TO OBEY OR NOT TO OBEY -- THAT
IS THE QUESTION!
The question of obedience to authority is one which has many people
perplexed -- baffled. Many read the Scripture, "Obey them that have
the rule over you, and submit yourselves" (Heb.13:17), and they then
assume that unquestioning, blind obedience to ministerial commands
is the proper role for a Christian. But is that the truth? But how does
this Scripture compare with the command of John, "Beloved, believe
not every spirit, but try (test, examine) the spirits whether they are of
God, because many false prophets are gone out into the world" (I Jn.
4:1)? And what about the words of Jesus, who declared -- "TAKE
HEED that NO MAN (or minister) DECEIVE YOU" (Matt.24:4)?
What should a TRUE Christian do? What position should we take
when it comes to obedience to “Church” authority?
William F. Dankenbring
During the Iran-Contra hearings in
I followed the Iran-Contra hearings with great interest and fascination. Not because they themselves are so important or vital. But because of the issues involved regarding a man's role under authority, or conflicting authority!
question must face all the true people of God, those who believe sincerely they
are true Christians and members of the
Should we as Christians always obey Church authority? What about it? What does the Bible really teach on this question?
What Is Church Authority?
Many people assume that we should carefully obey every command and edict we hear from the pulpit -- every command or even every suggestion put forth by a minister "of God." Especially if they believe have proved which is God's "true Church," they assume that fact settles the matter.
A ministerial friend of mine once said that Christians are like soldiers in a war. To disobey a command of a superior officer, he said, is tantamount to treason, and a soldier who did so would be guilty of gross insubordination and disloyalty, and even treason -- and would be shot.
during the Iran-Contra hearings, Senator Daniel Inouye of
Therefore, the question really becomes, what constitutes a "lawful" order, and what constitutes an "unlawful" order?
This is the crux of the question! This is the real issue, also, for the true Christian and his relationship to Church authority!
for a moment! Jesus said, of the
Pharisees, the ruling religious sect of His day, the "ministers" who
were over the "Church of God," the nation of Israel (see Acts 7:38 where
Israel is called "the church in the wilderness"), "The scribes
and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you
observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say,
and do not" (Matt.23:2-3). In other
words, the Pharisees were "over" the
These words of Jesus are clarified elsewhere. In this same book of Matthew, Jesus said to His disciples, “Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees” (Matt.16:6). He was speaking about the "DOCTRINE" they taught (Matt.16:12).
In Matthew 15, Jesus explained even plainer how we should react to the government of "Church authority." Remember, we have just seen how the Pharisees exercised Church authority in those days they sat in "Moses' seat."
same religious leaders, "ministers" of the
Do we begin to get the point?
Any tradition, or commandment or policy, or law, of men, or any Church, or minister, IF IT NULLIFIES THE LAW OF GOD, or is CONTRARY to the Word of God, or VIOLATES the COMMANDMENT OF GOD, is an "unlawful" tradition, commandment, policy, law or edict
In order for any minister's edict commandment advice, counsel, or law, or any law of the Church, to be BINDING, IT MUST BE IN ACCORD WITH THE LAW AND WORD OF GOD!
Jesus said of the
Pharisees, and the
He called the ministers who were over the Church of that day, the Pharisees, "blind leaders of the blind" (verse 14).
This is a very interesting description. It clearly meant that not only were the ministers themselves BLIND, but so were the congregation -- the people who followed them! But when we stop to think about that, it should be very obvious: Only a blind person would follow a blind person. So all the people who followed those "ministers" were themselves spiritually BLIND!
So it is today. All those who willingly follow "Church authority," and modem-day "ministers" or "Pharisees," simply because they are "in authority," are also SPIRITUALLY BLIND!
I personally know quite a few people like that, today! They question nothing. They do as they are told. As Herbert W. Armstrong used to characterize them, they are "dumb sheep." They never check up on anything. In fact, they would FEAR to go against Church authority, or the advice of a minister! They would fear they might be punished, or become in disfavor, or even put out of the Church! For shame!
The Pharisees were "in authority." God had not yet cast them out of office. Therefore, Jesus told His followers to obey their every command -- that is, every command that was in accord with the laws of God. But this did not include their unlawful commands!
