all nations" is commanded along with the word "go". Together they are equivalent to preaching the gospel to the public. Matthew 10:7 says, "And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand' ". This fits with Matthew 28:19. The "go" is to be accompanied with preaching to the public. It is not waiting for teenagers in the Church to grow up and be baptized or for friends and relatives of Church members to express an interest in attending. That is not "going".
I have already quoted Matthew 10:7. If you read the whole passage in Matthew 10:5-15 and also verse 27, it is clear that Christ is commanding the preaching of the gospel to the public, not just feeding the flock.
And although some may not accept Mark 16:9-20 as being in the original inspired text, I will list Mark 16:15 for completeness as another possible scripture where Christ commands the preaching of the gospel to the public, not just feeding the flock.
There is also the evidence of what the apostles actually did as recorded in Acts. I won't take time to cover every scripture that applies, but if you read Acts you will find that the apostles did indeed preach to the public, not just to the Church, starting with Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:5-40). This proves that they understood that the commission they received from Christ was to preach to the public, not just to the Church of God.
But some will say, "This was a commission for those apostles as individuals, not for the Church of God as a whole."
In the New Testament, when Christ commissions the preaching of the gospel, He is speaking to the apostles. But is He giving the apostles only the commission, just those individuals He is speaking to face-to-face, or is Christ giving the commission to the whole Church of God through the apostles? We cannot assume that the commission is only for those apostles as individuals because if Christ intended to commission the Church as a whole He would speak to the apostles in any case. This is because the apostles were to supervise the Church of God after Christ ascended into heaven, and the apostles and a few other disciples were to write the New Testament. If Christ has a commission for the Church of God as a whole, He would give it to the apostles and other disciples that were with Him so they in turn could teach the Church and record Christ's words in the New Testament. Christ would give the commission to the Church through the apostles. That is how hierarchical government works.
When Christ has a command or instruction for the Church, He delivers it to the apostles who in turn teach the Church. That is hierarchical government. Just because Christ delivers it to the apostles does not mean the instructions are for them only as individuals and not the Church.
There also has to be consistency in how we apply Christ's instructions. It would not be consistent to say that Christ's command to Peter to "feed my sheep" (John 21:15-17) is a commission to the ministry of the Church through the ages but Christ's command to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19) is a commission only for the first century apostles and Mr. Armstrong.
So how do we know when Christ speaks to the apostles and gives them the commission to preach the gospel to the world if He is speaking only to them as individuals or through them to the Church? We have to look at the biblical evidence. And the evidence shows that the commission is for the Church, as I will show.
When Jesus speaks to His disciples, He sometimes means the whole Church of God. Matthew chapter 24 proves this. Christ speaks of events beyond the lifetimes of the disciples He is speaking to, yet all the while saying "you". This is proof that Christ can be speaking to those in the Church through the ages and not just the disciples physically present when He is speaking. See also the parallel account in Mark 13:5-31.
We see the same pattern in the messages to the churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3. For each church, Christ commands John to write to the "messenger" (sometimes translated "angel") of that church but the message is for all the people in those churches. It is delivered to each messenger or "angel" for each church, but it is for the membership too. "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."
And the evidence and strong pattern in the New Testament is that the commission and the authority for preaching the gospel to the public was for the Church as a whole.
Look at Matthew 28:16-20. I previously covered verse 19 where Christ gives the commission to go and make disciples. Whom is Christ speaking to, the eleven mentioned in verse 16 or the whole Church? It has to be the whole Church or else how could Christ say just to the eleven that He would be with them "to the end of the age"? They did not live to the end of the age. This is for the Church and was delivered to the apostles so they could teach it to the Church after Christ ascended to heaven and so it could be recorded in the New Testament as a permanent record for the Church.
