Just a few years ago a member of a small, but respected fellowship, approached its director and inquired about marrying outside the Church. He informed him that for nearly a year he had been dating a young lady he had met at his job and it had now gotten serious. He informed his pastor that although the lady was not at all interested in getting involved in the Church, she did respect his faith and that neither of them believed it would pose a problem. After counselling with both of them, his pastor agreed and offered his blessing on the marriage. He defended his position on the grounds that it was better to “marry than to burn” (1 Cor. 7:9). He then claimed the issue was an administrative decision involving Church policy not biblical doctrine.
What he failed to explain was how his decision could be reconciled with Paul’s admonition to not become unequally yoked together with unbelievers (II Cor. 6:14). Nor did he explain God’s mandate to the children of Israel to NEVER marry those of other faiths and the tragic consequences for doing so (Dt. 7:1-5). Additionally, he apparently never asked the member how someone who claims that God is first in his life would ever join himself together with someone who is indifferent towards Him. Come to think of it, why would this pastor draw the same conclusion?
A few years ago the director of a respected COG splinter was married to a woman with a limited understanding of the Church. He had met her on the internet and they really had a connection. She had never been associated with any COG at the time. However, she was smart, pleasant and possessed a manner that was peaceable. After several months she was baptized and plans were made for a wedding.
Initially, they appeared to be well suited for each other and happy. Additionally, his co-director was very supportive of the relationship and encouraged the marriage. He even composed a song used during the ceremony. However, there was an elephant in the room that everyone seemed to ignore. Furthermore, this elephant bears directly on Paul’s instructions to Timothy.
The Husband of One Wife
This was the fifth marriage for the pastor with the previous three (numbers 2, 3 & 4) ending very acrimoniously. Little is known of his first marriage other than it occurred prior to his entrance into the WCG. The last years of his second marriage were massively contentious and actually led him to resign his pastorate from a very prominent splinter group. So painful was this chapter in his life that he confided with close friends about the absolute horrors he experienced during it. Sadly, his third marriage brought him equal pain. This one lasted less than two years and ended with his then estranged wife dying a tragic death.
His fourth wife was met on-line. After a few months he invited her to attend the Feast of Tabernacles. She accepted, as did two other ladies. Throughout the feast he juggled dates with multiple women who all thought they were being courted. To virtually no one’s surprise, he chose the prettiest one, despite warnings from friends to stop the madness. Unfortunately, his co-director offered his unqualified support and even participated in her baptism at the conclusion of services on the Last Great Day. Within two years the marriage was in shambles, so much so that he moved out of their home. He never returned. His wife became so embittered that she began contacting members telling them how evil their pastor was.
Weighing the fruit
In the wake of this tragic history, the pastor has been the target of numerous accusations by leaders and members of various groups. Even more tragic is the fact that he genuinely loves God and wants to do right. However, he has a HUGE blind spot in this aspect of his life and to date seems content to maintain his pastorate.
When Paul identified the qualifications of a bishop, his intent was not to lord it over ministerial candidates. His desire was to preserve the integrity of his Father’s spiritual house. Regrettably, all too many believe they are too valuable to their ministry to follow the clear injunction in scripture.
3) A bishop must be vigilant, sober and of good behavior: Here, God’s apostle is identifying qualities of personal character such as self-control which must be exercised over ones actions as well as their speech. It is also reflected in the exercise of moderation (temperance) in the things one consumes (food and drink). Therefore, a bishop must not be a person of excess. The point Paul is making is that in order to truly bring honor to the Church, a bishop must reflect modesty, prudence and sound judgment (maturity and wisdom) drawing deference and respect from those within as well as those outside the faith.
This now brings us to the question of the day. How many COG leaders satisfy these requirements? How many guard their tongue, or, are genuinely disciplined. How many truly see their responsibilities as a sacred trust to be taken seriously (sober minded) To be sure, there are some, but their numbers are small. Today all to many see their position as a reflection of God’s favor as opposed to His challenge for them to bring greatness to His service.
