An issue that is raised a lot these days in Church of God circles is the issue of church governance. Those with a pre-1985 background in the old Worldwide Church of God (WCG) realize that in the last several years of his life, Herbert W. Armstrong often taught about the importance of proper church governance.
However, since his death, most once part of the old Worldwide Church of God have either changed their minds on governance or seem to not be interested in following the biblical type of governance that Herbert W. Armstrong taught that the Philadelphia portion of the Church of God needed to have (for one example, please see CEM’s Ron Dart on Governance).
This article will also include quotes from early Church of God leaders, such as Polycarp of Smyrna, who also advocated hierarchical governance--which at this time, appears to be best practiced by the Continuing Church of God. The article will also mention certain limits on ecclesiastical authority.
Since God is love (1 John 4:8,16), His government is based on love. But many do not understand that.
Although, as he admitted, in his earliest writings he was confused about the subject of proper church governance, over time, he believed that proper church governance was one of the 18 truths that God restored to the Philadelphia portion of the Church of God through him.
Here is some of what Herbert W. Armstrong taught:
The government of God has been restored to the Church, and the government of God has been placed in the Church. You read that in Ephesians 4 and I Corinthians 12. Christ is the head of the Church and under Christ in the administration of the government are an apostle or apostles, then evangelists, then pastors, then all are called elders, all ministers all the way up clear down to the lowest. So then there are teachers and elders both speaking elders and preaching elders, deacons and deaconesses. And the Church is restored in that form of government. The Sardis Church even didn't have the right form of government (Sermon. Mission of the Philadelphia Church Era by Herbert W. Armstrong given on December 17, 1983).
The government of God is of necessity government from the top down. It cannot be 'government by the consent of the governed' ...
The Presbyterian Church is organized with the presbyters or ministers in control. The Congregational Church delegates top authority to the congregation--"government by the consent of the governed."
And so it goes. The churches of this world of Satan are organized according to humanly devised patterns. But the Bible gives explicit directions in regard to Church government. Jesus Christ is the Head of the Church. God's form of government is, indeed, hierarchical. God the Father is head over Christ--the sole Lawgiver and supreme authority...
To administer these many operations, God--not a vote of the members--"hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers." Or, as stated in more detail in Ephesians 4:11 (RSV): "And his gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers."
An apostle is "one sent forth" with Christ's gospel message, including the supervision of proclaiming that message to the world by means and persons other than himself. Also an apostle was given supervision over all the local congregations or churches (I Cor. 16:1). The apostle Paul had oversight over the churches of the Gentile world (II Cor. 11:28).
The prophets set in the foundation of the Church...
Evangelists were leading ministers, proclaiming the gospel to the public, even raising up local churches and having supervision over some churches under the apostle. Therefore an evangelist may hold executive functions under the apostle in the Church headquarters or work today. An evangelist is not necessarily stationary. Pastors are stationary pastors over a local church or contingent group of local churches...
Old Testament Israel, the Church of the Old Testament, was also a nation in the world--though not OF the world as God organized it. Its GOVERNMENT was HIERARCHICAL. It was theocratic government--government from the top down--the very opposite of "democracy."
The CHURCH is organized under theocratic government, hierarchical in form. The members do not set officials in the Church. God sets EVEN THE LAY MEMBERS in the Church (I Cor. 12:18).
Jesus said explicitly, "No MAN CAN come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him" (John 6:44). The world, except for the specially called, is CUT OFF from God!
We have just covered the truth that GOD set officials to serve on the human level under Christ, in the Church. Members do not elect them. Yet in the churches of this world some believe in government by the entire congregation--"democracy"--and call themselves "Congregational." Others have organized themselves into government by ministers or presbytery and call themselves "Presbyterian." " (Mystery of the Ages, Dodd & Mead, 1985, pp.49, 242, 244, 246-247).
The "loner"--the "individual Christian," who wants to climb up into the kingdom some other way than by CHRIST and HIS WAY through his CHURCH--is not being trained in CHRIST'S MANNER OF TRAINING, to rule and reign with Christ in his kingdom!
Now what about the "private," or "individual Christian," who says, "I don't want to be a part of the Church--I want to seek my salvation direct and alone with Christ." ...
The Church is ORGANIZED on GOD'S pattern of mutual teamwork and cooperation to function perfectly together. They shall become the GOD FAMILY as it shall exist at the time of Christ's Second Coming. Remember God IS that divine fAMILY! (Mystery of the Ages, pp.270-271).
"In founding God's Church, Jesus worked primarily through one man, Peter, even though He originally chose His 12 disciples. Few have ever noticed that Peter was the real leader. Acts 15: Here is the crux chapter, not generally understood... The Jerusalem conference showed that PETER was preeminent over even Paul, although Paul was the ONE MAN God worked through primarily in the ministry to gentiles... This crucial crux chapter has been misunderstood, twisted and distorted. I have tried to take space to MAKE IT CLEAR in this article" (Armstrong, Herbert W. Originally published in Worldwide News article 2/19/78 and quoted in the Living Church News. Jan-Feb 1999; p.7).
"The PURPOSE for which Christ built the Church exemplifies its WORK...1) To ANNOUNCE to the world for its witness the coming Kingdom of God...2) To prepare the people to whom God adds to the Church...God has always worked with humans. He has worked with O N E M A N at a time...The WORK consists of proclaiming the Gospel, by radio, by television, in print" (Armstrong HW. JUST WHAT IS THE WORK? PASTOR GENERAL'S REPORT - VOL.3, NO.6 February 6, 1981).
Anyone who had been in the old Worldwide Church of God in the 1980s while Herbert W. Armstrong was alive heard him repeatedly emphasize the importance of proper Church governance. But most did not later accept this teaching, and many of those who thought they did had issues truly understanding and abiding by it.
Notice the following article from Roderick C. Meredith of the Living Church of God which addresses a variety of issues related to proper (and improper) church governance (note that any bolding or italics were in the original):
Correct Church Government is Vital
By Roderick C. Meredith
The religions of this world are confused about almost every major doctrine in the Bible. It should be no surprise that they are also confused about the biblical form of Church government.
Yet the biblical form of Church government is absolutely vital in identifying where Christ is working, and in teaching members of God’s Church the important lessons of correct government. After all, true Christians are preparing to rule— under Christ—the cities and nations of this entire world. Therefore, learning about right government and the experience of practicing that form of government is crucial in the development of the future kings and priests who will soon be given that responsibility when Christ returns!
Also, it is vital that we all understand how wrong it is for “every Tom, Dick and Harry” to rush off to start his own church, whether or not he is in any way qualified! Mr. Herbert Armstrong used to explain this very carefully and thoughtfully. He would often quote Hebrews 5:4, “And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was.” Throughout His inspired word, God is very specific in condemning men’s efforts to “ordain themselves”—or appoint themselves to some job in the ministry!
