Servants' News

Jan/Feb 2002

Still More Answers to Hierarchical Leader Letter*

Eric Snow, a member of United Church of God, an International Association

Mr. Snow has been a member of the UCG-IA since 1995. He is a frequent and prolific writer. Some of his papers are distributed by Church Bible Teaching Ministry. However, he disagrees with many of our writings on church government. — NSE

Letter:

Eric V. Snow
snoweric913@cs.com

31120 Wildwood Apt 5103
Wixom, MI 48393-2624

January 5, 2002

 

Dear Norm,

I’ve decided to take up your challenge to readers for answers to your letter to leaders “in a Hierarchical Church Organization” in the “May/June 2001” issue.

Although I’m a laymember (yes, I accept the evil “Nicolaitan” clergy/laity distinction!) of the UCG-IA, I can’t be considered any kind of official “spokesperson” for it. Nevertheless, here’s how I would reply if I were a high-ranking minister who received it, although I’m only speaking for myself below:

Let’s begin by answering the third question first about whether God intended to end the evangelistic work begun by Herbert W. Armstrong. The Church of God has been commanded by God to preach the Gospel to the world as per the Great Commission of Matt. 28:19–20: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Likewise, the church has a commission to issue a warning (cf. the principle of the watchman in Ezk. 33:2–9) as a witness to the world before the end comes, as per Matt. 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole world for a witness to all the nations and then the end shall come.” This text shows that money spent on public media evangelism (print, radio, TV) isn’t to be judged as a pure “waste” if none or few choose to convert as a result since the job of the church when evangelizing isn’t only to get new members.

 

Response: I agree with you here. Even the preaching of Christ produced relatively few followers in His lifetime, but His words were repeated by the apostles and later written in the Bible and have warned a great many people for centuries. However, we must ask the question about our own radio, TV and print media: “Is anyone listening now or will it be preserved in any way for future generations?” Teaching that does not bring about conversions may still have value, but teaching which is being ignored does not. By the way, I feel that the UCG-IA’s Good News magazine is very helpful to believers of varying backgrounds, but magazines are useful only as long as they are produced—even libraries cease keeping magazines when they are no longer published.

 

Letter: The death of Herbert W. Armstrong in January of 1986 did not rip out of the Bible these texts. True Christians today, which at least include those who learned as a package doctrines that had been neglected for nearly two millennia through Mr. Armstrong and the men he taught, still have a duty to preach the Gospel to the world. Hence, I would not say so much that we’re continuing the “work of Herbert Armstrong” as simply continuing to obey God’s commission to preach the Gospel to the world of which the efforts of Herbert W. Armstrong were the greatest by a non-Trinitarian Sabbatarian since the first-century A.D. We honor him as the one whom God used to restore foundational truths of Scripture that the world’s Christianity rejected, neglected, or didn’t have altogether in one denomination as a package. Christians should not believe, as a number in the Church of God today believe (such as Robert Elliott of God’s Church Worldwide), that the evangelistic work of God was completed by Mr. Armstrong, so it’s only our duty just to prepare the bride of Christ (i.e., spiritually improve ourselves as Christians) until Jesus returns. Again, the two texts from Matthew cited above were not deleted from the Bible the day Herbert W. Armstrong died. (His opinion, stated just before he died, that he had completed the evangelistic work of God in this age, and that his successor was (mainly) to prepare the church for Christ’s return, was mistaken). It’s our duty to preach the Gospel, even if people don’t believe (re: the first class found in the Parable of the Sower), so fewer people can claim at the beginning of the millennium, “I couldn’t have known better!” It may be true that the Two Witnesses will do more evangelism in a few years than the church has done in the prior approximately two millennia combined, but it’s our duty to aim to do what we can in the time that’s left.

 

Response: The Scriptures show that we should be doing Christ’s work when he returns. However, I feel it is a mistake for any present day work to openly tie themselves to the work of Herbert Armstrong. He had enough failed prophetic interpretations, false claims, false doctrines, and lack of practicing what he preached, so that anyone who tries to find background information on him in libraries or on the Internet will come up with too many serious questions for which there are not good answers. The days when an organization can control what information is disseminated about itself are over. While Herbert Armstrong taught a lot of truth, many other groups have taught similar truth, sometimes without some of his errors.

