Below is an excerpt on Church Government from a larger document regarding the Gospel, I thought it very interesting and thought provoking so with the author’s permisson I am offering that particular section of it for your purview.-editor
I believe I have said something about this in a previous chapter, but this issue directly affects how the Church can function efficiently to finish the work of preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to Israel. The Bible teaches us that God’s government is hierarchical, not a democracy. There is a direct connection between hierarchical government and the ability of a church organization to make the sacrifices and the hard decisions necessary to preach to the public. I think recent experience has shown and is showing that if the human leader or leaders at the top of an organization, who have the authority to determine the budget and how much money is spent on preaching the gospel to the world and how much is spent on ministers’ salaries, are themselves elected by the ministers, it is unlikely they will make the hard decisions necessary to allocate sufficient resources to really finish the work of preparing Israel for the tribulation. It is just common sense that many ministers will not elect someone who would reduce their salaries or lay some of them off if that were necessary. Besides the budget issue, fast and hard decisions may have to be made to take advantage of opportunities in a rapidly changing environment, and this is more difficult for an organization whose leadership is obligated to a large number of “voters” who may need to be consulted and whose opinions may have to be considered. Strong hierarchical government, led from the top down by Jesus Christ, will be needed to get the job done. I think it is unrealistic to imagine that the job will be finished any other way.
Some may be against hierarchical government because of errors or abuses in the use of that form of government that can occur in the Church. However, the fact that some may not use hierarchical government correctly does not make hierarchical government wrong. Mr. Armstrong often taught that the wrong use of something is sin. He used examples. A pair of dice, he said, was not sin, but the wrong use of a pair of dice was sin. Sex is not sin, but the wrong use of sex is sin. I think a similar thing can be said of hierarchy in church government. Hierarchy is not wrong, but the incorrect use of hierarchy is wrong. Mr. Armstrong submitted to Jesus Christ, and Christ used him to raise up a Church and do a powerful world-wide work. Mr. Armstrong used hierarchy rightly, to keep us on track following the Bible, to protect the Church from heresy and confusion, to keep us speaking the same thing and moving in the same direction so our efforts were so united and focused that we could do a great work. In spite of recent examples of the incorrect use of hierarchical government, the fact is that the positive fruits of what God accomplished through Mr. Armstrong show the practical advantages of hierarchical government.
The lesson of hierarchical government can also help the Church to learn character lessons that we can take with us into the Kingdom of God. Since God’s government in the Kingdom will be hierarchical, then it is fitting that we be learning that form of government now. There will be mistakes now in this life because we are human, but God allows that to test us. That is for our good. Rightly used, hierarchy teaches us to submit, within God’s law, to those over us, and to exercise compassion on those under us, and these are lessons we can use in God’s Kingdom.
I often wonder why a large number of ministers participate in and support a system of voting for a board of directors of a Church of God that claims to be following the doctrines of the Bible that God used Mr. Armstrong to teach us and help us understand. Of course, many may have come to the conclusion that hierarchical government in the Church of God is bad, and they may prefer a more democratic approach based on the idea that human checks and balances are needed to prevent a leader from leading the Church into false doctrine. But others may believe in hierarchical government, yet not see any alternative for themselves except to support, for now, a system of voting for leaders. I have not talked in depth about this with any of these ministers, although I did talk briefly with one pastor. I asked the pastor why he did not join with a certain leader of a major Church organization that was practicing hierarchical government. The minister said that God has not shown him that this leader was the one God would use to lead the Church.
I suppose this can be a dilemma for ministers, especially for those who believe in hierarchical government. If it is not clear who God is working through, some ministers may have felt that there was no alternative but to band together in a group and vote for the ones to lead that group, until such time as God made clear that He is working through a particular individual. While many ministers have organized and raised up their own groups, many others, out of humility or a fear of being presumptuous, or because of knowledge of their personal limitations, may have been afraid to do so and be “independent” of a larger organization. Many may have felt that, though God called them to be a pastor, they were not qualified and prepared to preach the gospel to the world, and so they wanted to support a larger organization that could do that. They may also have felt that to start their own Church of God organization would be creating and furthering division in the body of Christ. However, I have often thought that it is not the separate or individual organizations or administrations of the Church of God that causes division, but the competitive, non-cooperative nature of the relationships between organizations that is causing division. There is a lot of opportunity for cooperation between organizations that is not being utilized today, or is utilized very little among the major Church of God groups.
