Be Wise as Serpents,

Harmless as Doves

During the past years, many brethren have come to see that they have placed too much trust in men and/or organizations and not enough trust in our Savior to directly lead us (John 16:24, Col 1:12-18). In most cases, the fruit of this has been good. However, if a person carries the process only half way—puts off the men and organizations, but does not diligently seek the leadership of our Savior, the result is a sheep gone completely astray and probably worse than the original condition.

We must realize that even the hierarchical organizations do teach a lot of truth and refute a lot of heresy. They do make a great effort to protect "their members." It is not our job today to judge how much of this protection stems from love for the brethren and how much stems from the desire to keep paying members in the organization. Some "ministers" are good shepherds—protecting their flock from wolves, other "ministers" are wolves themselves—but they protect their flock from foreign wolves because they do not want competition. Some leaders act as part shepherd and part wolf. Nevertheless, all of the above situations give a certain amount of protection to the flock.

When a person begins to look directly to his Savior for salvation, he removes himself from this human protection. This obviously occurs when a person begins meeting with a small home congregation or begins to attend a variety of Sabbath services. But it also occurs when a person continues to attend with an organization but makes the decision that they will study what they decide to study and believe what they decide to believe in spite of their organization's doctrinal statement. All of the above people are seeking to "work out [their] own salvation with fear and trembling" (Phil 2:12).

The solution is for each believer to continually go to the Eternal in prayer for guidance and deliverance from evil. This does not mean that we blindly go about our business figuring "the Eternal will always protect us," but we must pray and strive for a Biblical perspective with each decision we make. 1 Peter 5:7-9 explains it well:

Casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. Resist him, steadfast in the faith, knowing that the same sufferings are experienced by your brotherhood in the world.

We can expect to have problems from two sources: people coming from outside of our congregations trying to sell their own ideas, and people who are with us trying to convince us that we need to follow them. Paul stated it this way:

For I know this, that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves (Acts 20:29-30).

We, at Servants' News continue to hear of cases where people are specifically targeting local Sabbath-keeping congregations to promote their ideas or products. Some are doing it out of a sincere belief that they are helping people. Others simply see our brethren as a gullible target to make money. Some of these people go to Sabbath-keepers conferences, call organizations' headquarters to find local congregations, and use the Living Room Church of God Directory, not for fellowship, but to target people like you.

Many of them have spent months or years thinking about their "sales pitch," and often it is not easy to refute it. We need to ask for wisdom in these matters. "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him" (Jms 1:5). Most of us studied the Scriptures for months or years before we were baptized. We do not need to make decisions hastily. If someone comes to you with a new idea that is going to make a massive change in your life, you can think about it for a few months and counsel with a variety of people. If it is a good idea, it will still be a good idea later. Salesmen of bad ideas want you to accept the idea "now" before you discover what is wrong with it.

The purpose of this article is to acquaint you with some of the "devices" of Satan that have been troubling some of the brethren lately. This list is obviously not complete, but it should help many people who are having these difficulties. Furthermore, most everyone probably knows someone who is having these difficulties. We have classified these difficulties into four major areas. Also, see the separate article in this issue on finances.

Doctrine

Most of our readers are very interested in studying the Bible, so they are ready to listen to others with interesting points to teach. That is how it should be. Yet, it seems there are too few people saying "this is what I understand and what I do," and too many people saying "this is what you have to do or you will not have eternal life!" You should be suspicious when a teacher begins a message with scriptures like "For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all" and "The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire." Teachers should teach to help others, not so they can judge them. We should accept new teaching because the Bible supports it and the holy spirit confirms it, not because we are scared into believing it.

It is a wonderful thing to want to live by "every word of God" and to be willing to change in a moment if we are shown new truth. Some truths, like the Sabbath, are very evident from the scriptures from nearly every translation. Other truths require—or are entirely based upon—knowledge of history and/or ancient languages. Until you study the issue thoroughly and consider a variety of points of view on the issue in question, you are not rejecting Biblical truth, but you are rejecting what a person is claiming to be Biblical truth. If a man tells you, for example, that he knows the original pronunciation of the Father's name, but you decide not to use it; you are not rejecting His name, but one man's understanding of His name. On the other hand, if you give up studying every subject whenever a bit of historical or linguistic understanding is necessary, then you will miss out on a great deal of truth that you should have.

