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Beware the leaven of your group's leaders
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Beware the leaven of your group's leaders
By Harry Curley
The writer is a longtime Church of God member who worked for the Worldwide Church of God for 17 years as a programmer analyst. Mr. Curley looks at the Bible from an analytical perspective. He visits many Churches of God in the Los Angeles area but is not aligned with any.

ALTADENA, Calif.--The Pharisees were respected by the people and thought of as the good guys.

In God's Word, however, only a few are spoken well of.

The Pharisees took away free will from the people by legislating religious laws. It is as if they thought they knew better than God what God's laws should be.

Or maybe the people did not want to have to think and reason but just be told what to do.

Harmful side effect

Today another class of people is highly respected and thought of as the good guys.

Unfortunately, their ways seem to have the same bad side effect. They have created a church government that takes away free will from the people by executive order.

They could be referred to as a college-educated professional ministry. They have a lot of knowledge about God's plan, have been good at teaching the basics and keeping out quacks by personal policing.

But, as a group, they have not done well at turning disciples (the brethren) into teachers themselves.

Their personal policing got rid of not only troublemakers but disfellowshipped many for nonbiblical reasons, especially those who questioned their putative authority.

They did "feed" the brethren but did not develop the brethren.

Important second commission

I believe they have failed at the more important second commission: making disciples.

How happy would a father be if he said to his child, "Enroll in college and get a degree," to have his child return after enrolling in 10 colleges in 10 years and never getting a degree?

The ministry has not grasped or taught the weightier matters of the law, things having to do with the heart.

It is as if both groups of leaders (the Pharisees and today's ministry) believe it is necessary only to obey the law and act as if their duty is to put a fence around God's people.

One group (Pharisees) created laws, the other (today's ministry) uses church government. Two different methods produce the same results: people looking to men instead of God.

Thou shalt not be angry with others

God wants more of us than just keeping His law. His instruction is more than the instruction not to commit murder. It also includes not being angry with others.

He wants people who can figure out what to do under new circumstances without having to rely on others.

How can you define what is appropriate for a Sabbath day's journey when the effort it took to walk a mile 2,000 years ago is more than it takes to drive 50 miles today, and possibly fly 5,000 miles tomorrow?

The ball will be in our court

When God gives us the universe, it will be a whole new ball game. The ability to obey what you are told is not enough. Rules and rulers are not the answer. Understanding the principles and having the knowledge and experience in applying godly principles to problems are the answer.

We can compare the law to bicycle training wheels. They help the beginner learn to obey the law of gravity without falling down, but they prevent the beginner from learning about the higher law of centrifugal force.

With knowledge and expertise, the young bike rider can successfully harmonize gravity with the higher law of centrifugal force and probably scare the living daylights out of his mother as he makes a sharp turn.

Let us reason correctly

I personally heard Herbert W. Armstrong praise Joseph Tkach for doing whatever he was told. Was Mr. Tkach good for God's people when he wasn't being told what to do?

No! It takes more than obedience. It takes being able to reason correctly for the right reason. Even giving one's own life without having the right heart is not enough (1 Corinthians 13:3).

A pioneer evangelist once said, in effect, "If one can exist in a flawed government, that person will have no problem in a perfect government."

That brings up a question: What will that person be good for?

I've worked in a highly technical area for a large company that does not hire trainees.

That's the usual policy for most who work in a similar position. Would God want to turn the universe over to trainees after He had already experienced one rebellion? I think not.

Apply Jesus' example

A church leader said, in effect: "Some people say we should do what Jesus would have done, but I say we should do what Jesus did."

That sounds nice, but we do not live in the same world Jesus experienced. Jesus did not have six-lane freeways or 500 TV stations, or work for a company with more than 10,000 employees.

Jesus experienced the same pulls we experience but in a different setting. He gave us the example, but we have to figure out how to apply it to today's situations. This is exactly the spiritual training we need.

Some teach that if you please God you go to the place of safety. They presume that obeying God's law is all you have to do to please God. So they try to orchestrate individuals' lives to that end.

If that is all God wants, fine. But, if God wants us to think on our own and do His will without having to check with someone else whenever something new comes up, then it is expedient for those of us who are good at following directions to experience the trouble ahead to develop the mettle to be accounted worthy to be in God's Kingdom.

What a paradox.

A mighty wind

I had an awkward moment while sailing in 1985. I had no experience sailing and had received an invitation to sail the South Pacific for several months.

The other two people along on the trip were experienced sailors. We routinely changed the sails as the winds changed. A sudden wind left me steering the boat while the others got the sails under control.

The skipper was quite upset about how I had handled the boat. I had watched the others a lot but was not experienced so, during bad weather, did not do well. I saw then that knowledge was not enough.

Teaching a son to drive

The realization that experience is necessary changed my view of teaching driving. When my wife's son got his driving permit, we had him do all the driving. I wanted him to have as much experience behind the wheel as possible before he left home for college.

One time he was driving parallel to another car and the two lanes were merging up ahead. I pointed out to him that he would have to either speed up or slow down before the two lanes merged into one.

We realized he would learn nothing if we reacted the way a typical minister would and told him to speed up or slow down. We did not want to rule his driving but give advice and help where appropriate.

This is an example of the difference between a loving parent and a professional minister. A loving parent is willing to step aside and let his children surpass him.

Can you image a pilot school that never let the students into the cockpit. Sure, the teachers would do a better job in the short run, but they would fail at their job.

God let it happen

This is the primary reason I believe God let the WCG disintegrate in the middle '90s. The ministry had been failing the membership for decades.

I'm not against the law and not against church government as the Bible describes it. I believe the New Testament shows leaders in the community in authority over the ministry and the ministry acting on the community leaders' behalf as the community gives it authority.

That system shows a true division of the roles of kings and priests: preparation for God's future.

The Bible shows the authority the community's elders have. The ministry is to be under the authority of the community's leaders.

When you hear only one side of the story, the professional minister's side, it sounds good. The ministers often cite Exodus 18:25, about the rulers of thousands, hundreds, fifties and tens, to authorize their supposed right to pick church rulers.

It would have been impossible for Moses to pick 131,000 rulers for every million people. Read how Moses did it in Deuteronomy 1:13.

Poor translation

Ministers like to cite the poor translation of Hebrews 13:17:"Obey them that have the rule over you."

Obey is more often translated "persuade." Rule over could be translated "lead," so it could just as easily say, "Be persuaded by your religious leaders."

Just like in the case of the Pharisees, there is leaven in today's ministers. They can't document their fruits the way Jesus did when He was asked if He was the one (Matthew 11).

The majority are blinded, and some may be downright deceived when it comes to church government.

All of Jesus' warnings and complaints about the Pharisees are valid today. What else should we expect, since the Bible was written for us?

Instead of saying they sit in Moses' seat, ministers say they are God's representatives. They create their own "traditions of men" with their policies and procedures.

Those who knew God's truth and became vain in their own imaginations are in danger of becoming fools (Romans 1:20-21). We can be comforted knowing those put in the ministry by a good old boys' club, not by God's people, shall eventually be "rooted up" (Matthew 15:12-14).

God is not the author of confusion but of peace in all the churches. Peace in all church groups will probably not come without growing pains.

The membership needs to get past its Milquetoast positions in the congregation and grow toward solid, mature leadership positions over the ministry.

With practice in leadership and controlling the money, the membership will have its senses trained to discern good and evil.

The ministry will not be consumed with issues of church government and will be able to concentrate on the congregation's spiritual growth.

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