 

Letter: A key spiritual advantage of making preaching the Gospel one of the two major focuses of the church operationally (the other being personal spiritual preparation, “preparing the Bride of Christ,” etc.) is its outward focus. By now we Sabbatarians in the tradition of the old Worldwide Church of God of Herbert W. Armstrong have spent some seven years since clear revelation of the great apostasy of 1994–95 thrashing out internal issues among ourselves. As the pages of Servants’ News and The Journal for years have shown, we make each other the main enemy it appears, not the world or Satan. How much more time do we need to spend obsessively bashing others over matters such as church government and the Jewish calendar? Can it be balanced for (say) Dave Havir to have published in every issue of the Journal for months on end a column that each time denounces some aspect of hierarchical church government? It would nearly seem, from the amount of time and print space independents in the COG spend on these issues, that 1Cor. 13:13 must read, “Now abide church government, faith, hope, love, these four, but the greatest of these is church government.” How much longer are we going to rehearse the emotional wounds we received in the WCG or some other corporate COG? It’s time to get over it, and move on! Isn’t seven years, a tenth of a standard human lifetime, enough already? If the independents spent as much time and zeal in (say) attacking evolution or decaying family life as they do corporate church government, a mighty work might result!

 

Response: I realize that the major corporate churches would like to stop talking about government and hope that the issue would go away—and that everyone would join their group. But the very point of the letter you answered is that the issue will not go away by trying to ignore it. As long as believers in corporate churches are being persecuted for attending the Feast with their friends or relatives in a different group, the issue will not go away. As long as there are new believers coming to one CoG group, only to be shocked that they have no dealings with other CoG groups in the same town, the issue will not go away.

There will be a need for non-aligned believers to teach these new people that they can worship and serve God without hierarchies in a variety of congregations. A person who regularly attends an independent fellowship is free to visit other groups as much as he likes. A person who regularly attends a corporate group will often have trouble if they try to visit another group.

 

Letter: At least when Gerald Flurry of the PCG overemphasizes prophecy, he has two good arguments for his position intrinsically: 1. Some 28% or so of Scripture is prophecy, so a priority giving one sermon a month on prophecy would not be unbalanced. 2. Since we believe we’re in the time of the end and the final generation before Christ returns, which developments on the world’s scene (especially in the EU) in recent decades would indicate is a solidly based belief, we’re the ones who need to know prophecy more than any other prior generation. We’re the ones who need to be the experts on (say) Daniel and Revelation since we’re likely going to live through more fulfillments of prophetically predicted events than any prior generation of Christians. By contrast, does the percentage of verses that EXPLICITLY deal with church government matters reach 1%?

Response: I take great exception to Mr. Flurry’s arguments. While we are commanded to study and live by “every word of God” and while Bible prophecy is certainly true, there are numerous Scriptures that tell us what we will be responsible for when we are judged, and virtually nothing is said about understanding prophetic interpretation. (Ask for our paper, What Does the Bible Say About Eternal Judgment?) Indeed the Bible says: “…whether there are prophecies, they will fail…” (1Cor 13:8). There is simply no Bible command or example to try to assemble most prophecies into a prophetic framework and preach it to the world. Yet this has been done by religious groups for hundreds of years, with the primary result being the building and later break-up of religious groups.

The New Testament example of prophetic use is to seek inspiration of God to understand what prophecies apply to our situation, now (notice the Joel 2:28–32 quote in Acts 2:17–21). Paul said, “Therefore, brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues” (1Cor 14:39). If 28% of the Bible is prophecy, but if only 2% of the Bible is prophecy that applies to us today, then should we have only one message per year on it? We must realize that many prophecies are addressed to specific nations, not our own, though most are addressed to Israel. For decades, the WCG claimed that most prophecy was “to be fulfilled in your lifetime”. But a great many people who heard that message are now dead—and that message proved false. Should we link ourselves to that false message? Should we repeat it without direct revelation from God? If the PCG or the UCG-IA “is sure” that we are in the “last days”, to whom has God revealed it and how? Or is this just another guess based upon current events and uncertain prophetic interpretation?

