The Last

 

 

Volume 14, Number 2, November-December 2010
(Actually published October 2011)

The CoG Experience:
Lessons We Should Learn

by Norman Scott Edwards

In this final issue of Servants’ News, it seems important to consider the lessons learned by our experience in the various Church of God groups over the past few decades. This article refers generally to the experience of the Radio Church of God, Worldwide Church of God, Church of God International, Philadelphia Church of God, Living Church of God, United Church of God an International Association, Church of God an International Community, church of God a Worldwide Association, and numerous other “Church of God” organizations as well as independent groups and in-home congregations. The Church of God (Seventh Day) and related groups share only some of the “good things”, below, but have also avoided most of the mistakes!

We should be less concerned about the path our past life has followed and more concerned about what we have learned from it. This is one of the most basic lessons of Scripture: When we are in good times of plenty, thank God for them (Deut 8:10); when we are in severe trials, seek God for deliverance (2Kngs 1:2-6). Whether we have reaped good, evil or a mixed blessing, we must ask “What have we learned from the CoG experience?”

Herein we will consider seven good things and seven mistakes that many of us made. There is no claim that they are the fourteen most important issues, but every one is certainly worthy of our attention and learning. If we have not learned from our mistakes, we have dishonored God with the life He has given us and we will be destined to repeat them and suffer even more (Lev 26:18, 21, 24, 28).

Good things of the CoGs

Teaching the Sabbath, Feast Days & Clean Meats

The evidence that mankind should keep the Sabbath is overwhelming in the Bible.

1.         The Sabbath clearly began with the creation of mankind (Gen 2:1-2; Ex 20:11).

2.         The Sabbath was taught before the 10 commandments (Ex 16:23-30).

3.         It is the fourth of the cherished 10 commandments (Ex 20:8-11).

4.         While Jesus taught against man-made restrictions placed on the Sabbath day (Mark 2:23-26), He taught that the Sabbath was for mankind and that He was Lord of it (Mark 2:27-28).

5.         There are seven references to the apostle Paul meeting on the Sabbath, often with a mixed group, but sometimes with only Gentiles (Acts 13-18).

6.         There is no bible teaching whatever of the Sabbath or the worship day changing to Sunday. Indeed the arguments used for Sunday observance vary widely—because there is no one true argument. The Bible records numerous false accusations against Christ and the apostles. If they had not kept the Sabbath, they could have easily been sentenced to death from the scripture (Ex 31:14-15; 35:2).

7.         The Sabbath will still be kept by everyone in the New Heavens and New Earth: “‘For as the new heavens and the new earth which I will make shall remain before Me,’ says the LORD, ‘So shall your descendants and your name remain. And it shall come to pass that from one New Moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, all flesh shall come to worship before Me,’ says the LORD” (Isa 66:22-23).

Yet in spite of this most Christian work through the ages (translating, publishing and teaching the Bible, as well as providing justice for the poor and needy) has been done by people who meet on Sunday. Many claim that it is not possible to keep the Sabbath in our modern world. But the CoG brethren, who rarely lived in their own communities but usually out in the world, proved that Sabbath keeping today is possible.

Similarly, the teaching and practice of the biblical Feast Days (Lev 23) was a great benefit to many people. These days are full of meaning, both in an Old Testament sense and to the Christian. There is not room to even summarize Feast teaching here, so we recommend Biblical Feast Day Scriptures:
http://www.servantsnews.com/docs/feasts02.htm

Similarly, on the opposite side of the fence, the false religious holidays that have plagued our peoples for centuries are declining in many churches. Many church groups—especially independent bible churches—now teach against Halloween and decry the promiscuity of Valentine’s Day. Some have tossed out Santa Claus, mistletoe and eggnog from their Christmas observance to focus on the biblical story. We can see Easter (named from the goddess Ishtar) and its associated egg-laying rabbits exchanged for “Resurrection Sunday”. Good Friday has been rightly replaced by the Passover. The CoG influence, and the millions of booklets they published, had a lot to do with this. Serious Christians of all stripes are realizing that our holidays should be teaching us and our children more about God and his ways. They should not simply be marketing seasons for businesses to make money.