This fact becomes clear when we see how the apostles acted when the Pharisees caught them preaching Christ, after they had miraculously used the power of God to heal a lame man, and "commanded them not to speak at all nor teach in the name of Jesus." The Pharisees, the ministers of the Church, simply commanded these ex-fishermen to stop preaching -- to SHUT UP!
In other words, they had the attitude that they, the Pharisees, had the truth of God; there was no need of these other "untrained" and "unordained" men preaching. They felt they had a “monopoly” on the truth. They exclusively had the "authority" to teach and preach.
What did Peter and John reply to this command?
"But Peter and John answered and said unto them, Whether it be right in the sight of God to hearken unto you more than unto God, judge ye. For we cannot but speak the things we have seen and heard" (Acts -20).
This same problem came up a few days later when the Pharisees caught them preaching in the name of Christ again. They brought them before the council, and said, "Did not we straitly COMMAND you that ye should not teach in this name?"
How did the apostles handle it this time?
Peter and the apostles replied, “WE OUGHT TO OBEY GOD RATHER THAN MEN” (Acts ).
remember -- these were not just any "men" they were talking to --
these were the PHARISEES, the very one's who sat in Moses' seat including the
High Priest, himself (Acts ), and the chief priests. These were the officials of the very “
But, as we can see from the evidence, these officials of God's Church had gone wrong -- they had become blind -- they had plunged off the path of truth and into totalitarian error and false doctrine!
Later, when the evangelist Stephen was taken into court by these same ministers over the Church of God, and accused by them of blasphemy and heresy, he replied to them, the "so-called true ministers of God," who held the reigns of "CHURCH AUTHORITY," in blazing words of wrath and anger, "Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Spirit: as your fathers did, so do ye. Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted? and they have slain them which shewed before of the coming of the Just One; of whom ye have been now the betrayers and murderers: Who have received the law by the disposition of angels, and HAVE NOT KEPT IT " (Acts -53).
these legalistic Pharisees and ministers, of the true
so, we have legalistic-minded Pharisees and lawyers ruling the
They preach, "Thou shalt not divorce," and then they go ahead and divorce, and justify those who do. They preach, "Thou shalt keep the Sabbath," and then turn right around and break it! They declare, "Thou shalt not steal," and then proceed to steal from widows, and the poor, their inheritances, in the name of "wills" and "testaments." Jesus said of them, "ye devour widows' houses, and for a pretense make long prayer" (Matt.23:14).
What does Jesus say about these kinds of ministers, today? "For they BIND HEAVY BURDENS AND GRIEVOUS TO BE BORNE, AND LAY THEM ON MEN'S SHOULDERS; but they themselves will not touch them with one of their fingers " (Matt.23:4).
some might object, haven’t the ministers done many good works, and don't they
send young people to teach English to the mountain people in
Yes, and Jesus would answer: "But ALL THEIR WORKS they do for to be seen of men" (Matt.23:5). He said to His true disciples, "Take heed that ye DO NOT YOUR ALMS (GOOD WORKS) BEFORE MEN, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have NO REWARD of your Father which is in heaven" (Matt.7:1).
Jesus said, "Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men" (Matt.7:2). But when the Worldwide Church of God does its good works, it advertises them in all the newspapers, and attempts to get prime television time! When they do "good works," they don't just sound the trumpet -- they bring in the entire philharmonic orchestra!
Will they ever learn?
It is time we wake up to the truth. Our real and final authority is not some minister, or man, at the head of a Church or behind a pulpit. Rather, as Isaiah the prophet put it so plainly, "TO THE LAW, and to the TESTIMONY: IF THEY SPEAK NOT ACCORDING TO THIS WORD, IT IS BECAUSE THERE IS NO LIGHT IN THEM" (Isa. ).
The WORD OF GOD is our final authority (Matt.4:4; Luke 4:4). Any minister, whoever he may be, of whatever Church, who contradicts the Word of God, has "no light" in him! That’s what God says!
Therefore, brethren, it behooves each and every one of you to STAND UP FOR THE TRUTH. Gird up your loins, and be bold and courageous for the TRUTH of God's Word. Never deny it. Never compromise with it. Never listen to any minister whose advice does not square with the Word of God.
That means you must intimately KNOW the Word of God. You must study it daily, actively, fervently, so that you cannot be led astray. STUDY to shew thyself APPROVED UNTO GOD, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the WORD OF TRUTH" (H Tim.2:15).
