December 18, 2001
Dear Norman Edwards:
This is in response to your letter to hierarchical COG organizations. I briefly mentioned your letter to Roderick C. Meredith and he said I could respond to it on his behalf if I wished. For the record, I should probably start off by saying that I did not show Dr. Meredith the letter or mention most of the questions to him, nor am I on the payroll of the Living Church of God (LCG), nor do I hold any ordained position. Your questions will be in italics as well as some of your more relevant comments.
1. Do not the members of your own church organization prove that the Eternal does not always govern through the top down?...church government would be cleaned up by God Himself...no group has any "signs" which make it obviously "the one"...no media outreach anything like the WCG...they (LCG members) disobeyed the man appointed by Herbert Armstrong.
Not exactly. The Bible teaches that although we are to submit to secular (I Peter 2:13-14) and non-secular human governments (I Timothy 5:17; Hebrews 13:7), "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29). In case of any conflict, the Bible teaches we must individually do what is right. The Global Church of God (GCG) was formed only a three months after WCG released its "God Is" booklet and we feel that God was making it clearer for His people who saw that J. Tkach was teaching apostasy that there was a place to go. Both Herbert Armstrong and the Apostle Paul taught, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (I Corinthians 11:1). We are not to imitate areas of anyone's sins, nor are we to put up with false doctrine (Ephesians 4:14). The same Paul who wrote, "Remember those who have the rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you" (Hebrews 13:7) also wrote, "But even if we or an angel from heaven preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:8). Our members knew they were not to obey the lawless teachings of another gospel from J. Tkach, and it matters not who appointed him.
Jesus taught His people, "Therefore by their fruits you will know them" (Matthew 7:20) and that, "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also" (6:21) . LCG spends approximately the same percentage of its income to proclaim the Gospel as WCG did under Herbert Armstrong (I verified this personally with Fred Dattolo who worked in WCG's and LCG's accounting departments); I do not believe that this can be said about the other large COGs (but you can check with them if you wish). With currently about 137 television stations and 9 radio stations broadcasting Tomorrow's World, LCG probably has the largest media outreach of any COG. And while many of those stations are cable-access, LCG has about the same ratio of telephone responses per church attendee to its telecast as WCG used to have to The World Tomorrow. LCG's new baptism (those who were never part of WCG) to telephone respondent ratio is nearly three times as high as WCG's used to be. GCG/LCG has had more baptisms of who previously had not attended any COG than any other group that I am aware of.
We believe that LCG has been most consistent in doctrine and practice to WCG when Herbert Armstrong was alive than any other group we are aware of, so in that way you could say that LCG is "the one". The more people in the COGs that support us, the more extensive our media outreach should become--any who do criticize us for our total impact in this area, but do not support us, should understand that.
LCG has prayed and fasted for some of the other miraculous signs you alluded to which we believe God will grant when it suits His time table (there are some few COG groups which claim to have had direct supernatural revelation now, but suffice it to say that my research into them questions that the 'revelations' were from God).
2a. There are members who left WCG, joined another WCG split-off, then joined your group, Are not these members proof that these other split-off groups are part of the Church of God and therefore brethren? Does your group automatically rebaptize or discipline former WCG members...? Or do you welcome them with open arms?
While we cannot speak for all the 'split-off' groups, we do believe that there are Church of God members, our brethren, who fellowship in other groups. If some who were once part of various COG groups attend with us, we do not automatically baptize them. I know in our videogroup we welcome them with open arms, and that is the position of LCG.
2.b. But if you consider people in other groups as brethren, then why don't you encourage your members to fellowship with these brethren, share joint activities, and services, etc.?...If your group is truly and obviously doing the most significant work of God now, would not the intermixing of brethren cause more of them to see your group and begin to attend it? Or are you afraid that your members will continue to check your teaching against Scripture...?
We encourage our members to check the scriptures to "prove all things" as Paul taught, thus we are not afraid of them looking into their Bibles. In keeping with the admonition to not forsake the assembling of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25), I personally have attended with UCG on many occasions when I travel and there has been no LCG group in the area. This is consistent with what the Apostle Paul did as well (except he visited Jewish synagogues), as well as the practices of the old WCG (where CG7 was considered an option for travelers).
However, we have differences in doctrine and practice with the other COGs, and cannot blanketedly condone their teachings as appropriate. The Bible itself has many lessons and warnings about false teachers, and warns the leadership to protect against that (e.g. Acts 20:28-30). It even shows that some teachers called of God do not understand everything as well as they should (e.g. Acts 18:24-26); so why should our members intentionally be exposed to some we feel are in that category? Amos also wrote, "Can two walk together unless they are agreed?". And Solomon, "Whatsoever thy hand finds to do, do it with your might", thus assuming they agree with LCG, we feel that it is not appropriate for our members to regularly fellowship outside LCG.