Everyone will be judged by what they do with what they are given (Matt 25:14-23). You will not be able to fool the Eternal and say that you did not know enough to obey Him when you did. On the other hand, very few Sabbath-keepers had any access to original historical works and original language Bible manuscripts during the past 2000 years. Will our Father hold them accountable for not knowing things He did not make available to them?

We are amazed at how quickly some people change their understanding of what is necessary for conversion. We have heard multiple cases of people who had been baptized for over 20 years and then discover a new truth—and then feel that they cannot fellowship with anyone who does not also accept that truth. They did not get rebaptized, so they must have considered themselves converted for the previous 20 years. They must believe that the Eternal tolerated that error in them for 20 years, but they cannot tolerate it in others for 2 hours of a Sabbath Service.

If someone comes to you with a new doctrine based on their understanding of history, Hebrew or Greek, go slowly. Check the teaching in reference books available to you. Ask questions of the teacher and see if he can really answer them, or if he just tries to assure you that he is right and that questions do not need to be answered. Look for other sources of information on the subject. Look at the fruit of the teaching in the lives of others who believe (or believed) it. Understand the implications in your life. Seek the Eternal's will. If the truth holds up under these tests, then put it into practice in your life.

Social issues

Big church organizations feel that their "work" is being done by their headquarters, and they keep their members busy supporting the headquarters and working in local church activities. When people become involved in local evangelism, they become known in their local community; and there is a tendency to become involved in community activities. For example, a mother involved in home schooling may be asked to lead a local home schooling organization. Later, the home school organization may get involved with efforts to change the state's home school laws. Sometimes, these activities can be helpful in furthering the Gospel. Sometimes, they distract our brethren and replace the preaching of the Gospel with social activism.

As a general rule, it seems sensible for brethren to be involved for social issues for two main reasons:

1) The circumstances of their life demand that they be involved.

2) Their involvement helps in preaching the gospel.

We will mention a few specific areas as examples:

Home Schooling: In some parts of some cities, sending a child to public school is one of the most dangerous things a parent can do. In some places, children are over ten times more likely to be the victim of a violent crime (including rape and murder) in school or on their way to school than they are staying home. In such an environment, little learning takes place. Even a poor home schooling program will exceed a public school education. Also, some public schools are teaching atheism, socialism, premarital sex, homosexual sex, and other evils. In a few places, parents can be fined if they cause their children to miss too many days of school by taking them out for the holy days. On the other hand, there are areas where public schools are quite good.

The choice of whether or not to home school is up to each child's parents. People should not judge each other for the course of action they take. We have witnessed sad cases where parents home school children because their friends did—not because their heart was in it—and their children's education was not very good. Similarly, we have seen cases where parents were having a terrible time with a particular school, but were afraid to home school because their friends would think they are extremists.

If you have school-age children, then it is your duty to be involved in their schooling, whatever form that may take. You may need to get involved in support groups and sometimes school legislation. But it is a mistake to try to spend a lot of time trying to convince other brethren to adopt your method of schooling. Also, if visitors to your local congregation hear a lot more about schooling than they do about the Bible, you have lost your focus.

Abortion: We would hope that most Bible-believers would consider abortion murder. But what do you do when an anti-abortion activist calls on you for support? Should you help them counsel pregnant teen-agers, distribute literature, collect money, influence legislation, picket clinics? Before you get involved in any such project, first make sure that your life is in order, and that you are not using this "cause" to hide from your own problems. Secondly, we can only recommend the first two activities in our list—they are aimed at helping individuals avoid abortion. Most hard drugs are illegal, but that has not solved the problem. Until people have something to fill their lives with, neither our abortion nor our drug problems will go away—legal or not. While it makes sense to encourage governments to eliminate programs that encourage premarital sex and abortions, it is still better to educate individuals to not want them.

Sabbath-keepers rights: These issues are sometimes related to schooling, but more often related to jobs and whether people can be fired, or not hired, because of the convictions to keep the Sabbath and Holy days.

Like so many other areas, we recommend that you stay out of it, unless it is affecting you. Ultimately, Sabbath-keepers should hope that governments would simply leave Sabbath-keepers alone. If a person loses their job or if their children are being persecuted in school, then there may be cause to take legal action. This author cannot find any scriptural example where servants of the Eternal went to the state to force other parties to make it easier to keep the Sabbath. We think it is a mistake to sue a school, club or other organization to have an equal number of Saturday and Sunday activities—or to make some similar change. Whether such suits are successful or not, they invariably create ill-will toward Sabbath-keepers and make it more difficult to preach the gospel.

