CHAPTER 9 - REPENTANCE
We Need to Repent
Does the Church of God, as a whole, need to repent?
If we are in the Laodicean era, yes.
Christ commands Laodicea to repent. "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent" (Revelation 3:19).
This chapter is a call to repentance for the whole Church of God.
It is not hard to see visible sins and the fruits of sin in the Church. The general disunity of the ministry and members is an example. There are others I could mention, such as various heresies, abuses of power, etc. I am sure many members can see problems even when they are not looking for them. As a Church, we lack the power to do a great work of preaching the gospel to the world as Mr. Armstrong did. God promises an open door to Philadelphia, but the door is only open a little bit for us today (Revelation 3:8).
But focusing only on particular, visible problems is a mistake. These sins and fruits of sin are visible, outward results of a deeper spiritual problem.That problem is a weakness of faith.
Repentance and Faith
The longer I am in the Church, the more I am convinced that lack of faith and trust in God is a major root of all other sins.
When I say, "lack of faith", I should say, "weakness of faith". We have some faith. But it is weak. We need strong faith to overcome sin.
Faith is a starting point for spiritual growth. "Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand" (2 Corinthians 1:24). "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Ephesians 2:8). "But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge..." (2 Peter 1:5).
Faith and repentance are two sides of the same coin. Both are requirements for conversion and salvation (Acts 2:38, Acts 8:36-39, Hebrews 11:6, Romans 10:8-11, Galatians 2:15-16, John 11:25-26).
You really can't have one without the other. Each comes from the other and leads to the other. Each is part of the other.
Faith is a part of repentance, and therefore repentance must lead to faith. Why? Repentance means turning away from sin towards obedience to God's law (1 John 3:4, Hebrews 6:1). But that also requires living by faith because faith is required BY THE LAW! Jesus said that faith is one of the three weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23). The law requires that we love God with all our hearts and minds (Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:36-38, Mark 12:28-30). That means we must do God's will to please him in all things - that is how love is expressed. "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). "For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments" (1 John 5:3). Yet the Bible is clear that it is God's will that we believe and trust what He says. Many scriptures command us to believe and trust God (Proverbs 3:5, Mark 11:22). To doubt God's word is to break God's law, and is sin. When we repent, we must repent of distrusting God and doubting His word. We must repent of our lack of faith. Thus, true repentance leads to faith. Someone who tries to repent of visible, outward sins, but makes excuses for his distrust of God's word and lack of faith that leads to sin and doesn't strive to believe what God says may not have fully repented.
Similarly, repentance is part of faith, and true faith leads to repentance of sin and our sinful nature. Why? Faith includes believing what God says, and if we believe and trust His word, we will know we have sinned and need to change. We will know that God's law and way of life are right. We will know we are sinners and have an evil nature (Jeremiah 17:9, Matthew 7:11, Romans 7:14, 18). If we truly believe and trust God, we will see our need to change, and we will make the effort to turn from our wrong ways and wrong nature and live according to God's law and word.
If we believe and trust God about His commandments, we will strive to obey them because we will know that if we do what God says, things will work out better for us (and for others) in the long run. We will believe God's promises and know that our sacrifices and obedience and suffering for righteousness sake will not be in vain (Romans 2:6-10, 8:18, 1 Peter 2:19-21, 3:14, Hebrews 6:10).
Repentance and faith are two aspects of the same thing. That is why "faith" without works is a dead kind of faith, not real godly faith at all (James 2:14-26). Real faith, the kind of living faith that God requires, will motivate us to strive to obey God. A call to repentance is therefore also a call to faith.
Faith is a key to everything.
The Church of God therefore needs a renewal and strengthening of faith. A stronger faith will lead to stronger zeal and effort to obey. "As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent" (Revelation 3:19).
How do we build faith?
It is not just a matter of building an atmosphere of faith by calling Church-wide fasts. It is not built by praying for healings and hearing how others have been healed. Faith is not primarily about healing or fasting. Faith is about obedience and it is about doctrine.
Think back to when you were baptized. Was it by hearing about and fasting about healings that you came into the Church? Or was it by studying and believing and obeying the Bible?
Members of false churches and religions can fast. They can pray for healings. But they do not have faith in God's word. They do not believe what God says in the Bible. They do not believe God about doctrine. They do not obey God's commandments and all of God's instructions in the Bible.
"You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble" (James 2:19). I might also add, the demons know maybe better than we how many times God has healed people - they were there, they have been around for the last 6,000 years since man has been put on this earth. They know God heals.
But do they believe what God says? Do they trust His word? Do they believe Christ when He says, "It is more blessed to give than to receive" (Acts 20:35)? I don't think they do. I think they believe the way of competition is better than the way of giving.
Did Lucifer believe God's word and instruction when he first sinned? I doubt it. Why would he choose misery for himself? But if he doubted God's instruction that the way of love and obedience is the best way of life, if he didn't trust God and His word, then the way was open for him to experiment with vanity and self-exaltation. If he doubted and distrusted God, he could believe that vanity and hostile competition would be better for him. Faith and trust in God and His word would have kept Lucifer from sin. Lucifer made the choice, not to believe and trust God, but to sin. Once he made that choice and sinned by choosing the way of vanity and self-exaltation, he began to pay one of the penalties of sin - his mind became perverted. "You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor" (Ezekiel 28:17). Now he can never go back because his thinking is so warped he can never see the need to go back and repent. He cannot think clearly and righteously to be able to straighten out his own mind.
When we are tempted to sin, Satan often pumps doubts into our minds about God's faithfulness and trustworthiness. When Satan tries to lead us to doubt God, he is trying to infuse his own nature and way of thinking into our minds, because Satan is the original doubter and distruster of God.
When ancient Israel grumbled and complained in the wilderness, they were expressing their carnal human nature, which is Satan's nature. God promised to bless them (Exodus 3:7-8, Exodus 23:20-31). They knew it was God speaking through Moses because they saw the miracles (Exodus 19:3-6). But they doubted God's word and motives. "And all the children of Israel complained against Moses and Aaron, and the whole congregation said to them, 'If only we had died in the land of Egypt! Or if only we had died in this wilderness! Why has the Lord brought us to this land to fall by the sword, that our wives and children should become victims? Would it not be better for us to return to Egypt?' So they said to one another, 'Let us select a leader and return to Egypt' " (Numbers 14:2-4). "So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief" (Hebrews 3:19). But you won't find that attitude in Jesus Christ, who is our example.
Look at any sin, and you will see where faith is missing or weak.
A key to faith is the simple choice to believe what God says in the Bible, then act on that belief. "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). It is the choice to trust God and believe the Bible that is vital to building an atmosphere of faith, the right kind of living faith that leads to zeal to obey, the kind of faith Laodiceans need but do not have.
The principle that we need to believe what God says is something that is easy to agree with but sometimes hard to do.
