Statement of Fundamental Beliefs -
GOD'S FORM OF CHURCH GOVERNMENT
Correct Church Government is Vital
The religions of this world are confused about almost every major doctrine in the Bible. It should be no surprise that they are also confused about the biblical form of Church government.
Yet the biblical form of Church government is absolutely vital in identifying where Christ is working, and in teaching members of God's Church the important lessons of correct government. After all, true Christians are preparing to rule- under Christ-the cities and nations of this entire world. Therefore, learning about right government and the experience of practicing that form of government is crucial in the development of the future kings and priests who will soon be given that responsibility when Christ returns!
Also, it is vital that we all understand how wrong it is for "every Tom, Dick and Harry" to rush off to start his own church, whether or not he is in any way qualified! Mr. Herbert Armstrong used to explain this very carefully and thoughtfully. He would often quote Hebrews 5:4, "And no man takes this honor to himself, but he who is called by God, just as Aaron was." Throughout His inspired word, God is very specific in condemning men's efforts to "ordain themselves"-or appoint themselves to some job in the ministry!
Perhaps the most dramatic example of this is the situation involving Korah and the "two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, representatives of the congregation, men of renown" (Numbers 16:1-2). As we see in verse 3, these men tried to exalt themselves, and indicated that they should be able to take the job of leadership over the congregation "just like" Moses and Aaron. So Moses said, "and are you seeking the priesthood also" (v. 10). Obviously, God knew the hearts of these men-and knew that Moses was correct in his assessment. These men were trying to take over the leadership, even though God had clearly appointed Moses and Aaron to that responsibility.
God dramatically gave us a powerful lesson when "the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men with Korah, with all their goods. So they and all those with them went down alive into the pit; the earth closed over them, and they perished from among the assembly" (vv. 32-33). We should all study Numbers 16, and learn the lesson that none is to "appoint" himself as a minister-or spiritual "priest"- apart from God using those He has already put into the ministry to do the appointing or ordaining.
As most of you know, Mr. Armstrong was ordained by the Sardis era Church of God back in 1931. I was ordained personally by Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong-along with four others as an evangelist of Jesus Christ on December 20, 1952 in front of the entire Headquarters congregation at Ambassador College in Pasadena. I did not try to "appoint" myself, but when the apostasy began in the late 1980s I simply carried on as an "evangelist"-the office to which Mr. Armstrong had appointed me.
All of us need to understand that practicing correct Church government is a matter of faith in Christ! For the Bible is very clear that God does guide His Church, overall, in spite of occasional human errors, and we must trust Christ to do His job! No one should try to "appoint himself" to the ministry or to take an office Christ has not given him!
Remember, following correct Church government involves faith that Jesus Christ is alive and doing His job. But in today's society, most people place great value on democratic government, because that is currently the most popular form of government in much of the Western world. But will democracy be the inspired form of government after Christ's return? Remember that Jesus Christ "is the same yesterday, today, and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). What form of government did He always lead His true servants to follow- in both Old and New Testaments? And what kind of government will be followed in the soon-coming Kingdom of God?
Jesus stated, "It is written, 'Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word of God'" (Luke 4:4). Are we willing to open our minds and hearts and see the biblical approach to Church government? God says, "'For all those things My hand has made, and all those things exist,' says the LORD. 'But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word'" (Isaiah 66:2). Will you fear and tremble before God's word, and determine to be absolutely sure that your church is following the biblical form of government?
The Gospel and Our Future Calling
Scripture clearly describes the true gospel: "Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, 'The time is ful- Living Church News March-April 2008 filled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel'" (Mark 1:14-15). God's people should realize that Jesus was talking about a literal kingdom-or government-that would be set up on earth when He returned. We remember that, after Jesus' resurrection, His disciples asked Him, "Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?" Here Jesus had a marvelous opportunity to disabuse them of the idea of a literal government if God's form of government was not a kingdom.
But what was Jesus' answer? "It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority" (Acts 1:7).
Throughout the New Testament, the Bible tells us that during the Millennium the true "saints" will help Christ in administering the literal government of God over this earth (Revelation 2:26; 5:9-10). Paul was inspired to write, "Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world will be judged by you, are you unworthy to judge the smallest matters? Do you not know that we shall judge angels? How much more, things that pertain to this life?" (1 Corinthians 6:2-3).
