CHAPTER 7 - SUGGESTIONS AND STRATEGIES
SUGGESTIONS AND STRATEGIES
FOR PREACHING THE GOSPEL TO THE WORLD
AND THE EZEKIEL WARNING TO ISRAEL
In this chapter I will offer specific suggestions and ideas for preaching our message to the public more effectively. These are ideas that have occurred to me, and I offer them for consideration. This is actually a collection of ideas over a wide range, some spiritual and some physical, but with a common theme of helping the Church and its members to more effectively preach the truth to the public.
Most of the success we have had in the past has been through a weekly or daily half-hour radio or TV broadcast, aired on as many stations as we can afford, principally in the United States, but also in Canada, Europe, and other nations. A monthly magazine is published, with articles on world news and other topics of interest, from a biblical perspective, with books and booklets on various doctrines advertised in the magazine and in the broadcasts, and with the magazine itself advertised in every broadcast. Also, ads are run, such as in Readers Digest magazine, to advertise the Church's magazine and booklets. All these things are still being done, with some effectiveness, though not as effectively as has been done in the past, principally because the Church of God does not have the income it used to have.
I believe that the above approach is a good foundation. My suggestions are meant to offer food for thought on how to build on that foundation and how the resources of the Church can be leveraged to increase our effectiveness in reaching as many people as possible.
Increasing the Audience and Effectiveness of TV Broadcasts
The Church has used the format of a weekly half-hour television program very effectively in reaching the public. Oftentimes to save money, time is purchased for a half-hour time slot very early in the morning on Sunday or Saturday. For example, as of this writing, Living Church of God currently airs a program at 5:00 am Sundays on WGN in Chicago. More people could be reached at a later time, but that would be more expensive.
My suggestion here is for a way to increase the audience for an early morning or late night time slot -- to effectively reach the kind of audience that a more convenient time slot during the day or early evening would normally reach but at less cost.
Most people are able to view a program that airs at odd times such as very early in the morning, even if they are asleep or otherwise not available to watch it at that time. But they have to know it exists.
Viewers who know the program exists and have an interest can set the timers on their VCRs to record the program when it airs, then view it later. Most households have one or more VCRs.
But potential viewers must first know the program exists and have an interest in viewing it. Once they know about it, the less expensive early morning or late night time slot would be just as effective as a better, more expensive time slot. But how can we let them know that it exists and arouse audience interest?
Right now, the only people who will discover a broadcast that airs at a time when most people are asleep are those who are awake and "channel surfing" at that time. That is a limited number.
I am suggesting that the possibility be explored of purchasing 3 to 6 second spot ads to run prime time during the week to advertise the program on the same station that airs it. You've seen ads of this type. Usually there is a still picture in the background with some captioning that names the program and the day and time of its airing. An announcer's voice urges people to watch the program and announces the day and time it airs. An ad of this type may typically take about 3 or 4 seconds only. Stations use this type of ad all the time to advertise their own programming.
Generally, traditional advertising with 30 second or 1 minute commercials during regular daytime hours or during prime-time evening hours can be very expensive, especially if the ads are run dozens of times a week every week for a year. But I am not suggesting anything like this.
What I am suggesting is that between 5 to 10 of these 3 or 4 second announcements be aired in a particular week to advertise a particular program on a popular topic, such as "How to Have a Happy Marriage". The announcements would be run in the week just prior to the particular program on that topic that would air the next weekend. This could be done for only four weeks in the year for four different programs spaced 3 months apart. This would use only 20 to 40 announcements lasting only 3 or 4 seconds each in an entire year. Even during prime time, that can't be that expensive. I'm not talking about buying time during the Super Bowl.
Would this be effective in increasing the viewership of the program? I believe over time it would be. Many more people will hear these announcements than will discover a late night or early morning program by channel surfing. Those who are interested can set their VCRs to record the program and view it later at their convenience.
To be effective, there must be a close match between the interests of the particular audience that would see the announcement and the topic of the program being announced. For example, a good topic for a daytime audience between 9:00 am and 3:00 pm Monday through Friday might be "How to Have a Happy Marriage".
The announcements can show a picture of the presenter in the still background, and the caption for the still picture can give the topic and the day and time of the broadcast. The announcer can give the name of the program, the name of the presenter, the day and time of the broadcast, and that week's subject.
If any of the Church organizations that have a TV program are able to do this on any of the stations that air their program, the increase in audience that occurs as a result of a one-week airing of the announcements may be permanent. If someone hears the announcement and watches the program one time, if they like it, they will probably continue to view it from then on. So trying this approach for even one week can bring about a long-term increase in the number of people watching the program. Each additional week of announcements during a year may bring an additional long-term increase, so its effect may be cumulative.
This can be tried one or two times as an experiment to see if it works, then continued if results justify the cost.
CARD HOLDER PROGRAM
The Church has sometimes used a cardholder program. Display cases are placed in public locations such as restaurants, waiting rooms, etc. with the permission of the owner or manager of the facility, and the display case will hold cards that can be mailed in for a free magazine subscription. The cards are business reply cards, no postage required, and contain the description and promotion of the magazine. The description is general, only saying for example that the magazine contains articles on world news, Christian living, the Bible, prophecy, etc. Sometimes many cards are taken but few actually mailed in, even with the free postage. It is as if people notice that it is free and feel motivated to take a card with them, but later lose interest and are not motivated to actually fill out and mail in the card. It may be that the description of the magazine, by necessity, is too general to hold interest and motivate someone to send in the card.
I suggest that an approach that might grab interest and motivate people more effectively to send in the card. Instead of designing the card to request a subscription, the card can request a particular booklet or book. This can be more effective because the card can "zero in" on a particular subject matter and arouse interest more effectively. A book on how to improve one's marriage, or what prophecy predicts for the United States, or Bible health laws are examples of particular topics that grab and hold interest, arouse curiosity, and motivate someone to actually send in the card. Once the booklet is requested, a follow up letter or a card in the booklet can offer the magazine.
The cards can be changed periodically to offer a different booklet. An alternative is to use a larger display that can hold two or more types of cards and offer several booklets (one type of card for each) at the same time, thus giving the person a choice. If cards are changed periodically to offer a new booklet, for example once a month, for those who are interested, this may motivate them to stop by the establishment to see the display case and what is being offered, which would be an advantage for the establishment.Promoting a particular topic of interest can more effectively arouse interest and motivate someone to send in a request than promoting a magazine, because the promotion can be more specific. The same principle is used in designing a magazine cover. The cover is designed to promote a particular article in the magazine. This principle has been used effectively by the Church and by commercial magazine publishers because particular topics are always more interesting than a general description of a magazine.
SUGGESTION FOR PREACHING TO THE JEWS
Herbert W. Armstrong in his writings and preaching to the public oriented his message to people who were predominantly Protestant or Catholic or non-religious in their thinking. Mr. Armstrong himself came from a Protestant background, so he knew how to speak to people who had the same background. The whole message was oriented towards a people who were familiar with certain Christian ideas. Mr. Armstrong could use the name of Jesus Christ without arousing animosity. He did not have to spend a lot of effort explaining the concept of Jesus Christ paying the penalty for our sins so we can be forgiven. He didn't have to place a major focus on the truth that Jesus is the Son of God and was resurrected from the dead. Outside of the United States the work of preaching the gospel was carried out primarily in nations with traditional Christian backgrounds. In other words, we have begun a work of preaching the gospel to the ten tribes.
But as far as I know, we have never effectively preached a message specifically designed for the Jews.
If I understand Bible prophecy correctly, the Jews will go through the tribulation also. Yet the Church of God in our time has never effectively preached the gospel and a warning message to the Jews, warning them of God's punishment to come, that is oriented towards the Jewish point of view.
Our traditional approach would not work with the Jews. They would reject the very name of Jesus Christ. Yet, in doing so, they are not necessarily rejecting the true Jesus Christ of the Bible because they have never heard about Him. The only Jesus they know of is the false concept of Jesus taught by the mainstream traditional churches, the "second person of the trinity". With the name "Jesus Christ" the Jews associate all the erroneous religious ideas of traditional mainstream Christianity. The Jews are right to reject the wrong ideas they associate with the name "Jesus", and they never heard of the true Jesus.
I suggest that a work could be started that would design, plan, and carry out an approach that would allow the Church to preach the gospel to the Jews and warn them of God's punishment to come, and would specifically speak to them from their point of view in language they could understand and accept. For example, in material that would first be read or listened to, Bible quotes can be from the Old Testament only. The primary thrust of the message would be that the Jews need to repent of the sins God talks about in the warnings in the prophecies of the Old Testament and turn back to God, and that a great punishment is coming from God upon those who have not repented, and that after the punishment the Messiah will come and bring peace and prosperity to the earth and teach all mankind God's law. These things can be shown from the Old Testament only. Those that respond and express interest in the message can be taught the full truth of God through Bible lessons and booklets that would lead the reader step-by-step into all of the doctrines of the Church from both old and new testaments, written with the Jewish perspective in mind.
Such a work would fill a gap that has not been filled by any major Church of God group as far as I know, as of this writing. It would not duplicate the effort of any major group in the Church, and I think it could be started on a small scale, and even if it expands it would always be smaller than the task of reaching the hundreds of millions in the tribe of Joseph. I believe it could probably be done or at least started without a very large organization. But it would require a great deal of study, thinking, planning, and preparation.
