While the desire for UNITY is one of the More Frequently Addressed Themes among Believers, Many within our Ministry of the recent past has done as much to Further Division as to Promote it. WHAT is the Remedy?
© Rich Traver 81520-1411 9-21-13 [ 223 ] www.goldensheaves.org
A Church of God organization, founded upon the objective of organizational unity, even using the word “United” in its organizational name, came to a point recently where it found itself unable to continue “walking together” with certain political factions within its own leadership. It found itself needing to “amicably separate” (or to attempt to do so amicably) after a decade and a half of working together. In a frank and rather insightful message that was sent out to be heard in all the congregations, an assessment was offered that, “Ours’ is a minister-caused problem!” 1
As an attendee of one of those sessions, I saw his admission as being very apropos, and I expect, it was a cause for many in the ministry to cringe. But, in fact, he was exactly correct. It was, and it is, no new thing. For that matter, which of our “problems” in the recent past were fundamentally NOT “minister caused problems”?
Those with a long history in the Church will recall many “crises” over the years: A prominent minister being expelled for philandering, certain scholarly types being disfellowshipped for their extra-organizational associations or perhaps for taking issue with certain doctrinal positions. Then, as a new administration ventured far afield of our fundamental doctrinal parameters, serious internal dissent formed (some of it quietly, some not) we became divided internally, which caused many to sever their relationships and go form new organizations. As time progressed, we became wonderfully divided. But none of these “splits”, as they are called, were uprisings or disaffections that originated among the membership. For the most part, they all were “minister caused problems!”
So, how do we comprehend this situation? What is our solution to it, if one is possible? Is a solution even within our purview? What an audacious idea! One that would be slapped-down immediately should any minister get wind of it. Correct a minister? That’s a real good way to be shown the door!
A Credentialed Leadership
We would naturally expect that the ministry would be the most reliable and stable segment of our church organizations. They are trained, they are vetted by their peers, they have gained in experience over many years of service, their credentials are examined long before they are ordained to represent their various organizations. They have God’s Spirit, (one would conclude) otherwise they couldn’t long represent God’s Truth without exposing their inadequacies.
So, on the basis of what would factions come into being where various ministers couldn’t see eye-to-eye and “walk together” as they should?
Who DO We Blame?
Considering the fact that these interpersonal differences affect the congregations, and they affect the spiritual lives of individual members in so many deeply profound ways, wouldn’t it be logical to consider that we should DO something about it? Then again, is it even our prerogative to do anything about it? Isn’t it God’s to resolve? Would any action on our part represent a lack of Faith in God?
Let’s consider the matter from another angle. Does God put any care for the brethren under our oversight? On the basis of what would we conclude that He does not, that He expects us to show due honor for those that He has put over us, no matter their actions, no matter their ineptitude or illegitimacy? Then again, what right do we as lowly members have to even consider a minister’s credentials or evaluate his actions?
This absolution of the ministry from any kind of accountability before the membership is the platform upon which the current conditions that exist in God’s Church were built. It is the culture which promotes a distinct two-tier system of administration within the Church: an esteemed clergy class presiding over a lowly member class, with the latter having no say in the conduct of the former. And it is that culture that explains why it is that congregations are vulnerable to being split in response to the lead of their local minister. It is the disconnect from any personal responsibility on the part of the membership toward one another that allows such conditions to exist.
In effect, by doing this, we place the ministry in an intermediary position between interpersonal relationships: the relationship between the individual member and their LORD, and the relationship between one member and another. This situation sets-up a dependence on the leader to address any problems and a general approach of absolving ones’ self of personal responsibility.
Where IS the Outrage?
What we need to consider is this. Where is the outrage? Where is the point where we will begin to recognize what we are obligated to do and then DO it? It’s not optional, despite the general attitude that it’s not ours’, it’s God’s to remedy. Our congregations have been devastated, The Church has been ravaged, abused, robbed of its treasure and its vibrancy. We’re a pitiful few today, compared what we ought to be. At what point do we say enough of this crap?