Remember, Paul made these statements because some of the Corinthian brethren were going to law against other brethren! Paul reminded them that we are now in training to judge the world, so we ought to be learning to practice that judgment in God's Church today! Paul exhorted, "If then you have judgments concerning things pertaining to this life, [why] do you appoint those who are least esteemed by the church to judge? I say this to your shame. Is it so that there is not a wise man among you, not even one, who will be able to judge between his brethren?" (vv. 4-5). Yes, God's people need training to administer His kind of government. We need to understand and practice the very kind of government we will be responsible for carrying out during the Millennium.
Yet, in making this judgment about the young man caught in incest, Paul wrote, "For I indeed, as absent in body but present in spirit, have already judged (as though I were present) him who has so done this deed" (1 Corinthians 5:3). Although Paul must have had detailed information, and probably also received counsel from the other leaders of the Church, he had the authority to disfellowship this blatant sinner. Obviously, Paul was not seeking permission from any committees or "boards" of men to carry out this action!
As future kings and priests, God's people should be learning to practice and administer the very form of government they will be administering over the cities and the nations of this earth in a few years!
God's Government in the Old Testament
The nation of Israel was also called "the congregation in the wilderness" (Acts 7:38). How did God inspire this church-state body to be governed? Notice this instruction, which Jethro gave under inspiration from the One who became Jesus Christ: "Moreover you shall select from all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness; and place such over them to be rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds, rulers of fifties, and rulers of tens. And let them judge the people at all times. Then it will be that every great matter they shall bring to you, but every small matter they themselves shall judge. So it will be easier for you, for they will bear the burden with you" (Exodus 18:21-22).
So God led Moses to appoint dedicated men to these responsibilities. Certainly, much counsel, thought and fervent prayer must have been involved. There was no "politicking"-and no voting!
Later, God led King David of Israel-the "man after God's own heart" (Acts 13:22)-to use the same form of government (2 Samuel 18:1). Remember that in the soon-coming resurrection, David will be back in his same job as king of all Israel (Jeremiah 30:9). And then-understanding more fully the spirit of the law-King David will again govern the people using God's laws. "David My servant shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd; they shall also walk in My judgments and observe My statutes, and do them" (Ezekiel 37:24).
It is clear that God's government was, throughout the Old Testament-as it will be in God's soon-coming Kingdom here on Earth-a hierarchical government with direction from God through the leaders under Him directing His people. Scripture does not record any exceptions to this practice receiving God's blessing.
Remember that the Being who emptied Himself to become our Savior was the God of the Old Testament. "And all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them, and that Rock was Christ" (1 Corinthians 10:4). The author of Hebrews tells us: "Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever" (Hebrews 13:8). So, it should be obvious that Christ does not keep "switching" His form of government in directing His people through the ages.
Church Government in the New Testament
Throughout the New Testament, we find the living Christ directing His servants to follow the same pattern of government that He had inspired over the previous 1,500 years. Jesus Himself set the example. "Now it came to pass in those days that He went out to the mountain to pray, and continued all night in prayer to God. And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles" (Luke 6:12-13).
Here, Jesus gives us a powerful example. A true servant of God must pray fervently and seek God's will-not his own! And yet, in the end, such a leader should make the decisions involved in directing the affairs of God's Church. There were never any "boards" or committees directing Jesus, Peter, James, John or Paul, telling them what to do. After much thought, and then fervent prayer to the Father throughout the night, Jesus then chose the twelve apostles.
In the book of Acts, we find that Paul selected Timothy to assist him in the ministry. So, "He took him and circumcised him" and began to train him (Acts 16:3). Later, we find Timothy was an "evangelist" (2 Timothy 4:5).
Along the way, Paul described to Timothy the qualifications one should consider before ordaining anyone (1 Timothy 3:1-13). Then he warned Timothy, "Do not lay hands on anyone hastily, nor share in other people's sins; keep yourself pure" (1 Timothy 5:22). What is clear from this warning, and from all these examples, is that Timothy, working with authority delegated by Paul, did not need the approval of any "board" or committee.