Many have read the Scripture in Matthew where Jesus Christ said to Peter, "And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.' Some have thought that this Scripture gives Church ministers virtually carte blanche authority to make decisions on earth, and whatever they decide will be automatically bound in heaven!
"Binding and Loosing”
For example, if a minister made a wrong decision, totally contrary to the law of God, do you believe that God would bind it anyway?
If a minister decided a couple were living in adultery, when the law of God said they were not, would God the minister's decision and force the couple to break up in order to enter the Kingdom of God?
Is God such a cruel, unjust, harsh monster? Nonsense!
If a minister or apostle or evangelist told a person who was already married in the sight of God that it would be all right for him or her to marry another, while their mate still lived, would God Almighty that decision, contrary to His own law?
God cannot contradict Himself, or bind any decision that is made contrary to His own inexorable, eternal, immutable, spiritual LAW! THE LAW OF GOD IS ALWAYS BINDING and cannot be nullified by the whim or error of any minister on the earth! The Law of God reveals the very picture of the eternal CHARACTER of God! It shows what He IS! Jesus Himself said, "For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled" (MatL5:18).
The apostle Paul pointed out, "Wherefore the law is HOLY, and the commandment HOLY, and just, and good" (Rom.7: 12). He added: "For we know that the LAW IS SPIRITUAL" (verse 14) -- and that which is spiritual is of necessity ETERNAL! As Paul also wrote, "but the things which are NOT SEEN are eternal" (II Cor.4:18). David wrote in the Psalms, "All his commandments are sure. They stand fast FOR EVER AND EVER, and are done in truth and uprightness" (Psalm 111:7-8).
Isn't that clear? Then no decision by any minister at any time can nullify or do away with or abrogate or rescind or erase the eternal, spiritual law of GOD! If a minister makes a decision contrary to the law of God, his DECISION itself in God's sight is null and void, cancelled out by the Law of God, and is nullified and abrogated and rescinded by the higher law of GOD!
Matthew 16:19 Jesus Christ was not giving His ministry, or His apostles, any
authority to bind or loose or make decisions contrary to the eternal, immutable
law of God. This verse was never
intended to be used as carte blanche authority to support the abuse or misuse
of authority in the
Therefore, when we read Hebrews , we should do so with understanding. Paul wrote, "Obey them that have the rule over you" -- that is, so long as they rule according to the eternal laws of God, and the Word of God -- and ONLY that long "and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give ACCOUNT.”
Those in the ministry will have to give ACCOUNT -- they will have to answer to Jesus Christ -- for how they have conducted their ministry! They will be held RESPONSIBLE! Any who foolishly abuse their authority, or use it like a club, or pervert it to contradict the laws of God, will be held supremely accountable, and will suffer CONDEMNATION!
will find themselves outside the
The "binding and loosing" which Jesus gave His disciples authority to do refers to making judgments and decisions BASED ON THE WORD OF GOD, and in accordance with the eternal LAWS of God. Therefore, any time a particular minister becomes arbitrary, and personal, and begins making judgments and decisions on Ws own authority, claiming the authority of God, you can KNOW that he has gone astray, has erred grievously, and you should neither follow him nor obey his word!
God never intended His ministry to rule the flock or the Church with cruelty, harshness, or totalitarian despotism. His ministers were never intended to become despots or tyrants over the flock. God never intended His ministers to be suspicious “overlords," who would shoot first, and ask questions of the body.
He never intended for His people to live their lives in fear of the authorities, fearful of questioning, fearful of harassment. He never intended His Church to become an authoritarian-driven cult, with ministers prying into every nook and comer of people's private lives. He never intended the ministry to be a kind of Secret Police, KGB, or Nazi Gestapo, encouraging members to spy on one another and to become "informers."
According to the way of God, if any brother in the Church sees another commit a sin, he is NOT to go straight to the ministry, as a tattle-tale. Rather, he is to go direct to his brother who sinned, and confront him IN LOVE with what he saw.
As Paul wrote, "Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one IN THE SPIRIT OF MEEKNESS, considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted" (Gal.6:1).
Jesus gave us explicit instructions as to what we should do when somebody sins against us. He said, "Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him ALONE; if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother" (Matt.18:15).
He did NOT say, “Go tell the ministry.”
Isn't that clear?
But if he doesn't listen to you, then should you tell the Church, the minister? NO! Notice what Jesus then said: "But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established" (verse 16).
