When Ministers Disappear…
It has been a fact of life for nearly 2,000 years in God’s Church: Members periodically choose to leave, or must be removed from, the Body of Christ. Many factors can be involved, but the painful result is the same: They are gone.
At the emotional level, this can be a source of considerable sorrow for those close to such a person. On the spiritual level, it becomes a test for brethren: Will we love Jesus Christ more than any human being, no matter what was our relationship with him or her? Will we choose to follow a human being out of God’s Church, Work and Way—or will we continue to follow Christ? Our remaining His disciple (student) turns on whether we pass this “exam”: “There went great multitudes with Him: and He turned, and said unto them, If any man come to Me, and hate [love less by comparison] not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:25-26). This obviously includes friends.
But sometimes the member who leaves is also a minister. Those in his pastorate are accustomed to his leadership—his style of counseling, his presence in front of the congregation at services, his messages, his personality. He has been, at least outwardly, a local representative of God’s government. Some leave after a relatively short time, while others may have been in the Church or the ministry for decades.
This particular loss can be a greater trauma for God’s people, described by Him as sheep who follow shepherds (Heb. 13:20). They are also gone, but sometimes with greater aftermath…
In some cases, it becomes clear that a man can no longer serve in the ministry, but that he can and should continue in the Church as a lay member in good standing.
At other times, a man may be removed both from the ministry (and if an employee, terminated) and disfellowshipped, but he then eventually returns as a lay member after some period of time.
In a third and rare scenario, a man may be removed from the ministry as well as membership (disfellowshipped) for some period of time, but can be reinstated both as a lay member and eventually as a minister.
So it is important not to jump to conclusions when you learn that a man who once served in the ministry is no longer in that role. His actions and attitude, and the gathering of additional facts and background, make all the difference in what his future holds.
However, sometimes a man exits both the ministry and Church at the same time, and in a hostile manner.
This brings an additional level of difficulty to the test: The one who may have taught you and exhorted you to be faithful and steadfast on the path to the kingdom of God has now forgotten to apply his own counsel, and no longer practices what he has preached. And he may be actively contradicting Scripture, Headquarters and his own previous sound counsel through divisive, unauthorized contact with members.
At this point, an excerpt from a section in Mr. Pack’s Splinter Explanation Packet book Should Accusers Be Answered?titled “Beware of ‘Grievous Wolves!’” adds perspective:
“The book of Acts records an admonition—and sobering warning—that the apostle Paul gave to the elders at Ephesus—one that applies in all eras of God’s Church: ‘Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He has purchased with His own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also OF YOUR OWN SELVES shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears’ (Acts 20:28-31).
“Grasp what Paul was saying. He could foresee that vicious men, whom he labels ‘wolves,’ would eventually ‘enter in’ the congregation with the sole purpose of spiritually tearing God’s sheep to pieces—‘not sparing’ them. Even more remarkably, he knew that some of the very men standing before him would turn away from the truth, and also attempt to divide the Church and ‘draw away’ members. How many still believe such basic, impossible-to-misunderstand warnings?
“Paul then reminded the men that he had warned them for a full three years about the dangers that lie ahead. He did this because he understood the seductive power of the devil—his ability to ensnare human beings, and then employ them toward his own ends. Paul wrote this to Timothy: ‘In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the SNARE of the devil, who are taken captive by him at [Greek: “to do”] his will’ (II Tim. 2:25-26).
“Paul may have been more right than he knew, as two men close to him—Clement and Linus—eventually became leaders of the counterfeit Church at Rome!
“As has occurred time and again through the ages, wolves have arisen among God’s people—from among the elders, the ordained ministry!—intent on drawing away brethren after themselves.
“Make no mistake: Christ’s ministers are duty bound to protect His flock from damage at the hand of thieves and destroyers: ‘The thief comes not, but for to STEAL, and to KILL, and to DESTROY: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.’ Christ calls a minister who does not defend the flock ‘a hireling… [who] sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep, and flees: and the wolf catches them, and scatters the sheep. The hireling flees, because he is a hireling, and cares not for the sheep’ (John 10:10-13).”
