To this day, government remains a divisive issue. Many people watched as "one-man government" tore apart all that was built up over many decades in the Worldwide Church of God, and many promised they'd never let any man rule over them again. Many remember being completely mistreated by ministers, deacons, evangelists and so on who were many times overstepping their bounds and misusing the office God gave them. From that perspective, the decisions to play it safe with government or to just stay away from it altogether seem totally justified. Other men seemed resolved to grasp onto their power and rule even more hard-headedly... er, hard-handedly over their followers.
I was old enough when the church split up to understand some of the problems with Worldwide but I was too young to remember or ever know what we once were and how we had dove to such depths spiritually over time. Sure, I heard plenty of the horror stories about church areas, Ambassador College, Headquarters and some of the leading men in the church. I don't think anybody doubts it anymore... GOD split up His church for our many trespasses against Him in the same way He scattered Israel. These stories I heard made me sick, and yet for some reason, I wasn't completely shocked by them. After all, these leaders were human.
There were times where I didn't like the fact that some men felt the need to reiterate over and over again that they were in charge. I felt like if you were in charge, people would want to follow you. Don't get me wrong, I have no problems with people being in a leadership position... I usually get along with bosses, ministers, my own parents, older folks, etc. I was taught respect as a child.
But what irked me even more were people that started to show disrespect to the leadership. I watched as many of the church brethren I knew as they began to mock Mr. Armstrong and every other minister they could lay into. Then they started in, if they already weren't, on the President, Congressmen and other political figures. Some of my thoughts on government really got jumpstarted when I had to give an Attack speech in Spokesman's Club on how God's people are to respect, follow and obey ALL forms of leadership. I found this to be true all over the Bible. Obedience to leaders is the same as obedience to God. He places all in power and He removes them, too. Soon these brethren's opinions seemed to scream so loud that I rarely heard a single godly phrase come out of their mouths anymore. Just gossip and mudslinging... And these were the people still attending one of the branches of God's church! Yes, there are false leaders and we need to be careful, but we can't immediately assume anyone we don't agree with is one. Judge by fruits rather than by sight and opinion alone.
Now I saw why some men were having to assert their leadership; no one would follow God's true servants anymore. "I don't like him or his style, therefore he's a false minister!" People used to mock the Two Trees sermon that Mr. Armstrong reportedly gave a hundred million times near the end of his life. I wouldn't know, I was 7 when he died. The irony there was that a major point of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was it represented how fleshly carnality behaved vs. the Tree of Life being God's way. We choose one or the other. Romans 8:7, the great baptism scripture, states that the carnal mind is at war against the Holy Spirit, both trying to take over our mind. Carnality, in essence, is mankind wanting to do what's right in his own eyes (I Cor. 2-3), it's my decision, my way. God's way is choosing to follow Him and His commandments. The choice is following who we want vs. following who God has placed over the church to lead.
I found some old booklets from Dr. Hoeh, one entitled How Far Does Church Government Extend Into Your Life? In one section titled "You Must Decide Whether This is God's Church", he writes:
We must first of all come to a knowledge of where God's teaching is.
We must find those whom GOD has sent. Unless we have found those whom God has sent, how are we going to know that what is preached is true?
In today's church climate, this would seem to involve taking what we know to be the "truth" and searching for someone preaching that. However, many end up looking for someone who is fascinating to them, someone whose preaching stirs them to action, or someone who preaches and agrees with their own version of God's truth and government (Judges 18, for example). In other words, they allow themselves to be deceived by their pride or what they want to hear!
Everyone in the church learned at a different rate, meaning that all are at different places in spiritual growth. Some are new in the faith and some are more spiritually mature. How does God handle this disparity in understanding? Government! Dr. Hoeh writes more:
How, then, does God regulate those things which we must do together IN UNITY if we do not all grow spiritually at the same rate? How are we going to have unity in the Church if as individuals we cannot all understand all things alike without assistance? The answer is that we must be led, governed, ruled by the government of God -- guided by Him into truth!
...But how were they to know what was right in God's eyes? The answer is that God set rule and authority in His Church to determine the difficult matters for the people. We read of this rule and authority specifically in Acts 7:35.
Notice how the people in the Old Testament Church first regarded God's government, His rule and authority. "This Moses whom they refused, saying, Who made thee a ruler and a judge? the same did God send to be a ruler and a deliverer by the hand of
the angel which appeared to him in the bush." I want you to notice. The people did not accept God's government through Moses. They were carnal.