I believe I have said something about this in a previous chapter, but this issue directly affects how the Church can function efficiently to finish the work of preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to Israel. The Bible teaches us that God's government is hierarchical, not a democracy. There is a direct connection between hierarchical government and the ability of a church organization to make the sacrifices and the hard decisions necessary to preach to the public. I think recent experience has shown and is showing that if the human leader or leaders at the top of an organization, who have the authority to determine the budget and how much money is spent on preaching the gospel to the world and how much is spent on ministers' salaries, are themselves elected by the ministers, it is unlikely they will make the hard decisions necessary to allocate sufficient resources to really finish the work of preparing Israel for the tribulation. It is just common sense that many ministers will not elect someone who would reduce their salaries or lay some of them off if that were necessary. Besides the budget issue, fast and hard decisions may have to be made to take advantage of opportunities in a rapidly changing environment, and this is more difficult for an organization whose leadership is obligated to a large number of "voters" who may need to be consulted and whose opinions may have to be considered. Strong hierarchical government, led from the top down by Jesus Christ, will be needed to get the job done. I think it is unrealistic to imagine that the job will be finished any other way.
Some may be against hierarchical government because of errors or abuses in the use of that form of government that can occur in the Church. However, the fact that some may not use hierarchical government correctly does not make hierarchical government wrong. Mr. Armstrong often taught that the wrong use of something is sin. He used examples. A pair of dice, he said, was not sin, but the wrong use of a pair of dice was sin. Sex is not sin, but the wrong use of sex is sin. I think a similar thing can be said of hierarchy in church government. Hierarchy is not wrong, but the incorrect use of hierarchy is wrong. Mr. Armstrong submitted to Jesus Christ, and Christ used him to raise up a Church and do a powerful world-wide work. Mr. Armstrong used hierarchy rightly, to keep us on track following the Bible, to protect the Church from heresy and confusion, to keep us speaking the same thing and moving in the same direction so our efforts were so united and focused that we could do a great work. In spite of recent examples of the incorrect use of hierarchical government, the fact is that the positive fruits of what God accomplished through Mr. Armstrong show the practical advantages of hierarchical government.
The lesson of hierarchical government can also help the Church to learn character lessons that we can take with us into the Kingdom of God. Since God's government in the Kingdom will be hierarchical, then it is fitting that we be learning that form of government now. There will be mistakes now in this life because we are human, but God allows that to test us. That is for our good. Rightly used, hierarchy teaches us to submit, within God's law, to those over us, and to exercise compassion on those under us, and these are lessons we can use in God's Kingdom.
I often wonder why a large number of ministers participate in and support a system of voting for a board of directors of a Church of God that claims to be following the doctrines of the Bible that God used Mr. Armstrong to teach us and help us understand. Of course, many may have come to the conclusion that hierarchical government in the Church of God is bad, and they may prefer a more democratic approach based on the idea that human checks and balances are needed to prevent a leader from leading the Church into false doctrine. But others may believe in hierarchical government, yet not see any alternative for themselves except to support, for now, a system of voting for leaders. I have not talked in depth about this with any of these ministers, although I did talk briefly with one pastor. I asked the pastor why he did not join with a certain leader of a major Church organization that was practicing hierarchical government. The minister said that God has not shown him that this leader was the one God would use to lead the Church.
I suppose this can be a dilemma for ministers, especially for those who believe in hierarchical government. If it is not clear who God is working through, some ministers may have felt that there was no alternative but to band together in a group and vote for the ones to lead that group, until such time as God made clear that He is working through a particular individual. While many ministers have organized and raised up their own groups, many others, out of humility or a fear of being presumptuous, or because of knowledge of their personal limitations, may have been afraid to do so and be "independent" of a larger organization. Many may have felt that, though God called them to be a pastor, they were not qualified and prepared to preach the gospel to the world, and so they wanted to support a larger organization that could do that. They may also have felt that to start their own Church of God organization would be creating and furthering division in the body of Christ. However, I have often thought that it is not the separate or individual organizations or administrations of the Church of God that causes division, but the competitive, non-cooperative nature of the relationships between organizations that is causing division. There is a lot of opportunity for cooperation between organizations that is not being utilized today, or is utilized very little among the major Church of God groups.
A corporation is a legal convenience. Being incorporated as a non-profit organization allows member contributions to be tax deductible, allows the Church to take advantage of lower postage rates, simplifies copyright management, and provides a number of other business and legal advantages. But the number of legal corporations the Church of God uses is not an accurate measure of the divisions that exist in the Church. One can be separately incorporated and yet have a policy of organized cooperation with other groups, as it is appropriate (without compromising with God's law and doctrine). Unfortunately, most of the major Church of God fellowships today seem to practice competitiveness in their relationships with other Church of God groups rather than cooperation and organized assistance, even between groups that are nearly identical in doctrine. Paul used the example in his day of those who said "I am of Paul" or "I am of Apollos", and Paul asked "Is Christ divided?" (1 Corinthians 1:11-13, 3:1-4). Today we might say, "I am of David Hulme" or "I am of Roderick Meredith" or "I am of ..." (fill in the blank). Not in those exact words of course. That would be too obvious. But in some of the various groups in the Church of God that adopt a competitive attitude towards others groups, members are sometimes taught to think of their group as being the only group God is primarily working through, or that their leader is the only man God is primarily working through, and that amounts to the same thing.
Is God's Church divided? The answer is, yes, it is. Is it divided because all are not under one man? No. Is it divided because all are not in one organization? No. Should the different Churches of God merge? I say no. The Church is divided because different groups compete with each other instead of cooperating with each other, even in cases where there is little if any difference in doctrinal teachings. I know of two major groups that have come out of Worldwide after the apostasy, and both teach hierarchical government, preaching the gospel to the public, keeping God's commandments, and striving to live by every word of God. They keep the same day of Pentecost and the other holy days, and take the same or similar positions on makeup and other smaller doctrines. There is a difference in strategy for preaching the gospel, but strategy is not doctrine. Neither group perfectly lives up to everything it teaches, but that is not the issue. The issue is that these two groups seem to compete with each other instead of helping each other, but not because of differences in doctrine. There seems to be a spirit of competitiveness between them, with each trying to vie with the other to get or hold on to the most sheep. I have heard the term "sheep wars" to describe the competitiveness that exists between some groups.
God does NOT always work through only one man at a time. Peter and Paul were distinct administrations, with Peter going to the circumcised and Paul to the gentiles primarily, with neither directing the other in the day-to-day operations, possibly with Peter having primacy only in certain matters that affected the whole Church. But Peter did not direct Paul in Paul's day-to-day administration of the gospel to the gentiles. Both were supervised DIRECTLY by Jesus Christ through the Holy Spirit. Also, many Old Testaments prophets were contemporary with each other with no indication that one prophet reported to another, so God must have been working through more than one man at the same time. God worked through king David and the prophet Nathan at the same time. Each man had his respective responsibilities. Nathan was God's prophet and David was king over Israel, and David was also a prophet who wrote many of the psalms. David did not tell Nathan how to speak for God and Nathan did not tell David how to run the country, except when God gave Nathan a message to give to David. Neither supervised the other in the work the other did for God, but rather God directly supervised them both.
God can work through more than one man at a time and still retain hierarchy if each man through whom Christ works faithfully follows Christ and cooperates with the other man who follows Christ. An analogy is a company that manufactures cars. The chairman of the board is like the Father, the president is like Christ, and under the president may be several department directorships with, for example, one man being the manufacturing director and another man the marketing director. The manufacturing director is in charge of purchasing supplies and materials and supervising the factories and assembly lines, with all factory workers under his authority. The marketing director is in charge of all advertising and the dealerships, with all salesmen reporting to him. Neither of these two directors has authority over the other, but both report to the president, and since the president wants harmony in the organization, if the directors are doing a good job of following the instructions of the president they will be cooperating with each other, not competing with each other.
I have attended or visited several major Church of God fellowships over the years since the death of Herbert W. Armstrong. I do not remember any occasion when I heard a guest speaker from one organization speak in another. I do not remember reading an article written by a writer in one Church corporation published in the magazine or newsletter of another Church corporation. During announcements in church services, I do not remember ever being asked to pray for the success of a conference or the success of the efforts to preach the gospel or the success of a co-worker letter in another Church organization. Very seldom have I even heard prayer requests for the healing of a sick member in another Church organization. I don't say this never happens among the hundreds of splinter organizations, but at least among the major groups it must be rare.
Once I attended the Feast of Tabernacles with one group while a different group, which shared the same general doctrinal positions almost exactly as far as I could tell, kept the Feast at a site that was threatened with disruption due to a hurricane. The group that had the site that was threatened with a hurricane was a Church that had brought in a number of new members through their TV broadcast, and a number of these "babes in Christ" were probably attending the threatened Feast site, with some perhaps attending their first Feast of Tabernacles ever, new members just learning how to step out in faith and to trust God. Yet all the time the hurricane was approaching the threatened site, never once did I hear a request for prayers for the safety of brethren threatened by the hurricane in the announcements of the site I was attending. We were never asked to pray that the Feast at the threatened site not be disrupted. They were a different group, so they were treated as if they didn't exist. I couldn't imagine any way that brand new members brought in through a TV broadcast could be blamed for being in the "wrong group" and therefore not deserving of prayers for their safety just because they were attending their first Feast with the group that brought them into contact with God's truth. Yet it seemed that there was no concern for them in the other group.