Too many try to build faith, but not in God and His word. They try to have faith in their traditions. They try to have faith in their ministers. They try to have faith in their church. They may equate the teaching of their church and their ministers with the "word of God". They are not equal. The word of a minister is never equal to the Bible. A minister's explanation of a scripture is never equal to the scripture.
Many members recognize that they need more faith. They may ask God to increase their faith, as if faith is all a gift. Certainly, that aspect of faith that is Christ's faith given to us through the working of the Holy Spirit is a gift, and it is right to ask for that.
But we must not neglect our direct part in faith. Like repentance and obedience, faith is a choice. We must choose to believe God. It is up to us. It is not all a gift only, something that God does for us and we do not have to do anything.Imagine someone who prays for repentance, but refuses to repent. Imagine someone who prays for help to overcome, but refuses to make the effort to resist temptation. Imagine someone who prays for wisdom, but refuses to make right choices, choosing to sin rather than obey. So is anyone who prays for faith, but refuses to believe God.
Building Faith One Verse at a Time
Faith is built by reading the Bible, by choosing with the mind to believe what the Bible says, and by obeying it, one verse at a time. In other words, faith is built by believing and obeying God's word. It takes faith to do that, and doing that exercises and strengthens our faith. "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). When that verse was written, Church members received the word of God spoken by the apostles - the printed Bible was not yet complete or available. They knew the word the apostles spoke was from God because of the signs and miracles the apostles worked. They built and strengthened their faith by hearing the apostles speak, then believing and obeying their word as the word of God. Today we have the Bible as God's word, and we know it is from God because fulfilled prophecy proves the inspiration of the Bible. The verse that refers to building faith by "hearing the word of God" applies to Bible study today.
You read the Bible. You come to something that challenges you. It might be one verse or a collection of verses on one subject. Those verses are teaching you something you didn't know before. They correct you. Maybe they tell you that you are doing something wrong and need to change your behavior. Or maybe they tell you that you believe a wrong doctrine and need to believe differently. Whatever the point is, you have to change, and change can be hard. So you have a choice to make. That choice is the key to faith. That is why I say, we build faith one Bible verse at a time.
The choice is this - do you believe God or not? The Bible is God speaking. God is telling you something in that one verse or in that small collection of verses on a subject. Sometimes you have to study for a while and put all the verses on the subject together, and that can take time, but while you are studying you better have a willingness to believe what God is telling you even if it is unpleasant.
So God tells you something, maybe in a single verse. You don't like it, necessarily. But do you believe God?
Here is the key. Will you ACT on that belief? If it is a matter of doctrine, will believe God on that point of doctrine? Will you change your doctrine, even if it means believing differently than the Church of God, or whatever church you attend? Will you believe God more than man (Psalm 146:3, Jeremiah 17:5-8)? Will you believe God more than your own opinions, reasoning, and judgment, even views you have held all your life (Proverbs 3:5, 14:12, 16:25)? Will you admit to yourself that you have been wrong?
Mr. Armstrong had to do that. Thousands of people who came into the Church of God because of his preaching had to do that.
That is a test of faith, which Peter says is more precious than gold (1 Peter 1:6-7).
Yes, we should pray for faith. But I am pointing out that we have our part to play in making the choice to believe God, as Mr. Armstrong did, as Abraham did. And that is part of repentance.
Believing God is not always easy. It takes effort. It is not easy to give up our long-held, cherished, precious, familiar opinions and traditions. Try it sometime.
Mr. Armstrong had to do it. It was hard for him. Read his autobiography again, especially the chapters about how he came into the Church.
Likewise, many members who came into the Church of God in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s through the preaching of Mr. Armstrong had to do what he did. They had to give up what they believed and let the Bible correct their beliefs. If they weren't willing to do that, we would not know what we know today, because it was through their sacrifices that we have been taught.
Maybe it wasn't hard for all of them. It apparently wasn't hard for Loma Armstrong. But for some, believing God is hard.
It wasn't easy for Mr. Armstrong to believe the Sabbath doctrine, to admit to himself and his wife that he had been wrong all his life about his Sunday belief. It might not have been easy for Abraham to believe God when God promised him descendents as numerous as the stars at a time when Abraham and Sarah were too old to have children (Genesis 15:2-6, Romans 4:16-22). I do not think it was easy for Abraham to obey God's command to sacrifice his son, which James connects with faith and the writer of Hebrews connects with believing God would keep His promise somehow, if necessary even by raising Isaac from the dead (Genesis 22:1-18, James 2:20-24, Hebrews 11:17-19).
It must be hard today for several hundred Church of God ministers and several thousand members to believe God concerning governance. It must be hard for many others to believe God concerning preaching the gospel to the world as a witness. It must be hard for those who think Mr. Armstrong's teachings should never be. It must be hard for COG leaders and ministers who teach their members to trust the ministry to interpret the Bible for them because trusting the ministers is "trusting Christ".
If you have grown up in the Church of God, faith is more than just a matter of studying the Church's literature, looking up the quoted scriptures, and then just "going along'. You have to read the entire Bible in order to live by every word of God (Matthew 4:4). You have to seek to understand all of God's word. You have to read with an attitude that is willing to believe God more than your ministers. And God will probably test you at some time. It might be a single verse. But He can test your attitude - is your faith in God or in the Church?
If you find something in the Bible that seems contrary to your church's teaching, if it is something important, by all means seek counsel. Let your ministers explain the Church's teaching - that is part of getting all the facts, and it can be a good step in doing research (1 Thessalonians 5:21, Proverbs 18:17, 18:13, Acts 8:30-35). Take as much time as you need to get things right. But make sure that you believe the Bible more than the Church. Then, when you believe the Church's doctrines, you will believe them for the right reason, because you have proved them in the Bible, and not because you are just going along with the traditions of your Church like millions of Catholics and Protestants. Your faith will be in God as it should be (Mark 11:22, 2 Corinthians 1:24).
And if you are a minister counseling a member, you better be honest with the scriptures. Woe to you if you deliberately twist things to support the doctrines you are paid to teach. Woe to you if you lie to members of the Church of God about doctrine. Read the example of a man lying to Peter in Acts (Acts 5:1-5). As I point out in my blog, God struck the man dead, not because he lied to an apostle or a minister, but because, in lying to one who had God's Holy Spirit, he was lying to God, not man. It is a dangerous thing for anyone (even a minister) to lie to anyone (even a lay member) who is converted and has the Holy Spirit dwelling in him (Colossians 3:9). We are learning a way of life to practice in God's Kingdom for eternity. Will we be lying to each other in the Kingdom of God? I think not.