The pattern of government in the early inspired Church is very clear in Titus 1:5-9, "For this reason I left you in Crete, that you should set in order the things that are lacking, and appoint elders in every city as I commanded you, if a man is blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of dissipation or insubordination. For a bishop must be blameless, as a steward of God, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but hospitable, a lover of what is good, sober-minded, just, holy, selfcontrolled, holding fast the faithful word as he has been taught, that he may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict."
The letter to Titus begins, "Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ." Putting this together with verse 5, three basic points become clear:
Christ was the Head of Paul, His apostle.
Under the leadership of the living Jesus Christ, Paul had authority to direct the activities of Titus, an evangelist, and also to give him instructions on how to carry out his responsibilities.
Titus, responsible to Christ overall and to Paul especially in administrative matters, had authority to "appoint elders" within the guidelines set by Paul-not by any board of men.
This clear pattern of government is evident throughout the entire New Testament. The overall Headship of Christ is stressed again and again. But it is also made clear that Christ Himself has established important offices in the Church of God for the sake of unity: "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" (Ephesians 4:11-13).
It should also be very clear that the living Christ has always directed each phase of His Work primarily through one man at a time. Moses directed different phases of God's Work within the Israel of his day, and after him Joshua, then Samuel, then others. God indicates that He primarily used the Apostle Peter to direct the Work to the Jews, and the Apostle Paul to direct the Work to the Gentile world: "But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised" (Galatians 2:7-9).
The above scripture shows that although Barnabas was an apostle, and James and John were "pillars"-certainly leading apostles-the Gospel to the circumcision had been committed to Peter's overall direction. This division of responsibilities between Peter and Paul was necessary- at that time-because of the truly huge differences and antagonisms between the Gentile and the Jewish peoples of that day, and also because of geographical considerations and the lack of instant worldwide communication.
Today, such a division of responsibilities is not necessary, since we can have almost instant contact with people around the world via the Internet, telephones, fax machines and other means of communication. These modern tools enabled the vast majority of God's people to be "one" under the inspired leadership of God's servant, Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong. Christ guided and blessed His Work in that unified way for more than 50 years! To deny that would be to deny reality.
Misguided people often seize on several common examples to try to contradict the clear pattern of government God reveals in His word. One of these is the idea that in Acts 1:20-26, Matthias was chosen to replace Judas by a form of voting!
The above idea is clearly unscriptural, and some may hold it partly through ignorance of the Old Testament practice of appealing to God for a decision through the Urim and Thummim. Notice the context of this matter: after finding two dedicated men who met the qualifications of having been with Christ from the beginning of His ministry all the way to His resurrection, the apostles then appealed to God to make the decision between these two, "And they prayed and said, 'You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.' And they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was numbered with the eleven apostles" (Acts 1:24-26).
Notice this reference from The New Bible Commentary: Revised- "'And they cast lots'. Deliberate selection and prayer played their parts in this appointment as well as the lot. The lot was a sacred institution in ancient Israel and was a well established means for ascertaining the divine will (cf. Pr. 16:33), being in fact the principle of decision by Urim and Thummim. This is the first and last occasion of the employment of the lot by [during] the period between the ascension and Pentecost; Jesus had gone, and the Holy Spirit had not yet come."
Besides showing that this was an appeal to God's will before the Holy Spirit had come, it is significant that this was the last time the apostles cast lots. Once the Holy Spirit came, the living Christ-through God's Spirit-would guide His faithful ministers in all major decisions.
Some also read the practice of politics and voting into the appointment of deacons as described in Acts 6. Yet one need only look carefully at the scriptural context to see the error of that assumption. Verse 3 gives the key information: "Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business."
So the brethren were to sincerely "seek out" a number of individuals who met certain qualifications. They may have found quite a few men whose "fruits" showed wisdom and the Holy Spirit. But then, did the brethren as a whole vote on which of these men would become deacons?
Of course not! That has never been God's way at any time in human history, nor in the history of the true Church! No, the brethren did not vote. The apostles-no doubt after much counsel and prayer-appointed Stephen and the other deacons to be ordained.
Some have also misunderstood the account of the Jerusalem conference, as given in Acts 15. There certainly was an open and brotherly atmosphere in that landmark conference. There was obviously a good deal of hearty and perhaps even heated discussion among the "apostles and elders" (v. 6).