God says in a multitude of counselors there is safety (Proverbs 11:14, 15:22, 24:6). Many top leaders of Church of God organizations practice getting advice before making decisions, but perhaps often do so by listening only to the advice of their own fellow ministers, department heads, employees, and members from within their own group. These are the very people who are mostly in agreement already with the leadership, or in some cases may feel intimidated about telling the leadership it is wrong. It can be a mistake to get advice only from those who agree with you and exclude those who may disagree. I wonder how often the leaders of the Churches of God solicit advice and counsel from those in other Church of God organizations that may have encountered similar decisions or have valuable experience in a certain area. There may be opportunities for sharing of information, advice, and planning in a cooperative way.
I have heard of at least one case where a member of a congregation of one Church was disfellowshipped because of a problem with another member. According to what I have heard, the disfellowshipped member simply went to a congregation of a "competing" Church of God organization in the same city and was accepted. Apparently, there is no coordination between pastors of different organizations in the same city to prevent a member that needs to repent of a problem from dodging the correction by just going across the street. This is not good for the member and is not good for the Church of God. And in cases where a disfellowshipped member may have done harm to members of the congregation he was disfellowshipped from, for another pastor to accept him without talking to the first pastor may present a danger to the members of the congregation the man is going to.
I do not say that a church should compromise with its beliefs or accept a guest speaker who would teach doctrines contrary to the official teachings of the church he is speaking to. I do not say that a church should pray for the success of other churches that have such serious errors that it would be better for God's plan that those groups not succeed in promoting their errors. But it seems that there could be a lot more of a spirit of cooperation and harmony among some of the organizations in the Church of God, without compromise, rather than a spirit of competition and a sense that all other organizations don't exist or shouldn't be helped. Too much it seems as if anyone who preaches the truth of God is counted as an enemy merely for not being part of one's own organization. I do not see support in the Bible for this approach and attitude.
When Paul became an apostle to the Gentiles, he and Peter agreed that Paul would go to the gentiles and Peter to the circumcised (Galatians 2:7-10). Peter and Paul led distinct administrations of the gospel, yet they cooperated with each other, not only by recognizing their respective responsibilities, but even in seeking doctrinal agreement when possible without compromising (Acts 15). Even in a case where some were preaching the gospel out of a wrong motivation in competition with Paul, Paul rejoiced that their efforts were indeed advancing the cause of the gospel (Philippians 1:15-18). When Jesus was teaching his disciples, the disciples told Jesus that they forbade someone who was casting out demons in Jesus' name because he was not with them (the disciples). Jesus said, "Do not forbid him..." and "...he who is not against us is on our side." (Mark 9:38-40). Too often today, the policy of some Church of God organizations is, he who is not part of our organization is against us.
Is God's Church divided? Yes, it is. That is a fact. God's Church is divided into many pieces. And all the time that the division and a competitive, hostile, unloving attitude exists between the pieces, many pieces boast how much unity that particular piece has with itself! A small piece of a divided Church will say, "What wonderful unity and harmony we had at our last ministerial conference". That piece has "unity", that is, until that piece divides into still smaller pieces. Then each of the smaller pieces can also boast that it has such wonderful unity within itself.
But is there unity between the pieces? Is there unity of the whole? Not now. Not with most of the pieces. Not until different groups and organizations begin to show at least a minimum of respect and esteem for one another.
I think we need to understand that unity within a Church of God organization is not real unity if that organization is hostile to other Church of God organizations that teach and practice the same doctrines from the Bible. Unity within one piece is not unity in the Church. Some ministers want members to identify with the "piece" they are in, but that is wrong. Our identity is with God and with Christ and with the WHOLE body of Christ, every man or woman who has the Spirit of God. Obviously some members and ministers have fallen under the influence of serious doctrinal errors, but if a person has the Holy Spirit, that person is still a member of the Church that we should identify with, and we should help them correct their errors. Competitiveness is not going to correct anything. Some speakers like to use props. I can imagine a speaker bringing his own piece of pottery to the podium, showing the audience how beautiful and unified it is, then smashing the pottery next to the podium and holding up one of the larger pieces and saying, "See what unity this one piece has with itself. There are absolutely no cracks or divisions in this one piece. What a perfect example to show that God's one true Church is not divided" (bring a hammer just in case the floor is carpeted or the pottery is strong, and cover the pottery with a cloth to protect the eyes in the front row).
Some people say that the different groups are divided because of real doctrinal differences, and some say that they are divided because of personality conflicts and an inability to get along between the leaders. I think that doctrinal differences exist and are a reason why most groups are divided one from another, BUT NOT ALWAYS. Sometimes there is virtually no discernable doctrinal difference between two groups, and the competitiveness exists between them only because the leaders are not willing to cooperate with each other.
Not all of the major Church of God fellowships are so divided in doctrine or policy that they cannot cooperate. I can think of two major groups that share the same position on hierarchical government, preaching the gospel to the public, and the general body of doctrine Mr. Armstrong taught us from the Bible, and neither has the problem of an over-emphasis on the authority of a person and adding a lot of doctrines and interpretations of Scripture that are never proved from the Bible. Yet never have I heard a prayer request in one of these two Churches for the success of a ministerial conference in the other Church. That is just a simple example. There are many opportunities for cooperation between organizations, but what is needed is the desire to find opportunities for cooperation where appropriate. If the desire is there, ways will be found, but without the desire, it won't happen.
I am reminded as I write this of the way Mr. Armstrong explained the two ways of life: give and get. The give way is the way of outgoing concern for others, the way of helping and cooperating. The get way of life is the way of selfishly trying to get and take away from others, the way of competition, especially hostile competition. In view of Mr. Armstrong's explanation, would an impartial outside observer say that the various Church of God fellowships are living the give way, the way of cooperation, or the get way, the way of competition, in their relationships with each other?
Is there love between the leaders of the competing Churches of God who share the same doctrines? Jesus said, "By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35). Isn't the converse also true? If it is true that all men will know we are Christ's disciples if we have love for one another, could it also be true that no one will know we are Christ's disciples if we do not have love for one another? What do our competitive attitudes look like to the world? Do they know we are Christ's disciples by the way the different organizations love and cooperate with each other? Do they see Christ in us in the way we behave towards one another? And will Christ empower the Church to preach the gospel to the world more powerfully as long as we have the attitude of hostile competition of each organization towards all the others? I think the answers to the above questions are: no, yes, yes, the competitive ways of this world, no, no, no.
Our motive for preaching the gospel to the world should be to help those who hear the message and to glorify God's name. The competitive spirit among some Church of God organizations seems so strong that I wonder if some may be trying to preach the gospel to the world from a different motive. We have to be careful that we are not like those Paul referred to in Philippians 1:15-17 who preached Christ from a motive of selfish ambition. If our motive for preaching the gospel to the world is to demonstrate to the most sheep that we are the ones God is working through, we have things backwards. Our motive for preaching the gospel should be to glorify God and further His plan and to help other human beings who are about to suffer.
Our motive in preaching the gospel should not be to compete with other groups and try to obtain and hold on to the most "sheep", that is, members, using the gospel as a means for doing so, like advertising campaigns used by this world's business corporations. Our motive for preaching the gospel should be to help the people who hear it and to glorify God's name. If that is our motive, we should rejoice in any group, even those organized separately from the one we attend and support, that has success in reaching the public with the truth. That is the spirit of love and cooperation in action.
As far as I can see, the problem is NOT that the Church exists in several organizations or corporations, the problem is the competition that exists between them, even between groups that share the same doctrines. Among the major groups that believe in top-down government, preaching the gospel to the public, keeping the commandments, and looking to the Bible for correction and doctrine, it is the apparent hostile or indifferent spirit that exists between them that is more of a problem than the fact that they are separately organized and incorporated.
So for ministers and church leaders to be separately organized or incorporated does not, by itself, mean that the Church is divided, but rather the division is the result of either heresy or error in doctrine or policy that cannot be compromised with, or an attitude of viewing any organization other than one's own as a competitor, and therefore not taking advantage of opportunities for cooperation and coordination where they may exist.
I started this section by talking about the problem facing ministers who know that hierarchical government is God's way, yet they don't know who to follow, and they don't want to go "independent" because they think they would cause further division unless they are part of a large group, so they stay in a group that practices democracy. My point about the divisions that exist between the organizations is this. It is not the fact that there is more than one organization that makes the Church divided. It is the fact that the many organizations do not cooperate that makes the Church divided. In the first century, the gospel to Israel was committed to Peter and the gospel to the gentiles was committed to Paul (Galatians 2:6-10). There is certainly a sense in which Peter had precedence in certain situations that concerned both Peter and Paul, such as the event recorded in Acts 15 regarding a major doctrinal question that affected the whole Church, yet in day-to-day operations, they were separate and distinct administrations or organizations with each reporting directly to Jesus Christ. I am sure Peter never tried to tell Paul what cities to go to. Yet though Peter's administration and Paul's administration were different organizations, there was unity because they cooperated with each other. That is what is lacking today, cooperation. Instead, we have competition.