So God can give us the gift of faith (Romans 12:3, 1 Corinthians 12:7-8), and we can ask for more faith as the apostles did (Luke 17:5). But just like repentance, we have our part to do. Repentance is a gift (Acts 11:18, 2 Timothy 2:25), but also, we must choose to obey God's command to repent (Jeremiah 25:4-5, Ezekiel 18:30, Matthew 4:17, Mark 6:12, Luke 24:46-47, Acts 2:38, 17:30). Repentance is a gift, but we must choose to repent - God doesn't force us to repent. Likewise, faith is a gift, but we must choose to believe - God doesn't force us to believe.
We build faith one Bible verse at a time. We read and study the whole Bible - cover to cover - to live by EVERY word of God. When we come to a verse that corrects us, we must make the hard choice to believe it or not believe it, and if we believe God, we will act on that belief. Action is the real test of faith. Thus, one verse at a time, day by day we build faith in God and in His word. Every time we believe and obey, our faith increases.
We may not understand everything in the Bible right away. God knows that. It was God who inspired Peter to say that some things Paul wrote are hard to understand (2 Peter 3:15-16), and I am sure that Paul's writings are not the only ones hard to understand. Some things take time. So we may have to research, to seek counsel, to find all the Bible verses on that subject, and to pray to God to open our understanding of His word.But even with our limited understanding, God knows our hearts and attitudes, and he can use the Bible to test our faith and to give us opportunities to strengthen our faith through obedient action.
Dealing with Doubts
Some people wonder how they can get rid of doubts.
It may seem that we cannot stop doubts, that we cannot just force ourselves to believe something.
But we can control our actions. We can "step out" in faith and trust God with our behavior and actions. And that will strengthen our belief and help to remove doubts. In other words, we choose what we want to believe, then we choose to act on that belief, then we act. In that way, we can act on our choice to believe what God says.
For example, God says, "Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you" (Matthew 6:31-33).
Now, let's say you understand that in the Bible God commands you to tithe. If you don't understand what God teaches about that, that might be a good topic of research. Now, let's say when you look at your budget it looks like you do not have enough to tithe. Can you believe and trust God that if you seek His kingdom and righteousness first, He will provide? Maybe you have doubts. But you can write a check. You can put a stamp on the envelope and walk to the mailbox. You can pay your tithe first, and trust God for the rest. In other words, as far as physical actions are concerned, you can make the decision of will to pay your tithe and rely on God's promise.
Or use the Sabbath as an example. If you don't work on the Sabbath, your boss will fire you. Do you trust God to provide? Maybe you feel you have doubts. But you can still obey the Sabbath, showing God by your actions that you are putting your trust in Him and relying on Him to provide. That is a way you can do your part to exercise faith.
What about lying on the job? Some bosses require their employees to lie to customers, vendors, or other employees. If you don't tell the lie your boss wants you to tell, he may fire you. Do you trust God's promise enough to put your livelihood on the line to obey his law? You can make the choice to obey God. That is faith in action. It is action that counts. Action overrides doubt.In one scripture, God actually told Israel to TEST HIM, not by disobedience, but by obedience. " 'Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this,' Says the Lord of hosts, 'If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it' " (Malachi 3:10).
Why Is Faith Important to God?
Why is faith important?
We know that faith is important to God. He requires faith (Hebrews 11:6, Romans 11:19-20, 2 Corinthians 1:24, Ephesians 2:8). But why? Why does God require faith? Why does God count faith as one of the three weightier matters of the law along with justice and mercy (Matthew 23:23)? Why is faith so important to God? Isn't love and obedience enough? Why does God require that we believe what He says?
Traditional Christianity does not know. First of all, it barely understands what faith is, and many traditional Christians totally misunderstand what faith is. They think faith is believing that God exists and believing their church traditions. They may think it means assuming that God will do this thing or that thing, and then believing strongly in their assumption.
Real faith, the kind of saving faith the Bible talks about, is always towards God personally, and not towards the ministry or any set of traditions. It is belief in God's word. It is a trust in God and His word that God will not lie, that every word in the Bible is true, that He will keep all of His promises to us without fail (Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18, Proverbs 30:5, John 10:35).
But even if some ministers and members in traditional churches understand what faith is, at least in principle even if they do not exercise it, they do not seem to know why it is important to God. Some think that God saves us through faith because we are unable to keep the commandments. That kind of thinking goes like this: God's law requires that we obey His commandments, but we have all broken the commandments, thus incurring the death penalty. To save us, God sent Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for our sins so we can be forgiven. So far, this is true (though traditional Christians do not understand really what the death penalty is - most think it is being tortured forever). But here is where some of them go into error. Obedience was required under the Old Covenant, but since we cannot obey the law, God made the terms easier under the New Covenant. Instead of requiring obedience for salvation, He only requires faith. Just believe in Christ, and you will be saved. Faith in Christ becomes a substitute for obedience to the law. In effect, God says, "I cannot require that people keep the law, because they are not able to keep it, so I will only require that they have faith in Christ who kept if for them."
This thinking is wrong because faith and obedience go together. It is true that God uses faith as a means for us to be forgiven our past sins. But we have to learn to obey. Faith without works, or in other words, faith without obedient action, is dead (James 2:14-26). Disobedience is often spoken of as equivalent to unbelief (Hebrews 3:18-19).
God does not require faith under the New Covenant as an easier substitute for obedience to His spiritual law. That is NOT the reason faith is important to God.
God is building in us a kind of character that can be trusted for eternity never to sin. Faith is an important element in that character. Obedience without faith is not enough.
Someone, perhaps motivated by pride, or motivated by their own concept of love, might be very obedient to the law without really believing and trusting God. The Pharisees might have been that way. They might have obeyed the letter of the law (some of them) out of selfish or self-centered motives, wanting to feel good about themselves, wanting others to think well of them, building their pride and vanity in themselves, or just desiring a reward from God for their good deeds. They could be motivated only by fear of punishment if they disobeyed.
God wants us to believe and trust Him completely, to believe and do whatever He says without doubting His word. He wants that to be part of the motivation for obeying Him one hundred percent forever, not just in the letter of the law, but in the spirit of the law.
God does not want us to have faith as a substitute for obedience to His spiritual law. He wants us to have faith to motivate and help us to obey His law. And the law actually requires faith, because faith is one of the weightier matters of the law. "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith" (Matthew 23:23). Therefore, faith is part of the law, and the spiritual law of God REQUIRES that we believe God. It is a violation of God's law to doubt God's word.
God is building in His children the kind of character that will make it impossible for us to ever rebel and sin against Him for all eternity.
To see why faith is important to God, let's go back to the origin of sin.
