We have all been reared with the modern concept that in religious matters a man should be governed primarily by what HE thinks. Is this God's way?
"AFTER years of study and prayer, Mr. Armstrong has come to see that this is binding on us today," I said to Mr. Brown. "The Bible reveals it, and as Christians we must obey." "Well, here's the way I look at it," he began, and then continued to give his PERSONAL opinion based on HUMAN REASON with very little knowledge of the Bible to guide him. As a minister of Jesus Christ, I was trying to show him — NOT MY WILL — but GOD'S will. I was proving my points right out of God's word. I had mentioned the opinion and belief of Mr. Armstrong to show that a more experienced servant of the true God was persuaded of this same truth. Was Mr. Brown impressed? NOT AT ALL. On the contrary, he proceeded to put his HUMAN REASON and "feeling" on the same plane as our studied belief on God's word. In his own mind, Mr. Brown reasoned that HIS opinion was just as good as OUR opinion. But was it a matter of two differing "opinions" of equal value? Or do God's true ministers carry AUTHORITY to speak in His name? If so, how much is that authority to be RESPECTED? These are questions that every true Christian should understand. Mr. Brown was supposed to be converted. Is such an attitude as his the mark of a truly converted person?
Authority of Ministers
In Matthew 16:15-20, we read the account of Christ bestowing on Peter the "keys of the kingdom of heaven." Nearly all commentaries agree that the principal meaning of these "keys" includes the WAY of salvation which the apostles were to proclaim to the world. Based on the principles of this WAY, the apostles, through whom Christ GOVERNS His Church, were given authority to make decisions which would be bound in heaven. They could "bind," or FORBID certain things; and they had authority to "loose," or PERMIT certain things. In other words, they were given the AUTHORITY to make BINDING DECISIONS — based on God's word and the "keys" of salvation they had received. These decisions involved PERMITTING or FORBIDDING certain things — defining what is RIGHT and WRONG! Matthew 18:15-20 clearly shows that this authority was conferred on ALL the apostles — not just Peter. They were all with Jesus for over three years, learning from Him the WAY of salvation so they could preach it to the world. Jesus had shown them in dozens of places that ALL decisions must be conformed to God's will and His LAW (Matt. 5:17-19). In their judgments, they were to follow Christ's example when He said, "I can of mine own self do nothing: as I hear, I judge: and my judgment is just; because I seek NOT MINE OWN WILL, but the will of the Father which hath sent me" (John 5:30). God's true ministers will be yielded and submissive to GOD'S will. They will seek His will in diligent study and earnest prayer. They will confer with other true ministers and Bible scholars for, "in multitude of counselors there is safety (Pro. 11:14). In every way, they will seek God's will and His guidance through the Holy Spirit. But when God's true servants do make a decision based on His word, IT IS TO BE RESPECTED, for it is BOUND IN HEAVEN. You are not showing respect to the man and his "opinion," but to the OFFICE in which has placed His ministers, and by which CHRIST RULES HIS CHURCH. When the Israelites refused to hearken to God's servant Samuel, God said, "... they have not rejected thee, but have rejected ME, that I should not reign over them" (I Sam. 8:7). If you take the decisions of God's ministers lightly, YOU ARE DISRESPECTING GOD HIMSELF!
Be Sure of Ministers
All of your respect to any minister should be based upon the fact that you have first PROVED to yourself that he REALLY IS a true servant of God. Jesus continually warned: "Beware of FALSE prophets, which come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. YE SHALL KNOW THEM BY THEIR FRUITS" (Matt. 7:15-16). You need to look at the "fruit," the RESULTS in proclaiming the TRUE GOSPEL, in LEADING the flock into the truth and ways of God, in healing the sick — the ACCOMPLISHMENTS in the work of the ministry, carrying out the commission of Christ. Notice that Jesus went on to say (Matt. 7:21-23) that many would PROFESS to do good works in His name, but He told them, "depart from me, ye that work INIQUITY," or "lawlessness." The word iniquity is more correctly translated LAWLESSNESS. Jesus was showing that PROFESSING ministers who break God's law ARE NOT HIS MINISTERS at all! "I NEVER knew you," Jesus will tell them. And God's word shows that these law-breaking ministers never really knew Christ either (I John 2:4). Satan and HIS MINISTERS appear as "angels of light" (II Cor. 11:14). But they teach that you are free to DISOBEY God's law. Another way to examine their "fruit" is to see if they are willing to "GROW in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (II Pet. 3:18). Some "Christians" — EVEN SOME WHO PROFESS TO BE IN THE CHURCH OF GOD — REFUSE to GROW into more truth! Jesus told the disciples that the Holy Spirit, "will guide you into all truth" (John 16:13). Spiritual CHANGE, GROWTH, and DEVELOPMENT is one of the important signs that a person is really guided by God's Spirit. No MAN gains ALL of God's truth at once. We must all GROW in knowledge. Some churches and some ministers have known a portion of God's truth. But when they became UNWILLING to GROW into more truth through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, they soon began to twist and pervert what little truth they had, and to spiritually ROT AWAY and DIE! To prove whether or not a man is truly God's servant, look to the "fruits" of submission to all of God's commands, of a real UNDERSTANDING of God's word, of a willingness to GROW in grace and knowledge, and of the underlying motive of LOVE behind every thought and deed. God will reveal to you who His true ministers are if you study, pray, and look at their fruits. Once you know, should you respect them and the OFFICE in which GOD HAS SET THEM? YES, YOU SHOULD!