,If this second attempt to reach him, with witnesses to verify the facts for him and to document your words, too, still fails to achieve the desired results, then what should you do?
Jesus went on, "And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it to the Church: but if he neglect to hear the Church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican (sinner)" (Matt.18:17).
Only after two attempts to reach and reason with the individual, once by yourself, alone, and once with witnesses, should you involve the minister of the Church. This is the way of God -- the way of true love and compassion. God wants sin to be covered -- not exposed for all the Church to see! God doesn't want to embarrass people, or make them feel depressed and useless. He wants to encourage them, in love, to become overcomers. Therefore, such matters should be dealt with delicately, tenderly, gently, in private, so long as it is possible to do so!
As Jude wrote, "And of some have compassion, making a difference: and others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh" (Jude 22-23).
Along the same lines, Paul wrote to Timothy, for our instruction, also, "And the servant of the Lord must not strive, but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, 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 his will" (II Tim.2:24-26).
Too often I have seen the spiritual growth of Church members being stunted by officious ministers who themselves are spiritual babes, competitive, and carnal as a camel. Spiritual growth is stunted by confining restrictions placed on people, do's and don'ts and Pharisaical legalisms, added to the pure and simple and holy law of God. So long as people are treated like babies, and fed only milk, how can they grow to adulthood, spiritually? There are too many restrictions and rules made by idiots to defend themselves against shadows which only exist in their own fearful minds!
Such thinking leads to book burning, witch-hunting, and a spirit of McCarthyism in the Church. Members in such a Church are held in virtual isolation from the world, in a sort of cocoon, in order to protect them -- but the net result is only to keep them weak, and untested, untried. Such immature, infantile Christians, in order to be forced to GROW in the future, so that they can eventually be born of God at the resurrection, will have to have their spiritual growth nurtured and accomplished by the severe trial of the Great Tribulation! They cannot grow to spiritual adulthood so long as they remain protected in an artificial cocoon created by an erring, ignorant, authoritarian ministry!
God wants the light of freedom and liberty, within the law of God, to be encouraged in His Church. We cannot remain fearful, immature babes in Christ if we want to become a part of His Kingdom. The purpose of the ministry was never to suppress, to put down, to squelch creativity, growth, development, investigation, research, or to bottle up expression. Such an end result is a perversion of the ministry and its purpose.
Rather, the purpose of the ministry is to ENCOURAGE growth, not to stop it in its tracks. It is to encourage spiritual development study, research, questioning, investigation of knowledge. God wants us to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (II Pet.3:18).
The original, intended purpose of the ministry, in the eyes of God, is revealed in the book of Ephesians. God inspired Paul to write, "And he gave some apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the PERFECTING of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the EDMYING of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, UNTO A PERFECT (MATURE) MAN, unto the measure of the stature of the FULNESS OF CHRIST: That we henceforth be NO MORE CHILDREN (mere babes, infants), tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may GROW UP INTO HIM IN ALL THINGS, which is the head, even Christ" (Eph.4:11-15).
The purpose of the ministers is to be helpers, to help us grow in faith and knowledge of Christ -- not barbarian overlords. Paul wrote to the Corinthians, "Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand" (II Cor.1:24).
Faith is between you and God -- not you and the local minister. There is only one Intermediary between you and God -- Jesus Christ (I Tim.2:5). You have only one Saviour -- Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12).
There are probably a good many sincere ministers in the Church of God, men who are doing a good work of helping the brethren to grow, as best they can. We should love them and highly respect them for their work and sacrifice. As Paul wrote, "And we beseech you, brethren, to KNOW them which labour among you, and are OVER you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to ESTEEM them very highly IN LOVE for their work's sake" (I Thessalonians 5:12-13).
But there are also many "spots" in the ministry, as well, men we must beware of. Of course, it was all prophesied many years ago. Even within the Church of God Peter foretold, "there shall be FALSE TEACHERS among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction" (II Pet.2:1). They would be covetous, used feigned words to make merchandise of people (to get their possessions, tithes and offerings) (verse 3).
These ministers "despise government" (verse 10), are "presumptuous," "self-willed," and "not afraid to speak evil of dignities" (same verse). "Spots they are and blemishes, sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you" (11 Pet.2:13).
Such men were prophesied to rise up within the very ministry of the Church of God. As we approach the very end of this age, and the Laodicean condition becomes more rampant within the Church of God, these problems in the ministry itself will continue to increase and grow and abound!