If God wants all the faithful groups to merge together under one leader, God is able to bless and give success to the one He has chosen in such an obvious way that every faithful member in the Church can know who it is by his fruits. If that occurs, a merger of groups under that one man would be appropriate. Many members and ministers may be waiting for that to happen. And if it does, it may be obvious to all. God has ways of making His will known. But I think God has not done that, and I know of no guarantee that He will do that before the tribulation begins. So in the meantime, cooperation will do more to achieve unity of mind, heart, purpose, and accomplishment than competition or indifference. And if cooperation is not possible, surely mergers are not possible either, and the divided state of the Church will continue.
Going back to the matter of the dilemma of
ministers coming out of Worldwide who may themselves believe in hierarchical
government, but feel that they are not able to join or support any existing
leader for one reason or another, I have wondered what the result would be if
more of them had simply organized separately and begun in one way or another to
do the work of feeding the flock and preaching the gospel to the world, even if
starting on a limited scale, rather than getting together to elect a board by
voting. God could then indicate who He is working through by blessing that
leader, and he would become known by his fruits (Matthew 7:15-20, Luke 6:43-44,
Joshua 3:7), and as this became evident others could then join him. This would
be one way God could make his choice known. It seems to me that gathering to
vote for a board of directors bypasses this process. I think it would not be
causing division for a minister to organize and incorporate separately rather
than be subject to and support a democratically elected government of men,
provided that minister had a willingness to cooperate with others. And if a
pastor is able to feed his flock but feels totally unqualified for taking the
gospel to the public, such a minister can still find ways of supporting the
preaching of the gospel financially by sharing tithes and contributions with a
minister or organization that is qualified to take the gospel to the public, and
may already be doing so. He does not have to feel forced to join with another
man or organization and come under that man's or that organization's authority
before he has confidence about who God is working through.
HOW IS THE CHURCH ORGANIZED?
How is God's Church organized? This is important, because some seem confused about how far a minister's authority over the membership goes. I am putting this in this chapter because it seems to fit with the previous section on government in the Church of God. Some ministers and leaders in some organizations seem to claim more authority than I think the Bible gives them. Some claim authority over what members believe, or seem to claim authority over where members attend or what they read.
How is God's Church organized? We know that Christ is the head of the Church as the husband is the head of the wife, as Paul says in Ephesians 5:22-23: "Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body."
How is Christ the head of the Church? Does Christ lead the Church only through the ministry?
1 Corinthians 11:3 shows how Christ is the head of every family in the Church. Christ is the head of the man, the man is the head of the wife, and the head of Christ is God the Father. In matters of family decisions, Christ does not rule the wife and children directly, but He rules the husband and father, who in turn rule the rest of the family.
Galatians 3:28 shows that in Christ there is neither male nor female. Is this a contradiction of 1 Corinthians 11:3? No. This is not talking about family matters but our personal relationship with Christ and with the Father. Everyone in whom the Holy Spirit dwells is a converted Christian and a member of the true Church of God and has a direct relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ.
Ephesians 4:11-16 shows the offices of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor, and teacher in the Church for the administrative work of the Church. This work includes preaching the gospel to the world, the feeding of the flock, taking care of the poor in the Church, anointing the sick, and resolving disputes between brethren. Because the work of the ministry includes the preaching of the gospel to the world and the feeding of the flock, the ministry does have authority over what doctrines are officially taught by the Church.
Christ is head over each one of us directly in matters pertaining to our relationship with God the Father, our salvation, our faith, our repentance, and our obedience to God's law. We do not report to any man or minister in any of these things. But in matters of family decisions such as where to live, how the family budget will be managed, how the children will be supervised and disciplined, the wife does not report directly to Christ. Instead, she reports to her husband who reports to Christ. The husband does not have authority from Christ over his wife's faith, but he has authority from Christ over how she manages the household.
Then with the work of the Church, the organized ministry has authority from Christ. Individual members do not report directly to Christ in matters of deciding official Church doctrine, what will be taught to the public as part of the preaching of the gospel, what will be taught to the brethren as part of feeding the flock, distribution of third tithe funds to the poor, etc. Instead, members take direction from their pastors, who take direction from an evangelist, who takes direction from the leading evangelist or an apostle or pastor general, who takes direction from Christ, who takes direction from the Father. In the organized work of the Church, Christ's authority flows through the ministry to the members, not to the members directly.
In other words, there are overlapping authority structures. But this does not lead to confusion because each authority structure is for a particular area of responsibility and all authority structures are under Christ.
It is important to understand this because it shows the limitations of the authority of the ministry. The ministry does not have authority over our salvation, our faith, and our relationship with God (2 Corinthians 1:24). Only Christ has that authority, and He exercises it over us for our good directly, not through the ministry. Neither can the ministry command us what to believe. We must believe the Word of God. As Mr. Armstrong taught, the Bible is the word of God in print and Christ is the Word of God in person, the same word. But the ministry can help us by teaching us, and they have the authority to make binding decisions on the official doctrines that the Church will teach. Whenever there is a conflict between the teaching of the ministry and the teaching of Christ through the Bible, we must believe and obey Christ first.
It is Christ who will judge us as far as our faith is concerned, our obedience, what we believe, what we read, where we attend, where we send our tithes, etc., not the ministry. Christ will judge us by what is written in the Bible, not by the teaching of the ministry.For more discussion of the issue of Church of God governance, see Chapter 8 - Government in the Church of God.
As we get closer to the end, there may come a time for a final all out push of great intensity but short duration. This may occur only a year or less before the end of the Church's work. This would be the final chance to reach everyone who has not yet heard our message before the tribulation begins.
Only God can provide the resources and opportunities for a final push that will truly reach everyone in Israel with the gospel and the Ezekiel warning. We also have our part to work as hard and as intelligently as we can to plan and prepare for such a push as God enables us. Although God can work things out in ways we do not expect and cannot anticipate, nevertheless we can strive to do our part to think about how this may occur and to do what we are able to do with the means God gives us.
Here are some thoughts and ideas I have had that I want to share about how this may come about. I do not say this is how things will happen, but only that this may be a possibility.
God is able to bless and prosper the Church of God and the work that He wants us to do far beyond what we can imagine (Ephesians 3:20). If at some time God provides the financial resources we need to really finish the work with a final last "push" to reach everyone who has not been reached so far, how would we use those resources?
I don't think buying time on TV in half-hour segments on more and more TV stations to boost the magazine circulation will do the job. That is because most people will just tune out. It won't matter how often our program runs or how much time we buy. The typical TV viewer will not pay attention long enough to hear the message. If I am "channel surfing", it takes me about 2 seconds or less to recognize a religious broadcast and switch to the next channel, and during that time I don't even hear one complete sentence. I believe this would be the typical reaction on the part of the majority of the population. We could run half-hour programs in prime time every day of the week on every TV station in the country, and most people will just switch channels. We just won't reach everybody that way. Some people are willing to listen, and we can reach those now, but later we will have to reach more.
As we are doing the work now, our TV programs generate responses that translate into magazine subscriptions. It is primarily the magazines, books, booklets, and Bible study lessons that a TV viewer requests that teach our message. Typically, when the Church purchases TV time, we buy time in half-hour segments. Why is that?
When someone is willing to start to listen to our program, how do we speak to them? What is our approach? How do we persuade someone that most of the religious beliefs they grew up with are wrong and that the Bible teaches things very different than they previously thought? How do we break through people's misconceptions? How do we change their views? In other words, how do we lead them into new knowledge they never had before and may be prejudiced against? How do we correct them?
I remember hearing one minister describe an approach to persuading people. I think this description comes from Mr. David Hulme, though I do not remember if I heard him speaking or if I got this from a third person describing how Mr. Hulme explained this. Basically, the principle is, you talk to the person from their point of view. An analogy is crossing a bridge. If you are on one end of a bridge and someone is on the other end of the bridge, and you want him to come to your side, you first cross the bridge and go over to him, then you lead him step by step back across the bridge to your side, the side you want him to be on. In practice, this means you acknowledge your audience's point of view and speak to them in their language in terms they can accept. That is the starting point that enables you to connect with your audience and establish a sense of trust and rapport. They are then ready to listen to you. Then you lead them to the truth one step at a time at a pace they can handle. I may not be explaining this as well as I originally heard it, but this is the basic idea.
I think this has been the approach, to one degree or another, that the Church of God has used in our communication with the public. This approach can be very effective, but it takes time. This is one reason we have used half-hour programs, each on a different topic, along with a monthly magazine. We want to persuade people without offending them, so we approach our conclusions gradually.
The Bible also endorses this approach. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22, "For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some." Also, the book of Acts records how Paul approached the Athenians. "Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, 'Men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing through and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you: God, who made the world and everything in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He worshiped with men’s hands, as though He needed anything, since He gives to all life, breath, and all things. And He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth, and has determined their preappointed times and the boundaries of their dwellings, so that they should seek the Lord, in the hope that they might grope for Him and find Him, though He is not far from each one of us; for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, "For we are also His offspring" ' " (Acts 17:22-28). Here, Paul tries to find points in common with his audience, referring to their alter to the "unknown God" and to the writings of their own poets.
I think this is the best approach when one has time to persuade people, and when people are willing to listen. But I think the Bible shows that there is another approach possible.
