Show the House to the House (Updated Edition)
"STRAINING AT GNATS":
PRIMARY VS. SECONDARY PURPOSES
What We Should Be Doing:
"Go Ye Into All the World"
Whatever term we use, it is a serious spiritual offense before God whenever those he commissioned and commanded to do one thing allow themselves to be distracted into doing something else. In the "Parable of the Faithful and Wise Servant" (Matt. 24:42-51 and Lu. 12:42-48), Jesus makes it clear that faithfulness to one's commission brings the greatest possible blessing and reward, and unfaithfulness for any reason brings the greatest possible curse and punishment. Notice that in this parable, the servant was given the duty to feed and take care of those his absent master was responsible for. It was the servant's responsibility to "give them their meat in due season." But because of his master's delayed return, the servant lost his sense of urgency and began reveling and beating those he was supposed to be caring for. Among many other things we could point out, one glaring principle of truth stares us in the face: If we, as God's servants, don't feed those we are responsible for, then we will probably end up beating them.
This principle translates into the following spiritual law: If the church does not spend its spiritual energies (time, effort, gifts and burdens) on its primary purpose for which it has been commissioned, it will spend those spiritual energies on secondary purposes, many of which amount to no more than beating and picking on each other. It will do either one or the other; there is no such thing as a church that does nothing. Every church will be working on either its primary responsibility or on secondary distractions.
Having said thus, let us now turn our attention to defining exactly what is the primary purpose of the church. Bro. F. G. Smith, in The Last Reformation (page 48), says that "the primary object for which the...church was formed was the establishment and extension of the kingdom of God among men." In other words, the main purpose of the church is evangelism, the saving of souls. He then states that a secondary object is the encouragement and edification of the believers through worship and teaching. But it is made clear that the church as the body of Christ primarily exists for the express purpose of carrying on Christ's work of redemption in this world of sin.
This is logically true and very reasonable. The world's greatest need is for a Savior. So God sent Jesus into the world "to seek and to save that which was lost" (Lu. 19:10). He "came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Lu. 5:32). He came to satisfy and supply the world's greatest need, the need of redemption: "I came...to save the world" (John 12:47). He constantly reminded others that for this cause he came into the world, for this purpose he was sent into the world. While he was here, he let nothing deter him from his primary purpose. After he left, he placed this responsibility on the church, which is the body of Christ in the world today. "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" is the Lord's command (Mark 16:15). Thus, just as seeking and saving the lost was the primary purpose of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, so is seeking and saving the lost the primary purpose of the body of Christ today.
This is also true historically. Evangelism was the top priority and all-encompassing activity of the New Testament church. It was not a sideline or a one-out-of-many activity of the church. It was the reason for the very existence of the church and disciples: "to be witnesses (for Christ)...unto the uttermost part of the earth" (Acts 1:8) and "to go and make disciples of all nations" (Matt. 28:19 RSV). Accordingly, the disciples multiplied themselves throughout most of the then-known world in a few short years, "turning the world upside down," as the Jews at Thessalonica testified of them.
Historically, it was also true in this reformation that evangelism was held to be the primary purpose of the church. Bro. Smith's quote above indicates that the pioneer brethren believed this. Their actions speak even louder than their words. By 1909, only three decades after its beginning, this movement had sent missionaries to preach Christ and the oneness of God's people throughout much of the world: the entire United States, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Switzerland, the Netherlands (Holland), Poland, Latvia (now Russia), Russia, Denmark, Sweden, Prussia, Mexico, India, the British West Indies, Egypt, Japan, China, Syria, and many other countries.
Outreach is the sign of a "live church"
In the February 6, 1913 issue of the Gospel Trumpet, Bro. Riggle described the manifestations of a "living church." The first manifestation mentioned there was activity. "Life produces activity. This is as true in the spiritual as in the natural world. And again, activity is essential to continued life. It [a living church] is a church that is fully awake to its mission in the world. We are not saved merely that we may escape hell and gain heaven in the end. The church has a mission to perform; and that mission is to save the lost...
"The activities of a live church," Bro. Riggle continues, "will reach beyond its membership. As I said before, it will extend to the lost on every side. It will use its consecrated means to open the work in every direction. It will reach out to all the surrounding communities, and will evangelize the country. Such a church enjoys the rich things of heaven, because it shares with others. We enjoy better as we share. This is the true spirit of Christianity. There are many churches that need a mighty awakening along this line. They put forth little or no effort to reach the dying masses about them. A living church will evangelize. Its activities will be felt at home and in foreign lands."
Brethren, could anything be clearer than this fact that Bro. Riggle emphasizes: a live church”or a live movement”is naturally to be a beehive of spiritual activity? Would it be too strong to say that a church or movement with little or no spiritual activity is dead or nearly dead? Furthermore, this activity is to be deliberate and organized. Notice how the apostles deliberately prayed for power, boldness and miracles for the express purpose of winning souls (Acts 4:29-31). Notice how "they went forth, and preached everywhere" (Mark 16:20 and Acts 8:4). Notice how they always had the right man in the right place at the right time. This same deliberateness and purposefulness characterized the early times of this reformation. The early Evening Light missionary efforts mentioned above soon became so successful that by 1909 a missionary board was established by the general ministerial assembly for the purpose of increasing and enhancing these efforts. Today, however, what has happened to this soul-winning spirit and zeal?
Soul-winning and growth are the normal characteristics of a church that is doing what it is supposed to be doing. If a church is not emphasizing soul-winning then it is not effectively carrying out Christ's commands. If it is not growing, then it is diseased. It's as simple as that. It is not normal for a true Bible-based church not to grow. Something is wrong somewhere.
In order to rationalize its lack of growth and avoid being labeled "diseased," a church will usually raise two objections: (1) "We need to perfect ourselves and get stronger first" and (2) "Few people really want to get saved anymore; they aren't interested in the things of God." To the first of these objections we say: a church cannot wait until it is perfect to begin the work of soul-winning, for that time will never come. Furthermore, one can never be all that he can be for God until he is doing all that he can do for God. A large portion of our spiritual growth and perfection comes from exercising ourselves in ministry and service to others, not from continual trips to the altar for prayer and advice. As Bro. Riggle just said, God shares with those who share with others. To the second objection we answer: no church can say truthfully that people don't want the gospel until it has, like Noah, actively preached Christ to its community for a long time with no response.
The question then is, Have we been actively preaching Christ to our communities? Do we really have any deliberate outreach programs or ministries? Where are and who are our missionaries? How is it that entire cities, states, countries, even continents, have never heard of us, yet we claim that we are the church of God in this earth? When do we plan to "go out into the highways and hedges, and compel" our communities to come in (Luke 14:23), in obedience to the Lord's command and expectation? When will we recognize that continually evangelizing the saints is not what Jesus meant by "the highways and hedges?"
James 1:21 “ The Two-sided Religion
The last verse of James, chapter one, contains a vital message that can be applied to Christians individually or collectively: "Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world" (KJV). Thus, there are two sides to a religion that God the Father regards as "pure and undefiled:" (1) To "visit" those who are in need, and (2) To keep oneself "unspotted from the world."
Let us deal with the second aspect first. (1) "Keep oneself unstained from the world" (RSV). Several translations reinforce the idea that "unspotted" means "unstained " or "uncontaminated" by the world. One paraphrases it to read "whose soul remains true to the Lord”not soiled and dirtied by its contacts with the world." This is the meaning most all Christians derive from this verse: no matter what happens in life, the ultimate duty of the Christian is to keep everything clear and right between himself and God. Keeping one's record clean is our chief aim.
Thus, the bulk of the preaching, teaching and other instruction in the church is directed toward Christians, to help them in their task of keeping clear before God. Ministers are busy revealing and exposing evils that might perhaps be lurking in the hearts of some saints, preaching folks down to the altar to make sure that everything stays right between them and God. The saints are busy keeping their hearts clean and pure, feeling convicted and going to the altar, getting advice and making sure that they don't commit any sin that might hinder their chances of heaven. The first and foremost side of our religion emphasizes staying right with God.
This is definitely a most important thing to do and emphasize. Keep clear of all sins of commission. But James lets us know in no uncertain terms that this is only one side of pure religion. Furthermore, it is not the side that he mentions first. Thus, we cannot conclude that either side mentioned is more important than the other. James makes it necessary that true Christians also:
(2) "Visit and help the needy in their affliction." It is just as important a part of pure, God-approved religion for saints to visit and provide for the physical, temporal and spiritual needs of those around us as it is for us to keep our souls unspotted from the world. Recall how Jesus cared for and provided for the world in every way: spiritually, physically and temporally (Matt. 11:5; 17:27). Remember how he got their attention by helping them in their time of human need. Remember what James said about showing one's faith by one's works (James 2:14-26). Then think about how many sermons you have heard or preached that emphasized this aspect of pure religion to the same degree as the "keeping unspotted from the world" side. How many times have you run weeping to the altar, condemned and convicted in your heart because you didn't "visit" and provide for the needs of some person needing what you could have offered them? They may have needed some temporal thing or some physical thing. They may have needed some spiritual gift. It was your job to help them but you didn't. You omitted to do the right thing. James says later that "to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin" (James 4:17). This is the sin of omission. You have avoided the sin of commission by keeping yourself unspotted from the world. But are you yet clear before God? Is your religion still pure and undefiled?
By and large, as a group and as individuals, we are guilty of the sin of omission in this area. Remember that James says this is one-half of "pure religion." So no matter how holy we might be in our personal walk, without fulfillment of this second side of religion, our religion is defiled before God anyway. How can we feel justified for doing half of the job required?
Conclusions: The Results of Evangelistic Neglect
(1) If we don't use it, we lose it. The fact that we ourselves are in danger if we don't fulfill our spiritual obligations to the world was clearly understood and expressed by our pioneer brethren. They eloquently expressed this vital message (and warning) to the church through sermons and songs, some of which we discuss below.
One such song was written by Sis. Clara M. Brooks, "The Debt We Owe," page 337 in our Evening Light Songs hymnal. Please keep in mind that although it refers a lot to the foreign mission field, the true mission field is wherever there are lost souls that need our help, be it across the ocean or across the street.
"The Lord of the harvest is calling
For laborers true in his field,
To gather the sheaves ere they perish,
When mercy no more is revealed.
We bask in the sunlight of glory,
On heavenly manna we're fed;
While souls o'er the ocean, in darkness,
Are starving for life-giving bread.
"They perish, they perish,
Yet Jesus to save them has died.
Go, pay them the debt that we owe them,
Those souls who in darkness abide.
"The Savior hath given us freely
Salvation and grace through his name,
He bids us to publish his gospel,
Its words to all creatures proclaim.
We're debtors to those who are dying,
And never its power have known;
Can we, who so richly are favored,
Still leave them to perish alone!
"When taking his word to the lost ones,
It is not a gift we bestow:
By working and praying and giving,
We pay but the debt that we owe.
If millions are lost at the judgment,
Their cries will our conscience upbraid,
Because when their souls we could rescue,
Our debt unto them was not paid!"
Obviously, Sis. Brooks knew that God does not hold guiltless the saints that do not carry a burden or work from a burden for the lost. We ourselves are in danger of the judgment. This fact she vividly depicted in another of her songs, stirringly asking the question, "Do We Well?" (page 451, Evening Light Songs):
Do we well, my precious brethren?
While they starve and die for bread,
We with heaven's richest blessings
Are so bountifully fed.
If we tarry till the morning,
Mischief shall our souls befall,
Go and tell earth's dying millions,
There is bread enough for all.
"India's lost ones still are crying
From that sin-benighted land;
Hear those wails from darkest China,
And from Egypt's sunlit strand.
While a soul remains in darkness
And in idleness we dwell,
Selfishly the truth enjoying,
Brethren dear, we do not well.
"˜Tis the day of full salvation,
Go, the joyful message tell;
While we wait the millions perish,
And we do not well."
Bro. Daniel O. Teasley went a step further by giving a reason why the church does not evangelize in his song, "All Because We Do Not Love Them," page 347 in our Evening Light Songs. He too repeated the idea that Christians themselves are guilty of sin when they neglect soul-winning:
"Many souls today are dying, Sin and sorrow is their lot;
Darkness shrouds them with its mantle, All because we love them not.
All because we do not love them, Millions fill the heathen grave;
Brother, can you see them perish, When a little love would save?
Brother, can we guiltless linger, When to us the truth is given?
Tearless, see the heathen dying Without God or hope of heav'n?
Love bro't Jesus down from glory, On the cruel cross to die
Can we say we love the heathen If we turn away their cry?
Love undying, love eternal”Love will send us o'er the wave
Will impel us to our duty, Helpless heathen souls to save.
Jesus said, ˜Go teach all nations;' They are lost if we delay.
Can we face Him at the judgment If His word we disobey?"
Brethren, the eloquence of the messages contained in these songs should be more than enough to greatly impress upon us the fact that our lack of evangelistic spirit and activity places us as a movement in imminent danger. How long can we continue to believe that our gross neglect in this area is not that big of a thing, that it is something minor that we should make a little improvement on”one of these days? Brethren, we are in grave spiritual danger, and we all ought to be concerned and weeping our way to the altar now in corporate repentance!
The last song we want to examine is, "He Shed His Blood for All," by Bro. William G. Schell. It should stir us like we want altar-call songs to stir sinners in our midst:
"Nineteen hundred million souls, Standing near the final goal,
Soon we'll see the awful judgment on them fall;
Must they truly be consigned To the pit and there confined,
Since the blessed Savior shed his blood for all?
Ev'ry second, sad to tell, Counts another soul in hell,
Dreadful sight to see them bound in sin's dark pall.
What in life we all may do, Can but save a very few,
Yet the blessed Savior shed his blood for all.
Tho' a million be bro't in There's a billion yet in sin;
Quickly bear the gospel message unto all.
Preach the Word at any cost, For the world in sin is lost,
Yet the blessed Savior shed his blood for all.
Can we tarry home for dross While beholding such a loss?
If we can, from heaven's grace we'll surely fall.
Quickly leave thy cottage door, Spread the truth from shore to shore,
For the blessed Savior shed his blood for all."
Here Bro. Schell echoes the grave warning of the previous songwriters: If Christians don't use it, they will lose it. That is, if the saints do not use what they have from God, they will lose what they have from God. This is a biblical principle from the mouth of Jesus Himself, and no saint cannot get around it. In the "Parable of the Faithful and Wise Servant" (Luke 12:41-48 and Matt. 24:42-51), Jesus concludes that "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required: and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more." We claim to have more than all other religious groups. Then out of our own mouths we have condemned ourselves, for the fact is, we are doing far less with our "more" than others who supposedly have little are doing with their "little." The unfaithful servant was cut asunder and punished with the unbelievers because he did not do the job the master had asked him to do. What was that job? As steward over his master's household, his responsibility was to "give them their portion of meat in due season," i.e., to feed and provide for those in his care with the resources his master had placed him over. Because he lost his sense of urgency (his burden) and got carried away with other things, he failed in his duty and lost his position as a servant. In other words, he lost his soul.
Jesus also teaches this concept in the "Parable of the Talents" (Matt. 25:14-30 and Luke 19:12-26). In this parable, the monetary terms, "talents" or "pounds," represent valuable spiritual gifts, knowledge, resources and abilities the master gave to his servants for the purpose of increasing his kingdom and wealth. Two of his servants used their spiritual gifts and resources in the marketplace of life and increased the assets of their master. One refused and neglected to use his spiritual resources, burying them in the "earth" (his fleshly self-life) and justifying himself by various negative attitudes. But the main thing we want from this parable is what Jesus said in condemning him to "outer darkness:" "Take therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him which hath ten talents. For unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath." Thus, we see clearly that if one does not use what God gives him, he will most certainly lose it.
(2) If we don't use it, God will give it to someone else. From that same "Parable of the Talents we can also see this second principle. God, being the just and loving God of more than 5 billion souls, must use whomever he can use to "quickly bear the gospel message unto all." If he cannot use us, brethren, then he will use any saved person who makes himself available. This might include people and groups we call "sect" and "Babylon." God cannot send these 5 billion people to hell without giving them the chance he promises to everyone. Nor can he afford to wait on us if we do not go, regardless to why we do not go. Too much is at stake. "While we wait the millions perish." That is God's urgent concern, whether we treat it urgent or not. If we don't evangelize the big cities of America, God will take the spiritual resources from us and send someone else. If we won't have missionaries, God will send someone else to tell the world how to get saved. The gospel is indeed going out into all the world, but we are not the ones preaching it. Honesty will make us admit that God is already sending others instead of us. If we want to "tarry home for dross," we most certainly will be permitted to. But God will most certainly send somebody else to do our job. And, as Bro. Schell said, we ourselves will most certainly "fall from heaven's grace."
(3) If we don't use it, we fail to provide spiritual activity for our people to do. This third consequence of evangelistic neglect is the failure of the church to provide spiritual activities for its members whereby they may grow and prosper in their souls. Idleness is the devil's workshop, not God's. God wants every saint to have something to do for him. It is the duty of the church to provide opportunities for service and ministry to each of its members. It is the duty of the presbytery to equip and train the saints for the "work of the ministry" (Eph. 4:11-12 RSV, et al.). It is the duty of every saint of God to get involved in the work of the body.
So along come our young Christians, willing, ready and eager to work for God, but when they look around, they don't see much to do. They see that our church as a whole is not doing much of anything. Sure, each congregation has its in-house positions necessary to keep itself functioning”trustees, deacons, custodian, a couple of preachers and altar workers. But all of this work is inward-focused and is usually done by about 10 percent of the membership. The other 90 percent sit around and watch them, some because they don't care but most because nobody gives them anything to do.
The parables of Jesus we mentioned above indicate that both individual Christians and the whole body grow spiritually as they perform spiritual exercise and activity. One gets to be what God wants him to be only as he does what God wants him to do. Thus, opportunity for service is opportunity for spiritual growth. When a church fails to provide these opportunities for service, by failing to have any ministries but its in-house ministries, it deprives its members, young and old, of the chance to grow spiritually.
What We Are Really Doing:
"Tarrying Home for Dross"
If it is true, brethren, that we have not been "going into all the world," nor even into our own immediate communities, working on the church's primary purpose, then what have we been doing? Why do we exist as a body? What is or has been our mission? If we would answer honestly, we would have to say that our primary purpose and aim has been to preserve, emphasize and propagate certain teachings that we believe belong to the standard of holiness. Our mission has been to preserve the Evening Light doctrine, not to evangelize the world nor to unify the people of God throughout the world. As we have indicated above and also in Part 1, these latter two purposes were the original goals of the Evening Light reformation. But our chief goal has been to preserve the doctrine. When compared to the primary purpose, this goal is equivalent to dross. In the face of worldwide spiritual darkness and destruction of souls, we have "tarried home for dross," that is, to debate with each other over who is most faithfully upholding the doctrine of the church.
Why our part of the Church of God Movement began
In order to understand this more clearly, it is necessary to go back a little in time. During the first decades of this century (1900-1920), this reformation underwent several conflicts involving the doctrine of holiness as it applies to everyday living. Positively, the pioneers defined holiness as a life under the complete direction of the Holy Spirit. Negatively, they defined holiness as being separate from the world. Therefore, they were very concerned with defining "worldliness." They sought to be specific, so they named particular practices and procedures that were considered worldly and were to be avoided by all saints. In general, the chief areas in which definitions seemed necessary were those of food, dress, amusement and relationships to society.
It is not possible to enumerate all the items that were included in this list of definitions, but the following is a partial list. Partaking of certain foods and beverages was declared to be wrong because they were considered harmful to the body. It was on this basis that coffee and tea were condemned. Because tight-fitting corsets were considered injurious to health they were also condemned. The majority of the regulations involving dress, however, were attempts to avoid any indication of pride or vanity. Thus, lace, feathers, flowers, gold, pleats, gores, neckties, ribbons, and ornaments and decoration of any kind were condemned. In the writings of that time they also condemned using organs in worship and voting or having more than a mild interest in public affairs. Their concern over such matters seems to have been quite a preoccupation.
While some of these regulations were based on scriptural injunctions and sound reasoning, it cannot be denied that at times fanaticism was prevalent. At least some of the early leaders, however, attempted to keep the movement free from extremism. For instance, Bro. D. S. Warner, writing in the May 1, 1884, issue of the Gospel Trumpet, refers to a minister who was being persecuted because he had some fancy portraits of his family made. Bro. Warner left no doubt concerning his attitude about the matter: "All such judging from outward appearances and mere trifles is not of God, but of the devil... The old Pharisees that ˜strain at a gnat and swallow a camel' are not dead yet." However, in the fifteen years following Bro. Warner's death in 1895, the emphasis on abstaining from worldliness increased and the number of items to which that label applied multiplied. The general theme of this period gradually switched from "the unity of God's people" to "wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate" (2 Corinthians 6:17).
It was not long before internal conflicts arose concerning these matters. Many of the brethren wanted to relax the emphasis on outward manifestations and concentrate more on the primary purposes of the movement, for which they had solid scriptural support. Others saw no need to change what had been traditionally taught, and viewed the first group as "compromisers." Eventually, a schism occurred, with the more radical group spearheaded by a newspaper, Herald of Truth, published by Bro. C. E. Orr. In it he preached against singing songs like "My Old Kentucky Home," buying life insurance, going to picnics and fairs, wearing ruffles and tucks, using titles like "D. D." (which stands for Doctor of Divinity), as well as the other things mentioned above.
Eventually, Bro. Orr ceased editing the Herald of Truth and it died out. Later, Bro. Fred Pruitt became the editorial spokesperson for this side of the movement, first assisting Bro. L. Y. Janes in publishing the Christian Triumph from Guthrie, Oklahoma. After a separation occurred between them, Bro. Pruitt, joined by Bro. Robert Longley, began publishing the Faith and Victory, which took up the banner dropped by Bro. Orr. Eventually, Bro. Orr merged his second paper, The Path of Life, with the Faith and Victory, working closely with the Faith Publishing House until his death in 1933. The purpose of all of these publishing works was to speak for those whose chief goal was to uphold the various teachings and traditions against worldliness and superfluities.
The main point of the above historical reminiscing is this: Our part of the Church of God reformation was begun for the purpose of upholding the doctrine against worldliness. Our main mission became to avoid being like the world or like "Anderson," as we termed the other part of the original body. But from a biblical standpoint, not being like the world and not being like Anderson are not sound, adequate reasons to exist. These may be good goals but they are both negative, secondary goals. They are very similar to a person getting saved only to escape hell. That is not motivation enough. Our part of the reformation, then, was started for the wrong reasons. A movement needs a positive vision and purpose for existence, and the New Testament gives that purpose: to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ, not a set of doctrines, to the world.
Our chief goal: To perpetuate secondary matters
Thus, because our group was born amid controversy over secondary things, we have allowed the emphasizing of those things to distract us from our true biblical purpose. We have allowed that conflict to dominate our thoughts, vision and behavior down through the years until today. Since the original controversy we have allowed many others to occur, all over the same or similar secondary things:
Lengths of dresses; lengths of sleeves; women's slacks; wearing bright colors; wearing nylon instead of cotton stockings; wedding rings; ribbons; lace; neckties; pressing, processing, curling or trimming hair; drinking cola; eating chocolate; having Christmas trees or lights; dyeing Easter eggs; owning radios, TV's and now VCR's and other media; watching films or movies; owning cars (or certain types of cars); wearing gold- or silver-colored watchbands; playing ball or other games; going to amusement parks; reading the newspaper; taking vitamins; wearing glasses; setting broken bones; having babies (in or out of the hospital, with or without anesthesia, by C-section or not); formal Bible training at Bible colleges and seminaries; preachers' salaries; using different Bible translations; and the list goes on and on.
Brethren, we have become so preoccupied with our self-appointed position of preserver of the "truth" and protector of the "standard" that we have nearly forgotten what church is all about. Church is about saving the lost!
Before the split, Bro. E. E. Byrum, who succeeded Bro. Warner as editor of the Gospel Trumpet, made an attempt (as did Bro. Warner) to steer the Trumpet and the movement on a middle course. Bro. Byrum indicated that the place of his stand would be upon the weighty matters of the Word of God and not upon such a small issue as the tie or other things. His preferred position was to be on the Lord's side in all such questions. Thus, in the September 11, 1913, issue of the Gospel Trumpet, he wrote: "It is a shame and a disgrace to the cause of Christ that ministers whom God has called should turn aside and so fall under the power and influence of a factious spirit as to undertake to bring division among the brethren over such trifling matters."
Thus, we come to the crux of the whole controversy: Are these "trifling matters" or not? That is the critical question. Obviously, some of the brethren thought they were. Others thought they were not trifles, but indeed were matters of sin, on which rested one's hopes of heaven or hell. Hence, they were willing to take a strong stand regarding these matters, to the degree that they lost sight of their original mission. They were willing to sacrifice their original goals in order to concentrate on preserving the traditions and teachings they deemed important.
Whether such a stand was sound depends on the soundness of the doctrines they took their stand for. Thus, the above question, "Are these trifling matter or not?" can be rephrased: According to New Testament scripture, are these matters of absolute sin or matters of conscience?
Matters of Sin vs. Matters of Conscience
By definition, a matter of absolute sin is inherently morally wrong, clearly forbidden by the Word of God for anyone anywhere to practice at anytime. It is a violation of the written law of God. Lying, stealing, lusting, and practicing witchcraft are a few examples of matters of absolute sin. Matters of absolute sin do not change from culture to culture or from age to age, but are always considered wrong. God makes it clear in his written Word that he is against such behavior in every age, from the Old Testament era to the present New Testament era. This point must be emphasized: a matter of absolute sin is condemned by both the Old Testament and the New Testament. There is no way a person can practice a matter of absolute sin without making a morally wrong decision. These are the sins that prevent a person from being saved, and that keep him out of heaven. Thus, the scripture makes it clear that there will be no thieves, liars, whoremongers, sorcerers, etc. in heaven (Rev. 21:8 and several other sin lists).
On the other hand, matters of conscience are not inherently right or wrong. That is, they are not inherently moral at all, but are culturally relative, differing from culture to culture”even religious culture. The Scriptures do not directly or indirectly condemn these matters. Therefore, they are left to the conscience of the individual and to the Spirit of God convicting or approving that person's conscience. Paul discusses several of these matters in Romans 14, 1 Corinthians 8 and 10, and Colossians 2: meats once offered to idols, foods and drinks, and the observance of holidays (holy days). Examples of such an issue in modern times would involve dress, foods, entertainment activities, etc. Following is one good example: A few years ago, a Nigerian brother visited the United States to attend the various summer campmeetings. It was his practice to relax between services, at which time he would change into his native dress, the dashiki. This was a colorful, blousy shirt with sleeves that draped over the arms. However, the sleeves stopped a little below the elbows. He was condemned by many of the brethren for "wearing his short-sleeved pajamas" on the church grounds, thus "letting down the standard." The truth is, there is nothing in the word of God that clearly and indisputably establishes long sleeves as the "standard" for saints everywhere in every age, or that makes sleeves of any other length morally wrong. There is only the principle of modesty and decency, nothing more. His dashiki did not violate the principle of decency, and thus was a matter of conscience, not of sin.