Perhaps the most dramatic example of this is the situation involving Korah and the “two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, representatives of the congregation, men of renown” (Numbers 16:1–2). As we see in verse 3, these men tried to exalt themselves, and indicated that they should be able to take the job of leadership over the congregation “just like” Moses and Aaron. So Moses said, “and are you seeking the priesthood also” (v. 10). Obviously, God knew the hearts of these men—and knew that Moses was correct in his assessment. These men were trying to take over the leadership, even though God had clearly appointed Moses and Aaron to that responsibility.
God dramatically gave us a powerful lesson when “the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men with Korah, with all their goods. So they and all those with them went down alive into the pit; the earth closed over them, and they perished from among the assembly” (vv. 32–33). We should all study Numbers 16, and learn the lesson that none is to “appoint” himself as a minister—or spiritual “priest”— apart from God using those He has already put into the ministry to do the appointing or ordaining.
As most of you know, Mr. Armstrong was ordained by the Sardis era Church of God back in 1931. I was ordained personally by Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong—along with four others—as an evangelist of Jesus Christ on December 20, 1952 in front of the entire Headquarters congregation at Ambassador College in Pasadena. I did not try to “appoint” myself, but when the apostasy began in the late 1980s I simply carried on as an “evangelist”—the office to which Mr. Armstrong had appointed me.
All of us need to understand that practicing correct Church government is a matter of faith in Christ! For the Bible is very clear that God does guide His Church, overall, in spite of occasional human errors, and we must trust Christ to do His job! No one should try to “appoint himself” to the ministry or to take an office Christ has not given him!
Remember, following correct Church government involves faith that Jesus Christ is alive and doing His job. But in today’s society, most people place great value on democratic government, because that is currently the most popular form of government in much of the Western world. But will democracy be the inspired form of government after Christ’s return? Remember that Jesus Christ “is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). What form of government did He always lead His true servants to follow— in both Old and New Testaments? And what kind of government will be followed in the soon-coming Kingdom of God?
Jesus stated, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God’” (Luke 4:4). Are we willing to open our minds and hearts and see the biblical approach to Church government? God says, “‘For all those things My hand has made, and all those things exist,’ says the LORD. ‘But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word’” (Isaiah 66:2). Will you fear and tremble before God’s word, and determine to be absolutely sure that your church is following the biblical form of government?
The Gospel and Our Future Calling
Scripture clearly describes the true gospel: “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel’” (Mark 1:14–15). God’s people should realize that Jesus was talking about a literal kingdom—or government—that would be set up on earth when He returned. We remember that, after Jesus’ resurrection, His disciples asked Him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” Here Jesus had a marvelous opportunity to disabuse them of the idea of a literal government if God’s form of government was not a kingdom.
But what was Jesus’ answer? “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:7).
Throughout the New Testament, the Bible tells us that during the Millennium the true “saints” will help Christ in administering the literal government of God over this earth (Revelation 2:26; 5:9–10). Paul was inspired to write, “Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?” (1 Corinthians 6:2–3).
Remember, Paul made these statements because some of the Corinthian brethren were going to law against other brethren! Paul reminded them that we are now in training to judge the world, so we ought to be learning to practice that judgment in God’s Church today! Paul exhorted, “If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, [why] do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? I say this to your shame. Is it so that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?” (vv. 4–5). Yes, God’s people need training to administer His kind of government. We need to understand and practice the very kind of government we will be responsible for carrying out during the Millennium.
Yet, in making this judgment about the young man caught in incest, Paul wrote, “For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed” (1 Corinthians 5:3). Although Paul must have had detailed information, and probably also received counsel from the other leaders of the Church, he had the authority to disfellowship this blatant sinner. Obviously, Paul was not seeking permission from any committees or “boards” of men to carry out this action!
As future kings and priests, God’s people should be learning to practice and administer the very form of government they will be administering over the cities and the nations of this earth in a few years!
God’s Government in the Old Testament
The nation of Israel was also called “the congregation in the wilderness” (Acts 7:38). How did God inspire this church-state body to be governed? Notice this instruction, which Jethro gave under inspiration from the One who became Jesus Christ: “Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you” (Exodus 18:21–22).
So God led Moses to appoint dedicated men to these responsibilities. Certainly, much counsel, thought and fervent prayer must have been involved. There was no “politicking”—and no voting! Later, God led King David of Israel—the “man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22)—to use the same form of government (2 Samuel 18:1). Remember that in the soon-coming resurrection, David will be back in his same job as king of all Israel (Jeremiah 30:9). And then—understanding more fully the spirit of the law—King David will again govern the people using God’s laws. “David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes, and do them” Ezekiel 37:24).
It is clear that God’s government was, throughout the Old Testament—as it will be in God’s soon-coming Kingdom here on Earth—a hierarchical government with direction from God through the leaders under Him directing His people. Scripture does not record any exceptions to this practice receiving God’s blessing.
Remember that the Being who emptied Himself to become our Savior was the God of the Old Testament. “And all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ” (1 Corinthians 10:4). The author of Hebrews tells us: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8). So, it should be obvious that Christ does not keep “switching” His form of government in directing His people through the ages.
Church Government in the New Testament
Throughout the New Testament, we find the living Christ directing His servants to follow the same pattern of government that He had inspired over the previous 1,500 years. Jesus Himself set the example. “Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles” (Luke 6:12–13).
Here, Jesus gives us a powerful example. A true servant of God must pray fervently and seek God’s will— not his own! And yet, in the end, such a leader should make the decisions involved in directing the affairs of God’s Church. There were never any “boards” or committees directing Jesus, Peter, James, John or Paul, telling them what to do. After much thought, and then fervent prayer to the Father throughout the night, Jesus then chose the twelve apostles.
In the book of Acts, we find that Paul selected Timothy to assist him in the ministry. So, “He took him and circumcised him” and began to train him (Acts 16:3). Later, we find Timothy was an “evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5).
Along the way, Paul described to Timothy the qualifications one should consider before ordaining anyone (1 Timothy 3:1–13). Then he warned Timothy, “Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people’s sins; keep yourself pure” (1 Timothy 5:22). What is clear from this warning, and from all these examples, is that Timothy, working with authority delegated by Paul, did not need the approval of any “board” or committee.
The pattern of government in the early inspired Church is very clear in Titus 1:5–9, “For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you, if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, self controlled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict.”
The letter to Titus begins, “Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ.” Putting this together with verse 5, three basic points become clear:
Christ was the Head of Paul, His apostle.
Under the leadership of the living Jesus Christ, Paul had authority to direct the activities of Titus, an evangelist, and also to give him instructions on how to carry out his responsibilities.