When Jonah preached to Nineveh, did he try to persuade the Ninevites by speaking their language and bringing them to the truth step by step in terms they could accept? Did he try to establish common ground with them? "And Jonah began to enter the city on the first day’s walk. Then he cried out and said, 'Yet forty days, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!' " (Jonah 3:4). This sounds pretty blunt. Perhaps this is just a summary, but considering Jonah's attitude towards Nineveh it seems unlikely that he was very concerned with persuading them. He was actually angry because they repented and God spared them (Jonah 3:5-4:3).
Yet the interesting thing here is that, as blunt and direct as the message was, and as unsympathetic towards the Ninevites as Jonah was, the message got results! Nineveh repented and God spared them. There are not many examples like this in the Bible.
I don't say that this is the right approach at this time. But before the tribulation actually starts, there may come a time when we have to be blunt and direct. Even if we come across as being somewhat harsh, we will be gentle compared to the tribulation itself. It doesn't make sense to me that we go right up to the time when the tribulation begins, with all of the death and agony associated with it, and never talk strong language. And it does not have to take a half-hour TV message to get the point across.
When we get close to the beginning of the tribulation and the time comes for a "final push", the objective at that time would NOT primarily be to convert people. The objective would be to give every person a chance to respond so they know that they had a chance. It doesn't matter if almost everyone rejects it. They will know that they heard it. The "payoff" will be during the tribulation when these people will repent. However, for the opportunity to be genuine, there will need to be a way that those who wish to respond and learn more can find the details and the proof from Scripture and to do so in a very short amount of time. This is where the Internet can come in. We can give a short, direct message on TV, radio, and in print, then provide the scriptural proof and more details on a website for those who wish to act on the message, or at least look into it with an open mind.
The short message can be conveyed through a series of 1 minute television and radio commercials and display ads for magazines and newspapers. There might be six or seven varieties of the one minute commercial. Taken together, they will get the message across. At the end of each commercial will be a lead-in to the website for more information. This will reach those that will normally change channels to avoid a half-hour TV program, but would probably hear the commercial if it comes on when they are watching a regular program.
Is six or seven minutes divided into six or seven commercials sufficient to preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to Israel? Let's ask the question this way. If we knew the tribulation was about to occur, that there was no more time, and we had just six minutes to tell someone what they needed to know, what would we say? I think we could say a lot.
We could tell our audience in just two or three sentences the identity of the United States and Britain in Bible prophecy and what prophecy says will happen to our nations. We can itemize in one summary sentence the major sins of our nations that we need to repent of. We can briefly state a number of truths about the second coming of Christ, the millennium, God's law, and the plan of God for mankind, and other doctrines. We can explain that the Bible is God's word, and that a person with an open mind can prove from fulfilled prophecy that the Bible is the word of God. We can state these things, briefly, without trying to prove them from the Bible.
Then we can conclude by stating that further information along with the scriptural proofs can be found on our website.
Could we cover these things in six or seven minutes? If we try to prove and expound on them and tactfully persuade the listener step by step, of course not. But if we just briefly announce these things, yes we can.
Would this persuade anyone? Not directly. It will only challenge people and arouse curiosity. But it would provide the name of the website, and the website can be prepared to thoroughly explain the entire gospel and Ezekiel warning, the proof from fulfilled prophecy that the Bible is God's word, all of the Church's doctrines, and all the supporting scriptures and proofs that what we teach is true. This is where we can persuade people, if they are willing to learn.
The combination of this kind of announcement message and providing a website that can really teach and prove what we say in a comprehensive way will accomplish the job of making sure no Israelite who goes into the tribulation can say, "I never had a chance." Everyone who hears our message will remember it and will remember whether they checked the website or not, and whether they were willing to believe and obey the Bible or not.
The website should be carefully organized and prepared to teach all the doctrines of God. It can be organized hierarchically. It can start with the same message as announced in the commercials and print ads, but provide links in the message to other pages that will prove and expound on the things stated. For example, in the top level message, in a statement about God's law, the word "law" can link to a page that can expound on the law of God being the law of love and an expression of God's nature and the give way of life, with supporting scriptures. That page can state that the two great commandments are to love God and to love neighbor, with supporting scriptures, and that the Ten Commandments teach us how to put love into practice, with the first four commandments teaching us how to love God and the last six how to love neighbor. The term "Ten Commandments" can link to a page that lists the Ten Commandments, gives a paragraph or two on each one explaining how one can apply them to our lives today, and then each of those commandments will link to a page that expounds that one commandment in detail, teaching from the scriptures. This is what I mean by a hierarchical organization.
Likewise, from the main page, the statement that the United States is part of Israel can link to pages that teach and prove from history and from Scripture our identity in prophecy. The statements about the tribulation can link to articles that will teach the details about the tribulation and prove everything from the Bible.
Even without the short commercials and advertisements, a well-organized website designed to teach the doctrines of the Church of God and to get our message across and prove what we say from the Bible can play a vital role in finishing the work. God can provide favorable publicity for the Church and our message in ways we cannot imagine right now, and if that occurs, we need to be ready with a website so that people who want to know more can access the information they need in a tight, well-organized way.
On the technical side, provision would have to be made to allow the capacity of the website to provide access for a huge number of people, many of whom may be accessing the site just out of curiosity, but some of whom may be sincerely trying to prove if what we say is true. If God gave the Church favorable publicity for a few days and many people became curious about us, the number of "hits" on the website would increase dramatically in a few hours. If the site is just set up for normal volume of traffic, it would be quickly overwhelmed. The site would have to be able to handle a huge volume of traffic for a few weeks, and this would have to be prepared and even tested somehow prior to the time when it would be needed. This can be called "surge capacity", and it needs to be planned for and prepared BEFORE it is needed, and it needs to be able to be implemented with just a couple of hours notice.
What the Church could do now is to prepare a website that can hierarchically and logically teach and prove all the doctrines of the Church. Right now, a number of churches provide websites that are extensive and well-organized, but most of them are merely designed as "containers" for sermon recordings and articles. That is, the sermons are prepared and given as sermons, and the articles, books, and booklets are written as articles, books, and booklets for print, and then the website is put together to help advertise and distribute these sermons, articles, books, and booklets. The teaching material itself is not designed for the Web, it is designed for print or for audio recording. This is fine, but it doesn't fully take advantage of the Web's hierarchical linking ability. Rather than write articles for print, or take articles and books already written and then make them available for browsing or download on a website, articles should be written FOR the Web specifically with a hierarchical plan for the links designed from the beginning. Such a website can be supplemented with articles and booklets written for print as well as audio recordings, but the main site should be specially designed for the Web to take full advantage of the ability to use links to organize the material in a hierarchical format.
God may bless the Church with financial resources to run a large advertising program or God may give the Church favorable publicity in a way we do not anticipate. If that were to occur, public interest in the Church and our message may vastly increase -- for about a day or two. Then the mind of the public will shift its attention to some other news item or the latest fad. We have to be ready with a website that can get a short, powerful message across on the first page, then teach the truth in a logical, well-organized way to those who are willing to take the time to follow the links. And that site would have to be prepared, and business and technical arrangements prepared, so that the capacity of the site to absorb and respond to a high traffic volume can be vastly increased on a moments notice, so that the site will not be overwhelmed and unable to respond to everyone who accesses it. This would be a challenge and an opportunity that cannot be handled "ad hoc". It would take advance preparation time to construct such a site. Once public interest is aroused, we are either ready for it or not.
MAKING OUR WAYS PLEASING TO GOD - OVERCOMING SIN
How to Obtain More of God's Help in Breaking Bad Habits
As part of the principle of practicing what we preach, we need to individually be striving to live God's way of life and to be obedient to all of God's commandments as we preach to the public. We need to make sure that our ways are pleasing to God so He will answer our prayers and help us to preach the gospel to the world more powerfully.
When we were first coming into the true Church of God, when we were responding to our calling, we learned from the Church and from the Bible that there are two requirements for baptism: repentance and faith. We must repent of our sins and our sinful nature and have faith in God and in Jesus Christ. After fulfilling the requirements of repentance and faith, a prospective member is ready for baptism. He or she is baptized by a minister, and then hands are laid on the person by the minister and the minister asks God to give that person the Holy Spirit. Upon receiving the Holy Spirit, that person becomes a member of God's true Church and part of the spiritual body of Christ. From that point on the new member is a begotten son or daughter of God and is to live a lifetime of spiritual growth and overcoming, becoming more and more like Jesus Christ. Those who overcome and endure to the end in this age will be in the first resurrection and will be born immortal into God's Family when Christ returns.
We are taught that the Holy Spirit empowers us with spiritual understanding so we can comprehend spiritual truth from God, and that it empowers us to overcome sin. 2 Timothy 1:7 says, "For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind."
We are taught that to overcome sin we need to pray and ask God for His Holy Spirit and for the help we need to resist temptation, overcome sin, and break bad habits. We are taught to use the tools of Bible study, prayer, fasting, and meditation to help us draw closer to God and to grow spiritually. We are sometimes encouraged to go to the ministry for counseling if we need help in overcoming sin.
Ministers in the Church know that some members, after baptism, whether they have been in the Church for only a short time or for a long time, sometimes come to them for counseling about a bad habit, some reoccurring sin, that the member seems to be unable to overcome, even after many years of trying, even after baptism.
