December 1995

Independence: Is it Rebellion?

When Absalom fought against David, he was seeking independence—he wanted to be king (2 Sam 15-18). When Jeroboam fought against Rehoboam (1Kngs 14:30), he was also seeking independence. Absalom died in his efforts, and his actions were considered a rebellion. Israel remained separate from Judah, so their wars were considered wars of independence. This concept is further illustrated by the war for independence between England and the thirteen American colonies or the rebellion of the Southern states ended by the American Civil War.

The civil and religious authorities of Israel commanded the early believers "not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus" (Acts 4:5-6,18). The Apostles rebelled against this command and taught anyway. By divine deliverance, they were delivered—they continued to teach independently from the civil and religious authorities (Acts 5:17-42). In Acts 7, Stephen also rebelled against the same leaders and died because of it—a righteous martyr, but spent little time as an independent.

Lastly, several men rebelled against the "authority" of the Church of God, Seventh Day. Some never did do an effective work of their own—they are considered rebels. Others founded other independent Churches of God, Seventh Day. One independent teacher founded the Radio Church of God, later called the Worldwide Church of God. He was Herbert W. Armstrong.

From a historical perspective, rebels are those who are either unsuccessful or unjust in their cause. Independents are those that in the long term succeed in forming their own government, organization, congregation, etc. However, we never know the exact details of the future. From a present perspective, independents are all considered rebels.

David considered Absalom a rebel. Rehoboam considered Jeroboam a rebel (1Kngs 12:19). England considered the colonies rebels. The North considered the South rebels. The Jewish leaders considered the believers in Yeshua (Jesus) rebels. And the Church of God, Seventh Day considered Herbert Armstrong a rebel.

After the passage of time, independence is recognized and the rebel concept dies away. Friendship of the separated parties is possible if human pride and vanity does not get in the way. The nations of Israel and Judah occasionally worked together; the USA and England had a few more fights, but have often been the best of friends. Jews and Christians have fought at times, but also lived and worked together for peace. And, the various "Churches of God" have sometimes fought or ignored each other, and sometimes worked together. (Write us for Alan Ruth's free paper The Worldwide Church of God Splits, Their Triumphs and Troubles if you are interested in studying this subject in detail.)

Can anyone prove that there has been only one "true Sabbath-keeping church organization" through the past 2000 years? We have never seen any such claim. Today, there are over 8,000,000 Seventh Day Adventists—some who keep the holy days and/or reject the unbiblical doctrines of that organization but feel they must "stay in the church into which they were called." (Have you ever heard that before?) Today, there are between 300,000 and 500,000 members in the various branches of the Church of God, Seventh Day. These organizations tolerate a considerable amount of doctrinal diversity and there are probably individuals there with beliefs very similar to your own. There are hundreds of other organizations and groups in existence today and thousands if we go back through history. There are myriads of doctrines and teachings held by the various organizations, and variations in belief and practice among individuals in any single organization.

Is it really possible that this vast diversity is where we find the true believers—the true Ekklesia (Church)? The first three chapters of Revelation clearly answer "Yes." They show our all-powerful Savior in the midst of the "seven churches" (Rev 1:13,20)—He is the leader. The chapters go on to describe seven organizations that all existed at the same time, but had different doctrines and practices and even variant practices within the group (Rev 2:14-15,24, 3:4). While there may be a sequential fulfillment to this prophecy as well, seven times we are all commanded to "hear what the Spirit says to the churches [plural]." These attitudes and problems all existed at one time in Asia Minor, and we can find them appearing repeatedly throughout history. We all must listen to every message and if it fits, repent!

More Responsibility for Members

From all the various church groups and teachers in existence today, is there a way to know which ones are short-lived "rebels," and which ones the Eternal is really using? We can go to our Bible and go to our Father in prayer. Size or wealth has nothing to do with it. After our Savior's three-year ministry, there were only 120 followers (Acts 1:15). Herbert Armstrong preached for many years before he had that many supporters. Many righteous men were poor (Heb 11:37). If we know what is right to do, we are responsible for doing it (Jms 4:17, Luke 12:41-47). If we do not know what we should do, we must study and ask (2Tim 2:15, Jms 1:5). We are His disciples; we are all responsible for bearing fruit (John 15:8, 1Cor 3:11-15).