Having defined the differences between matters of absolute sin and matters of conscience, let us now hear from one of our own pioneer ministers regarding this subject. Bro. B. E. Warren writes in "Divine Laws and Matters of Conscience" (Gospel Trumpet), "Law must have her liberty. Conscience must also have the liberty due her... The latitude of the liberty of conscience differs widely in different individuals. The written law is obligatory on all of its subjects...but the liberty of one's conscience can never be, with propriety, bound upon another. This is the law of God (Romans 14). There is no foundation in the law of God, nor in the latitude of reason, for such unwise procedure. May it be remembered, therefore, that liberty of conscience covers only the individual; while the liberty of the law goes beyond and covers every individual."
Continuing, Bro. Warren writes: "It is not a hard proposition to keep peace and to eliminate trouble if we adhere to the promise just stated, for it is biblical. But on the other hand, as soon as some one begins to make the conscience of one individual the law of another, trouble is incurred. The written law can be enforced, in the spirit of Christ, upon the brotherhood and the people; but the unwritten law of conscience can be enforced upon no one without detriment and dangerous liability. Devastation generally follows in the wake of such unscriptural and unreasonable proceedings. It is not so difficult to get people to see the teachings of the Bible, because you can read it to them; but it is hard to get people to see that a matter of conscience is Bible, and necessary for them to observe because you cannot read it, you infer it... With respect to the observer of the unwritten law of conscience, Paul says, ˜Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God' (Rom 14:22). But it was a hard thing for these fellows who were living to the law of their conscience, to keep from binding it upon others. The same failing is in humanity today... ˜Have it to thyself' is a hard proposition for some of the enforcers of the law of conscience. They work as hard to enforce the law of conscience as they do to enforce the law of God..."
It is often difficult for people to distinguish between the law of God and the law of conscience, although it need not be. What is not written in word or in principle cannot be considered as the law of God, and therefore must be left to the law of conscience. This, however, is what many Christians do not want to do. In the December, 1913, issue of Herald of Truth, Bro. Orr writes: "The Bible is silent so far as directly condemning shows, fairs..., picnics, etc., but there is a law written on the soul of every holy man and woman which does forbid going to such places." Later, in a tract entitled "The Rule of a Saintly Life," he states, "Beyond the letter of the law there is an unwritten law upon the soul that is in fellowship with God which interprets the rule of a saintly life in a much wider circle than the letter of the word can possibly cover." In both of these statements, Bro. Orr admits that there is no Bible on the issues at hand. His entire position rests on the existence of some indefinable "unwritten law upon the soul." The problem with this position is that it elevates inner revelation over Scripture. It goes beyond the written Word of God, making the "unwritten" law of the conscience equivalent to the Word. Furthermore, it erroneously assumes that God will reveal exactly the same "unwritten law" to every saint. But there is absolutely no biblical principle anywhere to support the idea that if God shows one person that a thing is wrong (for example, curling one's hair), He will eventually reveal the same thing to every other Christian in the world.
Going back to our list of secondary things on page 34, it now becomes obvious that every one of the items listed are matters of conscience, not matters of absolute sin. Thus, for many years, we have been debating about and even separating over issues that do not involve absolute sin. We have been upholding a "standard" that in many ways goes beyond the Word of God. Such a standard does not depend on the written word for its foundation, but relies heavily on personal interpretations, private revelations and convictions, and traditionalism ("what I've always been taught"). The church of God should not be caught in such a scripturally-unsound position. We should not be defending doctrines that have doubtful scriptural support.
Where the Bible Stops, We Stop
The church of God should stand upon the written Word as the standard, with the Holy Spirit being the guide to that Word. This is the only position of spiritual strength and soundness. In order to do this, we must follow one key principle: Find out what the Word is saying on a matter, and where the Bible stops, we must stop.
It is in this area that many religions deviate from sound scriptural foundations: they go further than the Word of God goes. It is our purpose on the next few pages to discuss specific areas in which we have gone beyond the Word of God in our interpretation and application of the Word. It is in these areas that we need to practice stopping where the Bible stops, lest we wreak division, spiritual damage and destruction to ourselves and the souls we minister to. To begin, let us start with the subject of marriage and divorce, specifically what we call "double marriage," using a book by Bro. D. S. Warner to present the key principle: Where the Bible stops, we stop.
"Double Marriage And
What To Do About It
Regarding marriage, it has been our position that the Bible makes marriage permanent and indissoluble. We do not believe in divorce for any reason. We also believe that anyone who marries a person who has already been married commits adultery. We call such a marital state "double marriage," including in this term third, fourth and other multiple marriages. Divorce and double marriage we look upon with disfavor because it is clearly taught in the scripture that God intended one man for one woman.
Thus, based on this understanding, our position has been that all double marriages must be broken up when one or both of the parties involved gets saved. Our practice has been to advise and require couples in double marriage to separate and live apart from each other. Otherwise, we consider them to be "living in adultery," out of fellowship with God and out of fellowship with the saints. We consider this position to be sound and supported by the scripture.
However, according to Bro. D. S. Warner, in taking this position we have gone beyond the Bible and overstepped our scriptural authority. This he reveals in his booklet, Marriage and Divorce, which, according to Bro. A. L. Byers in the Birth of a Reformation (page 453), was written shortly before his death in 1895: "Besides some other small works, he (Bro. Warner)...revised the tract on Marriage and Divorce..." Deeming the principles it contains of utmost importance, we now take the liberty to quote this work at length. We begin our reprint on page 18 of the booklet, where Bro. Warner summarizes the first seventeen pages before continuing on with the question: Must all unscriptural marriages be dissolved?
Marriage and Divorce
by Daniel Sidney Warner
...Only death can dissolve the marriage covenant, and give liberty to marry another. And while the New Testament recognizes and counsels subjection to civil authorities it does not give any earthly king or court the power to set at naught its laws, and legalize marriages, where Divine law forbids. Hence, a man willfully and unscripturally married, is an adulterer in the sight of God, notwithstanding any legal sanction his money may have procured for him.
Here then we have laid down the plain law of Christ on this subject. Not our views, but just what the Word says.
1st. A saint must not marry a sinner.
2d. Neither man nor woman shall put away their companion save for the cause of fornication.
3d. Whosoever shall put away his wife and marry another committeth adultery.
4th. "Whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery."
5th. "The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth." And there is no partiality in this matter shown to the man.
So we, as Bible teachers must present the truth, and God will seal its authority.
Must All Unscriptural Marriages Be Dissolved?
Thus far we have had plain positive commands and Bible teaching, and therefore may speak with authority. But if we turn to the Word for directions what to say to those who have more than one living companion, we find no clear command given as to what they shall do. If, therefore, we stop where the Word stops, no person on earth is authorized to positively say all must separate, nor yet can we give them license to live together. Here then we must leave each case in God's hands. Secret things belong to him. And where he has laid down no positive command for us to enjoin, He must have reserved the prerogative to Himself, to convict each individual by his Spirit of their duty. Let it be understood then that we disclaim all authority to say to men and women in such case you must, or you must not separate. Such must get their orders from God direct. And we may safely say that no person in such marriage can keep salvation and victory while living in doubt and uncertainty of the will of God in their case, much less if living in conscious rebellion. The holy life is only maintained in the knowledge and the performance of God's will. And especially in a case of this kind will Satan buffet your souls and destroy your confidence without it is positively settled that you are living in the present will of God. Therefore let all who have gotten into this unfortunate entanglement, open your hearts and conscience before God, put your whole will subject to his will, and cease not to call upon God until his Spirit assures you of his will in your particular case. Duty lies in one direction or the other, and "they shall all be taught of God," led of his Spirit. Be sure and keep self out of the question, absolutely have no will or choice of your own. Let every earthly consideration be utterly discarded. Be ready to do that which, to your best judgment, would be most to the glory of God, and that which your conscience would most approve of in the day of judgment.
In the absence of a positive command to separate, or to live together under these circumstances, it is manifestly wrong to severely judge in the matter. The parties must clear their own conscience before God, and while they show the fruits of the Spirit of God, they are entitled to our love and confidence.
But does not the perfect law of the Lord give us some general principle, or some ruling on similar cases from which we can infer the mind of God in this matter? Let us see. We know that where men have done contrary to the Word of God ignorantly, after learning the fact, they are required to undo, and make right in all cases where it is possible to do so, when they come to a knowledge of the truth. But can men and women entirely undo the act of marriage? Can they cast off that bond of natural conjugal affection that has united their hearts? We think not, except it be by some unkind, and unjust conduct by which that love might be killed. And surely God would not require that. Again, if they have brought forth offspring, their union is still more irrevocable. We know that the practice of any sin cannot find pardon without its discontinuance. But knowing that God locates sin in the motives of the heart and will, it is very doubtful that God holds a person as living in actual adultery when married to a second living companion, if that relation was entered into in all good conscience, sincerely supposing he or she had a perfect right to do so.
Again, there is a difference between going into a thing knowing it to be forbidden in the Word, and being now in the same; the step having been taken while in sin and ignorance. This distinction is seen in the word of God treating on the marriage relation.
We have seen that believers are forbidden to marry unbelievers. But if a man or woman gets salvation and having an unsaved companion must they separate? No. But, "If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath a husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy" (1 Corinthians 7:12-14).
Here we see clearly that a marriage state which the word of God forbids the Christian to enter, now, being already bound in the same, he does not demand separation, but even forbids them to part from each other. And who can reasonably say that the same principle will not also apply to other forms of unscriptural marriage that have been ignorantly entered into? Not only does our kind Heavenly Father have a regard for the affections that bind man and wife, and in his wisdom and mercy permit them to live together under circumstances that he forbids marriage to take place, but we also see that he tenderly cares for their children, and does not want to have them turned out and disgraced as illegitimates even though, through ignorance, there was an unscriptural union of parents. The union exists and they having children, it cannot be wholly undone.
And would not the Lord have the same kind regard for innocent children of parents who have married a second living companion? As the laws of the land legalize such marriages, and the Protestant pulpit has lifted the standard no higher, general ignorance has prevailed on this subject. Therefore many have married a second companion without scruple. Many were unfortunately wedded the first time through youthful ignorance, or persuasion, and were soon abandoned. The law claimed to have dissolved the bond, and they have lived long and happily with a second, and brought up children. Will God now require them in every case to part, and bring disgrace upon their children? No. The principle already seen relating to another form of unscriptural union, we think must have some bearing on this case also. But of course we only give this as inference and not as positive teaching or legislation in the case.
Again we find mention made of such a thing as men having more than one living companion, and such are forbidden to be ordained as elders and deacons, 1 Tim. 3:2, 12. Titus 1:6. But it is no where said that all such should be utterly denied the fellowship of the church of God, unless they dissolve the last marriage.
We maintain, therefore, that the scriptures, to say the least, leave us without any good ground to condemn all thus living, as sinners and adulterers in the sight of God; especially if they show the fruits of the Spirit of God in their lives.
The circumstances under which men and women have become separated from a former companion, and taken another, vastly differ. One has been abandoned without cause, another has wickedly departed from a lawfully wedded wife or husband without excuse. One has married again through spite and base lust, and condemned for the act in his own conscience. Another out of pure motives, and without the knowledge of any wrong attached to the act. Surely the just God will not place both these cases under the same sentence.
This marriage relation is a very sacred thing. And he who undertakes to dissolve the same, assumes a fearful responsibility. Hence it appears that God who knoweth all hearts has reserved to himself the right to command his children in this matter, in all doubtful cases. However, there are many separations and marriage to another which are so manifestly wicked that the sense of justice that God has given all men must condemn the same, and all can see that repentance must lead to a retraction of the unholy deeds. While upon the other hand men have become separated and married again under circumstances that holy justice would blush to disturb them.
But Not Even Such Live Together Only As Brother And Sister After Enlightened By The Word
It has been taught by some that persons who are unfortunate in the matter of having a divorced wife, and are married to a second, that if they live with her, they should live in celibacy. But we find no such directions in the word of God. To take upon you such a vow, is but to go into bondage under the elements of the law. It gives place to the devil, to tempt, harass, and buffet the soul. All saints of God are taught by the Word and Spirit of God, and enabled by Divine grace, to live temperate, pure, spiritual minded, and abstinent in all things, to the full extent that God is glorified. And thus should they all live. Yea, "this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remains that both they that have wives, be as though they had none: and they that weep, as though they wept not" (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). How very forcibly those words come to us, upon whom the end of the world has come! But this holy life of self-denial should all be in the freedom of the Spirit and law of liberty in the soul, and not by binding yourselves under a slavish law which brings a snare, and usually works bondage and death. Flee from legality, and "live in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lusts of the flesh." If you are conscious that God forgives all sins of the past, and does not require you to separate, then live in the bounds of the word of God as man and wife, and permit no man nor the devil to accuse you, not put an unscriptural yoke upon you. "Whom the Son maketh free, is free indeed." "Only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh." Amen.
But should a man or woman, through lust and treachery, leave a companion and children, after living together for years, and take another, justice and righteousness demand that he put away the late espoused, and return and render satisfaction to the wronged family.
And for a man or woman professing to be saved in the present light, to allow the devil to "transfer his or her love" from a lawful companion to another, is a sin and abomination in the sight of God, which no person can be guilty of without first having lost the grace of God out of the heart, and becoming a reprobate. And such will have to put away the unlawful wife or husband, and make complete satisfaction to the wronged one before any saint of God can have confidence in them.
"For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies: these are the things which defile a man: but to eat with unwashen hands defileth not a man" (Matt. 15:19, 20).
"For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lasciviousness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness: all these evil things come from within, and defile the man" (Mark 7:21-23).
"Now the works of the flesh are these; adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, heresies, envying, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (Gal. 5:19-21).
And we are plainly told "that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God" (verse 21).
We should not allow the fact that our merciful High Priest can forgive them that are "ignorant and out of the way," to cause us to lower the standard of his Word one jot or tittle, nor in the least mitigate the guilt of the willful transgressor.
On the other hand, we should not stumble the souls of such as give evidence that God has forgiven their wrong steps in the kingdom of darkness, because his Word is inflexible toward them that sin knowingly. The Lord give us both wisdom and love, that we may properly balance the claims of justice to the law of the Lord, and pity to the souls of men. Amen.
Thus concludes Bro. Warner's booklet, Marriage and Divorce. Obviously, it contains some viewpoints that are radically different from our present practices. Many who have been claiming to uphold the original "standard" and the "old time truth" have obviously not known what the "old time truth" really was. The old time truth is the Word of God, and where the Word stops, we must stop, lest we overstep our authority and destroy souls. We have meddled in God's business. In sobering retrospect, we think of the many, many families we have permanently destroyed by our erroneous practices. Brethren, the toll in damaged families, discouraged, backslidden parents, and offended, disillusioned children is a church of God tragedy.
A Commandment or a Privilege?
This principle of stopping where the Bible stops should also be applied to another of our doctrinal practices: divine healing and its associated beliefs and practices. That God heals the body as well as the soul is an indisputable biblical fact. Throughout the history of the church, including the Evening Light reformation, it has been documented that countless numbers have been miraculously healed of probably most of the diseases and afflictions known to man. This has occurred supernaturally, without the assistance of physicians and remedies.
This reformation began with authoritative preaching accompanied by many powerful demonstrations of divine healing. Because of these early successes, divine healing soon became the fourth major doctrine of the movement, equal in importance to the original three foundational doctrines of justification (getting saved), sanctification (receiving the Holy Ghost and living holy), and the unification of God's people. Anyone who tampered with these three foundational doctrines was almost always accused of letting down the standard and disfellowshiped.
Similarly, anyone who failed to preach or practice divine healing was looked upon with disfavor. His or her salvation was considered doubtful. The only justifications possible for their sub-standard behavior was that they were newly saved or newly come to the saints, and therefore excusable. After all, one cannot have faith until he has been taught, for "faith cometh by hearing...the Word of God..." Everyone else, however, claiming to be "a saint in light," was expected to practice divine healing in its entirety, or risk the condemnation of the church.
Over the years, divine healing, or "trusting God as we also call it, has come to mean several things. Originally, it meant praying the prayer of faith then expecting and seeing the Lord raise up the sick person. Later, it took on a negative aspect, emphasizing the various things one could not do if he claimed to be trusting God. Instead of stressing the great power God manifested by healing a person, testimonies typically emphasized the great suffering the person underwent while trusting God and courageously refusing to accept any aid from "the hand of man." "I haven't dipped, rubbed or sniffed" was a common testimony of that time. Note, however, that the emphasis was on what they had not done, rather than on the fact that God had always healed them.
The "Do's and Don'ts of Divine Healing"
This switch in emphasis soon resulted in an unwritten list of "the do's and don'ts of divine healing." The following practices were thus condemned as sins or at best, very questionable behavior:
1. Going to the hospital for medical assistance or even for rest. One exception to this rule: having a baby in the hospital is not viewed as a lack of faith in most congregations, but not all. Under all circumstances, one must be sure to inform the medical staff that one does not want their medicine or advice, just a clean place to lie and whatever non-medical care they can give.
2. Surgery of any type or for any reason. However, there are a few types of surgery that we sometimes allow. For example, some will allow caesarian births, others will refuse them even if the mother and/or the baby dies. Infected gums can be lanced, deep cuts can be stitched up, severed fingers can be reattached, all of which are forms of surgery. Thus, because we allow some surgeries but disallow others, without any clearly defined line to differentiate between the two, our policy regarding surgery is very inconsistent and ambiguous.
3. Physical checkups. These were once harshly condemned as unnecessary and tending to weaken one's faith. However, as checkups have become legally mandated and required for school attendance, jobs, financial assistance programs for the elderly or disabled, and other reasons, the church attitude toward checkups has somewhat softened. It can be seen by many that a checkup is not a denial of one's faith in God.
4. Medicine and prescribed drugs of any type for any reason. This includes "medicines" that are really insecticides used for diseases like lice and scabies (mites), or fungicides used for athletes' foot, etc.
5. Immunizations for childhood diseases, as well as those required when traveling abroad. Vaccinations are considered to be medicine, although they are not given to heal. Obviously, by refusing to take them, we are expecting either that God will keep us from getting the disease or that he will keep the disease from permanently weakening or killing us.
6. Setting broken bones. This was once very strongly considered to be an obvious lack of faith, and even now, many still do. The belief is that the God who made the bones can certainly set them and make them heal properly. However, many who go this route end up with shortened legs, lifetime limps, or arms that either can never straighten or never bend.
7. Having teeth pulled. At one time many of the saints trusted God to pull their teeth. (Occasionally one will run across testimonies describing teeth that actually popped out by the roots!) Others trusted the dentist to pull their teeth, but without pain-killers or anesthesia, which are considered by some to be medicines.
8. Eye glasses, canes, crutches, and other manual aids. These have all been considered at one time or other to be hindrances to faith or indications of a lack of faith. Many saints have thrown away their glasses and discarded their canes.
9. Vitamins/Minerals. Vitamin pills have been shunned by many as if they were medicines or remedies, although they are nothing more than food supplements. They are not designed to heal, although they can improve health if a person has a nutritional deficiency in his diet. But so can eating the right foods rich in the deficient vitamin. Thus, the pill and the food do the same thing. If one is wrong, so is the other. We should try to be consistent. We must also keep in mind that foods today often do not have much nutritional content because of processing. So supplemental vitamins make more sense now than ever.
There is another inconsistency here to be discussed. It is almost impossible for those who want to avoid vitamin and mineral supplements to actually do so, because these substances are added to so much of our diet today. Some cities add fluoride to all the drinking water to make the children's teeth strong. Do we avoid it by buying bottled water? We use table salt to which iodine has been added (to prevent goiters). Do we buy the plain salt instead? We buy dry cereal, juices, drinks, baby formula, and other things, all of which are loaded with supplemental vitamins and minerals. Do we avoid these things? Brethren, this is an inconsistency.
10. Birth control. This subject is included only because many couples say that they are trusting God to control the size of their families. It is not a matter of healing, but as we said earlier, divine healing has come to include many somewhat-related things. Many of the saints are taught to shun all forms of birth control, others are taught to shun all artificial birth control. Accordingly, they feel condemned if they make any attempt at all to keep from having a family too large to support financially, physically, socially, emotionally and even spiritually. Many come to their senses after their eighth or ninth child, but by then the damage has been done.
While on this subject, it would be enlightening to include several statements from Bro. Thomas Nelson's book, Home, Health, and Success, pages 104 to 122. Bro. Nelson was one of our pioneer ministers, who, in addition to this book, wrote the songs "Onward, Upward" and "From Babel to Zion," among other things. He states that "under certain circumstances it may not be wrong to prevent conception. Too frequent bearing and ill health are to be taken into consideration...Do parents have no power or right whatever to limit the number of offspring? Must mothers bear at the rate of one every year or every two years no matter what may be their condition or circumstances? Must every family of necessity number from one to two dozen children? ...The One who made us has endowed us with power to reason...There should be a reasonable length of time between children. Some say that we must ˜let nature have its way...' [But] it is neither natural nor reasonable for most wives to bear every year or even every two years...It was not the intention of the Creator, nor is it a law of nature, that children should be born faster than the health of the parents and their ability to rear and train their sons and daughters will allow; for if so, then the begetting, bearing, and rearing of a family of children would become a curse, instead of a blessing. Such it must not be. Children should, I am sure, be born, not by chance, but by the mutual desire of the father and the mother, governed only by love and reason. ...Therefore there should be a reasonable length of time between children, in order to have a happy home and a good family, or in order to achieve the best results. And in acting accordingly no one need feel condemned, as only the good of his creatures is the intention of the Creator."
Thus, Bro. Nelson makes it clear that, far from being a lack of faith in God, using one's reason and enlightenment in this matter is actually more glorifying to God.
11. Natural remedies in any form or fashion. This includes eating moldy bread (a source of penicillin), baking soda, herb teas, rubbing liniments and lotions, sniffing steam, mint, etc. to open the sinuses, or eating, drinking or otherwise using any other substance known to cure or prevent a particular disease. Sometimes some would even refuse to eat a certain food or adhere to a certain diet simply because they believed that that would be trusting the food rather than God to heal them. For example, some saved diabetics have been known to neglect their special diets because they believed God could heal them and would take care of them no matter what they ate. Thus, the use of natural remedies has been viewed as departing from God and not trusting Him, and was considered to be sinful.
The Truth About Natural Remedies
This whole question of whether it is sinful to do anything other than anointing with oil and praying has caused much controversy throughout the history of our movement. There has been much extremism since divine healing came to be viewed largely as a commandment rather than a privilege for the saints. For this reason, Bro. D. S. Warner wrote an article in the October 24, 1895, Gospel Trumpet discussing these matters. This article was an explanation of I Tim. 5:23, in which Paul advises Timothy to "drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake, and thy oft infirmities." In the article, excerpts of which are reprinted below, Bro. Warner makes clear the times when the use of natural remedies is not only permissible, but advisable.
"Please explain 1 Tim. 5:23." The passage reads as follows: "Drink no longer water, but use a little wine for thy stomach's sake, and thy oft infirmities."
We have heard of some fanatics who attempt to spiritualize this text, and make the wine spoken of the Holy Spirit. But this is utter folly. First, God does not give us the Holy Spirit because of our infirmities, nor for our stomach's sake. Second, if it alluded to the Spirit, the Apostle would not be apt to recommend "a little" of it, but would command him to be "filled with the Spirit."
Again some try to explain the text so as to utterly exclude the use of natural means in the restoration of health. They have imbibed the notion that it is sinful in the sight of God to use anything whatever to remove afflictions, but faith and prayer to God, and the anointing with oil (James 5:15). There can be no reasonable doubt that the Apostle meant what he said, and said what he meant in the words under question. Whether he intended the prescription as a cure, or only as a preventative of his oft attacks of affliction we cannot say, but that he advised it as a means of health there can be no doubt...
This advice of Paul to Timothy may therefore be safely claimed as a scriptural support of the use of natural remedies for the healing of the body. Then the question naturally arises, When is it right to do so, and when not? We will apply that pure and universal law of the New Testament, "Whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all to the glory of God." Now there are some people who have never learned to see God in his creation. One brother actually wrote that if you employ any means for the restoration of the body from affliction, save faith and prayer to God, then you are not to give God any glory whatever, but all praise to the remedy. This were sensible advice if the devil or some other being besides God had created the forces of nature with their healing properties. But with the knowledge of the fact that God is the author of every good thing in the material world, it is a false and fanatical idea that he should have no thanks for any blessing derived from the use of things found in his natural storehouse. Now to any person who has been in the habit of drawing a line of distinction between God and his creation, who looks upon the use of any natural remedy as departing from God, to him it were sin to do so. In any and every way that men resort to medicinal help INSTEAD of to God, or IN PREFERENCE to God, or because not willing to get right with God, all such is dishonoring to him...
But are there no conditions under which we may use remedial helps in affliction, to the glory of God? If not, we must conclude that the Apostle Paul was not a proper representative of the faith of Christ. But we know better...We know that heavenly wisdom requires us to inform ourselves in the laws of health, and to conform thereto in eating and drinking, etc. But the advice given to Timothy, though it might come under the head of hygienic living, may properly be regarded remedial advice.
Now dear brethren, consider prayerfully what we tell you. There are conditions and reasons under which it is to the glory of God to use natural remedies for the removal of afflictions, and under which it were fanatical and superstitious to condemn men for so doing. First, it is the rule in the government of God that his creatures should not ask him to do for them, supernaturally, what they can do for themselves by the use of his gifts in nature. [For example,] it were folly to withhold our hand from sowing and planting, with the plea we should trust God for our food. But what is the difference between such folly, and that of refusing to use something which God has freely given to us, and which we know has the very elements within it to remove certain abnormal and painful conditions of our bodies? Again, we are to acknowledge God in all his works; and show our appreciation and gratitude to him for all his blessings both in his kingdom of nature and of grace. This we do by a proper, temperate, lawful, and grateful use of every thing he has given us in the storehouse of his grace, and in his world of creation, to the full extent of our knowledge of his supplies to meet our physical and spiritual wants.