But, "And when there had been much dispute, Peter rose up and said to them: 'Men and brethren, you know that a good while ago God chose among us, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. So God, who knows the heart, acknowledged them by giving them the Holy Spirit, just as He did to us'" (vv. 7-8). Then Peter proceeded to explain God's decision to give the Gentiles the Holy Spirit without having them first become circumcised.
Afterward, Paul and Barnabas also showed how God had backed up this principle by "miracles and wonders" (v. 12). James-the presiding apostle at Jerusalem-referred to Peter's declaration, enlarged on it, and said, "Therefore I judge that we should not trouble those from among the Gentiles who are turning to God" (v. 19). So James stated the consensus judgment or decision of the leadership.
Commenting on this procedure, The New Bible Commentary: Revised states: "It seems from v. 12 ('all the assembly') that other members of the Jerusalem church were present, although deliberation and decision rested with the leaders." Again, it is obvious that there was no "voting" as such, but rather much hearty counsel from the apostles and elders. The apostolic "pillars" such as Peter and Paul made the major speeches, then James stated the final decision to which the Holy Spirit had led these dedicated men.
Much Input and COUNSEL Must Be Sought
In all the above examples, a number of people gave advice or counsel before the leaders made a decision. God clearly tells us, "The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But he who heeds counsel is wise" (Proverbs 12:15). As God's word states, "Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established" (Proverbs 15:22).
For this reason, as the founding Presiding Evangelist, I established an active Council of Elders for the Living Church of God. Council members advise me on spiritual and physical issues pertaining to the Church, its plans and its programs. Council members are encouraged to advise me openly and heartily, and I do not ask for "yes men" when we talk about problems and opportunities facing the Church. The Council meets formally at least three times each year, and I talk often with Council members outside formal meetings, to ensure that I am following Christ's guidance as best I am able, so that the Church can always be moving forward in its mission under its living Head, Jesus Christ.
A dedicated servant of the living God will always try to seek the "counsel" of at least several qualified individuals before making any major decision. Also, a true servant of God will spend much time in thoughtful, fervent prayer to God-asking for His will to be made clear-before making an important decision. We have already noted that Jesus prayed all night before choosing His twelve apostles (Luke 6:12). We remember how Paul fasted and prayed for three days in seeking God's will after being struck down on the way to Damascus (Acts 9:9-11).
Notice also this fervent seeking of God's will in the appointment of elders. "So when they had appointed elders in every church, and prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed" (Acts 14:23). Such humble, sensitive seeking of God's will should be the hallmark of all His true ministers. As long as this attitude is maintained, Jesus Christ will be there to guide His Church as its living Head (Colossians 1:18).
A key distinguishing attitude of God's true servants is that they do regard themselves as just that-servants. Finding the disciples arguing among themselves about "who is the greatest," Jesus found an opportunity to explain a very important principle. "But Jesus called them to Himself and said, 'You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His l i f e a ransom f o r many'" (Matthew 20:25-28).
All in authority in God's Church should have, and should conduct themselves with, this attitude of service. We all know that, in the past, some ministers would appoint themselves as "dictators" in their areas-trying to run the lives of the brethren even in purely personal matters. This was wrong, and is completely unjustified by Scripture! For each leader in God's Church should humbly try to serve each of the brethren in ways that help them increase their own wisdom and develop their own human potential.
Each of us should try to understand those we serve, and we should endeavor to strengthen, encourage and inspire them to be like Jesus Christ in every aspect of their lives. Only in this way can we truly "love our neighbor as ourselves."
Peter, who had been impetuous and "pushy" early in his ministry, was later inspired to write: "The elders who are among you I exhort, I who am a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that will be revealed: Shepherd the flock of God which is among you, serving as overseers, not by compulsion but willingly, not for dishonest gain but eagerly; nor as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock; and when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away" (1 Peter 5:1-4).
God clearly showed His approach to government from the very beginning, when He organized the family unit and set the husband in charge (Genesis 3:16). Yet, even here it is the living Jesus Christ to whom we should look as our ultimate Head under God the Father. "But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God" (1 Corinthians 11:3).