It is only through Bible study and prayer—the belief that our Father can really guide our lives that we have any hope of bearing any fruit (John 5:30). Just being a part of, or contributing to "the right" organization means nothing (Acts 8:20).

Many of our readers were once a part of an organization that considered itself the "one and only true church." Life was simple then: as long as you did not do something bad and get "put out," you were on your way to "the place of safety" and the Kingdom of God. We trusted that God was guiding our leader, and that it was our duty to follow him—even if the Bible apparently said something different. Our organization never mentioned that thousands were repenting, being baptized, and trying to live by "every word of God" in other organizations.

After the doctrinal reversal and mass exodus from the Worldwide Church of God, many are coming to see that our Father is working with more than one organization. We have certainly seen that he does not always correct the men at the top. Yet, some offshoot organizations still claim that individuals must obey their human leadership to receive proper guidance from the Eternal. If He can guide His people through the president of this church, the board of that church, the presiding evangelist of another church, the voting assembly of still another church, can He not guide you? (See Phlp 1:6, 2:13.) Is our Savior's ability to guide and coordinate limited to one or a few dozen heads of organizations? Does our Father require a certain size organization or a certain spiritual "rank" before He will take an active role? Admittedly, it is easier for us to say "I supported this church leader" than it is to say, "I always sought the power of the holy spirit to do the Father's work in my life." Yet we shall all stand "before the judgment seat of Christ" (Rom 14:10, 2Cor 5:10).

Many people chose to leave the WCG because they, through the power of the holy spirit in them, could not accept the new teachings. Some of them chose to attend a similar Sabbath-keeping organization with doctrines much like those of the WCG in the 1970's or 1980's. If they had the Biblical authority to make that choice, do not they have on-going authority to choose, as guided by the holy spirit, where they will fellowship and how they will serve? Unfortunately, some groups essentially teach that individuals have freedom to leave other groups to come to their church, but once in their church, do not have freedom to leave. The reality is that we personally must choose where we will fellowship and where we will send money. These are just two of the many works for which we will be judged and rewarded at His return (Rev 22:1-15).

Wanting "Freedom to Leave"— Was that the Sin of Korah?

Are people who leave a functioning congregation rebelling as Korah did to Moses? Let us read the Bible. When Korah stood up with his "250 leaders of the congregation," of what did he accuse Moses? Korah said, "You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the congregation of the Lord?" (Num 16:3). Dathan and Abiram made other accusations: "Is it a small thing that you have brought us up out of a land flowing with milk and honey, to kill us in the wilderness, that you should keep acting like a prince over us? Moreover you have not brought us into a land flowing with milk and honey, nor given us inheritance of fields and vineyards. Will you put out the eyes of these men?" (Num 16:13-14).

Were these men simply trying to be independent or were they rebelling against the Eternal? What they said is a mixture of truth and error and if we examine it closely, their purpose is very clear. When they said the congregation is holy and "the Lord is among them," they were correct (Num 7:6, 14:2,21). However, when they said Moses acted like a prince over them, it was a lie—Moses defended himself and said that he never took anything from them nor hurt any of them (Numbers 16;15). They also accused Moses of taking too much upon himself and not bringing them into the promised land. These accusations were indeed accusations against the Eternal as He chose Moses (Ex 3:10), and it was His decision not to let the faithless generation enter the land (Num 14). This short-lived rebellion of Korah, Dathan, Abiram and the other leaders was a simple attempt to grab power for themselves.

If we want to use this story to evaluate splits in organizations of our day, we need to answer the following questions: Are those who split off essentially preaching the same doctrines and running their organization the same way as the group from which they split? In a few cases the answer seems to be "yes"—probably another attempt by someone to have power for himself. But often, the leaders of the old organization are accused of spending too much money on themselves and unfairly treating the membership. Will these organizations do as Moses did, and show the "rebels" that they have not taken from the people and spent the money on themselves? In other words, will they reveal their financial statements, their salaries and expenses? Are these organizations as innocent as Moses was when it comes to mistreating their members? Or does the organization completely hide statistics about how many individuals were put out and the reasons why?