 

Letter: During the English Civil war and the Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell (1642–60), the various Protestant groups involved (Anglican, Presbyterian, Separatist / Congregationalist, etc.) argued nearly endlessly over matters of church government and administration. Indeed, nothing is new under the sun! How much more time are we going to row the boat with only one oar (i.e., in circles)? How many more times do the same arguments need to be reiterated? It’s time to deal with the world instead, as the likes of Gerald Flurry determined some months ago (see the dramatic difference in the Trumpet now compared to four years ago!).

 

Response: Eric, I am surprised at you. I think you know your history well enough to know that the 1500s and 1600s were the ages in history when Papal control of the Church and the Bible, as well as monarchal control of the state were largely defeated. Those arguments you mention were an important part of the foundation of freedom of religion that we have today. If you think the world would be better off without them, please go join the Catholic Church, or the State Church of some other country. Those arguments were also influential in producing the republican form of government of the United States of America—which produced the most prosperous nation ever. I have always wondered why none of the Church of God groups ever suggested moving their headquarters to Cuba or some other country with a dictatorship so they can be under what they teach is the “biblical form of government”.

 

Letter: Now, let’s take up specifically the other two questions your letter raised: #1. The unique circumstances of the apostasy of 1994–95 made null and void the spiritual authority of Joseph Tkach Sr. and any others who followed his slide into Evangelical Protestantism. God has placed human authority in the church (Heb. 13:7, 17; Titus 2:15; 1Tim. 2:12; 5:17), but it isn’t allowed to cancel out the clear commands of Scripture when they conflict (cf. the principle of Acts 5:29; 4:19). Just as the existence of abusive husbands doesn’t invalidate the spiritual principle of Eph.5:22 about wives obeying their husbands, the existence of abusive ministers doesn’t prove that no ministers at any time have any authority over others in whatever church organization they have joined of their own free will. (Likewise, since Romans 13:1–7 shows the gentiles who lord it over us are to be obeyed even when many of the laws in question are (arguably) stupid, Matt. 20:25–28 doesn’t condemn hierarchy per se, but merely an abusive hierarchy). It’s correct to observe that the “bottom” (i.e., laymembers) or even the “middle” (i.e., field ministers) may be more right than the “top” on some doctrinal point(s), but that doesn’t prove the last have never had any authority at any time. It’s an invalid argument to reason that because God sometimes doesn’t govern from the top down, therefore, he never does, which is (presumably) the independents’ position. Otherwise, they’re faced with the problem: If God does sometimes (“not always”) govern from the top, when are the times they (the independents) should obey it? “Sometimes” isn’t the same as “never” or “always”!

 

Response: I think most independent believers would say the basis for our decisions is John 16:13: “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth….” There are numerous commands to brethren in the New Testament to evaluate leaders and follow the good ones and shun the bad ones (Rom 16:17–18; 2Cor 11:13–15; Gal 1:6–8; 2Thes 3:6, 14; 1Jn 2:21–22; 4:1–3; 2Jn 1:10–11; Rev 2:2, 14–15, 20). All believers should be responsible for cooperating with those leaders who appear to be bearing Godly fruit—and for opposing false leaders and teaching. It appears that you agree with that principle in that you believe brethren had the right to leave the WCG hierarchy, and ask God to show them which other hierarchy they should join (UCG-IA, LCG, etc.).

 

Letter: #2. As shown by merger discussions (call them what they really were) that eventually bore fruit with the Remnant Church of God in Ghana and the COG, a Christian Fellowship, the UCG-IA itself happily allows people from other COG groups to become members, even ministers as per the credentialling process. The former group involved people who had never been members of the old WCG, and they weren’t required to be rebaptized, etc. We freely acknowledge that true Christians attend other corporate and non-corporate organizations.