As far as the Bible reveals, Lucifer was the originator of sin. He was the first being of God's creation to turn against God's way of life by committing the first sin. God's way is the way of humility before God, the way of outgoing love towards God and neighbor. "He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justly, To love mercy, And to walk humbly with your God?" (Micah 6:8). But Lucifer turned to pride and vanity. He exalted himself in his own mind. He must have sinned inwardly in his thoughts, violating the spirit of the law, before he sinned outwardly. After he sinned his mind became perverted and he sinned more and more (Ezekiel 28:17). He also enticed, or tempted, many angels under his authority into sinning, and when they sinned their minds also became perverted and they became demons (Revelation 12:3-4). Satan also tempted Adam and Eve, and he led them and the whole human race into sin, and sin has become part of our human nature as a result of Satan's influence.
Sin started with Lucifer, who then became Satan the Devil.
Why did Lucifer sin?
God created Lucifer as a mighty angel, a cherub (Ezekiel 28:14-15). After God created him, He must have instructed him and the other angels in the right way of life. This is evidenced by the fact that God testifies that Lucifer was perfect in his ways in the beginning (Ezekiel 28:15). That cannot be by accident. God made Lucifer with a free will, the ability to choose to do right or wrong, and God must have instructed him in His perfect way of life for Lucifer to know how to be perfect in his ways. Also, it is likely that God warned Lucifer and the angels of the consequences of violating God's law of love, just as he warned Adam of the consequences of taking of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
So Lucifer knew God's spiritual law and he was warned of the consequences of violating that law. What were the consequences? As we have seen, his mind became perverted, as God told him, "you corrupted your wisdom" (Ezekiel 28:17). It is also evident, from seeing Satan's way of life in action on this earth, that one of the consequences of sin is suffering, not just for those around the one who sins, but also for the sinner himself. Then there is the loss of position and future responsibility in God's government, which has yet to completely occur, when Satan will be removed from his throne forever (Ezekiel 28:16-19, Isaiah 14:12-15, Revelation 12:7-9, 20:1-3, 7-10). There is punishment awaiting Satan and the demons for what they have done (Matthew 8:28-29).
God must have warned Lucifer about all these things before Lucifer sinned so he could avoid sinning. That seems to be God's way, as taught in the Bible (Genesis 2:16-17, Ezekiel 3:17, Proverbs 24:11-12).
So why did Lucifer sin?
It could not be that Lucifer was tempted by God, because God tempts no one (James 1:13). God does not entice or encourage anyone to do wrong. No other being would have tempted Lucifer if he was the first being to sin. Lucifer did not have any evil nature in him if God created him to be perfect in his ways. So it does not seem that Lucifer was tempted in the way we experience temptation, as a pull of some kind that causes us to sin. There was no one to pull him towards sin, and there was no evil nature in him to cause him to tempt himself.
I do not think that God tempted Lucifer into vanity, or that Lucifer was tempted by some other angel, or that Lucifer was tempted by his own evil nature. At this point, he had no evil nature.
I do not think that vanity somehow "snuck up" on Satan and overcame him before he realized what was happening. Sin can do that to us because Satan broadcasts his evil nature and temptation to sin into the whole human race, but that could not have been the case at a time before sin was first introduced into the universe.
So why did he sin?
During the time that Lucifer was perfect in his ways, he must have known nothing but happiness and joy. Yet God must have warned him that if he turned to sin and to vanity, his mind would become twisted, warped, perverted, and he would experience unhappiness and torment. So why did Lucifer do it?
Would Lucifer deliberately choose a way of life that he knew would bring suffering and misery upon himself?
But did he really know?
You see, to know something, it is not enough to be told. You have to believe what you are told. You have to believe the person who tells you. Otherwise, you do not know. The person who tells you something must be telling you the truth and you must believe what he tells you. Then you know. But if not, then you are still in doubt. In your mind, you do not know the answer even if it has been given to you.
What would be the consequences for Lucifer if he turned to self-centered vanity? This is a question he must have had to deal with.
If he believed God, he would know that the consequences of choosing the thoughts of vanity and sin would be catastrophic for him. But if he did not believe God, then he must have doubted God's warning. Then he might figure, the only way he could know for sure was to experiment.
But to experiment was a risk. If God was telling Lucifer the truth, then Lucifer would be buying an eternity of misery for himself. He had to consider that, even without knowing from experience what misery would be like. Yet, he must have thought, if God was not telling him the truth, he might find greater happiness by choosing the way of self-centered vanity, of exalting the self instead of serving God and others.
Lucifer had to make a decision. And in choosing to sin, he may have performed the first scientific experiment, based on a "scientific method", the method of speculation, reasoning, experiment, and examination of results to form conclusions, rather than simply trusting and believing his Creator. He gambled.
The Bible teaches us that faith is important to God. It is not enough that we have a feeling of "love" towards God, but mixed with doubt about what He says. It is important to God that we believe what He tells us (Isaiah 51:1-2, Genesis 15:3-6, Romans 4:3, James 2:23). The Bible does not spell out in so many words WHY faith is so important to God, but I am suggesting that a reason why faith is important to God is that He is building in us a character that will never disbelieve Him and turn to rebellion and sin as Lucifer did. God wants children who will believe and trust all that He says, for all eternity. I am basing this on the scriptures I have quoted or referenced, plus many other scriptures that show that it is God's nature to warn those He loves and therefore He must have given Lucifer a warning about the tragic consequences that would be the result of sin, a warning that Lucifer chose to ignore.
So God has written faith into His plan for the salvation of mankind. And we must base our obedience to God's law on faith in God and His word. That is why, "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8), and "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness" (Romans 4:3).Faith can help us overcome sin. We can make a commitment to believe what God says, and then we can read the Bible cover-to-cover in an attitude of faith so we can live by every word of God. Then when temptation comes, we can remind ourselves of our commitment to believe God and recall the scriptures that teach us to avoid the wrong behavior we are being tempted to do. We can believe God's word about the unhappy consequences of giving in to the temptation and the rewards for resisting it. We can make the choice to believe and obey God that Lucifer should have made, but didn't. By doing this repeatedly, with God's and Christ's help through the Holy Spirit, we can build the character God wants us to have and we can show God that we can be trusted to believe and obey Him in His family forever.
Laodicea and Philadelphia
Laodiceans are warned that they think they are ok, but they are not.
"Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'-and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked-" (Revelation 3:17). They don't see their own Laodicean condition. They may see it in others but not in themselves. That is a scary warning. It means that any one of us can be Laodicean and not realize it, especially during the Laodicean era.
Laodiceans are told to repent. Philadelphians are told to "hold fast". "Repent" means change, but "hold fast" may seem like the opposite of change. A Laodicean who thinks he is Philadelphian may try to "hold fast" without realizing what Philadelphians are to "hold fast" to. He may think it means, in his case, "don't change". But the Laodicean NEEDS to change. He is NOT ok.