4) A bishop must be given to hospitality: This is a quality that can prove very useful to a pastor and his ministry. Unfortunately, it is not as common as some may think. The point Paul was making is that it is not good enough to be hospitable to friends but also to strangers. Furthermore, a bishop should actually derive pleasure from sharing his home with others, especially within the household of faith. Sadly, this has become a far more infrequent practice in the COG today. Many pastors have actually drawn a line between their home and the brethren. One leading minister in a very prominent fellowship spoke with pride when explaining why he only hosted ordained members and congregational leaders in his home. According to him, his home “was his sanctuary.” It is hard to imagine the minister who ordained this pastor ever being impressed by his warmth and hospitality. And for those who think this is just an isolated case ask yourself this: when was the last time you were invited to your pastor’s home?
“When thou make a dinner or a supper, call not thy friends,
nor thy brethren, neither thy kinsmen, nor thy rich neighbors; lest they also bid thee again, and a recompense be made thee. But when thou make a feast, call the poor, the maimed, the lame, the blind: And thou salt be blessed; for they cannot recompense thee: for thou salt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just.”
5) A bishop must be apt to teach: In the very early years of his ministry, Herbert W Armstrong recognized a great need for a highly skilled ministry capable of expounding scripture, laying bare the truth and refuting error. He was also acutely aware that knowledge wasn’t enough to satisfy this need—skill in oratory would also prove to be invaluable. To this end, Mr. Armstrong founded Ambassador College as an academy of learning that would provide potential ministers with a unique wisdom in God’s word. Within that framework he also established a vehicle to build strong public speakers capable of delivering a message with power and force. This was accomplished via speaking clubs and various speech and homiletics classes. His endeavor bore significant fruit—as a result the Church had cultivated a talented portfolio of ministerial candidates. For years God’s people reaped the benefits of their skill.
However, after the passing of Mr. Armstrong things began to change. Not only had long held beliefs been watered down but so had the high standards he insisted on from those who preached. The result was subtle at first with messages being given by men who were simply not grounded in the truth. In short, novices became the experts. Additionally, godly passion became regarded as extreme and was replaced with intellectual pontificating. Furthermore, rules for sermon preparation actually discouraged thoughtful research and now required that speakers rely more on spontaneity. In the wake of these changes a host of ideas flooded the Church under the guise of “NEW TRUTH.”
“God’s word instructs us to not cast our pearls before swine. Sadly,today many COG ministers are casting
pig slop before God’s pearls.”
Today, the caliber of messages in God’s Church is significantly inferior when compared to those offered just a few decades ago. As a result, the spiritual meals presented to God’s children are often laced with rants attacking other groups or, even worse, their own members. Sadly, those with more biblical themes are all too often poorly prepared, poorly constructed, and poorly delivered, leaving congregations bewildered as opposed to inspired.
Even worse is that in the vast majority of cases members who dare to question a point are often treated like trouble makers. The sad truth is that in all too many cases God’s servants simply don’t have an appetite for engaging in serious discussions concerning the issues of life. This is especially disappointing when one great responsibility of a teacher is to inspire a sense of curiosity and wonder not stifle it.
"Who Made the Tongue?"
Several years ago a high ranking leader in a very prominent fellowship gave a message totally dismissing the value of speaking skills to the ministry. This gentleman had a reputation for giving messages that seemed to ramble aimlessly—and although highly educated he never seemed prepared. It is clear that his sermon was intended to deflect widespread discontent in his congregation at the caliber of his teaching. He actually chastised his members for their frustration, accusing them of being immature Christians seeking to be entertained instead of fed.
At one point he asserted that God actually informed Moses that being a compelling speaker was irrelevant when leading His people and going before pharaoh. However, this is not what God said at all. When Moses appealed to the Almighty to appoint another to lead the Israelites on the grounds that he was “slow of speech, and of a slow tongue”, God reminded him that He (God) was the creator of the tongue and as such could make Moses the greatest orator in history (Ex. 4: 10-11).