While the health benefits of eating biblically clean food (Lev 11; Deut 14:3-21) are worthwhile in themselves, the spiritual lessons are far more important: Just as not every animal is good for food, so every intellectual idea and every spiritual belief is not necessarily good for us, either. Some are obvious to everyone: most people do not want to eat rats, skunks or buzzards. But there are other foods such as pork, shrimp and catfish where we need the guidance of God to sort out the good from the bad. Similarly, there are intellectual and spiritual ideas that may sound good—like “free love”—but we need God to show us that they will not work, lest we ruin our lives proving He was right. Avoiding the bad concepts takes work, just like avoiding the bad food. But both are well worth the effort.

Actually Practicing the Above Teachings

While millions of people were introduced to the above teachings through CoG evangelistic media, millions more were also introduced when they met people who kept the Sabbath, attended the Feast days and ate only clean meats. They remember a person who closed their business on Saturday, even though it would have been profitable; one who asked their boss to get the Feast of Tabernacles off, even though it risked losing their job; or the one who was always reading food labels and asking questions at pot-luck meals. When a person did these things and also had the love of God in their heart, it was a powerful testimony.

The CoG groups organized Feasts in every region of the U.S.A. and nearly every country of the world. Nearly all their members observed them. This is in contrast to some other Sabbath-observing groups that may teach about them, but have only limited practice. The trend, now, is for many churches, often non-Sabbatarian evangelical congregations, to observe some or all of the biblical Feast Days—which is a wonderful thing. This writer has met people who have become Christians or began attending a congregation after experiencing the joy of a Feast.

The number of people who have met someone who will not eat pork because they believe the Bible forbids it, also must be into the millions. We need to carry on the witness that God is worth obeying!

Teach Resurrections Rather Than Heaven or Hell when People Die

Atheists and other philosophers make Christians look foolish when they cite the many biblical passages stating that God is love and perfect in His judgments—but that He “tortures people forever in hell” simply because they never heard the gospel message or failed to properly respond to a poor presentation of it. Indeed, some branches of Christianity teach that a person can live a sinful life, briefly accept Christ and/or take various sacraments of the church, and then go on sinning, but still go to “heaven” immediately after they die; whereas a person who never heard about Christ, but lived his life trying to treat others as he would want to be treated (the golden rule), will still burn in the same hell forever as the most wicked sinner.

Fortunately, the Bible teaches better than this. There are numerous scriptures that teach resurrections from the dead for everyone (Ezk 37; Dan 12:2-3; John 5:28-29; 11:23-25; 1Cor 15; 1Thes 4:15-17; Heb 11:35-40; Rev 20:4-7). Clearly there is a “first” (Rev 20:5-6) or “better resurrection” (Heb 11:35) for those who have obeyed Christ in this life. But there is a fair judgment for everyone. And as Christ told the corrupt chief priests and elders: “Assuredly, I say to you that tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before [in time sequence] you” (Matt 21:31). Indeed, these great sinners do have an opportunity to get there, but it may take a while.

These teachings are also now spilling over into mainstream Christianity. Many independent non-Sabbatarian groups now no longer teach the classical “hell” with fire and demons stabbing people. Some teach believers are awaiting a resurrection, as opposed to “your departed grandma is watching you from heaven”. This is an encouraging message to those who have lost loved ones, and it shows God to be the just God that He is.

Meetings in Rented Halls and Homes

Many people think a “church” is a building, not a group of people. Indeed they may pride themselves on the fancy buildings and grounds of the “church that they attend”. But the Bible never refers to a “church” as a building and never mentions a “church building”. Indeed, the collective body of individuals in the Church has replaced the Old Testament temple (1Cor 3:17; 6:19). By meeting in rented halls or homes, it becomes clear to everyone that the church is the people, and that they can meet almost anyplace.