Therefore, it behooves every Christian to be on guard, vigilant, on the alert and AWAKE to what is happening. Jesus Himself said, "For there shall arise false Christs, and false prophets, and shall shew great signs and wonders; insomuch that, if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Behold, I have told you before" (Matt.24:24-25).
Are you close enough to the WORD OF GOD so that you cannot be misled or deceived? Or is your faith in a particular minister, whose coattails you plan to grasp hold of? Are you studying the WORD OF GOD so that you can resist the great signs and wonders that various false prophets will do to convince you that they have come from God?
Paul explained, "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the WORD OF GOD" (Rom.10:17). Have you, like David, put the Word of God first in your life? Do you study it daily, often, on your knees? David wrote, "Thy WORD have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee" (Psalm 119:11). Why don't you MEMORUE that Scripture?
Paul warned the Church at Ephesus, on his departure from them, "Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Spirit hath made you overseers (not overlords!), to feed the Church of God, which he hath 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" (Acts 20:28-30).
Jude wrote, "Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should EARNESTLY CONTEND (fight, struggle, strive!) for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.
"For there are certain men crept in UNAWARES . . . ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ" (Jude 3-4).
Are you ready for them?
On September 23, 1800, Thomas Jefferson, the third President of the youthful United States, wrote a letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush in which he declared the immortal words:
“I have sworn upon the altar of God hostility toward every form
of tyranny over the mind of man.”
There is a mental and religious, or spiritual, tyranny, as well as physical or political tyranny. The word "tyranny' is defined as "cruel and unjust use of power"; "oppression, harshness, despotism." A "tyrant" is "a person who uses his power cruelly or unjustly," a 'cruel master." In ancient Egypt the Egyptians tyrannized over the Israelite slaves, forcing them to work inhuman hours slaving over manufacturing bricks. This cruel bondage and wicked use of power occurs in political societies, such as Nazi Germany and Communist Russia, and often occurs in religious institutions or organizations. In the last days, just before the return of Christ, it was prophesied to occur within the very Church of God, and to be characteristic of the 'Laodicean' phase of God's Church!
The word 'totalitarian" is closely related to "tyranny." It means "a government which suppresses all opposition, often with force, and which controls many aspects of people’s lives," including "what books the people may read, and other severe controls on private life." A totalitarian government in Church or politics, seeks absolute control over individuals in the church or state.
God is not a totalitarian. His law is a law of "liberty" (Jas.2:12). As Christians, under God's government, we are “as FREE,” but “not using your LIBERTY for a cloak of maliciousness, but as the servants of God” (I Pet.2:16).
Obeying the word or law of God is the true way to personal freedom for everybody -- the way of love, mercy, kindness, gentleness, meekness, and goodness. But totalitarian government denies personal freedom; it seeks to enslave people. A religious hierarchy which seeks to perpetuate itself and to dominate over people is a tyrannical form of totalitarian government diametrically opposed to the way of God!
Unfortunately, within the Church of God during the past 30 years there has been a serious problem with misuse and abuse of government -- a Pharisaical form of totalitarianism. Ministers would delve into the personal, private lives of members and would-be members with a fine tooth comb. They used to scrutinize carefully their marital history and sex lives. They would spy on the “tithing records” of people, by using computer lists to determine who was and wasn't "tithing" in the way they sought. Many people were disfellowshipped for nothing more than what some minister interpreted as a "bad attitude" – i.e., any attitude which stood up to the minister, or questioned a decision he made, or which disagreed with him on some point or issue, or refused to “bow and scrape”!
Sadly, many ministers seem to have the attitude of Haman in the book of Esther. He was very upset when Mordecai, a Jew, would not bow and do him obeisance when he passed by. This infuriated him, so he hatched a plot to eradicate himself of this “pest,” and all his Jewish countrymen and women as well!
God Almighty condemns this kind of government. He hates and abhors and detests it with all His supreme being! It is an abomination to Him, even as the slavery of ancient Egypt was. It is a form of slavery, something God never sanctioned or intended. It is the way of Satan the devil, his system, his methodology, his government!
God is the author of perfect Freedom within His law of love. He is the author of eternal Liberty, justice, and goodness for all. With Him there is and never has been any "respect of persons" (Rom.2:11). He is completely and totally "fair."