Titus, responsible to Christ overall and to Paul especially in administrative matters, had authority to “appoint elders” within the guidelines set by Paul—not by any board of men.
This clear pattern of government is evident throughout the entire New Testament. The overall Headship of Christ is stressed again and again. But it is also made clear that Christ Himself has established important offices in the Church of God for the sake of unity: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11–13).
It should also be very clear that the living Christ has always directed each phase of His Work primarily through one man at a time. Moses directed different phases of God’s Work within the Israel of his day, and after him Joshua, then Samuel, then others. God indicates that He primarily used the Apostle Peter to direct the Work to the Jews, and the Apostle Paul to direct the Work to the Gentile world: “But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised” (Galatians 2:7–9).
The above scripture shows that although Barnabas was an apostle, and James and John were “pillars”— certainly leading apostles—the Gospel to the circumcision had been committed to Peter’s overall direction. This division of responsibilities between Peter and Paul was necessary— at that time—because of the truly huge differences and antagonisms between the Gentile and the Jewish peoples of that day, and also because of geographical considerations and the lack of instant worldwide communication.
Today, such a division of responsibilities is not necessary, since we can have almost instant contact with people around the world via the Internet, telephones, fax machines and other means of communication. These modern tools enabled the vast majority of God’s people to be “one” under the inspired leadership of God’s servant, Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong. Christ guided and blessed His Work in that unified way for more than 50 years! To deny that would be to deny reality.
Misguided people often seize on several common examples to try to contradict the clear pattern of government God reveals in His word. One of these is the idea that in Acts 1:20–26, Matthias was chosen to replace Judas by a form of voting!
The above idea is clearly unscriptural, and some may hold it partly through ignorance of the Old Testament practice of appealing to God for a decision through the Urim and Thummim.
Notice the context of this matter: after finding two dedicated men who met the qualifications of having been with Christ from the beginning of His ministry all the way to His resurrection, the apostles then appealed to God to make the decision between these two, “And they prayed and said, ‘You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.’ And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles” (Acts 1:24–26).
Notice this reference from The New Bible Commentary: Revised— “‘And they cast lots’. Deliberate selection and prayer played their parts in this appointment as well as the lot. The lot was a sacred institution in ancient Israel and was a well established means for ascertaining the divine will (cf. Pr. 16:33), being in fact the principle of decision by Urim and Thummim. This is the first and last occasion of the employment of the lot by [during] the period between the ascension and Pentecost; Jesus had gone, and the Holy Spirit had not yet come.”
Besides showing that this was an appeal to God’s will before the Holy Spirit had come, it is significant that this was the last time the apostles cast lots. Once the Holy Spirit came, the living Christ—through God’s Spirit—would guide His faithful ministers in all major decisions.
Some also read the practice of politics and voting into the appointment of deacons as described in Acts 6. Yet one need only look carefully at the scriptural context to see the error of that assumption. Verse 3 gives the key information: “Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.”
So the brethren were to sincerely “seek out” a number of individuals who met certain qualifications. They may have found quite a few men whose “fruits” showed wisdom and the Holy Spirit. But then, did the brethren as a whole vote on which of these men would become deacons?
Of course not! That has never been God’s way at any time in human history, nor in the history of the true Church! No, the brethren did not vote. The apostles—no doubt after much counsel and prayer—appointed Stephen and the other deacons to be ordained.
Some have also misunderstood the account of the Jerusalem conference, as given in Acts 15. There certainly was an open and brotherly atmosphere in that landmark conference. There was obviously a good deal of hearty and perhaps even heated discussion among the “apostles and elders” (v. 6).
But, “And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: ‘Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us’” (vv. 7–8). Then Peter proceeded to explain God’s decision to give the Gentiles the Holy Spirit without having them first become circumcised.
Afterward, Paul and Barnabas also showed how God had backed up this principle by “miracles and wonders” (v. 12). James—the presiding apostle at Jerusalem—referred to Peter’s declaration, enlarged on it, and said, “Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God” (v. 19). So James stated the consensus judgment or decision of the leadership.
Commenting on this procedure, The New Bible Commentary: Revised states: “It seems from v. 12 (‘all the assembly’) that other members of the Jerusalem church were present, although deliberation and decision rested with the leaders.” Again, it is obvious that there was no “voting” as such, but rather much hearty counsel from the apostles and elders. The apostolic “pillars” such as Peter and Paul made the major speeches, then James stated the final decision to which the Holy Spirit had led these dedicated men.
Much Input and COUNSEL Must Be Sought
In all the above examples, a number of people gave advice or counsel before the leaders made a decision. God clearly tells us, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But he who heeds counsel is wise” (Proverbs 12:15). As God’s word states, “Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established” (Proverbs 15:22).
For this reason, as the founding Presiding Evangelist, I established an active Council of Elders for the Living Church of God. Council members advise me on spiritual and physical issues pertaining to the Church, its plans and its programs. Council members are encouraged to advise me openly and heartily, and I do not ask for “yes men” when we talk about problems and opportunities facing the Church. The Council meets formally at least three times each year, and I talk often with Council members outside formal meetings, to ensure that I am following Christ’s guidance as best I am able, so that the Church can always be moving forward in its mission under its living Head, Jesus Christ.
A dedicated servant of the living God will always try to seek the “counsel” of at least several qualified individuals before making any major decision. Also, a true servant of God will spend much time in thoughtful, fervent prayer to God—asking for His will to be made clear—before making an important decision. We have already noted that Jesus prayed all night before choosing His twelve apostles (Luke 6:12). We remember how Paul fasted and prayed for three days in seeking God’s will after being struck down on the way to Damascus (Acts 9:9–11).
Notice also this fervent seeking of God’s will in the appointment of elders. “So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Acts 14:23). Such humble, sensitive seeking of God’s will should be the hallmark of all His true ministers. As long as this attitude is maintained, Jesus Christ will be there to guide His Church as its living Head (Colossians 1:18).
A key distinguishing attitude of God’s true servants is that they do regard themselves as just that—servants. Finding the disciples arguing among themselves about “who is the greatest,” Jesus found an opportunity to explain a very important principle. “But Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many’” (Matthew 20:25–28).
All in authority in God’s Church should have, and should conduct themselves with, this attitude of service. We all know that, in the past, some ministers would appoint themselves as “dictators” in their areas—trying to run the lives of the brethren even in purely personal matters. This was wrong, and is completely unjustified by Scripture! For each leader in God’s Church should humbly try to serve each of the brethren in ways that help them increase their own wisdom and develop their own human potential.
Each of us should try to understand those we serve, and we should endeavor to strengthen, encourage and inspire them to be like Jesus Christ in every aspect of their lives. Only in this way can we truly “love our neighbor as ourselves.”
Peter, who had been impetuous and “pushy” early in his ministry, was later inspired to write: “The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” (1 Peter 5:1–4).
