Robert J. Thiel
Arroyo Grande, CA
December 18, 2001
Dear Norman Edwards:
This is in response to your letter to hierarchical COG organizations. I briefly mentioned your letter to Roderick C. Meredith and he said I could respond to it on his behalf if I wished. For the record, I should probably start off by saying that I did not show Dr. Meredith the letter or mention most of the questions to him, nor am I on the payroll of the Living Church of God (LCG), nor do I hold any ordained position. Your questions will be in italics as well as some of your more relevant comments.
1. Do not the members of your own church organization prove that the Eternal does not always govern through the top down? …church government would be cleaned up by God Himself… no group has any “signs” which make it obviously “the one”… no media outreach anything like the WCG… they (LCG members) disobeyed the man appointed by Herbert Armstrong.
Not exactly. The Bible teaches that although we are to submit to secular (1Pet 2:13–14) and non-secular human governments (1Tim 5:17; Heb 13:7), “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). In case of any conflict, the Bible teaches we must individually do what is right. The Global Church of God (GCG) was formed only three months after WCG released its God Is booklet and we feel that God was making it clearer for His people who saw that J. Tkach was teaching apostasy that there was a place to go. Both Herbert Armstrong and the Apostle Paul taught, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1Cor 11:1). We are not to imitate areas of anyone’s sins, nor are we to put up with false doctrine (Eph 4:14). The same Paul who wrote, “Remember those who have the rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you” (Heb 13:7) also wrote, “But even if we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Gal 1:8). Our members knew they were not to obey the lawless teachings of another gospel from J. Tkach, and it matters not who appointed him.
Response: I am glad that we agree that we are not commanded to follow a human leader just because he was appointed by someone we respect. I think this also applies to an LCG member who feels that his LCG minister is doing or teaching something unbiblical—the member would be considered free to do what he understands to be right, even if the minister were appointed by Mr. Meredith.
Letter: Jesus taught His people, “Therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:20) and that, “Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (6:21). LCG spends approximately the same percentage of its income to proclaim the Gospel as WCG did under Herbert Armstrong (I verified this personally with Fred Dattolo who worked in WCG’s and LCG’s accounting departments); I do not believe that this can be said about the other large COGs (but you can check with them if you wish). With currently about 137 television stations and 9 radio stations broadcasting Tomorrow’s World, LCG probably has the largest media outreach of any COG. And while many of those stations are cable-access, LCG has about the same ratio of telephone responses per church attendee to its telecast as WCG used to have to The World Tomorrow. LCG’s new baptism (those who were never part of WCG) to telephone respondent ratio is nearly three times as high as WCG’s used to be. GCG/LCG has had more baptisms of people who previously had not attended any COG than any other group that I am aware of.
We believe that LCG has been most biblically consistent in doctrine and practice to WCG when Herbert Armstrong was alive than any other group we are aware of, so in that way you could say that LCG is “the one”. The more people in the COGs that support us, the more extensive our media outreach should become—any who do criticize us for our total impact in this area, but do not support us, should understand that.
LCG has prayed and fasted for some of the other miraculous signs you alluded to which we believe God will grant when it suits His time table (there are some few COG groups which claim to have had direct supernatural revelation now, but suffice it to say that my research into them questions that the ‘revelations’ were from God).
Response: Wow! You are stating that the LCG is “the one” church organization, which means that the other similar groups are not “the one”. So how are members to make this life-critical decision of finding the right one? By a very few ratios and measures of gospel preaching money, baptisms, TV stations, etc. The Bible does say we can know a group by its fruit, and it is good that the LCG and many other church organizations are preaching the gospel, baptizing, etc. But does the Bible mention overall spiritual fruit, or does it give a formula we can use to compare budgets and baptism and know which group is “the one”? If you believe God expects members to make this most-important decision based upon those numbers, I would expect you to clearly state the exact amounts and ratios of money you spend on evangelism, the exact number of baptisms, etc. I would expect the LCG to have a booklet giving those numbers, and giving the same numbers for competing organizations, proving the LCG is best. How can you know that the LCG is “the one” without those numbers?