After all the great miracles done through Moses, the Israelites certainly should have known that the Eternal was working through him. But what about our leaders today? Can we be certain that they have been chosen by the Eternal to lead or have they put themselves in that position? Do they fit the qualifications mentioned in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1? How do you know? Most will claim that we can know they are leaders by their fruits. But how straightforward are they in telling you about the number of people they have baptized? Do they say what fraction of these people became interested in the truth from their evangelistic efforts or from the example of another member? Indeed there are many other fruits that can be born beside baptisms, some of which are very difficult to measure.

What would our opinion of Moses be if his response to Korah had been, "God put me in this position and I do not have to answer your charges of abusing the people. If God does not like what I am doing, he will remove me!" Nevertheless, this is the kind of answer many organizations give when they are accused. Korah's rebellion should be a warning to those needlessly causing division as well as a lesson on how righteous leaders should stand up to false accusations. (If the accusations are true, they ought to repent and change.)

Does Freedom Produce Anarchy?

If all believers are free to "do what they want" will not that lead to confusion and anarchy? That is a good question. The answer is "No, members are not free to do what they want." Each member yielding to the holy spirit will not produce anarchy. The purpose in our Savior guiding each one of our lives is not to strive with each other (though He said that would happen—Luke 12:51-53), but to be used for His collective purpose (Eph 2:19-22). The examples in the Bible are largely ones of support and cooperation with other brethren, though we do find cases where there are disagreements (Acts 15:36-41, 1Cor 16:12, Gal 2:11, etc.). Romans 14 clearly shows that we can have doctrinal differences and still fellowship and work together. We find no scriptural example of punishing a person for following his sincere understanding of scripture instead of the church leadership.

The book of Judges concludes that society was a mess because "...there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes" (Jud 21:25). The people, under that form of government, did have great personal freedom—and they abused it. The problem was not with the form of government; it was with the people (Heb 8:8). Corrupt leaders and judges were a big part of the problem (1Sam 2:12, 8:3). We, as a people with the holy spirit, have the power to do those things which the nation of Israel could not (Eph 3:20-21, Jud 25). Our concept of "doing what is right" should be like that of our Father's.

People get in trouble when they use their freedom, not to serve, but to be contentious or to set themselves up in authority over others (Tit 3:9, 3Jn 9). Leaders jealous of "their memberships" are often not content with teaching the truth. They want to try to stop other groups from teaching doctrines with which they disagree. The Bible shows we are to do our work, and let the work of others, even though it may be false, go on (Mark 9:38-40, Phil 1:15-18).

If possible, we are to live at peace with everyone (Rom 12:8). The scriptures describe a great many spiritual gifts that the Messiah gives to men (1Cor 12-14, Eph 4, Rom 12). Some of the gifts are administrative in nature. It was the job of an overseer (rendered "bishop" in the KJV) to make sure that the functions of the congregation were carried out in an orderly manner. Nevertheless, the emphasis was not on commanding others but on personally serving (Mark 10:35-45). Paul indicated that righteous love for the brethren was more important than all spiritual gifts (1Cor 13). Each man realizing that he is responsible directly to his Savior (1Cor 11:3) is not a matter of "too many chiefs and not enough indians" but a matter of "one Chief and all the rest indians."

I Corinthians 11:3 brings out another point of structure among humans that stands apart from any "church government." It states "the head of [a married] woman is man." We also find that children at home are to obey their parents (Ex 20:12, Eph 6:1, Gen 2:24). The authority and structure of a family is continually supported by the scriptures and is much stronger than any authority given to leaders of congregations. While the analogy of the family is often used to depict the assembly of believers, we find that the Eternal is the Father and our Savior is the Elder brother—there are no human "positions" of "father" or "big brother." Church leaders are treading on dangerous ground when they council one spouse against the other or when they council children against their parents.

The Father being the head of the Son, the Son being the head of every man, the man being the head of his wife, and the parents being the head of children at home is a hierarchy that the Eternal has set up (1Cor 11:3). Honoring of elders is commanded even after children have left home (Lev 19:32). Organizations do not do well when they take young men, give them a little training and set them over their fathers in the congregations (1Tim 3:6). We find no scripture that says the pastor (or "overseer" or "minister" or any other title) is "the head" of his congregation.

How Can We Best Serve Today?