God clearly showed His approach to government from the very beginning, when He organized the family unit and set the husband in charge (Genesis 3:16). Yet, even here it is the living Jesus Christ to whom we should look as our ultimate Head under God the Father. “But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God” (1 Corinthians 11:3).
Notice that although there is no voting, and the husband is the undisputed head of the family unit in God’s sight (Ephesians 5:23), he is still admonished to practice “servant leadership” and to serve his wife in how he leads the family (v. 25). So all of us in God’s Church—and especially those in the ministry—should try to “lay down our lives” for the brethren. We all need to heed the Apostle John’s inspired instruction, “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).
FAITH in the Living Christ
If we have genuine faith in the living Jesus Christ as the active Head of the Church, we will quickly see and submit to His form of government in the Church. For we will look beyond men, and beyond the human foibles that we all have. We will see that Christ has anointed, with His Spirit, certain men who are preaching His full Truth and really doing His Work—and that He has promised to be there to guide and inspire those ministers in leading His Church (Matthew 28:20).
Jesus said, “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them” (Matthew 7:19–20).
So, in determining where Christ is working, and whom He is leading to walk more fully in His ways, one needs to look at the “fruits”—the results. Is the biblical form of government being followed? Is the message of the Kingdom of God being preached powerfully to the world? Is the prophetic warning of the coming Great Tribulation being proclaimed urgently to modern Israel—the Jewish people and the descendants of the so-called “Lost Ten Tribes”? Is the full Truth of God’s laws and ways being taught? Are people being taught to grow in grace and knowledge, “unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”?
When the above “fruits” are present in a church organization, one can have confidence that Christ is there and will direct its leadership. And if the leadership should turn aside— “water down” the Truth significantly, or fail to really preach the true Gospel and do the Work—then Scripture clearly instructs the brethren to cease to follow such an organization and its leadership. As Paul wrote, “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1, KJV)!
Notice how the apostles answered when they were threatened and pressured to stop preaching the Gospel. “But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
So, once the “fruits” are evident, it is to the living Christ we should look to lead and inspire His faithful ministers to direct the affairs of His Church in the right way. Truly dedicated Christians will have faith in this. Not faith in men, but in the living Jesus Christ!
Some may say, “But mistakes were made in the past and people were hurt by Church government!” This is exactly the kind of reasoning the people used in Samuel’s day (1 Samuel 8:1–7). Many had been hurt by Samuel’s sons misusing their offices. So, what did the people do? Did they cry out to God in prayer and fasting to either chasten or remove those offending persons?
No! They came to Samuel en masse — like a “ march on Washington”—and they demanded, “Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations” (1 Samuel 8:5).
These self-willed men were not merely demanding a redress of the current misuse of office. They demanded that the entire form of government be changed! They felt they could not trust God to direct Samuel and his sons, so they wanted a form of government more like the carnal nations around them. This would be like people today wanting democracy simply because it is the way of the world around them! And Israel has been cut off from God’s direct form of government ever since! Partly because of this, the modern descendants of Israel are soon headed to doom, in the Great Tribulation!
To use a modern example, suppose a president or prime minister abuses his office, perhaps by committing adultery, perjury or larceny. Do you immediately do away with the office of the presidency or the prime ministership?
No! It never pays to “throw the baby out with the bath water!” Church leaders’ human mistakes never justify going against God’s entire approach to Church government and His law. Yet, when human beings find they have been in one ditch, they often leap out, run across the middle of the road, and jump into the other ditch! The answer is not in going to either extreme, but in trusting Christ to guide His Church, following the pattern of Church government as He clearly reveals it throughout the Bible.
Even back in Old Testament times, faithful men and women knew that God was responsible to guide His servants. Faithful King Jehoshaphat set judges in the land and said to them, “Take heed to what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the LORD, who is with you in the judgment” (2 Chronicles 19:6). How much more will the resurrected Jesus Christ be with and guide His New Covenant ministers who are, in fact, preaching His Truth and doing His Work?
Be sure to examine very carefully the “fruits” of leaders who claim to be of God. If good fruits are clearly there, and they are practicing the principles described above, one can have faith that the Savior who died for us, and is now resurrected and seated at God the Father’s right hand, can and will lead and guide them— so long as they follow His form of Church organization and government, preach His Truth and do His Work.
If we have genuine faith in the living Jesus Christ as the active Head of the Church, we will quickly see and submit to His form of government in the Church. For we will look beyond men, and beyond the human foibles that we all have. (Correct Church Government is Vital. Living Church News. March-April 2008, pp. 3-5, 17-19).
Although pride gets in many people's way, including religious leaders, the truth is that submission to proper governance shows that one will properly submit to God and to accept His will in one's life. Yet, one should not submit to biblically-improper teachings if the leader/church has strayed away from the Bible.
Notice also the following that was published in The Journal: News of the Churches of God: in 2013:
THE JOURNAL asked Dr. Thiel if he believes only one church group at a time is qualified to wear the mantle of authority from God in the Christian age.
(Some Church of God groups and their members interpret the seven congregations of Revelation 2-3 as prophesied eras of true Christianity that have stretched down through the last 2,000 years or so.)
“If you accept hierarchical governance the way it’s discussed in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians,” Dr. Thiel said, “the mantle, if you will, would reside with the highest ecclesiastical authority.
“And, since prophets are above evangelists, etc., then that would say that, unless a different type of prophet rose up or someone who was truly an apostle rose up, then the mantle would be with the highest non-self-appointed legitimate Church of God leader.”
The above is consistent with the Bible and the beliefs of various COG leaders, including the late Herbert Armstrong, throughout history.
A few weeks after having a discussion with Dr. Bob Thiel about prophets and his own anointing for a "double-portion" of God's Spirit, long-time evangelist Dr. R.C. Meredith declared that according to the New Testament, that one who is a prophet can have "inspired preaching" or teaching as opposed to having seen a vision or received prophetic messages in dreams as those prophets in the Old Testament did (Meredith RC. God is building a spiritual family. LCG DVE703 sermon, May 5, 2012).
And that is consistent with what happened at the start of the New Testament church (cf. Acts 2:1-18)--though at some point, New Testament prophets may also have one or more dreams or visions (e.g. Acts 16:9).
The New Testament seems to discuss several types of prophets. Some, like the Apostle John, received direct revelation from Jesus (Revelation 1). Some others were apparently "local" prophets (1 Corinthians 14:29-32) who assisted in the understanding of matters in local areas. And some were apparently prophetic evangelists (like apparently Timothy), who had some prophetic gift, but may or may not have had many/any visions/dreams.
