Wanted: Leaders who will answer
The writer is publisher of Servants' News, P.O. Box 220, Charlotte, Mich. 48813, U.S.A.
By Norman Edwards
CHARLOTTE, Mich.--The four Gospels show us the method by which Christ taught. The book of Acts shows us the method by which His apostles taught. What do we find in these books? Do we find the complete text of their best hour-long sermons? How about summaries of their sermons? Do we see articles or tracts they wrote to be copied and distributed?
No. We find short messages such as the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and "Steven's apology" (Acts 7). The former takes about 15 minutes to read aloud, the latter about nine. Most of what we find are questions and answers: between Christ and His disciples, between Christ and the religious leaders who opposed Him, between the apostles and believers, and between the apostles and those who opposed them.
Some questions were a genuine search for knowledge; others were intended to test the teacher.
This is in stark contrast to the leaders of the various Church of God groups today! Most of these leaders never take questions in an open meeting from their own members, let alone questions from people opposed to their teaching.
Why is it so important to answer questions in public? It is important because it is a true test to determine if a leader really knows what he is talking about or not.
If a meeting is truly open, the leader will not know what questions are going to be asked beforehand. Once a question is asked and everyone hears it, the question cannot be unasked. Either the leader must answer it and the people can judge the answer, or he must decline to answer and the people will realize that he probably does not have a good answer.
Before someone objects that our church organizations are too big and spread out to accept questions, realize that questions and answers can be written down and recorded for others to read. We cannot ask Paul a question today, but we can read the questions others asked him in a public setting and read the answers he gave. With modern printing and recording technology, it is easy to record and print the questions and answers given in a public setting and convey them to others.
Value of public questioning
Please realize that written questions--letters to the editor of a publication--are not the same as public questions. If leaders receive a written question they cannot answer, they can simply pretend they never received it (as I have seen church leaders do). If the asker is persistent and makes sure the leader knows he has received the question, the leader can refuse to answer it or indefinitely delay answering it--and most people will never know. These means of chickening out do not work in an open forum.
Public questions and answers add immeasurably to the value of messages. An unquestioned speaker can give false evidence to support his point or leave out important information contrary to his point. If people in his audience do not have another source of knowledge about the issue, they will think he is right.
When no questions are permitted, a speaker may know little more about his subject than what he is saying, but a few questions will quickly reveal the depth of a speaker's knowledge.
I can remember sitting in a service when a speaker was taking much time trying to show how his point was proven by Scripture. He read numerous scriptures that were compatible with his point; they did not disprove his point, but they did not prove it, either.
I was aware of two scriptures that clearly said the opposite of what the speaker was trying to prove, but no questions or comments were allowed in that meeting, and the speaker left soon afterward. Therefore he and his listeners went home thinking he had taught them something from the Bible.
The message of Christ and His apostles was true. They did not need a captive audience to convince them of their doctrine. They could answer the questions of believer and unbeliever alike and not be afraid that believers would hear something that might confuse them. Notice this example:
"And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, 'Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?' He said to him, 'What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?' So he answered and said, ' "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind," and "your neighbor as yourself." ' And He said to him, 'You have answered rightly; do this and you will live.' But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, 'And who is my neighbor?' " (Luke 10:25).
This exchange was followed by the famous parable of the good Samaritan. Christ was able to answer questions and explain his teaching. After Christ's long confrontation with the religious leaders of his day, the story concludes with these words: "And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day on did anyone dare question Him anymore" (Matthew 22:46).
All believers are warned to be ready to answer questions about what they believe: "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear" (1 Peter 3:15).
How ministries are founded
When Herbert Armstrong began his ministry, he was not afraid to answer hard Bible questions in open meetings. He could not answer every question, but he did better than many of the other Sabbatarian teachers of his day. People came to hear a man who could teach and who would try to answer their questions, even though he might not have always been right.
Nearly every other big ministry throughout history began with one or more leaders like this. Indeed, these leaders may not have always answered questions correctly according to the Scripture. People can often be fooled by a smooth presentation that is in error, and they often do not expect a Bible teacher to be perfect. But we should not be surprised when new organizations trying to follow in Mr. Armstrong's shoes fail when they will not answer public questions as he did when he started.
Later, after the 1940s when Mr. Armstrong had an organization large enough to convince people it was the one true church, he no longer had to answer questions. Many people who had earlier heard him answer already trusted him. By claiming his "work" was the one "true Church of God," he could declare his statements to be truth based on his position in "God's government."
Over the years many questions about doctrine and procedure built up in the minds of Worldwide Church of God members, but there was no way to have them answered in a public setting.
For the last 13 years many men have made an effort to lead Church of God groups. When some problem occurs and a new group forms, leaders often do agree to answer questions publicly during their foundational meetings. This provides the assurance necessary to solidify a new group.
But this practice usually quickly stops as the new group is organized and structured. After only a few weeks, almost none of these leaders is willing to stand up and publicly defend his commission. The unanswered questions mount up, and trouble arises in the group.
Effect of dodging questions
Since these new leaders had never gained the confidence of their members through a long period of answering their questions, the loyalty of the members does not last long. A new problem often arises, and a new group emerges with a leader who will answer questions--for a while.
Most leaders of Church of God groups know that if they allowed questions they would encounter issues they could not answer. They are not anxious to openly answer Bible questions about church government, format of services, tithing and other subjects. They know such discussions would probably cause division in their groups.
The present policy of avoiding public questions is not working. Brethren do not have confidence in the leaders, and groups are dividing anyway.
Change is necessary. It is better for everyone to work together to understand and implement changes than it is to fight them until everyone is overwhelmed by them.
What are the old formulas that are not working? For years the WCG collected money and "did the work" centrally. Thousands of new members resulted.
Today, however, we know of no group that has any significant number of new members resulting from its central evangelism.
For years the WCG did not answer members' difficult doctrinal questions because the WCG was "the work of God," and He would correct them from the top if correction were needed.
Today few people believe one group is the only Church of God. This situation will not change for many years. Why? Because so many people have friends and relatives in other groups whom they simply will not write off as unconverted.
Nevertheless, most Church of God leaders seem to hope that unity among brethren and effective preaching of the gospel will eventually happen when all of the other groups fade away and their group will again be seen as "the church."
The Eternal could bring this about, but there is no current sign that He is, nor any biblical reason that He should. Many Church of God groups barely have budgets to pay their headquarters staff and field ministry. We hope leaders and their members will look at their current condition and ask themselves what God is doing. What is He telling us?
What can you do?
Obviously, all of us must seek God and pray for Him to show us His will for us. This article cannot possibly answer that question for everyone who reads it.
But, rather than just continue to try to make failing methods work, we can attempt to restore part of the teaching method used by Christ and the apostles: public questions and answers.
This method promotes learning on the part of the general membership and the leaders.
It makes a group appear challenging and alive, not predictable and dead.
People need to learn to ask questions calmly and respectfully and then patiently answer them even when an emotional issue is involved.
They need to learn to deal with relevant questions and "avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife" (2 Timothy 2:23).
Members need to encourage their leaders to answer public questions.
Local leaders need to encourage their headquarters to answer public questions.
Headquarters leaders need to learn not to be too busy to answer questions.
If God is working with us in ways different from those of previous decades, we need to learn what He wants us to do.
We will learn much better by openly asking questions and seeking the answers.
Repeating old answers that are no longer working is a sure way to continue to reap the same ineffective results we have seen among the Church of God groups.
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God