You used ratios for some of your figures probably because the UCG-IA, being larger, has higher absolute numbers. Cannot you thank God that the UCG-IA exists and is doing a similar work, even though it may be slightly less effective in a few areas? On the other hand, you will probably find that Christian Educational Ministries (Ron Dart) has a much greater ratio of money going to Gospel preaching than the LCG. They are smaller, yes, but what does God count: a high ratio or total numbers?
Please realize that the areas you mention are not the only commands given to the Church in the Bible. Some groups may have more local congregations and serve them better; others may give more to the poor (as the Apostles frequently mentioned). Other groups may do more in international areas. Christ taught that various parts of His body should not consider themselves better than the others (1Cor 12). Does anyone really believe that in the judgment, Christ is going to give everyone a quiz on the various Church organization’s media statistics and fault those who were in the wrong group? Will He fault you if there is a group with better numbers that you never found out about? What if the non-aligned believers reached more people and had more baptisms, but no man knew it because only Christ was keeping score?
Also, please realize that nearly every CoG group says that they could be doing a much bigger work if only lots more brethren would come to them. Many also say that God will eventually give them miraculous signs and wonders. Personally, I do not think God will grant any such things to part of his body that will use them to exalt themselves over the other parts of His body. “And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you’; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’ No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary” (1Cor 12:21–22). He wants to see us learn to work together and love each other.
Letter: 2a. There are members who left WCG, joined another WCG split-off, then joined your group, Are not these members proof that these other split-off groups are part of the Church of God and therefore brethren? Does your group automatically rebaptize or discipline former WCG members…? Or do you welcome them with open arms?
While we cannot speak for all the ‘split-off’ groups, we do believe that there are Church of God members, our brethren, who fellowship in other groups. If some who were once part of various COG groups attend with us, we do not automatically baptize them. I know in our video group we welcome them with open arms, and that is the position of LCG.
2.b. But if you consider people in other groups as brethren, then why don’t you encourage your members to fellowship with these brethren, share joint activities, and services, etc.? …If your group is truly and obviously doing the most significant work of God now, would not the intermixing of brethren cause more of them to see your group and begin to attend it? Or are you afraid that your members will continue to check your teaching against Scripture…?
We encourage our members to check the Scriptures to “prove all things” as Paul taught, thus we are not afraid of them looking into their Bibles. In keeping with the admonition to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25), I personally have attended with UCG on many occasions when I travel and there has been no LCG group in the area. This is consistent with what the Apostle Paul did as well (except he visited Jewish synagogues), as well as the practices of the old WCG (where CG7 was considered an option for travelers).
However, we have differences in doctrine and practice with the other COGs, and cannot wholly condone their teachings as appropriate. The Bible itself has many lessons and warnings about false teachers, and warns the leadership to protect against that (e.g. Acts 20:28–30). It even shows that some teachers called of God do not understand everything as well as they should (e.g. Acts 18:24–26); so why should our members intentionally be exposed to some we feel are in that category? Amos also wrote, “Can two walk together unless they are agreed?”. And Solomon, “Whatsoever thy hand finds to do, do it with your might”, thus assuming they agree with LCG, we feel that it is not appropriate for our members to regularly fellowship outside LCG.
If LCG members regularly attend non-LCG services, we believe that this gives credence to a current misconception that all the COG groups are about the same. We believe our members set a better example for those in other COGs by regularly attending with LCG. We have no prohibition with our members meeting or having activities with individuals in other COGs (unless they have been specifically disfellowshipped or some other specific problem may be involved). Peter said that we are to “grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:16) and believe that regular attendance at LCG services best helps accomplish this goal. We believe that those who are looking for doctrinal consistency and the practice of placing the top priority on proclaiming the Gospel will be led to find LCG.
Response: I am glad that you will attend with other groups when you travel and there are no LCG services. I am glad you see them as brethren. But what are LCG members supposed to do who live in areas where there are no LCG services? Would it not be better that they follow Hebrews 11:25 and assemble with another group of believers there? Yet I know of LCG members who were told they must drive many hours to an LCG congregation or else stay home—when another group has a congregation nearby. Could not you publish a book titled Known Errors of the UCG-IA, so that your members could be protected from the tiny bit of false doctrine there? Then they could have fellowship and share all the good things the Scriptures mention.