But certain problems can come up with indiscriminate intermixing between different COG groups that aren’t acknowledged here, hence some caution is in order. Those who bounce around from one group to another can have divisive doctrinal or personal agendas. I know of one congregation in a corporate organization (the idea didn’t originate from the pastor in official charge) that had members who asked for a particular independent not to come anymore because his attitude was so often so negative and critical. If a person attends a group, and then spends much of his or her time before and after services bashing its form of church government and what various leaders or members in it are doing or have done, they have a misplaced emphasis that can spread divisiveness. If people come in peace, they’re welcome as per our open door policy, but not if they’ve come to merely complain and criticize, they can be asked to leave and not come back until their attitude improves: “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them” (Rom. 16:17; cf. 1Tim. 6:3–5, 1:3–7).

 

Response: I agree with the approach of asking people not to come who are always stirring up difficulty. In corporate groups, visitors only talk to others before or after services; but in groups that follow 1 Corinthians 14:26, visitors often have opportunity to address the whole congregation, so the problem can be worse. Some independent groups have had people show up who want to teach Sunday-keeping every week. They have had to use Matthew 18:15–17 and Titus 3:10 to make clear to them that their repeat discussion of this idea will not be accepted. On the other hand, if an independent person attending a corporate church is not permitted to talk about church government even when asked, then I think it is a problem. It has been my experience that the problems independents create for corporate groups are not continual badgering and disruption, but bringing up ideas and questions, even just once, that local pastors cannot answer.

Does any corporate church have a booklet showing how their practice of “ordaining” deacons and elders can be clearly found in the original Greek Scriptures and how it has nothing to do with unbiblical Catholic and Protestant practices? If such a booklet could be written, it would largely end these controversies. But for all the “trouble” that independents have supposedly caused the corporate groups, I still have a very difficult time even getting them to write about the issue, much less openly debate it. (For an in depth study, as for How Does the Eternal Govern Through Humans? see contact information on page 2.)

 

Letter: The problem often isn’t doctrine, although it can be, but the attitude with which it’s expressed, whether it be in conversations or on sermon tapes. Furthermore, there can be certain doctrinal issues at times that have potential legal ramifications: It isn’t a good policy for the UCG-IA to allow Ron Dart to speak to its congregations if the U.S. government, down the road, reinstitutes the draft, and says to the UCG-IA: “Since your organization has allowed minister(s) to speak in it who don’t object to Christians waging war, young men in your congregations who have been called up for service are going have more trouble receiving conscientious objector status.”

 

Response: I am sure that you do not have an example of a legal case where any such decision was ever made. I applied for and received conscientious objector status in the 1970s and the Service’s criteria was whether or not an individual’s beliefs were “deeply held”. I had to explain my beliefs myself—a letter from my church was not enough. Unfortunately, this is one area where the average educated American may be more prepared to rule with Christ than the average Church of God member. Civic, religious and educational institutions frequently invite speakers who will express points of view with which they do not agree, just so their members can be educated and understand other views. Church of God groups typically tell their members what is right, and also tell their members what the “wrong guys” teach. The CoG groups seem to place little value on letting their people hear both sides of an issue and then judge what is right. I continually meet people who say something like, “But my ministry told me that you teach… (some doctrine that I have never taught)”. Often, that minister has never read what I wrote, but heard it from another minister. All of this misrepresentation does not please God. To restate the point, allowing a speaker with differing doctrines will have no affect on someone’s application for conscientious objection to military service.

 

Letter: To outsiders, unacquainted with our (often) petty feuds, we are going to look pretty much alike (cf. Acts 18:13–15; 25:18–20), so it isn’t wise to always get lumped together.

 

Response: These and other scriptures show the opposite point: Paul spoke to all kinds of groups, was sometimes “lumped in” with others, but never let it get in the way of his speaking. We are “lumped together” because of our common names and common history. Whether or not we welcomed other speakers would make little difference. If a methodist and congregationalist minister “trade pulpits” occasionally (as some do), nobody assumes that the groups have merged.

 

Letter: I agree that the COG divisions caused by the ministry’s own divisiveness in various organizations that have caused friends and family to be divided (Meredith vs. Salyer, Hulme vs. the rest of the COE, GTA vs. other ministers in the CGI, etc.) are bad.

