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I've met the two witnesses several times

The writer pastors the Church of God Big Sandy and is a regular columnist for The Journal.

By Dave Havir

BIG SANDY, Texas--Years ago the Church of God introduced me to the prophecy of the two witnesses of Revelation 11:3-13. Since that time I have heard dozens of theories about which two individuals would be the ones to fill their role.

However, life got even more exciting than that. In my life I have met people who claim to be the two witnesses. (I am not talking about people claiming that two of their leaders are the two witnesses. I am talking about people telling me directly that they were one of the two witnesses.)

In fact, I have met eight people who each claimed to be one of the two witnesses.

Ponder that for a moment and consider the following questions.

• Must I accept what these people said just because they said it?

• Which of the eight are really the two witnesses?

• Are any of the eight people one of the two witnesses?

My experience with meeting eight of the two witnesses has helped me understand the personal responsibility of each saint to recognize servants of God.

Do I have to accept their claim just because they said it? Hardly. I have formed an opinion about all eight of them. For the record, I do not believe that any one of those eight people is either of the two witnesses.

Since that opinion is a subjective judgment, I will not stake my eternal life on it.

If two of those people are really the two witnesses whom God will reveal, then I will accept that truth when God reveals them. Until then I make a personal judgment.

Speaking for God?

Years ago I made the mistake of placing too much emphasis on a select group of men.

This created two problems.

• Because I placed too much emphasis on some men, I accepted their errors as truth.

• Because I placed too much emphasis on some men, I ignored truth that was emanating from people all around me.

Now I seek to learn from anybody. Well, almost anybody. I have to admit I do not listen to certain people. Let me be more specific.

Whenever someone (clergyman or parishioner) dogmatically gives his theories and opinions as directly coming from God, I immediately question his credibility and lose interest quickly. (For the record, in the past people who viewed themselves as the clergy were the self-appointed speakers for God. Now many former parishioners appoint themselves as speakers for God.)

Someone may ask: Aren't you afraid you will reject God's personal spokesman?

My response: If I regularly avoid the theories of people who claim to speak directly for God, I may do the following two things.

• I may temporarily reject a true prophet of God (when He sends one or more).

• I may avoid being conned by the thousands of false prophets (including leaders among the Churches of God) who run around exalting themselves.

It is my opinion that God would prefer me to temporarily reject a true prophet of His than to mindlessly accept theories from anyone who claims to represent Him.

At this time let me share five simple concepts about recognizing servants of God.

God gives

First, God gives gifts to people so they can serve.

Some people claim 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11 describe ecclesiastical ranks of authority. But have you seen what the Bible says?

• In 1 Corinthians 12:28 Paul listed the gifts of apostles, prophets and teachers with the gifts of miracles, healings, helps, governments and diversities of tongues.

• In Ephesians 4:7-8 Paul wrote that God gives gifts. In verse 11 he lists some of those: the ability to serve as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.

Someone may ask: What is the difference between calling these words ranks and calling them gifts?

My response: The difference is more than words. Some people talk about the servant-leadership behavior of Jesus, but they demonstrate the empty structure of the Pharisees.

• The paradigm of ranks influences people to emphasize dominion and authority.

• The paradigm of gifts influences people to emphasize service.

• The paradigm of ranks influences people to believe that men have dominion over the faith of saints.

• The paradigm of gifts influences people to understand that men (and women) can be helpers of someone's joy and they do not have dominion over the faith of saints (2 Corinthians 1:24).

More than claiming

Second, just because an individual claims to be a leader does not mean God gave a gift to him.

• Paul warned about false apostles (2 Corinthians 11:13).

• Jesus warned about many false prophets (Matthew 7:15; 24:11).

• Peter warned about false teachers (2 Peter 2:1-3).

More than credentialing

Third, just because a group of men claims someone is a leader does not mean God gave a gift to him.

In other words, not all credentialed representatives of a group have a gift. Not all people who have the title of leader have a gift.

In fact, many people have gifts from God without having any title or credential.

• Paul reminded saints that recommendations (or credentials) from men were not necessary to preach the gospel (2 Corinthians 3:1-6).