It right to hold fast to the things God and the Bible teaches are right and good. We should hold fast to our trust in God, those of us who trust God. If we really believe the Bible (and how few, even in the Church of God, really do!), we should hold fast to our belief, our faith, in God's Word. But we should not hold fast to our spiritual condition where we fall short. As long as we are human, in the flesh, there will be need for improvement. It will help us to see that if we compare ourselves with Christ instead of each other (1 Peter 2:21-24, Hebrews 12:1-4, 2 Corinthians 10:12). We need to fight our human nature. We must never assume we are "ok" in our character. "Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall" (1 Corinthians 10:12). We also should not hold fast to any doctrinal errors we believe in.
There is no contradiction between repentance and holding fast. We are to hold fast to those things God has given us that are good, and we need to repent of our character attributes and errors in thinking where we fall short. We need to do both. In fact, Sardis is told in the same sentence "hold fast and repent" (Revelation 3:3).
Personally, I think the main thing that Philadelphians have that they need to hold fast to is a willingness to believe the Bible more than their traditions, their ministry, and their opinions, and to be corrected by the Bible and to learn new knowledge from the Bible. That was Mr. Armstrong's outstanding characteristic.
I think it is better for us to regard ourselves as possibly Laodicean, and work to repent and draw closer to God, than to assume we are Philadelphian.
I, myself, do not want to regard myself as Philadelphian. I will figure I am Laodicean or some other condition in the messages to the seven churches that requires correction. I regard myself that way, not only because I am painfully aware of my shortcomings, but because I know the danger of the Laodicean era, the danger of assuming we are ok when we are not. But I am determined to repent and continue to repent more and more and overcome and strive to become a Philadelphian, hoping that God, in His mercy, will look at the glass that is me and count it as half full and not half empty. Perhaps if I strive to overcome, and if I ever learn the lessons God is teaching me, God will also judge me with mercy.I would rather make the mistake of thinking I am Laodicean while God actually counts me as Philadelphian, than the other way around (Luke 14:7-11, 17:7-10, 18:9-14, James 4:6, 1 Peter 5:5-6, Isaiah 57:15, Proverbs 3:34).
The Ministry's Responsibility
The ministry, first and foremost, has a responsibility to repent. The ministers set the example. Much of the responsibility for the scattered condition of the Church falls on the ministry. Mr. Tkach did not scatter the Church. He and other Worldwide ministers made doctrinal changes that forced ministers and members of Worldwide to leave if they could not accept the changes. But he did not scatter the Church. Those of us who left could have left in unity. But we scattered as we left. The members were not the direct cause of that scattering. God no doubt allowed the scattering because of the lukewarm spiritual condition of the members, and He gave us the leaders we deserve, but it was the ministry that scattered the Church.
What exactly did the ministers do wrong? How did they go astray? God knows the hearts of all men, and I can only speculate. I am sure it varies from man to man. But a good tree cannot bear bad fruit. The scattered condition of the whole Church of God is a bad fruit. This did not come from a faithful ministry.
In any church organization, there is a potential for conflict between the church's teaching and the Bible. This is obvious in the large, traditional churches, but it is true even in the Church of God. Why? Both a church and the Bible teach doctrine. One is infallible, perfect, the other is not. The Bible is not wrong about anything, but churches and ministers can make mistakes. This is true for any church, any minister, even a true minister, even Mr. Armstrong, because we are all human.
The true Church of God is not perfect. The messages to the seven churches of Revelation prove this (Revelation chapters 2 and 3). The history of the New Testament Church of God proves this. There was sharp contention between Paul and Barnabas over the issue of taking Mark with them (Acts 15:36-40). Paul withstood and rebuked Peter in front of others (Galatians 2:11-14). There were serious problems in several Church of God congregations as shown in Paul's epistles such as 1 Corinthians (1 Corinthians 1:11-13, 3:1-3, 4:18-21, 5:1-13, 6:1-10, 11:17-22, 27-30, 15:12, 33-34), 2 Corinthians (2 Corinthians 13:1-6), and Galatians (Galatians 1:6-10, 3:1-6, 4:19-21, 5:4-15).
A wise and faithful minister will realize his limitations and the limitations of all ministers, and he will teach his flock to put the Bible first. He will teach the members the proper way to handle disagreements, but he will not teach them to let the ministry interpret the Bible for them. He should know that he can make mistakes with the Bible and with doctrine and that other ministers in the Church of God can also make mistakes. He won't teach members, directly or indirectly, to put their faith in the Church or in the ministry.
Mr. Armstrong was well aware of the importance of putting the Bible first when he first came into the Church of God. He loved and respected the Church, but he always put the Bible first. He believed the Bible more than the Church. When he began a work on radio, he knew he was preaching to people schooled in false doctrine by their traditional churches, and he put an emphasis on believing the Bible first in his messages. "Don't believe me, don't believe any minister, believe your Bible," he said.
Then, something began to happen. Mr. Armstrong began to face rebellion of various sorts against his authority in the Church. Often, doctrine was an issue in these rebellions. Ministers in the Church of God, claiming to follow the Bible, taught doctrine contrary to the teachings of Mr. Armstrong. They did not handle doctrinal disagreement the right way. They did not follow Bible teaching about respect and obedience to authority in the Church. They rebelled. They caused division in the Church and Mr. Armstrong had to deal with that.
Mr. Armstrong had to emphasize the authority of his leadership and the ministry for a time. There needs to be a balance, and teaching faith in the Bible without respect for the Church, the leadership, and the ministry is just as one-sided as teaching the authority of the ministry without teaching faith in God's word.
Toward the end of Mr. Armstrong's life, he was still teaching the general public, "don't believe me, believe the Bible", but his emphasis to the membership in the Church was on government and the authority of the Church, the apostle, and the ministry.
Thus, he said of Mr. Tkach (not naming him at that time, but referring to the man who would replace Mr. Armstrong as pastor general), you will follow him if you want to get into God's kingdom.
Mr. Armstrong did not prepare the members for the apostasy to come. It was God's will to allow this to happen because we had become Laodicean, but we can learn lessons from this.
I think that if Mr. Armstrong could see what has happened in the Church after he died, his biggest regret might be that he didn't teach the ministry and membership what to do if the top leadership goes astray.
What happened underlines the importance of teaching and practicing faith in God's word, the Bible, more than faith in the Church and the ministry. Faith means believing what God says, as Abraham did (Isaiah 51:1-2, Genesis 15:3-6, Romans 4:3, James 2:23), and the Bible is God speaking. This principle is not just something that Catholics and Protestants need to learn, but we in the Church of God need to practice this also.
When the ministry teaches members to believe and trust them to correctly interpret the Bible for them more than they teach them to believe the Bible itself, they are competing with God for the faith of the members.
What did ministers do wrong that scattered the Church?
Too many, in an effort to protect their authority and uphold or magnify "their office" (Romans 11:14-14) placed undue emphasis on loyalty to the Church and the organization rather than to God. They taught the brethren to seek peace and unity with each other, with the ministry, and with the organization, but not first with God. That is not the kind of unity God will bless.Unity in the Church of God comes from seeking first unity with God. If we all have unity with God, we will have unity with each other.