Dr. R.C. Meredith, while in the old Radio Church of God under the leadership of the late Herbert W. Armstrong, wrote (bolding mine):
The true Church of God is the ONLY Church which directly follows not only the form of government but employs the very titles which God Himself inspired as the designations for His ministers of various ranks and functions. These titles are partially included in the various spiritual gifts mentioned in I Corinthians 12: “And GOD hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues” (Verse 28)...Those mentioned first are apostles...
Next are mentioned “prophets.” These can be either men or women and were used to foretell future events by special and personal revelation from God (Acts 11:27-30; 21:9-10). There is no example of them having any administrative authority over other ministers in the Church unless they were also apostles or evangelists. Also, from the later chapters of Acts and the following centuries of true Church history, it would seem that their function has diminished and that Christ is not placing many in this office since the basic revelation of the Bible is now complete.
Next in authority under the apostles were the evangelists. Originally, they included such men as Timothy, Titus, Epaphroditus, Silas and others who assisted the apostles in directing the work of the ministry. (Meredith RC. How Church Government Really WORKS. Good News, March 1964, pp. 4-5)
So according to the writings of Dr. Meredith, with the editorial approval of Herbert W. Armstrong, prophets who also do the work of an evangelist, "prophetic evangelists" or "evangelistic prophets," can have administrative authority. And that is so (other prophets in New Testament and later times probably also had some type of administrative authority as well). And not placing MANY in that role does not mean that CHRIST is not placing any.
Dr. Meredith also mentioned a group that he called local prophets (cf. 1 Corinthians 14:29-32):
As God’s Church in this age has GROWN over the past thirty years in this era, Christ has filled ALL of the ministerial ranks outlined in Ephesians 4 except that of the local “prophets”- who were not much in evidence toward the latter part of the Biblical history and after the Bible was written. (Meredith RC. How Church Government Really WORKS. Good News, March 1964, pp. 6,24)
And, that combined with those like the Apostle John, show that there were apparently at least three kinds. Yet, many today in the COG do not seem to realize this. They may wish to be like the Bereans and "searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11).
And, of course, any minister (or church member) below the level of a prophet who truly believes in biblical church governance would accept the authority of a prophet, especially if he also functions in an evangelical role/position (see also How To Determine If Someone is a True Prophet of God). But, sadly, Dr. Meredith (who is now aged, etc.) and the organization that he heads have thus far not decided to follow such a one.
Sadly, hypocrisy over church governance is a major problem with LCG. A major problem is that most there seem to act like loyalty to individual leaders is more important than authority to the Bible--but this is absolutely not supposed to be the case:
Futhermore, LCG has a major problem with Matthew 18:15-17. How major? Here is something I wrote in a letter to Dr. Meredith on June 9, 2011:
I should perhaps let you know that I was once told by of the Charlotte staff that "Matthew 18:15-17" does not apply around here" (meaning Charlotte). I asked, "Shouldn't it?" And this staff member responded, "Of course it should, it just doesn't."
The person who told me that Matthew 18:15-17 did not apply to Charlotte, specifically told me he was referring to the top leadership--the evangelists and some others there. This employee gave up on Matthew 18 with them. Although I tried repeatedly, this matter was not addressed. And, instead of keeping promises or responding to my Matthew 18:15-17 comment, it was ignored. But I complied with Matthew 18:15-17 as no church leader is above scripture.
LCG has ignored Matthew 18:15-17 both ways. The first is that certain leaders function like Matthew 18:15-17 does not apply to them if they have faults (like not keeping their words), but also that they can violate it related to those who were affiliated with their organization.
Related to Matthew 18:15-20, notice something I posted in January 2013:
01/05/13 a.m. As expected, some associated with the LCG ministry have leaked the 12/28/13 letter to me to anti-COG sources on the internet. They can later try to explain this to God as obviously several with insufficient love of the truth or trust in the word of God would not actually want to first talk to me to find out if these things are so (Matthew 18:15-20). The reality is that that letter contains false accusations, improper statements, and a variety of false statements. The Bible warns against spreading such things, for "whoever spreads slander is a fool" (Proverbs 10:18).
01/04/13 a.m...Yet, on September 6, 2012, with possible disregard of Matthew 18:15-17 and matters of prophetic authority (1 Corinthians 12:28), Dr. Meredith publically criticized Bob Thiel without previously discussing the related matters with him; nor did Dr. Winnail take certain steps related to promises related to doctrinal matters (Revelation 3:14-19).
Paying lip service to God's governance is not the same as truly accepting it. LCG has on several occasions I am aware of, violated Matthew 18:15-17 both ways.
The rationale? Basically, it appears to be that since Herbert Armstrong ordained Dr. Meredith as an evangelist so long ago, if something is or is not fine with him, that is God's government at work. That is simply not true. Here is something he wrote me on December 28, 2012 as part of his rationale for dismissing things about me (bolding and italics his):
Therefore, as the one Christ Himself has put in the office of Presiding Evangelist...I want to tell you...recognize that authority for your own good.
I have never challenged that Dr. Meredith was ordained as an evangelist. Yet, he and others need to realize that Christ expected His leaders to actually follow His words better than Dr. Meredith has. Dr. Meredith and others need to live by every word of God and not decide that they can overlook portions that are not convenient to their understanding of church governance. No human leader is above the word of God.
To make sure this is clear, I did attempt to tell Dr. Meredith certain of his faults per Matthew 18:15-17 privately, and also tried to get others to assist as Matthew 18 says to do when that did not work, then finally I have told "it to the church" (Matthew 18:17) as Jesus said to do.
But, LCG not only did not approach me first, nor bring in others to discuss the matters with me, instead they publicly "told it to the church" on two or more ocassions and then what they told contained false witness. Nor would LCG correct any of it when told. Those who feel that LCG has proper church governance need to re-examine that.
While I will not try to quote all the possible scriptures here, the New Testament clearly supports hierarchical governance.
Notice that the New Testament is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets:
19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-22).
Notice that the Holy Spirit came from the laying on of hands from those that apostles that God used to start the church:
... through the laying on of the apostles' hands the Holy Spirit was given (Acts 8:18).
The New Testament teaches that the laying on of hands is one of the six foundational doctrines (with going on to perfection as the seventh) of the true church:
1 Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment (Hebrews 6:1-2).
I believe that through the laying on of hands, the Holy Spirit was passed on from the original apostles to leaders such as Polycarp of Smyrna and through those leaders to the true Church of God leaders throughout history and has been passed through the leadership of the Church of God into the 21st century.
The New Testament repeatedly shows that leaders were appointed by those above them, like the apostles (Acts 6:3; Titus 1:5) and ultimately God (1 Corinthians 12:28).
Those who are being led by God, will seek to understand how and why He has a ministry and will submit themselves to God's will to help accomplish His plan (Ephesians 4:11-16; 2:19-22; 1 Corinthians 16:16).