Once God has REVEALED to you by the "fruits" who His true servants are, YOU should recognize the responsibilities and duties which God has given them. When a matter of church government or policy comes up, realize that they have the AUTHORITY to decide the issue. They do NOT have the right to exercise that authority according to their own HUMAN REASON. Jesus Christ is the LIVING HEAD of the TRUE Church of God — the body of Christ (Col. 1:18). When He was instructing the disciples on how to exercise their authority to enforce church discipline (Matt. 18:15-20), He said that if two or more of them would agree on anything, God would BIND it in heaven. "For," Jesus said, "where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them." Christ himself will in Spirit be with and GUIDE His servants in making right decisions. These words of His have MEANING! Jesus said that He WOULD guide His servants in directing the Church. He said that they SHOULD make decisions — based on GOD'S REVEALED WILL and GUIDED BY HIS SPIRIT. These decisions were to include church DISCIPLINE and what is to be "bound" or "loosed" — defining what is PERMITTED or FORBIDDEN to God's people by "RIGHTLY dividing the word of truth." Christ Himself — the Head of the Church — has PROMISED to guide His ministers in directing the Church. Their decisions, then, will also be GOD'S decisions. They are BINDING on God's church. His TRUE Church will be OBEDIENT! It is government BY God, THROUGH His servants. It is God's RESPONSIBILITY to chasten His Servants if they abuse their authority. YOU CAN'T READ THEIR HEARTS. But God CAN! Their authority came from Him, not from some "board" of men. God "sets" or APPOINTS the true ministers and teachers to guide and rule His Church (I Cor. 12:28). He ALONE has the power to remove them from office. He can do it by circumstances, by affliction — by DEATH if need be! Remember that even though Samuel's sons were abusing their office (I Sam. 8:7), the people had NO RIGHT WHATSOEVER to put them out! It was up to GOD to decide if, when, and how this was to be done. In taking this authority in their own hands, the people rejected the RULE OF GOD — the KINGDOM OF GOD! If you plan to enter THAT Kingdom, learn NOW to OBEY those whom GOD sets in authority.
Christians must be alert to the prophecy that EVEN FROM AMONG THEIR LEADERS some would arise speaking perverse things — TWISTING God's word (Acts 20:29-31). In order to recognize perverse teachings, and in order to "grow in grace and knowledge," you need to PRAY and to STUDY God's word continually. If you do this intelligently you will never be deceived. Remember the important test Christ gave was to examine the "fruits" in a minister's life and work. A false minister simply CANNOT produce the fruits — people converted in OBEDIENCE to God's law and His way. So respect and OBEY God's true ministers, but constantly study to acquire the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5) and to perceive a deceiver who might arise. A good example is the Bereans whom Paul commended because "they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so" (Acts 17:11). They respectfully listened with open and READY minds. Then they SEARCHED the scriptures to prove WHETHER THOSE THINGS WERE SO. The Apostle James tells Christian believers to "receive with MEEKNESS the engrafted word, which is able to save your souls" (James 1:21). Once God reveals to you who His true ministers are, listen respectfully and with OPEN MINDS to their instruction. Then you need to "STUDY to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth" (II Tim. 2:15). The more you STUDY, the more you will understand and agree with the instructions of God's TRUE servants. "PROVE all things; hold fast that which is good" (I Thes. 5:21). But PROVE it by the Bible — NOT by what you THINK, or WHAT SOME DENOMINATION TEACHES! Remember Jesus said, "Thy WORD IS TRUTH" (John 17:17). In all your study, however, you should keep an ATTITUDE OF RESPECT for what God's ministers have said. You shouldn't go to the Bible with the idea of REFUTING what they have taught, or of JUSTIFYING your own ideas. But search the scriptures (Acts 17:11) whether THOSE THINGS be so — THE THINGS GOD'S SERVANTS HAVE TAUGHT. The respect to God's ministers is respect to God himself who "calls" any TRUE minister to that office, and it is respect to the Holy Spirit through which God will inspire and direct His servants.