 

Response: While I think there was a certain amount of self-seeking in all these cases, some of them involved men who were honestly trying to remove leaders who were exceeding the authority granted them, or who were behaving in manners unfit for the ministry. The Bible teaches us to take care of these kinds of problems. Refusing to work with “believers” who are openly sinful is biblical; refusing to work with them because “they are not part of our group” is not biblical.

 

Letter: But divisiveness also can come from the bottom up, from spiritual fingers who jump from congregation to congregation constantly criticizing what’s happening in that organization or what had happened to them in the past. People who have constantly bad attitudes who can’t keep them to themselves shouldn’t be free to just come and go as they please. Trying to prevent such problems may cause divisiveness in turn, especially if certain people get unfairly tagged, etc., but doing nothing (i.e, having no controls) can lead to divisiveness as well.

 

Response: Even the New Testament records “fingers” who caused trouble and did not help that much. We have them today in both corporate and independent churches. In corporate groups the minister gives the “shape up or ship out orders”, in independent groups, all of the mature believers see it as their “responsibility”. Several times, I have witnessed someone teach an unbiblical idea in an independent service, and then watched half a dozen people stand up one at a time to lovingly, but firmly refute it from the Scriptures.

 

Letter: Here some kind of balance between the two extremes is necessary. Our tendency as humans is to swing from one extreme to the other, like a pendulum, just as independents want to reject all hierarchy in church organizations because of the one-man rule dictatorship they experienced in the WCG, when a merely tamed, reformed, flattened (no ranks such as apostles, evangelists, etc.) hierarchy will solve most of the problems, such as exists in the UCG-IA presently.

 

Response: Eric, I agree with you on the one ditch to the other ditch concept. Many independent congregations do not even want to appoint their own elders or “servants” (ministers/deacons) as the Scriptures instruct. Many do not even want to look to see if they have any kind of spiritual gift of leadership among their members. I also agree that the UCG-IA is an improvement over the WCG. The UCG-IA ministry elect their own council which elects their corporate officers. This is a bottom-up biblical approach. However, their local congregations have no choice in who becomes their local ministers or elders—they must accept whoever their headquarters sends them. How can they apply 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 if they are sent someone whom they do not even know? I agree that a balance needs to be achieved in governance, and neither the UCG-IA nor most independent congregations are there yet.

 

Letter: Now consider: If a person spends most of his or her time condemning and criticizing others, whether they be the local or other ministers, various corporate church organizations, administrative procedures of corporate church organizations, Herbert W. Armstrong, Garner Ted Armstrong, Ambassador College, the old WCG, tithing as exploitive, etc., is that the spiritual emphasis Christ would want us to have? (See Matt. 7:1–5; Phil. 4:8 if anyone has doubts).

 

Response: Most of the writings of the letters of the New Testament are the pointing out of error and a pleading to change. Since I was at one time involved in promoting some of the errors of the WCG, I feel an obligation to confess that error and help undo the effects of it. But I think I have avoided saying that people who disagreed with me are not converted or are going into the lake of fire. Whereas the GCG told others (not me directly) that I could lose my salvation for leaving them.

 

Letter: Now Isn’t it judgmental to say “Today, many Christians are afraid to place their church congregation directly under Christ and trust His protection, even when there is no immediate persecution for doing so. They prefer a state-granted incorporation because the state promises them liability protection and other benefits” (SN, May/June 2001, p. 7)? How does this differ in form from the old WCG teaching that going to doctors shows a lack of faith? (Alluded to on p. 21, the same issue).

 

Response: Yes, my statement is judgmental in that most Christians today probably have never studied into this subject or given it much thought. They have not knowingly traded God’s protection for the state’s protection, but have simply thought that incorporation was the only way to organize a church group. That was my view 10 years ago. I also do not like it when people treat me like I do not trust God when the problem is that I have never studied the issue for which they are criticizing me. Your correction is well-taken, Eric.