The degree to which individuals accept God's government is illustrative of the degree to which they are converted and changed from their natural carnal mindedness to the mind of God and the Spirit of God. When people say, "Well, I think I ought
to decide this for myself," when it is not their decision, they are merely illustrating carnal mindedness. And to be carnal minded is death. Rather than taking our version of the truth and finding a church or minister to follow, we need to use these following guidelines, supplied by Dr. Hoeh, to find GOD'S Church:
The first thing that all of us must do is to decide whether or not THIS IS GOD'S CHURCH. We must come to know where God's Church is. The Church of God has been given a commission. Jesus said He will be with us always, even to the end, or consummation, of this age. We know that the Church that God uses is one in which CHRIST IS. It is the Church which fulfills the commission of Christ, not some other mission. It preaches the Kingdom of God, not a social gospel... It is the Church which yields itself to all the Scripture. A Church which obeys God and which has Jesus Christ as its Head and living in its members.
After we have found God's Church using these principles, we submit to His authority and those He has placed in charge - no ifs, ands or buts about it. If we truly have faith, God will correct those who are walking errantly, including YOU and I!
How should God's church's government be ran? Like the US military? NO! Mr. Ray Clore gave an excellent sermon about the detriments of governmental styles such as democracies and military rule. I won't go into all of them here, but on the military side, he stated that those under such strict "do as I say NOW, Mister!" ruling will generally have little faith, little knowledge, little confidence, and they will lack the ability to make sound judgment or decisions. Why? Because someone has always told them what to do! They will be more likely do as a leader says and if/when it should fail, they will only blame the leader for their lack of success. They will not lift a finger without getting special dispensation from the minister.
God's government is a familial government. One in which, yes, there is one man in charge, but his chief concern is the well-being of the family. He cannot be challenged on his final ruling, but his final ruling will take into account everyone's thoughts, ideas, opinions and counsel. He rules first and foremost from God's Word and commandments. This leader will seek wise counsel and learn to become wiser and more knowledgeable. Sometimes, his mind will be subject to change. He will listen to his followers, like a father would his children, and go along with their ideas from time to time to empower them and help them become more independent and to build character. He is loving, caring, gentle, kind, patient, generous, faithful, peaceloving and zealous. He always does what's best for all the sheep. He does not have favorites. He sees people by their fruits, that is, their actions and deeds, and gently but firmly chastens and rebukes those who are stubborn. He judges righteously.
This style is so different than what many saw in certain times and areas in Worldwide. But it did exist. From many who were close to him, Mr. Armstrong was this way. Those who didn't know him perhaps think otherwise. Many times, this is simply a reflection of their own character they put on him. As of late, I have personally seen more and more men growing in the attitude of a loving father in our church. I have seen the bossy, rude, selfish, truly power-hungry men storm off and some are long gone, along with brethren of the same attitude. The further away one crawls from the trunk of the tree, the closer they get to the nuts. The same applies here, I believe.
Those who believe we only need to show love and encouragement obviously have brats for children. Children need boundaries, just as we brethren in the church do. Think about it... My father ordered me at an early age to say "Yes sir" and "Thank you" when I was being selfish and ungrateful. Was I respectful and thankful upon being ordered back then? No... But I became that way by doing those things. The same goes for how God's ministers set rules and guidelines and traditions in the church today. Spiritually new people hear the "do this" and "do that" and by their faith, they should do so. To not do so and question shows our carnal nature. Once we do so, we see over time why we were told to do so. If we're still confused, then do as I did as an annoying 5-year old kid: ask why! As it becomes part of our habit and nature to obey God's word through His church, we begin hearing those same commands in a different way and see deeper into the messages being given... The explanations become more plain and obvious to us. We begin to understand at God's level rather than at a carnal level. We see that by simply doing what God tells us through the Bible and his ministers, we always seem to end up better off than we were otherwise. If not, then perhaps it is time to check our attitude. Do we question decisions by our ministers? If so, what are we trying to prove to Whom??
When I was taking my philosophy class in college, I could totally see this being interpreted as brainwashing. I know better. I choose to follow God's way. He sets before us life and death. "Therefore, CHOOSE LIFE!" God commands. At any point, we can walk away. And at that point, we choose to walk down the path that leads to death. As I read from Genesis to Revelation, I always see God stating that there is no other way than His way that we can and should live. When people don't, to the degree that they know better, He punishes them. When they do, great blessings come. This applied to the priests, the prophets, the kings, the apostles, ministers, deacons and us lay people. His will is set out, it does not change. It is our job to follow it.
Anyway, I highly recommend Dr. Hoeh's booklet on government. You can find it here.