Also, many traditional churches use most of the money they collect and much of their members’ time simply to maintain their building. If the church grows quickly, there is difficulty adding on to the building while using it—or in selling it and finding a new one. If the church shrinks, then virtually all of its resources will be used to maintain its building. Rented halls bypass these problems and allow a congregation to spend what they need on an appropriate facility and to change relatively quickly.

The Bible does not teach against church buildings, but they should not be the focus of any congregation. They have their place when there is a sizable, stable congregation that will use a building for many purposes: services, bible studies, dinners, youth programs, weddings, community service, scouts, Alcoholics Anonymous, etc. But the gospel message and the spiritual gifts by which Christ operates (1Cor 12:1; 14:1) can all function in any size congregation even if it is in a home or rented hall.

Free Bible-teaching Media on a Large Scale

Magazines, literature, radio and TV programs, websites and public Bible lectures were nearly all good works by the CoG groups. While some of these things were produced specifically to promote offerings from readers and viewers, there was a core of good Bible teaching, on a wide variety of subjects, in a format that the average person could understand—and show someone else who might be interested. This is a great contrast to many church groups that produce a very short doctrinal statement for their members and leave biblical understanding to their theologians.

Unfortunately, this large body of literature was sometimes treated like a large doctrinal statement, and many CoG members were afraid to find anything in the scripture that was contrary to or in addition to their CoG group’s teaching. But the vast majority of people who have read and viewed this teaching simply learned more about what the Bible had to say about a particular subject—a blessing.

The lesson is not that we should preserve all of that old literature and republish it. People are rightfully less likely to read from dead writers—from people who can no longer answer questions, who can no longer comment on the state of the world today. The lesson we are to learn from this is to continue to produce this kind of media outreach, in a way that is relevant to today, answering today’s questions, dealing with today’s problems and news.

Today, the Internet is clearly becoming the best way to reach the most people for the least cost. The CoG groups’ efforts to translate their programs and literature into multiple languages should continue. The gospel message is important for every person on the planet.

Teaching that Both Individuals and Nations Will Be Judged by God for Their Sins

The message of the need for individuals to repent of their sins and accept Christ as their savior is widely taught throughout Christianity. The CoG groups taught that message, but they also taught that God deals with nations based upon their national sins and upon the promises made to the fathers of those nations. This is a Bible truth that continues on into the New Testament! Christ denounced the attitudes of the leaders of His nation and said that God would bring that generation into judgment (Matt 23:36). Indeed, Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 A.D. Matthew 24, Luke 21 and the book of Revelation all make reference to things that will happen to nations based upon whether or not they obey God. The Old Testament contains numerous prophecies about many nations—some of which have not yet been fulfilled. Jeremiah 18:7-10 says that nearly all prophecy is conditional, based upon how nations and kingdoms behave.

It is ironic that in the light of this teaching of national judgment for national sins, many CoGs still taught that a Christian should not vote. The sins of a nation are almost always caused, in part, by the sins of the corrupt leaders who lead the nation. If Christians join the approximately 50% of the uncaring population who do not bother to vote, are not they just as responsible for the corrupt leaders as everyone else?

After all, if this 50% of non-voters would all vote, they could easily elect a candidate that stood for righteousness, rather than vote for “the lesser of two evils”—one from the mainstream parties. The teaching that God will judge a nation based on its national sins means that Christians must use their rulership responsibilities as citizens to vote for a candidate who stands for generally righteous principles—whether or not that candidate has any chance of being elected. Christians should not be fooled into thinking that they can vote the kingdom of God into office now, but they should be a witness to others that there are candidates who are against the godlessness, corruption and immorality that plague our nation. Christians should show that repenting of national sin means voting for a person who stands for righteousness—not voting for someone who is likely to win: “You shall not follow a crowd to do evil…” (Ex 23:2).

Today, we must continue to teach the lesson of national judgment—good or bad, and add to it the Christian responsibility to vote for righteous candidates, even though they may be generally unpopular and usually un-winning. The Constitution Party often (http://constitutionparty.org/), Libertarian Party (http://libertarianparty.org/) and others field candidates with a much more Biblical view than the mainstream parties.