It is a God-inspired and God-glorifying mind that acknowledges his hand in every good thing in nature, and that uses what Infinite Wisdom has created, to the extent these benign forces of nature are in our reach, and their virtues within our knowledge. At least to feel ourselves free to use them, and give God all the glory, just the same as if a miracle had been wrought. Let us be understood. If you know nothing in nature that will produce the desired healing effect, take the case to God in prayer and faith. If you do know any thing at hand that will heal you, be free to use it if you wish, if you feel desirous to glorify God as the all-wise Creator. But, upon the other hand, even if you possess the means, and the knowledge of their virtue, be free to let them alone and take God direct, and give him the glory as the God of all grace. If the mind has altogether associated God with the Bible, conscience will naturally lead to the promises therein for healing. But a soul that has learned to revere God both as revealed in the Bible and in his great book of nature, will feel free to glorify God in being healed either through prayer, or equally as much in the use of some of his good creation which may be at hand, and well understood.
Therefore it is all right to use God-created remedies, when the devout soul would do so wholly to the glory of God, and when to set aside their use would appear to treat with contempt the Creator of all good. All believers of the Bible should live near enough to God to take hold upon his promises for healing whenever needed. And no child of God should be so faithless as to resort to medicine or physicians because unable to believe for healing. That is a life far beneath the New Testament. And that is virtually resorting to medicine instead of to God...While this is all true, we humbly know by experience that a child of God may employ water, and such like precious gifts of God, for the removal of afflictions with a special view of giving him glory who has created these things. And, the work accomplished, the soul gives thanks, praise, and adoration to God just as devoutly as if the healing had been done by the power of God without his created means. But in all cases where saints know of no means to meet the case, or cannot conveniently procure them, or wherein they would not equally glorify God in the use of any thing as in faith and prayer only, in all such cases go to God in faith and prayer, or call for the elders. Never use means when you perceive God would be more glorified in your being healed without. But if a sincere child of God does use medicines through weakness of faith, do not reprove or rebuke such as if a sin had been committed, but labor to increase their faith to the Bible standard.
Let not such as use nature's virtues out of honor to the Creator, judge such as do not. Nor such as utterly discard all natural means judge them who employ them to the glory of God.
Nature's healing powers are however comparatively weak and limited. Nature's God is almighty and all things are possible to him that believeth.
Thus concludes Bro. Warner's article, which can be summarized as follows:
(1). It is fanatical to believe that using anything but anointing and prayer is sinful.
(2). God himself has given us certain natural remedies and knowledge to use for the care of and healing of our bodies.
(3). Those who use natural remedies should not be condemned as sinful. Those who refuse to use them should not be judged either. Neither should claim to be more spiritual or have more faith than the other.
(4). Those sincere children of God who do use medicines through weakness of faith should not be reproved, rebuked, or accused of committing sin, but should be encouraged and helped to an increase in faith.
How To Treat One Who Goes To The Hospital
It is into this last area that our discussion now moves. Bro. Warner advised that "if a sincere child of God does use medicines through weakness of faith, do not reprove or rebuke such as if a sin had been committed..." Obviously, he gave this advice because no sin has been committed. "Sin is the transgression of the law" (1 John 3:4) and "where no law is, there is no transgression" (Rom. 4:15).
There is no law or commandment in the New Testament that forbids medicine or remedies, doctors, hospitals, or such like. On the other hand, the New Testament speaks from a positive perspective: "Have faith in God" or "Call for the elders of the church." It encourages Christians to take advantage of their privilege to be healed miraculously. But that privilege is based on two things: (1) that the gifts of healing and miracles exist and are working in the church, and (2) that the sick person has the necessary faith to receive their blessing from God.
If divine healing is a privilege and not a commandment, then why do we view the failure to practice divine healing as a sin? Why do we treat as second-class saints anyone who has gone to the hospital for any reason, had a baby by Caesarian-section, used a remedy, or did something similar? Why do we say that if a minister or leader goes to the hospital he or she has backslidden? Why do we make them stop preaching, "do their first works all over again" (i.e., get saved, baptized, and sanctified again), and wait several years before they are eligible to lead again in any way?
What clear scriptural basis do we have for holding such a strong position? Once again, we have gone much farther than the Bible itself goes. In order to be sound in doctrine, our policy should be to stop where the Bible stops. The Bible stops with an encouragement for the sick person to call for the elders of the church and have them pray the prayer of faith. It does not include commandments that say if you do go to the hospital, you have backslidden. Brethren, that is one of our own inventions.
We are all familiar with Bro. Charles W. Naylor, mentioned in Part I as the songwriter of some of our most popular hymns: "The Church's Jubilee," "I'm Going On," "To Know That He Knows," "More Like Christ," "He Will Care For Me," "To God Be the Glory," "The Reformation Glory," "Spirit Holy," and many more. He also wrote the books, The Secret of the Singing Heart and Winning A Crown. Many of these works God gave him while he was a bedridden invalid, having been seriously injured at a campmeeting in 1908 and in a bus accident in 1909. From June 28, 1909, until his death on February 21, 1950, Bro. Naylor remained in bed. Here he found the grace that enabled him to write the aforementioned books.
The point we are getting to is that in the midst of all of this, Bro. Naylor went to the hospital for surgery. This he did before the official split in the church, thus before it would be possible to consider him a "compromiser." Furthermore, most of the above songs and works, all of which we sing, read, and enjoy, were written after his experiences in the hospital. Surely if he had backslidden by doing so, God would not have given him these edifying works. Furthermore, we ourselves would have had the discernment to recognize that an unsaved man had written them. But such is not the case. Listen to Bro. Charles M. Brown, Bro. Willis M. Brown's son, recount Bro. Naylor's hospital experiences:
"About three years after his last injury [thus around 1912] he went to a hospital in Indianapolis and was there for six weeks. He felt God sent him to the hospital, for He gave him a sign from heaven to go. God made the place like a little corner of heaven. On two occasions just before he was to be worked on by the surgeons as he lay praying an angel suddenly stood beside his bed. These were the most thrilling experiences of his life. He was filled with such awe and glory and so overwhelmed that he could do nothing but look at the angel. After a time the angel vanished, but during the extreme suffering which followed, he was borne above it by the glory of the Lord that filled him" (When The Trumpet Sounded, page 182).
So here we have a respected pioneer minister not only going to the hospital for surgery, but actually saying the Lord sent him there! And we have acknowledged and accepted his gifts both before and after the incident. (E.g., his songs, "I'm Going On" and "Spirit Holy" are dated 1918, and his very popular book, The Secret of the Singing Heart, is dated 1930.) Brethren, the way we would have handled him today would have been to publicly condemn him, write him a letter requiring him to "do his first works over," and stop him from preaching, teaching and writing, probably for the rest of his life. Clearly we are going farther than scriptural authority allows us. We have hindered too many of our members, leaders and laity alike, by this unscriptural, unsound treatment. Brethren, it is time we ceased this practice.
Where The Real Fault Lies
Instead, what we should be doing is trying to find out exactly why we seem no longer to have the gift of healing among us. Saints don't fear disease when there is power working in the church to heal and work miracles. The problem arises when a person gets mortally ill and doesn't know who to go to that can pray the prayer of faith that saves the sick. Or perhaps the elders were called, and the "prayer of faith" was offered, but days, weeks, months and years have passed with no results. It is then that the hospital and the physician appear to be the only alternative to death.
Brethren, if we are going to preach divine healing, we ought to be greatly concerned that what we preach can actually happen among us. If we are telling people that they should trust God to heal them of cancer, then we ought to make sure that there is power enough among us to heal them. But is there? As a group, it is now pretty obvious that we lose 99% of our cancer cases, our heart disease cases, our diabetes cases, and our high blood pressure cases. These are four serious, chronic diseases from which we seemingly offer no permanent relief. This does not mean that in every case the person dies immediately, but that once a person acquires that disease, it is almost certain that he will keep it the rest of his life and eventually die from it later. Of course, someone will be quick to point out a few cases where somebody was healed of one of these diseases, but in general, the above statements are undeniable facts. And we have not even mentioned afflictions like blindness, deafness, lameness, mental illness, etc., all of which Jesus, the apostles, and even our own pioneer ministers healed routinely. But when is the last time you saw blind eyes opened?
In James 5:14-15, the sick are instructed to "call for the elders of the church" who will "pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. The prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up," is to be the expected result. This procedure we follow to the letter. However, what is not realized is that this scripture assumes that some of these "elders" possess the gifts of healing, miracles, or faith. Somebody among them must be able to pray what is called "the prayer of faith." Every elder does not have the gifts of healing or miracles, nor can every elder pray the prayer of faith. This was true even in Bible days (e.g., the friends of Dorcas sent for Peter). Jesus' promise, "These signs shall follow them that believe...they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover," does not mean that every believer would heal the sick. Both of these scriptures simply mean that some of the believers and elders would have the gifts of healing, miracles and faith necessary to perform such works. These are the people we are to call for when we are sick.
Thus, the question of today is, Where are the people with these gifts? Where are the elders that can pray the "prayer of faith?" In whom dwells the supernatural power to open blind eyes and reverse the ravages of terminal illness, even death? What has happened to these miraculous gifts?
There are some who are labeled "fanatics," saying that this group has "compromised" and let down the standard, so they are going to stand for strictness and anti-worldliness. But do they have the power? No. There are others who are labeled "compromisers." Do they have the power? No. Then there are others who try to stand in the middle. Do they have the power? Again, no. Obviously, one's stand concerning doctrine is not the reason for the absence or presence of these gifts.
There are some who say that a lack of unity among us has hindered these gifts. Then they proceed to call for a unity based on seeing certain conscience matters "eye to eye." But it is impossible to have unity on matters of conscience, and therefore it is unrealistic even to aim for such.
Another reason given to explain the absence of supernatural gifts among us is that "faith comes by hearing," and "hearing by [the preaching of] the word of God." We don't hear enough preaching about divine healing, many would say. But the fact is, one can preach it, hear it and try to practice it, but unless God has blessed somebody with that gift, there will be no results.
There is at least one other reason that we need to consider: miraculous power is given only to those God can trust it with. The gifts of healing, miracles, and faith (1 Corinthians 12:9-10), along with the gifts of prophecy, discerning of spirits and tongues all involve supernatural manifestations. In the days of the apostles these gifts worked uninhibitedly. It was an established fact that God placed these miraculous gifts in the church for the following reasons (from Bro. F. G. Smith's work, What the Bible Teaches, pp. 200-205):
(1). The ministry of healing and miracles was part of God's plan of redemption and therefore an integral part of the gospel.
(2). It was to demonstrate God's love and compassion for suffering humanity.
(3). It was designed to confirm and approve God's true work and workers on earth.
It is this last purpose of miracles that we wish to dwell on. Such manifestations of supernatural power were necessary in order to convince men that Jesus was no ordinary man, and that his work, his church, was no ordinary church. Peter, in Acts 2:22, says that Jesus of Nazareth was "a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs." Later, Peter prays that God would continue to testify and support the word "by stretching forth thine hand to heal; and that signs and wonders may be done by the name of thy holy child Jesus" (Acts 4:30). Mark writes that "they (the apostles) went forth, and preached everywhere, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following" (Mk. 16:20). These and other scriptures indicate the confirmation role of miracles and healings in the work of God. "If I do not the works of my Father, believe me not. But if I do, though ye believe not me, believe the works..." (Jesus in John 10:37-38). "For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance..." (Paul in 1 Thessalonians 1:5). Thus, we see that the major reason for healing and miracles in apostolic times was to confirm the word, to show God's approval of the work they were doing.
This brings us to the crux of the matter: Are we really approved of God? Is our movement yet sanctioned by God? Mark writes that the disciples had the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Is the Lord working with us, or more accurately, are we working with the Lord? This then is the prerequisite for receiving the Lord's confirmation by signs: One must first be doing the Lord's work. The Lord's work is to get up, get out and preach the gospel to the world. It is not to keep the church clean, although that is a noble endeavor indeed. The Lord's prayer, purpose, and very reason for coming into this world to die was to "seek and to save that which was lost." He came to call sinners to repentance. Our chief aim and purpose is to make better saints, to hone away on the righteous until they are so finely trimmed they are almost too good to mix with the rest of the world. Jesus' work is to get out there and work, roll up your sleeves, get your hands dirty, and salvage some sinner from the junk piles of life.
Are we doing that? Is that our chief purpose, prayer and object of preaching? Is that our major emphasis? If not, then why do we think that God wants to confirm with his miracles something that is not his emphasis? Healing and miracles are for the world to see, a "sign" to convince those who don't believe. So the truth is this: As a group, we don't qualify for the supernatural power of God, because we don't plan to use it for the purpose for which it is intended. We want the power to heal to do as James 4:3 said: "To consume it upon (our) lusts," that is, to selfishly use it for ourselves, to prove to the world that "we are it." If you were God, would you give your power to a group of people with these intentions?
In view of all that has been stated in this section regarding our doctrine of divine healing, what should be our response, brethren? First of all, we should be working on changing ourselves and our group to conform to God's true will and purpose, so that we might meet the conditions for his approval. Second, we should quit condemning and harshly disciplining those who end up in the hospital or seek the physician for advice or help. If we cannot (and no one we know of can) say to them, "In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk," then we need to leave that brother or sister in the hands of God. If we can't heal them, how can we condemn them? They are sick unto death, and we can't save them and we won't let them ask the doctor to save them. Thus, in essence, we sentence them to death or a life-time of suffering. Such is a power that no person in the world should have over another person. Even if they are willing to "trust God and die," it does not relieve us from having taken on more authority than one human being should have over another.
Other Conscience Matters
The principle of "stopping where the Word stops" can also be applied to several other doctrines we feel duty-bound to uphold and defend. Some of these doctrines may have some scriptural support but not enough to justify our emphasizing them to the extent in which we do. Because they are not clearly forbidden by the New Testament, they remain largely in the realm of being matters of conscience and individual conviction. Therefore, they should not be taught dogmatically, or made to be a basis of fellowship or acceptance among the saints. Nor should they be viewed as an indication of one's spirituality or holiness.
These matters are generally taught from a standpoint that "these are the saints' traditions and standards," but if there is not much Bible to back them up, how is this set of standards any different than the creeds and disciplines found in the sectarian world? All doctrines must have the force and authority of scripture behind them in order to be sound doctrines. Any that do not have such authority should not be taught as if they do.
A. Manner of Dress
Much of our traditional "standard" pertains to the acceptable manner of dress for both men and women. This includes everything constituting the outward appearance: clothing styles, colors, fabrics, lengths, etc; adornment and accessories; manner of wearing or processing the hair; and so forth.
Most of the teaching on dress originates from Paul and Peter. "In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works" (1 Tim. 2:9-10). "Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting the hair, and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price" (1 Pet. 3:3-4).
There are two very important things we must emphasize about both 1 Tim. 2:9-10 and 1 Pet. 3:3-4. First, both passages do not refer to mere clothing (e.g., skirts, blouses, etc.), but to "adornment." According to the dictionary, adornment means the accessories worn with clothing to make one more beautiful or attractive. It refers to decoration and ornamentation. Thus, Paul and Peter are both saying, "Decorate your bodies modestly. Let your main decoration be the inward spiritual decoration of good works and a meek and quiet spirit."
Secondly, we can see that the entire passages are not forbidding adornment but emphasizing the most important adornment. This we know by our knowledge of Hebrew idioms. An idiom is a manner of speaking peculiar to a certain people of language. In this case, the idiom was a manner of speaking which would minimize a first clause in order to emphasize a second clause. Today, in order to express the thought contained in this type of idiom, we would place the word "only" in the first clause, and "also" or "rather" in the second clause. Thus, 1 Pet. 3:3-4 would read: "Let not a woman's adorning be (only) that of outward things”such as fixing her hair, wearing gold, or pearls, or apparel”but (also, rather) let it be the inward adorning of a meek and quiet spirit." With this idiom, the emphasis is on the second clause, but it does not do away with the first clause. It is in addition to it. If we interpret this verse literally and not as an idiom, then it would instruct women not only to fix their hair plain and give up their gold ornaments, but to quit wearing apparel as well!
This idiom is a common Hebraism used extensively in the Bible. A few examples follow:
John 6:27 "Labor not for the meat which perisheth, but for that meat which endureth unto everlasting life." This is an idiom obviously. Otherwise Jesus would be telling us not to work for our food. It thus means, labor not for the material necessities of life [only], but [also, rather] for that which will endure unto everlasting life.
Gen. 45:8 "So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God." But Joseph's brothers did send him to Egypt. Understanding the idiom, it could be worded: "So now it was not you [only] that sent me here, but it was God [also, rather]."
Exodus 16:2 "...your murmurings are not against us, but against the Lord." But the people really were murmuring against Moses and Aaron. Thus, the idiom means: "...your murmurings are not against us [only] but against the Lord [also, rather]."
Mark 9:37 "Whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me, but him that sent me." Taken literally, Jesus would be contradicting himself: "Whosoever shall receive me does not receive me." We definitely know that was not his meaning, and recognize the idiom to mean: "Whosoever shall receive me, receiveth not me [only], but him that sent me [also, rather]."
Acts 5:4 "Thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God." Of course, Ananias did lie to men, but the emphasis is on the fact he lied to God. Thus, the idiom means: "You have not lied to men [only], but you have lied to God [also, rather]."
There are numerous other examples of this Hebrew idiom: Gen. 32:28; 1 Sam. 8:7; Joel 2:13; John 4:21-23; John 12:44; John 11:4; 1 Corinthians 15:10; 1 John 3:18; Luke 14:12-14; and others. With these examples in mind, we thus understand the idioms of 1 Tim. 2:9-10 and 1 Pet. 3:3-4 to mean: "Christian women should not [only, merely] decorate themselves outwardly, but [rather] should place greater emphasis on making themselves beautiful with good works."
Thus, while we cannot conclude that 1 Tim. 2:9 forbids ornamentation, we can say that it upholds the principle of modesty. In fact, modesty is the main New Testament principle concerning dress. Also, note that both Peter and Paul give their advice to women. It would be difficult if not impossible to find a New Testament scripture concerning dress for men. So in general, we apply Paul's principle of modesty to both women and men. This principle of modesty involves two concepts: (1) decency, which means covering the body so that what is worn is not sexually suggestive or encouraging sexual imaginations, and (2) moderation, which means balanced and not going to either extreme, that is, showing neither pride on one hand (by costliness, showiness, or even aggressive behavior), or lack of self-respect on the other hand (by shabbiness, drabness, etc). These two aspects of modesty, decency and moderation, cover not only manner of dress, but most everything else in life”behavior, speech, possessions, attitude, etc.
The problem with modesty, however, is that some of its elements are relative in nature. That is, modesty, decency and moderation can vary from person to person, place to place, age to age, and culture to culture. There is no iron-clad standard for everybody everywhere for every time. In old China, exposure of the upper-class women's tiny feet was regarded as most indecent. Such were considered the most sexually stimulating parts of the body. In early Japan, a woman's eyebrows were considered as among her greatest charms, thus prompting some husbands to shave their brides' eyebrows off in an attempt to make them unattractive to other men. In traditional Islamic countries, women must cover their faces with veils to be modest. In some foreign fields, a missionary might preach in short pants and a cool, blousy, short-sleeve top in common with his audience in areas of extreme heat and humidity”yet in other places this would seem quite out of place. Here in America, a skirt extending several inches below the knees, which all of us would consider modest now, would have been considered highly improper during the 1800's, when dresses extended almost to the ground. When those dresses were shortened a few inches, it is said some men became embarrassed at the sight of a woman's ankle. Later, when those hems were shortened even more”though they were still below the knee”some became even more alarmed. As one writer said: "The cry of Sodom and Gomorrah went up from every pulpit in the country."
This is all written to show that some aspects of modesty are relative to and dependent on people, places, time periods, cultures, and circumstances. For this reason, manner of dress is largely a matter of conscience and conviction. The New Testament gave only one general guideline”modesty”and God reserves the right to interpret exactly what that means to each individual Christian. It is therefore the duty of each individual Christian to know whether the way he or she dresses is pleasing to God or not. It is the responsibility of each one to stay open-hearted and open-minded to God for his convictions regarding dress. (But of course, this is the normal attitude for every Christian to have concerning everything else in life!) And it is the duty of all the rest of us not to judge each other on conscience matters. To our own Master we each stand or fall (Rom 14:4).
Thus, when examining a particular item or type of dress, a certain length, color, or fabric, a specific accessory worn with one's clothing, a certain hairstyle or way of processing the hair (curling, pressing, perming, trimming, etc.), or any other outward mode of dress, the questions then should be: (1) Is it decent? and (2) Does it show moderation? That is, Is it modest? The answer that each individual receives from God is the answer the church must allow him or her to live by.
Obviously, since the above questions can be answered only by the individual Christian, not everyone will come up with the same dress code. To some, this may present a problem, but, by failing to get specific, the New Testament left it largely to individual taste, preference, and conviction within the general guideline of modesty. When we try to legislate or formulate a national church standard we risk falling into one of two snares:
(1). Extremism - For example, all skirt hems must be ten inches above the floor regardless to the women's height. Or, all sleeves must be a certain length, regardless to the person, the job at hand, or the climate. We disregard the notion that even God is concerned about the practicality and comfortableness of one's clothing, as shown in his advice to the priests: "...No wool shall come upon them...They shall not gird themselves with anything that causeth sweat" (Ezek. 44:17, 18).
(2). Inconsistency - For example, we will put plain, out-of style clothes on our girls, but we will buy our boys a $100 pair of the most stylish athletic shoes. Or, we will wear gold or silver-colored belt buckles but refuse gold or silver-colored eyeglasses, wristwatches, or buttons. We'll wear bows, tassels, buckles, and other decorations on our shoes, but condemn putting similar decorations on our clothing. We'll make the necktie an abomination because it is an "unnecessary" article of dress, but we'll wear vests, hats, scarves, and other items just as unnecessary, especially on hot days.
Keep in mind that all of these items and issues are non-essential to salvation, i.e., they don't save or unsave a person. The New Testament, by not explicitly commanding concerning them, does not elevate them to the level of sin. Therefore, they must be considered matters of conscience. That being the case, to avoid both extremism and inconsistency, the church should teach only the New Testament principle of modesty”and stop there. Leave the item-by-item interpretations to the Holy Spirit.
The Truth about the Necktie
While we are on the issue of dress, it would be good to discuss briefly the topic of the necktie. Many of us would like to believe and have been told that there is some scriptural basis for our policy of condemning it. But such is not the case, and never has been. That is, there has never been a sound scriptural reason provided to condemn the necktie, from the beginning of this reformation until now. Let us use the Gospel Trumpet paper itself to trace the history of the policy against the tie and see where it came from.
This reformation was born during the time of a great holiness movement throughout the world. Many of the early brethren, including Bro. Warner, were members of various holiness groups and alliances before they began the present church of God movement. The competitive spirit was evident in all of the various groups associated with the holiness movement, as they sought to outdo each other in practicing ascetic (strict) disciplines. No group wanted to be accused of being less holy than another. The Free Methodist church, for example, which began in 1860, was particularly strict in teaching that clothing should be plain, modest, and never costly. They condemned all adornment such as pearls, gold, and other jewelry, and in some parts of the country they preached against neckties. Obviously, when specific items such as these were placed on the forbidden list by one group the same emphasis would quickly be adopted by others in order to avoid accusations of "letting down the standard."
Sometimes encounters actually led to bargaining between the parties involved! On one occasion, Bro. E. E. Byrum tells when Bro. Warner and a few of the brethren were harshly condemning sectarianism and creedalism. Some of the other holiness people present responded by accusing Bro. Warner and his friends of conforming to the world, "demanding that they lay aside their collars, cuffs, and neckties as ˜superfluities,' quoting James 1:21." The sectarians refused to listen to the "come-out" message unless the Church of God preachers "measured up." "The ministers and brethren without further consideration removed their collars, cuffs and neckties, and cast them into the stove, in order that the people they were trying to reach might be without excuse." (Bro. E. E. Byrum, "Customs and Traditions," Gospel Trumpet, July 1, 1915, p. 3-11)
Bro. Charles E. Brown, son of Willis M. Brown, reported a similar incident when Bro. Warner was challenged by a Free Methodist who agreed to give up his membership in the Free Methodist sect if Bro. Warner agreed to give up his necktie. He noted that Bro. Warner quickly removed the offending article of clothing (see When Souls Awaken, by C. E. Brown). We have no record, however, that God told him to take it off.
Thus, we see that the case against the necktie was brought about, not by sound scriptural principles, but by spiritual bargaining agreements and competition among the holiness groups, which included the Church of God. It was not Holy Ghost convictions that the brethren themselves received from God, but the attempt not to offend those they were trying to win, that caused them to lay aside their neckties.
Bro. Warner, however, according to Bro. Byrum, never did make the absence of the tie a test of fellowship. In an article entitled "A Warning to the Church" (Gospel Trumpet, February 19, 1914, p. 3), Bro. Byrum mentions an individual who was closely associated with Bro. Warner "who was by him recognized and fellowshipped as a true saint of God," but who "wore a tie until the day of his death."
Leaving off the tie was not without its problems, however, especially when the detachable collar was also removed. Soon the brethren found their suit-coat collars were being soiled quickly and ruined. So they concluded that God would be more glorified if they wore a collar and thereby observe cleanliness. The collar without a tie, though, left a collar button exposed which was usually brass. Since it looked like gold, which was also forbidden, they had to find a source for buying bone buttons which were white. Soon the men also began wearing high-cut vests which almost took the place of a tie but did not carry the same stigma. Within a few years they were also wearing shirt cuffs again but the tie alone remained an article of worldly adornment which was considered unnecessary and an indication of a proud heart. (This account we find in "Customs and Traditions" mentioned above.)
On June 7, 1911, a meeting attended by twenty-five ministers (including Bros. Willis M. Brown, N. S. Duncan, J. E. Forest, C. E. Orr, H. M. Riggle, F. G. Smith, and E. E. Byrum), was held at the Church of God campmeeting, concluding "that liberty be given to it (the tie) being worn by those whose consciences do not forbid their doing so on occasions when their business or other extreme circumstances require it" (C. B. Brown, When The Trumpet Sounded, p. 362). Thus, even though they admitted that there was no good reason to change the then-current policy of no ties, neither was there enough Bible to make it a sin under all circumstances and situations.
In other words, it was a matter of conscience, so the general body of ministers quit standing so strongly against the tie. This reluctance to enforce conscience matters is what led to open revolt and schism by the part of the church of which we are now members. The question then was and still is: When the Bible itself leaves loop-holes (conscience matters), do we have the power and authority to close them? What gives us the authority to forbid what God himself does not forbid by clear commandments in his Word?