If LCG members regularly attend non-LCG services, we believe that this gives credence to a current misconception that all the COG groups are about the same. We believe our members set a better example for those in other COGs by regularly attending with LCG. We have no prohibition with our members meeting or having activities with individuals in other COGs (unless they have been specifically disfellowshiped or some other specific problem may be involved). Peter said that we are to "grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:16) and believe that regular attendance at LCG services best helps accomplish this goal. We believe that those who are looking for doctrinal consistency and the practice of placing the top priority on proclaiming the Gospel will be led to find LCG.
2.c. Why do you continue the sectarianism that Paul spoke against? (I Cor 1:10-17;3:1-10). How do you explain this to new converts that come into your group?
It is somewhat shocking that you would ask that first question as you recently wrote "Mr. Pack and I perform the same service for many former WCG members: We both teach against hierarchical government" (Servant's News May/June 2001, p.18). Proper hierarchical governance does a better job than what you advocate to insure that "you all speak the same thing, that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (I Corinthians 1:10). We do not claim to be 'of Meredith' or any other man. We believe that the major work is being done in LCG and that Dr. Meredith is the human head of that group.
As far as new members are concerned, we believe in Church eras and believe that rejection of governance may be one of the signs of a Laodicean attitude (as term Laodicea seems to mean the 'people rule', 'people decide', or 'rights of the people'). We believe that LCG has picked up the 'Philadelphia mantle'. The other COGs that are accepted by God fall into various eras and God can determine which.
The Philadelphians accept that "Christ is head of the church" (Ephesians 5:23), and accept authority within the Church: "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head--Christ" (Ephesians 4:11-15). I am aware that you interpret that scripture differently that how we do, so I have simply quoted it so that those who have an ear to hear can hear it.
Here is a quote from the Living Church News on LCG and Philadelphia, "Mr. Armstrong wrote that he restored to the Church of God at least 18 truths that the previous era had lost (Mystery of the Ages, p. 251). Philadelphians are the ones who hold to those truths (as well as all other biblical truths)-including governance-and will be able to have a crown and to rule! Philadelphians have "kept My command to persevere" (Revelation 3:10). Holding fast to Truth, while putting a priority on proclaiming the Gospel, is what sets the Philadelphian Church apart...The Living Church of God cannot claim that all its members are Philadelphian, but we do believe we are a uniquely Philadelphian remnant. Can one find a larger or more effective "corporate body" which retains the Truth as taught by Mr. Armstrong, without adding non-biblical "revelations" or diverting its members from making their top priority the Great Commission of proclaiming the Gospel as established by Jesus Christ? No! One can expect that Philadelphians, who care about doing an effective Work and holding fast to the Truth, will naturally support the Living Church of God " (Thiel, Robert. What is a Philadelphian? Living Church News. Jul-Aug 2001; p.15).
Although we believe that, due to confusion and misreporting over the last years, there are some Philadelphians in other fellowships, we believe that the largest remnant of the Philadelphians fellowship with LCG. I should add LCG teaches that just being a member of LCG does not make one a 'Philadelphian' and that we undoubtedly have some 'Laodiceans' in our midst.
3. Is it possible that Christ intended to end Herbert Armstrong's work?
Perhaps it would wisest to first look at what Herbert Armstrong himself wrote on this matter, "God has given his Church dual responsibility: 1) 'Go ye into all the world' and proclaim the good news--announcement--of the coming kingdom of God. 2) 'Feed my sheep'. But in feeding the 'sheep', developing in them God's spiritual character, God has given them their part in supporting, backing up, the great commission: 'Go ye in into all the world' "(Mystery of the Ages, p.265). "From the year 1931, exactly 1,900 years (a century of time cycles) from the foundation of the Church, this small remnant of the original true Church of God began to take on new life as the Philadelphia era This era of the Church was to produce fruit " (Mystery of the Ages, pp. 289-290). "But Christ said to His Philadelphia era Church, that because we have but little strength, He would OPEN THOSE DOORS TO US (Revelation 3:8)" (Letter, Nov. 19, 1976). "It may be that the Work that God has given me to do is complete, but not the Work of God's Church, which will be faithfully doing God's Work till Christ, the True Head of this Church, returns...Remember brethren, this is not the work of Herbert W. Armstrong...The greatest work lies ahead...Never before in the history of the Church has it been possible to reap so great a harvest. It has only been made possible through modern technology, beginning with the printing press, radio, television...Each of you must commit yourself to support God's Work...God's work must push ahead as never before. God is opening up new doors in television" (Letter, 1/10/86).
And to be sure that this portion of the work would continue after he died, Herbert Armstrong insured that there were others designated to continue to make television programs after his death. One of those was evangelist Richard Ames, who remains faithful to this mission to this day, as he is still making television programs to proclaim the Gospel! Another evangelist who was preaching the Gospel in the French language over radio while Mr. Armstrong was alive, Dibar Apartian, continues to preach it to this day. When I asked him if Mr. Armstrong told him to stop doing this in the event of his death, Mr. Apartian responded, "To the contrary, he told me he wanted me to go on more stations". This concept is confirmed by Mr. Armstrong in his third to last letter, "I thank God that he has organized this present work of his so thoroughly that regardless of the outcome of my present illness, the work will continue right on to the Second Coming of Christ" (Letter dated 12/23/85). Thus it seems clear that Mr. Armstrong felt that he was the leader of the Philadelphia era, but that if he died prior to the time of the end, that he considered that his work was done, but that the Church should continue to preach the gospel to the world!