Why is it that some baptized members of the Church seem unable to overcome certain sinful habits, even after years of trying, even after prayer, study, and fasting? How can a member in such a situation overcome sin?
What about the problem that some members face with a habitual sin or an addiction that seems to hold the person in its grip, whether it be alcoholism, gambling, illicit sex, drugs, over-eating, smoking, or any other addiction or bad habit that violates the letter or the spirit of God's law? Such people may clearly recognize that such actions are wrong and may sincerely desire to break the habit and stop sinning, and yet find themselves in a seemingly endless and hopeless cycle of sinning, repenting, resolving never to do it again, crying out to God for His Holy Spirit and the help and strength they need to resist temptation, striving to stay close to God through prayer and Bible study, then caving in to the next temptation that comes along in spite of every effort and every determination to resist.
For people in this dilemma, this can be very discouraging. They may wonder if they are really converted. They may feel totally trapped in a situation they feel they cannot even understand much less solve. They know their eternal life may be at stake, yet they find no way out. They feel they don't understand themselves, and sometimes they feel they don't understand God and His promises.
Mr. Armstrong wrote a couple of articles that were published as a reprint. Both articles were published together in one physical document of a few pages. I don't remember the titles exactly, but they covered this exact subject. I believe the titles may have been "How to Avoid Sin" and "How to Be an Overcomer". Also, ministers occasionally talk about this problem in their preaching. But by and large, the Church of God does not talk about this subject much. Except for the articles Mr. Armstrong wrote, there are few articles published by the Church that tackle this problem head on.
As I recall, Mr. Armstrong taught in these articles the necessity for drawing close to God in prayer, then diligently staying close to God so that one may have the strength to resist temptation when it comes. He also explained the importance of avoiding even entertaining the thoughts of sin in the mind, of pushing the thought of the sin out of the mind instantly as soon as it comes into the mind. These are valuable principles.
The Bible itself stresses the need for overcoming and avoiding sin, and the importance of the Holy Spirit and that God works in us through the power of His Spirit (Philippians 2:13). I have already mentioned the scripture that says that God has given us a Spirit of power and a sound mind. I have heard ministers explain that the term "sound mind" can also be translated as "disciplined mind" or "self-controlled mind". If there is one thing someone enslaved to an addiction would want, it would be more self-control and self-discipline. There is an encouraging passage in Romans 7:13-25 where Paul describes the struggle against human nature, and he concludes by asking "Who will deliver me?" and then gives thanks to God. The implication is, "God will deliver me." There is also the scripture in 1 Corinthians 10:13, "No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man; but God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will also make the way of escape, that you may be able to bear it."
Nevertheless, there are not many passages in the Bible that directly address this issue. I do not find a lot of examples of prayer, for example, in the Psalms or elsewhere, where the person praying is asking God for help to resist temptation and to overcome sin. I do not find passages that directly state that the way to overcome sin is by prayer, Bible study, fasting, and meditation, or passages that tell members to go to the ministry for counseling if they need help overcoming a bad habit. I believe the Church is correct in teaching these things, and these are principles of Christian living that can be put together from principles taught in the Bible, but I am merely pointing out that there is not a lot of direct and clear instruction in the Church or the Bible that tackles this problem head-on. What we know and what we learn has to be put together, here a little, there a little, from Scripture and from spiritual principles we can learn from Scripture.
What is the answer?
Some people who have this problem may remember God's promise not to allow us to be tempted more than what we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13), and other scriptures in which God promises us the help we need, and some may be tempted to doubt God's faithfulness. Some may be tempted to conclude that they have done their part by repenting, having faith in God and in Jesus Christ, and being baptized, but God has not been faithful to do His part by giving them the strength they need to resist temptation. But this itself is a temptation we have to resist. We have to have faith in God's truthfulness and righteousness, that He never violates His promises no matter how the situation looks.
In this respect, it is like any other trial. We have to learn to trust God and believe in His perfect righteousness in all circumstances. For example, God promises to provide us with the necessities of life, food, water, clothing, if we seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness (Matthew 6:31-33). But sometimes God tests our faith to the limit. We might be unemployed, trying to find a job, watching our money run out, wondering if God will really come through. God may let this go on for a while to see if we continue to trust Him and believe His promises. James and Peter talk about the value of our faith being tested, if we endure (James 1:2, 1 Peter 1:6-8). Mr. Armstrong explained that faith includes not just believing that God exists, but believing what God says. This is confirmed by the accounts in the Bible that say that Abraham, the father of the faithful, believed God, and God counted it as righteousness (Genesis 15:6, Romans 4:3, James 2:23).
God IS faithful. He never lies to us. His word is true, and He always keeps His promises. God can be trusted, always. If there is a promise in the Bible from God, and circumstances make it appear that God has not kept His promise, either we have not fulfilled the conditions, or we have misunderstood the terms of the promise, or God is delaying fulfilling the promise for a time to test our faith or for some other reason. But God is ALWAYS faithful. We have to believe that, and we have to continue to believe that through all trials no matter if they be physical trials or spiritual trials. That is a test we must pass. It is the test of faith.
So one must resist the temptation to blame God for not giving him or her the power to overcome sin. God is not at fault. The problem, whatever it is, lies elsewhere. We may not always understand God's actions and decisions, but we must learn to believe that God is righteous, that all his decisions are fair and just, and that there is no fault or imperfection in Him at all. Satan may tempt us to be angry with God for our trials and problems, whether the trials be physical, mental, spiritual, or emotional. Satan knows that we know that God has all power, that all things are possible for Him, so Satan can put the thoughts in our mind that God is unfair for not removing a trial or solving a problem, no matter what that may be. A member of the Church can become angry with God over trials that the member does not understand. There is an example in the Bible of one of the Old Testament prophets becoming angry with God over God's decision that he didn't agree with (Jonah 4:1-9). But we need to learn to repent and overcome and get rid of any anger we may feel towards God, just as we need to do with any other sin.
God may test our faith in Him by doing things we don't understand or by withholding the understanding of what He does for a time to see if we will continue to trust Him and believe in His perfect righteousness. Part of our job is to pass the test, to not find fault with God.
Satan wants us to be angry with God, to find fault with God, to blame God for all our troubles, and to conclude that God is unfaithful and does not keep His word
Satan would also like us to stop trying to overcome our sins.
There are two ditches one can fall into. We have to avoid both of them.
For a person enslaved in a bad habit, one ditch is to say, "God understands that I can't overcome, and He forgives me, so I don't really need to overcome, and I am not going to be trying so hard, because I can't do it anyway. God will accept me as I am." This ignores all of God's powerful warnings against sin in the Bible, including Jesus' warnings about the consequences of sin in the sermon on the mount: "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell" (Matthew 5:29-30). One cannot drift into an attitude of accepting sin, thinking we are not guilty when we sin because somehow it is not our fault.
The opposite ditch is to say, "I cannot overcome, so I am lost, I'll never make it into God's Kingdom, so what's the use of trying?" Someone falling into this ditch is in danger of giving up on the Kingdom of God altogether.
What both of these ditches have in common is that both of them cause a person to quit trying. We cannot allow ourselves to do that. We must continue to strive to overcome and obey every commandment and every word of God. No matter how many times we have failed, we have to keep trying, even while we are seeking more answers and understanding about our problem from God in Bible study, prayer, fasting, meditation, and counseling with a minister when appropriate.
I have one possible suggestion for an approach that might help. This is in addition to, not replacement of, the things that Mr. Armstrong and the Church have taught and continue to teach. We need to continue in prayer, Bible study, fasting, meditation, staying close to God in prayer, putting the thoughts of sin out of our minds as soon as they come into our minds, counseling when appropriate, and all the other biblically-sound teachings of the Church. But there is one more suggestion I can add.
The problem of addiction to a bad habit is not unique to the Church. It is a common problem in society. But not everyone has this problem. Some people seem to have more self-discipline, more self-control, more "will power" than others, even in the world. By "will power", I mean the mental power to make a decision, then "force oneself" to follow through with the decision no matter how painful it may be. It is a matter of refusing the immediate short-term pleasure (or relief from pain) for the sake of sticking to a decision for a long-range goal. Even in the world, among those without God's Spirit, even among those with absolutely no interest in the things of God, this quality of will power, of self control and self discipline, varies widely among people. Some people have very little of it and some people have a lot. There are even jokes about it. I saw a sign someplace (or bumper sticker or T-shirt or greeting card) that said, "I can resist anything except temptation." Yet, it is serious, and many people in the world know it is serious. People struggle with it. There are weight-watchers groups, alcoholics anonymous, and clinics where people go to be hypnotized to stop smoking. These are things people in the world do, outside of the Church. I am pointing this out to show that the problem of wanting to break a bad habit, but not having the will power to do it, is a problem in the world even among those who have no interest in God and His way of life.
But not everyone in the world has this problem. Some are very disciplined and have a lot of will power. I knew of a woman who smoked heavily and seemed absolutely unable to kick the habit. But her husband, who also smoked heavily, was diagnosed by a doctor with emphysema. He was told by the doctor to stop smoking. He said, "I can't quit." The doctor said, "You'll quit, one way or another." Then he took it seriously. So he quit cold turkey, pretty much. Maybe it took about two weeks till he finally quit once and for all. Then about 6 months or a year or so later he tried one or two cigarettes sort of as an experiment to see if they still tasted the same, but that was it. He didn't smoke after that. He broke the habit. He had will power. He could do it. But his wife could not, and eventually she died from lung cancer. These are people outside the Church of God.