A corporation is a legal convenience. Being incorporated as a non-profit organization allows member contributions to be tax deductible, allows the Church to take advantage of lower postage rates, simplifies copyright management, and provides a number of other business and legal advantages. But the number of legal corporations the Church of God uses is not an accurate measure of the divisions that exist in the Church. One can be separately incorporated and yet have a policy of organized cooperation with other groups, as it is appropriate (without compromising with God’s law and doctrine). Unfortunately, most of the major Church of God fellowships today seem to practice competitiveness in their relationships with other Church of God groups rather than cooperation and organized assistance, even between groups that are nearly identical in doctrine. Paul used the example in his day of those who said “I am of Paul” or “I am of Apollos”, and Paul asked “Is Christ divided?” (1 Corinthians 1:11-13, 3:1-4). Today we might say, “I am of David Hulme” or “I am of Roderick Meredith” or “I am of …” (fill in the blank). Not in those exact words of course. That would be too obvious. But in some of the various groups in the Church of God that adopt a competitive attitude towards others groups, members are sometimes taught to think of their group as being the only group God is primarily working through, or that their leader is the only man God is primarily working through, and that amounts to the same thing.
Is God’s Church divided? The answer is, yes, it is. Is it divided because all are not under one man? No. Is it divided because all are not in one organization? No. Should the different Churches of God merge? I say no. The Church is divided because different groups compete with each other instead of cooperating with each other, even in cases where there is little if any difference in doctrinal teachings. I know of two major groups that have come out of Worldwide after the apostasy, and both teach hierarchical government, preaching the gospel to the public, keeping God’s commandments, and striving to live by every word of God. They keep the same day of Pentecost and the other holy days, and take the same or similar positions on makeup and other smaller doctrines. There is a difference in strategy for preaching the gospel, but strategy is not doctrine. Neither group perfectly lives up to everything it teaches, but that is not the issue. The issue is that these two groups seem to compete with each other instead of helping each other, but not because of differences in doctrine. There seems to be a spirit of competitiveness between them, with each trying to vie with the other to get or hold on to the most sheep. I have heard the term “sheep wars” to describe the competitiveness that exists between some groups.
God does NOT always work through only one man at a time. Peter and Paul were distinct administrations, with Peter going to the circumcised and Paul to the gentiles primarily, with neither directing the other in the day-to-day operations, possibly with Peter having primacy only in certain matters that affected the whole Church. But Peter did not direct Paul in Paul’s day-to-day administration of the gospel to the gentiles. Both were supervised DIRECTLY by Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Also, many Old Testaments prophets were contemporary with each other with no indication that one prophet reported to another, so God must have been working through more than one man at the same time. God worked through king David and the prophet Nathan at the same time. Each man had his respective responsibilities. Nathan was God’s prophet and David was king over Israel, and David was also a prophet who wrote many of the psalms. David did not tell Nathan how to speak for God and Nathan did not tell David how to run the country, except when God gave Nathan a message to give to David. Neither supervised the other in the work the other did for God, but rather God directly supervised them both.
God can work through more than one man at a time and still retain hierarchy if each man through whom Christ works faithfully follows Christ and cooperates with the other man who follows Christ. An analogy is a company that manufactures cars. The chairman of the board is like the Father, the president is like Christ, and under the president may be several department directorships with, for example, one man being the manufacturing director and another man the marketing director. The manufacturing director is in charge of purchasing supplies and materials and supervising the factories and assembly lines, with all factory workers under his authority. The marketing director is in charge of all advertising and the dealerships, with all salesmen reporting to him. Neither of these two directors has authority over the other, but both report to the president, and since the president wants harmony in the organization, if the directors are doing a good job of following the instructions of the president they will be cooperating with each other, not competing with each other.