Why is it, then, that even true Christians sometimes become mesmerized by a totalitarian system of Church government which they assume comes from God?
Why do even true Christians allow various men and ministers to rule over them with tyranny, absolute control, and “fear” the ministry?
The apostle Paul wrote of this very problem in the Church of God during his day, in Corinth. He wrote to the brethren at Corinth, “For ye suffer FOOLS gladly, seeing ye yourselves are wise. For ye suffer, if a man bring you into BONDAGE, if a man DEVOUR you, if a man TAKE OF YOU, if a man EXALT HIMSELF, if a man SMITE YOU on the face” (II Cor.11:19-20).
The LIVING BIBLE makes this even plainer: "You think you are so wise -- yet you listen gladly to those fools; you don't mind at all when they make you their slaves and take everything you have, and take advantage of you, and put on airs, and slap you in the face."
Is that the way Church government is supposed to be? Assuredly not! Paul went on, in gentle sarcasm, "I'm ashamed to say that I'm not strong and daring like that!" (verse 21, TLB)
God condemns tyranny. God never intended the ministry to "lord it over" the flock (I Pet.5:1-3). "Don't be tyrants," he said to the elders (same verse, TLB).
Why, then, do people allow it? Many fear that if they voiced their opinions, they would be disfellowshipped, or put out of the Church. So they keep silent even when they see wrong being committed. For shame!
God Almighty, in His Law, commands each one of us, "Thou shalt not follow a multitude (even a whole Church!) to do evil" (Exodus 23:2). He thunders, "Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgment: thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honour the person of the mighty (or wealthy): but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor . . . Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise REBUKE, and not suffer SIN upon him" (Leviticus 19:15,17).
God does not want us to simply "follow along," like blind, dumb sheep, when we see error and evil being committed, or wrong decisions or judgments being made. He commands us to STAND UP FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS, to REBUKE the error or sin, even if it is committed by a minister in a high office! We ought to be fearless, and to be willing to suffer the consequences – whatever they may be. God says of the righteous: “The wicked flee when no man pursueth; but the righteous is as BOLD AS A LION” (Prov.28:1).
Do you understand that principle? Many people today fear mere MEN – when they ought to fear GOD!
People seem to fear being disfellowshipped more than anything else, when they ought to fear GOD instead! Jesus Himself declared: But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear Him, which after that He hath killed, hath power to cast into hell: Yea, I say unto you, fear Him” (Luke 12:5).
I we are true Christians, should we not fear God more than ministers, elders, or any other who seek to impose their own ideas, or authority over us, even when their words contradict the plain doctrines or teachings of God’s Word?
Jesus Christ Himself peered into the future, looking at His Church in the last days, and foretold, "These things have I spoken unto you, that ye should THEY SHALL PUT YOU OUT OF THE SYNAGOGUES (CHURCHES); yea, the time cometh, that whosoever killeth you will that he doeth God service" (John 16:1-2).
This prophecy began to be fulfilled within the lifetime of the apostle John. A minister by the name of Diotrephes was casting true brethren out of the Church. John wrote, “Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not ... neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and CASTETH THEM OUT OF THE CHURCH” (III John 9-10).
Down through history entire Churches have gone astray, and false ministers within the Churches began casting out the true brethren, true Christians who put obedience to God's law and Christ above their local fellowship, friendships, and Church!
Jesus said it would happen. But the problem with most people is that they are too far from the Word of God, and too close to their local Church, friends, and acquaintances in the Church. So when they begin to see wrong and sin being committed, they justify it, or think they should just "mind their own business," and let "God" be the Judge. God will be the Judge, all right -- but He will judge them, too, for not rebuking the sin and error when they saw -- for buckling under to wrong use of authority -- for going along with the wicked -- the sinning multitude!
If a minister sins, or a Church sins, it IS "YOUR BUSINESS" -- you had better make it your business, and either rebuke the sinners, helping them to repent and change, or come out from among them, lest you become contaminated with their sins and filth! If a rotten apple is allowed to remain in a barrel, it will soon ruin all the other apples in the barrel!
If the whole Church leadership is sinning, and they refuse to admit the truth and to repent, then you should have nothing to do with them. If they preemptorily put you out of the Church for disagreeing with them, when they are wrong, then they will answer to GOD! In such a case, then you should follow the command of God, who says, "Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers (those who refuse to repent): for WHAT FELLOWSHEP hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? .... Wherefore COME OUT FROM AMONG THEM, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and I will receive you (God Himself will receive us into His own fellowship, and look after us, and take care of us), and will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty" (II Cor.6:14-18).
