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The seat of Moses is not the WCG hierarchy

By Ellis Stewart

The writer, a member of the United Church of God, and his wife, Pat, have been members of the Church of God since 1956. The Stewarts, who live in Big Sandy, Texas, have two grown children, Liz Russell of Monrovia, Calif., and Jim of Springfield, Ill.

I felt compelled to write this article after reading "Why We Attend the Stay-at-Home Church of God," by Jim Damiano, in the Aug. 19 issue of In Transition and "Have We Flunked the Test on the Church?", by Philip Neal, in the Oct. 28 issue.

Mr. Damiano and Mr. Neal--who both advocate continued attendance with the Worldwide Church of God, even though both profoundly disagree with the WCG's new doctrines--hold an almost superstitious awe of government.

Even though it's difficult for me to understand their logic in sticking with a church whose doctrines have become corrupted, I do see how the repetitious use for decades of the phrase "God's government" as being synonymous with the physical Worldwide Church of God could help them develop the mind-set they call "loyalty to government." Truly, repetition is a great teacher.

I hope to show in this article that, by attending church where heresy is preached (and where they know it's being preached), they not only are inadvertently setting a poor example, but they are allowing something to happen that the apostle John warns us about:

"Look to yourselves, that we do not lose those things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward. Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this doctrine, do not receive him into your house nor greet him; for he who greets him shares in his evil deeds" (2 John 8-11).

Assembling with believers

What has become another problem for the two men (especially since both are no longer allowed to attend the WCG) is the neglecting to assemble with like-minded brethren on the Sabbath, as Paul admonishes us:

"Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:23-25).

This mind-set about chains of command and the physical, corporate setup of a church has kept some from observing an aspect of God's law regarding the Sabbath: the requirement for a holy convocation (Leviticus 23:3).

The two men's stories are examples of a profound misunderstanding of what church administration is and what God's government is. What part does a congregation--a physical church, made up of people--play, and what part does God play?

Commendably, both of these writers' attitude is to seek God's will, and, as one said, "pleasing God is the bottom line."

Mr. Neal states that the late founder of the Radio/Worldwide Church of God, Herbert W. Armstrong, taught, preached and zealously emphasized church government.

Then Mr. Neal quotes (I assume he is quoting Mr. Armstrong): "Why government? God is reproducing Himself; He must be absolutely certain that not one of His spirit-born sons and daughters will turn out to be another Satan.

"Before God can bring us into His family, He must know how we respond to authority! God must be able to look at each of us and say, just as He said of Abraham (Genesis 22:12), 'now I know.' "

Governed by God

This is a true statement; we are governed. But how are we governed?

We are not governed through a hierarchy of human beings, but through God's law, as I will explain.

Mr. Neal uses two main scriptural references for wanting to stay where he was all those years. One was the example of David and Saul, noting that David was "a man after God's own heart" because he remained under the authority of a corrupt leader who sat in an office established by God. Mr. Neal cites this example to support his loyalty-to-church-government rationale.

The other example was "honoring the seat of Moses." Mr. Neal asked who is in Moses' seat today. Then he answered:

"The Pharisees were corrupt hypocrites who perverted judgment, teaching traditions of men in place of God's commandments (Mark 7:7-9). Christ warned them that they had disqualified themselves from administering the way into His Kingdom. Thus they would be removed from Moses' seat:

" 'Therefore say I unto you, "The kingdom of God shall be taken from you, and given to a nation bringing forth the fruits thereof" ' (Matthew 21:43).

"That 'nation,' which was to shortly begin bringing forth fruits of that kingdom, is the church (1 Peter 2:9)."

Then Mr. Neal says that John was the last of the original apostles to sit in that "seat": "But, just as the church would never die out (Matthew 16:18), the seat of Moses would also continue to exist as God raised up new leadership."

Then Mr. Neal writes: "In recent church history, it is clear that God passed that seat to Herbert Armstrong, who, as did Moses, shared that seat with those in leadership under him.

"Today, however, it seems we have those in Moses' seat who are very much like the scribes and Pharisees."