Notice that Christians are to follow the type of leadership that God had the Apostle Paul appoint:
15 I urge you, brethren — you know the household of Stephanas, that it is the firstfruits of Achaia, and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints — 16 that you also submit to such, and to everyone who works and labors with us. (1 Corinthians 16:15-16).
Notice that a specific order, a hierarchy if you will, is taught in the New Testament via Paul:
28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? (1 Corinthians 12:28-30).
The Apostle Paul discusses this again later and even adds a reason for the offices that God has ordained:
11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head--Christ-- 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love (Ephesians 4:11-16).
Notice that this hierarchy is necessary according to the Apostle Paul to help prevent true Christians from being misled.
I believe that those who do not accept hierarchical governance as the Apostle Paul listed have been misled. And while some have claimed a universal priesthood of the membership, the reality is that there are differences in ministries:
4 There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. 5 There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. 6 And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. 7 But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all: 8 for to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, to another the word of knowledge through the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healings by the same Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another discerning of spirits, to another different kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:4-10)
It is God who gives His Spirit to work with believers in various ways, which is why not all hold the same position in the Church. This is also consistent with something else the Apostle Paul was inspired to write:
20 But now indeed there are many members, yet one body. 21 And the eye cannot say to the hand, "I have no need of you"; nor again the head to the feet, "I have no need of you." 22 No, much rather, those members of the body which seem to be weaker are necessary. 23 And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, 24 but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it, 25 that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. 26 And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. 27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 28 And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets... (1 Corinthians 12:20-28).
This was truncated above as I cited the hierarchy a little earlier in this section, so I decided not to repeat it.
While the apostles were present, Jesus taught:
1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, 2 saying: "The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. 3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. (Matthew 23:1-3)
But does that mean one has to obey anything a minister/religious leader tells one? Not according to what the Apostles Peter and John taught. Notice:
1 Now as they spoke to the people, the priests, the captain of the temple, and the Sadducees came upon them, 2 being greatly disturbed that they taught the people and preached in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they laid hands on them, and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening...18 So they called them and commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, "Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you more than to God, you judge. 20 For we cannot but speak the things which we have seen and heard." (Acts 4:1-4,18-21)
27 And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest asked them, 28 saying, "Did we not strictly command you not to teach in this name? And look, you have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this Man's blood on us!" 29 But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: "We ought to obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus whom you murdered by hanging on a tree. 31 Him God has exalted to His right hand to be Prince and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey Him." Gamaliel's Advice 33 When they heard this, they were furious and plotted to kill them. (Acts 5:27-33)
In both of the above events, the apostles were brought before ecclesiastical authorities. The kind that Jesus had spoken about.
As the apostles, including Peter said, it is important to understand that one does not accept what a religious leader says if it contradicts the Bible.
Furthermore, notice that the Apostle John had a problem with a church leader who would not accept John's role:
9 I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. 10 Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church (3 John 9-10).
Thus, one needs to be sure that the leader one listens to is actually properly practicing church governance, and not just claiming to. Some will not accept the authority of those in higher spiritual offices and this has been a problem since the time of the Apostle John.
Perhaps I should add that a minister should not compel one to do something against one's conscience. And it is WRONG to violate one's conscience, but one should consider proper input. Notice:
12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God...23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin. (Romans 14:12, 23)
12 Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12)
There certainlly is a time for obedience, even if one does not really want to. But conscience is an issue, and should not be improperly violated (vanity and ego issues may hurt, but those are to be overcome--see also Overcoming Sin).
Now these passages in Romans do not mean that a minister cannot counsel or exclude a person who will not obey the Bible. But if one has a moral problem with a request/demand from a minister, one should not violate one's conscience and should study into the matter more to see if the minister is correct (cf. Acts 17:10-11).
Should you accept teachings from a church that are in conflict with scripture?
Several times sermons, as well as in one or more letters to me, Dr. Meredith has relied on how long he was ordained an evangelist to prove that his positions--even when they in my opinion (as well as the opinions of many others)--were not correct--they were in conflict with the Bible.
Most do not realize that many decades ago, Dr. Meredith condemned the type of organizational loyalty that he now insists on for LCG. Dr. Meredith called that type of loyalty to an institution IDOLATRY as he wrote:
"One of the most common forms of modern idolatry is the making of an idol out of one’s church..If you blindly obey the dictates of your family, your church or society instead of the direct commands of God, you are guilty of IDOLATRY. That group or institution becomes an IDOL to you in place of the true God!...You must study God’s Word-willingly be corrected by it-and TREMBLE before its authority over your very life!" (Meredith RC. Second Commandment. Plain Truth, March 1960, p. 27).
Nowadays Dr. Meredith seems to think such obedience to his church over scripture is loyalty--but that is NOT proper hierarchical governance. Christians are to be loyal to the Bible and to obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29), if there is a conflict. And in LCG there certainly is (see The Falling Away: The Bible and WCG Teachings and Who is the Man of Sin of 2 Thessalonians 2? and What About the Living Church of God? Are there Doctrinal Differences with the Continuing Church of God?).
It should be mentioned that LCG is not the only group that has significant organizational idolatry. Without naming all the groups with that tendency, it has long been clear that PCG and RCG have massive organizational idolatry. However, since its institutional idolatry is somewhat more subtle in LCG, many of those in LCG seem too willing to accept it. Perhaps if they study further, they will realize the truth? I pray that they and all others who hope that they are part of the Philadelphia remnant of the Church of God will act on the truth sooner than later--remember it is the Laodiceans who are condemned for being lukewarm by Jesus (Revelation 3:14-22).
While many who have some association with the Church of God believe that the true Church can be traced through the Apostle John's disciple Polycarp, many do not seem to normally understand the following that Polycarp wrote:
Knowing, then, that "God is not mocked," we ought to walk worthy of His commandment and glory. In like manner should the deacons be blameless before the face of His righteousness, as being the servants of God and Christ, and not of men. They must not be slanderers, double-tongued, or lovers of money, but temperate in all things, compassionate, industrious, walking according to the truth of the Lord, who was the servant of all. If we please Him in this present world, we shall receive also the future world, according as He has promised to us that He will raise us again from the dead, and that if we live worthily of Him, "we shall also reign together with Him," provided only we believe. In like manner, let the young men also be blameless in all things, being especially careful to preserve purity, and keeping themselves in, as with a bridle, from every kind of evil. For it is well that they should be cut off from the lusts that are in the world, since "every lust warreth against the spirit; " and "neither fornicators, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, shall inherit the kingdom of God," nor those who do things inconsistent and unbecoming. Wherefore, it is needful to abstain from all these things, being subject to the presbyters and deacons, as unto God and Christ (Polycarp's Letter to the Philippians, Chapter V).