God does not want His people to be a part of a tyrannical, totalitarian system which cruelly oppresses people, rules unjustly, denies the truth, and refuses to repent when its sins are pointed out. He wants us to refuse to go along with them. He wants us to COME OUT FROM AMONG THEM -- even if it means being disfellowshipped, cast out, so that we lose our former friends, acquaintances, jobs, positions, titles, or whatever!
Can we see that truth?
Let’s Get Our Balance!
God Himself will look after us, and take care of us -- we don't have to fear. God wants us to draw closer to Him, by studying His Word, and learning of Him. He will reveal to us the precious Word of God, and His secrets, through our personal fellowship directly with Him and Christ!
What could be more wonderful?
God is the "helper of the helpless" (Psalm 10:14,TLB). He will take care of us. He will defend the oppressed, the poor, and the needy (Psalm 12:5, TLB). He is our Rock of salvation, our fortress, our tower of safety, our Deliverer and Defender, our Shield and Protection (Psalm 18:1-3).
Isn't it about time we begin to draw close to God and not men, and begin to place our trust in the mighty power of God Himself?
Have we allowed ourselves to become cut off from Him by compromising with men, and tolerating sin, and putting up with evil in the Church? Have we allowed ourselves to become contaminated with evil, infected with sin, by associating with those who blindly and stubbornly go on their wicked path, away from the purity and truth of God?
God thunders in Isaiah, “DEPART YE, DEPART YE, go ye out from thence, touch no unclean thing,- go ye out from the MIDST OF HER ("her" meaning a Church gone astray); BE YE CLEAN that bear the vessels of the Lord” (Isaiah 52:11).
This, of course, does not mean you should join up with some other Church which has also gone astray, and denies the truth of God. It means you should draw close to God Himself, through His eternal word and truth! Who else can you depend on?
When Jesus spoke some strong things to His disciples, and the multitudes began to forsake Him, He asked His own, Will ye also go away?" (John 6:67).
They were walking with the Son of God, Himself. They were not fellowshipping with a Church which was going astray, down the primrose path of destruction, heading for massive tribulation and grief and woe and traumatic suffering!
Peter answered Christ. “Lord, to whom shall we so? thou hast the words of eternal life. And we believe and are sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God” (John 6:68-69).
Peter hit the nail right on the head. They were with Christ Himself. We can have no greater Fellowship dm that! As John the apostle wrote, “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ” (I John 1:3).
ABIDE in Christ
We can be joined to a Church, and yet cut off from Christ! We can be joined to Christ, and yet have no direct fellowship with a particular Church!
Jesus put it this way. He said, "I am the true vine, and my Father is the husbandman. Every branch in me that beareth not fruit he taketh away: and every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth (prunes) it, that it may bring forth more fruit.
"Now ye are clean through the word which I have spoken unto you. ABIDE IN ME, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine; no more can ye, except ye abide in me.
"I am the vine, ye are the branches: HE THAT ABIDETH IN ME, and I in him, the same bringeth forth MUCH FRUIT -- for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned" (John l5:1-6).
My friends and brethren, this is the true Fellowship which we all need -- desperately, daily, continually -- fellowship with Christ and with the Father, through earnest, prevailing prayer and daily diligent study and pouring over the very Words of God.
These words of God must "abide in us." We must make them a part of us. We must memorize, learn, repeat to ourselves, become engrossed in, the very humbling Words of Almighty God, which show us where we are, what we are, where we are going, and how to get there.
I know people in the Church of God who hardly ever crack open their Bible, except at Church. I know people who have never bothered to memorize Scripture, and have not taught their children to do so. They are putting their trust in the Church, just like the people did who followed the Pharisees in the days of Christ.
Consider the consequences. When Christ came, the Pharisees did not recognize Him. Neither did their followers. When the Pharisees rejected Him, they did too. Those who did recognized Christ they cast out of the Church (John 12:42). When the man who was born blind was healed by Christ, and admitted it to the Pharisees, they even cast him out of the Church (John 9:34).
These are very serious matters. God wants you to be holy, as He is holy. You cannot accomplish that if you are putting the words of men before the word of God!
May God give you the wisdom to understand!