Schools for Young People

This writer believes the single greatest value of religious schools is that they provide a means for young people to fill their lives with friends of similar religious belief. One of the most important events in anyone’s life is making the transition from “child responsible to parents” to “independent adult responsible to God”. Yet, some parents do not even think out how they intend to facilitate this, and often their children are the ones that bring about this transition, either by openly rebelling against parents, sneaking around them, or leaving home before their parents expect it.

Children naturally begin to ask questions of others—to learn more than just what their parents have told them all their lives. Even the best of parents still need the help of a supportive community of other Christians. God was so serious about keeping a supportive community in the Old Testament that he commanded the death penalty for false religion, witchcraft, sexual immorality, kidnapping, cursing parents, etc. (Lev 20; Ex 21:16). But these are not our laws today and these problems are rampant in our society. Parents cannot change society, but they can send their young people to a Christian boarding high school or college where they will have a much better chance to develop a relationship with God and resist temptations that would be destructive to their lives.

Sound Bible education along with occupational education are two other good reasons to send young people to Christian schools. While Bible education could come from a correspondence course, and vocational education could come from a secular school, these things are usually better accomplished in a Christian college, and they provide the reason and sometimes the resources for young people to go to a Christian school. (It is amazing that almost no Christians would give money to help a young believer live among other Christians while he matures and strengthens his relationship with God, but some will pay out thousands of dollars to help him get a degree in business administration, whether in a secular or religious college.)

While there are many Christian schools with good moral environments, Sabbath-observing young people are often not well accepted there. So it is even more important for Sabbath-observing groups to provide their own schools. The CoG groups have provided a variety of colleges and other programs which have fulfilled the above three goals. Some lacked accreditation, but that is of value only for the last goal, so the school was certainly worthwhile without it. There have also been some Christian high schools (like Springvale Academy, http://www.springvale.us/) sponsored by the COGs. These fill the same needs and have also been a great blessing.

While this writer is also a believer in home-schooling, he believes that when the teen years arrive, the parents must provide their children frequent access to other like-minded believers. That may involve driving some distance on a regular basis, moving, or inviting other like-minded young people to home-school or even live with your family.

 

Mistakes of the CoGs

These mistakes were common in most of the groups described in the opening paragraph of this article. While most of the “good things”, above, are unique to the COGs, the mistakes, below, are common to many non-CoG churches. That is not an excuse, but a call to repentance and change for all groups that make these mistakes. And just as Christ admonished the seven churches in revelation 2 and 3 to repent of their mistakes while still calling them His churches, let us be careful not to classify anyone an unbeliever because of their mistakes. Rather let us repent of ours, and teach them to repent of theirs.

Hierarchical Government

The writer believes greatest single mistake in the CoGs was undoubtedly the teaching of hierarchical church government. Most of the other mistakes, below, are either caused or sustained by this error. The Worldwide Church of God taught this extensively in the 1950s through the 1980s, even though they never had a booklet specifically teaching the subject. This is not surprising; however, because it would be impossible to teach the doctrine strictly from the Bible. Many of the groups that split from the WCG continued the practice, some bringing it closer to biblical teaching, others making it worse.

This subject is covered exhaustively in Norman Edwards’ paper “How Does the Eternal Govern Through Humans?” (http://servantsnews.com/PDF/govhum.pdf). For this article, we will simply contrast Paul’s teaching from Ephesians 4 on the functioning of the Church with the teaching and practice of hierarchical governance:

Bible Teaching from Ephesians 4

Hierarchical Government Error

I [Paul], therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (v 1-3).

Unity is not achieved by the Spirit, longsuffering, gentleness and love, but by a central organization that issued a doctrinal statement and demanded that all of its ministry teach the same thing, and fired or disfellowshipped any that dissented.

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all (v 4-6).

Baptism was necessary to become a member of a particular CoG organization. Anyone baptized by another group had to be rebaptized. In order for people to be under Christ, they were taught that they must be under their one human organization.

