Saturday, January 25, 2020

Asking For a Friend: Can I Get a Helloooooo?

Australia Hit With Fire, Hail, Dead Animals, Darkness in one Week: On Anniversary of Ten Plagues

January 22, 2020
In the midst of raging wildfires, hailstones the size of baseballs pounded Australia in a mix of elemental opposites echoing the Egyptian plague. As if that reminder of the Exodus were not enough, a massive dust storm turned night into day. These and other phenomena created a pre-Messiah show of wonders in the hard-hit continent down under conspicuously timed to coincide with the week when Jews around the world read the section of the Torah relating the story of the plaques in Egypt. …
While the fires continued to burn in the southeast, the capital city Canberra, Melbourne, and other areas were hit by hailstorms raining down golf-ball-sized chunks of ice.

"Someone actually telephoned me from the State of Washington yesterday and asked what she could take to fight this coronavirus. I told her that since I had not seen anyone with it, I was unsure, but did (upon her insistence) suggest two herbal formulas which have helped people with other viruses."

Note:  Typical fear, it seems that God might forget ME in all this and some reassurances need that   "A thousand may fall at your right side. Ten thousand at your left hand, but it will not come near YOU" .(Ps 91:7)  "Hide me in the grave until thy wrath be past" doesn't seem an option anyone would want to face.  (Job 14:13)

"In what seems to be an unprecedented move related to the Chinese New Year, government officials have cancelled celebrations in several cities:"

Why does this always have to be so difficult?

Exodus 33:11 11The LORD would speak to Moses face to face, as one speaks to a friend. It's the best and only way , if you're there, to show that stated willingness that none perish but that all come the knowledge of the truth, isn't it? I do suspect it is a conditional kind of unconditional love however. Asking for a friend...

Friday, January 24, 2020

God and Church Government

God and Church Government

Few issues have caused more division within the Christian community than the question of how best to govern the Church. As with all human organizations, humans have devised and employed a number of different systems to govern their members, decide on policy and provide for the implementation of those policies. Most of these systems follow some variation of an authoritarian or democratic model. Theopedia suggests that Christian Church governance has followed three basic formats: episcopal, presbyterian and congregational. A popular tome on the subject suggests that there are five basic formulas that have been employed in Church governance. Interestingly, all of these formats were devised by humans to rule over humans, and each one of them has produced apologists that appeal to the Judeo-Christian Scriptures to support the model which they believe most closely represents God's will in the matter.

Although the group which I formerly affiliated with (Herbert Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God) initially rejected the Roman Catholic hierarchical system with its dependence on the "Primacy of Peter," over time, Mr. Armstrong embraced that teaching and adopted his own version of the hierarchical system which it supported. In his book, Mystery of the Ages, Mr. Armstrong recounted his experiences during his association with the "Church of God, Seventh Day" (and prior to founding his own church) regarding divisions over church governance (pp 241-242). Then, after a brief survey of the government within various Christian denominations (p 242), he concluded with a characterization of the Biblical evidence regarding Church governance: "Notice especially, there is only the ONE CHURCH. Not MANY churches. The CHURCH is not divided. There is only one Church. Not a parent church and many little daughter churches that have split off in disagreement. Divisions splintering off are NOT STILL IN THE CHURCH. It is the CHURCH that is to marry Christ in the resurrection at his coming - not disagreeing churches - not groups who have broken off! Not a parent church and apostate daughters." (p 243) Of course, Mr. Armstrong did not see this last statement as applying to his own actions when he separated from the "Church of God, Seventh Day" and founded his own group! Finally, he summarized the Biblical evidence as demonstrating that: "The CHURCH is organized under theocratic government, hierarchical in form. The members do not set officials in the Church. God sets EVEN THE LAY MEMBERS in the Church (I Cor. 12:18)."

Was Herbert Armstrong's characterization of the Biblical evidence regarding Church governance correct? And, since his Worldwide Church of God no longer exists, do any of its daughters (Grace Communion International, United Church of God, Restored Church of God, Living Church of God, Philadelphia Church of God, COGWA, CGI, etc.) meet the criteria laid out in Mr. Armstrong's statements quoted above? Have any of them continued the Church government model established by him without amendment? Are the Roman Catholics correct? Where did the Presbyterians and Baptists get the models which are employed within those organizations?

Although most of these groups appeal to Scripture to justify their different systems of governance, the Biblical record indicates that YHWH/God has never been very enamored with human notions about government! Sure, under the terms of the Old Covenant, YHWH established a priesthood and created the office of High Priest; but that priesthood was tasked with performing rituals and was largely dependent on the support of the Israelites. Yes, eventually, the office of High Priest was joined to the office of king under the Hasmoneans, but where is that sanctioned in Scripture? One whole book of the Bible (Judges), tells the story of a loose confederation of tribes judged (not ruled) by an itinerant justice. Indeed, at the end of that book, this entire period of Israel's history is summarized with the statement: "In those days Israel had no king; all the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes." (Judges 21:25) "Yes, Lonnie, but what about what followed?" some may ask.

Scripture tells us that it wasn't YHWH's idea to terminate the system of judges. On the contrary, Scripture records that the leaders of the various tribes came to the last judge (Samuel) and asked him to appoint a king to rule over them (I Samuel 8:1-5). What was YHWH's reaction? "'Do everything they say to you,' the Lord replied, 'for they are rejecting me, not you. They don’t want me to be their king any longer. Ever since I brought them from Egypt they have continually abandoned me and followed other gods. And now they are giving you the same treatment. Do as they ask, but solemnly warn them about the way a king will reign over them.'" (verses 7-9) Thus, we are informed that Samuel told them that their king would draft their sons to serve him in war, take their daughters to serve in his harem, confiscate their land and tax their wealth (verses 10-18). Hence, not only was it NOT YHWH's idea to give them a king, we are told that he ordered Samuel to warn them about just how oppressive their new system of governance would be!