In Matthew 10:5-42, Jesus speaks to the twelve apostles. He sent them out and commanded them (verse 5). Jesus gave a commission to preach the gospel saying, "And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' " (verse 7). This commission is the main subject of the discourse from verse 5 through 42. See also verse 27. Now, is He instructing the twelve apostles only, or through them the whole Church of God through the ages until Christ returns? Although some of the instructions may be particular to those apostles, such as the instructions in verses 8 through 10, some cannot be, such as verse 23 speaking of Christ returning BEFORE they finish fleeing from one city to another in Israel. So this passage cannot be only for those apostles as individuals because Christ did not return to the earth in their lifetimes. It must be for the Church, given to the apostles to give to the Church. And even though there are details that may apply only at particular times, the whole passage covers the period from that moment that Christ spoke 2,000 years ago till "the Son of Man comes", which today is yet future. It covers the entire Church age and is therefore a general commission for the Church, and must have been delivered to the apostles for the Church of God as a whole through the ages.
There is also the evidence of the practices of the Church of God and the events recorded in the book of Acts. These tell us what the early Church's understanding of the commission was and if it was for the original apostles only or the whole Church.
It is clear that the apostles received a commission to preach the gospel. Did the apostles teach that commission to the Church? If it was a commission for the Church, then yes, they must have. And they would know one way or another. They were close to Christ, had many conversations with Him, and would know exactly the intent of His commands and instructions. They would know when He told them to preach the gospel if He was commissioning only them as individuals or delivering to them a general commission for the Church as a whole. And whatever their understanding was on this issue, that is what they taught the early Church. And we can see what the early Church understood by what they actually did and practiced as recorded in the book of Acts.
Read carefully Acts 8:1-4. The Church was scattered and preached the gospel everywhere. This says "church", not seventy, not apostles, not ministry, but "church". Look closely at Acts 8:1: "Now Saul was consenting to his death. At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles." It says "they" were scattered. Whom does "they" refer to? "The church". It was the CHURCH that was scattered. Now look at verse 4 of Acts 8: "Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word". Who went everywhere "preaching the word"? "Those who were scattered". Who were those who were scattered? Verse 1 of Acts 8 already answered that. It was the Church that was scattered. So these verses clearly state that it was the Church that was scattered and preached the word everywhere. And there is no reason to believe that it was only the seventy among the Church members that Christ had sent out to preach (Luke 10:1). God could have inspired the writer of Acts to say that those who were scattered who were among the seventy Christ had sent out preached the gospel, but Acts 8:4 doesn't say that. God uses the word "church". The focus is on the Church, not just authorized individuals within the Church of God. See also Acts 11:19-21.
How did the Church know that they should preach the gospel after they were scattered? They must have learned it from the apostles and from those who were with Christ. This shows that the apostles understood the commission to preach the gospel to be a general commission for the Church of God, not just for them as individuals. And whatever the apostles taught about this would be correct because they were with Christ for three and a half years and would understand how He spoke. They were close to Him, and they would know if He had given them the commission to preach the gospel only for them as individuals or if He had delivered it to them for the Church.
Look at Acts 18:24-28. As far as I know, this is the first time Apollos is mentioned. He boldly spoke accurately the things of the Lord, but he only knew about the baptism of John. But he preached in the synagogue. Then Aquila and Priscilla explained the way of God more accurately, so his knowledge was limited before that time. Then He publicly preached that Jesus is the Christ. It is apparent that Christ did not appear to Him face-to-face and commission him to preach the gospel, nor did any of the apostles or the seventy delegate that to him, or he would have known more than the baptism of John and Aquila and Priscilla would not have had to explain the way of God to him more accurately. Yet he had started to preach and continued to preach in public. There is not one word showing that anyone gave him the authority to publicly preach the gospel, yet there is also not one word of rebuke towards him, rather the whole tone of the passage is that he was doing a good work. Aquila and Priscilla didn't judge him as being presumptuous, nor did they rebuke him, but they helped him and accepted him. This is more evidence that the apostles and the entire Church understood that the commission delivered to the apostles to preach the gospel to the world was for the whole Church of God, not just the apostles as authorized individuals.
There is not one example I have found in the entire New Testament of anyone who preached the true gospel from a sincere motive being rebuked for preaching without authority. But I see examples of those who preached without any special authority and there is no rebuke of them from the Church, the apostles, or from God. The examples of those who preach even without individual authority are portrayed as positive, not negative.