In most cases, the people who want to attend multiple groups are not new believers, but people who have been in the CoG’s for 20 to 40 years. Numerous scriptures show that those who will be in the first resurrection must be willing to suffer and die for Christ (Matt 16:24–25; 19:28–29; Acts 14:22; Rom 8:17; Phil 1:8; 2Tim 2:12, Rev 20:4). These scriptures are not addressed to apostles or leaders. After great persecution, it was brethren “who were scattered” that “went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:1, 4). Should not brethren who have been in the church many years be able to be teachers (Heb 5:12), able to recognize and correct the minor doctrinal error that they might find in another Church of God group? How will people endure to the death in the future and rule in the Kingdom if they cannot accept such a small challenge now?
Another question that should be asked about the policy of not letting LCG members frequently attend other groups: Is this policy working? Are thousands of people from other groups flocking to the LCG because of this policy? To me, it sounds a lot more like standard “us versus them” rivalry like one might find between rival sports teams. Romans 14 shows beyond a doubt that brethren with some doctrinal disagreements can fellowship together. Jesus clearly stated that His followers would be known by their love, not by their adherence to a group that has slightly better statistics than some others.
Letter: 2.c. Why do you continue the sectarianism that Paul spoke against? (1Cor 1:10–17; 3:1–10). How do you explain this to new converts that come into your group?
It is somewhat shocking that you would ask that first question as you recently wrote “Mr. Pack and I perform the same service for many former WCG members: We both teach against hierarchical government” (Servants’ News, May/June 2001, p.18). Proper hierarchical governance does a better job than what you advocate to insure that “you all speak the same thing, that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment” (1Cor 1:10). We do not claim to be ‘of Meredith’ or any other man. We believe that the major work is being done in LCG and that Dr. Meredith is the human head of that group, under Jesus Christ.
Response: For years I also thought that hierarchical government is the solution to unity: One man answers the questions on behalf of Christ, there is no division among the people, and those who oppose the decisions are removed. But is that what Paul did? And has that worked for the GCG/LCG?
If we quote the beginning of your verse it says “Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ…” (1Cor 1:10). If there was a hierarchy, why isn’t Paul telling the Corinthian minister to keep these brethren “in line”? Also notice, that he is “pleading”, not ordering on threat of disfellowshipment. The same Greek word, parakaleo, is used in 1 Corinthians 16:12 where Paul “pleads” for Apollos to make a trip, but he decided not to. In this same letter Paul says: “…when you come together as a church, I hear that there are divisions among you, and in part I believe it. For there must also be factions among you, that those who are approved may be recognized among you” (1Cor 11:18–19). It is wonderful for believers to be of one mind in Christ, but Paul does not teach that the way to achieve this is for one person to command all others. A unity created by a church hierarchy with an “agree or get out policy” is no different than the many dictatorships throughout history that proclaimed the same thing.
Since you mentioned Dave Pack, I think it is important to examine how, in his case, hierarchy was a detriment to unity. When I worked for the GCG in 1993–1994, there were many complaints about Mr. Pack’s abusive nature and Mr. Meredith once said that he continually had to correct Mr. Pack and would not keep him as a minister, except that he kept bringing so many new members and money to the GCG. When I left the GCG, I heard many more complaints about Mr. Pack—even found that he was the cause for many leaving the GCG. But because the GCG was a hierarchy, headquarters always heard Mr. Pack’s side of problems, but rarely heard the member’s side (Pack warned them not to “go around him” to headquarters). Some members left, but many stayed, willing to endure this “bad minister” to remain in the “one true Church organization”. After Mr. Pack began his own organization, there was no longer a hierarchy over him to defend him—it was more like a local congregation. He still brought in hundreds of members, but when they saw his abusive ways, they either brought it to his attention and were disfellowshipped, or just left on their own. Almost every year, Pack’s headquarters staff has left his group after seeing how he operates.
I believe this incident shows that the GCG (now LCG) leaders thought they had unity but did not. Mr. Pack was able to continually go against GCG policies but keep the GCG headquarters supporting him. When Mr. Pack left the larger hierarchical structure, the members in his group are now much better able to get to the heart of the problem and solve it (leave).