Most of the remainder of the Hebrew Old Testament relates the story of the failure of the kings who followed the judges (including the very first one to fill that office, Saul)! Indeed, we know that the kingdom was eventually divided and mostly misruled thereafter. Scripture tells us that YHWH used a series of prophets to warn the kings and their people to forsake their evil ways and return to him before it was too late. We are informed, nevertheless, that the kings and their people refused to heed those warnings and were eventually conquered by their more powerful neighbors. Thus, the entire history of human governance recorded in the Old Testament was quite purposefully divorced from YHWH (except in the instance of certain Gentile rulers which were used to punish Israel or otherwise carry out some purpose of His) and characterized as a failure by the human authors of those writings.

What about the New Testament? Didn't God take a more active role in the governance of the Christian Congregation than he had for the Congregation in the Wilderness? Once again, lets examine the scriptural evidence for ourselves.

In the writings known as the Gospel according to Matthew, we are told that Christ addressed the issue of leadership among his disciples. We read there that he told them: "You know that the rulers in this world lord it over their people, and officials flaunt their authority over those under them. But among you it will be different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must become your slave. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for many." (Matthew 20:25-28)

After criticizing the leadership of the Pharisees, Jesus said: "Don’t let anyone call you ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one teacher, and all of you are equal as brothers and sisters. And don’t address anyone here on earth as ‘Father,’ for only God in heaven is your Father. And don’t let anyone call you ‘Teacher,’ for you have only one teacher, the Messiah. The greatest among you must be a servant. But those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." (Matthew 23:8-12)

Now all four of the gospel accounts make plain that Christ personally selected and designated twelve men to serve as apostolos to carry his message to the world. There is, however, no indication within these accounts that the designation carried any governmental authority. Indeed, the sense of the Greek word employed in this instance is one sent forth with a message, nothing more. Moreover, Christ's final instructions to these men reflect that mission of carrying his message to the world and making new disciples, baptizing them and teaching them about how a Christian was supposed to live (see Matthew 28:18-20 and John 21:15-17).

Naturally, over time, the role of these apostolos expanded within the Christian community. After all, they had been personally chosen and taught by Christ himself - a designation that only one other man (Paul) could subsequently lay legitimate claim to). Subsequently, we read in the writings known as the Acts of the Apostles that these men took it upon themselves to replace Judas, carried out Christ's final instructions, called at least one council to settle disputes that had arisen over the Church's expansion into Gentile regions, designated certain individuals to serve within the Jerusalem congregation, collected donations and met with local elders of the various congregations which they had founded and visited.

In the various epistles which follow the account of the early Church in Acts, it is also clear that the apostolos assumed more duties and authority over time. In similar fashion, the elders within each congregation assumed greater importance over time. Nevertheless, Paul, Peter and John made clear in the epistles attributed to them that they intended that the model of servant leadership established by Christ should continue within the Church.

In his first letter to Timothy, Paul stressed the importance of leading by example. He wrote: "'If someone aspires to be a church leader, he desires an honorable position.' So a church leader must be a man whose life is above reproach. He must be faithful to his wife. He must exercise self-control, live wisely, and have a good reputation. He must enjoy having guests in his home, and he must be able to teach. He must not be a heavy drinker or be violent. He must be gentle, not quarrelsome, and not love money. He must manage his own family well, having children who respect and obey him. For if a man cannot manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church? A church leader must not be a new believer, because he might become proud, and the devil would cause him to fall. Also, people outside the church must speak well of him so that he will not be disgraced and fall into the devil’s trap. In the same way, deacons must be well respected and have integrity. They must not be heavy drinkers or dishonest with money. They must be committed to the mystery of the faith now revealed and must live with a clear conscience. Before they are appointed as deacons, let them be closely examined. If they pass the test, then let them serve as deacons. In the same way, their wives must be respected and must not slander others. They must exercise self-control and be faithful in everything they do. A deacon must be faithful to his wife, and he must manage his children and household well. Those who do well as deacons will be rewarded with respect from others and will have increased confidence in their faith in Christ Jesus." (I Timothy 3:1-12)

Likewise, in the first epistle attributed to Peter, we read: "And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor." (I Peter 5:1-4)

Finally, in his third epistle, John wrote about a Church leader named Diotrephes "who loves to be the leader, refuses to have anything to do with us." (verse 9) He continued: "When I come, I will report some of the things he is doing and the evil accusations he is making against us. Not only does he refuse to welcome the traveling teachers, he also tells others not to help them. And when they do help, he puts them out of the church." (verse 10) He goes on to characterize this as a bad example of leadership which should not be emulated by anyone in a position of leadership within the Church. (verse 11) In other words, this authoritarian model should not be imitated by other Church leaders!

Hence, when we review the evidence from the perspective of the Old and New Testaments, we are forced to conclude that those Scriptures reject human notions about government and decline to endorse ANY of the various systems devised by man for that purpose. Indeed, noted New Testament scholar George Eldon Ladd once stated: "It appears likely that there was no normative pattern of church government in the apostolic ageand that the organizational structure of the church is no essential element in the theology of the church." Thus, sincere Christians everywhere, should be highly suspicious of anyone who seeks to underscore the importance of Church government and attempts to employ the Judeo-Christian Scriptures to support their claims in that regard.    

by Lonnie Hendrix