I expect that’s precisely what God is standing by watching to see. I expect He’s watching and asking, “When WILL these people wake up and show their love for my Bride enough to act in her defense?” As Melvin Rhodes so well said it in his message that went out to all the congregations in about December, 2010, “Our problem is a minister caused problem.” He said that boldly, and he was RIGHT! Looking back, we have to admit, our problems have ALL been minister caused problems. Shame on us for putting up with it. Treat God’s people badly once: your fault. Treat them badly twice: MY fault. (We become complicit when we don’t stand up against wrong-doing.)
Discernment is Appropriate
When are we going to USE the senses of discernment that Hebrews 5:14 calls for? Our major administrative effort, it seems, is to suppress any exercise thereof! And we call it GOOD, despite lousy results over and over again!
There was an official document, sent out to all members, written and ordered sent to us all by Mr. Armstrong in June of 1985. I still have a copy! It stated that IF God should choose to end his life, the Advisory Council of Elders would choose from among themselves who should succeed him as Pastor General. Yet, not 6-months later, he ignored that, without ever rescinding it, appointing the worst person he could have chosen, doing so without real counsel.
Our Wake-Up Call?
Now, was that a wake-up call? Was that mal-appointment allowed with the intention to finally get the ACoE and its timid crop of “yes men” to kick their brains (senses) into gear and refuse to allow that appointment? There we had the perfect chance to stand for what’s right (especially after seeing where things were going – while some well knew from the get-go). God wanted to know where His ministers stood, and they showed it in spades. They opted to ‘go with government’ (no matter how bad that government) and disregard the pricks of God’s Spirit or the principles any good Christian should exhibit.
They should have called for JT’s resignation, and they had the mandate in HWA’s own written words to do so, but they wussed out, under the pretext of ‘doing God’s service’ when more likely, it was not. Time has proven it. The fruits say it all! There was the first step in the dissolution of that Church and the determined expulsion of the Truth from within it! And, it accrued to a ministry who subordinated themselves to some supposed ‘greater principle’ while allowing the fox to ‘reorder’ the hen house un-resisted. Again, WHERE is the outrage? How many peoples’ spiritual lives have been destroyed in all this? And, WHO will bear the responsibility? Won’t it be the ministry for the most part?
What may be interpreted as bitterness is more a reflection of a frank assessment of the Church’s true condition, coupled with a certain amount of activism on my part to expose it, pursuant to pressing to see it fixed. God’s Church has been harmed, we know that, we can see that now, and we shouldn’t be ‘neither-hot-nor-cold’ about it, to borrow a familiar phrase.
Now in this, I could be said there is certain “over-simplification”. I would agree that the situation that has existed through much of our Sixth Era history contains some profound considerations. But, wasn’t the ultimate simplicity found in the instructions that Christ gave to His Disciples, that they were to regard themselves all as “brethren”, not imposing lordship on anyone; not each other, and certainly not the general membership? Is that how we chose to do things? If not, why not? Isn’t simple better?
Government Not of God’s Pattern
What creates the complexity referred to? Was it our concept of “government” that we touted as being “of God” when it wasn’t of God at all? We created a hierarchy of ranks within the ministry (as in Rome) that expressly disregarded Christ’s instructions. We placed men (though perhaps true ministers) between the believer and God. We intimated that our access to God’s Spirit was directly impacted by our good standing with the ministry. We created a structure that even placed one superior minister between themselves and their peers, and a local minister between member and member and between a member and his Lord! That culture is what created the conditions for the divisions we see. Our sights were turned away from our True Shepherd to relating to Him THROUGH the office of a human representative here on earth.
The “instrument of unity” that we thought we were embracing turned out to be the guarantor of division. Yes, clearing ourselves of that goes to the very root of our relationships with God and one another. So, it isn’t as simple as we’d like, because it is profoundly an underlying part of our culture, and so many are so sold on its “rightness” it may take a generation to expunge it.