Discern the Spirit Behind the Man
“We must never forget that God works through flesh—and so does Satan! It is the responsibility of all Christians to distinguish those God is using from others who show themselves to be agents of a different god (II Cor. 4:4). Paul spent all of II Corinthians 11 explaining how to discern one from the other.
“We serve a frank—a sometimes painfully blunt—God. We must never be afraid to see men for what they are. Recall the way Scripture describes false leaders:
· ‘Serpents…a generation of vipers’ (Matt. 23:33)
· ‘Foxes in the desert’ (Ezek. 13:4)
· ‘Men of corrupt minds…reprobate [void of judgment]’ (II Tim. 3:8)
· ‘Dogs’ and “evil workers’ (Phil. 3:2)
· ‘Whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness’ (Matt. 23:27)
· ‘Blind guides’ (vs. 24)
The Way of the Wolf
Looking at the animal to which God specifically compares false ministers who attack the flock is instructive.
Wolves inflict most wounds on their prey by biting, taking advantage of their sharp teeth and strong jaws.
In the case of “grievous [human] wolves,” the primary weapon is also the mouth—but in this case, it is used to spew harmful words. Recall Paul’s warning to those at Ephesus. He knew that predators would get into the Church, intent on causing damage, and that some were standing right in front of him. He warned that such words are “perverse.” The Greek word used here, along with its root words, illustrates a “twisting,” “corrupting,” “distorting,” “misinterpreting,” “reversing” and “turning around” of things that are true—whether true doctrines or the truth of events, factual accounts, attitudes and fruits. This latter meaning is a big one because so often these wolves turn around facts by claiming that it is Headquarters that has turned them around—even when many witnesses were involved.
This is the pattern of a wolf in the Church: He uses perverse words to sow division, cause discord, drop innuendo, plant troubling suggestions, instill doubt, and generally attempt to take members—YOU!—off the path toward salvation.
Another characteristic of wolves is that they prefer to attack in groups. (The “lone wolf” is the exception rather than the rule.) You may have seen film footage of three or four wolves taking turns biting an animal such as a moose, sometimes following and harassing their prey for miles, until the soft tissue trauma and blood loss take their inevitable toll and the larger animal falls to the ground.
For an ex-minister that has now become a predator, this group dynamic involves finding others of like mind—or, if there are none, still suggesting that there is a “larger movement” afoot. (And even lone wolves can come together if there is a common purpose.) You may hear statements like “Others are concerned…I am hearing from other people…there is trouble in the field.” As the saying goes,
“Misery loves company,” even if that company is imaginary. This has been happening for decades—in fact 2,000 years.
Three “cases in point” are particularly instructive. They are included to help provide glimpses of how various men’s actions might play out. They are but a tiny sampling of all the things that can happen.
It is generally known that a younger local elder (having been previously demoted to this rank) at Headquarters recently left the Church. He came to believe that he was above counsel and correction, basically melting down when he faced setbacks and reversals and things did not go his way.
It turns out there was another man here, quite a bit older and longer in the Church, who played a chief role in destroying this man. Due to his lack of credibility and basic human warmth, the latter is not a man who poses much threat in terms of drawing followers after him. But in this age, it seems that virtually anyone can mislead at least a few people into giving up their crown—and this man has certainly tried to do that, targeting members, particularly certain women, with phone calls full of “feigned words” (II Pet. 2:3).
This same man was patiently worked with at Headquarters over a long period of time on a number of spiritual issues. Verses such as “he that covers a transgression seeks love” (Prov. 17:9) applied, so long as this man was willing to move forward.
But in the end this man also could not handle correction or reversals. Having also been demoted, then removed from the ministry, he was given the opportunity to continue as a lay member, upon repentance and with certain conditions being met. But he did not meet these requirements, and was accordingly removed from membership entirely, some days before the Feast of Tabernacles. (He later claimed to “resign” his membership. His claim is false—he had already been removed about 10 days earlier.)
The man had very recently acknowledged to a group of seven ministers that he was in the snare of the devil (II Tim. 2:26). He later voiced that he “went to a dark place,” spiritually, and “may have gone too far”—which, as he clarified for the ministers present, meant committing the unpardonable sin. Yet he has now “reconsidered,” and believes that the Church’s leadership does not measure up to his standards of righteousness!