Why Many Ministers Are Afraid to Teach Faith in the Bible
Probably every minister has to deal with this problem sooner or later. A member confronts him with a "different understanding" of a passage of scripture leading to a difference in doctrine. The Church and the minister believe one thing, but the member believes something else, and the member claims to base his belief on the Bible.
So there is discussion. The minister patiently explains why the Church believes what it believes, and he may bring in other scriptures to back up the doctrine. He tries to show the member why his understanding of the scriptures he is using is wrong. But the member doesn't "get it". At the end of the discussion, the member is not convinced and neither is the minister.
Then the member talks about his "new understanding" to other members. It becomes his "pet doctrine". He promotes it. And in so doing, he creates division and confusion. He disobeys God's instruction that we should all try to speak the same thing (1 Corinthians 1:10). He contradicts the Church and the minister. He becomes what the minister might call, a "self-appointed teacher". Now the minister has a bigger problem than just one member with a question.
This is a typical pattern that repeats often in the Church. Long-time pastors and evangelists in the Church have probably had to deal with exactly this kind of scenario more times than they can remember.
In most cases, it is the member who is doctrinally wrong. He doesn't understand the scripture, but he thinks he does. In many cases, the member may be promoting heresy in the Church of God.
This type of thing also occurred in Paul's day, so it is nothing new (1 Corinthians 15:12-34, 2 Corinthians 11:3-4, 12-15, Galatians 1:6-9, 3:1, 5:7-12, 1 Timothy 1:3-7, 6:3-5, 2 Timothy 2:14-26, Titus 1:10-14, 3:9-11).
To many ministers, to teach the members that they should believe the Bible more than the Church and more than the ministry may seem like a recipe for doctrinal confusion, heresy, and division. It may encourage members to come up with their own pet theories that they then promote in the Church, causing division. It may seem that the easiest and most effective way to discourage such behavior is to teach that God appointed ministers to interpret the Bible for the members, that Jesus Christ as head of the Church guides the ministers in their interpretation of the Bible, and that members should trust Christ to lead the ministers to the correct understanding of scripture. Members therefore should feel free to ask questions, but when the explanation is given, they should believe what the minister is teaching about the scriptures, assuming that the leadership and ministry of the Church is right.
I think that is absolutely the wrong way to handle it.
A better way, a way that preserves a member's faith in God's word, is to teach the members that if they have a disagreement about doctrine, for the sake of unity and peace and respect for the authority of the ministry, they should not talk about it with other members. Their faith should be in God and in God's word, the Bible, and if they do not understand or agree with a minister's explanation of a scripture, they should believe the Bible, but keep the matter between themselves and God until such time as God opens the understanding of either the member or the minister to see his error.
In other words, members should be taught to avoid openly contradicting the leadership and ministry with members of the Church of God they attend. If a member has a problem, let him bring it to his pastor, but not others. If that does not resolve it, let him leave it in God's hands, but still not try to teach his views to others in contradiction to established Church doctrine. When it is God's time, He will reveal the truth to whoever is wrong.
That is the right way to implement the principle of unity of doctrine and all speaking the same thing without directing the faith of the members towards the ministry rather than God.
Since I first published this book, I have engaged in discussions about Bible doctrine with members of traditional, mainstream churches on the Internet in blogs and forums. Some of those churches teach their members to let their church interpret the Bible for them. Some of them will be glad to talk about the Bible, but it is a useless discussion. They will affirm that the Bible is God's word and is true. But, no matter how illogical their doctrines, no matter how clearly the Bible contradicts those doctrines, those members can't see it. They will always find a way to let their ministry and church interpret the Bible to agree with their traditional doctrines.
They do this because they think they can have faith in God by believing their church traditions and ministry equally with the Bible. If you ask them, what do you believe, your church or the Bible, they will answer, both. If you ask them, what if the Bible contradicts your church or vice-versa, they will say, impossible. God will not allow that. They will agree that the Bible is inspired by God and is infallibly true. But they will say that God also inspires their church, and their church's ministry and traditions are equally right and true.
In other words, their view is, God inspired the Bible and now He inspires the church (their church) to interpret the Bible correctly. Both are needed, the Bible and a church to interpret the Bible. God inspires both, so both are infallibly correct in teaching.
These people ignore the plain Bible teaching that even the Church and ministers can make mistakes.
But you can't convince them. It is their faith. They are committed to believing that God guides their church, and for them, it would be an act of unfaithfulness and disloyalty to God if they ever doubted their church. So they will not allow themselves to doubt their church.
Are Church of God ministers teaching their members to think the same way?
Some ministers in God's Church think that members should not form their own opinions about what scriptures mean. They may quote 2 Peter 1:20: "knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation".
But the Bible says, "Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand" (2 Corinthians 1:24). And a careful reading of "...no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation" (2 Peter 1:20) shows that it is speaking of the WRITING of the Bible, not the reading of it, as shown by the verse that follows: "for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:21). In other words, when the prophets wrote their prophecies in the Bible, they were not writing from their private understanding of events. This has nothing to do with our reading and understanding of the Bible.
Mr. Armstrong taught that the Bible interprets itself. We let clear scriptures interpret difficult ones. I think he was right.
We have to practice what we preach. If we tell the world, don't believe your church, believe your Bible, don't rely on your church to interpret the Bible for you, but read it yourself and let the Bible interpret the Bible, then we must say the same thing to our members. It is not wrong for those other churches but right for us to believe ministers and traditions more than the Bible. It is wrong for both them and us. God has one standard.
Whatever standard we teach for understanding the Bible, we have to teach the same standard to our own members as we teach to the public. It is not right to have two standards, one for ourselves and one for outsiders (Proverbs 20:10, Deuteronomy 25:13-16, Matthew 23:1-4, Romans 2:17-21).
The Pharisees believed their own traditions more than scripture, and we must avoid making the same mistake (Matthew 15:1-9).
Some ministers, in teaching or pressuring members to believe the minister's explanation of a scripture, may be encouraging the member to break faith with God, though that probably is not the minister's intention.
When a member and ministry have opposing viewpoints about what a scripture or collection of scriptures means, from the member's point of view, he faces a choice. He has to choose to believe the Bible or the ministry. Which will he choose? A minister might say, "but the Bible doesn't say that, and the member is mistaken", but that misses the point. Even if the member is wrong, he doesn't know he is wrong. The choice for him is the same whether he in fact is right or wrong: believe God or believe man.
If he is sincere but mistaken, and is still not convinced after a minister tries to correct him, then he doesn't understand the Bible correctly. But he still has to make the same choice as if the minister was wrong and the member right. He has to believe God or man. Because, if he can't understand where he is wrong FROM THE BIBLE, the only way he can ASSUME he is wrong is to place belief in the word of the ministry over that of God Himself! And if he makes that choice, he has broken faith with God!