We agree with those writings by Herbert Armstrong as the Living Church of God believes, "the primary function of the true Church of God is to GO to all nations and preach the same powerful message Jesus preached about the coming Kingdom of God!" (Meredith, Roderick C. Should You Be Baptized? Booklet. 1999; p. 17).
However, in your question you specifically asked about Christ. The best way to address that would seem to be to look to scripture:
"When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left...Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?' Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me' " (Matthew 25:31-33, 44-46). These are people who said they would have done the work if they understood that is what Jesus wanted, however they did not minister to those Jesus wanted them to minister to.
"And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached to all the world for a witness unto all nations; and then the end shall come" (Matthew 24:14). I would like to emphasize that THE END HAS NOT YET COME so we should not give up early! Scripture indicates that Jesus also does not want us to give up early, "Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. Who then is a faithful and wise servant, whom his master made ruler over his household, to give them food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master, when he comes, will find so doing" (Matthew 24:44-46).
I should probably add that one person argued with me that since Jesus does not return until after the place of safety, that this verse does not mean we need to proclaim the Gospel now--how does this person know what work may be done in the place of safety? And since it is likely that many of God's people will die before then, for them, the Master could come anytime; also LCG's teaching is that we do go to a place of safety at the time of the end. James wrote, "Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe--and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?" (James 2:18-20). Thus it would seem more logical that the work should continue to be done now. Remember it was Jesus who also said, "I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work" (John 9:4); it is still 'day', which means we are to do the work as long as we possibly can.
Jesus had a few comments for those who felt it was not time to do the work, "Jesus said to them, "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. Do you not say, 'There are still four months and then comes the harvest'? Behold, I say to you, lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest! And he who reaps receives wages, and gathers fruit for eternal life, that both he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together. For in this the saying is true: 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors." " (John 4:34-38). Jesus also taught, "You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit" (John 15:16).
Some have claimed the work began under Herbert Armstrong is through, because it was only to be done by an apostle and since LCG does not claim to have any apostles, we should not do the work. Jesus, however, sent non-apostles out to heal the sick and preach about the Kingdom of God (Luke 10:1-12). God used a deacon (Stephen), one who was only supposed to serve tables, to get His message out and even get a vision from God (Acts 6-7). "As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word" (Acts 8:3-4), those everywhere preaching were not just apostles. Interestingly, Paul started preaching (Acts 9:19-20) BEFORE he was made an apostle (Acts 13:2). Timothy was an evangelist (II Timothy 4:5) and not an apostle (II Corinthians 2:1), yet Paul wrote, "Now if Timothy comes, see that he may be with you without fear; for he does the work of the Lord, as I also do" (I Corinthians 16:10) and "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season" (II Timothy 4:2). There simply is no biblical restriction that preaching the Gospel must be limited to apostles.
Some independents and other COG groups claim that they do not need to place a priority on proclaiming the Gospel of the kingdom to the world as witness, because they claim they are tasked primarily with 'feeding the flock'.
"But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves" (James 1:22). Jesus said, "And as you go, preach, saying, 'The kingdom of heaven is at hand.' Heal the sick, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, cast out demons. Freely you have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:7-8). He did not say to stop giving after He died, to the contrary He taught, "And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, 'All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you and lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age' " (Matthew 28:18-20). Notice that Jesus told the disciples to do both, as Mr. Armstrong also wrote, but to first go to all the nations.
Philadelphians need to keep preaching to the world until the end comes, since they will be around until the end comes (Revelation 3:10).
4. The New Testament shows that Christ and His Apostles spent much time answering difficult questions from Pharisees, heretics and sometimes brethren. What will you do?
I have done so here. Regarding the New Testament, let's read what Paul told Timothy on this matter, "I urged you...that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause dispute rather than godly edification which is from faith" (I Timothy 1:3-4); he also told Titus "there are many insubordinate" (Titus 1:10). I assume that when you sent this letter, you did not intend to change your mind on 'hierarchical governments', but I do hope that perhaps some of your readership will realize that if they choose to support LCG, that LCG is serious about getting the Gospel out, and that our form of governance has been more effective than others to do what we are doing.
It should be added that part of the problem in addressing your points is that you seem to have your own ideas about how 'hierarchical organizatons' are to handle governance, etc. In my response I have NOT attempted to address issues you may raise about the answers provided. To some degree, I question the wisdom of answering some of them, but since I told you I would, I have tried to do so to at least keep my word. Also Paul wrote, "But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those in who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth" (II Timothy 2:23-25).
The sad fact is that my answers will probably not change the mindset of those who are against COGs with 'hierarchical governments'. It is my hope that those who once claimed to believe in 'hierarchical governance' and believed that the Church's top priority was to proclaim the Gospel, will begin to understand that LCG is the COG group which is closest in doctrine and practice to WCG when Herbert Armstrong was alive, and will be willing to support us as we try to help humanity.Sincerely,
Robert J. Thiel