Some people are very self-disciplined and can forgo spending time doing the things they enjoy so that they can work longer hours or study for an advanced degree to be able to earn more money. Some athletes make short-term sacrifices and endure suffering to train their bodies so they can reach a goal. They have will power. They restrict their diets and give up many foods they enjoy. Some people will work out at a health club and starve themselves to obtain a thin, sexy looking body so others will admire them on the beach for their good looks. Some people in the world can be very self-disciplined and make sacrifices towards long-term goals. They can make a decision and stick to it no matter how hard it may seem at times. They don't cave in to short term temptations. And they do this without God's Spirit.
I heard or read a story about someone, I think it was Gordon Liddy or someone else associated with Watergate, who was able to hold his hand or arm in the flame of a candle till he was burnt without flinching. Someone asked him what the trick was. He said the trick was "not minding the pain". But most people could not do this. Also, history shows that in war, some captured soldiers or officers were able to withstand torture without giving the enemy the information the enemy wanted, while others broke quickly.
The point I am trying to make is that this quality of will-power, the ability to force oneself to do what one has determined to do, is a quality that varies widely among people even among those who do not have God's Spirit. It is a quality of mind separate from morality and righteousness. One can even have self-discipline towards an evil goal. Factors that determine how much self-discipline a person in the world may have could include genetics, environment, past experiences, and past choices. The fact is, it varies.
Some people in the world who do not have much self discipline become enslaved to bad habits. And some of these people come into the Church of God.
When those who are weak in self-discipline and "will power" come into the Church and cry out to God for help to overcome a sinful habit or addiction, they are asking for more strength to be given to them miraculously. They are asking that God, through His Holy Spirit, give them more self-discipline, more will-power, so they can resist temptation and stop sinning. They have already agreed with God that the sin is wrong and they need to stop. They are trying to stop. They are asking for more power.
One of the things God requires of us is repentance. People caught in this trap may be sincere in their repentance. To the best of their knowledge, they have repented of the sin they are trying to overcome. The fact that they are trying to overcome, that they are struggling and suffering in the struggle, may be evidence of the seriousness of their repentance. They have set their minds in the direction of stopping the sin. Now they want the power so they can do it.
But God does not want us to repent of just one sin. He wants us to repent of all sin. He wants us to give ourselves to Him 100%, not 99% (Deuteronomy 6:5: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength"). Those who are struggling with a bad habit may indeed have repented of that particular sin in the sense of coming to agreement with God that they need to stop and setting the mind to try to stop. But what about other areas of a person's life?
To a person who is struggling with a bad habit, that one sin can seem so large that it is bigger than all sins. Yet it can overshadow other problems in the person's life or mind or attitude or character that may seem small in comparison, yet may seem large to God. And it may be in some other area, a different point of God's law altogether, that the person may NOT have come to agreement with God that it is wrong and he or she needs to stop. The person may not even be aware of the problem. That doesn't necessarily mean the person hasn't repented and his or her baptism is invalid. But it may mean the person has to examine his or her whole life and thinking against all of the points of God's law and all of God's commands in the Bible, even the ones that may seem small. God wants one hundred percent submission. Part of our jobs as Christians is to live by every word of God (Deuteronomy 8:1-3, Matthew 4:4, Luke 4:4).
We are reminded by the ministry before every Passover, and often on many other occasions, that we are to examine ourselves to see where we may be falling short of God's way of life (2 Corinthians 13:5). But for a person enslaved to a sinful addiction, the reaction might be, "I don't have to examine myself. I know I have a big sin. My problem is not that I don't know that I have a sin. I need more power to overcome." Thus, people in this situation may not seriously examine themselves in all areas of their thinking and behavior. They cannot get their mind off of their "big sin" long enough to consider that there may be other problems in their thinking, behavior, or character that God wants them to acknowledge and start to work on.
Someone who is struggling to overcome a bad habit knows he or she has a problem. Church members in this situation want to be right with God, but they know something is missing. They are trying to find answers. Now, suppose such a person has another area in his life in which he is sinning but he is not even acknowledging to himself or to God that he is wrong and needs to stop. He is not in agreement with God. He doesn't think it is wrong. It may be something that seems small. I will suggest some examples later. Now here is a question. In that condition, would God be doing that person a favor by giving him the gift of more will-power?
If God gave a person so much will-power and self-discipline that he could force himself to do whatever he set his mind to do, but his mind is not fully submitted to God's law in every point, would God be doing him a favor? He would indeed overcome his bad habit because he has already set his mind to do so. But what about other areas? Would such a person not tend to become self-satisfied and think he is perfectly fine with God when in fact he is not?
If God does not give a person more will-power to go in the direction he wants to go, might that be a warning from God that he needs to examine EVERY area of his life and make some course corrections to make sure where he wants to go is 100% exactly the direction God wants him to go in every area?
If a person is given more power to overcome, would it not be a normal tendency for that person to be more self-satisfied? For example, if someone is struggling with smoking, and God gives him more will-power and self-discipline, and he finally breaks the habit, would it not be a normal, natural thing for that person to say, "Now finally I have a clear conscience with God. Now finally I am okay in God's sight." Would that make the person more or less humble? Would that make the person more or less likely to realize he has a long way to go and there are other areas where he has to make some changes? I am sure some people in this situation might think that if they can just overcome "the big sin" it will be easier for them to then go on to work on other areas, but I am not so sure.
There is a difference between will power and the submission of the will. One has to do with power or strength. The other has to do with direction. The direction of our will has to be right with God. God can give us the power, but we need to choose the right direction in which to use that power. That is a matter of choice. God can lead us and encourage us to make that right choice, but He won't make it for us.
Also, submitting the direction of our will to God is a learning process. As we continue to study and read the Bible and compare our lives with God's law and with the perfect example of Jesus Christ, if we are doing this honestly, we will continuously notice more and more areas where we need to change. Each time, we must submit our will to God, agree with him that we need to change, and set about doing it. This process of learning where we fall short and coming to acknowledge it and coming to agreement with God in more and more areas cannot be put on hold just because there are one or more bad habits a person is struggling with. God is able to supply the power, but we need to submit our will to God's will in EVERY aspect of our thinking, speaking, and acting.
So my suggestion is that a person who is struggling to overcome a sinful habit or addiction should examine his or her life in all areas of God's law, using the Bible as a study guide, and for each area where one falls short of God's law and the perfect example of Jesus Christ, come to agree with God, acknowledge that one needs to change, and then go to work on changing, even in the small things.
We have to continue the process of studying God's Word, the Bible, to examine ourselves in every area of life. Jesus said that those who continue in His Word will be set free: "Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, 'If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free' " (John 8:31-32). In this context, being made free refers to being made free from sin, for He later said, "Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin" (John 8:34). So we have to CONTINUE to study God's Word, the Bible, and be corrected by it where God shows us we fall short, and to continue to learn from the Bible.
Here is an example. Suppose one reads in Isaiah 33:14-15, "The sinners in Zion are afraid; Fearfulness has seized the hypocrites: Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? Who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? He who walks righteously and speaks uprightly, He who despises the gain of oppressions, Who gestures with his hands, refusing bribes, Who stops his ears from hearing of bloodshed, And shuts his eyes from seeing evil". Note how this verse equates those who walk righteously with those who avoid hearing of bloodshed and seeing evil. Could this refer to our time? Could the hearing of bloodshed and seeing evil refer to the violence that is so prevalent on TV and in movies in entertainment today? Could this passage be addressed to Church members who watch violent TV shows and movies?
Would it be unreasonable to apply the spirit and intent of God's law to today's entertainment and say that it is not God's will that we be watching fiction movies and TV shows that contain violence and killing for entertainment, even in small amounts? Would it be unreasonable for us to conclude that if Jesus Christ were living as a human being on earth today, He would be watching little or no TV and movies?
To one struggling with an addiction to a big sin, this may seem like a small thing. Yet it may be an area in which the person has not submitted his or her will to God and has not come into agreement with God one hundred percent.
Some other examples may be possible problems. Some people may be in a habit of judging others, thinking about the sins of others, dwelling on them, turning them over in their minds, evaluating others. Or, maybe a person has not truly forgiven someone who has wronged him in the past. That person may think he holds no grudges and has forgiven, but has not really forgiven completely with ALL the heart.
Maybe there is an area in which a person is lying to someone, deceiving another person. If the person who is lying stops lying, then there will be consequences, and the person is more afraid of the consequences than of God. God is taking second place. It may be something small. It may involve a "white lie". Nevertheless, God is not being placed first. Fear of man becomes greater than fear of God.
God wants us to submit our wills to Him and to come into agreement with Him one hundred percent in every area of life, without reservation, without holding anything back. Some may feel they don't have the will power to force themselves to overcome some major sin, but part of the problem may be that they are not yet in an attitude of being willing to agree with God and strive to obey him in the spirit and letter of every commandment and point of His law, without exception.