When we see what God says in the Bible and begin to believe and trust him, but then ASSUME our belief is wrong because it disagrees with the Church, that ASSUMPTION is the same as doubting what God says. How can it be otherwise? It would in fact be choosing to believe our traditions and the ministers of our Church more than the Bible just as we teach the world NOT to do. It is that kind of thinking that has opened the door for all kinds of false teaching in traditional mainstream Christianity. Members of those churches, most of them, will not believe what we show them in the Bible because they ASSUME that their traditions and their ministers are right, that their church has the right interpretation and understanding of the Bible.
Do some ministers even realize that they could be injuring the faith of some of their members in God and in the truth of God's word by teaching them to accept the Church's teaching even when they see something different in the Bible?
Our relationship with God has to be a personal relationship, where God talks to us through the Bible and we talk to God in prayer. In that relationship we believe what God says in the Bible. The Bible is personal to us. It is our Father and Christ talking to us. We have to believe what God says. The job of the ministry is to help that relationship, not compete with it.
Members of traditional, mainstream churches sometimes use physical idols such as pictures and statues they think represent Christ to "aid" them in their worship. We teach them that no image can represent the infinite God. We recognize that the carnal human mind craves something physical to help God seem more real.
But without our realizing it, that same process can work in the Church of God when members, having human nature as we all do, crave something or someone physical to represent God to them. That can be a minister or an organized body. They would rather put their belief and trust in a physical church or a physical minister than in the invisible God and His word, the Bible. Wise ministers will be aware of that tendency and try to direct members to put their faith in God directly. Ministers should teach members to prove what they believe from the Bible and to believe what they believe because God teaches it in the Bible, not because the Church and the ministry teach it.
When ministers teach and prove doctrine in sermons, they should prove it from the Bible, not from Church of God literature or the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong.
The leadership and ministry of a Church of God organization should never dig in its heels and refuse to consider doctrinal changes, saying, "No doctrinal change."
Ministers like to say they want their members to be teachable, and teachability is a sign of conversion. But the ministry must be teachable too. The ministry, if it is to imitate the positive example of Mr. Armstrong, must always be teachable in the sense that it is willing to learn new things from and be corrected by the Bible.
Christ is the head of the Church, and He leads us by the Bible first, and by the ministry second. Christ can lead us by opening our minds to understand things in the Bible we never fully understood before, and we must follow where Christ leads us. "These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb" (Revelation 14:4).Learning, practicing, and teaching doctrine is a living, active system. We should always be learning new things and accepting correction from God. When change becomes impossible, it is a broken system. Those who teach must continue to be willing to learn and teach what they learn. Those who learn must be willing to prove what they learn, and that means question, and those who teach must be willing to respond to their questions, or change themselves. We all know in part and are limited, and God is an active teacher, always teaching and correcting us, and our response to Him must be active.
Fasting, Faith, and Doctrine
Long-time members can remember the atmosphere of faith that existed in the Church under Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong's leadership in the 1940s, 1950s, and early 1960s, and most of us who were not in the Church at that time have heard of the healings that took place. There seemed to be more healings in the Church at that time than now.
Mr. Armstrong had faith in God. He believed God's Word. He proved his faith in the Bible by giving up his own Sunday traditions and letting the Bible correct his beliefs. That attitude of willingness to believe the Bible more than his opinions, traditions, and the Church was at the heart and core of Mr. Armstrong's faith. That is the way of thinking that Mr. Armstrong practiced, and it is the way he taught when he said, "Don't believe me, believe your Bible."
Mr. Armstrong always had a willingness to learn new knowledge from the Bible and to accept correction from the Bible, and it was because of that willingness that God was able to use him to restore lost doctrine.
I believe there is a direct connection between Mr. Armstrong's faith and trust in God's word, including his willingness to change doctrine when necessary, and the healings that took place in those years.
Mr. Armstrong was willing to go, doctrinally, wherever Christ through the Bible would lead him (Revelation 14:4). He was more concerned with being faithful to teach the Bible accurately than he was about the reactions of human beings to the doctrines he taught. He was more concerned about what God thought than what man thought. He was not a people-pleaser. He was not trying to teach what the Church wanted to hear in order to build up and retain the largest possible number of members.
Today, some in the Church of God emphasize that Mr. Armstrong was the Elijah to come (Malachi 4:5-6, Matthew 17:11), and then they use that idea to say that Mr. Armstrong's doctrines can never be changed, but in saying this they overturn the most important doctrine Mr. Armstrong ever taught, his teaching that we must be willing to grow in knowledge and be corrected by the Bible. But our body of knowledge as a Church is never complete and free of error. The Bible teaches that we know only in part (1 Corinthians 13:9) and that we are to grow in both grace and in knowledge (2 Peter 3:18). There is always more we can learn from the Bible.
When we preach the gospel, we ask our listeners and readers to be willing to learn new things from the Bible. We have to be willing to do the same if we are to practice what we preach and not be hypocrites.
Fasting is a tool we can use to draw closer to God, and as we draw closer to God we can ask for more faith, and God will supply our need. But we have to do our part to be willing to believe His word. We increase our faith as we exercise it, making right choices to believe and obey God when occasions arise.
And when we seek God with fasting, I think we would be wise to consider the teaching and positive example of Mr. Armstrong. He relates in his autobiography how he first began to fast when his wife Loma Armstrong was sick and when God was not answering his prayers for her healing. When he was fasting, he did not ask God for healing. Instead, he asked God to show him what was wrong with HIM. He used fasting to humble himself so that he could more readily be corrected by the Bible, and he looked to the Bible, studying it while he was fasting, for the answer to WHY God was not answering his prayers for his wife's healing.And after God corrected Mr. Armstrong and he received the correction, THEN God answered Mr. Armstrong's prayer for his wife's healing.
We Need to Be More Zealous for the Things of God
This will probably be the last chapter I will add to this book. This chapter is a call to repentance to the Church of God, but in a sense, that is what this whole book is.
This book started with a study on the Holocaust and the effect it had on the religious faith of the Jews, intending to use it to show that we still need to get a warning message out, before I even knew it would eventually lead to an entire book. From there this has grown.
I was provoked, in a sense, into doing the Holocaust study because some in the Church of God were saying that this is not the time to preach the gospel to the world (and the Ezekiel warning), that the Church should only get itself ready. The history of the Holocaust, along with the Bible, shows the falseness of this view. But I didn't think it would become a book. What I intended as an article became a chapter in a book.
The Holocaust study became chapter four. I noticed Church of the Great God was emphasizing feeding the flock at the expense of warning the world, and I wrote up what became chapter five as a response to that view.