6) A bishop must not be self-willed: Self-will is a reflection of arrogance and is a mortal enemy to member and minister alike. Paul saw ego as a genuine threat to the Church and made it clear that leaders should guard against it. One of the manifestations of this behavior can be seen in the emergence of numerous new doctrines being introduced to the body of Christ. The problem is that although such ideas may have some merit, those who disagree should be invited to do so and not treated like godless heretics.
7) A bishop must not be prone to anger, nor a brawler, nor a striker: Here, Paul is instructing COG leaders to not be easily provoked to emotional responses. Furthermore, they should never be contentious, looking for a fight. Some have rendered this attitude as irascible, pugnacious, quarrelsome, truculent and even belligerent. Furthermore, this approach applies to speech as well as behavior. In other words, even when correcting members ones words should never be cruel, but rather filled with hope. The point here is to never try to wound with the tongue—for how shall men teach others to govern their tongues who cannot do the same?
“Wherefore, my beloved brethren, let every man be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath: For the wrath of man works not the righteousness of God.”
—James 1: 19-20
8) A bishop must not be given to wine: Paul’s words are not a prohibition against drinking but rather an indictment against excess. The Arabic version renders it, "not insolent through wine." Furthermore, the enduring moral principle concerning this requirement applies to all addicting products. With that said, substance abuse has become one of the defining problems facing the Church today. One particular leader actually confided that it was a regular practice of his wife to frequent bars until the early hours of the morning. It was a source of contention between the two but a well-guarded secret.
A second example involved one of the premier leaders in the COG. Furthermore, it required him being arrested after police found him passed out behind the wheel of his automobile and unable to stand without wobbling. He also failed three field sobriety tests. Additionally this leader attempted to buy his way out of a ticket (he literally offered money to the arresting officer if he would just forget the whole thing). The horror of this story painfully illustrates why Paul identified pastoral intoxication as a threat to the faith and grounds for expulsion from the ministry. In truth this bishop attempted to extricate himself from a problem by enticing a law enforcement officer into violating his oath of office. This particular episode in the leader’s life still dogs him with endless accusations from enemies of his group.
9) A bishop must not be covetous or greedy of filthy lucre: Several years ago a very prominent leader of an evangelical Church was conducting a revival type meeting at a large convention center. During each service a collection was taken yielding huge sums of money. During an intermission between services the leader was relaxing with some key men in his organization. At one point he brought up the collection that was taken. However, unbeknownst to him his words were overheard by a secretary. According to her the leader said, “How much did these suckers give us today?" Of course he denied ever saying it. Fortunately, others in the room confirmed that this was typical of him. The leader was eventually removed for other improprieties and his ministry never recovered.
“If God’s leaders could learn only one thing it should
be that their calling is not to a life of privilege
but to one of service.”
Long standing COG member
It is hard to imagine anyone who claims to be a Christian ever treating his flock with such contempt, unfortunately all too many do. Even more tragic is the fact that within the COG some leaders have demonstrated an insatiable appetite for their own financial wellbeing. Consider just a few examples.
One leader of a very prominent COG group confided that his primary responsibility as the head of his organization is to “generate income and get rid of high maintenance members.” According to him, the job of members is “to support the Church not the other way around.” Additionally, this leader openly chastised members for failing to financially support his ministry in a way that would accommodate his aspirations for expansion. He even suggested that they liquidate high value assets such as 401K’s, pensions and real estate “for the work’s sake.” Mind you, this is an organization in which he possesses absolute control over the management of all its assets.
One leader of a highly respected splinter made numerous capital expenditures of items such a cameras, televisions, and other electronics, with Church funds. He justified it as necessary because it enabled him to produce presentations for the work. Although no one would confront him on it almost every leader in his group whispered about how he would flaunt his new acquisitions to non-Church friends.
One of the most glaring examples of COG pastors compromising themselves over money began shortly after the death of Herbert W Armstrong. When the great truths he proclaimed began to be dismantled, pastors throughout the Church became paralyzed with fear and simply clung to their paycheck, pension or anything else that would sustain them. Some were even honest enough to admit that they remained because they had no other place to go. These were the same ministers that exhorted their flocks to be willing to give up their jobs over the Sabbath. Then when they were pressed into duty they stood down without a whimper.