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men….” 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 (v 7-8, 11-13)

Rather than Christ himself giving spiritual gifts to all brethren as the Greek emphatically states, hierarchies placed men into offices by decisions of boards based on perceived loyalty, performance reviews, economic factors, seniority and other worldly criteria. Instead of gifts of service, the words at left were used as military-style ranks. Much of the goal was to perpetuate the organization, not to edify the body of Christ. Prophets, whom Christ might have used to rectify these errors, were not recognized at all.

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 (v 14).

Hierarchies “protect” their members by highly discouraging them from reading religious literature from outside their group—rather than helping them grow so they will not be “tossed to and fro” by other’s beliefs.

But, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head — Christ — 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 (v 15-16).

Hierarchies teach that the members are edified by the ministers; the ministers are edified by the higher ranking ministers, the highest ranking ministers are edified by the human head of the church organization, who is edified by God. This is often done through commands, which can be harsh at times.

This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart (v 17-18)

Hierarchical church governments are much like the hierarchies of gentile governments, where the ruler was considered supreme—even almost God. The Bible commands even a secular king to read from the Bible every day “that his heart may not be lifted up above his brethren” (Deut 17:18-20).

Who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ (v 19-20).

Many hierarchical leaders became greedy, receiving salaries that were many times that of the average member they served. Some became involved in sexual sins and members were told that God would clean it up from the top down, bypassing the biblical teaching to reject lying leaders (2Kngs 11; Rev 2:2).

People Outside our Group Are Not True Christians

This writer now finds it difficult to comprehend how so many people could be so narrow as to believe that their group was the only one with whom God was working—but I myself once believed it, so I must be patient with those who still do. Here is a brief summary of the overwhelming Biblical evidence that all Christians are not united in one Church organization:

1.         Revelation 2 and 3 describes seven church congregations that all existed within 100 miles of each other in Asia Minor, yet they all had some differences in doctrine and attitude. Christ calls all of them His churches. Those who were sinning were told to repent, but no group was denounced as “not the church”, nor was anyone told to leave their group to join another.

2.         The New Testament epistles contain much correction of serious errors written to many congregations and brethren. Some were involved in idolatry, fornication, wars, mistreating the poor, self-righteousness, covetousness, doctrinal heresies, and all sorts of other problems. These problems even involved breaking the Ten Commandments! Yet out of hundreds of verses of correction, there are only a very few where the epistles tell us to treat people as unbelievers. The Sabbath was not an issue in the New Testament, because Christians and Jews all observed it together (Acts 13:14, 27, 42, 44; 16:13; 17:2; 18:2). But today many Christians have been taught error (1Co 11:19; 2Pet 2:1; 1Jo 4:1; Jude 1:4), and most do not understand the Sabbath commandment. Yes, those who love God will be generally keeping his commandments (John 14:15; 15:10; 1Jo 2:3; 3:22; 5:2-3; Rev 14:12), but they may not always understand them and they will sin along the way (1Jo 1:8-10).

3.         Paul specifically teaches against Christians aligning themselves with certain religious teachers (1Cor 1:10-15; 3:3-9).

4.         CoG groups rely on the Bible translations, commentaries, hymns, marriage literature, home-school books, and many other resources written by Christians outside of their groups. Most CoG groups produce comparatively little in these areas. The Bible has been translated into nearly every language and distributed to most of the world—by those outside of CoG groups—sometimes at a loss of their own fortunes and lives. Is God doing most “Christian work” through unbelievers? No!

This is not to say that every person who claims to be Christian indeed is one. The Bible teaches that there are many tares—false believers—among the wheat—the true believers (Matt 13:24-30). But the group that refuses to recognize that God is working elsewhere is responsible for all Christian work on the planet. They better get busy!

We Are the True Church

The previous point deals with what CoG members often thought about others; this one deals with what we think about ourselves. When someone does a credible job of using the Scriptures to challenge our doctrinal beliefs, we sometimes resort to saying our doctrine must be right because it has been taught by the “true church”—meaning one or more of the CoGs. But how do we know that we are the true church? Well, because we are the one with the right doctrines! Can you see the circular reasoning? “We know our doctrine is right because we are the ‘true church’ and we know we are the ‘true church’ because our doctrines are right.”