Letter: As far as new members are concerned, we believe in Church eras and believe that rejection of governance may be one of the signs of a Laodicean attitude (as the term Laodicea seems to mean the ‘people rule’, ‘people decide’, or ‘rights of the people’). We believe that LCG has picked up the ‘Philadelphia mantle’. The other COGs that are accepted by God fall into various eras and God can determine which.
Response: Here you are giving another reason why brethren should choose the LCG over the other groups and it seems to be largely conjecture. You use terms like “church era” and “Philadelphia mantle” which are not in any Bible translation that I know of. Your organization teaches against doctrines like the “Trinity” and “Rapture” because they are not in the Bible, so why should anyone accept your non-biblical doctrines? Seven times, Christ tells every person to listen to every message to every church (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 29; 3:6, 13, 22). I think we should look at all of those messages and see if they apply to us .
“Laodicean” comes from two words meaning “rule” or “justice” and “people”. Both you and I agree that Christ is the head of the Church and that He rules it through people. Our only difference is how many people. You believe He rules through one (Mr. Meredith) and I believe He rules through the entire Body. The word “Laodicean” says nothing about how many people should be ruling. Christ does clearly say that Laodiceans are lukewarm and think they are “rich, wealthy and have need of nothing”. This reminds me a little bit about your claim of spending the most money for preaching. It also reminds me of the time Mr. Meredith said he thought they understood 90 to 95% of all biblical truth. I will go on record as saying I do not think I will know that much before I die. I have continually learned new things over the last seven years, both from my own study and the study of others. Am I saying that the LCG is the Laodicean church? No. There are probably people with Laodicean problems there, but Christ promises to correct them individually (Rev 3:19) and any of them can come to Him individually (v20–21).
Letter: The Philadelphians accept that “Christ is head of the church” (Eph 5:23), and accept authority within the Church: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ” (Eph 4:11–15). I am aware that you interpret that scripture differently than how we do, so I have simply quoted it so that those who have an ear to hear can hear it.
Response: I’ve never found a group that does not agree that “Christ is the head of the church”. The question is always, “Does He work through one or many men?” With Christ having infinite power and wisdom, it is hard to understand why He would channel all of that through just one fragile human, but let us look at your scripture. The NKJV rightly translates the Greek in Ephesians 4:11: “He Himself gave…” Usually, just Greek verb endings would be used to indicate the word “he”, but this verse uses the Greek word autos for the subject to emphasize that He is doing it Himself. I believe that spiritual gifts that brethren can recognize are given through Christ, not through a human hierarchy.
Letter: Here is a quote from the Living Church News on LCG and Philadelphia, “Mr. Armstrong wrote that he restored to the Church of God at least 18 truths that the previous era had lost (Mystery of the Ages, p. 251, 1985 hardback edition, p. 207, 1985 paperback edition, section “Partial Truth”, chapter “Mystery of the Church”). Philadelphians are the ones who hold to those truths (as well as all other biblical truths)—including governance—and will be able to have a crown and to rule! Philadelphians have ‘kept My command to persevere’ (Rev 3:10). Holding fast to Truth, while putting a priority on proclaiming the Gospel, is what sets the Philadelphian Church apart… The Living Church of God cannot claim that all its members are Philadelphian, but we do believe we are a uniquely Philadelphian remnant. Can one find a larger or more effective ‘corporate body’ which retains the Truth as taught by Mr. Armstrong, without adding non-biblical ‘revelations’ or diverting its members from making their top priority the Great Commission of proclaiming the Gospel as established by Jesus Christ? No! One can expect that Philadelphians, who care about doing an effective Work and holding fast to the Truth, will naturally support the Living Church of God” (Thiel, Robert, What is a Philadelphian? Living Church News, Jul-Aug 2001; p.15).
Response: I attempted to honestly study Herbert Armstrong’s 18 truths in our Dec 1998 issue (p 32). Only four of them are truths that he restored to common teaching. Most were taught widely by other groups, and at least two were not, from Bible understanding, “truths”. Again, if you are going to declare the LCG “the one” church based upon evangelism spending and your continued following of Herbert Armstrong’s doctrine, I think it very important that someone write down exactly what those figures are and what your doctrines are so they can be honestly compared with other groups.