I have attended or visited several major Church of God fellowships over the years since the death of Herbert W. Armstrong. I do not remember any occasion when I heard a guest speaker from one organization speak in another. I do not remember reading an article written by a writer in one Church corporation published in the magazine or newsletter of another Church corporation. During announcements in church services, I do not remember ever being asked to pray for the success of a conference or the success of the efforts to preach the gospel or the success of a co-worker letter in another Church organization. Very seldom have I even heard prayer requests for the healing of a sick member in another Church organization. I don’t say this never happens among the hundreds of splinter organizations, but at least among the major groups it must be rare.
Once I attended the Feast of Tabernacles with one group while a different group, which shared the same general doctrinal positions almost exactly as far as I could tell, kept the Feast at a site that was threatened with disruption due to a hurricane. The group that had the site that was threatened with a hurricane was a Church that had brought in a number of new members through their TV broadcast, and a number of these “babes in Christ” were probably attending the threatened Feast site, with some perhaps attending their first Feast of Tabernacles ever, new members just learning how to step out in faith and to trust God. Yet all the time the hurricane was approaching the threatened site, never once did I hear a request for prayers for the safety of brethren threatened by the hurricane in the announcements of the site I was attending. We were never asked to pray that the Feast at the threatened site not be disrupted. They were a different group, so they were treated as if they didn’t exist. I couldn’t imagine any way that brand new members brought in through a TV broadcast could be blamed for being in the “wrong group” and therefore not deserving of prayers for their safety just because they were attending their first Feast with the group that brought them into contact with God’s truth. Yet it seemed that there was no concern for them in the other group.
God says in a multitude of counselors there is safety (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 24:6). Many top leaders of Church of God organizations practice getting advice before making decisions, but perhaps often do so by listening only to the advice of their own fellow ministers, department heads, employees, and members from within their own group. These are the very people who are mostly in agreement already with the leadership, or in some cases may feel intimidated about telling the leadership it is wrong. It can be a mistake to get advice only from those who agree with you and exclude those who may disagree. I wonder how often the leaders of the Churches of God solicit advice and counsel from those in other Church of God organizations that may have encountered similar decisions or have valuable experience in a certain area. There may be opportunities for sharing of information, advice, and planning in a cooperative way.
I have heard of at least one case where a member of a congregation of one Church was disfellowshipped because of a problem with another member. According to what I have heard, the disfellowshipped member simply went to a congregation of a “competing” Church of God organization in the same city and was accepted. Apparently, there is no coordination between pastors of different organizations in the same city to prevent a member that needs to repent of a problem from dodging the correction by just going across the street. This is not good for the member and is not good for the Church of God. And in cases where a disfellowshipped member may have done harm to members of the congregation he was disfellowshipped from, for another pastor to accept him without talking to the first pastor may present a danger to the members of the congregation the man is going to.
I do not say that a church should compromise with its beliefs or accept a guest speaker who would teach doctrines contrary to the official teachings of the church he is speaking to. I do not say that a church should pray for the success of other churches that have such serious errors that it would be better for God’s plan that those groups not succeed in promoting their errors. But it seems that there could be a lot more of a spirit of cooperation and harmony among some of the organizations in the Church of God, without compromise, rather than a spirit of competition and a sense that all other organizations don’t exist or shouldn’t be helped. Too much it seems as if anyone who preaches the truth of God is counted as an enemy merely for not being part of one’s own organization. I do not see support in the Bible for this approach and attitude.
When Paul became an apostle to the Gentiles, he and Peter agreed that Paul would go to the gentiles and Peter to the circumcised (Galatians 2:7-10). Peter and Paul led distinct administrations of the gospel, yet they cooperated with each other, not only by recognizing their respective responsibilities, but even in seeking doctrinal agreement when possible without compromising (Acts 15). Even in a case where some were preaching the gospel out of a wrong motivation in competition with Paul, Paul rejoiced that their efforts were indeed advancing the cause of the gospel (Philippians 1:15-18). When Jesus was teaching his disciples, the disciples told Jesus that they forbade someone who was casting out demons in Jesus’ name because he was not with them (the disciples). Jesus said, “Do not forbid him…” and “…he who is not against us is on our side.” (Mark 9:38-40). Too often today, the policy of some Church of God organizations is, he who is not part of our organization is against us.