However, I believe “going to doctors” and “incorporating a church” are greatly different issues for two reasons. First, trusting God and going to doctors are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to do everything in James 5:14–16, call the elders, be anointed, be “prayed over” and confess sins, and still use a doctor—as long as doctors are viewed as skilled human beings who might be able to figure out what is causing our problem and help fix it. We should always evaluate a doctor’s proposed treatment and attempt to determine if it has been successful for others. If a treatment is not helping us, we should not be afraid to disagree with the doctor and stop it. Going to doctors only becomes a sin when one does not also look to God, but just says, “here I am, doc, do whatever you think best to fix me up.” Incorporating a church, on the other hand, is a long-term deliberate agreement to submit the assets and officers of the church to the state—even if the state’s rules conflict with the Bible. The standard incorporation papers for a tax exempt church promise to obey all IRS regulations, both present and future, which already restrict the church from teaching on some subjects—and the list seems to be growing.

Secondly, choosing a doctor primarily affects families and is a family issue, whereas church incorporation is a church leadership issue. The WCG’s instruction for members not to go to doctors was particularly hypocritical because some WCG leaders were going to doctors themselves while teaching it! Even if the Bible said: “only the weak go to doctors”, church leaders should have taught the brethren what the Bible says, and then let them learn from their experience by letting them make decisions that primarily affect themselves. By comparison, choosing whether or not to incorporate is a decision largely made by church leadership and that primarily affects church leadership. Anyone who signs the papers forming a corporation should at least read what they are agreeing to. Paul chastises the Corinthian church members for going to court one against another. Can anyone imagine Paul telling believers to go to the Romans, the Pharisees, “the lawyers” or some other governing entity to organize their congregation? Even though almost no churches were incorporated in the USA 100 years ago, we are now quite used to this form of state control.

 

Letter: Now If people don’t agree with the SN’s legal advice on not incorporating churches, especially when no lawyers are writing for it, are they automatically spiritually benighted Laodiceans?

 

Response: We do not give “legal advice”. Page 2 of every issue says: “This publication is produced as a right of freedoms of religion, speech, and the press as protected by the first amendment. It is not legal or professional advice or recommendations.” Servants’ News provides information which we hope people will use along with their own research of other sources so they can make their own decision. Whereas in most legal situations it is considered legally sufficient for an individual to rely on the advice of a single attorney.

Most Americans are unaware of the trouble caused by the monopoly called the American Bar Association. While it certainly does some good work in setting needed standards and disciplining obviously bad attorneys, it is a one-party system and sometimes sets standards for its own benefit—not for the American people. Attorneys who dissent are often disbarred, then they are not attorneys any more. In my research, I could not find any attorneys who would help a church group organize as a “church”, the way it was historically done in the USA. They favor corporate organization. (And by the way, corporations must, by law, be represented by licensed attorneys.)

Church groups that incorporate are not automatically Laodiceans, but the apostle Paul sounded a little excited when he said: “Dare any of you, having a matter against another, go to law before the unrighteous, and not before the saints?” (1Cor 6:1). So today we might say, “Dare any of you, planning to rule with Christ when He returns, go to the state to rule your church group?”

 

Letter: Or, are there legal drawbacks or trade-offs to free, non-incorporated churches that have to be admitted, as they are at least in part in “Starting a Local Congregation”? There can be legal, not just merely medical, quackery, although it appears that free churches have a better track record (so far as the SN reveals) than (say) iridology, naturopathy, etc. A second opinion is called for, I’d say. Do research on your own, independent of the obvious “pro-free church” sources. At least, it’s time for some tolerance of differences of opinion on this matter among Christians and others of goodwill.

 

Response: Let me encourage everyone to get the facts wherever they can. But since there are hundreds of thousands of attorneys who will recommend incorporation of churches, it seems like there is a much greater need to study and distribute information about free churches. But, yes, I think all of us need more goodwill—so I will try to have some.

 

Letter: So in conclusion: 1) Since the New Testament commands hierarchy in many fundamentals in society at large….

 

Response: Hierarchy means an ascending series of ranks where each person is thoroughly under the control of their superior. the following verses do not say “hierarchy”, but point out positions of limited leadership where God wants us to cooperate within His law (Acts 5:29).

 

Letter: …such as between citizens and their government (Titus 3:1; 1Pet 2:13–15)…

 

Response: In the USA, the highest authority is “We The People” (The Constitution).