I might also refer the reader to the account in Luke 9:49-50, where John told Christ someone was casting out demons in Christ's name but was not with them, that is, not with the disciples. While this refers to casting out demons, not preaching the gospel, the principle taught by Christ in this case is instructive. This man was not one of those Christ commissioned or he would have been with the disciples. He was not one of the twelve or one of the seventy. So he was not sent or authorized by Christ as an individual to do anything. Yet Christ does not indicate that the man did anything wrong at all. Rather, Christ says in the context of this man, "he who is not against us is on our side". This goes further than just saying, "don't stop him". Christ says that he is ON OUR SIDE. This man, who was casting out demons, but without being an "authorized individual", is said to be ON CHRIST'S SIDE. Not neutral. Not guilty of being presumptuous by taking upon himself authority not given to him. ON CHRIST'S SIDE. See also Mark 9:40.
I have found no evidence to suggest that Christ only commissioned individuals to preach the gospel to the public. Christ is certainly able to commission individuals to do certain jobs and He sometimes does that, such as when He commissioned Paul specifically to bring the gospel to the gentiles, but that does not override the overall commission to the Church but merely reinforces it.
The only conclusion based on what the Bible says is that the commission to preach the gospel to the world is a general commission for the Church of God, not just a commission for individually authorized apostles. Mr. Armstrong was correct in this. And this merely reinforces the Church's responsibility under Proverbs 24:11 to warn and teach a world that is headed towards disaster.
Just to clarify my position on the respective priorities of preaching to the world and feeding the flock, I do not say that preaching the gospel to the world necessarily has higher priority than feeding the flock. Feeding the flock is important too. They are both important and neither should be neglected. The reason I place so much emphasis in this book on preaching to the world is that there seems to be a significant number of ministers and brethren who feel that this is not important. But I know of no one who believes and teaches that the ministry should not feed the flock. If there was, I would write more about the importance of feeding the flock. We need to do both.
All I am against is the unbalanced approach of feeding the flock only and doing NOTHING or virtually nothing to preach to the world.
Also, in saying that the responsibility to preach God's message to the public is for the whole Church of God, I am not saying that every member has an obligation to preach personally to the public. The Church of God is a team, and there is a division of labor. The leadership and ministry have the primary responsibility for preaching directly to the public and the lay members have the responsibility for backing up the leadership and ministry with their prayers, financial support, and other means. Members can support the gospel even while they are learning to obey all the commandments and overcome. And even among the ministry there is a division of labor, and most pastors have a full-time job feeding the flock. But even in feeding the flock, local pastors can support the preaching of the gospel by teaching their members the importance of getting God's message out and by freeing the time of the evangelists so they can preach to the public. Headquarters speakers and writers can both feed the flock and preach the gospel to the world in a balanced way without neglecting either.
Some church members feel that God cannot be working through any of the main Church of God organizations because the leaders of these organizations are competing with each other, and God does not use competing individuals or organizations to do his work. These members often point out that God is not the author of confusion, and there certainly seems to be a lot of confusion among competing Church of God organizations.
God does not use competition to do His work. I agree with that. But God does use the Church which is made up of imperfect humans, and sometimes converted members do compete, because we have human nature and we still sin. But if anyone has a competitive self-serving attitude, it is the wrong spirit of competition that is sin, not the preaching of the gospel. I don't endorse anyone boasting in their accomplishments in a wrong way or having a competitive attitude towards others. But I do endorse preaching the gospel and I support those who do so, regardless of their human nature and weaknesses.
If a man boasts and competes with others, this does not disqualify him from preaching the gospel. Proverbs 24:11 does not say, "Hold back those stumbling to the slaughter, but only if you don't compete or boast". Boasting and competing might disqualify him from a greater reward or may bring correction from God, but that is no excuse not to preach the gospel.
I certainly do not justify competing Church of God organizations. But many of these organizations are so far off base in their doctrines I do not consider that the gospel they preach has much truth in it at all, or rather it is truth mixed with a lot of serious errors. They have so much heresy, some of them, that it seems that only a very few faithful groups are defending themselves and protecting their members from the heresies of many other groups, and this can look like the faithful groups are practicing "competition" when they are not.