And if a person is only 90% or 99% in agreement with God, is only partly willing to follow God's way of life, to do God's will in everything, to obey every commandment in the spirit and the letter, and God gives that person more will power and self discipline so that person can force himself to follow through on his resolution to break the bad habit he has, would that not just encourage him to think that he is on the right track and really okay with God? So it may be that the real problem is not just a lack of will power. It may be a lack of a willingness to submit one's will to God in everything. And the person may not even realize yet that he is not submitted to God and in agreement with God in everything.
It may not be the POWER of the will that is the root problem, but the DIRECTION of the will that needs a course correction to come into alignment with God's will.
I am suggesting that a person who needs more power to overcome a sin needs to continually examine himself or herself in light of the Bible and learn to submit completely to God's will and come into agreement with God in every area of life and with the spirit and intent of every point of God's law, not just in the area of the one or two "big sins" represented by the bad habits the person is trying to overcome. And this must be done while the person continues to strive to overcome the bad habit. Because once the direction of the will and the attitude of the person is aligned more perfectly with God, God can supply more POWER of will so the person can move in the right direction.
But a person may easily be deceived and not even realize the areas where he or she falls short. So it takes effort, Bible study, prayer, asking God to show us EVERY area where we fall short and need to come more fully in agreement with God's will, and to submit our will to Him, even at the same time as the person continues to strive diligently to overcome the problem he or she already knows about.
If we do this, if we make the effort to uncover even the secret sins we do not realize yet, and then God shows us more areas where we need to change, and we begin to make those changes and strive to obey God in everything, that may clear the way for God to give us more power to overcome the sins we already know about.
But while we are doing this, we must always be diligently trying to overcome our problem with all our strength and all the power we have.
I have heard some speakers say that a problem some people have in trying to overcome addictive sins is that they are not able to do it because they are trying to do it by their own power. When I hear this, I am never quite sure what the speaker means. Sometimes the speaker may say that we need to quit trying to overcome sin by our own power. But I find no verse in the Bible that says, "Don't try to overcome sin by your own power."
Certainly we should ask God for help to overcome. But we must also do our part by trying as hard as we can. It is not a matter of doing it by God's power or our own. It is both. God helps us in our trials by giving us power and help in ADDITION to what we are able to do for ourselves. For example, if I am unemployed, I may pray and ask God to help me find a job, but then after praying I should do my part by diligently looking for a job.
God wants us to make the maximum effort we can. Jesus Christ said, "If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire" (Matthew 18:8-9). Jesus is speaking figuratively. He does not want us to physically mutilate or injure our bodies, for the Bible also says, "Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are" (1 Corinthians 3:16-17). Our bodies belong to God, and we should protect and take care of our health. In the sermon on the mount, Jesus is speaking figuratively to illustrate how great our effort should be to overcome sin, even to the point of giving up things we may love to avoid the temptations of sin. An example of how to apply this might be a person who has a problem with over-drinking giving up alcohol altogether, because trying to drink alcohol in moderation is a temptation for that person to drink in excess.
When Jacob wrestled with God, God refused to bless him until Jacob proved his willingness to strive with all his might to obtain the blessing, even when in pain (Genesis 32:22-31).
An example of the balance between our effort and the additional power God gives us can be found in the life of Samson. After he lost his strength because his hair was cut and the Philistines put out his eyes, he was in the temple of the Philistines where they were assembled. "Then Samson called to the Lord, saying, 'O Lord God, remember me, I pray! Strengthen me, I pray, just this once, O God, that I may with one blow take vengeance on the Philistines for my two eyes!' And Samson took hold of the two middle pillars which supported the temple, and he braced himself against them, one on his right and the other on his left. Then Samson said, 'Let me die with the Philistines!' And he pushed with all his might, and the temple fell on the lords and all the people who were in it. So the dead that he killed at his death were more than he had killed in his life" (Judges 16:28-30). Note the sequence. First Samson asked God to give him strength. Then he pushed "with all his might". He asked God for help, then he made maximum effort to push on the pillars.
Did Samson do it by God's power or his own strength? I think the answer is, both. Most of the actual physical power came from God, but I don't think God would have supplied that power if Samson was not trying as hard as he could. And part of it was Samson's strength, even if it was only 1%. Samson did his part with whatever strength he had, and God supplied the additional strength that he needed to succeed.
There may also be a lesson in this for preaching the gospel. As a Church, we need to strive with ALL our might to preach the gospel to the world, and then God can give us the extra help we need to succeed. When God sees that individual members are striving hard to sacrifice to support the preaching of the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the public out of a motive of love, He can bless us with more power to do so. But if we are only making a half-hearted effort, I think God will help us less until our attitude improves.
For those who may be discouraged and are tempted to think that God has abandoned them and there is no hope, I offer the following encouraging scriptures to encourage those with problems to keep trusting God and keep striving to overcome. Paul describes the problems faced in our struggle with human nature in Romans 7:14-25, which I have already referenced. Jesus said that no man can come to Him except the Father draws him (John 6:44). He said that it is the Father's will that of all that the Father gives Him He should lose none (John 6:39). He further stated that it is His food to do the Father's will (John 4:34). And He further stated that of all the Father had given Him, He had lost none, except the son of perdition (John 17:12, see also John 18:8-9). This means that Christ has a desire to please the Father and do His will by saving EVERYONE that the Father calls. It is not just Christ's love for us that motivates Him to work with us and save us, it is also Christ's love for the Father that motivates Him to lose no one that the Father calls and draws to Him. This does not mean we do not have free moral agency or that we cannot be lost, but that Christ will do all He can to work with us and try to save us.
Also, look at the miracles of the loaves and fishes. The Father did a miraculous work through Jesus Christ by multiplying the food to feed the thousands, and considering that the Father has all power over the billions of galaxies, I do not think this was a difficult task for Him, and He could have created millions of tons of bread and fish whenever He chooses. Yet Jesus said to gather the pieces so that nothing would be wasted (John 6:10-13). If Christ was so concerned for partly eaten pieces of food, so that nothing the Father provided was wasted, even though that food could easily be replaced, would not the Father and Christ be concerned not to waste the work they have started in each of us? If Christ did not want pieces of food to be "lost", would He not also do everything possible to save every one of us in which He and the Father have worked in the past? I think just about all of us in the Church have made some progress in some areas. God has invested a lot in us and He is not about to cast us aside. Christ wants to finish the work begun in us so that nothing is wasted (Philippians 1:6).
Finally, we have to exercise faith to believe God and to trust Him to keep His promises and cleanse us from our sins (1 John 1:9).
I would like to add one more scripture to this section on overcoming because it speaks directly about those who overcome and how they did it and because it fits in with an overall theme of this book. I have quoted this before in chapter 5 to show the importance of preaching the gospel, which can be included in the phrase “word of their testimony”. “And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, and they did not love their lives to the death” (Revelation 12:11).
The challenge for the Church of God and its members is immense, but so is the reward of eternal life as firstfruits that God offers us. I believe that preaching the gospel to the world as a witness and the Ezekiel warning to Israel is a responsibility God has assigned to the Church of God and all of its members in our day. The responsibility and accountability is ours, and we are being judged in our fulfillment of this responsibility just as we are being judged in all points of God's way of life. We should strive to do the best we can in fulfillment of this responsibility out of a motivation of love towards God and man. The more we succeed, the better it will be for mankind during the suffering ahead, and the more it will glorify God's name by demonstrating His fairness. Success will require a combination of our sincere effort and God's help and empowerment. We cannot do it by our own power alone (Zechariah 4:6). God will not necessarily do for us what we are able but unwilling to do ourselves, and He may wait before giving us more power until he sees that we are really putting forth the effort we are capable of and submitting to His Word. God can make up for our human limitations, but not necessarily our spiritual laziness or lack of love. But if we do our part I believe He will give us the help we need and do for us what we are not able to do ourselves, to finish the Work.
I notice two patterns in the Bible of how God deals with those who fail or do not want to carry out an assignment and do a job that God gives them. One, He may correct those he gave the job to and make them do it despite their reluctance (Jonah 1:1-3:4, Exodus 4:10-17). Or two, he may reject those who refuse and give the job to someone else (1 Samuel 15:23 and 16:1, Matthew 21:33-44). I am convinced that supporting the preaching of the truth to the public at this time is a responsibility from God that every member of the Church of God shares in. Everyone is able to contribute and support in some way, and even if a person has no money and limited ability, that person can pray fervently for the success of the gospel. And I am convinced that if we collectively or individually refuse to carry out God's will in this matter, God will either correct us or reject us and give the job to someone else. But the pattern in the Bible is, when God assigns a job, one way or another the job will get done. If we prove ourselves unworthy, we will be left on the sidelines and God will use someone else. We then would suffer loss of reward and would not have the physical protection promised to Philadelphia -- the new group would receive it. See also Luke 14:16-24, Matthew 22:1-14, and Matthew 21:33 for parables illustrating the general principle of those who refuse God's invitation being counted as unworthy, and others chosen in their place.
In this matter of such importance, for the sake of the millions in Israel who will go through the tribulation, and for the sake of God's name and reputation for fairness, justice, and mercy, I am sure that God will make sure the job gets done, either with our cooperation and participation or without it.
Everyone must make his or her own choice in this. My choice is that I want to help and support the preaching of God's truth to the public as much as I can.