"Legal Fundamentalism": Many brethren have recently discovered that "church leaders" have taken authority to themselves that the Bible never gave them. Some have gone on to investigate laws of the various civil governments in the USA and discovered that the leaders here have in many cases taken authority to themselves that the constitution does not give them. They note that many religious organizations began with servants (ministers) who seriously serve the people and grow to where the "servants" are largely serving themselves. Similarly, they find that civil servants started out serving the people, but are now largely serving themselves. Finally, they note that just as brethren have been placing too much trust in their organizations and do not really know the Bible, they see that people place too much trust in lawyers and government agencies and do not know enough about the constitution and the law themselves.

While this author has not spent a great deal of time studying these issues, it is amazing to see how far away our present-day law is from the constitution, bill of rights and other law penned by our founding fathers. Most people born in the USA are probably as ignorant of their constitution as they are of the Bible. Most people in the USA do not realize that lawyers are "officers of the court"—they do not exclusively represent their clients. It is clear that the apostles were knowledgeable of the laws of their day and represented themselves in courts (Acts 4:16-21, 5:27-29, 16:37, 21:33-22:1, 22:25-28, 24:24-26:1, 28:17-20; 2Tim 4; 16-18).

Unfortunately, just as some people have left one religious organization only to begin following another man, so some people have rejected the commonly accepted view of law to embrace the views of one self-proclaimed legal expert. There are many such experts afoot today, and they do not all agree on the important issues. But some of these experts travel around, even to Sabbath-keeping congregations to recruit followers—usually to sell an expensive course of some kind. Some of these courses may be worth the money, some may not be. A high price is no guarantee of value.

We offer the following recommendations to those who are interested in studying more about civil law.

1) Do not let your legal study replace your Bible study. This world's systems will crumble, but the Truth of the Eternal endures forever.

2) Realize that legal teachers are a lot like Bible teachers, they may have a little, a middle or a large amount of truth. Just because you prove some of their teachings correct, does not mean they are all correct.

3) Watch out for teachers with hidden agendas. Ask for details of their background. Specifically ask if they believe in racism (certain races are inherently superior to others) or in taking up arms to support their cause.

4) Do not listen to one teacher exclusively, even though teachers may insist that you do it.

5) The legal profession should deal in facts—not in emotional statements. If a legal teacher tells you, for example that "obtaining a birth certificate makes you a servant of the state," he should have public documents to prove it—not simply emotional statements like "why should the state be licensing births anyway?" or general statements like "it's hidden away somewhere in the legal codes of all 50 states."

6) Study based on the need in your life. If you are busy serving in your congregation and have little need of legal study, then you should not stop your service to your congregation to study law. If your child has been taken away because someone wrongly accused you of child abuse, or if your business is about to be shut down due to a Federal regulation of which you have never heard, then you may need to study law with urgency.

Conspiracy Theories: There are probably hundreds of authors who attempt to explain world events in terms of secret conspiracies. Some include legal fundamentalism, some do not. Almost all have some truth. It is a well-established fact that the Federal Reserve is a private corporation that has great influence on the economy of the USA. The names of its board members are a matter of public record. However, many of its internal workings are secret. Its actions often do not seem favorable to the USA, but it is difficult to know the exact reasons for such actions—hence, conspiracy theories arise. Similarly, it is no secret that United States and other nations' armed forces are increasingly being asked to serve under United Nations command. Is this an effort to help make the world a safer place to live, or is it an effort by a "New World Order" to enslave the world? Conspiracy theories usually extend far beyond these two issues, some interpreting nearly every significant world event in terms of the conspiracy they see.

We can see numerous examples throughout Scripture where men and women conspired to take over kingdoms or to stay in power. Abimelech killed 70 of his own brothers in an effort to become king (Jud 9:1-5), Saul secretly plotted to get rid of David, a well-liked man (1Sam 23:9), and the religious leaders paid Roman guards to tell a lie about our Savior's resurrection (Matt 28:12-15).

The big question regarding these conspiracy theorists is: how desirous are they to tell the truth and how desirous are they to gain a following? We have seen conspiracy publications where some issues contained easily verifiable information and other issues contained unproveable speculation. Some theorists have gone as far as telling people to sell their possessions and move to a certain place where they would be protected from the New World Order. Can a man guarantee you protection from such a thing?