I have heard or read the argument that God's priority for Christians is that we love one another in one-on-one interactions, and that Christ's admonition in His message to the seven churches in Revelation is to overcome, not to preach the gospel. Is it true that "overcoming" does not include preaching the gospel in our time and circumstances today?
Overcoming means overcoming sin, which means practicing God's law, which is the law of love. 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 gives a description of love.
Some may feel that the teaching in the Bible about practicing love towards others refers only to personal one-on-one interactions, not helping many people or helping others through an "impersonal" corporate entity such as a church organization. Those who feel this way may believe a Church of God member's only obligation to teach others is to be a light and personal example to those around him or her. It is only our personal example of living God's way of life and reflecting the character of Jesus Christ and our acts of service towards individuals we know that is important, according to this view.
But love is not limited to one-on-one interactions. Love includes outgoing concern for the welfare of many.
God so loved the WORLD that He gave His Son. That is more than just one-on-one. The watchman in Ezekiel 33:1-4 is not sent by God, but if he fails to warn Israel, their blood is on his head. He did not show love to his country to warn the people. He let them die. God says their blood is on his head. The principle of Proverbs 24:11 is not restricted to helping people only "one on one", that is, you can only help "deliver" or "hold back" one individual from stumbling to the slaughter. Proverbs 24:11 says "those", plural, who are drawn towards death and stumbling to the slaughter. Not the singular "he who is drawn towards death...". The plural "those" certainly applies to the people of the world. That is more than just one-on-one love towards one individual at a time. Our obligation to love others includes, if necessary, helping whole groups of people who need help or need a warning.
According to 1 Corinthians 13:4, love includes kindness. Read the book of Jonah. Was it not kindness towards Nineveh on God's part to send Jonah to warn Nineveh, even to force Jonah to warn them? And after Jonah warned Nineveh, they repented, and Jonah was not pleased that God didn't punish them. Then later God destroyed a plant and Jonah was angry about the plant. Then God said, "And should I not pity Nineveh, that great city, in which are more than one hundred and twenty thousand persons who cannot discern between their right hand and their left - and much livestock?" (Jonah 4:11). Wasn't it an act of kindness on God's part to make sure that Jonah warned Nineveh, the same kindness Paul wrote about in 1 Corinthians 13:4? Or is being kind to whole groups of people only God's prerogative, and people are only permitted to show kindness to one person at a time?
Is preaching the gospel to the world an act of kindness? Read Matthew 11:4-5 or Luke 7:22. Christ mentions the poor having the gospel preached to them in the same context as the blind seeing, the lame walking, lepers being cleansed, the deaf hearing, and the dead raised to life. What do all these have in common? They are all acts of kindness. Mark 6:34 says, "And Jesus, when He came out, saw a great multitude and was moved with compassion for them, because they were like sheep not having a shepherd. So He began to teach them many things." This is just before he fed them with loaves and fishes and it says there were about five thousand men. Five thousand, maybe more if there were women and children, is not one-on-one. Yet Jesus showed compassion for them. Is He our example or not? And please notice how he showed compassion. He TAUGHT them. Here is a perfect example that shows that teaching the multitudes is an act of kindness. Then if it is an act of love and kindness on the part of Jesus Christ to teach the multitudes, and if Christ is our perfect example, then it is also love and kindness for us to teach the world the truth today.
Also, see 2 Chronicles 36:15 in which God said that He gave warnings out of a motive of compassion.
I don't object to every Church member working on being a light and working with others one-on-one to help them and bring them to the truth. I can understand that this method has advantages over having a corporate organization between the ones doing the helping and the ones receiving the help, because one-on-one is more personal. But it is wrong to condemn the corporate model as a way of preaching the gospel because it has certain advantages too, namely, the potential scope and effectiveness is enormous. I know that some people come into the Church through a personal contact. But God doesn't reach everyone that way. I had no personal contact. I found the Plain Truth magazine when I was working in the post office and I copied the address and wrote in for a subscription. I was eighteen. I had no contact with any friend or relative who was a member. It was the corporate entity that made contact with me through the impersonal vehicle of a magazine. But it worked. I learned the truth. And I am glad I did.