God ‘allowed’ Satan to infect a third of the angels. Yes, His angels! He allowed the Serpent to corrupt the judgment of Adam and Eve, He allows Satan to influence society and He let Judas continue with the eleven for a time. But, to use that as a basis to justify looking the other way when it comes to the Church’s spiritual condition is the epitome of over-simplified reasoning.
None of those things represented the idea that WE as the Saints of God should ‘follow’ any of them, simply because God allowed it, or because God didn’t intervene and put an end to it. That approach sounds a bit like Adam’s excuse. “The woman, whom you gave me, she made me do it.” In other words, Adam says to God, since you gave me this woman to be my wife, the fault is ultimately yours for anything she influences me to do. That’s why it says, “Adam sinned.” Eve was deceived, but Adam sinned! God easily could have corrected Eve on the spot, but he left it to Adam to make the appropriate decision. He failed! Adam sinned and it wasn’t God’s fault!
The ascent of reprobates into the Chief Seats in the Church, or the occupancy of ministerial positions within congregations by men who shouldn’t be there, is NOT an endorsement by God of their errors or abuses. That God does not rip them out of their positions does not represent an endorsement of their legitimacy by God, nor does it present us with righteous justification for following or even reluctantly condoning their wrong teachings and abusive methods.
Then again, there’s the paycheck consideration to add into the realm of non-simplicity. When the Central Treasury was created, with funding firmly controlled by the chief seat, another layer of consequences factored-in, should a minister or a member choose to act in accordance with his proper spiritual obligations.
Ministers were compensated not so much as a result of faithfully obeying God in service to His ecclesia, but more in regard for their ‘loyalty to the apostle’. I suppose this isn’t all that different than the trials of the Saints of the first century, who were put to the sword or flames rather than compromise their Faith. Just that today the paycheck thing is of much smaller consequence than theirs’. In their cases, their lives were at stake; in ours’ only ones career and livelihood.
The Church IS our Concern
This is not unconverted society we’re saying we should be concerned about. This is the Church of God, its people hopefully operating with the senses of discernment that God’s Spirit provides.
As in the past, does God’s inaction in removing inept or sinister leaderships constitute His tacit endorsement and does it justify our knowing complicity, OR does He leave them in office to test the mettle of our spiritual condition? We can become martyrs in more ways than one. When we urge each other to “follow them as they follow Christ”, then see them NOT following Christ, but say, “follow them anyway, because they are the leaders God put over us”, we create a counter intuitive mental / spiritual conflict that can compromise our character in time. Way too many attendees have exhibited that non-responsive characteristic. Some do so even yet!
I will admit to having strong objections against the idea that we are obligated to do nothing at all about the spiritual condition within the Church.
Unfortunately, the concept of government we embraced caused members to take it upon them-selves to shield themselves from any degree of scrutiny or accountability. (It became: “pray and pay”, with the unspoken subliminal: “you have no say”!) And people accepted that because it was easier than doing due diligence.
A Structured Hierarchy
We created a ranking system, a two-tier structure where the ministry was superior to the laity, and which disallowed the membership from having any real say in policies, decisions, expenditures, or even teachings. The obscenity of declaring our Tithes as belonging to God, and if we didn’t pay them in full to this one administration, we were robbing God. Then, it was declared that those Tithes could be used in any manner that the leader saw fit, and we had no right to consider the propriety of any use of them. Legally, before the courts of men, that case might have been made, but not under the true government of God!
In the early New Testament Church, there was no central treasury. For that matter, there was no central authority structure. What need was there for one, and how would it operate with communication being so slow and difficult? They had to rely more on God’s Spirit. Also, the members functioned with a much greater level of involvement than the current administrations would allow. These below are just a few areas where the Early Church operated differently than most religious organizations do today.