Hence, Polycarp advocated that Christians not be independent and that they be subject to those true church leaders as they would be to God and Christ:
And let the presbyters be compassionate and merciful to all, bringing back those that wander, visiting all the sick, and not neglecting the widow, the orphan, or the poor, but always "providing for that which is becoming in the sight of God and man ; " abstaining from all wrath, respect of persons, and unjust judgment; keeping far off from . all covetousness, not quickly crediting [an evil report] against any one, not severe in judgment, as knowing that we are all under a debt of sin. If then we entreat the Lord to forgive us, we ought also ourselves to forgive; for we are before the eyes of our Lord and God, and "we must all appear at the judgment-seat of Christ, and must every one give an account of himself." Let us then serve Him in fear, and with all reverence (Hebrews 12:28), even as He Himself has commanded us, and as the apostles who preached the Gospel unto us, and the prophets who proclaimed beforehand the coming of the Lord [have alike taught us]. Let us be zealous in the pursuit of that which is good, keeping ourselves from causes of offence, from false brethren, and from those who in hypocrisy bear the name of the Lord, and draw away vain men into error (Polycarp's Letter to the Philippians, Chapter VI).
And part of the reason for the presbyters is to protect against "false brethren" and doctrinal "error" (the Apostle Paul taught the same thing in Ephesians 4:11-14).
Ignatius was a second century church leader who also knew Polycarp. He taught:
Give ye heed to the bishop, that God also may give heed to you. My soul be for theirs that are submissive to the bishop, to the presbyters, and to the deacons, and may my portion be along with them in God! Labour together with one another; strive in company together; run together; suffer together; sleep together; and awake together, as the stewards, and associates, and servants of God. Please ye Him under whom ye fight, and from whom ye receive your wages. Let none of you be found a deserter (Ignatius. Letter to Polycarp, Chapter VI).
Wherefore, as children of light and truth, flee from division and wicked doctrines; but where the shepherd is, there follow as sheep. For there are many wolves that appear worthy of credit, who, by means of a pernicious pleasure, carry captive those that are running towards God; but in your unity they shall have no place.Keep yourselves from those evil plants which Jesus Christ does not tend, because they are not the planting of the Father. Not that I have found any division among you, but exceeding purity. For as many as are of God and of Jesus Christ are also with the bishop. And as many as shall, in the exercise of repentance, return into the unity of the Church, these, too, shall belong to God, that they may live according to Jesus Christ. Do not err, my brethren. If any man follows him that makes a schism in the Church, he shall not inherit the kingdom of God. If any one walks according to a strange opinion, he agrees not with the passion (Ignatius. Letter to the Philadelphians, Chapters II-III).
Now it becomes you also not to treat your bishop too familiarly on account of his youth, but to yield him all reverence, having respect to the power of God the Father, as I have known even holy presbyters do, not judging rashly, from the manifest youthful appearance [of their bishop], but as being themselves prudent in God, submitting to him, or rather not to him, but to the Father of Jesus Christ, the bishop of us all. It is therefore fitting that you should, after no hypocritical fashion, obey [your bishop], in honour of Him who has willed us [so to do], since he that does not so deceives not [by such conduct] the bishop that is visible, but seeks to mock Him that is invisible. And all such conduct has reference not to man, but to God, who knows all secrets. It is fitting, then, not only to be called Christians, but to be so in reality: as some indeed give one the title of bishop, but do all things without him. Now such persons seem to me to be not possessed of a good conscience, seeing they are not stedfastly gathered together according to the commandment (Ignatius. Letter to the Magnesians, Chapters III-IV).
See that you all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as you would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God (Ignatius. Letter to the Smyrnaeans, Chapter VIII).
For, since you are subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, you appear to me to live not after the manner of men, but according to Jesus Christ, who died for us, in order, by believing in His death, you may escape from death. It is therefore necessary that, as you indeed do, so without the bishop you should do nothing, but should also be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ, who is our hope, in whom, if we live, we shall [at last] be found. It is fitting also that the deacons, as being [the ministers] of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, should in every respect be pleasing to all. For they are not ministers of meat and drink, but servants of the Church of God. They are bound, therefore, to avoid all grounds of accusation [against them], as they would do fire (Ignatius. Letter to the Trallians, Chapter II).
May I always have joy of you, if indeed I be worthy of it. It is therefore befitting that you should in every way glorify Jesus Christ, who has glorified you, that by a unanimous obedience you may be perfectly joined together in the same mind, and in the same judgment, and may all speak the same thing concerning the same thing, and that, being subject to the bishop and the presbytery, you may in all respects be sanctified (Ignatius. Letter to the Ephesians, Chapter II).
Note the term "bishop" essentially means the same as the word "pastor" in Ephesians 4:11. Also, perhaps I should mention that there was no "Bishop of Rome" then--as Catholic scholars admit (see What Do Roman Catholic Scholars Actually Teach About Early Church History?)-- hence Ignatius was not telling people to become subject to the Vatican.
(Ignatius did address "bishops" in each of his letters, but did not in his letter to the Romans as they did not have a bishop until after Ignatius died. Furthermore, perhaps I should add that many have relied on a mistranslation of part of one of Ignatius' letters to indicate that he did not hold Church of God teachings--those interested in learning more about him and his teachings should read the article Another Look at the Didache, Ignatius, and the Sabbath).
Notice that church leadership passed from the apostles to others in the second century as Polycrates wrote,
For in Asia also great lights have fallen asleep, which shall rise again on the day of the Lord's coming, when he shall come with glory from heaven, and shall seek out all the saints. Among these are Philip, one of the twelve apostles, who fell asleep in Hierapolis; and his two aged virgin daughters, and another daughter, who lived in the Holy Spirit and now rests at Ephesus; and, moreover, John, who was both a witness and a teacher, who reclined upon the bosom of the Lord, and, being a priest, wore the sacerdotal plate. He fell asleep at Ephesus. And Polycarp in Smyrna, who was a bishop and martyr; and Thraseas, bishop and martyr from Eumenia, who fell asleep in Smyrna. Why need I mention the bishop and martyr Sagaris who fell asleep in Laodicea, or the blessed Papirius, or Melito, the Eunuch who lived altogether in the Holy Spirit, and who lies in Sardis, awaiting the episcopate from heaven, when he shall rise from the dead ? All these observed the fourteenth day of the passover according to the Gospel, deviating in no respect, but following the rule of faith. And I also, Polycrates, the least of you all, do according to the tradition of my relatives, some of whom I have closely followed. For seven of my relatives were bishops; and I am the eighth. And my relatives always observed the day when the people put away the leaven. I, therefore, brethren, who have lived sixty-five years in the Lord, and have met with the brethren throughout the world, and have gone through every Holy Scripture, am not affrighted by terrifying words. For those greater than I have said ' We ought to obey God rather than man'...I could mention the bishops who were present, whom I summoned at your desire; whose names, should I write them, would constitute a great multitude. And they, beholding my littleness, gave their consent to the letter, knowing that I did not bear my gray hairs in vain, but had always governed my life by the Lord Jesus (Eusebius. Church History. Book V, Chapter 24).