B. Eating and Drinking
Another area in which we go beyond the New Testament concerns acceptable diet: labeling certain foods or drinks as sinful. By doing so, our doctrine becomes very unsound and inconsistent. If we use a certain scripture or principle to condemn one food, then all other foods that fall into the same category ought to be condemned as well. However, our past practice has been to label some foods as wrong, but let others escape condemnation, although they all violate the same principle.
For example, our practice has generally been to condemn coffee, tea, and cola (Coke, Pepsi, RC, etc.) because their caffeine content makes them harmful to the body and addictive. Some of us also condemn chocolate for the same reasons. (The truth is, coffee, tea and cola do have fairly large amounts of caffeine, but chocolate contains only a negligible amount, and should not be feared.) The principle we use here is the "sanctity of the body" argument found in 1 Corinthians 6: "...all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any...What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's." We reason that anything that harms or destroys the body, or that creates a physical addiction, does not glorify God and thus violates this principle.
This is a sound biblical principle. The problem arises, however, when it comes to applying it consistently. Are Coke, coffee, and tea the only foods and drinks that harm the body? Are there not many other things in our diets that are more harmful to the body than all of the above drinks? Is caffeine the only habit-forming substance found in our food? What about sugar and salt? If you don't believe they form habits, try doing without them for a while! But do we preach against and condemn these things as vigorously as we condemn coffee? If not, then we are being very inconsistent.
Pork has been known to be harmful to the body since the time of the Old Testament. Lots of salt in one's diet is known to be extremely harmful, aggravating, perhaps even causing, high blood pressure. Sugar, and the cakes, pies, donuts, jellies, sodas, candy, and other sweets made from sugar, are all known to be unhealthy. Greasy, fried, fatty foods, which dominate the American diet, are established health risks. Additive-laden, highly-spiced, processed foods are known dangers. Even too many eggs can contribute to high-cholesterol and clogged arteries. The list could go on and on.
It is an established fact that the above foods cause or contribute to the following diseases, which kill and afflict millions of people (including saints), each year: heart disease, high-blood pressure (which causes strokes, blindness, kidney failure, dizziness, headaches, etc.), diabetes, obesity (overweight), cancer, high-cholesterol, and several other serious aliments. Most of our serious health problems are diet-related, as most any doctor will tell you.
But how many sermons have you heard exhorting saints to stay away from pork chops and bacon, table salt, sugar-laden desserts, fried chicken and greasy gravy, and the like. On the other hand, how many campmeetings have you attended where such was the main diet served to the saints? But they wouldn't have dared to serve coffee, tea or Coke. Brethren, this is a glaring inconsistency. We are literally eating ourselves to death, and nobody says much of anything but "stay away from coffee, tea and Coke." There are saints who will come sit on the altar next Sunday for "healing" whose biggest problem is their appetite. There are saints in their graves today because they couldn't stay away from fried chicken and gravy.
There is even more to this inconsistency. So far, we have not even mentioned the other unhealthy physical practices we all engage in: overeating (saints, like most Americans, are generally overweight), failing to get adequate rest, and failing to get the physical exercise needed to re-create the body. These practices take a far greater toll on our bodies than coffee, tea or Coke could ever do. The inconsistency is that we emphasize one side and keep silent about the other. Truly, we are "straining at a gnat and swallowing a camel."
The main point we are getting to is this: We do not preach against fried chicken, glazed donuts, etc. because that would not be the balanced way to do it. We can only preach moderation and the use of good, sanctified judgment. What to eat, how much to eat, what foods to avoid, and similar decisions are individual decisions. We do not have enough Bible to legalistically write a list of forbidden and permissible foods. Unless a food or drink is clearly forbidden in the New Testament, God reserves for himself the right to tell each Christian what he should or should not eat for health reasons. And that list will vary from Christian to Christian. For example, one piece of ham might nearly kill one person, make another one only dizzy, and have absolutely no effect on a third. For some, it may hurt them only if they eat a large quantity of ham. Thus, it may displease God for some people to eat certain foods because it affects them harmfully. But for others, it may be perfectly all right. The whole issue is between that person and God.
Thus, whether it is acceptable to partake of coffee, tea, cola, pork, fried chicken, chocolate, salt, jelly rolls, or whatever, is a matter of conscience and conviction between the individual and God alone. It is not a matter of church doctrine. The church's biblical authority extends no farther than to teach moderation and glorification of God in everything we do: "Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Corinthians 10:31). And keep in mind that such a non-essential issue never should have been emphasized in the first place, seeing that, as Paul said, "...the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Rom. 14:17).
C. Sports and Recreation
Another area in which we have a had a tendency to go beyond the Bible concerns sports and recreation. Some have condemned even young children playing ball and other games. They feel like all of a Christian's time belongs to the Lord, and sports and recreational activities waste God's time. After all, didn't Paul say that "bodily exercise profiteth little"? Didn't Peter command us to "be sober"? Some say it's all right for children to play, but adults should "put away childish things" and avoid such activities. Others say it's fine for everybody to play, but just don't organize it or permit competition, because that's "emulation."
The question then becomes, Is it or is it not wrong to engage in sports and recreation? What does the Bible really say? What did the pioneers really say? Specifically, did the "old time truth" really condemn sports and recreation?
Once again for enlightenment, we turn to Bro. Thomas Nelson's book, Home, Health, and Success, Chapter XX: "Recreation and Amusements." We find that the "old time truth" did not condemn recreation, but rather encouraged it:
"Although life should be looked upon from the standpoint of reality and seriousness, and although children should be taught in a sensible and sober way so as to make them able to meet and grapple with the many serious problems of life they are sure to meet; yet parents should not overlook the fact that while ˜Life is real, Life is earnest,' and by no means all play, there is great danger of taking life too seriously and of forgetting that a part of it should be spent in play, recreation, or something that will amuse and cheer up our minds. We might use the expression, ˜Children should not be made old too soon,' and yet it will hardly suffice without an explanation; for the truth is that nature demands recreation for the old as well as for the young. So in this respect it would do to say that children should never get old. No one can constantly perform hard labor with either body or mind without injury. The muscles must have some time to relax from the strain of labor, and for this reason we lay down upon our beds and sleep every night for so many hours out of every twenty-four. The mind cannot stand even as much nor as long a strain as the body, and therefore it must not only be released from all serious problems of life by sleep, but be allowed some time to indulge in something that serves as amusement and pleasure, or it can not long remain in a normal and healthy condition. No doubt many victims of our insane asylums have become such by failing to find any time or anything to amuse and cheer themselves.
"A right amount of recreation [is] needed. The mind has a wonderful influence on the body, therefore a proper amount of amusing and cheering recreation is absolutely necessary for the good of both mind and body. Even Christ with the serious problem of the salvation of mankind before him, did not forget that the mind as well as the body needed rest and recreation; for when the people were thronging him from all sides, he said to his disciples, ˜Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest a while.' He wanted them to get away from the mental strain and the serious thoughts produced by constantly beholding and laboring with those who were sick and suffering, to a place where they could enjoy nature and nature's God, and thus obtain the needed rest and recreation. This should serve as a lesson for parents, especially Christian parents. There is great danger at the present time of wanting to spend too much time in whatever line of work we are engaged in, forgetting not only the necessity of recreation and rest, but also that more work will be accomplished and more good will be done by taking time to heed nature's demands for rest and recreation. If Christ and his disciples could leave the great and good work they were doing, surely we can leave ours much more easily; and if we fail to do so, we will suffer for it in some way.
"Some psychological writers put it thus: ˜Eight hours for work, eight hours for sleep, and eight hours for recreation.' Whether it is absolutely necessary for everyone to spend this much time in recreation I will not say; but I will say again that if people would spend less time in work and more time in play, they not only would be happier and enjoy life better, but would live longer and consequently do more work...[Play] is nature's way of development; and if hindered or stopped it will hinder or stop development. So if you do not want to retard the mental and bodily development of your children, see that they are allowed to play as well as work; and not only this, but you must encourage them to play, by providing the proper means and places.
"Parents should take interest in their children's plays. Do not be afraid to stop your work and throw off the cares of life long enough to make arrangements for playthings and for playgrounds or places of some kind for your children to amuse themselves; and to go a little farther, do not be afraid to stop long enough each day to join them in their play or help them plan out some new and interesting plays. This will more than pay in the happiness and pleasure it yields not only to the children, but also to the parents.
"...We should be just as careful to provide playthings and to take an interest in our children's plays and sports as we are to see after other lines of training. If we do not, we shall be the cause of their seeking recreation and pleasure away from home and under wrong influences. Nature is like a river”you may dam its currents from bank to bank, but in so doing you cause it to overflow and cut a new channel, thereby producing disaster and ruin.
"...You should provide the place, set the time, and choose the modes, means, and companions for your children's play and sports; and in doing so you must be wise and considerate, and not think it a kind of side issue with which you need not bother yourself much...
"Some are very strenuous and thoughtless in condemning games of different kinds, because these are carried on in a wrong manner in places of so-called amusements. Many mistakes are made in this matter. Singing should not be condemned because of the foul songs of the harlot; neither should sports be condemned because they have been used for gambling or because they are carried to excess by some. The proper thing to do is to take away the gambling and the excess, and then if the game is harmless and good, not only to allow our children to play it, but to provide it for them. There is no real objection to ball playing for boys and young men, and to croquet and tennis for girls. And perhaps other sports are in themselves just as harmless. However, in allowing such games great care should be taken that they are not carried on to excess nor for the purpose of emulation...Parents should see that moderation is practiced in all games and sports they allow for their children and that the purpose”physical and mental recreation”is not lost sight of.
"Parents should take an interest in such games and sports as they allow for their children, if not by actual participancy, at least by their presence whenever possible...
"Make the children happy, and they not only will make you happy in return, but will be much easier to train in the way they should go. Remember that it is necessary that young people, and even old people, be provided with something which serves as recreation for mind and body, and that it is the duty of the parents to do their very best in this respect as in all others."
Thus concludes Bro. Nelson's chapter on recreation and amusement. In his discourse he gave us enough principles to refute the idea that recreation violates Peter's advice to "be sober" or Paul's comment that "bodily exercise profiteth little." He helped us see that although physical recreation won't take us to heaven, it is still a very vital and necessary part of our lives down here, and as such, we should take our recreation seriously and soberly. Recreating our bodies and minds is actually included in Peter's advice to "be sober."
Bro. Nelson also answered those who claim that recreation is "child's play." Both the young and the old should engage in some type of recreation. He also advised that we take it seriously enough to spend some time planning and organizing it, thus answering those who think play is all right as long as one does not organize it.
The idea of "emulation" is one that should be dealt with more extensively. As we said earlier, many object to sports and recreation because of the emulation factor. Emulation is a work of the flesh, according to Gal. 5:20. Many define it to include "competition." But upon examination of the Greek, the literal translation of the word is "jealousy." It does not mean "competition" at all. Nearly every translation of the New Testament translates the word as "jealousy." Only the King James Version calls it "emulation." Even if we take the KJV translation in its original context, we must keep in mind that the "emulation" referred to here is a "deadly serious striving against another motivated by feelings of jealousy and malice." It does not refer to the competition found in a non-serious game between friends.
Thus, competition in itself is not condemned by the Bible. There are few games or sports which do not involve a degree of competition. Paul himself mentioned some of them. Most all of them have a winner and a loser. Far from being something negative, competition provides the opportunity to help one learn the following positive lessons: how to persevere to the end, how to keep winning from being everything, good sportsmanship (or how to lose gracefully), how to improve one's own skills and knowledge, etc. Jealousy need not even enter the picture.
There is one last point to be made concerning recreation. In today's world, there are many more sports and games and forms of amusement than in Bro. Nelson's day. But the guidelines he provided are still relevant and sound: keep out the excess, practice moderation, and most forms of recreation are harmless. Brethren, this is something the church should remember. With a little more concentration in this area, providing better programs for its youth, the church could keep a lot more of those who grow up and grow away from the church.
D. Television, Video, and Films
It is not to be argued that most of today's TV programming, videos and films are corrupt and not fit for Christian”or human”consumption and contemplation. It cannot be denied that much valuable time”personal time, family time and spiritual time”is wasted watching things that are trivial, frivolous and downright evil. Today's TV programming glorifies sin, sexual impurity, deviant lifestyles and other vices that should be kept under cover, desensitizes everyone to violence and evil, ridicules the sacred, promotes selfish pleasure-seeking and materialism, and makes media addicts of most everyone who watch it. It is an established fact that the more TV children watch, the worse they do in school. It affects their time spent studying, their moral values, their ability and desire to concentrate on the mundane subjects taught in school. Its affect on our society has been most profound.
None of this is to be argued or questioned. What is to be questioned is our policy of throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Also, we must question our practice of strong-arm enforcement tactics. In these two areas we tend to go beyond the New Testament.
By "throwing the baby out with the bathwater" we refer to the policy that says since TV programming is generally evil, the TV itself is evil and should be banned. This is faulty reasoning. The TV programming includes the soap operas, comedy shows, movies, news, and other programs that one watches. The TV itself is nothing but an electronic device that can be used to receive such programs. It may be used for other things as well, e.g., as a computer monitor, as a monitor for a video cassette recorder, as a closed circuit TV monitor (as in the bank and other places of business), as a screen on which one can play games, as a receiver of educational programming, etc. The use depends upon the user.
And thus the evil depends upon the use. For this reason, we cannot scripturally condemn the TV, only the evil ways in which it may be used. At that point, we must stop, for it is not our place to scrutinize just what our brother may be doing with his TV. He may be watching only the news, or he may be using it as a monitor for one of the reasons mentioned above. He may be showing only religious videos from the local Bible bookstore with his VCR. He may be using it as an educational tool for his home-schooled children. Or he may rarely even turn it on for any purpose. It is all his business, not ours.
This brings us to the second point to be questioned: our practice of strong-arm enforcement. Because of past ministerial agreements, we have decided to enforce the rule that everybody found having a TV in the home is walking behind light, is not a good example of a saint, and is not qualified to hold office or positions of influence in our congregations. Accordingly, there have been house to house searches, with saints spying on each other to find out who has what in his house. Some have even carried around little notebooks containing the names of those violating the TV rule. Preachers, teachers, deacons, trustees, singers and other gifted and willing workers have been stripped of their duties and silenced until they measured up.
The problem is, we have done this without the necessary reasonable considerations called for. Some have had unsaved wives or husbands, unsaved fully grown children, and other conditions in their homes that should have been considered, but were not. Some have been forced to choose between losing their wives or losing the approval of the saints (and thus the freedom to exercise the gift they know God gave them). Some we have forced to "sit down" for years, waiting until their wives or children died or left them. Some of these wives have even been told things like, "You are in a dangerous place, hindering God from using your husband by keeping that TV in your house." The implication is that God just might strike them down dead in order to make the husband free to preach again. Brethren, how we can believe that God backs us up in this area is hard to understand. Neither his Word nor his Spirit support such practices.
Furthermore, we have pressured pastors and overseers to pressure their people concerning the TV. A pastor who does not enforce the TV rule is generally not very well received by other ministers. Thus, when certain brethren come to town, some pastors have been known to relieve some of their members of their duties. This, to please the brethren. It is also true that at least one new congregation has been expected to sign papers promising to uphold our TV rule before it was fully accepted as a true Evening Light congregation.
A couple of points should also be spoken concerning the hypocrisy and inconsistency that occur as a result of unsound practices. The first is that some of our most popular ministers have had TV's but very few of us know it. Still we go about shouting "Amen!" to their messages, acknowledging that they are very anointed. Will we grow silent and change our opinions when we find out they have TV's? If the TV is so evil and we are so spiritual, why is it we cannot discern when a minister or other saint has been using one?
The second point is that we all have radios, but the programming on many radio programs is just as evil as that on TV. Much of the music and lyrics played on radio today are so sexually explicit and tainted with Satanism that some stations and performers have been sued for causing youth to commit suicide, the courts have banned some songs and singers, etc. Still, we all have radios. But we control them by listening only to decent programming. And we don't practice setting aside those gospel workers or saints that own radios. Those are sensible policies.
In conclusion, we must say that the TV is one of the most powerful teaching tools known to man. Its capacity to make contact with large masses of people is unsurpassed by any other medium. Instead of avoiding it, we should be thinking about how we might use it to the advantage of the cause of Jesus Christ: as a means of spreading the gospel by preaching and teaching on it, as a way to announce our revivals to the entire city, (in combination with a VCR) as a training and educational tool, as a tool to show evangelistic films, etc. Brethren, if we ever plan to become more of an influence in this world, we will surely have to use these media sooner or later.
E. Miscellaneous Doctrines
We have several other doctrines in which we go beyond the word of God, but still strongly emphasize. Some of them are listed below:
Formal Bible Training”Throughout our history we have resisted the idea of a minister receiving formal Bible instruction in some type of preacher's training school or college. We have labeled them "preacher factories" or "cemeteries," which turn out lots of "D. D.'s," meaning "dumb dogs" (Isaiah 56:10), not "Doctors of Divinity." The titles and degrees may be dispensable, but the idea that preachers could benefit from training, instruction, and preparation for their work is a New Testament concept in every respect. "Study to show thyself approved unto God..." (2 Tim. 2:15) and "...give attendance to reading..." (1 Tim. 4:13). This preparation was to be done under the tutelage or guidance of someone more knowledgeable. Paul trained Timothy, Titus, and others; Jesus trained the twelve disciples. There is nothing in the scripture that says it must be done on an individual basis, and cannot be done as a group, in a school-like setting.
Realizing the importance of proper training for effective ministry, Bro. D. S. Warner before his death made detailed plans to establish a college for young gospel workers. This we know from several sources, one being The Birth of A Reformation by Bro. A. L. Byers: "Among the last things that engaged his mind was the arranging of a system of Bible-study. It is evident that he had in mind some sort of training-school, for he had planned courses in history, music, penmanship, etc., in addition to Bible-study" (page 453).
Bro. C. M. Brown recounts even more details. "There is good evidence that D. S. Warner began to change his mind on the subject of ministerial education...toward the end of his life. On Sunday, October 13, 1895, Warner preached at the Grand Junction campground a lengthy sermon on wisdom. N. H. Byrum, who heard the sermon wrote: ˜During the course of his talk he spoke about the need of training young workers for the ministry and said that he felt God directing him to start a Bible school on the campground that ministers and workers might be better fitted to go forth for God. The night of December 5 of that year was the appointed time for the opening of the Bible school. Myself and a number of other workers from the Trumpet office assembled at the campground schoolhouse. Someone brought word that Brother Warner was not feeling well and could not be there. The assembled students departed, and Brother Warner's dreams and anticipations for a Bible school did not materialize.'"
What happened is that Bro. Warner died seven days later, December 12, 1895. By December 26 of that same year, the radical element had taken over and eliminated the idea of a Bible training school for the next 22 years. "Some have asked if we have a theological school here. We answer ˜No,' neither do we expect to have" (Bro. E. E. Byrum, Gospel Trumpet). The fact remains then and now, however, that there never was anything wrong with "preachers school." In fact, it was a good idea, and this was recognized long ago by one of God's premier ministers.
Preachers' Salaries and Compensation”At the beginning of this reformation, much negative feeling existed against set salaries for ministers. In fact, there was a lot of negative feeling about ministers getting any money at all. Because most of the early brethren had come out of sectism, in which money was sometimes begged, cajoled, and even extorted from the people, the whole topic of money has been somewhat taboo among us. This backlash effect against money has persisted down through the years to the present time. This is why we in general do not teach tithing, preach about giving only reluctantly, traditionally have small and needy chapels, sometimes have trouble paying our church bills, look askance at many saints that prosper”and refuse to pay our preachers a salary.
Originally, we were trying to avoid what the pioneers called a "hireling ministry." So ministers were given small, often sporadic donations, depending on whether someone felt that "God told me to give this to you." It might have been a dollar or two, a chicken, a coat, some clothes for his children, or something similar. The minister was expected to take whatever was given with immense gratitude, and be just as faithful as ever in his responsibilities, both spiritual and temporal. We have improved over the years, but some of the old brethren we nearly starved to death. In the process, we wore them out before their time and permanently embittered many of their children by this lack of support.
In trying to avoid having a "hireling ministry," we have nearly avoided having a ministry at all. Most of our ministers, including many if not most pastors, are bivocational. That is, they must work forty hours a week at secular jobs, and preach, study and serve the congregation in their spare time. It is impossible to fulfill all of their spiritual responsibilities while holding down a secular job. Therefore, most bivocational preachers are forced to make some adjustments in the spiritual responsibilities they take on. They limit their duties to preaching on Sundays, visiting only those who are ill, eliminating personal evangelistic efforts, and attending revivals only on weekends or annual vacations. They don't have a lot of time to study and pray. The additional effect of having part-time preachers is that it is sometimes difficult to find an evangelist who has a vacation during the time a congregation might want to hold a meeting.
However, none of this should be this way. In a materialistic society such as ours, the preacher should be supported at least to the level of the average congregational member. (He should not be the poorest one there.) Furthermore, in a world regulated by payment schedules and deadlines, his income should be regular as well, both in amount and in timing. This is only fair and reasonable. But any income that is regular in amount and timing is, according to our standards, a salary.
The question then is, What is wrong with a preacher getting a salary? What does the New Testament say against it? The answer is, Absolutely nothing. The New Testament makes it clear that preachers are to be paid for their spiritual labors, but it never mentions how they are to be paid. Thus, it is left up to the congregation and the preacher to agree on the details of the compensation. If the congregation wants to pay their minister a regular salary, there is nothing in the word of God to forbid it. By forbidding salaries, we have gone beyond the word of God. And we all”congregations, ministers, and this movement as a whole”have suffered greatly for it.
The preacher's future should also be taken under consideration. If he gets too old to function as pastor, some type of support should still be provided for him. This is only fair and just after a life-time of faithful service to a congregation. Also, if he dies, it is reasonable that the church look out for his widow. This may sound like a pension, which scares some people as much or more than the concept of a preacher's salary. But the fact remains that neither are forbidden by the word of God.
Music in the church”Historically, our movement has taught against the use of musical instruments in our church services. It is perfectly all right to sing a cappella if we choose to do so, but it goes beyond the Bible when we believe and teach that we are required to do so. We are going too far when we think that Christians who do use instruments are wrong, or that we are more spiritual or closer to the true church by not using instruments. The simple fact is that the Bible does not condemn musical instruments in worship services: the Old Testament actually emphatically encourages their use (e.g., Psalm 150), and the New Testament is mostly silent concerning their use.
Thus, we have no direct scriptural basis for not having music in the church. We do have our historical tradition, and we do have the fact that it is probably our personal preference not to have music in the church. But we do not have a scriptural basis to forbid it. In fact, there is much evidence to support the idea that Paul's injunctions to sing "psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your hearts (Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16) actually included Greek words that, according to Strong's Hebrew and Greek Dictionaries, mean to sing songs accompanied by musical instruments, specifically stringed instruments that are "twitched or twanged. We will see this interpretation in several non-KJV New Testament translations.
There are some who will say that musical instruments are wrong because an instrument cannot worship God. For example, a piano does not worship God, being inanimate. But neither does the human voice worship God for that matter. Both the voice and the piano are instruments used by a human being to make sounds. God is not concerned about the sounds, but about the heart of the human making the sounds. A person with a beautiful voice but a sinful heart does not worship God any more than a piano. It's not the sound, be it animate or inanimate, but the condition of the soul and spirit of the one making the sound that determines whether or not God is worshipped. For this reason, Paul wrote: "...singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord" (Eph. 5:19). Jesus, too, said: "They that worship (God) must worship him in spirit and in truth" (John 4:24).
This is not a plea or justification for us to start using music in our worship services. It is merely a statement showing why we cannot say using music is sinful or that not using music makes us more like the true church. Neither is this designed to overlook the fact that musical instruments can be misused, to the detriment of the worship of God. Such we all know is currently happening in the religious world today. But still we cannot say with Bible authority that God is against the use of musical instruments in the church or worship services.
Tying It All Together
It is needful that we conclude Part Two by tying together everything said thus far. We have shown that our major emphasis should be the reaching out and saving of the lost, but that in actual practice our major emphasis is the preservation of the Evening Light doctrine. We have rallied around a system of doctrines and beliefs rather than around the primary purpose of the church. Instead of being in a sharing and expansion mode we are in a maintaining and preserving mode. We have shown that this is a deadly distraction, sapping the spiritual strength and effectiveness of our entire group.
We thus deemed it necessary to review many of the various doctrines which we seek to preserve, and to show how in many ways this causes us to go beyond the Bible itself. These items and issues were discussed because:
1. These are the things that drew us together in the first place. They are our purpose for existence, seeing that our group was formed for the express purpose of holding to the "standard." This "standard" consists of various beliefs and teachings, most of which are not matters of absolute sin but matters of conscience. We have seen that the preservation of a system of conscience matters is not a biblically sound foundation for a religious movement.
2. In addition to drawing us together, these doctrines have also served to tear us apart. These are the things about which we beat and condemn each other. Historically, they have been the biggest causes of division among us. This is because we have tried to do the impossible: to achieve "unity" on matters of conscience. All too often we have tried to impose one conviction on everybody, not realizing that on matters where the Bible is not explicit, liberty must be given to the Holy Spirit to convict the heart and conscience of each individual. We do not have the authority to close the loopholes that the Bible leaves open, no matter how important we deem a matter to be. To attempt to do so only causes us to go beyond the scripture and introduces controversy and division. Division comes from emphasizing conscience matters instead of primary purposes.
3. These are the things that not only distract us from our primary mission, but weaken the church's position in other ways: They require the church to take stands and preach doctrines that it cannot defend from a sound, biblical basis. Too many of these issues require us to go beyond the word of God to support. Although we have not emphasized this point, this is in essence the definition of fanaticism: to go beyond God's word.
In light of these observations, brethren, it must be concluded that the Evening Light movement has gotten far, far off track, and must make several radical changes in theology and practice to get back to where God wants it to be.
True Bible Unity
One of the first and foremost needs is the understanding of what true biblical unity actually consists of. God never intended for Bible unity to depend on whether or not we all wear long sleeves, or whether or not we wear neckties, or whether or not some feel like it's fine to wear their wedding rings. Actually, we should all be embarrassed for underestimating that the great God of the universe would send his only begotten Son to die in this ridiculous world we live in, having little more in mind than to save people from things like drinking Pepsi, eating chocolate and wearing shoes with the toes out!
Unity is not perfect agreement on every specific thing. Unity is recognizing and acknowledging that in many things differences will inevitably and unalterably occur. Unity is making allowances in love for those differences rather than trying to eliminate or forcibly change the people that are different. Unity is expecting the same opinion on the essentials of salvation (that is, those things that the Bible clearly states must be done for salvation), but allowing for differences on non-essentials (that is, those things that the Bible does not clearly make necessary for salvation).
