Lately, I've been reading through the major and minor prophets. The first couple of times I read them, I thought they were pretty repetitive. God would instruct one of His prophets to tell His people their sins against Him. God gave Israel and Judah chance after chance to stop and turn back to Him. He warned them to stop creating and worshiping idols, quit the sexual immorality, partying, drinking, visiting fortune tellers, and cease the false prophesying. He threatened them with sieges and captivity time after time. Sometimes the prophets were heeded, sometimes they were thrown into the stocks or prison and sometimes they were flat out killed. This goes on and on for both Israel and Judah until each is destroyed and carried away.
In today's day and age, I listen to people discuss their beliefs as to why the Worldwide Church of God broke apart. As I've noted before, there were abuses of power, wicked men who forced their way into power, and all sorts of atrocities going on in Pasadena as well as around the world in the various church areas. Mr. Armstrong began this Church with a great deal of faith, but as the Work grew, and subsequently, the Church itself, teaching and administrating such a large group of people became extremely difficult. Yes, there were many faithful brethren. There were thousands that had attended for 10, 20, 30, 40+ years and were continuing to grow spiritually. They embodied the kind of character that Mr. Armstrong was instructed to teach and encourage in God's Church. But there was also a growing spirit of complacency as the Church grew. Many didn't live as we were called to do. They were baptized, but no real repentance seemed to take place over the long haul. Many continued to smoke, drink, party, beat their spouses, hold grudges and commit adultery and fornication. Among a growing majority, there was little repenting and acting on the message that was being preached week in and week out. For some, prayer was only fervent in times of desperation while Bible study was only done when new and interesting topics were introduced. Fasting happened once a year on Atonement. At one point late in his ministry, Mr. Armstrong had doubts that more than 10% of God's Church "got" was God was trying to accomplish through them!
Are the two subjects of ancient Israel's fall and Worldwide's collapse all that different? In both cases, here were God's people, as a whole, called for a holy purpose and not living up to that purpose over the long haul. God wanted Israel to be an example to the nations around of the kind of prosperity, peace and joy that could be had while living God's way. Similarly, we in God's Church were called to also be an example, infused with the Holy Spirit to guide us even more than Israel. We were to preach the entire Truth to as many people of the world that we could. However, just as God would also destroy Israel for their breaking of His covenant as an example to the nations around, I believe the same happened to Worldwide for our disregard of His new covenant with the Church.
It's important here to look a little deeper as to why both groups failed. Many people have come to understand that God broke apart His Church because of our transgressions. However, the actions taken by many of the groups that split off from Worldwide seem to show that there is a blurring of the lines between God's role and man's role in the whole ordeal. I have heard many say that Mr. Tkach and others weaseled their way into the top human roles of the Church by fooling Mr. Armstrong. As a result, many new churches were created with governments consisting of democracies, oligarchies and outright anarchies in order to prevent these types of events from occurring again. It's almost as if they're insinuating that these men somehow sneaked under God's nose, too!
Remember, this is still GOD'S Church! Jesus Christ is the active head! As we see from Scripture, no man assumes power in this world without God's say so. Even if men do sneak into leadership positions, God knows those men's thoughts way before their actions are played out and He has full power to allow or disallow those coups of power to occur. He also has the power to kick that man out of office. He has the power to put the right people in office should that man go astray. His timing may be different than ours, but His will is always done!
Just like ancient Israel, both the leadership and the people played their roles in separating from God. The kings and ministers should have set the right example for the whole assembly to follow God. Some did, some didn't. Likewise, every man and woman had their part to play in staying faithful regardless of what the kings or ministers decreed. This is why God commanded families to pass down the stories of the first Passover and other miracles to demonstrate God's awesome power and to build trust and faith in the Eternal. Even when Elijah felt all alone, there were still 7,000 who hadn't bowed a knee to Ba'al. Both Israel and the Church received many extra blessings and promises when they obeyed. But to those who are given much, much is expected. The Church, instead of prospering, was coming apart at the seams due to sin, corruption and complacency, like the nation of Israel, and God had to show both who was in charge!
Reading through the prophets' tales in the Bible, I try to imagine how they felt about the whole situation. Here they were, being obedient and righteous while their whole world was falling apart around them. They all prayed fervently for God to relent from His furious anger. Daniel, in chapter 9, is extremely heartfelt towards his beloved nation decades after they were in captivity. Yet even then, most of the prophets suffered right along with the people. They went through the sieges. They starved alongside everyone. They were taken captive or left in the desolate landscape that Jerusalem became after the Chaldeans scorched it to the ground. Through all of it, although exhausted and extremely unpopular, the prophets remained close to God and did as He instructed them to do, no matter how difficult. Meanwhile, evil kings, priests, prophets and the 70 elders all led the nation to their doom while the people themselves were unfaithful and sinful. No matter the warning, none were heeded.
And yet after all the failures of the nation, God did relent and restored a small remnant of His people to the Promised Land. He reinstalled the exact same Levitical priesthood and allowed a governor to rule Jerusalem again when they returned from captivity. Ezra 6:18-20 states that the priests were set in their sections and the Levites in theirs. But what's important to note is verse 20: "For the priests and Levites were purified together, all of them purified." In order to serve in this great capacity, God had to purify the new leaders, just as He did when Israel first came into the Holy Land. The people had sinned and sinned and sinned and never repented until God finally overthrew them! Then they had time to think about what they did and turn back to God. Finally, God installed His government the way it should have been to begin with.
The reason for the fall of Judah and Israel wasn't the system of government. It was the fact that the people defiled themselves! The leaders defiled themselves! They weren't pure. The PEOPLE stopped keeping their end of the covenant. And while this seems obvious on the surface, so many churches today haven't learned that God's system of government has not failed! God's Work has not changed! He has simply done what He said He would do if they weren't bearing fruit. For Israel, Ezekiel 15 says that those branches not bearing fruit would be thrown in the fire. For the Church, John 15:6 has the same warning. God never says the Church or its purpose would be cast in the fire!
Just like the prophets in ancient times, we have been specially chosen to do a job that was given to us by God the Father, Himself! It's the most important job in the world, especially at these dangerous end-times. Let's not allow feelings of betrayal destroy our sense of direction and our VISION. This job will be difficult and will contain extreme challenges as we draw closer to the great tribulation. It will require real faith in God that He is still and always in charge, and that He will see His purpose through to the end.
The prophets were called to be a witness to and against Israel and Judah. God saw these special men through their difficult jobs. Similarly, God will see us through while we proclaim His gospel of the Kingdom as a witness in all nations, and then the end shall come!