When we assume our group is the “true church” or one of the “true churches”, we become complacent in our work and stop growing. After all, isn’t it enough to be one of the .01% of Christians who are in the right group? Does God expect any more? Yes!

“Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends” (John 15:13).

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service (Rom 12:1).

The people of faith in Hebrews 11, and the apostles’ teachings explain Christians would be persecuted (Matt 5:10-11; 10:22-25; 16:24; John 15:19-21; 16:33; Acts 14:22; 2Ti 3:12). The CoG members were certainly persecuted at times in an effort to keep the Sabbath, Holy Days and some other doctrines. But many have found schools, jobs and a social life where these things are not a burden.

In fact, some have learned to blend in so well that nobody perceives them to be much different than the rest of the world. Some CoG members do not represent the forgiveness and love of God as the solution to life’s difficulties, but echo the worlds’ standard, “more education, better job, more money, better insurance, more possessions, better doctors and psychiatrists, etc.” Many CoG members are not known for their stand against murder, immorality, oppression of the poor, the occult and secularism. Those who oppose these worldly ways and uphold Godly ways are also often persecuted—whether they are Sabbath-observing or not. Thinking “we are the true church” often stops us from growing to do the work that Christ would have us do.

Not Recognizing Spiritual Gifts

At least five separate places in the New Testament teach the work of the Church is to be done by members of the Body of Christ with the spiritual gifts He gives them (Rom 12:6-8; 1Cor 12:7-11, 28-13:1; Eph 4:11-15; 1Pet 4:8-11). There are numerous other places were individuals are listed as having certain spiritual gifts: Paul and Peter were apostles (Rom 1:1; 1Pet 1:1); Agabus, Judas, Silas and Philip’s daughters were prophets (Acts 11:27; 15:32; 21:9); Paul spoke in tongues (1Cor 14:18); Philip and Timothy evangelized (Acts 21:8; 2Tim 4:5); and Stephen and Barnabas were full of faith (Acts 6:5; 11:22-24).

Unfortunately, many CoG groups replaced these spiritual gifts with a human hierarchy—much like a typical government or business of the world. The leader hired other men, who hired other men, etc. Sometimes these men were Christians with spiritual gifts, sometimes they were shrewd politicians able to talk their way into a good job, seeking ongoing growth in rank, power and money. In most CoG groups, the ministry was expected to have the spiritual gifts—whether they did or not—and the members were expected to pay the bills of the ministry. But the message of the scripture is clear:

But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift… 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 (Eph 4:7, 11-13).

The Greek in Ephesians 4:11 is very emphatic, it is Christ that gives the gifts. Yes, Timothy was given a gift through prophecy and the laying on of hands (1Ti 4:14), but who inspired the prophecy? Christ, of course. Just as God individually chose His prophets in the Old Testament—they were not chosen by the kings or priests—so Christ gives spiritual gifts in the New Testament—not the civil or religious governments. For some believers, this is a big trial. How can they know whom God has gifted with what? Which evangelists, prophets and exhorters should we listen to and which should we avoid? Did God appoint them or did they appoint themselves?

Can a person appear to appoint himself as a minister? Yes, he can. That exact thing occurs in the Bible. In How Does The Eternal Govern Through Humans?, this writer complained that virtually no Bible Translation had 1Corinthians 16:15 translated correctly—that the Greek word tasso means “appointed” and should be so translated. Various translations had many different words: “devoted, addicted, set, made, dedicated, etc.” This writer was pleased to find that William Tyndale, the dedicated Christian who first translated the Bible into English from the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts and whose work formed the basis of the King James Version, had that translation right!

Brethren ye know the house of Stephanas how that they are the first fruits of Achaia and that they have appointed themselves to minister unto the saints) (1Cor 16:15, TNT—spelling modernized).

We need not worry. Spiritual gifts are more about serving others than commanding others. Also, we can discern them by their fruits:

And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, 10 that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ, 11 being filled with the fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God (Phil 1:9-11).