Letter: Although we believe that, due to confusion and misreporting over the last years, there are some Philadelphians in other fellowships, we believe that the largest remnant of the Philadelphians fellowship with LCG. I should add LCG teaches that just being a member of LCG does not make one a “Philadelphian” and that we undoubtedly have some “Laodiceans” in our midst.
Response: That is a good teaching. You may have some with the characteristics of Ephesus, Sardis or other groups, too.
Letter: 3. Is it possible that Christ intended to end Herbert Armstrong’s work?
Perhaps it would be wisest to first look at what Herbert Armstrong himself wrote on this matter, “God has given his Church dual responsibility: 1) ‘Go ye into all the world’ and proclaim the good news—announcement—of the coming kingdom of God. 2) ‘Feed my sheep’. But in feeding the ‘sheep’, developing in them God’s spiritual character, God has given them their part in supporting, backing up, the great commission: ‘Go ye into all the world’” (Mystery of the Ages, p. 265, 1985 hardback edition, p. 218, 1985 paperback edition, section “Real Purpose of the Church”, chapter “Mystery of the Church”). “From the year 1931, exactly 1,900 years (a century of time cycles) from the foundation of the Church, this small remnant of the original true Church of God began to take on new life as the Philadelphia era. This era of the Church was to produce fruit” (Mystery of the Ages, pp. 289–290, 1985 hardback edition, p. 227, 1985 paperback edition, section “Restoration of God’s Truth to Church”, chapter “Mystery of the Church”). “But Christ said to His Philadelphia era Church, that because we have but little strength, He would OPEN THOSE DOORS TO US (Revelation 3:8)” (Letter, Nov. 19, 1976). “It may be that the Work that God has given me to do is complete, but not the Work of God’s Church, which will be faithfully doing God’s Work till Christ, the True Head of this Church, returns… Remember brethren, this is not the work of Herbert W. Armstrong… The greatest work lies ahead… Never before in the history of the Church has it been possible to reap so great a harvest. It has only been made possible through modern technology, beginning with the printing press, radio, television… Each of you must commit yourself to support God’s Work… God’s work must push ahead as never before. God is opening up new doors in television” (Letter, 1/10/86).
Response: I remember reading and believing these things that Herbert Armstrong said for many years. But if one thinks about them, they are extremely contradictory. If print and electronic media are the “open door” of Revelation 3:7, then every church organization that uses that media is “Philadelphian”. If electronic media is only to be considered an “open door” for the WCG because it was given better prices and airing times than all the other groups, the proof of that has never been published. If it is only to be considered an “open door” for the WCG because the WCG had more media than any other group, then we are saying that Philadelphia had “the most strength” rather than “a little strength” (verse 8).
So what is an open door? I once read about a missionary group that went to a Muslim country to start a congregation. When they arrived, the police told them that such preaching was illegal and that they could not stay. The missionary responded that God had opened this door and that they would not be able to shut it. The police could have arrested them, but did not and the mission lasted for many years. I think this is just one of many ways this scripture could be applied.
Letter: And to be sure that this portion of the work would continue after he died, Herbert Armstrong insured that there were others designated to continue to make television programs after his death. One of those was evangelist Richard Ames, who remains faithful to this mission to this day, as he is still making television programs to proclaim the Gospel! Another evangelist who was preaching the Gospel in the French language over radio while Mr. Armstrong was alive, Dibar Apartian, continues to preach it to this day. When I asked him if Mr. Armstrong told him to stop doing this in the event of his death, Mr. Apartian responded, “To the contrary, he told me he wanted me to go on more stations.” This concept is confirmed by Mr. Armstrong in his third to last letter, “I thank God that he has organized this present work of his so thoroughly that regardless of the outcome of my present illness, the work will continue right on to the Second Coming of Christ” (Letter dated 12/23/85). Thus it seems clear that Mr. Armstrong felt that he was the leader of the Philadelphia era, but that if he died prior to the time of the end, that he considered that his work was done, but that the Church should continue to preach the gospel to the world!
Response: Christ clearly told us that we should be doing His work when He returns (Matt 24:45). I am glad that the LCG is reaching out to teach others. I think you misunderstood my question. To me, the end of the work of Herbert Armstrong does not mean the end of God’s work at all, but to you, I think they are the same thing.