Notice that although there is no voting, and the husband is the undisputed head of the family unit in God's sight (Ephesians 5:23), he is still admonished to practice "servant leadership" and to serve his wife in how he leads the family (v. 25). So all of us in God's Church-and especially those in the ministry-should try to "lay down our lives" for the brethren. We all need to heed the Apostle John's inspired instruction, "By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren" (1 John 3:16).
FAITH in the Living Christ
If we have genuine faith in the living Jesus Christ as the active Head of the Church, we will quickly see and submit to His form of government in the Church. For we will look beyond men, and beyond the human foibles that we all have. We will see that Christ has anointed, with His Spirit, certain men who are preaching His full Truth and really doing His Work-and that He has promised to be there to guide and inspire those ministers in leading His Church (Matthew 28:20).
Jesus said, "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them" (Matthew 7:19-20).
So, in determining where Christ is working, and whom He is leading to walk more fully in His ways, one needs to look at the "fruits"-the results. Is the biblical form of government being followed? Is the message of the Kingdom of God being preached powerfully to the world? Is the prophetic warning of the coming Great Tribulation being proclaimed urgently to modern Israel-the Jewish people and the descendants of the so-called "Lost Ten Tribes"? Is the full Truth of God's laws and ways being taught? Are people being taught to grow in grace and knowledge, "unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ"?
When the above "fruits" are present in a church organization, one can have confidence that Christ is there and will direct its leadership. And if the leadership should turn aside-"water down" the Truth significantly, or fail to really preach the true Gospel and do the Work-then Scripture clearly instructs the brethren to cease to follow such an organization and its leadership. As Paul wrote, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1, KJV)!
Notice how the apostles answered when they were threatened and pressured to stop preaching the Gospel. "But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: "We ought to obey God rather than men" (Acts 5:29).
So, once the "fruits" are evident, it is to the living Christ we should look to lead and inspire His faithful ministers to direct the affairs of His Church in the right way. Truly dedicated Christians will have faith in this. Not faith in men, but in the living Jesus Christ!
Some may say, "But mistakes were made in the past and people were hurt by Church government! " This is exactly the kind of reasoning the people used in Samuel's day (1 Samuel 8:1-7). Many had been hurt by Samuel's sons misusing their offices. So, what did the people do? Did they cry out to God in prayer and fasting to either chasten or remove those offending persons?
No! They came to Samuel en m a s s e - l i k e a " m a r c h o n Washington"-and they demanded, "Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations" (1 Samuel 8:5).
These self-willed men were not merely demanding a redress of the current misuse of office. They demanded that the entire form of government be changed! They felt they could not trust God to direct Samuel and his sons, so they wanted a form of government more like the carnal nations around them. This would be like people today wanting democracy simply because it is the way of the world around them! And Israel has been cut off from God's direct form of government ever since! Partly because of this, the modern descendants of Israel are soon headed to doom, in the Great Tribulation!
To use a modern example, suppose a president or prime minister abuses his office, perhaps by committing adultery, perjury or larceny. Do you immediately do away with the office of the presidency or the prime ministership?
No! It never pays to "throw the baby out with the bath water!" Church leaders' human mistakes never justify going against God's entire approach to Church government and His law. Yet, when human beings find they have been in one ditch, they often leap out, run across the middle of the road, and jump into the other ditch! The answer is not in going to either extreme, but in trusting Christ to guide His Church, following the pattern of Church government as He clearly reveals it throughout the Bible.
Even back in Old Testament times, faithful men and women knew that God was responsible to guide H i s s e r v a n t s . F a i t h f u l K i n g Jehoshaphat set judges in the land and said to them, "Take heed to what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the LORD, who is with you in the judgment" (2 Chronicles 19:6). How much more will the resurrected Jesus Christ be with and guide His New Covenant ministers who are, in fact, preaching His Truth and doing His Work?
Be sure to examine very carefully the "fruits" of leaders who claim to be of God. If good fruits are clearly there, and they are practicing the principles described above, one can have faith that the Savior who died for us, and is now resurrected and seated at God the Father's right hand, can and will lead and guide them- so long as they follow His form of Church organization and government, preach His Truth and do His Work.
If you would like to receive more information or have any questions please call our Canadian Regional Office toll free at 1-800-932-4264, or (905)814-1094 within Toronto, and ask to speak with a minister.