Our main point here is not to cause or increase controversy about the various doctrines discussed herein. Our purpose is to point us all beyond such controversy, to help us see that these doctrines are not essential enough to warrant our hindering of the work of God. They are not sufficient grounds for Christians throughout our movement or throughout the world to separate over. We are not pleasing God by taking "holier than thou" attitudes towards each other because of such doctrines; we are pleasing ourselves.
Therefore, let us take our stand for the high standards of the gospel. Let us stand firm for honesty, fairness, kindness, integrity, love and the other graces. Let us practice holiness, but let it be true holiness from the heart, not a false holiness as that of the Pharisees. Let us never confuse the overall objectives of Christianity with petty points of men's traditions, remembering that, as the Apostle said, "The kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost" (Rom. 14:17). In essentials, then, let there be unity; in non-essentials, liberty; and in all things, charity or love. Amen.
THE POWER OF THE KEYS :
MANRULE AND POLITICS IN THE CHURCH
"The Keys Of The Kingdom"
Whenever there are persistent problems within any group, whether it is a family, a business, a congregation or an entire religious movement, the fault ultimately lies with the leadership of that group. If the church has lost its direction, it is the fault of its directors”the ministry. If it has lost its vision, it is the fault of its visionaries”the ministry. If it has neglected evangelism, it is the fault of its evangelists”the ministry. If the church has misinterpreted scripture and allowed theological unsoundness to persist, it is the fault of its theologians”the ministry. If the church has not been alert to the way things were deteriorating, it is the negligence of the "watchmen on the wall" (Isaiah 62:6). This we say in the fear of God, pointing the finger at no one in particular, and realizing that we ourselves are part of the ministry. Thus, we are all partially to blame for our problems.
So negligent leadership is at the bottom of all the problems we have so far discussed. What, however, is at the bottom of negligent leadership? Surely ignorance plays a big part. God himself knows that one cannot do better until he knows better. Also, selfishness, lack of spirituality and carnality figure in. But the biggest factor is a theological one: misinterpretation of the concept of the "power of the keys."
In his book, The Last Reformation, Bro. F. G. Smith introduces the concept he labels "the power of the keys." This refers to the manner in which the church is governed. Thus, it involves church authority and the basis for that authority. Who governs the church and how they govern the church determine greatly the direction and prosperity of the church. But as in all governments, religious as well as secular, since human beings are involved, the issues of power, politics, positions, respect, influence, jealousy and the like inevitably enter the picture. The church will move only as fast and as far as its government machinery will allow.
God himself is supposed to be governing the church of God. "The government shall be upon His shoulders." But it is a known fact that every religious movement the world has seen has gradually squeezed God out of his ruling position in that movement, even if it is acknowledged by all that He started the movement. The Jews squeezed God out of Moses' movement. Carnal men squeezed God out of the early apostolic church Jesus had started. Men also eliminated God from the god-ordained reformation of Martin Luther. It should not be hard to accept the fact that God has been gradually squeezed out of this movement, originated by God through the instrumentality of Bro. D. S. Warner and others.
Bro. Smith describes the process by which Holy Spirit leadership is gradually and often unknowingly replaced by man rule, which he calls "human ecclesiasticism:"
"Another cause, both for the origin of the sect system and its perpetuation, is the assumed ˜power of the keys' which has been carried over from the Church of Rome. The idea that the administrative rule and government of the church of Christ has been, by divine decree, centralized in a self-perpetuating clerical caste with authority to legislate for the church and then to enforce its decisions by judicial procedure, is foreign to the primitive church as recorded in the New Testament...The New Testament...recognizes only that divine authority which operates through God's chosen ministers and helpers by virtue of the Spirit-bestowed gifts and qualifications. The only governmental authority exercised by the New Testament ministers was in cooperation with Christ, the visible head, by putting forth, in accordance with the Spirit's gifts and qualifications, some portion of that moral power by which alone Christ governs.
"The idea that a clerical order has been committed the exclusive guardianship of the church, with full power to admit to or exclude from the worship and service of God all except those who come by way of their priestly mediation, is the basest assumption. It is a violation of the right of individual conscience. Yet just such power has been and is still being exerted as a means of enforcing acquiescence in matters of opinion and submission to customs and practices which every unprejudiced man knows, or can soon see, is no part of the New Testament teaching and requirements. What a weapon has this ecclesiastical assumption been! One always ready for use. It makes no difference whether it is wielded by a Methodist conference, an Episcopal judicatory, a Presbyterian synod,...a Catholic pope, [or we might add, a Church of God minister's meeting], it is all the same in principle”˜the power of the keys.'
"This assumed corporate power of the clergy has been one of the fundamental causes of sect-making. When a general clerical body assumes the right in its corporate capacity to prescribe rules of either faith or practice, written or unwritten, and then to enforce them by judicial action, it is a direct violation of the New Testament standard, and of the rights of individual consciences. It was because of this lordly, unscriptural rule that many sincere men of God have been forced to sever their connection with the older sects in order to find a place where a greater degree of light and truth could be experienced and proclaimed. In such cases it was not religious liberty that caused the formation of new movements and new sects, but the lack of religious liberty.
"That ˜power of the keys,' making and then enforcing the standards of creeds, has done violence to the conscience of both the clergy and the laity. Conscienceless persons subscribe to the creed without any particular hesitation, but the truly conscientious suffer the greatest embarrassment. They must either refuse altogether and withdraw from all connection, or else subscribe with a mental reservation amounting practically to hypocrisy.
"This inflexible character of the sect institution has been a most fruitful cause for the production of new sects. No matter how spiritual the movement at its beginning, when its leaders were not longing for church power but were earnestly preaching the Word of the Lord as it came unto them, as soon as the sect machinery was thoroughly organized and was set in motion the inevitable tendency has been to throw around the movement a wall of creedal and ecclesiastical exclusiveness which shut out other true people of God; and then began a process of crystallization which ever afterwards precluded the unfolding of new truth. It is a well-known fact that the high tide of truth-discovery in every religious movement in Protestantism has been at the time of its beginning. A fixed law of immobility has ever afterwards prevailed. The reason is clear: whenever men grasp the reins of government and assume those prerogatives which belong to God alone, the rule of the Spirit ends. The unfolding of new truths by the operation of the Spirit is impossible within the limits of the old order where human ecclesiasticism reigns. But truth can not be permanently suppressed. If it can not find room for development within the existing order of things, God will raise up men who will, independently, proclaim the Word of the Lord. This he has done repeatedly, only to have the new movements end in the same manner”in a rule of human ecclesiasticism. Human ecclesiasticism has always been the greatest barrier to the free spiritual development of the work of Christ" (Bro. F.G. Smith, The Last Reformation, pages 119-122).
Bro. Smith thus very accurately describes the degenerative process by which a religious movement goes from being Holy Spirit-governed to being ruled by men. This process is very gradual and subtle, but seemingly inevitable: no Christian movement yet has escaped falling victim to the spirit of man-rule. This movement, too, has gone this way, following step by step Bro. Smith's description. The process can be summarized in the five steps below:
THE FIVE STEPS TO MAN-RULE
Step 1 "Only WE have the truth"”God greatly uses a group of spiritual men. Because of their success, they begin to think either that God is blessing them above others or that God is not blessing others at all. They fall into religious pride, a "Only WE have the truth" frame of mind.
Step 2”"We have the truth ONLY"”They soon start feeling that since God is greatly using and blessing them, they must hold the "keys to the kingdom." They start believing that whatever they say or do is ordained of God and rubber-stamped by God, even if it's not true New Testament teaching. Of course, they don't believe that they are ever”or even could be ever”wrong in their corporate decisions and doctrines (i.e., those made by the whole ministerial body). Because they believe they have this god-given sanction, they think it is their privilege to make and prescribe, as Bro. Smith writes, "rules of faith and practice, written and unwritten." They begin to believe that even if a doctrine is not a direct New Testament teaching, if it is a church tradition or a ministerial agreement, then it should be taught and followed just as if it really was a New Testament teaching. In other words, they believe they have the authority to write new doctrines that are equivalent in force of law to the original doctrines of the New Testament. They believe their word is law. This step is labeled the "we have the truth only" phase because they feel that since God will enforce everything they say or do, whether it be scriptural or not, it is impossible for them to ever be wrong. If it is not truth at first, God will make it truth because they have agreed upon it.
Step 3”"Never Challenge, Never Question"”Because they believe their word is God's word, they expect agreement from all”both clergy and laity alike. They expect and require every minister to teach it like the body agreed upon, and the saints to follow it. They discourage and frown upon all questioning about a doctrine or decision.
Step 4”"Controlling Fellowship"”Since they expect obedience to what they consider to be God's law, they feel justified in using various means to enforce compliance. They begin to control and manipulate "fellowship."
Step 5”"Politics and Power Plays"”The final step is to make moves that insure the perpetuation of the above system of church government. This is done by controlling the ministry itself: who gets ordained into the ministry, how much influence certain ones are allowed to have, who gets sent where, who gets boycotted and who has the support of the brethren, etc. This is where church politics comes in, with its accompanying manifestations of carnality”jealousy, "big I's and little you's," cliques and clans, prejudices, biases, and partialities, nepotism, personal ambitions, personal opinions, etc.”all in the name of Jesus.
We will spend the rest of this chapter discussing these steps to man-rule, beginning with step one.
A. STEP 1”"ONLY WE HAVE THE TRUTH"
The first step begins very positively, though it is fraught with danger. God first begins to greatly use and bless a man or group of men. He reveals truths to them and provides them with power and authority that is uncommon and supernatural.
This is where the potential danger lies: God-used men must never succumb to religious pride in any form. But religious pride is probably the most subtle of all prides. Of course, it is absolutely necessary for ministers to recognize the fact that God is using and anointing them. They must be keenly aware that they have the truth, an up-to-date message and revelation from God. But they fall victim to religious pride, however, when they start thinking that God is blessing them more than all others, or that God is blessing them only (instead of all others), or that their message will supercede all other messages. It's all right to say "we have the truth," but it's pride to think we are the only ones with the truth or with the most truth.
Even at their best, our pioneer ministers could not realize that though they had a message from God, there was no way for every child of God to hear that message. It was (and still is) impossible for every scattered saint to "leave fallen Babylon and come to Zion." From that time until now, God has not ceased to deal with and use his children scattered throughout the religious world we call "Babylon." Far from what we claimed, "Babylon" never really disintegrated; it is still going strong today. Some of the most spiritually edifying and useful ministries, methods, messages, and materials have come out of the Christian world we call "Babylon." The point is, God has definitely used the brethren in this movement, but that did not mean that he ceased using brethren in other groups who were saved and yielded to his will.
There is another danger that arises when God greatly uses men. Because of their success, men soon get the idea that it is their methods or doctrines that produce the success. This is how the followers of Wesley were first labeled "Methodists:" they emphasized a certain method to receive the Holy Spirit. The New Testament truth is, there was more than one way to receive the Holy Spirit: some got it by prayer, some by laying on of hands, some by long tarrying, and some by just being in the room when the Holy Spirit fell on everybody during the preaching service. The problem with men is that success makes them emphasize their methods instead of God's instrumentality. God does things the way he wants to do them, but all too often men think they had the greatest input in the matter.
Because we have been very slow and reluctant to accept these facts, we have allowed the knowledge that God uses us, together with our past history of success, to become a source of religious pride. This constitutes the first step on the road to man-rule: taking pride in the fact that "we have the truth" and we know how to get God to work for us. Eventually we come to believe that "Only WE have the truth." Everybody else is either deliberately false or deceived. If anybody wants to know the truth, they must come by us. If anybody wants to succeed in God, they must do it our way. If anybody expects to make it to heaven, they must become like us.
There is another major problem with our claim to be the only true church: How do we prove it? What evidence do we offer that will convince the world? What proof do we have besides our own claims, our own history books, and our own self-reassurances?
As most of our ministers will admit, the only argument we have to offer that resembles such proof is a historical argument based on our interpretation of prophecy. This argument claims that beginning with the Great Apostasy in 270 A.D., the true church went "underground" where it was persecuted for 1260 years (symbolized in Dan. 12:7; Rev. 11:2,3 and 12:6,14 as "1260 days", "time, times and half a time," and "42 months"). By adding 1260 years to 270, we arrive at 1530 A.D., the year of the Augsburg (Lutheran) Confession. Then, in Rev. 11:11, we find another symbolic number, "three days and a half." These three and one-half days, we say, represent 350 years, the time Protestant sectism ruled the religious world. Adding the 350 years to 1530 brings us to 1880, the year Bro. D. S. Warner and others began the church of God reformation and began the destruction of sect "Babylon." Thus, we conclude that we are the true church because we alone fulfill the prophecies.
However, the problem with using prophecy as proof of anything is that it can always be debated. Very few people interpret prophecy in exactly the same manner. And very seldom can anyone actually "prove" that his interpretation of prophecy is right beyond a shadow of doubt. There is also a tendency to make prophecy mean what one wants it to mean. Prophecy has always been a source of endless controversy and disagreement. Thus, it is impossible to "prove" we are the true church by prophecy.
First of all, we will be questioned as to why we chose 270 A.D. as the starting date. The signs of the Great Apostasy were already visible in the apostles' day, 200 years before 270 A.D. [See 2 Thessalonians 2; Acts 20:28-30; 1 John 2:18-19, 4:1-3; 2 John 7.]
Second, we will be asked to give a reason for interpreting the "days" of Rev. 11:3 as years but the "days" of Rev. 11:11 as centuries. There is not much reason for such inconsistency other than it was convenient and fitted perfectly into our pre-determined time-table. Bro. F. G. Smith, the acknowledged Church of God reformation prophecy man, admitted this difficulty himself. "The significance of the time-period of three days and a half claims our attention next. According to the foregoing explanation, it will be seen that the writer applies it as three centuries and a half, or three hundred and fifty years”from A.D. 1530 to A.D. 1880. It will be necessary to adduce strong reasons for thus applying it" (The Revelation Explained, p. 207). But he never produces any of these strong reasons. What he does do is to reason that since Protestantism had reigned 350 years up to his time, the three and a half days must evidently represent 350 years. He based the interpretation of the prophecy on what he thought was currently happening, which is not a sound way to interpret prophecy. He thought that our movement was ending the reign of Protestant sectism. Obviously, that was not the case. Here we are, more than 100 years later, and Protestantism is still going strong, if not stronger. Thus, Protestantism has thus far reigned 450 years instead of 350! So what do the three and a half days mean? [See the above source and Bro. Smith's What the Bible Teaches, p. 367, for further discussion.]
The point is, we have very little if any biblical proof of our being the true church.
B. STEP 2”"WE HAVE THE TRUTH ONLY"
In the above frame of mind, believing ourselves to be the only group with the truth, it is very easy to fall into the next snare: the idea that we have truth ONLY. That is, everything we teach and believe is truth, with absolutely no error mixed in it. We alone have the truth and nothing but the truth. Thus, we hold the "keys to the kingdom." One doesn't get very far outside of us. Furthermore, and this is the most crucial concept of all, we believe that God himself placed us in this kingly position. We interpret the fact that he has revealed his truth to us and successfully used us to mean that he has given us spiritual authority over all people and made us the standard for the world. We believe that we alone are the true ministers of God in this world, and as such, we believe that God will back us up in everything we do and say. We believe that while a single minister can make a wrong decision, we as a body of ministers can never make a mistake. (This our foremost contemporary ministers have been quoted as saying.)
The source of these beliefs is a misinterpretation of Matthew 16:18-19. In this passage, Jesus tells Peter, "And I also say unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven." Similar passages appear in Matt. 18:18 and John 20:23, both addressed to the apostles as a group. All three of these passages are believed to refer to the authority of New Testament ministers, and are therefore very critical in our present discussion.
Our current belief about these scriptures is that God has promised and committed himself to sanction and enforce in heaven whatever we ministers on earth agree upon. If we agree that a certain thing is sinful, then God agrees to view it as sinful as well. If we say a certain thing is lawful, then God also agrees with us. If we decide not to approve a certain brother's preaching, then we believe that God disapproves him also. If we set somebody aside, we expect God to do the same. If we decide to avoid them or boycott their campmeetings, we think that since God agrees with us, he will boycott their meetings also. Whatever we bind or forbid, we believe God binds and forbids also. God gives us this special authority because he approves of us.
The problem with this interpretation is that it portrays God as following men instead of men following God. Almost every group of religious men since the primitive church has claimed this authority for itself, thus placing God in the precarious position of enforcing various doctrines of men. Though these doctrines have sometimes been strange, contradictory, even anti-Christian, men have used "God" to sanction them anyway. Indeed, this is how every sect was formed: the ministers of that group claimed to possess God's sanction and approval of everything they decided, whether those things were scriptural or not. They used this assumed authority to enforce compliance from the laity. "We are the ministers and what we say must be obeyed. If you do not obey us, then you are not obeying God either, because he goes along with whatever we say. He has given us the ˜keys of the kingdom.'"
The above train of thought represents the common interpretation and application of the "keys" of Matthew 16:19. Upon close examination, however, we find that it is greatly misinterpreted and misapplied. Three things reveal the true meaning of this text: (1) What were these "keys"? (2) To whom did Jesus give these "keys"? and (3) What does it mean by the words, shall be bound or loosed in heaven"?
The True "Keys of the Kingdom" and to Whom They Were Given
It is commonly interpreted by all notable biblical authorities that Jesus spoke directly to Peter when he said, "I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven..." Later, in Matt. 18:18, he gave similar authority to all the other apostles. Quoting Bro. F. G. Smith, "the words ˜keys of the kingdom of heaven' (Matt. 16:19) are evidently nothing more than a figurative expression indicating the moral influence in the kingdom which Peter in particular should wield with peculiar energy and efficiency" (The Last Reformation, p. 97). Adam Clarke also makes like comments: "...he granted Peter here, and to the rest of the apostles, chap 18:18, a power to abolish or confirm what they thought good, and as they thought good..." (Clarke's Commentary, vol. 5, p. 172). There is absolutely no indication that Jesus gave this power to any other ministers since then, and in a moment we will see why he didn't.
The keys that were given to Peter and the apostles symbolized their authority to open the kingdom of heaven by preaching the first messages of the plan of salvation to the Jews first, to the Gentiles second. The apostles were the originators of the New Testament Christian doctrine. Without them, the world would not have known what Christianity actually consisted of or believed. They defined and established the church, the church beliefs, teachings, and theology, the church practices and traditions, which were to be followed by Christians from that time forward. What they said was sin was sin, and what they permitted or remained silent concerning was permissible.
For this reason, Paul wrote that the church was "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone" (Eph. 2:20). What the apostles taught, preached and practiced became the standard for all time, and was encapsulated in what we now call the "New Testament." No other man or group of men has had the authority to add to or subtract from that foundation established by the apostles (Rev. 22:18, 19; Deut. 12:32). The New Testament is written, and none of us has the authority to rewrite it or amend it. Instead, it is the grave responsibility of every Christian to align his life and his doctrine with that foundation already laid by the apostles. "But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon. For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:10, 11).
Thus, this "power," as Clarke wrote, "to abolish or confirm what they thought good and as they thought good" belonged only to the apostles. One's acceptance into the church was based on one's adherence to the "apostles' doctrine" (Acts 2:42). This means that the apostles, not any and all ministers, had the "keys to the kingdom of heaven."
Tares among the Wheat
There is another reason ministers since the apostles' time cannot claim that type of apostolic authority. During the first few centuries of Christianity, the church apostatized. That is, the vast majority of Christians fell away, becoming Christians in name only. They were not really saved, but were largely proud, selfish, sinful and preoccupied with rituals and traditions. This condition Jesus and the apostles had predicted and warned of, as we said earlier. [Read Matt. 13:24-30 and 36-43; Acts 20:28-30; 1 Tim. 4:1-5; 2 Tim. 3:1-13; 4:3-4; 2 Pet. 2; 1 John 2:18-19; 4:1-3; 2 John 7; Jude 3-13; et.al.].
The effect of this apostasy was to scatter the true Christians and to obscure the visible portion of the church. Following Pentecost, there was only one visible body of Christians (but different congregations and cities), and only one group of ministers and apostles leading that body of Christians. Those ministers could thus speak for the entire body of Christ. But since the scattering of the Great Apostasy, no one group of Christians has been able to represent the entire body of Christ, and no one group of ministers has been able to speak for the entire body of Christ. All Christians and all ministers are not true. Many of them are false. But the biggest problem is that the false and the true are all mixed up together. This condition has existed since the time of the Apostasy and, according to Jesus himself, will continue to the end of the world. "Let both [the wheat and the tares] grow together until harvest: and in the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them: but gather the wheat into my barn...The harvest is the end of the world..." (Matt. 13:30 and 40).
Thus, we see that Jesus Christ himself does not expect a visible church group consisting of all the saved and only the saved until the end of the world. The wheat and the tares have been mixed up together, and thus they will remain until the end. Until that time, it is impossible for any one group to claim truthfully that they are the body of Christ in this world. Likewise, it is impossible for any one group of ministers to claim truthfully that they alone represent God's true ministry in the world today. Thus, it is impossible for any one group of ministers to have the same power and "keys" of authority as did the apostles. Their authority would extend only throughout their own church group, and their agreements would not be something God is obligated to enforce.
"Shall Be Bound/Loosed in Heaven"
The next point to be made concerns the phrase, "whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth, shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth, shall be loosed in heaven" (Matt. 16:19). When translated correctly according to the proper tense of the Greek verb, this phrase reads quite differently. The true verb tense is the perfect passive participle, meaning that it should read "shall have been bound in heaven" rather than "shall be bound in heaven." The latter phrase is in one of the future tenses. "Shall have been bound" indicates something that has already been done, whereas "shall be bound" indicates something to be done in the future.
For this reason, one Bible translator, Charles B. Williams, in The New Testament: A Translation in the Language of the People, explains that the "perfect passive participle means things are in a state of having been already forbidden [or permitted]." The Amplified New Testament thus translates this verse: "...whatever you bind”that is, declare to be improper and unlawful”on earth must be already bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth”declare lawful”must be what is loosed in heaven." This correct translation bears out the fact that God does not follow men, but men must follow and align themselves with God.
This clearer understanding should help us see that we ministers do not have any scriptural basis to claim authority to loose or bind anything that the New Testament does not already clearly loose or bind. We do not have any authority to set aside any person unless God has set them aside. Merely disagreeing with us is not scriptural basis to set anybody aside. Refusing to humbly obey our ministerial orders does not constitute scriptural basis to set anybody aside. Everything and everybody we forbid or permit must be that which God himself has already forbidden or permitted. If we do not do it this way, we are usurping authority that belongs only to God. We have no reason to think that God will sanction whatever we happen to agree upon simply because we agree upon it. Who are "we?
It should be noted that whenever we do take this authority we make ourselves into a sect. The leaders of a sect can do whatever they want to do within that sect. They can make, teach and enforce any rules they dream up. But they should always keep in mind that their rules and authority apply only to their group and not to the entire body of Christ. No single little group of ministers can make rules and authoritatively enforce them for the entire, universal church of God. They can only make rules for their sect. If they do not want to be considered a sect, then they must quit making and enforcing their own rules and start using the general rules of Christianity already written by the apostles in the New Testament.
Most importantly, they must quit believing that God is going to back up everything they say or do. There are simply too many little religious groups with too many little pet doctrines and practices for God to promise such support to any.
C. STEP 3”"NEVER CHALLENGE THE MINISTRY, NEVER QUESTION A DOCTRINE"
This is the third step a body of ministers takes on the road to man-rule. Because they believe their word is God's word, they expect agreement from all, both clergy and laity alike. They expect and require every minister to teach it exactly like the body agreed upon, and all the saints to follow it. That is bad enough, but when they discourage questioning and frown upon questioners, those ministers are going entirely too far. When they regard all challenges as manifestations of pride and rebellion they are treading on spiritually dangerous territory.
The spiritually dangerous territory to which we refer is that which includes blind loyalty, indoctrination, propagandizing, "yes men," fear, even brainwashing and cultism. It is not wise to require unwavering obedience to a teaching without any privilege or freedom to question or challenge it. It is not wise to place such power in the hands of any group of men, even religious men, without also requiring those men to be answerable to somebody else somewhere. The result of such practices is that the group gets farther and farther away from the true spirit and purpose of Christianity but no one is brave enough to buck the system and try to get it back on course. The system has no built-in way in which to correct itself.
That our group has been operating in this spiritually dangerous territory for quite awhile is plain for many to see. There have been ministers' meetings in which a minister would simply ask a question about one of our "pet" doctrines, and the immediate response would be to drown him out and label his question as being either rebellious, divisive or a distraction of Satan. His fellow ministers would refuse to hear or discuss his question, then forever thereafter view him with an eye of distrust. There have even been times when some ministers who asked questions have been set aside until they could "better learn the doctrine." What this really meant was for them to quit preaching until they could repeat the doctrines in the way the ministers had agreed. Seemingly, it is seldom considered that a minister's primary job is to preach the messages he receives from God, not from a group of fellow ministers.
This expectation of blind loyalty extends beyond the ministry. The laity, too, is expected to follow without questioning the doctrines, decisions and prevailing attitudes of the general body. Some of our most prevalent concepts are "seeing eye to eye," "submitting to the brethren," and "not offending the saints." Many times, to do any of this requires us to go against our better judgment as well as our own Holy Ghost convictions. But we go along anyway because we have been taught that it is wrong and rebellious to question the church. We have been taught that we are causing division when we disagree with or fail to follow completely a church practice or teaching. We have been indoctrinated to believe that we displease God whenever we displease the saints. Thus, if something about the doctrine really was wrong, blind loyalty would prevent us from ever righting it.
We reinforce this type of loyalty to our system in various ways. One of the most common ways is through self-reaffirmation, which is usually done during our meetings”revivals, campmeetings, and general worship services. We spend too much time patting ourselves on the back. We spend too much time preaching and rejoicing about the "glorious church" while actually manifesting very little of that glory. Too many of our services follow the following format, with a few variations:
After several songs about the church and/or reformation, the preacher gets up and presents the various ways in which we differ from "false" religious groups, telling us how awful it is to do what they do and how wonderful it is to do what we do. Everybody will heartily agree. Encouraged, he will next repeat some of our most important doctrines from his perspective, exhorting the people never to let down the standard. He may give a stirring warning about the dangers of leaving the saints. Finally, he will conclude that we are a little remnant of a great, glorious group gone on before, and there's no reason to expect very many people to want what we have. This makes the people feel comfortable and self-assured that they have something of such immense value it would be foolish to question it. By this time, nearly everyone is feeling really good, glowing with excitement. Those who don't feel so good may go down to the altar for help. We all leave with a wonderful sense of having sat "together in heavenly places."