Mr. Armstrong’s bolded statement above, however, is a discredit to Christ and clearly in error. He credits Christ with organizing the WCG so its work would continue, but it was the very organization of the WCG that allowed one man and a few of his friends to completely change it within a few years. Other works similar to Mr. Armstrong’s continued, but they all started from zero, making new booklets, new magazines, new programs, etc. Each one thinks they are “the one”, and largely thanks to Mr. Armstrong’s approach, they have no idea how to show love toward or co-operate with each other. How did Christ organize His work during the first century when there was much greater persecution? He sent apostles, prophets, brethren, and copies of the New Testament everywhere and He directed them personally. There was variety in doctrine and practice, but there was no central target that Jewish or Roman persecutors could strike to disable the Church.
Letter: We agree with those writings by Herbert Armstrong as the Living Church of God believes, “the primary function of the true Church of God is to GO to all nations and preach the same powerful message Jesus preached about the coming Kingdom of God!” (Meredith, Roderick C. Should You Be Baptized? Booklet. 1999; p. 17). However, in your question you specifically asked about Christ. The best way to address that would seem to be to look to Scripture:
“When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left… Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me’” (Matt 25:31–33, 44–46). These are people who said they would have done the work if they understood that is what Jesus wanted, however they did not minister to those Jesus wanted them to minister to.
Response: I am not sure how this scripture fits your subject. It is specifically talking about individuals taking care of other people when they see they have physical needs. It is not talking about preaching the Gospel or tithing to a “work”. I have occasionally helped people in need, or let them stay at my house. Does the LCG encourage its members to do this?
Letter: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached to all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then the end shall come” (Matt 24:14). I would like to emphasize that THE END HAS NOT YET COME so we should not give up early! Scripture indicates that Jesus also does not want us to give up early, “Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing” (Matt 24:44–46).
I should probably add that one person argued with me
that since Jesus does not return until after the place of safety, that this
verse does not mean we need to proclaim the Gospel now—how does this person
know what work may be done in the place of safety? And since it is likely
that many of God’s people will die before then, for them, the Master could
come anytime; also LCG’s teaching is that we do go to a place of safety at
the time of the end. James wrote, “Show me your faith without your works,
and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God.
You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know,
O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?” (James 2:18–20). Thus it
would seem more logical that the work should continue to be done now. Remember
it was Jesus who also said,
“I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4); it is still ‘day’, which means we are to do the work as long as we possibly can.
Jesus had a few comments for those who felt it was not time to do the work, “Jesus said to them, “My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. Do you not say, ‘There are still four months and then comes the harvest’? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this the saying is true: ‘One sows and another reaps.’ I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors’” (John 4:34–38). Jesus also taught, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit” (John 15:16).
Response: Again, I agree we should keep working, I just do not agree that we should teach in the name of Herbert Armstrong or claim to continue his work.
Letter: Some have claimed the work begun under Herbert Armstrong is through, because it was only to be done by an apostle and since LCG does not claim to have any apostles, we should not do the work. Jesus, however, sent non-apostles out to heal the sick and preach about the Kingdom of God (Luke 10:1–12). God used a deacon (Stephen), one who was only supposed to serve tables, to get His message out and even get a vision from God (Acts 6–7). “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word” (Acts 8:3–4), those everywhere preaching were not just apostles. Interestingly, Paul started preaching (Acts 9:19–20) BEFORE he was made an apostle (Acts 13:2). Timothy was an evangelist (2Tim 4:5) and not an apostle (2Cor 2:1), yet Paul wrote, “Now if Timothy comes, see that he may be with you without fear; for he does the work of the Lord, as I also do” (1Cor 16:10) and “Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season” (2Tim 4:2). There simply is no biblical restriction that preaching the Gospel must be limited to apostles.
Response: Great. I agree with you here. We do not need apostles, evangelists or even “ordained ministers” to preach the gospel. If you check your Bible (ignoring the headings added later) you will see that it does not say that Stephen was a deacon—he was simply appointed to wait on tables. Apollos started preaching without contact from the apostles at all.
Letter: Some independents and other COG groups claim that they do not need to place a priority on proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom to the world as witness, because they claim they are tasked primarily with “feeding the flock”.