I saw other problems in the Church. There were those who were saying that it is wrong for the Church to change any of Mr. Armstrong's teachings, and they taught his teachings as if he was infallible. I wrote chapter six in response to that view. When I knew I would publish the book, I wrote chapters one, two, and three, not for the Church of God, but for the members of the public who might discover the book, because without background information, what I say in the later chapters would make no sense to an outsider. Yet, in a sense, chapters one, two, and three are also for the Church of God, because by putting my book in the public domain, I made that background information available for other Church of God writers to use in their efforts to preach the gospel to the world. In other words, the first half of the book provides sample content free for any group to use (probably with editing necessary to improve my writing) to follow through and put into action the principles I teach in chapters four and five, to get a warning message out to the nations of Israel before the tribulation begins. The sections and paragraphs in the first half can, with some rewriting and editing, can become books, booklets, and articles to help warn the public. Church of God, a Worldwide Association (COGWA) is looking for content as they gear up to do a work of preaching the gospel to the world. Their writers are certainly free to use this material to help them get started.
I know that, except for certain parts, this book is not well written. It is too long for one thing. It needs editing, more than I am qualified to give it. I am not a professional writer. I do not even have a college degree. What I write, I write from my passion, but often I am too wordy.
I first published this book early in 2006, and I revised and expanded it several times since then.
In late 2010 and early 2011, United Church of God (UCG) split down the middle. The causes are still not fully known to outsiders, but politics born out of ballot-box governance seems to me to be a major cause of the split. Whether or not voting was the primary cause for the division, it was certainly a contributing cause, in my opinion. In the fall of 2011 I added chapter eight on governance, showing that Churches of God should not submit to a system of governance by voting.
I have been surprised since I first published this book that it has not had more impact, especially the material in chapter four. Even though I am not a professional writer, I think the lessons of the Holocaust show the importance of getting a warning message out to our nations BEFORE the tribulation begins, and I think I make the point clearly enough for those who read it. Yet there still seem to be those in the Church who do not give high priority to getting the warning message out, and I know of no group or writer that has picked up on what the history of the Holocaust can teach us and talked about it in articles or sermons.
But I could say the same thing about the other chapters. Chapter eight for example. I think it clearly shows the Bible teaching on governance. No one has corrected me about it from the Bible. Yet at least two major Church of God groups seem not to care. How can I help but conclude that those groups do not care what the Bible says?
Most members probably do not really care what the Bible says. They read it to reinforce what they already believe and to feel superior to the world. They don't really want its correction. Correction to help them do what they already want to do, yes. They will read it to feel motivated to lose weight, stop being angry, overcome addictions, forgive their neighbor, be thankful to God, etc. But correction in their BELIEFS? No.
Most of the other chapters in this book, chapters four, five, six, and eight, all deal with major problems in the whole Church of God, problems of thinking, doctrine, and approach as an organized body. These are problems we need to repent of. We need to repent of a lack of zeal for preaching a warning message to the public, and chapters four and five deal with that. We need to repent of making an idol of our own traditions, the ministry, or the doctrines of Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, and we need to let the Bible correct us and teach us new knowledge, and chapter six deals with that. We need to repent of practicing governance in the Church by balloting, a practice contrary to the Bible teaching that God's system of governance is from the top down, and chapter eight deals with that.
But these are surface problems. Most are problems in the ministry, for it is the responsibility of the ministry to preach the gospel, to teach the right doctrines, and to practice the right governance. But it is not just the ministry that needs to repent. God gives us the leaders we deserve. We members need to repent. If the ministers are Laodicean, it is a pretty good bet we members are too.
The problems are one. The problems of lack of zeal for the gospel, making an idol out of our traditions or ministry, and practicing the world's form of governance by voting are only outward expressions of an underlying problem. There is really just one problem that these other problems spring from. That problem is spiritual. And it is a problem with ministers and members alike.
Christ gives a name to it. He call us "lukewarm". He also says we are self-satisfied.
I think it is this lukewarmness combined with self-satisfaction that is the root cause of most of our other spiritual problems in the membership and the ministry.
Look at the way we spend our money. Look at our homes, our cars, our clothes, the food we eat, the recreation and entertainment we enjoy, the restaurant meals we eat, and the junk food we consume. Look at the average amount of money we spend on things we do not really need. Then look at the average contribution to the work of God from each member in tithes and offerings. Does our spending reflect our priorities or not?
Each of us is one out of about 100,000 people on the face of the earth privileged to know the truth, not because of our righteousness, but because of God's mercy towards us and because God has a job for us to do. If we make it, we will be part of the first fruits of God for all eternity. Our reward will be greater. The world, and the nations of Israel in particular, are about to go through the intense suffering of the tribulation, and 90% or more of our people will die in it. God has given the Church the job to warn them before it happens, and He has given the members the job of backing their ministers who give that warning with money to finance it (because it all takes money). So we members spend more money on restaurants, movies, games, entertainment, recreation, nice furniture, junk food, etc. per year than we contribute in offerings. Nice, huh?
How about our time? How do we spend that?
Here is a simple test. Ask yourself this question. Which do I spend more time on, watching TV and movies, playing games, and enjoying other recreation and entertainment, or praying and reading or studying the Bible?
Here is a form to make it easier:
A. Average amount of time spent with recreation and entertainment per day: ________
B. Average amount of time spent praying and reading or studying the Bible per day: ________
Which is greater, A or B?
There are no clearer tests of where our hearts are then how we spend our time and our money.
Most of this world's entertainment is bad. Did I say "most"? I should say, "almost all". Almost all movies contain one or more of the following: illicit sex, violence, the occult, wrong religious concepts, vulgar language, taking God's name in vain, and teaching of wrong values. In the early history of TV and movies, censors would not allow God's name to be used except in a reverent way. Now, even cartoons use God's name in a frivolous manner. And we willingly listen to it. We don't say God's name out loud ourselves. But we turn on the DVD player and listen to others use His name carelessly. I do not think Christ would do that.
If most of us members are lukewarm in our priorities, we don't need to wonder about the ministry. God will give us ministers who are lukewarm like us. It is a way of teaching us the principle, what we sow we will reap. "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (Galatians 6:7). If we are lukewarm about teaching the world the truth it needs, God can give us the ministers who will be lukewarm about teaching us members the truth we need. If we are lukewarm in the way we obey God and love each other, God can give us ministers who are lukewarm in the way they obey God and get along with each other. If we are lukewarm about proving and believing the truth from the Bible, God can give us ministers who are also lukewarm about what the Bible actually says. God will give us the ministers we deserve. We will wake up in the tribulation, we and our ministers together, if we don't repent. Then we will be cured of our lukewarmness and self-satisfaction the hard way.
God commands us to repent. If we do, God can empower us to finish His end-time work and may protect us during the tribulation, which is on its way.There is still time for us to change. And time is running out.