Unity in the Church
Many of you brethren have had to come out" of this Babylonish system and its churches. You have been regarded — and perhaps HAVE REGARDED YOURSELF — as an "independent" or radical in matters of belief. Many of you, having been disillusioned by false ministers, have come to feel that you could place no reliance on anyone or anything except yourself. You have been in the habit of studying the Bible and accepting YOUR conclusion as final. It was between you and God alone. "Me and God," said the German Kaiser. That is the way some of you have felt and acted — perhaps without realizing it. But SHOULD you be an "independent"? Didn't Jesus build a Church which will endure FOREVER? Haven't we just shown you that God's true ministers — whom He sets in His Church — speak in His name with authority? If you have really been converted, you have been "baptized" or PUT INTO God's Church by receiving His Spirit. You are then NO LONGER an "independent," but a member of the true Church of God — the body of Christ. "God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints" (I Cor. 14:33). Even though you may be separated from local church fellowship, you BELONG to God's Church which has ORDER and GOVERNMENT in it — not confusion. The apostle Paul commands us to be humble, "Endeavoring to keep the UNITY OF THE SPIRIT in the bond of peace (Eph. 4:3). Some ministers quote this text to persuade their congregation to blindly follow them in a FALSE unity, NOT of the Spirit. The UNITY OF GOD'S SPIRIT is that mutual harmony and love which it produces because we will ALL be seeking God's WILL. It is NOT a "unity" based on MAN'S REASONING swayed by the devil! God gave some individuals positions of preaching and teaching, "TILL we all come into the unity of the faith" (Eph. 4:12-13). His ministers are RESPONSIBLE for teaching and guiding the flock in the RIGHT way as God's Spirit reveals UNTIL they come into the "unity of the faith." We are ail still human and have a lot of GROWING to do. We won't all see eye to eye on every point of doctrine at first. God's children are "knit together" — not in doctrine — but "in LOVE" (Col. 2:2). But God has set His ministers in the Church to preserve order, and to teach and instruct the brethren with AUTHORITY so that each one may finally come to have "the mind of Christ" (Phil.2:5).
The Final Authority
In Hebrews 13:17, Paul gives an inspired command to, "OBEY them that have the rule over you, and SUBMIT YOURSELVES: for they watch for your souls, as THEY THAT MUST GIVE ACCOUNT, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you." Here, and in verse seven, God is commanding OBEDIENCE to His Ministers. It is THEY who "must give account." They are RESPONSIBLE for teaching you the TRUTH. When there is a doubt as to the meaning of a scripture, or when there is a Church policy to be decided upon, God's ministers are given the AUTHORITY to make those decisions to be based on His REVEALED will. And He holds them RESPONSIBLE for seeking HIS will! This of course applies ONLY to those whom you know by the "fruits" are God's TRUE ministers. And even then, if there is ever a case when you have a REAL CONVICTION that one of God's ministers is teaching something contrary to His will, you ought to, "obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). But KNOWING that any true minister of God will be honest in seeking the truth, be sure to discuss the matter privately with him. Remember that you are not to rebuke an elder or minister, "but intreat him as a father" (I Tim. 5:1). Then, any TRUE minister of God will STUDY and PRAY over the matter, and in due time will either show you your error — or he will confess his mistake and be thankful to find and teach the TRUTH. God himself has chosen ministers who are still quite HUMAN. But His ministers will remain yielded to Him and be willing to GROW. It is HIS RESPONSIBILITY to remove them if they don't. In all matters, then, it's GOD'S OPINION that really COUNTS! God has specially "called" His ministers to act as His spokesmen — teaching the people HIS will. Christ set the example (Matt. 7:29) when He astonished the people by teaching with AUTHORITY. That authority is to be RESPECTED! It is not respect to the man, but to the OFFICE, and to GOD who placed him in the office. God's ministers need your PRAYERS, and your LOVE and CO-OPERATION in carrying on this great work He has committed to all of us. Mr. Armstrong has set a wonderful example by his love, humility, wisdom, zeal, and his constant willingness to GROW into more truth as God reveals it. God's TRUE ministers will continue to seek and to teach HIS will — not their own. We realize the great RESPONSIBILITY we have as God's ministers. We pray that you true brethren will respect the AUTHORITY God has given us with which to carry on His work. This work of God is rapidly growing! To accomplish our mission successfully, we need to practice the way of ORDER and CHURCH GOVERNMENT which God has commanded. This way of God will be a great blessing to us — and to the MILLIONS who will hear the TRUE GOSPEL because we have been WILLING to set aside our selfish interests and to work together in HARMONY — under God's guidance — in carrying out His great work. Let us all submit ourselves to GOD'S GOVERNMENT in His Church — and in His kingdom to come. As the TRUE Church of God, let us go forward together with LOVE and UNITY, guided by Divine WISDOM, and inspired by a contagious ZEAL to carry out with God's POWER and AUTHORITY the great work of proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom as a "witness" to all nations before Christ's soon return as King of kings.