“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves” (Jms 1:22). Jesus said, “And as you go, preach, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give” (Matt 10:7–8). He did not say to stop giving after He died, to the contrary He taught, “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’” (Matt 28:18–20). Notice that Jesus told the disciples to do both, as Mr. Armstrong also wrote, but to first go to all the nations.
Philadelphians need to keep preaching to the world until the end comes, since they will be around until the end comes (Revelation 3:10).
Response: If you believe that there is “one true church organization”, I can understand why you would expect that organization to fulfill all of the biblical commands to the church. I would also be quite concerned that my organization has done virtually nothing to reach the people of China, Russia, Islamic nations, etc. But if one believes that Christ rules His church made of many congregations and ministries, and that He has clearly shown you what He wants you to do (which might be “feed a flock”), then I would not feel bad about not preaching the gospel as the LCG does. I can also read an article about hundreds of thousands of Chinese Sabbatarians and know that Christ is taking care of those people whether or not they and Rod Meredith know about each other.
Letter: 4. The New Testament shows that Christ and His Apostles spent much time answering difficult questions from Pharisees, heretics and sometimes brethren. What will you do?
I have done so here.
Response: Thank you very much! I think it is a shame that most top leaders of COG groups never answer questions in an open forum (where they must either answer any question or clearly be seen as refusing to answer) as Christ and the apostles did. But as the old leaders depart, maybe a new generation of Church of God leaders will emerge that will answer questions, and we may be able to grow in our understanding and appreciation of each other.
Letter: Regarding the New Testament, let’s read what Paul told Timothy on this matter, “I urged you… that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause dispute rather than godly edification which is from faith” (1Tim 1:3–4); he also told Titus “there are many insubordinate” (Titus 1:10). I assume that when you sent this letter, you did not intend to change your mind on “hierarchical governments”, but I do hope that perhaps some of your readership will realize that if they choose to support LCG, that LCG is serious about getting the Gospel out, and that our form of governance has been more effective than others to do what we are doing.
Response: I hoped that everyone would learn from these letters. I hoped that either I would come to new understanding of how multiple similar CoG groups can function, each claiming to be “the one” church, or that these CoG groups would see the difficulty with their position and think about making peace with each other. When you concluded your form of government was “more effective than others”, which other groups did you study and find less effective? The Church of God Seventh Day groups do not have a strong central hierarchy, but still have over 200,000 members worldwide. The Gideon Bible Society is not hierarchical, and it has taken the Word of God more places than the WCG did. If God’s will for the WCG members was for all to individually recognize that they should leave and join the GCG/LCG, then the WCG was less than 10% effective in its mission, because less than that percentage joined the GCG/LCG. If we want to simply consider “warning the world” as the WCG’s mission, we also must classify it as ineffective because it taught that the end was coming “in a few/ten/fifteen short years” or “certainly within your lifetime”. These phrases appear frequently in the WCG correspondence course and prophetic booklets. The “short years” phrases are now all completely wrong and the “lifetime” ones are becoming more wrong by the day. The generation which Mr. Armstrong warned has not seen the great tribulation, but is gradually going to their graves in relative peace. How can you fault them for saying: “Mr. Armstrong’s timing was wrong so the Bible says we do not have to listen to him (Deut 18:22), we therefore reject the rest of his message.”
Letter: It should be added that part of the problem in addressing your points is that you seem to have your own ideas about how “hierarchical organizations” are to handle governance, etc. In my response I have NOT attempted to address issues you may raise about the answers provided (and as I mentioned to you on the telephone, if you are going to comment on this letter, please comment after running the letter in its entirety—do not break it up).
Response: I’m sorry that I broke up your letter, but that was the only readable way to respond to it on a point by point basis, as you broke my letter up and responded to it that way.
Letter: To some degree, I question the wisdom of answering your questions, but since I told you I would, I have tried to do so to at least keep my word. Paul wrote, “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those in who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth” (2Tim 2:23–25).
The sad fact is that my answers will probably not change the mindset of those who are against COGs with “hierarchical governments”. It is my hope that those who once claimed to believe in “hierarchical governance” and believed that the Church’s top priority was to proclaim the Gospel, will begin to understand that LCG is the COG group which is closest in doctrine and practice to WCG when Herbert Armstrong was alive, and will be willing to support us as we try to help humanity.