• Paul wrote that he was not concerned about whether those "who seemed to be somewhat" in Jerusalem accepted his using the gift that God gave him (Galatians 2:6).

• Some were amazed with Jesus' teaching because He did not live up to their method of credentialing (John 7:15). Notice His response (verse 16).

• The religious leaders were angry at Jesus for not coming under their authority and dominion. He taught His disciples that they should not practice a system of authority and dominion (Matthew 20:25-28).

• The religious leaders were angered that Jesus would not accept their position over Him. He criticized a system in which men sought to be over other people (Matthew 23:5-13).

Making a judgment

Fourth, each saint decides if he accepts the leadership of a person who claims God gave him a gift.

• Paul wrote that each saint should not let any man deceive him (2 Thessalonians 2:3).

• Jesus warned about apostles who lie (Revelation 2:2).

• Jesus warned that each saint should not let any man take his crown (Revelation 3:11).
(Our acceptance or rejection of someone is not the final judgment on the matter, but we must make personal decisions.)

• When Jesus preached, some people rejected Him and sought to kill Him (Luke 4:28-29; John 11:53), and other people accepted Him and sought to follow Him (John 17:6-17).

• When Paul preached, some people rejected him and sought to kill him (Acts 14:19), and other people accepted him and hugged his neck (Acts 20:37).

Group decision

Fifth, each collection of saints decides if it accepts the leadership of a person who claims God gave him a gift.

(The group's acceptance or rejection of a person is not the final judgment on the matter, but the group members make decisions.)

• Paul knew that some people did not accept his service as an apostle to them, and he knew that a group in Corinth did accept his service as an apostle (1 Corinthians 9:2).

• Some people chose to support Barnabas in preaching the gospel to the gentiles, and others supported Paul in preaching the gospel to the gentiles (Acts 15:36-40).

Let's look at a few questions about the clergy.

Question: Can a church group establish ecclesiastical ranks and impose them upon people?
Answer: Yes, it can. However, it is a mistake for those people to claim that such ranks and impositions come from God.

Question: If a person receives a rank in one Church of God group, does his rank transfer to our group?

Answer: Since ranks are man-made distinctions, they may sometimes transfer from group to group. The men who make ranks and accept ranks will decide the matter. If you do not believe in ecclesiastical ranks, those labels will have little bearing on you.

Question: Don't ranks within religious organizations help them keep order among the employees?

Answer: Yes. In employment situations, seniority (sometimes identified as ranks) is often used to determine personnel assignments and compensation packages. However, if you do not work for those organizations, those ranks have little influence on you.

Question: If a church group that believes in apostolic succession chooses a man and adds him into its religious class system, does he have authority over me?

Answer: No. Just because religious leaders say they have authority over you does not mean they really do. Do you accept the pope's authority over you? I didn't think so. Why would you accept the hundreds of imitations?

Question: Although I personally do not believe in a rank system, the leaders of my church practice a rank system. Should I leave?

Answer: Each person should attend the group that best serves the needs of his family. The rank system in your group may have some residual influence upon you at church functions, but it will not affect you in your daily Christian life, which is practiced away from the watchful eyes of the ecclesiastical officers.

Question: If a small fellowship group recognizes a leader in its midst, is he automatically a leader in our small fellowship group?

Answer: No. You are under no obligation to accept the claim of his gift or function.

• If someone with a title comes to your congregation, you may or may not recognize the same gift.

• If someone with a title comes to your congregation, you may recognize the same gift, but you may have people in your congregation who have that particular gift, and therefore your congregation may not need that person to utilize that gift in your congregation.

• Consider this. If a person in another group calls himself a bookkeeper, he is only a practicing bookkeeper to your group if you desire his service.

• Likewise, if a person in another group calls himself an elder, evangelist or teacher, he is only a practicing elder, evangelist or teacher to your group if you desire his service.

Appreciating servants

Many of us are finished supporting men who seek to have the preeminence over the saints.
Instead, we appreciate the good examples of saints (men or women, credentialed or noncredentialed) who willingly serve other people.

We thank God for inspiring servants who humbly display God's gifts toward His people.

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