And today I can reach more people by contributing to a corporate organization than the number of people I even know personally.
To restrict preaching the gospel only through personal acquaintances leaves most Americans out in the cold because most Americans do not know any Church members. I do not want them left out and I am sure God does not want them left out.
Christ rebuked the Pharisees for not reading the signs of the times they were living in, calling them hypocrites (Matthew 16:1-3). We should use the spiritual discernment God gives us to see that this world is on the fast path to destruction and the end of this age is near. Israel and the world need a warning and the true gospel as never before. Love should motivate us to give that warning. And practicing love is what overcoming is all about.
Government in the Church
I am adding this section as a follow-up to
the last section because I realize that in saying that the commission to preach
the gospel is for the Church, I may be giving the impression to some that I am
against government in the Church and the authority of the ministry, and that I
am advocating that each individual member feel free to preach the gospel to the
public directly, even if contrary to the directions of the ordained ministry
over him in the fellowship he attends. That is NOT what I am saying.
I do not think that devoting all resources to feeding the flock, even to the neglect of preaching the gospel to the world, is a solution to the scattered condition of the Church. At best, it is just trying to treat the symptom, not the cause of the problem. At worst, it will actually hurt the Church and lead the members farther away from God and the lessons He wants us to learn.
I think Laodiceanism began to grow in the Church of God well before the death of Mr. Armstrong. The cause of this Laodiceanism was not obedience to God's command to preach the gospel to the world, but rather I think that contributing causes of Laodiceanism may have been an attitude of judging other members, neglect of personal Bible study, and making an idol out of the Church and the ministry by putting our faith in the Church and the teaching of the ministry over and above faith in God and what He says in the Bible. I also do not rule out a lack of sufficient zeal for preaching the gospel to the world on the part of the majority of the membership as a contributing cause of Laodiceanism, or an effect of Laodiceanism that became a cause for God's judgment.
Once the Church had become Laodicean in God's eyes, God's judgment was to scatter the Church to test us and to ultimately correct us for our own good. God allowed individuals to gain control of the Worldwide Church of God who changed the doctrines that Mr. Armstrong taught us from the Bible.
The changes in doctrine led to a divided ministry, and the divided ministry resulted in a scattered membership.
Focusing exclusively now on teaching true doctrine to the Church will not heal the Church because it tries to treat the effect, not the cause, of the Laodiceanism that led to the scattering. To heal the Church, members and ministers must address the causes of Laodiceanism. False doctrine is not the cause of Laodiceanism because it came AFTER Laodiceanism, not before.
Preaching to the public is a command from God, and it is part of an overall program for the Church to build character in its members and to accomplish God's will in the earth. It is part of a balanced approach. As an organized body, we cannot just look inward, we have to look outward to share with others the truth we have been given just as those who preceded us sacrificed to share the truth they had so that we might have it. That pattern never changes. We accomplish nothing by going in an unbalanced direction of only serving ourselves by feeding ourselves. There is no indication in the Bible that you can do a better job of feeding the flock and building faith by not preaching to the public.
The solution is for each of us to renew our commitment to God, to focus more on Bible study and believing and obeying what God says in the Bible, to stop judging and evaluating other members in matters that are not our responsibility, and to learn to compare ourselves with Jesus Christ and His example and teachings rather than other church members. None of this excludes the preaching of the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel. Rather, as we learn to imitate the zeal of Jesus Christ for doing the Father's work, we will be more and more motivated to support preaching the truth to the public with zeal as never before.
Failing to preach the gospel to the world, or a weak zeal for doing so, may itself be an expression of Laodiceanism. We need to be more zealous for sharing the truth with the public, not less. A lukewarm attitude towards making sacrifices to preach the gospel may be one of the things the Church needs to repent of.
God has been testing us and giving us time to repent. I think that when God's time comes, He will gather together the few that have been learning the lessons He wants them to learn and will use those few to do and to finish a powerful work, and then will protect them during the tribulation.