The problem is, the saints leave unchallenged and undirected to do anything they haven't already been doing. Sinners leave unconvicted and often puzzled and confused because they heard a message with a denominational slant instead of the gospel.
Thus, all we have really done was to reaffirm each other with an exciting pep talk to keep up the good work. We have enjoyed "witnessing to the truth." But we are witnessing for our own selves. Jesus Christ, the true Son of God, whose word about himself was unquestionably true without any further proof (John 8:13-18), still said that it is not sound to witness for oneself: "If I bear witness of myself, my witness is not true" (John 5:31-39). In other words, why should I expect people to believe what I say about myself merely because I (or my friends) say it? Why should we expect people to believe what we say about our group merely because we say it?
Brethren, we need an objective, outside, disinterested third party to witness for us that we are true. Witnessing for and reaffirming ourselves is not sufficient or sound. In the Gospel of John, we find that Jesus had many witnesses besides himself to testify that he was true. He had John the Baptist (chapter 1:34 and 5:33), the Father himself (5:37), the Old Testament scriptures (5:39), and his miraculous works (5:36 and 10:25). His invitation to unbelievers was not to "believe me because I say I am the Christ," but to "believe me for my works sake" if for nothing else (10:38).
The question then is, Where are our works? How can we continue to claim to be the true church or remnant of God without the influence, the power, the effectiveness and results, the burden and sense of urgency, the love, the spirit, and so much else that Jesus and the apostles possessed? Brethren, we need a true witness”besides our own selves”if we expect our claims to be believable. And we need to quit spending so much time patting ourselves on the back. "They that commend themselves...measuring themselves by themselves, and comparing themselves among themselves, are not wise" (2 Corinthians 10:12).
Let us make two additional points before we leave this section. First of all, Paul, a minister, admonished the saints to follow him even as he followed Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1). As ministers, we should not expect the laity to follow us because of who we are but because of Who we are following. We should not expect obedience and loyalty to us because of our position, but should point people to be obedient and loyal to Christ alone. We must keep in mind that even a pastor has no authority to require his people to do anything not required by the New Testament. Even a pastor must give each saint in his care the freedom to follow Christ as Christ leads them.
Second, we need to realize the positive and constructive benefits found in questioning doctrines and decisions of the church. A doctrine or decision that cannot stand up to rigorous scrutiny and close examination is a doctrine that should not be taught. Thus, questioning can assist us in discovering doctrines and decisions that are not sound or scriptural. All questioning is not negative and rebellious. The truth is, it is not spiritually safe to neglect questioning oneself. It is extremely dangerous for us to assume that we are always right (1 Corinthians 10:12). It is extremely wise for us to examine ourselves closely as often as possible (2 Corinthians 13:5; 1 Corinthians 1:28; Gal. 6:4). And it is good to remember that: (1) truth can withstand all challenges, (2) truth does not need our protective tactics for its defense, and (3) if a doctrine or decision cannot withstand a good challenge, then it is not truth in the first place.
STEP 4”"CONTROLLING FELLOWSHIP"
The fourth step a religious movement takes on the road to man-rule involves the tampering with "fellowship." By "fellowship" we mean the acceptance and approval of the group. Since we expect obedience to what we consider to be God's law, we feel justified in using various means to enforce compliance. Almost all of these means are based on controlling and manipulating "fellowship." We use this "fellowship" as a tool, even a weapon, to keep everyone in line.
It is a known fact that, as we discussed in Part One, our group exerts a powerful peer pressure-type influence on the membership. In some cases the resultant fear of man borders on "holy terror." People have been known to do some very radical things to avoid being rejected and disfellowshiped by the group. For example, one man sneaked away from his hospital bed, weakened and nearly incapacitated by a stroke, and walked 30 miles to his home, all with the intention of avoiding the rejection we reserve for the saint that has the misfortune of being committed to the hospital. The fear of the group pressure was greater than the fear for his own physical safety. The saddest part was that after all of his efforts, many of the saints rejected him anyway.
These various forms of group pressure are reserved for whoever happens to get out of line in any way: those who violate some tradition, those who preach or teach differently than most regarding conscience matters, those who don't wear the "right" things, those who associate with the "wrong" people, etc. Steps are taken, officially or unofficially, to let that person know that he or she is out of tune with the saints.
The steps taken include but are not limited to the following means and methods:
(1). Character assassination”This method is done informally but is extremely effective. The name and alleged violations of the "errant" brother, sister or congregation are proclaimed from mouth to mouth across the country. The talk, the rumors and the innuendos kill whatever influence and credibility the person once may have had. Everything is done behind the person's back, never face to face in open confrontation as the Bible instructs. In the informal courtroom of the "gospel grapevine," the person is accused, indicted, tried, convicted, sentenced and punished, all without an opportunity to explain or face his accusers.
(2). "Black lists" and documents”These are more formal methods than that above because they are in writing. "Black lists" include lists of names of people, ministers or laypersons, who are guilty of violating some church practice or agreement. For example, a few years ago a list circulated that included the names of those who had TV's in their homes. Sometimes these lists are in black and white, other times they are informal mental lists.
A document, however, is a more formal instrument, written as a result of a ministerial decision regarding some person, usually another minister. The decision about that person is made and the conclusion is written up in a letter or summary statement, which is then mailed to all the ministers, workers and congregations that are believed to have a need to know. Sometimes the ministers that figured in on the decision may sign the letter or agreement before it is mailed. Whatever the case may be, it is nearly impossible for the person written up to ever live it down. They generally spend the rest of their lives "under a cloud," even after they try to make amends.
(3). "Setting aside," "laying aside," and "sitting down"”These phrases all have to do with the same thing. When a minister is deemed to be out of tune with the saints or the ministry, the ministry will most likely "set him aside." That is, they require him to "lay his gift aside" and "sit down" for awhile. The period of time in which he is to "sit down" is usually indefinite: it may be for a few months or years, or it may be for the rest of his life.
The problem with this is that although the saints may "set him aside" and no longer want to use his gift, this does not mean that God has set him aside and no longer wants to use him. Furthermore, from the standpoint of the "set aside" minister, just because the saints won't let him exercise his gift does not mean that he is free before God to go somewhere and "sit down." This places him "between a rock and a hard place:" we won't let him preach but God won't stop giving him messages! We have set aside entirely too many people that God is obviously still using. This is exactly what the Pharisees did to Jesus, much to the blind man's surprise: How is it that you claim he is a sinner but God used him to open my eyes (John 9:30 paraphrased)?
It should be noted that this "setting aside" practice is often used on laypersons as well as ministers. Countless numbers of singers have been silenced because they didn't dress or sing "right." Many others have been prevented from teaching Sunday School classes, dissuaded from giving their testimonies, discouraged from working around the church, and sad to say, even made to feel completely unwelcome and unwanted in the church services. Most often than not, their sole offense has not been a New Testament sin, but a violation of some secondary conscience matter which we have ruled improper for a saint to do.
Thus, in nearly everyone of our congregations, there are several of these unwanted, set aside saints sitting around, waiting for the church finally to permit them to do something for the Lord. Some of them are on "probation," i.e., waiting for the saints to forgive and forget something they did or said, sometimes decades ago. Others have been "disqualified" because of unsaved spouses. Of course, this type of disqualification is according to man's rules, not the New Testament's. For example, we have preachers whom we deem unqualified for ordination or official recognition as pastors because their wives aren't saved. There is absolutely no Bible to support this doctrine nor does our movement have any historical example: Bro. D. S. Warner's wife backslid, denounced him, divorced him, and ran off to marry another man (a backslidden preacher)! He kept right on preaching through it all. But we have many preachers, Sunday school teachers, deacons, etc. "sitting down" or "under a cloud" until their spouses get saved. Surely, this ought not to be.
(4). "Boycotting congregations and meetings"”When certain conditions exist or certain doctrines are taught in a congregation, and the saints in general do not like it, the simplest way to show their displeasure has been to boycott or avoid the place. We will refuse to attend their meetings. We will look askance at anyone who happens to be a member of that congregation. If we happen to be a preacher, we will seldom if ever stop in to help that congregation.
Keep in mind that all this is done informally, that is, without ever meeting the "offending" saints face to face in an open discussion of the issues. The old folks used to go to an "errant" brother and try to help him. Now we just silently avoid him and tell others to do the same. Then we separate ourselves from whoever refuses to take the same stand against him.
This practice is very much like the custom of "shunning," practiced by one of the very large cults of today. Supposedly, the practice is based on scriptures like Romans 16:17, 1 Corinthians 5:11, 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 2 John 10, and others, all of which advise the saints to separate themselves from false brethren. It should be well noted, however, that those whom the scriptures advise the church to reject are all false and fallen brethren and outright sinners. The scriptures do not advise anyone to separate themselves from those with whom they merely disagree over conscience matters (Rom. 14).
Also, when Paul advises the church to "mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine...and avoid them," he is not talking about conscience matters. He is referring to wrong and divisive spirits and anti-Christian philosophies. We should also remember that whenever we add some doctrine of our own to the New Testament, we ourselves help cause division. For example, if a group of Christians decides that it is absolutely essential to salvation for everybody to wear rings through their noses, and we all submit to such practices and accept that teaching as gospel, then is it causing division for someone ten years later to tell everybody they don't have to wear rings through their noses after all? Division is not caused by the person who exposes unsound doctrine, but by the one who introduced it in the first place. Thus, "mark them which cause divisions...contrary to the doctrine" is a piece of advice that first requires us to recognize what true, sound, Bible doctrine really is.
These are the means and methods we use to "control" fellowship. The truth, however, is that fellowship cannot be controlled. Each Christian, blood washed and saved from his/her sins, and walking in the light of God, automatically and undeniably has fellowship with God the Father. He may or may not be accepted by other Christians. But whether he has acceptance or not, he still has fellowship with God. Fellowship with God and acceptance from other Christians are two entirely different things. Thus, fellowship is not within our power but God's to control. The only thing we Christians can control is whether or not we want to recognize and accept each other, as we ought. Keep in mind that if we do not accept each other, we place our own fellowship with the Father in jeopardy.
STEP 5”"POLITICS AND POWER PLAYS"
Politics in the ministry, the fifth and culminating stage in the process toward man-rule, is a rather large subject requiring a separate chapter of its own. It necessitates details and examples to document its existence, simply because many people deny that there really is such a thing. They cannot believe that Christians supposedly washed in the blood and filled with the Spirit would allow themselves to play politics in what is supposedly God's church. But believe it or not, Christians play politics in God's church, when it is governed by men and not by God. We thus conclude this chapter on human ecclesiasticism, man-rule, to take up church politics in the next chapter.
Politics and Power Plays
The fifth and final stage in the journey to man-rule is to make moves that insure the perpetuation of the adopted system of church government and organization. The effect is to prevent change and improvement, to avoid challenges of the accepted doctrine, and to keep in power those who know and adhere to the "old time truth" system of religion.
This is accomplished by controlling the ministry itself: who gets ordained into the ministry, how much influence certain ones are allowed to have, who gets sent where, who gets boycotted, who is given the support of the brethren, etc. This is where church politics enters the picture, with its accompanying manifestations of carnality”jealousy, "big I's and little you's," cliques, clans and "in groups," biases and partialities, nepotism (favoritism towards kin folks), personal ambitions, etc., all in the name of Jesus, supposedly justified by his purposes.
As in all political structures, church politics is characterized by two key factors: a ruling hierarchy and an official doctrinal platform. The ruling hierarchy consists of those who for various reasons have relatively great influence within the religious movement. This influence may be the result of several things, among which are the minister's gift, his family background and history (i.e., his parents' standing in the movement), his popularity and personal charisma, his geographical location, his congregation and pastor of origin, his "seniority" in the movement, and even his race. The doctrinal platform consists of the various teachings and traditions, practices and perspectives which the movement has accepted as the norm for all of its membership.
The success, power, and influence of a minister thus depend upon the way he fits in with the above two key factors. In common political concepts, it's "Who you know" (in the ruling hierarchy) and "Which side you are on" (of the doctrinal platform). If a minister cultivates a close relationship with certain key persons of influence, and if he demonstrates that he is willing to be loyal and submissive to the official doctrinal platform of the movement, even though some of it may violate his own convictions, then he will succeed in a movement governed by politics. If he fails to meet either of these two conditions, then he will face various hindrances to his ministry, not the least of which are loss of influence, lack of support from other ministers, and the indignity of being ignored and discounted. Depending on circumstances, he may even find himself "outside" the movement.
Realizing the assertion that politics rules the church may be hard for some people to accept, it will be necessary to provide some details and examples that support such statements. In general, we will try to avoid specific names of people. In addition, exact dates are not always known, but we will try to limit our examples to those occurring within the last decade or so. Witnesses are available to verify that each event did actually happen, and happened as it is described herein. Most but not all of the examples given occurred in California, not because the California part of our movement is the only part full of politics, but because they are the easiest for some of us to remember and verify. Thus, these examples are merely representative of what has been going on among us in all areas for a long time.
Methods of Politically Controlling the Ministry
(1). Ordination of ministers”Politics involves power and control. The most direct way in which to exert control over the ministry is by controlling who gets into the ministry in the first place. That is, we control the ministry by controlling who gets ordained and when they get ordained. This is very important because we allow certain authority and privileges to "ordained" ministers that we do not allow unordained ministers. For example, in addition to having the authority to perform weddings and other official duties, we sponsor some ministers' meetings in which only ordained ministers are allowed to speak, vote or attend, we give full pastoral authority only to those who have been ordained, etc.
Thus, whom we ordain is very significant. Originally, New Testament ordination was meant to be a simple acknowledgement that "we recognize God has called you and is using you for his work." Instead, we use ordination to mean "we approve you." We also make it mean "we expect you to be loyal and submissive to us (even though we didn't call you)." Ordination is thus a stamp of approval from the brethren.
As such, it is eagerly sought by all those who feel God has called them to the ministry. They want the brethren's support and approval. But this is where the politics comes in: approval always has some string attached to it. Thus, some ministers have not been ordained for years because of personal differences with other more "senior" ministers, or because they were labeled either a "compromiser" or a "fanatic" over some conscience matter, or because they were labeled "unqualified" by some other minister (e.g., unsaved wife, divorced, etc.), or because they came up under the "wrong" pastor, and so forth. Some are "too young" or "inexperienced," and some we just simply neglect to ordain for no apparent reason at all. Whatever the case, we have lot's of unordained ministers laboring faithfully and waiting for the approval of the brethren. While waiting, some ministers have evangelized all over the country, even planting and pastoring congregations, still unable to be ordained!
Ordination has thus become a manipulative tool for the ministry. Twice in recent years in the Pomona, California congregation, the ministry has ordained someone to take over the congregation against the desire of the congregation. This was done the first time to block out a minister who was already working there with the congregation's approval. Even the minister that was ordained to take over suggested that the then-current minister be allowed to continue, but he and the rest of the congregation were overruled. The second ordination took place several years later, also over the objection of the ministers already working in the congregation. In each of these cases, differences over secondary conscience matters provided much of the basis for the conflict. Neither of these man-made situations worked out, but to this day, the ministry has yet to acknowledge its mistakes or even realize that it was out of order.
(2). Influence Tampering”Politics also includes tampering with a minister's influence or position as a means of controlling the ministry. It works chiefly in two ways: (a) giving or withdrawing support for a minister currently in a leadership position, and (b) allowing or forbidding certain ones to preach or teach in certain places.
If a minister pleases enough of the senior ministers in the movement, it is likely that he will readily be ordained. If after ordination he continues to earn their approval, he will enjoy their continued moral support and blessing. He will be invited and encouraged to preach in their pulpits, and the ministry will feel free to visit his pulpit, if he is over a congregation. If he is not over a congregation, the ministry will be eager to recommend him and support him for any positions that do come up. He will be in their good graces and his influence allowed to grow as long as he remains submissive to the ministry and the group doctrinal platform.
But if that minister, in his faithfulness to God alone, seems to be somewhat disloyal or preaches and behaves somewhat different from the group doctrinal platform, then he will lose the support and goodwill of the ministry. When the differences become greater and greater, and the ministry seems to lose all of its direct control over him, the ministry may resort to influence tampering.
Influence tampering consists of all means and methods used to limit or destroy a minister's influence and/or position of leadership. It includes simple things like spreading rumors or broadcasting reports that "Bro. So-and-So is a false prophet" or "Sis. So-and-So is a compromiser," as well as things like one minister publicly contradicting another minister's sermon. It also includes boycotting his congregation and revivals, and warning everybody else to do so. His honesty, integrity and intentions may be questioned, or even his sanity and mental competence. Skeletons may be dragged out from closets closed decades ago and mud may be dredged up from any source at hand to dirty his character and reputation. This would all seem very unbelievable among Christians were it not that we know of too many times the above actions have actually occurred.
The above methods of influence tampering are the simple ones. The ultimate method is to have him removed from his position of leadership and influence. If he is a pastor, the method is to pray and seek for some opportunity that will lead to his removal. If he is not a pastor, the aim is to silence him some other way. By no means should he (or she) be allowed to continue to influence souls in what is believed to be the "wrong" way.
In Sacramento, California, an instance occurred where the ministry attempted through extreme pressure to remove a pastor against the will of the congregation for actions not scripturally condemned. Official ministerial letters from within and without the state were written, declaring the pastor unsaved and unfit for the ministry. To date, the attempt has been unsuccessful, though the issue is still unresolved in the minds of many people.
In Los Angeles, California, an instance occurred in which the pastor was successfully removed against the will of the majority of the congregation. In neither this nor the above case did the congregations ask for the ministry's help.
The Bakersfield, California, congregation is one example of a congregation whose "pastor" could never be officially recognized as such, although the majority of the congregation, including the other ministers therein, would have desired to do so. The biggest hindrance was the objection of one outside minister. And there was reason for many to believe that those objections may have been personal, not scriptural.
These cases are only representative of our tendency to want to control some ministers' influence by removing them from their positions if opportunity arises. There are many other examples from many other parts of the country. And still these are by no means the only way we tamper with influence.
We limit some ministers by pressuring the ministers who still accept them as brethren. "Is Bro. So-and-So going to preach in your meeting, Pastor John?" the brethren may ask. "Why, yes. He's running my revival." "If you let Bro. So-and-So preach, Pastor John, then we won't be back." So Pastor John calls Bro. So-and-So and informs him that he can come to the revival, but he can't preach.
Finally, we tamper with influence through a spirit of partiality. Some minister will backslide, live in open sin and rebellion for twenty years, come back and get saved, and be allowed to preach again in a couple of years. Another minister may stumble and fall but quickly recover, never going out into open sin or even losing his profession, yet he may never be allowed to preach again. The first thus goes into darkness but comes back into the light with the full approval of the ministry. The second never really leaves the light but spends the rest of his life under a dark cloud. Besides not being fair, this type of policy seems to reward those who unreservedly go into sin and penalize those who merely stumble but try to recover themselves. Obviously, this is partiality.
Partiality becomes even more evident when one looks beneath the surface at the true, unseen reasons for this phenomenon. The real dynamic behind it all is who you are and how you preach. That determines how you are accepted after you stumble a little or fall completely. Thus, politics once again is behind this spirit of partiality.
(3). Setting Up Pastors Over Congregations”One of the most effective means of controlling the ministry is to set up as many pastors as possible who are loyal to the group ministry and the group doctrinal platform. There are several ways in which the ministry may govern a congregation's choice of pastor: by directly appointing a pastor over a congregation, by strongly recommending one minister above any others, by declaring certain ministers ineligible or unqualified for the position, by ordaining, requesting or otherwise agreeing for a certain minister to "oversee" a congregation until a permanent pastor arrives, etc.
As long as the ministry assumes that it has the authority to arrange the leadership in a local congregation, the choosing of local leadership will be fraught with political maneuverings. Who he is and where he came from, what are his doctrinal leanings, how submissive has he been to the ministry, how valuable is he to the movement, and how well can he be trusted to follow the group norms are questions whose answers figure in on any ministerial decision to recommend or appoint a pastor over a local congregation.
The real question should be, however, Do the ministers truly have the authority to appoint, qualify or disqualify, or otherwise set up pastors for local congregations? The answer is, No, not at all. If so, who gave it to them? Certainly not the New Testament. Remember as we discussed in the previous chapter, the authority given to the apostles in setting up the church was not given to any and every little body of ministers who claims it. The authority to choose or accept a God-sent pastor belongs to the people he is going to oversee: the congregation of saints. If asked by the congregation regarding a pastor, the ministry may give its opinion or suggestion. But it must remain just that: a suggestion. The ultimate and final decision must belong to the congregation alone, without any pressure, influence, or interference from the ministry. This we will discuss further at a later time.
Of course, there are those who wonder why this section is needed at all. As far as they are concerned, the ministry does not attempt to control the choosing of pastors in the local congregations. Technically, our official group doctrine in this matter is that the Holy Spirit makes the choice and the ministry does not have the authority to set up pastors. But in reality, we do it all the time. Thus, it will be necessary for us to provide relatively recent examples which bear this out.
Once again, in Los Angeles, at the time mentioned above in which the ministry removed the pastor, the ministry also set up a new pastor. The congregation really had no choice in either decision, which was a gross injustice as well as a usurping of authority on the part of the ministry. After several years, a vacancy again occurred in the pastorate. This time, completely unknown to and unrequested by the congregation, the ministry arranged an out-of-town meeting to discuss who should be sent to the congregation. The leaders of the congregation found out about the meeting only thirty-six hours in advance, and then only by accident. This too was a violation of the congregation's god-given rights.
The Pomona, California, congregation also was a victim of secret ministers' meetings. During the course of a few months, at least a half-dozen such meetings were held, out of town as usual, without the congregation being informed or represented, and without the congregation requesting it. The purpose of the meetings was to decide who to set up over the congregation, or rather, how to set up one already chosen. The meetings were somewhat hindered in their purpose by one person asking, "Why isn't the congregation represented here? Do these people know what you brothers are doing?"
In addition to the above instance, there has been at least one other unrelated instance in Pomona in which an out-of-state minister was sent to the congregation without its request or desire. At that time, the congregation did not accept the burden of the minister in question, although it was pressured to do so by the ministers involved.
One of the most recent instances of setting up a pastor occurred in Fresno, California. The congregation asked the ministry to make suggestions about several internal problems the congregation was experiencing. Though they refused to do this, the ministers did proceed to disqualify the local leadership, agreeing to send someone else to oversee the congregation until different leadership could be found. Then, unknown to and unrequested by the congregation, they began holding interstate discussions about whom to send and whom not to send. These discussions lasted for several months, still unknown to the congregation, taking place in such faraway places as Oklahoma, Kansas, Oregon, Monark Springs, Missouri and Louisiana, as well as in California. When the official time came for the choice to be made, the ministry met en masse with the congregation to insure that its selection was accepted. The ministry's presence at the meeting (which the congregation did not expect) had the effect of pressuring the members and preventing their freedom of choice.
Throughout the years, many other instances of setting up pastors have occurred, enough in fact for it to be concluded that this method is our primary method of changing leadership in the local congregations. We routinely work to place one minister over a congregation in order to block out another. We have set up as pastors ministers who have confessed publicly that they had no pastoral burden. Some ministers have set up as pastors their kinfolks (nepotism) or others to whom they were partial or closely connected. We have even had instances where racial overtones seemingly played a part. Brethren, we should not deceive ourselves: God is not a party to such doings. We need to quit tampering with the ministry and let God govern his local congregations according to his plans and purposes, not ours.
(4). Perpetuation of a General Political Environment”One very effective method of politically controlling the ministry has been simply to maintain a general politically-charged atmosphere throughout the church leadership circle. In other words, the fact that there is politics in the church is in itself a hindrance and limiting factor to the ministry. A political environment in the church limits the freedom an individual minister would normally feel.
In a political environment, an individual minister is afraid to do or say what he believes God wants him to do or say. He must be very wary with whom he agrees as well as with whom he associates. The deepest conviction of his heart, the keenest sensitivity of his conscience, and the clearest admonitions of the New Testament may all tell him to do one thing, but the political ramifications of what might happen if he does do it often cause him to do something else. One of the most frequent positions he finds himself in is "between a rock and a hard place:" feeling the pressure from both God and the brethren. Fear and mistrust become his constant companion.
Thus, some of the most common phrases one hears from a minister operating in a political environment are things like, "What does Bro. So-and-so think?" "What will the ministers say?" "I would do thus and so, but I don't want to offend the brethren," "I would like to work with you but the brethren feel this way or that," etc. These are typical utterances in a political environment, characterized by fear and wariness and based on the premise that one will make a move or statement if he can find enough people to agree with him. We tend to do things only when we know for sure it is politically safe to do so.
But is it not ridiculous that a minister, called and chosen by God alone, would have to ask permission or seek support and approval of other men before he can do or say what he believes God wants him to do or say? Do we really need man's permission to obey God? This is what politics has done to the ministry.
The church of God, however, should provide a spiritual, not political, environment for all. In such, the major concern is not what the brethren think but what God thinks. "Am I doing what God wants me to do" is the proper attitude for all ministers to have. A church atmosphere that forces them to be preoccupied with each other's opinions and dependent on each other's approval is an inherently evil atmosphere. May God help all Christians, within and without this movement, to muster up the courage to please Him in spite of everybody else. We need to quit looking to each other for approval and supporting opinions, and start looking to the approval that comes from God only (John 5:41-44). We need to remember that we are to measure and judge ourselves”our preaching, our lives, our experiences, our convictions”by Jesus Christ and the New Testament, not by the thoughts of the ministry nor by our associates' opinions. We need a church environment that encourages and permits freedom for all to preach, teach and live as they feel God requires them, without fear of political reprisals. This can be accomplished only by eliminating the present structure, which lends itself to and engenders politics within the church leadership. This we will discuss more in the chapter following.
(5). A Case in Point”Having discussed the various ways in which we practice political control of the ministry, let us conclude this chapter with an important case in point. This case was chosen as a politically representative case because it contains instances of all the various phenomena mentioned above, and more besides.
The general facts of the case are thus: In the late 1970's, a prominent minister of one of our congregations was accused of the sin of adultery. He confessed that he was guilty, but that upon quick and sincere repentance God had forgiven him and given him victory in the matter. This he had done quite awhile before the sin became public knowledge. Therefore, he had never ceased ministering, and considered the matter closed.
However, somehow the matter became known to a few, who immediately spread the news across the country throughout our group. Some assisted in this endeavor out of their love for sensationalism, but some deliberately to destroy the brother's reputation and ministry. This was done by many who claimed to be spiritual, even leaders, in stark contrast to the clear New Testament admonition of Paul in Galatians 6:1: "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such a one in the spirit of meekness..." The spiritual way in which to restore those who stumble is certainly not to make matters worse by broadcasting the matter from coast to coast. But this is what was done, without, to this date, any public demonstration of regret by any of those chiefly responsible for such unscriptural actions. Somebody sinned and never said, "I'm sorry."