The main lesson we need to learn is to stop looking to church leaders—either in big corporate hierarchies or small local congregations—to have or hand out spiritual gifts. We need to teach that everyone must pray for them—then use them. All kinds of small groups of Christians have used these spiritual gifts to bring the Gospel to distant lands and to teach deliverance from sins to people in their cities. God is there for us.

Lack of Individual Faith in God to Direct Each Believer

Another spin-off of church hierarchy is the tendency to look to that leadership for how to live our Christian life and engage in Christian service, rather than just looking to God. The Bible is full of examples, in both Old and New Testaments, where people prayed and received answers. It is easy to think: “That is the realm of spiritual giants, the Church leadership. It is not something that we ordinary brethren can do.”

That is utterly untrue. The Bible teaches that we are to try to find another person of faith and tale order from them, but we are to personally develop the faith of the servants of God in the Scripture. A Christian today can pray within the will of God and receive an answer (Jms 4:3; 1Jo 3:22). Notice:

Now all these things happened to them [in the Old Testament] as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come (1Cor 10:11).

Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ (1Cor 11:1).

So that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything (1Thes 1:7-8).

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 (1Pet 5:2-4).

We can see that these leaders were not told to be lords or masters over the people, but were supposed to show them how to do God’s work so that they could do it themselves. Even though Paul had to correct many problems in the Corinthian church, he commends them greatly for the work they did on their own—they were examples to other congregations.

I always thank God for you because of his grace given you in Christ Jesus. 5 For in him you have been enriched in every way—in all your speaking and in all your knowledge— 6 because our testimony about Christ was confirmed in you. 7 Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed. 8 He will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ (1Cor 1:4-8).

We desperately need that attitude—trusting God to take care of us, not church organizations, governments or money.

Prophetic Interpretation

The CoG groups were actually little different than many of the evangelical groups when it came to prophecy. Sure, each group had their own interpretation of biblical prophecies, and each thought theirs was right. But all of the groups tended to correlate the first part of various Scriptures with historic events, then say the rest of those scriptures are to fulfilled in the future—and make prediction from them. Also, all the groups tended to revise their prophetic interpretation when their previous predictions did not work out. None of them had an accurate track record where they publicly prophesied future events for some years, and then showed how they came to pass. Most of the CoG groups did not believe or ask God to send the spiritual gift of prophecy to their members today, so they had the prophetic interpretation of man, not true prophesying from God.

This problem is an outgrowth of all of the previous points. Hierarchical organizations almost never have prophets because prophets speak directly from God, which may be against the religious hierarchy, as the Scripture often shows. Also, the hierarchy has the authority to insist that only one prophetic interpretation be taught. The members, believing that other groups are not the church, do not even look at outside prophetic interpretation where they might be amazed at how different some of it is—and how similar some of it is: Ideas they thought were unique to their group may have been “borrowed” from other groups. When brethren believe they are the one true church, they tend to accept their organizations teaching, even if it turns out wrong and has to be revised. And then, not looking to the spiritual gift of prophecy and not trusting that God can care for each individual believer, they accept the prophetic interpretation of their leaders over direct revelation from God. However, we must accept that God sometimes says things like: “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority” (Acts 1:7).

This writer has been utterly amazed how some people can find one error in another group’s prophetic interpretation, and dismiss it as all false and not worth reading. But when there are numerous errors in the teaching of their own group, they will accept one excuse after another: “God allowed more time”, “God intended it to go that way once, but He changed his mind so the prophecy had to be changed.” This writer is also amazed that some groups claim that they will have divine revelation in the future to know when it is time to “flee from the tribulation”—but they have never had any divine revelation in their group’s history. The Bible teaches us to trust God, daily, not organizations of men.

Too Much Talk, Too Little Action

This writer has often joked that the false secular adage “The person who dies with the most toys wins” has been replaced in the CoG groups by “The person who dies with the most truth wins”. On a more serious note, when faced with a decision about where to attend Sabbath services, many have said, “We will go where there is the most truth.” If Christ wanted to “go where there is the most truth”, He would have stayed in heaven! But Christ left His perfect environment to become a servant to us (Phil 2:7). A mature Christian must do likewise (Gal 6:1).