Is God’s Church divided? Yes, it is. That is a fact. God’s Church is divided into many pieces. And all the time that the division and a competitive, hostile, unloving attitude exists between the pieces, many pieces boast how much unity that particular piece has with itself! A small piece of a divided Church will say, “What wonderful unity and harmony we had at our last ministerial conference”. That piece has “unity”, that is, until that piece divides into still smaller pieces. Then each of the smaller pieces can also boast that it has such wonderful unity within itself.
But is there unity between the pieces? Is there unity of the whole? Not now. Not with most of the pieces. Not until different groups and organizations begin to show at least a minimum of respect and esteem for one another.
I think we need to understand that unity within a Church of God organization is not real unity if that organization is hostile to other Church of God organizations that teach and practice the same doctrines from the Bible. Unity within one piece is not unity in the Church. Some ministers want members to identify with the “piece” they are in, but that is wrong. Our identity is with God and with Christ and with the WHOLE body of Christ, every man or woman who has the Spirit of God. Obviously some members and ministers have fallen under the influence of serious doctrinal errors, but if a person has the Holy Spirit, that person is still a member of the Church that we should identify with, and we should help them correct their errors. Competitiveness is not going to correct anything. Some speakers like to use props. I can imagine a speaker bringing his own piece of pottery to the podium, showing the audience how beautiful and unified it is, then smashing the pottery next to the podium and holding up one of the larger pieces and saying, “See what unity this one piece has with itself. There are absolutely no cracks or divisions in this one piece. What a perfect example to show that God’s one true Church is not divided” (bring a hammer just in case the floor is carpeted or the pottery is strong, and cover the pottery with a cloth to protect the eyes in the front row).
Some people say that the different groups are divided because of real doctrinal differences, and some say that they are divided because of personality conflicts and an inability to get along between the leaders. I think that doctrinal differences exist and are a reason why most groups are divided one from another, BUT NOT ALWAYS. Sometimes there is virtually no discernable doctrinal difference between two groups, and the competitiveness exists between them only because the leaders are not willing to cooperate with each other.
Not all of the major Church of God fellowships are so divided in doctrine or policy that they cannot cooperate. I can think of two major groups that share the same position on hierarchical government, preaching the gospel to the public, and the general body of doctrine Mr. Armstrong taught us from the Bible, and neither has the problem of an over-emphasis on the authority of a person and adding a lot of doctrines and interpretations of Scripture that are never proved from the Bible. Yet never have I heard a prayer request in one of these two Churches for the success of a ministerial conference in the other Church. That is just a simple example. There are many opportunities for cooperation between organizations, but what is needed is the desire to find opportunities for cooperation where appropriate. If the desire is there, ways will be found, but without the desire, it won’t happen.
I am reminded as I write this of the way Mr. Armstrong explained the two ways of life: give and get. The give way is the way of outgoing concern for others, the way of helping and cooperating. The get way of life is the way of selfishly trying to get and take away from others, the way of competition, especially hostile competition. In view of Mr. Armstrong’s explanation, would an impartial outside observer say that the various Church of God fellowships are living the give way, the way of cooperation, or the get way, the way of competition, in their relationships with each other?
Is there love between the leaders of the competing Churches of God who share the same doctrines? Jesus said, “By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35). Isn’t the converse also true? If it is true that all men will know we are Christ’s disciples if we have love for one another, could it also be true that no one will know we are Christ’s disciples if we do not have love for one another? What do our competitive attitudes look like to the world? Do they know we are Christ’s disciples by the way the different organizations love and cooperate with each other? Do they see Christ in us in the way we behave towards one another? And will Christ empower the Church to preach the gospel to the world more powerfully as long as we have the attitude of hostile competition of each organization towards all the others? I think the answers to the above questions are: no, yes, yes, the competitive ways of this world, no, no, no.