Moses' seat

Now let's look at Moses' seat. That phrase is used in Matthew 23, where Christ spoke to the multitude and His disciples, saying:

"The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do" (Matthew 23:2-3).

Remember what Mr. Neal said about Moses' seat. He said it--the seat of government--would continue. I feel that, because of his awe of assumed church authority, he is reading into the Bible something about Moses' seat that is not there and is coming up with something much like the primacy of Peter: the supposed succession of the apostles used by the Western and Eastern universal churches.

What were the disciples to obey? Apparently the people who were in Moses' seat read to the people from the Scriptures. Christ wanted His disciples to hear what the Pharisees read from the Scriptures, but "don't do as they do."

Notice Peter's statements: "For Moses truly said to the fathers, 'The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear in all things, whatever He says to you' " (Acts 3:22).

Stephen made a similar statement: "This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, 'The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear' " (Acts 7:37). We know that prophet was Christ.

Moses' seat ended when God gave a different administration: "the administration of reconciliation." If Moses' seat exists today, after Christ's sacrifice and the giving of His Holy Spirit, Christ is in it, not some human being.

God changed the physical (Moses') administration to the spiritual (Christ's).

Since Moses' seat no longer exists (or is occupied by Christ), then Mr. Neal's comments about the "froward [harsh] master," based on 1 Peter 2:17, are not applicable in a modern context. Mr. Neal says we should submit to the government of the Worldwide Church of God, just as a slave in Peter's time should submit to his harsh master.

The fallacy here is that the WCG is not our master; our master is Jesus Christ. And, of course, we should submit to Him. When we do submit to Him, we are members of the Church of God, the Body of Christ.

We do not have to pledge allegiance to an organization or chain of command that distresses us.

A man after God's own heart

Mr. Neal drew on the example of King David, a man after God's own heart. Let's try to understand what a "man after God's own heart" means.

The Israelites wanted a king, and God allowed them to have a king, Saul. Later, after God made David king, He referred to him--because of his attitude--as a man after His own heart.

Let's look at a scripture from the book of Acts from an address in which Paul talked about David: "And when He [God] had removed him [Saul], He raised up for them [the Israelites] David as king, to whom also He gave testimony and said, 'I have found David the son of Jesse, a man after My own heart, who will do all My will' " (Acts 13:22).

Paul quoted these scriptures from Psalm 89:20-24, which shows that David was God's choice and that God chose him because he was His servant:

"I have found My servant David; with My holy oil I have anointed him, with whom My hand shall be established; also My arm shall strengthen him. The enemy shall not outwit him, nor the son of wickedness afflict him. I will beat down his foes before his face, and plague those who hate him. But My faithfulness and My mercy shall be with him, and in My name his horn shall be exalted."

Later in the same Psalm God is quoted as saying: "Once I have sworn by My holiness; I will not lie to David: His seed shall endure forever, and his throne as the sun before Me; it shall be established forever like the moon, even like the faithful witness in the sky" (verses 35-37).

The 119th Psalm and others depict David meditating on God's law day and night, showing how highly he regarded it. In Psalm 51, after David had sinned with Bathsheba, we read evidence of his repentant heart. He, in spite of being a sinner, was someone with whom God could work.

We have seen that David was a "man after God's own heart," but saying that David's love for God means that spiritual loyalty to a modern church organization is necessary for Christians is a non sequitur. Since the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God's relationship with His people is a direct one. No one stands between the repentant sinner and His Savior.

We no longer live under the administration of physical Israel. Even though physical organizations can be beneficial in helping Christians preach the gospel and fellowship with each other, our relationship with God transcends any temporary physical organization. It goes far beyond any congregation, whether the congregation is doing the will of God or not.

Government hierarchy called gentile rule

Both the prophet Daniel and the apostle John described world-ruling governments--gentile rule--in Bible prophecy, as in Daniel 2:31-45.

In the book that bears his name, Daniel--and later his three colleagues, Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego-refused to worship a form, or image, of gentile-rule government, as recorded in Daniel 3:2-7, 18.

John wrote many verses in the book of Revelation as part of a similar prophecy, showing that the worship of the image, or form, of an end-time, world-ruling government is forbidden (Revelation 13:14-15; 14:9, 11; 15:2; 16:2; 19:20; 20:4).