"The heads thereof judge for reward,
and the priests thereof teach for hire,
and the prophets thereof divine for money:
yet will they lean upon the LORD,
and say, Is not the LORD among us?
none evil can come upon us.”
Even worse were high ranking WCG executives who completely abandoned God’s truth and embraced a lie. One particular gentleman (an evangelist) actually wrote an article extolling the virtues of Christmas. Although he once condemned this pagan holiday he now argues that God respects it. Today this man commands a six digit salary and is regarded as one of the highest ranked leaders of the Church. Unfortunately, although compelling as a speaker and intellect he doesn’t possess an ounce of courage and there is little doubt that if the WCG changed their position, he would too. This is because he is very mindful of who butters his bread and his loyalty is to a purse, not a principle
10) A bishop must be patient: In many ways a pastor assumes the role of father to his congregants. In that respect it is incumbent upon him to appreciate their weaknesses and comfort them in their distresses. This is impossible to do this without patience and Christian forbearance. Those who demonstrate this quality are able to endure wrong and accept injustice without giving into anger. They do not seek to retaliate and are even gentle in their reproof. As a parent is not to provoke a child to anger (Eph. 6:4, Col. 3:21) a pastor should never try to push the buttons of God’s children. Unfortunately, this is not always the case.
11) A bishop must rule well his own house: In this particular requirement Paul provides one example of how this is done, “having his children in subjection with all gravity.” He then explains why this quality is so important, “For if a man doesn't know how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God?”
One would think that the strength of Paul’s moral imperative would make any Church carefully evaluate those considered for ordination. Tragically, this is not the case at all. The sad truth is that there are countless examples of how this apostolic injunction goes completely ignored by COGs everywhere. Consider the following:
Several years ago a senior pastor of one of the leading COG splinters invited a family in his congregation to share a Sabbath dinner with him and his wife. The pastor was a very kind man and genuinely considerate of his flock. By all appearances he was a man of discipline—one that ruled his house. Unfortunately, that impression was about to come crashing down. While the women were in the kitchen preparing the meal the men were in the den talking “guy stuff.” During dinner the pastor spoke about various issues in the Church such as plans for the feast and its growth. It all seemed so normal. However, at some point his wife began interrupting him incessantly. This continued to the point of making their guests feel uncomfortable. The interruptions became so disrespectful that the pastor eventually chastised her for it. From there it just got worse—voice levels became controlled screams and the members were thoroughly embarrassed.
When they went home that evening the member's wife remarked at how disrespectful the pastor's wife was while they were in the kitchen preparing dinner. She characterized her words as filled with contempt for their minister (her husband).
Sometime after that the pastor met privately with the member and confessed that his marriage was a disaster. At one point he indicated that they fought every week while driving to services (a one hour trip). According to the pastor it was a living hell, with his wife emasculating him with profanity laced rants including vulgarities a truck driver wouldn’t use. When they finally arrived at services they would put on their “church faces” and resume the role of respectability. Although now divorced this pastor serves as a leader of a prominent COG splinter.
Several years ago a large COG congregation was conducting an ordination service in which three men were being made deacons. The men were dedicated servants to the congregation. Unfortunately, they were totally absent when it came to their own families. Of their combined ten children only one remained in the Church. The rest left home to shattered lives while still teenagers. Even the marriages of these men were disintegrating. Amazingly, all of this was taking place in plain view of fellow members. Furthermore, the ordaining pastor was thoroughly aware of the home life of the men he decided to lay hands on. The real tragedy in this decision is that he deprived his congregation of leaders committed to setting good examples of scriptural leadership. Today all three men experienced bitter divorces and only one remains in the Church.