After the brother's sin became public knowledge, the ministry felt obligated and authorized to move in and straighten out the situation. After much discussion, its first step was to remove him from his pastorate. Most of his congregation, however, had forgiven him and wanted him to stay. This the ministry prevented from happening. He had disqualified himself, they ruled, and thus had to be replaced whether the congregation wanted him or not. The ministry then appointed two other ministers to oversee the congregation.
The next step was for the national ministers conference to make some type of ruling on the matter. Quoting Proverbs 6:32 and 33, the ministry ruled that the brother must immediately stop preaching, that he could not preach again for "some time, if ever." This meant that he couldn't preach again for a long time, and perhaps, never again. "...[H]is reproach shall not be wiped away" (Proverbs 6:33). In practical terms, he was bound and forbidden to do any preaching but funerals, weddings, and the like, until the ministry released him. However, even those privileges were disallowed by most of the ministers in this group, even though there have been numerous occasions in which laymen have requested that he conduct a funeral or wedding for them. But he has not been permitted to conduct those ceremonies in a Church of God”Evening Light Saints chapel.
Thus, he has not used his gift among us for many, many years”from the late 1970's, through the 1980's, until the present, the 1990's. The situation does not now appear to be any closer to being resolved than at any time before. The major reasons given are: (1) though the brother has maintained a Christian life and testimony during this time, he has not placed himself under a senior minister who would "monitor his progress," and (2) by conducting funerals and weddings and preaching in a few places where he was welcomed, he has violated the ministers' instructions to remain quiet for a time. There are a few other reasons that the situation has reached an impasse, which we discuss below in our analysis of the situation.
Several errors have been made in the ministry's handling of this case. The primary error is the fact that they should not have handled it at all. They had no biblical authority to do so when the congregation did not request them to do so. The congregation in general had forgiven the pastor and most desired him to continue as such. The ministry overstepped its authority by not allowing the congregation to settle its own internal problem.
The second error occurred when the ministry placed limits on when the brother would be released to preach again. Paraphrasing, it was ruled that it would be "some time if ever" before he could preach again. The error is that no man or group of men controls the Holy Spirit and its dealings. That is, the call and unction to preach does not depend upon or synchronize with some time-table devised by men. How and when God uses anybody is not up to the ministry. God talks to men and uses men that other men would never use. He gives messages to people that other people may deem unfit, unworthy, or unqualified. Thus, it is not in the authority of the ministry to decide or even estimate when and how God would use other Christians or whether He will ever use them at all. To place time limits on another Christian's exercising of his god-given gifts is interfering with the Holy Spirit himself. Such actions should be viewed as the serious offenses they actually are (I Thessalonians 5:19; Eph. 4:30).
A brother that has stumbled but has recovered himself should be treated in a way that will do the least spiritual damage to him, his influence and those his life touches. We should try to restore as much of his original influence and effectiveness as possible, as soon as possible. We need every brother we have. We cannot afford to discard anyone. This is part of the restoration process described in Gal. 6:1 - 5: "...you that are spiritual restore such an one..."
Restoration, however, depends on two factors: (1) the offending brother's life and conduct after the offense, and (2) the willingness of the people around him to let him "live it down." The first factor depends on the offending brother. If, after the offense, he seeks and obtains God's forgiveness, apologizes to those perhaps hurt or damaged by his offense, then begins and continues to live a clean life "void of offense," he has done his part of the restoration process. Simply stated, one who stumbles is required to "get right, live right, stay right with the Lord."
There is nothing more he can do, because the rest of the restoration process depends on the people around him. Now that he has gotten right and is staying right, it is up to the people around him to let him "live down" his wrong. That is, they are the ones who must truly forgive and forget. They are the ones who must allow for the fact that God might want to use the brother again. They are the ones who must allow him the chance to rebuild his influence among them again. Thus, no matter how upright the brother may live and conduct himself after the offense, if the people around him do not forgive and forget it and thereafter give him the benefit of the doubt, he will never live down his offense.
What this all means to the case we have been discussing is this: It has been much more than a decade and the brother in question is still not released or even any closer to being released than at the beginning. And it is certainly not because of his failure to repent to God, apologize to people, and live a life void of offense. Therefore, the delay in restoration must necessarily be on the part of the people around him: the ministry and the saints who have failed to completely forgive and forget and release him in their hearts and minds. The fact that though living right for more than a decade he has not been able to "live it down" is an indictment against us, not him. What it says is that we ourselves have a serious spiritual weakness that prevents us from ever changing a negative attitude about people who make mistakes. Such a negative attitude is nothing more than an insidious form of pride. ["Restore...in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself...For if a man think himself to be something (too important to shoulder another's load of oppressive faults), when he is nothing, he deceiveth himself" (Gal. 6:1,3 KJV/Amplified).] This we all ought to be greatly concerned about. We ought to be embarrassed that it takes us more than 10 or 12 years to resolve this type of problem. Had he backslidden completely, lived in open sin for many years, then come back to the Lord a couple of years ago, he would now be free to preach and go among us. Brethren, this is a reproach on us.
The fact that the proper understanding of this case has not yet reached our ministry is further clearly demonstrated by its current actions. These actions are revealed in a letter recently circulated throughout a select portion of the ministry by a select portion of the ministry. Demonstrating not only a lack of understanding, this letter also reveals the political and cliquish nature of our ministry today. We will reprint below the letter in its entirety, omitting names of people for decorum's sake. Our comments and explanatory remarks will be in bold type, enclosed within brackets [ ].
"CHURCH OF GOD
CALIFORNIA STATE CAMPGROUND
Special Ministers Meeting
September 3, 1989
"At about 6:15PM on September 3, 1989, several ministers met to consider Brother ””'s efforts to clear matters surrounding his Christian experience for many years. Those in attendance were:"
[There are listed six brothers and three sisters, of which total seven are ministers, representing only four of the eleven California congregations. Ministers from the other congregations were not in attendance, neither were they notified before this meeting, nor were many of them sent this announcement of what took place there. Though this letter and the efforts mentioned herein attempt to speak for all of the California ministers, none of those attending seemed to think that the absence of most of the California ministers was anything unusual. One of the attending ministers said he didn't think it was even necessary for the others to attend!]
"The meeting began with Sister”- expressing her desire to meet and confer regarding Brother”-'s voluntary actions to clear his Christian experience with the people of God. Brother”- led the meeting by guiding the responses of those present.
"All were thankful and grateful for what God has revealed to Brother”-. His voluntary confession, apology and request for forgiveness, during the Bakersfield Campmeeting, has set in motion a real clearing of matters long overdo. Also, his willingness to make a public declaration during the State Campmeeting at Pacoima was a further demonstration of his desire to clear and set his Christian experience straight in the minds of many. Brother”-'s humility and contrition manifested on both occasions was a real blessing to us all." [Seemingly, it has been forgotten that he made several confessions, apologies, and requests for forgiveness many years ago as well as at this time. Evidently, the feeling must be that this confession was finally done in the "right" way.]
"Following intense discussion it was unanimously concluded that Brother”- has begun to take the proper steps toward complete reconciliation and restoration. It was concluded that the magnitude of his present actions was such that it left those present without cause to limit what God can do for him spiritually or how he would use him in the future. However, there were some reservations expressed as to how soon and in what capacity God may use him." [This paragraph is extremely alarming! How, after the brother's repentance and confession occurred more than a decade ago, can spirit-filled ministers conclude that a recent confession means that he has just "begun to take the proper steps toward reconciliation and restoration"? How, after a decade in which they refused to let God use him, can they use the word "soon"? Also, how, after stating that they were "without cause to limit what God can do for him," can spirit-led ministers in the next breath express "reservations as to how soon and in what capacity God may use him"? Is this not the height of presumptuousness? How long will it be before we realize that telling God what he can or cannot do and when He can or cannot do it is a manifestation of man-rule, bordering on blasphemy?]
"In keeping with the decision of the ministry both in California and Nationally, it was felt that his period of probation has begun." [After more than a decade of banning him from our pulpits, is it not preposterous to think his "probation" is just now beginning?! Furthermore, from where do we get this concept of putting people on probation? Is that what God himself would do? Does Jesus make people prove themselves for ten years before He allows them to work for Him?] "There were several suggestions, which were felt, if followed would be instrumental in assisting Brother”-in his efforts. It was felt that an appearance in the following congregations similar to the appearances in Bakersfield and Pacoima would be essential because there are many who have felt that no real sin had been committed and that the ministry was too harsh in dealing with Brother””." [Of course, this is obviously a misconception of some sort. The Brother himself confessed to having sinned so no one could reasonably deny that a "real sin had been committed." The disagreement arose regarding the handling of the sin.] "They were:
Los Angeles, California
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
"Brother”- accepted the responsibility to talk with Brother””, (of ””-), regarding his inquiry regarding Brother”-'s status with the ministers in California." [The question is, however, How can one minister speak for the entire state ministry when he has not consulted with any of them but a select few from four congregations?]
"Further, it was felt that any inspiration to engage in ministerial practice should evolve from a close association with an ordained Church of God minister. Someone who could attest to what God was doing and the soundness of expounded doctrine. With the proper qualifying and witnessing of God's instrumentality, it was felt that there would be no cause to oppose what God has done. [Here we see the political "approval process" in full bloom. "Work close with us so we can make sure you preach the things we want you to preach." This requirement would perhaps seem more reasonable if the brother in question had been a stranger and had not already preached among us for 20 years before stumbling. But to require him to have his doctrine checked out before he can be cleared of a completely unrelated offense makes one wonder if the ministers are not simply using this situation as an opportunity to correct something they already disliked about the brother's doctrine but never had the chance to put their hands on it. The brother ran into trouble because of his sin, not his doctrine. Therefore, to clear himself he need only clear his sin, not his doctrine. This he did years ago. To require both makes it appear that his real troubles in this movement stem from his doctrine, and his sin just happened to provide a convenient means and reason for the ministry to silence him. This belief becomes more than rumor and unfounded surmising when it is revealed that many of us in the ministry have heard several ministers express the sentiment that "I have a problem with his doctrine and questions about his preaching that need to be answered before I would release him." Others have said long ago that "I didn't agree with your preaching in the first place." Obviously, doctrine is the real issue.]
Continuing, the letter reads: "It was strongly felt that in the case of ministering, that there be a period of quietness" [in addition to the previous ten to twelve years] "in order not to unduly strain Brother”-'s statement that what he was inspired to do was not prompted by any ˜ulterior motive.' That is, to cause someone to suspect that there was an ˜ulterior motive.' All desired that he would be able to achieve what he has expressed: ˜I want to live a saved and sanctified life and be accepted among the people of God.' All felt he should be encouraged to come among us as often as he is able and afford opportunities to worship and fellowship together." [This he has been doing for the last decade.]
"No conclusion was arrived at as to a specific time in terms of probation or quietness. Since it is being demonstrated that Brother”- can get the mind of God, it was felt that if a pattern established consistent with the suggestions discussed, an orderly course of spiritual events could transpire." [Question: If it is admitted that Brother”- can get the mind of God, what is the point in hampering him any further? If God is leading him, why do we have to continue leading him or keeping him on a leash? We are not the Holy Ghost and we don't control gifts.]
"It was the desire of all to communicate these suggestions to Brother”- personally by one or more of those present in a timely manner and under the right circumstances. In the meantime it was requested that Brother”” along with Sister”-and Brother”- contact Brother”- prior to him leaving Pacoima and express to him that his matter was under consideration and that further communication will follow." [This expression by the three ministers mentioned did take place, but at the time of this writing, more than one year later, the "further communication" has not followed.]
"It was desired for this body of ministers" [meaning the seven attending this meeting], "when appropriate, to meet and consider resolving the existing decision of the California ministry and convey any resolution to the national body of ministers for their consideration and support." [Here we have vividly manifested a very common political device: the clique. Whenever a small group of seven ministers, representing only four out of eleven congregations, takes the authority "to meet and consider resolving" a decision made by a much larger group, "the California ministry," without ever notifying or consulting that larger group, then, brethren, what we have is a clique. Whenever a small group of ministers usurps the authority to "convey any resolution to the national body of ministers," that is, to speak for the entire larger group, then we have a clique at work. Why spirit-filled ministers would choose to operate in this manner, and how they justify such behavior, we don't know. We only know that it is wrong, and that it is time for all such political maneuvering and cliquishness to cease. It is time for the various cliques to quit operating, and it is time for the national ministry to quit accepting the word of only one, two or a very few, as the opinion and decision of many.]
"Again, all expressed their appreciation for Brother””'s revelation and victory!
"The meeting adjourned at about 7:45 with a word of prayer."
Thus concludes the letter of the minutes of the recent ministers' meeting regarding Brother”” . As stated before, only a select few received this letter. Evidently, the letter and the whole process ran into a roadblock of some type, because nothing contained therein ever materialized. The brother in question has yet to receive any communication from any group of ministers anywhere. The issue is still on the table, and more than likely will remain there for several years to come. This brother, like so many others now and before, is a victim of the man-rule spirit and political nature of our ministry.
This being the case, what shall we say about these types of situations? If the ministry does not have the authority to tie-up a person's life indefinitely, and if the power to bind does not mean God backs up everything every little group of ministers does, whether it's reasonable, scriptural or not, and if our ministry cannot cease working politically and cliquishly long enough to effectively resolve anything, then why do we feel obligated to continue to abide by such unreasonable decisions? If the ministry in general does not go along with God, then no one is required to go along with the ministry. "We ought to obey God rather than man," meaning any man, even fellow ministers. That is the biblical standard for us all.
Thus, we must release this brother and all others who have been set aside for unsound, unscriptural, or political reasons, though their lives are clean and upright before God and man. Conscience toward God demands this. Some are being held for misunderstandings of statements spoken decades ago, hospital experiences under various circumstances, deeds done and cleared up long ago, mere disagreements with the "wrong" people, and so forth. Let it be known, therefore, that we regard them, from henceforth and forever, free and unrestricted to serve God and His people, however, wherever and whenever He leads them. Amen.
How The Church Really
Should Be Governed
What has been the overall effect of these political dealings among the ministry? It has resulted in a widespread lack of mutual respect, lack of cooperation and lack of communication among us. It has created an environment plagued with competition, jealousy, working against each other, fear, mistrust and loss of confidence in each other. Not one minister among us really feels free and welcome to preach in every one of our congregations. We have ceased to respect certain gifts and god-given abilities, instead judging and evaluating each other according to doctrinal slant, family history and background, age and "seniority," and personal standards of suitability. Obviously, brethren, none of this should exist. The true spirit of Christ (humility) and the divine love of God, when both are freely shed abroad in our hearts, should preclude these problems. However, these two divine graces seem to be sadly lacking among us, thus allowing the elements of man-rule and politics to prosper throughout our ranks.
In addition to the proper divine graces being present in our midst, there is another way in which to prevent man-rule and politics from ruling the church: restructure the church according to the pattern of the New Testament. Then the church of God would operate as Christ intended it. "The government," wrote Isaiah, "shall be upon His shoulders." Below we briefly discuss church organization according to the biblical model.
Church Organization From the Biblical Model
In order to (1) preserve the original spirit and purpose of the apostolic church, (2) avoid making a sect, and (3) avoid the perils of church politics, the universal church of God, i.e., the body of Christ in the earth, must needs be organized in the following manner:
The Local Congregation.
The New Testament church of God begins with a group of truly born-again Christians as members. Every person washed and redeemed by the blood of Jesus is a member of the church of God, and eligible for membership in the local congregation. The New Testament standard and example is for each member to be sanctified, i.e., filled with and led by the Holy Spirit ("...they were all filled with the Holy Ghost..." Acts 4:31). This produces a spiritual rather than a carnal environment. Here everyone is sensitive to, responsive to and fully obedient to the voice and will of God.
Some of these congregational members will have been "born" in the congregation. Some will come from other places and other groups already professing to be saved. Every Christian must be accepted on the word of his or her testimony; there should be no policy requiring everyone who "comes among us" to get saved all over again if they feel that they are already saved. How can one be forced to ask God's forgiveness for sins he sincerely believes God forgave long ago? Of course, the principal of recognition is operative here: anyone joining a local congregation should expect that he/she would need to establish their Christian profession and character with that group. It is especially reasonable (and wise) for one to demonstrate by his life that he is a Christian indeed before he is invited to assume any positions of leadership. Thus, whether a person is saved in the congregation or in another group, the faithful demonstration of a Christian experience makes them a member of the universal body of Christ and the local congregation.
Each local congregation is self-governing under God. The local church forms its own organization, elects its own officers, and is free to govern its own business affairs and activities. There is no "line of command" or national discipline by which the local church is governed. There is no official board in the sense of an outside group who runs the local church. Rather, the responsibility rests on the broad base of the total membership of the congregation. Boards and/or committees are elected by the total body and these report back to the total body on the work they have been authorized to do. Thus, the basic procedure is democratic, though each member should always be aware that God's will, not human preferences, is the standard for the church.
The Local Pastor
Over this group of saved and sanctified saints God places a man (or woman) as overseer (Acts 20:28; 1 Pet. 5:2). Termed a "bishop" in the New Testament (1 Tim. 3:1; Tit. 1:7) and commonly called a "pastor" today, this overseer is gifted by God (Eph. 4:11), given spiritual authority (Heb. 13:17), and supernaturally enabled to lead and feed the "flock." Thus, he is called a "shepherd," and Jesus Christ, who called him and made him a shepherd, is called the "Chief Shepherd (1 Pet. 5:4). No mention is made of differing ranks and levels of shepherds: only "shepherds" and a "Chief Shepherd." The local shepherds or pastors, therefore, are all on the same level. However, each local pastor, as overseer, has more authority than any other minister who happens to be in that congregation.
According to 1 Pet. 5, the relationship between a pastor and his congregation is not one in which the pastor rules over the congregation like a tyrant or a king with subservient subjects. Nor is it the relationship of a condescending father-figure ruling over a lot of little children. "Don't be lords but examples" is Peter's admonition to pastors. This is because the only difference between the shepherd and his sheep is that the shepherd has been given a special gift, special responsibilities to fulfill with that gift, and special authority to use in order to fulfill those responsibilities. He, too, is a servant, although a special one.
Thus, the true scriptural relationship between a pastor and his congregation more closely resembles a good marriage, the partnership between husband and wife. Notice the marriage relationship between Christ, the Chief Shepherd, and the church in Eph. 5:22-32 and throughout the Bible. The under shepherd and the local congregation would thus have a similar relationship. The congregation thus resembles a family, in which all members are equal in importance but, because of gifts and callings, different in roles and responsibilities. Mutual respect of all parties for each other is the basic building block of the relationship. The pastor, realizing that he is leading born-again, Spirit-filled people of God and not just common, ordinary people, must consider and respect their wishes, their suggestions, their rights and their needs. The congregation, realizing that it is placed by God under a God-called, God-gifted and God-authorized pastor, and not just any man, must respect, consider and obey that pastor. Neither is to abuse the other by selfishly and dogmatically insisting on its own rights, privileges or interests. There will be times when either the pastor or the congregation will have its way, and the other will submit. There will be other times when neither the pastor nor the congregation will have its way, as in a compromise agreement. This is mutual respect and consideration on the local level. It works just like a good marriage works.
The responsibilities of a pastor are many, though the five listed below will cover most of them. He is required:
(1) To lead the flock, by precept, vision, example and managerial ability (1 Pet. 5:2,3; 1 Tim. 3:4,5; 4:12;
(2) To feed the flock by preaching, teaching, counseling and enforcing the Word, in public and in private
(1 Pet. 5:2; Acts 20:28; John 21:17; Jeremiah 23:4; 1 Tim. 3:2; 5:20; 2 Tim. 2:24-26; 4:2; Tit. 9-13);
(3) To nurture the flock, which includes protecting (Acts 20:29-31; Tit. 1:7-9; Heb. 13:17), comforting
(1 Thessalonians 5:14; Eph. 6:22), visiting and being hospitable (1 Tim. 3:2; Tit. 1:8);
(4) To train and equip them for the work of ministry (Eph. 4:12 in most translations; 1 Tim. 2:2); and
(5) To exercise them, i.e., to provide opportunities for them to serve (2 Cor. 8 & 9; Rom. 16:1,2; Phil. 4:3;
1 Tim. 6:17,18; Tit. 3:8,13,14).
The pastor himself may not do all of these things. Indeed, it is too much for one person to do. Nor should we assume that the pastor is the only one in the congregation gifted to do all of the above. But ultimately, he alone is responsible that they all get done. Therefore, he must delegate responsibility, train and equip others, and in general, oversee that all the needs of his congregation are met. Because he is ultimately responsible for everything that goes on, be it spiritual or temporal, he is to have at least an advisory voice in all areas of the life and business of the church.
Needless to say, many, many pastors do not fulfill”or even know”their complete responsibilities. Many pastors are too distant from their flock, serving only as a pulpit preacher on Sundays. Others are too close to their flocks, delving into and interfering with their private lives and personal business more than necessary. For example, there is generally no reason why one's pastor must be consulted about the buying and selling, coming and going of normal, daily life. This type of practice serves only to make the people overly dependent on the pastor, as well as to wear him out unnecessarily. The ultimate aim and purpose of Jesus and the pastor is for each sheep in the flock to grow up into a sound, mature and self-motivated Christian, able to shoulder his own burdens and to help someone else as well (Eph. 4:13-16).
Beyond the Local Congregation
Beyond the local congregation, there are other congregations and groups of saved people. When aware of each other, these congregations may associate together, thus acknowledging that they recognize God's spirit and love in the other. Each recognizes the other as being a part of the general body of Christ. All of the redeemed, being in fellowship with God the Father, are in fellowship with other.
This association between congregations must be very loosely organized. If they form an exclusive organization, either national, statewide or otherwise, or if they begin even on an informal basis to limit their association only to each other, then they shut out other true people of God and make themselves a sect. Thus, they must bear in mind that although they are all part of the general worldwide body of Christ, on the local level they must remain autonomous. Each congregation must remain independent even though it may associate with other congregations.
Interestingly, this is exactly the concept with which the original church of God reformation”and the apostolic church”began. Quoting Bro. F. G. Smith in The Last Reformation, pages 54 to 55: "We have already shown that the church in its visible phase was made up of various local congregations ˜set in order' by apostolic authority. So far as their own local affairs were concerned, these congregations were autonomous. When a matter was purely local, such as the financial oversight and ministration in the church at Jerusalem, the local congregation itself determined the course of action and (excepting that class of officials who were divinely chosen) who should be appointed to oversee it... But while these congregations possessed such autonomy and were distributed over a wide territory, they were not in all respects independent, isolated units. As members of Christ sharing in a common life and engaged in a common cause, they were bound together in one brotherhood by ties of fellowship and love. In addition to the union of separate individuals in one locality under the care of the local presbytery, the local congregations themselves were brought into close, sympathetic relationship with one another through the labors and influence of those general ministers who were not attached to particular churches, but whose gifts, callings, and qualifications fitted them for general service throughout the various congregations...In the case of infant churches, it is evident that oversight was of the apostolic kind”direct and immediate. But whenever they became thoroughly established, the principle of local autonomy was recognized and the relation of the general ministers to such congregations was evangelistic rather than apostolic”helpers and advisors, not administrative directors."
Thus we see that originally the standard was local autonomy and loosely-knit association with other congregations. Over the years, however, we have gradually limited our association only to congregations and saints in the "Evening Light," thus making ourselves a sect. This has given rise to the idea of a "national" ministers body, a "national" campmeeting, a "church publishing company," etc., with all of its dire spiritual consequences: politics, usurping of God's authority (man-rule), group pressure, ministerial documents, eventual group stagnation, etc.
The "Church of God”Evening Light Saints" as a body can exist only as a sect. This is because the original "evening light" was a movement of the Spirit of God in the world, not a physical group of people. The original Evening Light movement included all the saved and had as its purpose the rejection of the walls that separated Christians and the unification in spirit of all who serve God in holiness. It was a message, not a group. That message was that sectism and wall-building was wrong. It was never intended that the people who heard the message would form a little group themselves. That is nothing more than tearing down certain walls to build others.
It was impossible then and now to encapsulate that "evening light" message in one little group of people. This the original brethren knew quite well and warned us against: "The great movement is in the world, and any attempt to ˜corner' it or to limit it to a particular body of people could only result in making that body a sect, or faction" (Bro. A.L. Byers, Birth of a Reformation, page 32).
Brethren, we need to quit trying to be a "national" church, pressuring every local congregation to be identical in every respect. Instead, let each minister concentrate on transforming the local congregation he or she works with into a spiritually strong and healthy reproduction of the apostolic church of Jesus Christ. We need to recapture the spirit, fire, power, love, burden, consecration and self-denial of the church of the Acts. Let each congregation view itself as part of the worldwide church, not merely as part of the Church of God”Evening Light Saints. Let each congregation utilize the gifts found in the general body of Christ, not limiting itself to the men, the means, the materials and the methods of the Church of God”Evening Light Saints. There is no way in the world for any one religious group to possess all of the gifts within itself. Our attachment and loyalty, then, must be to the general body, not merely to each other. Our love, our burden, our reaching out must be to everyone, no matter what group they may be of.
The Presbytery (or the Ministry)
Having said thus, most of the questions regarding the ministry have already been answered. The main question is, Who or what is the presbytery? From the discussion above, it obviously follows that the presbytery of God is definitely not the little group of approximately one hundred Evening Light Saints ministers we think it to be. God have mercy on the world if our presbytery is the whole presbytery of the body of Christ! The presbytery of God includes all true ministers of God: everybody whom He has called, chosen and gifted to carry his message to the world. This includes thousands of missionaries, evangelists, and other gospel workers who carry God's word to people and places we have never been and will never go. There are far more ministers in God's presbytery than there are saints in our entire Evening Light group.
Thus, it is very presumptuous”and erroneous”for us to talk about the "national ministry" or the "California ministry" or the "Oklahoma ministry." Who exactly are we talking about? Who do we really mean? Who is included in such terms? When we say the "national ministry," we mean the "national ministry" of what? Of the body of Christ or merely the Church of God”Evening Light Saints? Obviously, we mean the national ministry of the Church of God”Evening Light Saints. This, too, shows that we are a sect: our leaders are not leaders for the entire body of Christ but for our group only. (Of course, this is true of all denominational leaders.) If our ministry for some reason decides to excommunicate someone, have we really excommunicated them out of the body of Christ? When our ministry gets together and makes rulings on certain matters, who are we speaking for? Who are we speaking to? Who do we expect to obey it? The entire body of Christ or the group of Evening Light Saints?