Are we advocating that every person find something wrong with their congregation, point it out, and then leave it? Only if you are confident you are replacing your cur2rent service with something better. We do not want to be like the man with one talent, who felt his master was unjust so he accomplished nothing (Matt 25:25-30). The same principle is repeated with the demon possessed person who failed to fill his mind with something good—the demon was able to return with seven others and the man's latter state was worse than the first (Luke 11:24-26). It is a mistake to leave any assembly or service to the brethren unless you have a definite plan to serve in another capacity. This writer has witnessed too many cases where individuals stopped their contributions to a "big organization" when they discovered it was wasting a large portion of its funds, but never again used their resources to do any other kind of work. The latter state is worse than the first. Just as our Messiah did not accept the excuse of the man who hid his talent in the sand, he will not accept the excuse of people who leave a position of service for "freedom" and then do nothing with their "freedom."

How do we increase our service? We are told to earnestly desire the best spiritual gifts for the benefit of everyone (1Cor 12:7, 31), but for which should you as an individual ask? How do we know what gifts we may already have? Prayer is the primary answer (Rom 8:26-27, Col 1:9-11, Phil 4:6-7, 19). If we feel we are not close enough to our Father to know which gifts to request, reading the Bible all the way through is an excellent way to draw much closer. Consider the areas where you have effectively served in the past and ask your Father to show you where you can serve in the future.

What do you think of when you think of serving? Do you think of an announcement being made in your worship service such as "Don Deacon is in charge of the hall, if you have questions see him," or "Eliott Elder will bring us this afternoon's message"? If so, your concept of serving is all wrong and you need a lot of personal prayer and study before you attempt any major service. If you would like to take care of a hall, you should be thinking about when it needs to be opened and closed, what kind of work is involved with setting up and keeping it clean, what kind of help you might need, and whether or not you have the time and ability to do the job well. If you are going to teach, you ought to think about what you can teach that would help others and about the scriptures that pronounce a greater condemnation upon those that teach (Jas 3:1).

Some people have been in the habit of letting church leaders make the important spiritual decisions in their lives. Months of study may be necessary before you have the faith to know that your Father can work directly in your life. If the congregation with which you attend allows that study and allows you to reasonably discuss it with others, staying where you are may be your best choice. If the congregation wants to tell you how to think, then you may need to find a new place to attend just so you can study. Decisions where to fellowship should not be made lightly—do not meet with a group just because they have the nicest hall, the funniest speakers, or the best after-service snacks. Our fellowship is an important part of our work and service.

Everyone must be diligent not to offend others who may not understand what we understand (Matt 18:6) Even the Apostles were not able to accept some truth right away (John 16:12, Acts 10:34). If you understand that the Eternal does work through each person that has His spirit, you do not have to feel the need for 100% doctrinal agreement with every other believer. (We are not saying that truth is non-existent or unimportant, but that we are all growing in grace and knowledge and not all at the same place at the same time.)

We do not have to agree on the understanding of every prophecy or the dating of Bible events to be able to work together to teach "... the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of the doctrine of baptisms, of laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment" (Hebrews 6:1-2). Paul and Barnabas had differences, yet they both went on to preach the Gospel to the world (Acts 15:36-40).

Servants' News will continue to carry stories of how brethren are preaching the Gospel, both in large and small efforts. For further Bible study in the area of government and congregational services, write for our free articles How Does the Eternal Govern Through Humans and Assembling on the Sabbath. We hope and pray that the Eternal will strengthen you in the work He is doing through you, even if this is the last Friends of the Brethren article that you ever read.

—Norman S. Edwards

Servants News is published monthly by Friends of the Brethren. Subscriptions are free to individuals interested in obeying their Creator as described in the Bible. We believe His law is the basis for living a life that is pleasing to Him in harmony with our neighbors. We believe the holy spirit gives us the power to live such a life as long as we continually repent of our sins and accept the salvation provided through our Messiah and Savior. We believe in living "by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God" (Deut 8:3).

We believe the gospel should be given freely: you may copy any or all of this publication and give it to others. Friends of the Brethren is financed by donations and has no ties with any of the other organizations listed in this publication.
Editor: Norman S. Edwards
Associate Editors: Norman Brumm III, Marleen Edwards, Robert & Christine Feith
Contributors: (many) "Thanks" to everyone involved.

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