Throughout the second century leadership passed through ordained leaders who apparently held titles other than "apostle" as there is no written evidence that I have seen that any of the leaders were considered as apostles. This means in modern times that just because there is no properly ordained apostle, that this is no excuse for not listening to any of the properly ordained evangelists (currently evangelists, which are also "bishops", are the highest rank of any properly ordained leader within any valid Church of God--those who claim higher titles have all ordained themselves to those ranks in manners that are biblically improper).
Perhaps it should be noted that the idea of a hierarchy for Christians who kept the Sabbath was confirmed by scholars such as B. Bagatti who wrote:
Nazarenes and Ebionites...Each sect had its own hierarchy...(Fortescue A. Transcribed by Donald J. Boon. (Jerusalem (A.D. 71-1099). pp. 355-361 Bagatti, Bellarmino. Translated by Eugene Hoade. The Church from the Circumcision. Nihil obstat: Marcus Adinolfi. Imprimi potest: Herminius Roncari. Imprimatur: +Albertus Gori, die 26 Junii 1970. Franciscan Printing Press, Jerusalem, p.30)
The late fourth century historian Epiphanius wrote:
Ebionites have elders and heads of synagogues...(Epiphanius. The Panarion of Epiphanius of Salamis, Book I. Section II, Chapter 30, Verse 18,2. Translated by Frank Williams. EJ Brill, New York, 1994, p.145)
That is a form of hierarchy, which while sometimes not clearly maintained throughout history, was often used and hierarchy is the form of governance that God's kingdom has.
The Bible tells that there will be an overlapping succession of seven churches, often called Church eras. If the Philadelphia era was predominant until the time that Herbert W. Armstrong was alive, this would mean that the last of the seven churches, Laodicea, would be predominant now.
During this Laodicean time, there have been several approaches taken by groups that had their origins in the old WCG.
Many people decided to become independent. And many of those independents seem to feel that they are the most faithful to the teachings of the old WCG. Most have a few points they believe disqualifies others as they decide what is important. Herbert W. Armstrong, who many of them claim to be faithfully following, did not approve of the concept of "independent Christians" in that sense (this is documented in the article Independent Members of the COG: Herbert W. Armstrong Comments, and some of this was quoted earlier).
Some feel that the apostasy that occurred after the death of Herbert Armstrong was because of the type of governance he had in place. Some of those people have become independent or formed committee ran churches. Another type of governance that Herbert Armstrong condemned (Mystery of the Ages, Dodd & Mead, 1985, p. 247, quoted earlier above).
However, from the very beginning within the Church of God people left and would not listen to God's leaders. As the Apostle John wrote in 3 John 9-11 (which was quoted earlier in this article).
And if people thought that they were Christians when they ignored the Apostle John, how much more do many do so today?
The Apostle John penned the Book of Revelation. And in Revelation 3:14 he used the term "Laodikeus." This differs from how he normally started the letters to the other six churches (Revelation 2 & 3), because he used a plural term--he called them Laodiceans. This plurality, contrasted with the lack of it in the introductions to the other six churches, indicates that Laodicea is composed of divided groups.
Furthermore, according to Strong's Greek concordance, Laodicea is a combination of two words, laos which it defines as "people" and dike, which is defined by Strong's as "right," "judgment," "punish," and "vengeance." And also according to Strong's Greek concordance, Laodiceans is the plural of that.
Smith's Bible Dictionary defines Laodicea to mean "justice of the people". Might the term Laodiceans convey that the predominant characteristic of this Church is that peoples rule, peoples judge, or, in fact that the peoples change the Church's direction?
I personally have long felt that the term Laodicea conveys a difference in governance and direction. Since the Philadelphians are admonished to "Hold fast what you have" (Revelation 3:11) and the Laodiceans say, "I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing" (vs. 17) it would seem that most Laodiceans have rejected other biblical truths as well (even when they explain there positions on governance they seem to misunderstand the Bible--for one such example, please see CEM’s Ron Dart on Governance).
Now what about some of those few "hierarchical" groups calling themselves some type of Church of God which claim to have a hierarchical form of governance? Well, in nearly all of these cases, it seems that the "leaders decided" to appoint themselves to positions that they were never ordained/appointed to (perhaps, I should add here that I am NOT a self-appointed church writer--for some information on that, please see Who is COGwriter?).
For example, PCG's Gerald Flurry declared himself a prophet, RCG's David Pack declared himself an apostle, CGPFK's Ronald Weinland declared himself a prophet and one of the two witnesses, and there are some lessor known individuals who have done something similar--none of which, as far as I have been able to tell, had hands laid upon them for those roles. Not only will none of these people accept the authority of any who were anointed by others to a higher role than they have, they seem to have a variety of practices suggesting a harsher and non-biblically correct form of governance.
And if there is a non-self anointed apostle or prophet in the genuine COG (which are levels above evangelists), all should follow him (see also How To Determine If Someone is a True Prophet of God)--and there is one who heads the Continuing Church of God.
God, Himself, ordained leaders such as Jeremiah:
5 "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations." (Jeremiah 1:5)
Yet, people, who considered themselves the people of God, often would not listen to him (e.g. Jeremiah 43:2). Jesus taught that those who accepted a prophet in the name of that prophet would receive a prophet's reward (Matthew 10:41).
If you read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation, in many instances you will see that humans were dissatisfied with the type of governance God put in place for His people.
Since many of those verses were cited above I will not repeat them here. But I would like to state that while God clearly has allowed His leaders to make many mistakes throughout recorded history, "God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it" (1 Corinthians 10:13), so if you feel that there has been a problem under PROPER governance, wait and pray and you will be able to bear it.
It should also be mentioned that NO ONE, including evangelists/ministers, are above the authority of the Bible--believing that they do so is a type of idolatry and violating one of God's commandments. And, sadly in at least one group that I was once a part of, its top leadership, while claiming adherence to biblical governance was not always willing to submit to the Bible itself (see also Why Bob Thiel Left the Living Church of God).
God is love (1 John 4:16). The Kingdom of God will have hierarchical governance based upon truth and love.
Which form of governance would one expect to have in the Philadelphia remnant? The people decide and/or committee forms, odd dictatorships, or the same type that the Philadelphia era itself had and that the Continuing Church of God still has?
The answer should be obvious to all interested in the truth.
Thiel B. The Bible, Peter, Paul, John, Polycarp, Herbert W. Armstrong, and Roderick C. Meredith on Church Government. (c) 2008/2009/2010/2011/2012/2013 0519 www.cogwriter.com/church_governance.htm
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