 

Letter: …children and their parents (Eph 6:1; Col. 3:20)…

 

Response: This is a temporary relationship that ends when the child is mature (Gen 2:24). Similarly, some “church authority” ends when a believer matures.

 

Letter: …slaves and their masters (Col 3:22–23; Eph 6:5–6; 1Pet 2:18–19)…

 

Response: If a slave’s treatment was so bad that he ran away, God told people not to make him go back to his master (Deut 23:15–16).

 

Letter: …wives and their husbands (Col 3:18; 1Pet 3:1, 5–6)…

 

Response: If a wife is offended by her husband, she goes to him, with witnesses and the church, and if the church agrees with her, she may regard him as a heathen (Matt 18:15–17). If he leaves her, she is no longer under bondage to him (1Cor 7:15).

 

Letter: …and even between Christ and the Father (Heb 5:8; 1Cor 11:3; 15:27–28)…

 

Response: This is a non-human relationship that works perfectly and not a valid comparison to fallible human government.

 

Letter: …it shouldn’t be surprising that God can rule from the top down through ministers on earth within church organizations.

 

Response: We should look at the scriptures that tell us how God rules in His church to know how He rules in his Church.

 

Letter: The fact abuses occur does not refute the principle of hierarchy, otherwise, wife-beating would abolish the principle found in Eph 5:22, child abuse would nullify Eph 6:1, and communism would obliterate Rom 13:1–7. Proving that the ministry (or leading ministers) can be wrong sometimes doesn’t prove they never have had any authority at any time over anyone.

 

Response: Agreed. But the fact that God clearly allows people to disregard corrupt human government means that the various church organizations must lead brethren by doing the right things, not by simply telling the brethren that “God placed you under us and you have to do whatever we say, right or wrong.”

 

Letter: 2) A lack of controls can cause division to spread as well as having too many controls on brethren meeting together. Certain people who wander from place to place, constantly condemning and criticizing, divisively bringing up pet doctrinal ideas or even outright deadly ones (the Conder controversy, for example), should be told not to come back if they refuse to repent. 3) Since Matt 24:14 and Matt 28:19–20 weren’t torn from the Bible the moment HWA died, there are good reasons for Christians to engage in preaching the Gospel by large-scale media evangelistic efforts. Personal evangelism has its place also, but it can’t easily do everything. It can’t easily cover the same territory, especially by Christians tied down to one location by commitments to their jobs and/or families who aren’t going to want to “rough it” in poor Third World countries. Both approaches have their place, and both should be encouraged.

Sincerely,

— Eric V. Snow

 

Response: I have already agreed with you on the need to deal with traveling troublemakers and to continue evangelism. Some of the most successful foreign evangelism projects I have seen are by local congregations that send one of their own people or families to another country and support them there. They know the people—they know that the money is not being wasted. There are few things more satisfying in life than “roughing it” when you know you are effectively working for God.

But I also appreciate your comment that there is a need for more than one kind of group—local independents, and then larger groups for big evangelism projects like the Good News magazine. I am not at all opposed to large groups of believers working together. I am also happy to hear that the UCG-IA clearly recognizes that there are believers in other organizations. But I think they need to think more about their excuses for not working together with them. When new people come, they need to see that we treat the brethren in other groups like brethren, not like enemies. (Once there was a back-room debate at a UCG-IA service as to whether my family should be escorted out that day—not because I was passing out literature or disturbing people, but simply because what I had written in Servants’ News.)

We can disagree on what the Scriptures say and exactly how to do God’s work, but still encourage each other, realizing that God has worked many different ways with different people in the past. If multiple Sabbatarian groups have respect for each other, new people can come, see the love among them, and work with whomever God leads them to work with.

— Norman Edwards

Move on to the next section: Comment on Diane Rhodes’ Answer to Hierarchical Leader Letter, p.15 Sept/Oct 2001

Robert Thiel Explains How the Living Church of God Is Different From All Other Groups

Comments on the Living Church of God’s Treatment of Other Believers by Darwin and Laura Lee

Letter Exchange Between Robert Thiel and Darwin & Laura Lee

F. Paul Haney—Independent Minister


The original letter that was sent out:

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?

Sincerely,

Norman S. Edwards

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