It is an utter mistake to think that one’s eternal judgment will somehow be better if one personally knows or attends a congregation with the most truth. The parable of the talents shows that we are not judged by how much God has given us (He gives us His truth), but what we do with what we are given (Christian work) (Matt 25:14-30). The man who was given one talent and did nothing was condemned. What would happen if a man was given 20 talents and produced nothing with them? Could he say “Let me in, Master, because I have 20 talents and those other guys you let in only had 10 and 4 talents? Or would his Master expect him to have gained another 20? To this writer, it is a very dangerous thing to claim that one knows nearly all biblical truth and have very few works.

What did Christ expect His followers to accomplish before He returns? Did He expect His followers to simply know the truth till they die? Or did He expect action?

“Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen. (Matt 28:19-20).

And He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. 16 “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned. 17 “And these signs will follow those who believe: In My name they will cast out demons; they will speak with new tongues; 18 “they will take up serpents; and if they drink anything deadly, it will by no means hurt them; they will lay hands on the sick, and they will recover” (Mark 16:15-18).

Did Christ expect every believer or every congregation to do all those things? No!

Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way (1Cor 12:29-31).

But he expects us to do something. He tells us to desire the best gifts. He reminds us that our work will be tried by fire and we will be rewarded accordingly.

1Cor 3:11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13 each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. 14 If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. 15 If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

This article cannot tell you what kind of spiritual work you should do, but it can tell you that it is one of the most important things in your life that ranks right up there with education, job, marriage, children, favorite entertainment, etc. You need to give as much thought about your part in Christ’s work as you give about these physical things.

Many CoG brethren do have the gift of knowledge. But they also have other gifts. Knowledge is not the best gift. “…Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1Cor 8:1). Christ could not convey important knowledge to His disciples when they were not ready (John 16:12), but He had already used them for significant work (Matt 10). Even today, much good Christian work is done by people who do not have as much knowledge. We can fellowship and work with people who do not know all we do. CoG groups have frequently split over a single doctrine—one sub-group claiming to have just one more truth than another. Sometimes, these splits destroy the spiritual work they were doing—and that is sad and bad.

This writer would like to apologize for times in the past when he may have encouraged people to split over doctrine without considering the greater good of the Christian work being done. When determining the congregation with which we will attend, we need to consider all that Christ has given His Church to do, and what He has given each person specifically to do—and make our decision based upon that.

The Conclusion of the Matter

So in my last section, of my last article, of my last issue of Servants’ News, I would like to encourage you with both Solomon’s conclusion on life, and Christ’s conclusion of the end of Scripture, interspersed with my words to help us apply it to our day:

Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God [not a church organization, not our minister and not secular society] and keep His commandments [both Old and New Testament], For this is man’s all. [Jobs, money and most of the things we get upset about are not so important.] For God will bring every work into judgment, Including every secret thing, Whether good or evil (Eccl 12:13-14). [The Bible teaches judgment for all Christians (Rom 14:10; 2Cor 5:10) which can bring correction (Luke 12:47-48) as well as great rewards (1Cor 3:11-15; Rev 22:3-5).]

There are no shortcuts. There is no doctrine or secret formula you can learn that will let you do both your own will and get on the Father’s “good side”. Life is about submitting to God and reaping the tribulation and the blessings which are the fruit of obedience (Make 10:29-30).

He [Christ] who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming quickly.” Amen. [Christ is certainly coming soon for each of us. Our lives are short—there is never time to accomplish all we would like to.] Even so, come, Lord Jesus! [This physical life is temporary—we should live our life as an end in itself, but live it for the return of Christ. What should we be doing? Diligently ask God and trust that he will show you.] 21 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen (Rev 22:20-21).

His grace is more powerful, wonderful and real than we can understand. We only need to pray and not faint (Luke 18:1).    &

 

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