Sincerely, Robert J. Thiel
Response: I thank you very much for writing this letter and making your case. I doubt these are foolish questions as I have heard many people ask them—including people who were drawn to study the Bible by an LCG telecast, but then began attending an independent fellowship when they could not find good answers to these questions.
I am not sure why you do not expect anyone to change based upon what you write. If this situation were reversed and I were to write an article about government, and you were to respond to it as I have done, and it were to be printed in an LCG publication, I would expect to get dozens, maybe hundreds, of responses to it. I think it would change many people’s minds—though certainly not all.
I appreciate your desire to help humanity. You appear to be an honest man with a good heart. I encourage you, as opportunity permits, to work closely with the LCG leaders and observe how their hierarchy works from the inside. It was that very thing that sent me to the Scriptures to study, and those studies that caused me to seek a Work that was centered around Christ, rather than a hierarchical organization.
Nevertheless, I rejoice in the good that the LCG is doing. There is more than enough work for all of us to do, and none of us (including me) do it in perfection. May you work in peace, my brother.
— Norman Edwards
Servants’ News, PO Box 107, Perry, Michigan, 48872-0107, USA
April 25, 2000
Dear Leader in a Hierarchical Church Organization,
Thank you for taking the time to read this. I am sending this letter to Church of God leaders who are attempting to continue the work of Herbert Armstrong. If you have answers to the following questions, I will gladly publish your entire response in Servants’ News (up to 3,000 words)—even if you send a previously written article that answers these questions. After Pentecost, I intend to publish lists of groups that did and did not respond to this letter—both in Servants’ News and in The Journal.
1. Do not the members in your own church organization prove that the Eternal does not always govern from the top down? For the past 20 years of his life, Herbert Armstrong taught that any problems “at the top” of the church government would be cleaned up by God Himself. Yet, Herbert Armstrong appointed Joseph Tkach, who appointed his son, who reversed much of the truth that Herbert Armstrong taught. Herbert Armstrong’s appointees never told former WCG ministers or members which was the “right group” to join. No group has any “signs” that make it obviously “the one”: no miracles like the early apostles, no annual new-convert growth over 10%, no media outreach anything like the WCG. Your group may claim to be the only one following Herbert Armstrong correctly, but it was your ministers and members who where able to think for themselves, study the Scriptures and decide to join. They were not commanded from the “top down”, but they disobeyed the man appointed by Herbert Armstrong.
2. There are members who left the WCG, joined another WCG split-off group, then joined your group. Are not these members proof that these other split-off groups are part of the Church of God and therefore brethren? Does your group automatically rebaptize or discipline former WCG members who attended another split-off group before joining yours? Or do you welcome them with open arms? I think it is wonderful to welcome them. But if you consider people in other groups as brethren, then why don’t you encourage your members to fellowship with these brethren, share joint activities and services, etc.? Why do you continue the sectarianism that Paul spoke against? (1Cor 1:10–17; 3:1–10.) How do you explain this to the new converts that come to your group? If your group is truly and obviously doing the most significant work of God now, would not the intermixing of brethren cause more of them to see your group and begin to attend it? Or are you afraid that your members will continue to check your teaching against Scripture as they did when they left the WCG—and might see problems with your group?
3. Is it possible that Christ intended to end Herbert Armstrong’s work? Nearly every group that tries to continue his work is splitting and shrinking. HWA has been dead for 14 years—almost no teenagers remember seeing him alive; the world leaders he visited are out of office. In another 14 years, most former-WCG ministers will be retired or deceased, and most of the adults who heard HWA prophesy “these things will happen in your lifetime” during the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s will be deceased.
Eternal judgment is one of the six basic doctrines (Heb 6:1–2). Paul told believers: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2Cor 5:10). He also said: “For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged” (1Cor 11:31). I am not your judge; you do not have to answer these questions to me. But if you cannot answer these questions to your own members and the members of other groups, how will you answer Christ? It is easy for a person to think he is right when he is surrounded by people who agree with him. I know; I worked for the WCG for 18 years. It is much more difficult when one must answer questions from others who disagree. The New Testament shows Christ and His Apostles spent much time answering difficult questions from Pharisees, heretics and sometimes brethren. What will you do?
Norman S. Edwards