Our motive for preaching the gospel to the world should be to help those who hear the message and to glorify God’s name. The competitive spirit among some Church of God organizations seems so strong that I wonder if some may be trying to preach the gospel to the world from a different motive. We have to be careful that we are not like those Paul referred to in Philippians 1:15-17 who preached Christ from a motive of selfish ambition. If our motive for preaching the gospel to the world is to demonstrate to the most sheep that we are the ones God is working through, we have things backwards. Our motive for preaching the gospel should be to glorify God and further His plan and to help other human beings who are about to suffer.
Our motive in preaching the gospel should not be to compete with other groups and try to obtain and hold on to the most “sheep”, that is, members, using the gospel as a means for doing so, like advertising campaigns used by this world’s business corporations. Our motive for preaching the gospel should be to help the people who hear it and to glorify God’s name. If that is our motive, we should rejoice in any group, even those organized separately from the one we attend and support, that has success in reaching the public with the truth. That is the spirit of love and cooperation in action.
As far as I can see, the problem is NOT that the Church exists in several organizations or corporations, the problem is the competition that exists between them, even between groups that share the same doctrines. Among the major groups that believe in top-down government, preaching the gospel to the public, keeping the commandments, and looking to the Bible for correction and doctrine, it is the apparent hostile or indifferent spirit that exists between them that is more of a problem than the fact that they are separately organized and incorporated.
So for ministers and church leaders to be separately organized or incorporated does not, by itself, mean that the Church is divided, but rather the division is the result of either heresy or error in doctrine or policy that cannot be compromised with, or an attitude of viewing any organization other than one’s own as a competitor, and therefore not taking advantage of opportunities for cooperation and coordination where they may exist.
I started this section by talking about the problem facing ministers who know that hierarchical government is God’s way, yet they don’t know who to follow, and they don’t want to go “independent” because they think they would cause further division unless they are part of a large group, so they stay in a group that practices democracy. My point about the divisions that exist between the organizations is this. It is not the fact that there is more than one organization that makes the Church divided. It is the fact that the many organizations do not cooperate that makes the Church divided. In the first century, the gospel to Israel was committed to Peter and the gospel to the gentiles was committed to Paul (Galatians 2:6-10). There is certainly a sense in which Peter had precedence in certain situations that concerned both Peter and Paul, such as the event recorded in Acts 15 regarding a major doctrinal question that affected the whole Church, yet in day-to-day operations, they were separate and distinct administrations or organizations with each reporting directly to Jesus Christ. I am sure Peter never tried to tell Paul what cities to go to. Yet though Peter’s administration and Paul’s administration were different organizations, there was unity because they cooperated with each other. That is what is lacking today, cooperation. Instead, we have competition.
If God wants all the faithful groups to merge together under one leader, God is able to bless and give success to the one He has chosen in such an obvious way that every faithful member in the Church can know who it is by his fruits. If that occurs, a merger of groups under that one man would be appropriate. Many members and ministers may be waiting for that to happen. And if it does, it may be obvious to all. God has ways of making His will known. But I think God has not done that, and I know of no guarantee that He will do that before the tribulation begins. So in the meantime, cooperation will do more to achieve unity of mind, heart, purpose, and accomplishment than competition or indifference. And if cooperation is not possible, surely mergers are not possible either, and the divided state of the Church will continue.
Going back to the matter of the dilemma of ministers coming out of Worldwide who may themselves believe in hierarchical government, but feel that they are not able to join or support any existing leader for one reason or another, I have wondered what the result would be if more of them had simply organized separately and begun in one way or another to do the work of feeding the flock and preaching the gospel to the world, even if starting on a limited scale, rather than getting together to elect a board by voting. God could then indicate who He is working through by blessing that leader, and he would become known by his fruits (Matthew 7:15-20, Luke 6:43-44, Joshua 3:7), and as this became evident others could then join him. This would be one way God could make his choice known. It seems to me that gathering to vote for a board of directors bypasses this process. I think it would not be causing division for a minister to organize and incorporate separately rather than be subject to and support a democratically elected government of men, provided that minister had a willingness to cooperate with others. And if a pastor is able to feed his flock but feels totally unqualified for taking the gospel to the public, such a minister can still find ways of supporting the preaching of the gospel financially by sharing tithes and contributions with a minister or organization that is qualified to take the gospel to the public, and may already be doing so. He does not have to feel forced to join with another man or organization and come under that man’s or that organization’s authority before he has confidence about who God is working through.