The primacy of Peter in the Eastern and Western universal churches is patterned, or based, on this gentile rulership.

But God wants His people to obey Him from their hearts, living by His law. He does not want them to worship a hierarchical form of government. He wants them to worship Him, adhering to His law of love.

God indeed has allowed (or inspired) the toppling of one-man rule in many of His congregations. I feel that the idea of "apostolic succession" needs to be discarded as unscriptural, since, in my opinion, the interpreting of the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3 as church eras is part of the same concept and is also foreign to the Bible.

The thinking that invokes the church hierarchy between the believer and Christ is the same thinking that relies on the concept of the seven eras, apostolic succession and primacy of Peter (or variations such as the primacy of James).

Christ forbids gentile rule

The form of church government referred to by the two writers in In Transition reminds me so much of what Christ said about gentile rule. The disciples argued who was to be the greatest, but Christ said to them:

"The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them, and those who exercise authority over them are called 'benefactors.' But not so among you; on the contrary, he who is greatest among you, let him be as the younger, and he who governs as he who serves" (Luke 22:25-26).

"For who is greater, he who sits at the table, or he who serves? Is it not he who sits at the table? Yet I am among you as the One who serves. But you are those who have continued with Me in My trials. And I bestow upon you a kingdom, just as My Father bestowed one upon Me, that you may eat and drink at My table in My kingdom, and sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (verses 27-30).

Gentile rule is referred to again in Matthew 20. After the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Jesus and tried to procure for them positions in His Kingdom, and the other 10 disciples were as a result displeased with the two brothers, Jesus said to them:

"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave--just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:25-28).

Only one church?

There exists only one true spiritual Church of God, made up of Spirit-led members. Only God knows His borderless spiritual church.

When people think there is only one physical organization that is the one true church and that it somehow physically contains God's spiritual government, they are a lot like Elijah. He thought he was alone. But notice what Paul said about Elijah:

"Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he pleads with God against Israel, saying, 'Lord, they have killed Your prophets and torn down Your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life'?

"But what does the divine response say to him? 'I have reserved for Myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal'" (Romans 11:4).

When those of us who have moved away from where we were--and joined with other members and have attempted, through consensus, to prevent a repeat of what happened in the Worldwide Church of God--we have employed the biblical principle that there is safety in a multitude of counselors.

Many of us not only have felt God's hand in delivering us from heresy, but have seen God's hand in doing away with the hierarchical government that enabled it.

Notice what Paul wrote about the church in Ephesians 4, where he shows that we are all part of the Body, that we all have the same Spirit, baptism, oneness with God. Christ, after his earthly ministry, imparted gifts and responsibilities to His followers:

"He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers . . ." (verses 10-11).

Contrary to our old perspective, this list of gifts or responsibilities does not refer to rank or hierarchy, but these bequests are for "the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ . . ." (verses 12-13).

The saints are equipped for the work of the ministry so the church can grow to "fill up" all things, "that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine" but, "speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head--Christ . . ." (verses 14-15).

All the saints are "joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, each gifted member causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love" (verse 16).

"This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, . . . and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness" (verses 17, 23-24).

Notice that Paul said nothing in the preceding verses about one-man rule, but that every part should share in the growth of the Body of Christ.

Elsewhere, the example of the conference in Acts 15 shows a consensus, not a hierarchy (see verse 22 and following verses).

Loyalty to government

God wants us to be respectful to governments, but, if a choice has to be made between man's government (in this case the Worldwide Church of God) and God's government (obedience to the Father and Jesus Christ), obey God rather than man.

This truth, when accepted, should serve to comfort and encourage members of the "Stay-at-Home Church of God," who may be forgoing their personal responsibilities in preaching the gospel as well as their assembling and fellowshipping with like-minded brethren.

It is true that God will not allow us to enter His Kingdom until He knows we can be ruled. But that rule is through His holy, righteous law, not obeisance to an image, or form, of gentile rule. When it comes to government, God is much more interested in substance than He is form.

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