If your motivation for studying conspiracies is only to protect yourself, keep in mind what our Savior said: "For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it" (Matt 16:25). Nevertheless, Solomon said there is a time to know: "The wise man's eyes are in his head, but the fool walks in darkness..." (Eccl 2:14). He also said: "Of making many books there is no end, and much study is wearisome to the flesh" (Eccl 12:12). We recommend studying conspiracy theories less than we recommend studying legal fundamentalism. The proportion of unproveable speculation seems much higher in conspiracy theories. However, if you do study them, please consider the previous six recommendations for legal fundamentalism.

Sex and Marriage

Questionable People Looking for a Mate: It may sound like something out of an old movie, but for years the Church of God groups have had problems with a few people who moved around the country until they would find a prospective mate and a minister who would perform a wedding ceremony without asking too many questions about their past marriages. Since the minister agreed to perform the ceremony, unsuspecting spouses often assumed that "God was blessing it." (See the November 1996 Servants' News for an explanation of why ministers do not have Biblical authority to "bind and loose marriages.") As you might expect, most people who have had several unsuccessful marriages have trouble with their next marriage. Too many are far too concerned about finding the right person and not about being the right person. At this time when there are many different groups, we cannot expect the ministry or the leader of a group to be able to find out a person's past marital history. Nobody should assume that just because a person talks a similar theological line that they will be a good mate. If a person refuses to help you find out about their past life and set up a time to talk to their past spouses and hear "their side of the story", then they are indeed a "questionable prospective mate".

Questionable People Looking for a Date: For many, it is even harder to imagine that a person could walk into a local congregation with his Bible, participate in the service, and be looking around for someone whom he or she might try to seduce (or force) on a date. Nevertheless, it does happen. Some of these people are largely outsiders that see Sabbath-keepers as naive targets. Others are very mixed up, long-time Sabbath-keepers that have somehow failed to practice what they profess. They must justify it somehow. They may look at the examples of David, Solomon, and other servants of the Eternal who were used in a great way, but still had great sexual sins. Unfortunately, they fail to see the great problems that such sins bring to all who are involved with them: David's family fought all his life and Solomon's son lost most of the kingdom. The solution is for single people to date in group activities or in restaurants and places where there are other people. Also, it is essential to have a firm commitment to sexual abstinance until marriage. People with such a firm commitment are much less likely to be seduced.

Look to Our Father for Answers

After reading all of this, it may sound like we cannot trust anybody for anything. The Bible tells us not to place our trust in men (Jer 17:5). But it is possible to love and reach out to others without completely putting our trust in them. Our Savior did it and so can we. In time, we may find them to be wonderful people. Good friends endure. If we find them to be less than wonderful people, our slowness to place our trust in them will save us grief.

When we hear a new idea or consider making some major change in our life, we should evaluate it before following it. This includes studying the subject, seeing what the Bible says on the subject, obtaining counsel, and prayer. We can ask our Father in heaven to clearly show us what He would want us to do. He was very patient when Gideon, a man who was humble and unsure of himself, asked for a sign (Judges 6;36-40). The New Testament contains many examples where the Eternal directly revealed things to people through dreams, visions and other kinds of revelations. [To study this, look up "dream(s)", "vision(s)", "reveal(ed)", "revelation", "prophesy", etc. in a concordance.]

The Eternal does answer many who do ask in faith. If it seems He does not answer you, then He may be giving you the latitude to decide. You must do the best job that you can based on your understanding of the Bible and your life experience. What else can you do? You need not be fearful of your decision, but you can be confident that you have done what you can do.

If the Eternal gives you an answer, praise and thank Him for it! But if He does not tell you to take it to others (which, by our experience, he rarely does), then do not try to convince others that the Eternal has spoken to you (see Rom 14:22). We have witnessed several examples of people who we believe had a revelation from the Eternal, and then they decided that they must be a prophet or prophetess. They went on to try to interpret every dream and major life experience they had as a sign that they were to preach to others. We are told, "Despise not prophesyings" (1Ths 5:20), but we must never try to "put words in the Eternal's mouth." If He does not answer us or if we do not understand His answer, then we must accept it. Remember to...

Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Eph 6:11-12).

—Norman S. Edwards


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