This poses monumental problems and extremely serious ramifications for our entire religious structure (and for every other denomination as well). If our group is not the body of Christ, then:
(1). How can our ministry be justified in assuming authority to rule over an entire group of blood-washed saints belonging only to God, not to the ministry? and
(2). Who and what are the individual blood-washed saints required to obey”the group rules, the group ministry, their local pastors, the New Testament, or what?
In answer to the first question, the ministry has no authority as a body. An individual minister may have authority as a pastor, but only over the local congregation God has placed him over. His authority does not extend outside of his local congregation. This eliminates the idea of "bishops," "presiding elders," and other individual ministers that supposedly have the authority to rule over other ministers. In the New Testament, "bishop" means pastor or overseer of a local congregation only. An individual minister may have great influence among other ministers, and his gift may be greatly needed and used among them, but he does not occupy a position of ruling authority over them.
When a group of local pastors get together, they do not suddenly accumulate collective or group authority to rule over other congregations. They may serve other congregations in an advisory capacity when asked, but not with binding authority, because they have none. The belief that a group of ministers possesses collective authority over an entire body of God's people is completely sectarian in nature and origin. This collective authority Bro. F. G. Smith called "corporate power," meaning by this term, "body power," i.e., the authority of a collective body of ministers. He condemned "corporate power" soundly: "This assumed corporate power of the clergy has been one of the fundamental causes of sect-making. When a general clerical body assumes the right in its corporate capacity to prescribe rules of either faith or practice, written or unwritten, and then to enforce them by judicial action, it is a direct violation of the New Testament standard, and of the rights of individual consciences" (The Last Reformation, p. 120).
Thus, every minister should be content to rule only that flock over which the Holy Ghost has made him overseer. All other congregations he should influence and advise only as they ask and allow him the privilege.
As for who or what blood-washed saints are required to obey, the obvious answer is, God, as He reveals Himself in the New Testament. They are required to obey their pastors, but only as he follows Jesus (Gal. 1:8; 1 Cor. 11:1; 2 Tim. 1:13). It is not harmful to obey group rules and group ministers, as long as they all agree with the New Testament. But when and where they differ, each individual saint is required to follow after God, and must be free to do so, group rules and group ministry notwithstanding. In other words, nobody is required to obey the ministry simply because it is the ministry. No one is required to obey the church just because it is the church. The authority of any ministry comes only from perfect agreement with the New Testament. Where that agreement ends, all authority ends, and no one is required to obey it. This fact all Christians should follow, without feeling that they are being rebellious.
From this discussion another very important question arises: Has God placed other ministers over the local pastor? The answer to this question will clearly illustrate what is wrong with church government throughout the entire religious world.
According to the New Testament model of 1 Pet. 5 and elsewhere, the chain of command in the church begins with Jesus Christ, the Head and Chief Shepherd, and extends downward to the local pastors, each of whom oversees a local congregation of saints. Thus, there are three basic levels in the New Testament hierarchy. This is illustrated in Figure 11-1. Pastors (level 2) get the word and revelation directly from Jesus (level 1) to feed the flock (level 3). They are accountable to Jesus, who made them overseers. They may associate with each other (indicated by horizontal arrows between pastors and congregations), but only as equals. Included are non-pastoral ministers, who may be either unattached to any congregation (as are Minister D and Minister E) or members of a congregation (as are the ministers included in Congregations A, B, and C).
With this system, everything is simple. From the pastors' standpoint, he must simply look to Jesus as he leads his flock. Within the bounds of good judgment and the teaching of the Holy Scriptures, he is God's man: free to preach his deepest convictions and strive for his greatest visions and burdens without fear. From the standpoint of the individual saint, nothing more is required than to live a holy life before God, working in unity with his spiritual brothers and sisters as together they follow the pastor. Such a congregation can do wonders in the community in which they live.
But man, being the inventor of evil things that he is, is not content to leave the church simple. Therefore, he has interjected another level into the model between Jesus and the local pastors. (See Figure 11-2.) This extraneous level is the Group Presbytery.
Depending on the denomination, this group presbytery may be formal or informal. It includes whoever is ranked higher than the pastor, whether they are formally called bishops, cardinals, governors, elders, "headquarters," or whatever. Informally, it may be called the "national ministers council," consisting of a group of ministers with no special titles who make or agree on rules that all ministers must follow. Whatever the situation, every minister who is part of any religious group knows that above him is the group presbytery. These are the people that tell him what to do or not do, that give him approval or disapproval, and that offer or withdraw fellowship. These are the people he means when he says "I would do such-and-such but ˜they' wouldn't like it" or "What will the ˜brethren' say or do if I did that?" The Group Presbytery stands between Jesus and the local pastors. Sometimes, as we discussed, it even appoints the local pastors. It makes every attempt possible to control the local pastor (and his congregation). The Group Presbytery assumes to have the authority and clout to keep all ministers "in line," influencing what they say and do and how they lead their congregations. It even claims authority to set the pastor "right" when he goes "wrong," not realizing that the pastor and the congregation, when in the proper relationship described above, check and balance each other. (If the pastor gets out of line, his spiritual congregation has the right and duty to point it out. If he responds, well; if not, then they can either leave or get him to leave. If the congregation goes wrong, then the pastor has the right and duty to correct, rebuke and set them straight.)
The Group Presbytery thus prevents the individual minister from freely being "God's man." He is forced to become a "company man." Otherwise he may be forced out of the group. He must table every conviction and revelation received from God that does not agree with the group ministerial platform, no matter how right his convictions may be. He is forced to carry his congregation along with the rest in the group, even if they are dragging their feet and stagnating. Thus, he must, to a degree, fail his congregation in order to stay in good with the group ministry. He is distracted from emphasizing "thus saith the Lord" to "thus saith the brethren."
That this condition is a heinous sin before God should be plain for all to see. What man or group of men would dare take the place of authority over other God-called men reserved only for Jesus Christ Himself? And yet, throughout the religious world, our group included, this is the norm. Jesus Christ, the Head, is overshadowed and blocked from view by men and, as our pioneer brethren labeled it, their "sect machinery," including by such terminology all of the carnal practices and attitudes we've mentioned in previous chapters, and more besides.
That the church cannot be what it should be until Jesus Christ Himself is allowed to resume his rightful place of leadership should also be plain for all to see. Men trust themselves more than they trust God, and for this reason have practiced pushing Christ aside as true leader of the church. Of course, they will remonstrate and claim either that they haven't done so or that it is impossible to do, but everyday facts and observations throughout the religious world indicate it is true anyway. Instead of protesting, we each ought to be asking God, "How can I change matters? How can I as a pastor or minister cease to cooperate with a sect-type system that rules You out of Your rightful position of spiritual leadership? How can I as an ordinary Christian switch my loyalty and my consecration from a system of religion, even a ˜good' one, to strict obedience to the divine will of God?" These, brethren, are the attitudes we should now be adopting personally.
May God help us to do so.
A CALL TO ACTION
A Call To Action
In this book we have seen that exclusivity is not the true biblical spirit of the church, that over-emphasis of secondary matters is not the true biblical purpose and mission of the church, and that man-rule is not the true biblical means of governing the church. We have seen that these three characteristics are instead the characteristics of a sect. We have also seen that:
(1) There is no religious group on earth that has all the truth, i.e., it is impossible to corner all of God in one
(2) There is no religious group on earth that has only truth, that is, that does not contain some doctrinal or
spiritual error in it somewhere.
(3) There is no religious group on earth that includes all the saved. That is, no matter how big a group
becomes, there will always be some saved person outside of that group who is not a part of it.
(4) There is no religious group on earth (and never has been one) in which all the members agree on
All these facts tell us that it is impossible to have a religious group of any type or belief that is a perfect composite of the ideal church of God. The people of God have been scattered among the various groups and denominations and it is impossible to bring them all together again into one visible body.
Seeing then that this is impossible, what is to be the goal of those who would want to be part of a spiritual, "closest to the original" congregation? What are we to be seeking? What are we to be working for? What changes must be made in our present way of thinking and doing things? What is to be our course of action?
To be effective, our course of action must involve the following changes in attitude and behavior:
1. We must eliminate the idea and practice of exclusiveness. We must be willing to work with other true Christians outside of the Evening Light circle, sharing with them what God has given us and using what God has given them. We must realize that if our group of five or six thousand was indeed the only group of true Christians in the world then the world would be in serious trouble indeed. The darkness of five billion heathens would quickly envelop and overwhelm the light of only five thousand saints. The job is too big for us! It would also help us to arrive at the right, realistic perspective by honestly answering the following questions: What would be the impact on the world if everyone of "us" died tonight? Would the world even miss "us?" Would evil immediately start to abound more and more in our absence? The point is, we need the world of Christendom and God needs the world of Christendom, for although every professed Christian is not true, neither are they all false. Each one leaves his mark on this world. As Jesus said, "He that is not against us is on our part" (Mk. 9:38-40).
As Bro. F. G. Smith wrote, "To rally around a creed [written or unwritten] framed by human authority and make it the basis of union is but to teach a system”a sect system; but to rally around the person of Jesus Christ and make him the supreme object of our faith, hope and love is to contend for what the Bible terms the faith, the truth, the gospel" (The Last Reformation, p. 119). We must cease teaching our Evening Light system and calling it the "truth," and start pointing people to Jesus Christ, who really is the "truth."
2. We must quit emphasizing secondary doctrines and start concentrating on the true business of the church: reaching out and saving souls. We must cease picking on each other and neutralizing each other because of these secondary doctrines, and join together on the weightier matters. This we must do not only among ourselves but, as stated above, with Christians everywhere. "It is a matter of common knowledge," writes Bro. Smith, "that evangelical Christians are not driven further apart but are really driven together whenever Christianity itself is placed under any special trial, as, for example, in foreign missionary work in heathen lands. And even in our own country, whenever a great local interest is taken in the work of soul-saving there is a corresponding tendency for Christians of different sects to ignore their differences of opinion and get together as if they all believed in a common Lord over all and were all members of the same family" (The Last Reformation, p. 114). What this all means is that the primary purpose of the church is to concentrate on the presenting of the gospel that saves and unites men rather than on the issues that divide them. In the end, what matters is that they have believed on Jesus Christ and been forgiven of their sins.
3. In order to avoid politics and sectarian strife in the leadership, and to avoid individual burdens from being hindered by the larger body, we must start viewing the Evening Light movement as a more loosely-knit association of autonomous congregations in fellowship with each other but not bound by each other's actions or beliefs. The ministry as a body should be viewed as having no special collective authority or influence over any congregation. Each congregation is under the pastor that God has placed over it, and that pastor is under Jesus Christ, not a body of ministers. That pastor must answer to Jesus, the Chief Shepherd, and be in cooperation with his congregation, which is a body of Spirit-filled people of God. No pastor or congregation should be required to follow certain rules or practices merely because "this is how the saints do it" or "the brethren agreed upon it." Each should be allowed to follow his own god-given convictions as long as those convictions do not involve sin. There should be no orders, edicts, or binding agreements from Guthrie, Oklahoma, or any other place or ministerial conference. This is the only way we can avoid being a sect.
The purpose of this book is not to blow the church apart, but to help us see that the church of God is wider than we have thought before. Our intention is to help us break down the walls we have erected”first, between ourselves, and second, between our group and other true Christians. It is also our intention to forge a place of freedom where every saint, every minister, and every congregation can feel free to worship and serve God aright, according to their own Holy Ghost-convictions.
A Call for Spiritual Freedom
Thus, the message of this book can be summarized as a call for spiritual freedom in the following ways:
1. Every saint of God must have the freedom to live out his/her own god-given convictions. As long as those convictions do not involve sins clearly prohibited by the New Testament, each saint is biblically entitled to the respect and fellowship of all other saints. We must each be free to be loyal to God first, to each other second. The convictions of one saint must never be imposed on another saint. "Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind" (Rom. 14:5).
2. Every saint of God must be free to fellowship every other saint of God, whether they be of the Evening Light movement or not. Some have objected to this idea by introducing the concept of "saints in light" as opposed to mere "saints." Thus, they fellowship only "saints in light." The truth is, by biblical definition every saint is in light, or else he is not a saint (1 John 1:5-7). A saint is a saint, whatever the denomination or group affiliation. Each Christian must be free to recognize, accept and associate with any of his brothers or sisters in the Lord, according to the way God directs and arranges. No one should ever be disfellowshiped because he acknowledges and associates with Christians outside of our group.
3. Every minister called of God must be given the freedom to preach his/her god-given convictions, regardless of who disagrees with those convictions. No minister should be required to uphold doctrines he is not convinced of in order to gain the approval of the brethren. Neither should we have to hide our true convictions from each other, but should be able to be open, honest and unafraid of each other.
4. Every minister must be free to work with whomever God leads him, wherever God leads him and however God leads him”without fear of reprisal, informal or formal excommunication and censure, or withdrawal of fellowship. Let sin ONLY be the basis for any reprisals or withdrawal of fellowship. The New Testament draws a line between saints and sinners, but not between saints. Lines drawn between saints are man-made.
5. Every congregation must be free to witness collectively to its community in the way it is led of God. In fulfilling its responsibilities to the world around it, each congregation must be free to use the materials, the methods, and the people that God has placed at its disposal. It must not be limited to Evening Light materials, methods, or personnel.
6. Each congregation must be viewed as a separate and autonomous body, merely in association with other congregations. Each congregation must be completely free to direct its own internal affairs without pressure from any outside source, be it another congregation or another minister or ministers. Other sources can give advice at the request of the congregation and then, only in the capacity requested. The right to choose a pastor for a congregation belongs only to the congregation itself.
A Solemn Warning to All
Until this point, we have attempted to present what we believe to be God's perspective of our movement in a manner as pleasant and as humble as possible. We would want it to end on the same positive note. However, there is a point to be made that requires some sternness. That is, we would like for this message to be considered as an urgent warning from God himself:
The Evening Light movement has been "weighed in the balance
and found wanting."
We have taken God's great blessings and selfishly enjoyed them. We are at the critical point where God evaluates his servants and renders the judgment, "Take from him that which he hath and give it to him that is willing to do God's will. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required..." (Lu. 12:48).
The fact that many of God's people in this movement already have understanding and insight along these lines is proof that God wants this message proclaimed throughout the Evening Light movement. Several of them have listed their names in the back of this book constituting a "Group of Concerned Gospel Workers and Saints." Others have been quietly praying and waiting for their freedom. They will be glad to know that they too can become a part of this "Group of Concerned Gospel Workers and Saints." The concerns are widespread and serious enough to make it absolutely necessary for us to hold some type of meeting for ministers, workers and even laypersons in order to discuss these matters to everyone's satisfaction. Thus, this book makes an official request for such a meeting to be held soon.
This may perhaps be our last warning before God removes the "candlestick," i.e., the light of his Spirit and Word, and the "live" saints from our midst. As such, this warning must not be taken lightly. Our problems and weaknesses are too great and predominant to be ignored any longer without suffering the judgments of God. We cannot go on forever with impunity. We cannot continue to claim or act like nothing much is wrong. We cannot indefinitely go on singing about "glorious Zion" and congratulating each other for being in such a great movement, when in actuality we have grown stagnant and are not moving at all.
Without making several radical changes, sooner or later we face a great loss at the hands of God himself. Already we have suffered the loss of many gifts and gifted people, many souls, much influence, much spirituality, etc. We are now on the brink of losing it all: of being left with a form of godliness and religion but none of the power. Brethren, this is an extremely serious position to be in, for when we lose the Spirit of God, we have lost it all.
Unity, Our Ultimate Desire
Our ultimate desire is the unity of God's people everywhere”not just among the Evening Light Saints but among all Christians. That unity must then be based, not on agreement regarding secondary conscience matters, nor political or personality agreements, but on the fact that we all want to go to heaven, we are all saved, and we are all in fellowship with the same heavenly Father. Thus, there is no good reason that we cannot all be in fellowship with each other.
There are only two possible sides to be on: God's or Satan's. As Christians, we are all on God's side. That there should be lines drawn and differences made that separate brethren has never been God's will or desire. Such disunity is a result of the human element: human lack of understanding, human imperfections and plain old human selfishness. Those who recognize this are required to forsake all religious doctrines and systems that separate, and must take a stand for Christian unity based on the person of Jesus Christ instead. We believe it is our spiritual duty to rally around the person and message of Jesus Christ, making him alone the object of our faith, hope and love.
May God bless this message to the hearts of all concerned saints and friends everywhere.
The following references were utilized in the writing of this book. Copies may be obtained from their respective publishers.
Brown, Charles Ewing. When the Trumpet Sounded. Anderson, IN: Gospel Trumpet Company (Warner Press), 1951.
Byers, Andrew L. The Birth of a Reformation. Anderson, IN: Gospel Trumpet Company, 1921.
Byers, Ruthe and Pruitt, Lawrence. Editors, Evening Light Songs. Guthrie, OK: Faith Publishing House, 1949. Revised 1987.
Clarke, Adam. Clarke's Commentary. New York, NY: Abingdon Press.
Gospel Trumpet Newspaper, various issues and authors, 1884 - 1915.
Nelson, Thomas. Home, Health and Success. Anderson, IN: Gospel Trumpet Company, 1908.
Nuttall, Clayton L. The Weeping Church. Schaumberg, IL: Regular Baptist Press, 1985.
Riggle, Herbert M. The Christian Church: Its Rise and Progress. Anderson, IN: Gospel Trumpet Company, 1911.
Smith, Frederick G. The Last Reformation. Anderson, IN: Gospel Trumpet Company, 1919.
Smith, Frederick G. The Revelation Explained. Anderson, IN: Gospel Trumpet Company, 1918.
Smith, Frederick G. What the Bible Teaches. Anderson, IN: Gospel Trumpet Company, 1914.
Smith, John W. V. Heralds of a Brighter Day. Anderson, IN: Gospel Trumpet Company, 1956.
Smith, John W. V. The Quest for Holiness and Unity. Anderson, IN: The Warner Press (formerly Gospel Trumpet Company), 1980.
Smith, John W. V. Truth Marches On. Anderson, IN: Gospel Trumpet Co., 1956.
Sterner, R. Eugene. We Reach Our Hands in Fellowship. Anderson, IN: Gospel Trumpet Company (Warner Press), 1960.
Warner, Daniel Sidney. The Church of God. Guthrie, OK: Faith Publishing House, undated.
Warner, Daniel Sidney. Marriage and Divorce. Grand Junction, MI: Gospel Trumpet Company, 1895.
Warner, Daniel S. and Riggle, H. M. The Cleansing of the Sanctuary. Moundsville, WV: Gospel Trumpet Company, 1903.
Wickersham, Henry C. A History of the Church. Moundsville, WV: Gospel Trumpet Company, 1900.
Wilkerson, David. Set the Trumpet to Thy Mouth. Lindale, TX: World Challenge, 1985.
Wilson, Ostis B. Remove Not the Ancient Landmarks. Guthrie, OK: Faith Publishing House, undated.
Woodrow, Ralph. Women's Adornment: What Does the Bible Really Say? Riverside, CA: Ralph Woodrow Evangelistic Assoc., Inc., 1983.
The Current Group of Concerned Gospel Workers
The following ministers, workers, and saints constitute the current "group of concerned gospel workers and saints. By no means does this represent all of those concerned about the conditions of the church everywhere. There are many, many more, but these few have taken the initiative to "get the ball rolling. Besides, truth is truth no matter who agrees or disagrees with it.
Listing their names below simply indicates that they are very burdened and concerned about the issues dealt with in this book. They would like to see these issues quickly and permanently resolved, and the church begin to move on. They would like to see spiritual freedom granted to every saint and every minister. Finally, they would like to see the brethren”all Christian brethren”dwell together at last in true unity and love.
Philip A. Matthews Sacramento, CA
Segatha R. Matthews Sacramento, CA
L. "Mackey Francisco Austin, TX
Juanita Francisco Austin, TX
Cecil A. Dyer Sacramento, CA
Gloria Pierro Dyer Sacramento, CA
Robert L. McClendon Orangevale, CA
C. "James Randle Sacramento, CA
Rosetta Randle Sacramento, CA
Odeever Kelley Oklahoma City, OK
Bro/Sis Myrle Eddens Arcadia, OK
Nathaniel Francisco Inglewood, CA
Ellis Andrews Bakersfield, CA
Cora Andrews Bakersfield, CA
H. Wayne Douglas Rancho Cucamonga, CA
G. A. Ray Douglas Rancho Cucamonga, CA
John Eddens Oklahoma City, OK
Mary E. Eddens Oklahoma City, OK
Jessie A. Douglas Portland, OR
Earl Jackson Bakersfield, CA
Earline Jackson Bakersfield, CA
If you are a concerned gospel worker or saint and would like for your name to appear in future editions of this book, please write and tell us so.
Many of you reading this second printing of the "Green Book are probably interested in the aftermath. What has transpired from the time this book was distributed until now, January 2005? How was the book distributed and to whom? How it was it received and accepted? What happened to the author and those associated with the book? And where do things stand now”with the Church of God Evening Light Saints in general and with those associated with the book?
The first printing of Show the House to the House was written during the last half of 1990 and published and distributed in March, 1991. About 600 copies, bound in a pastel green cover, were sent for free in the mail to all of the Church of God ministers, leaders, members (present and past), members' children who had been raised in the church, and whoever else was associated with the Church of God. We sent a copy to whomever we could get a current address for.
The purpose for using this method was because the church has never had a safe forum in which controversial issues could be freely discussed and resolved without fear of reprisal or risk of losing status, influence, or position. By circumventing this politicized arena, it was the hope and intention of the author and "Group of Concerned Gospel Workers to start a grassroots movement from the bottom up”throw the truth out there and let it be carried wherever God allowed it to go, sowing seeds that would surely germinate and influence attitudes sooner or later. But our real desire was to receive a major ministers' meeting as called for in the book.
This, however, did not happen. Instead, as expected, the church recoiled in shocked indignation. The author was labeled a "rebel and forced to the fringes of the movement, i.e., ignored and discounted. Only two of my fellow ministers ever called me to discuss the book. Except for the ministers and congregations in Northern California, everyone else simply ignored me for many years. Several church members throughout the country requested that their names be immediately removed from whatever mailing list had been used. Of course, others were very happy to receive a copy. Several parents got upset that their grown, middle-aged children received a copy. Most of these "children, however, didn't complain at all. Several pastors requested that their congregational members refuse to read the books and instead bring them in for physical destruction, i.e., burning. Many people admitted that some of the issues raised in the book might be legitimate concerns, but some of the names listed in "The Group of Concerned Gospel Workers and Saints were offensive to them. Several of the saints listed there had already been ostracized and forced to the fringes earlier in life, often because of the very issues mentioned in the book. So the book was guilty by association.
With no ministers' meeting forthcoming after five years, the author wrote another smaller, less confrontational letter to more than 100 of the Church of God's the ministers in 1996. A response card designed to reveal their interest for a meeting to discuss these issues accompanied this letter. Only a handful of these cards was ever returned, although the few returned did include a couple of the major ministers in this movement. But still, there was not enough response to warrant having a meeting.
By the spring of 1999, enough people were able to agree to have a ministers' meeting, largely as an attempt to resolve the issue of the author working with the rest of the Church of God ministry. This took place on May 14-15, 1999, in the Church of God chapel at Fresno, California. Most of the major leaders of the movement were in attendance at this meeting, which turned out to be, as stated later, "a successful endeavor. The two days of discussion and clarification revealed that most of the ministers believed the "green book made several valid points. Absolutely nothing was officially retracted or refuted. The ministers agreed that several of the issues merited our further discussion and resolution as a body. The chief objection no longer seemed to be the content of the book but the method used to propagate it and the book's overly critical tone. These matters were resolved and several conditions were placed upon the author to permit his continued working with the Church of God ministry.
The ministers' summary letter is included below:
May 15, 1999
A Church of God Ministers' Meeting took place in Fresno, California on May 14 and 15, in regards to Brother Philip Matthews' book, Show the House to the House. The meeting followed an agenda format regarding four topical areas. Those four areas were:
1. Church Organization and Government
2. Church Doctrine
3. Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage
4. Focus and Direction of the Church
Discussion took place with the topics presented, allowing Brother Matthews to respond. This clarification of the questions took place and some summations were given. At the conclusion of the meeting the body of ministers deliberated and expressed concerns that developed from the discussion. An overall summarization of the entire discussion was then presented to the ministry. Each of the ministers present was able to respond, and did respond as to whether they could work with Brother Philip Matthews, and gave him liberty to minister in their congregation.
Unanimous agreement was reached, with these conditions:
That he has to build confidence and allow congregations to gain confidence in his ministry.
That he give care and respect to others who may not be receptive to his ministry.
That he work with the California ministers and attend more meetings with the brethren in the East, as the Lord permits (to acquaint himself with them)
That he recognize that New Testament truth is derived from the Hebrew scriptures. Consequently, that he must submit to Old Testament principles of truth that are not countermanded by the New Testament.
That he recognize the Bible teaches submission to the presbytery (I Cor. 14:31-32), and such submission means a respect for and a sensitivity to the work of the ministry. Also, it means such a love for the Lord's work that we will not fight against it or give the perception of doing so even if we disagree.
That he be careful of excessive intellectualism. Rigorous scriptural analysis is good and doctrines that have sound theological underpinnings are important. We recommend that he remembers that if one has to choose between logically-parsed statements of truth and vital, heartfelt, sin-conquering, flesh-denying experience with God, one should choose the latter.
That he have respect for the sensitivities of those who hold dear the teachings of their Church of God doctrine, that the valuable things of that not be lost.
That he not focus on the negative aspects of Church of God doctrines, but the positive, when teaching the young people.
The ministers concluded that some of the points made in the publication, Show the House to the House, had validity, but the spirit in which they were presented was too critical and negative. Brother Matthews, admitting that this was true, apologized to the body for this attitude. Even the Lord pricked his heart regarding his being too critical, and he sought and received spiritual help previous to this meeting. He expressed intention to be careful to avoid this type of behavior in the future.
There was general appreciation expressed by the ministers about the good spirit which prevailed throughout this meeting, making it a successful endeavor.
Brother Clarence Hattley
Brother Archible Sherman, Jr.
Brother Keith Fuller
Brother James Huskey
Brother Toney Samons
Brother Charles Taylor
Sister Bonnie Riley
Brother Adriel Bowman
Brother Philip Matthews
Brother Hayward Cox
Sister Tina Cox
Brother Ed Wilson
Brother Leslie Busby
Brother Eddie Johnson
Brother Louis Kimble
Brother Darrell Johnson
Brother Charles Chandler
Brother Ronald Hattley