Stunningly, he has openly stated (to lay members whom he contacted after his departure in an attempt to win their sympathy and turn them against Headquarters) that he had proven The Restored Church of God is the true Church, and that all other groups are “compromising.”
Despite this, he has chosen to stay home (forsaking assembly—Heb. 10:25), and attack the group and the leader who taught him what should not be compromised! Incredible! This irrational thinking is telling evidence, a result of being cut off from the Spirit of a sound mind (II Tim. 1:7).
Shortly after this, a third man, this time in the field, also had to be removed and disfellowshipped. In his case, profound self-righteousness and arrogance had become a pattern, to the point where he eventually stated he had never committed an error in judgment during his entire ministry! Having a fantastically elevated view of himself, he was routinely insubordinate and repeatedly spoke against God’s Headquarters in conversations with certain lay members. This, coupled with a severely unbalanced mindset in nearly every area of life—again, evidencing extreme lack of sound mind—were the fruits by which he became known. Finally, he displayed open disrespect and outright scorn toward Mr. Pack in a dinner during the Feast—all of this witnessed by three other ministers, their wives and Mrs. Pack.
There will be more ministerial losses before the end of the age—this is one of the tests God’s people must expect. Whenever they come—sooner or later—you must pass the test.
Speaking Against Government—in a Different Light
In most cases, a minister who is turning against the Church begins to speak critically of its human leadership.
It seems that many brethren do not understand the seriousness of criticism toward Headquarters. They do not equate it with criticism of Jesus Christ as Head of the Church, and as a result they are most often willing to hear it and say nothing. They do not bring it to the attention of the ministry or Headquarters, forgetting a clear instruction in Leviticus 5:1: “If a soul sin [this can be many things], and hear the voice of swearing [or similar things], and is a witness, whether he has seen or known of it; if he do not utter it, then he shall bear his iniquity.”
The goal is not to create a fear-engendering “informant system” within the Church, which would quench the joy that is to characterize every Christian (Gal. 5:22). But words that are clearly divisive and destructive cannot be tolerated!
At this point, an account from the New Testament enters the discussion. Paul wrote to Timothy that he had delivered two members, Hymenaeus and Alexander, to Satan for a purpose—so they would “learn not to blaspheme” (I Tim. 1:20).
Consider: to blaspheme means to “speak evil of.” How likely was it that these two members had walked through the congregation directly cursing God, or blatantly speaking evil against Him? Who has ever even heard of such a thing?
So it is highly unlikely this is what they were doing. It is likely that these two were speaking evil against God’s government—the human instruments through whom He works. In the case of Hymenaeus, we learn in II Timothy that he also spread the heresy that there is no coming resurrection of the dead (2:17-18).
Peter describes such critics as the “unjust” who do not fear to criticize those in authority: “…chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities. Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord. But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption; and shall receive the reward of unrighteousness, as they that count it pleasure to riot in the day time” (II Pet. 2:9-13).
“Natural brute beasts” can be translated “carnal, irrational animals.” Let that SINK IN!—God describes certain people as operating at a subhuman level—ANIMALS!
How Much Should Be Said?
Typically, when a minister is removed, the related developments and decisions do not need to be broadcast around the world by Headquarters, but rather kept on a local basis where there is a need to know.
At some point, you may notice that a man is simply no longer pictured in the Manpower Brochure, or does not appear in the annual Behind the Work video. This was a regular occurrence in the Worldwide Church of God, and will occasionally happen in this age.
If one becomes spiritually murderous, divisive and dives headlong into devilish conduct, such would be marked and disfellowshipped. But many are content to simply disappear, move on to another “career phase,” and merge back into the world and its covetous pursuits.
But there is another reason to keep “announcements” minimal—and it is big: What if the man repents, comes back into membership, and even the ministry? In this case, keeping a lower profile for the event would best serve the man, particularly if he is not a threat to the Church.
Brethren, take note: Those who want to “know more” about a particular man leaving, after hearing either a local or broader announcement, are usually sending the message that they simply do not trust Christ’s leadership of the Church. This amounts to spending time looking sideways or backward, and dwelling on the negative, rather than moving forward and focusing on the positive, as Paul instructed the Philippians: “Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things” (4:8).