Several years ago two leading members of a prominent COG were meeting to discuss issue pertaining to their congregation. They were well established in the faith and highly respected by their pastor. During the meeting, which was held at one of their homes, the teenage son of the member arrived prompting his father to ask where he had been. The son became very defensive at the question and suggested that it was none of his father’s business. At this point the father asked, “What’s wrong?” It seemed like a perfectly normal question but the response was anything but normal. His son launched into a tirade accusing his father of being a loser. He then ordered him to stay out of his room. When he finished he left leaving his father and his guest alone. Furthermore, the father had been thoroughly disgraced in the presence of a friend. After a lengthy silence the father attempted to explain the total absence of correction. He quietly said, “He’s my son.” In truth his son had a reputation for being hostile toward the Church and his parents. In a very real sense his father was actually intimidated by him. However, less than a month later he was ordained a deacon.
12) A bishop must not be a novice: This particular requirement is presented with a specific warning attached to it: “lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil.” The concern is that because an elder enjoys the dignity of his office he can become lifted up in his own eyes because he sees himself as one worthy of that honor. In the Church today this truth is a painful reality. Here is one example: Several years ago a newly ordained elder became very agitated at a long standing member because the member questioned the wisdom of his ordination. In the confrontation the elder asserted that he deserved to be selected for his position and criticized the member for not being able to see that. The member, several years his senior, offered this bit of wisdom: “The fact that you would fight so hard to convince someone that you deserve this honor suggests that even you have doubts about it.”
A Lesson From the Past
A lesson that seems to be so foreign to the leaders of God’s people is the primary criteria He employs when selecting them. Here is how it was described to King Saul.
When you were little in your own sight, were you not made the head of the tribes of Israel, and the Lord anointed you king over Israel? (1Sam. 15:16-17)
Unfortunately, Saul forgot the lesson and the result was catastrophic.
Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being king. (1Sam. 15:23)
This is how Christ, as the true head of the Church will deal with pride that goes unchecked. He knows all too well where such an attitude can lead and how destructive it can be to his children.
13) A bishop must be of good report of them which are without: This particular requirement is probably ignored more when considering candidates for leadership positions in the Church than any other. In the corporate world it is one that is taken very seriously. Not only are executives vetted prior to being hired but also prior to being promoted. Included in this process are criminal background checks, credit assessments and comprehensive interviews with both coworkers and those outside the company such as neighbors, philanthropic organizations they are associated with, and even Church affiliates. Those who undertake this process view candidates as a HUGE investment—one in which they expect a return. In God’s Church it should be no different and Paul makes that point very clear. Unfortunately it is one that is almost always ignored. For example:
A Horrible Report
Several years ago a relatively new member was ordained an elder in a respected COG splinter. What was surprising was the fact the he was well known for his activities outside the Church by other members. The reports were horrible—so much so that an unauthorized investigation was conducted with the results reflecting a pattern of behavior totally unbecoming a leader in God’s service. Two past employer indicated they would never consider him for future employment on the grounds that he couldn’t work under authority, especially that of women. Additionally, he would repeatedly create unauthorized procedures and defend them on the grounds that the others were “stupid.” Both employers actually expressed mild shock that someone like him would ever be a Church pastor.
“What if the Church conducted background checks on all ministerial candidates? How many of them would withdraw their name from consideration?”
Long standing COG Member
Coworkers were equally surprised that he would ever be considered for such a position referring to him as “an acquired taste.” They described him as "self-willed," "independent" and "argumentative." Later comments revealed that he was rarely invited to participate in recreational activities outside of work because of his negativity. These are things that would have been easy to discover. Unfortunately, no one bothered to look, although the ordaining minister eloquently read from First Timothy prior to laying hands on the elder.
Then & Now
“God’s Church has undergone significant changes since its early days under the leadership of Herbert W Armstrong. Not only were its people more passionate about the work but they were more passionate about each other.
Today, in the scattered world of God’s Church most people fend for themselves and deacons are not selected to serve the brethren (Acts 6) but rather serve the needs of the pastor. Even their ordinations are, more often than not, seen as a reward for loyalty to a minister as opposed to being a faithful servant to their brethren.”