The members selected deacons (who were not merely low-level servants), (Act 6:2-5)
Members weighed-in on and endorsed decisions made collectively, (Act 15:22-23)
Members themselves were told to disfellowship / mark the troublemakers, (Rom 16:17)
Members spoke openly and often among one another, (Mal 3:16-18)
Members were admonished to exercise their spiritual senses, (Heb 54:12-14)
Lower regarded members were to be involved in matters needing judgment, (1 Cor 6:1-5)
The membership examined ministerial credentials, revealing their conclusions, (Rev 2:2)
Esteem was to be something earned by conduct, not by rank, (1 Thes 5:12-13, etc)
Members are the ‘pillars and grounds of truth’, (1 Tim 3:15)
Members also laid hands upon apostles / sent letters of recommendation, (Act 13:3 15:23)
Members evangelized without ministerial involvement, (1 Thes 1:2-14)
Ministers were told to regard themselves as ‘brothers’ (equals) not ‘superiors’, (Mat 23:8)
Ministers were to serve as overseers, not act as overlords, (1 Pet 5:2-3, & Mat 20:25-27)
Inaction is NOT an Option!
The following scriptures show how the ministry has a responsibility. They are held to account for inadequate performance. It isn’t possible to conclude from this that they were to effectively condone these conditions, doing nothing about it. It isn’t God’s fault that such conditions continue. We tend to base our inaction on the premise that He is the only one with the right to do something about things! That we must submit to anything!
Isa. 56:10 – 57:2 “His watchmen are blind: they are all ignorant, they are all dumb dogs, they cannot bark; (the watchmen refuse to do their jobs, sounding the alarm! This shows that it is what they were supposed to do, not keep silent for political expediency!) sleeping, lying down, loving to slumber. Yea, they are greedy dogs which can never have enough, and they are shepherds that cannot understand: they all look to their own way, every one for his gain, from his quarter. The righteous perisheth, and no man layeth it to heart: (how many are distraught over those who were spiritually destroyed by bad treatment or poor shepherding?) and merciful men are taken away, none considering that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come. He shall enter into peace: they shall rest in their beds, each one walking in his uprightness.
Jer. 23:1-4 “Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! saith the LORD. Therefore thus saith the LORD God of Israel against the pastors that feed my people; Ye have scattered my flock, and driven them away, and have not visited them: behold, I will visit upon you the evil of your doings, saith the LORD. And I will gather the remnant of my flock out of all countries whither I have driven them, and will bring them again to their folds; and they shall be fruitful and increase. And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the LORD.” (This passage describes the conditions in the modern Church perfectly: members feared to get cross-ways with the authorities, they were fearful of their ministry; they were continually dismayed by the conduct of leading ministers, serious misuse of tithes, repudiations of true doctrines with seemingly nothing being done about it; and their ongoing lack of education, being purposely kept “dumbed-down” so that they wouldn’t cause trouble by thinking or asking discomforting questions.)
Is it the Ministry ONLY?
While many of the problems evident are right-fully to the credit of certain ministers, and more credit for there not being any redress is rightfully the fault of other reluctant ministers, yet there is another component in this equation that could have made a great difference if they had weighed in as they should have. But our culture cut them out of the picture. The membership was allowed absolutely no say in anything. This was the situation that set the Church up for the problems that have devastated our unity.
The point of this is to lay a large part of the failure to push for course corrections on the whole Church, not just its ministry alone.
We accepted being suppressed. We accepted the supremacy of the ministry, even accepting that as ‘a doctrine of the Church’, failing to take seriously the oversight responsibility that was given to each Spirit-led Saint. The people were effectively “conquered” under the old Nicolaitan system that the Lord says He hates!
Fervency in Love
While strong objections might arise against the idea of pressing for corrections, we must consider that we are to love the brethren wholeheartedly. As 1st Peter 1:22 exhorts us, “Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently:” Allowing rogue elements within our ministry to abuse brethren, allowing doubtful doctrines to be brought in, allowing discord between one minister and another to divide us and undermine the faith and confidence of the membership does not fulfill that admonition to love with fervency. And, not forgetting, our ministers are brethren also.
The incessant divisions within our ranks and within our congregations stand as potent witness that we have not done all things God’s Way!
1 Melvin Rhodes, December 2012 in a message played in all UCG congregations.