Naturally, we would rather focus on, for example, growth, healings, the Work advancing and new men being ordained. For example, we have added 13 new ministers in the past ten months. One man has been reinstated into the ministry, with others likely to follow. (Keep watching for more of both.)
Brethren, when a minister “disappears,” there are ways to avoid generating unnecessary confusion, of which God is not the author. This is accomplished by following these general rules:
1) Resist the urge to “fish” for information either from ministers or lay members, regarding what has happened to this man. In other words, resist the tendency to have itching ears (II Tim. 3:4). Try to imagine if the entire Church always needed to “know more” about such men. The Work would have to almost stop until the requisite answers had been distributed to thousands of people. And what if halfway through the process, more facts came out, or the situation changed in some way? Do we start over with clarification for the first half to avoid confusion with what the second half is hearing? You see the point.
3) Do tell Headquarters as soon as possible. (If you do not give this notice, you are saying that you do not care if such men pull out of the Church others who may not be as strong. This also sends the message that you are sympathetic.)
4) Then tell your local minister as soon as possible. (Of course, if your local minister is the one who has gone off-track, see rule #3!!!)
5) Pray fervently about the situation, asking God that you not be tempted and that He would help all others in the same way.
Following these steps carefully and prayerfully ensures that, in the case of an attack on the flock, each of us can be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
Attacks Come Before Leaps Forward
[Author’s Note: The context here references mid-2007.] “For some time, perhaps about six months, or so, Mr. Pack spoke a number of times to the staff about major leaps forward that must be just over the horizon for the Work of God. This was because we were suffering a series of defections, difficulties, persecution and trials, including the death of his wife and the near death of one of his sons—severe trials for both the Church, collectively, and Mr. Pack, personally—among other things.
“In fact, the Work did soon after witness far and away the greatest leaps (plural) forward we have seen. Very, very dramatic advancements came on the heels of these trials. Nothing that we have previously experienced compared to the kinds of announcements we went on to make and are still making.
“Just as Mr. Armstrong endured intense trials prior to each breakthrough in preaching the gospel, during this final gun lap we saw the same—and will probably remain under greater or lesser attacks for the rest of the age.
“The Church always used to understand that severe trials winnowed out trouble-makers—that they caused, as Mr. Armstrong put it, ‘all the rotten apples to fall from the tree.’”
Grasp this, brethren: Though God is on His throne, and Christ is the Head of the Church, these things can and will happen. But we have been forewarned, and “forewarned is forearmed”—having advance notice gives us time to prepare for spiritual battle.
This article is not the result of any great, broad expression of concern in the wake of a few ministerial losses. Quite the opposite. God’s people have been wonderfully stable, with not a single member at Headquarters following either of the two men who left, or the third man described above.
It is intended to be an inoculation—a measure to prevent unnecessary future losses—particularly for those who are very new to the Church and have not yet seen these types of events.
This will simply be part of the landscape for the rest of the age. Recent losses are only a simple “pop quiz” compared to coming future events. Remember! False prophets are foretold to arise from the midst of the Church—and some will perform miracles, powered by demons (an example of “lying wonders”—see II Thes. 2:9). Never forget that Satan wants to snatch your crown from off your head! And the pattern of history is that he uses human beings as agents to do this.
But invariably there is no real “bandwagon” gaining momentum. Rather, some sheep have simply been convinced to cease following true shepherds in favor of a wolf, being somehow unable to see his teeth or his claws.
To maintain perspective, the next time you hear about the ordination of one or more ministers, review this article. And when you hear that one or more ministers have left, review it again. Also, reading for review every year or so Mr. Pack’s book Should Accusers Be Answered? has become part of the Church’s spiritual diet. His recent sermons “The Devil—Deceive, Divide, Destroy,” and “Satan—8 Levels + 1” were not merely “sermons for that Sabbath.” They are hallmark messages—classics—that should be reviewed. So much is at stake in how you handle the devil—and in not letting him “handle” you!
Ultimately, taking the “100 miles above earth” view, the loss of a minister is a test of faith. Will we trust God? Do we truly believe that Christ can lead the Church He promised to never leave or forsake (Heb. 13:5)?