For more discussion of the issue of Church of God governance, see Chapter 8 – Government in the Church of God.
HOW IS THE CHURCH ORGANIZED?
How is God’s Church organized? This is important, because some seem confused about how far a minister’s authority over the membership goes. I am putting this in this chapter because it seems to fit with the previous section on government in the Church of God. Some ministers and leaders in some organizations seem to claim more authority than I think the Bible gives them. Some claim authority over what members believe, or seem to claim authority over where members attend or what they read.
How is God’s Church organized? We know that Christ is the head of the Church as the husband is the head of the wife, as Paul says in Ephesians 5:22-23: “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body.”
How is Christ the head of the Church? Does Christ lead the Church only through the ministry?
1 Corinthians 11:3 shows how Christ is the head of every family in the Church. Christ is the head of the man, the man is the head of the wife, and the head of Christ is God the Father. In matters of family decisions, Christ does not rule the wife and children directly, but He rules the husband and father, who in turn rule the rest of the family.
Galatians 3:28 shows that in Christ there is neither male nor female. Is this a contradiction of 1 Corinthians 11:3? No. This is not talking about family matters but our personal relationship with Christ and with the Father. Everyone in whom the Holy Spirit dwells is a converted Christian and a member of the true Church of God and has a direct relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 4:11-16 shows the offices of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher in the Church for the administrative work of the Church. This work includes preaching the gospel to the world, the feeding of the flock, taking care of the poor in the Church, anointing the sick, and resolving disputes between brethren. Because the work of the ministry includes the preaching of the gospel to the world and the feeding of the flock, the ministry does have authority over what doctrines are officially taught by the Church.
Christ is head over each one of us directly in matters pertaining to our relationship with God the Father, our salvation, our faith, our repentance, and our obedience to God’s law. We do not report to any man or minister in any of these things. But in matters of family decisions such as where to live, how the family budget will be managed, how the children will be supervised and disciplined, the wife does not report directly to Christ. Instead, she reports to her husband who reports to Christ. The husband does not have authority from Christ over his wife’s faith, but he has authority from Christ over how she manages the household.
Then with the work of the Church, the organized ministry has authority from Christ. Individual members do not report directly to Christ in matters of deciding official Church doctrine, what will be taught to the public as part of the preaching of the gospel, what will be taught to the brethren as part of feeding the flock, distribution of third tithe funds to the poor, etc. Instead, members take direction from their pastors, who take direction from an evangelist, who takes direction from the leading evangelist or an apostle or pastor general, who takes direction from Christ, who takes direction from the Father. In the organized work of the Church, Christ’s authority flows through the ministry to the members, not to the members directly.
In other words, there are overlapping authority structures. But this does not lead to confusion because each authority structure is for a particular area of responsibility and all authority structures are under Christ.
It is important to understand this because it shows the limitations of the authority of the ministry. The ministry does not have authority over our salvation, our faith, and our relationship with God (2 Corinthians 1:24). Only Christ has that authority, and He exercises it over us for our good directly, not through the ministry. Neither can the ministry command us what to believe. We must believe the Word of God. As Mr. Armstrong taught, the Bible is the word of God in print and Christ is the Word of God in person, the same word. But the ministry can help us by teaching us, and they have the authority to make binding decisions on the official doctrines that the Church will teach. Whenever there is a conflict between the teaching of the ministry and the teaching of Christ through the Bible, we must believe and obey Christ first.
It is Christ who will judge us as far as our faith is concerned, our obedience, what we believe, what we read, where we attend, where we send our tithes, etc., not the ministry. Christ will judge us by what is written in the Bible, not by the teaching of the ministry.
For more discussion of the issue of Church of God governance, see Chapter 8 – Government in the Church of God.