THE GOVERNMENT OF GOD
In this end time, just prior to the return of Jesus Christ and the setting up of God's Kingdom on Earth, there are specific and crucial areas of doctrine that have been seriously misinterpreted and misapplied by some sections of the true Church of God.
These doctrines represent long cherished beliefs of the Church, but are upon closer examination not backed up by the Scriptures.
Perhaps one of the most significant of these is the concept of "the Government of God".
It is the intent of the author to prove beyond doubt that "one man government", which was in various ways employed under the Old Covenant by God over physical Israel, has under the New Covenant been superseded by "One God Government" over spiritual Israel, with Jesus Christ as the Head of the Church.
In the end time, much has been made of the "government of God" that Herbert Armstrong is said to have "restored" to the Church. This form of government is commonly referred to as "one man rule". However, below is a quote from his booklet "Who or What is the Prophetic Beast?" (p26, 1985 version).
Study this very carefully.
The bracketed writing within Herbert Armstrong's text is mine, as is the underlining of his text.
"Where, then, did human church government derive its present form? "The first pope, in the real sense of the word, was Leo I (440-461 A.D.)," says the Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, volume 7, page 629. To him the form of government of the Roman Empire (one man rule, i.e. the Emperor) was the most marvelous thing on earth. He applied its principles to the church, organized the church into a government, forming the papacy (one man rule - the Pope). This church government or organization is the image of the beast. Says Myers' Ancient History: "During the reign of Leo I, the Church set up, within the Roman Empire, an ecclesiastical state [government] which , in its constitution and its administrative system, was shaping itself upon the imperial model." This church government, then, according to this historical authority, is in fact a model, a counterpart, an image of the beast which is the Roman Empire government. The Britannica calls it an ecclesiastical world empire! This image, man-designed and man-ruled (One man ruled) church government, compelled people to worship the church (worship the Pope, just like the Emperor was worshipped)! And since the church was organized into a worldly government (a one man ruled government), this was worship of the image, false worship (of the one man at the top, rather than God), idolatry!"
Herbert Armstrong here says that the office of the Roman Emperor embodied the ultimate form of government to Leo I, and that Leo created the office of the Pope in its image. As Herbert Armstrong says, by doing this, by adopting this office in the Church, Leo became "the first pope, in the real sense of the word".
How utterly amazing then that Herbert Armstrong himself established this same "image of the Beast" office, calling it "Pastor-General", in the Church of God.
The whole concept of a "universal bishop" or pope is Catholic. "Pastor-general of the Worldwide Church of God" is exactly the same thing. A good early example of how leadership actually used to be applied in the Church is that of Polycarp, who lived in the second century AD. He was the "Bishop of Smyrna", that is, just the region of the city of Smyrna. He was a leader in the true Church, but similarly, every city where Christians dwelt had its bishop (or overseer). No particular bishop had the pre-eminence. The fact that Polycarp is specifically designated as "of Smyrna" shows the limitation of his territory.
There is no biblical record of an office of "universal bishop" ever having been created by God for a man. It is certainly not the New Testament equivalent of high priest, for that office today belongs to Christ.
The first leader of the nation of Israel was Moses, whom God used as mediator between Himself and His people, and who was thus a type of Christ. Moses led Israel out of Egypt, a type of sin; he led Israel out of the reach of Pharaoh, a type of Satan; he taught God's law at Mt Sinai, and he judged the disputes between the people.
In all these roles, Moses was a type of Jesus Christ in His role as Head of State. (Acts 3:20-22 and 7:37, Heb 3:1-6).
So much so, that in Dt 18:15 Moses is compared to "a Prophet" who was to appear later in time, and is described by Moses as "like unto me", which Jn 6:14 shows to be Jesus Christ.
Moses' brother Aaron was Moses' spokesman, high priest and mediator. The book of Hebrews leaves no doubt that Jesus Christ is the spiritual High Priest (Heb 5:1-5), and, as "The Word", is also the Spokesman of the God Family and Mediator between God and man.
Aaron therefore was a type of Jesus Christ in His role as Head of Religion.
Under these men, in Old Covenant Israel, were the twelve leaders of the twelve tribes as seen in Numbers chapter 1 and chapter 10, where these twelve are twice mentioned by their names. In addition, look at the incredible way God directed Moses to organise and encamp the twelve tribes of Israel in Numbers 2 and 3, and the way that they travelled, as described in Numbers 10 and 33. Also notice the organised way that Moses and Joshua directed Israel to occupy their land, as detailed in Numbers 34 to 36 and Joshua 13 to 21. This was no haphazard, accidental development of a nation. God is a God of order and planning. He created and organised the nation of Israel in twelve parts under twelve tribal rulers, under the leadership of Moses and Aaron.
The number twelve is interwoven throughout the Scriptures. Study that number using Strong's Concordance. Here are just a few examples:
Twelve sons of Israel and their descendent tribes
Twelve stones in Aaron's ephod.
Twelve pillars at Mount Sinai
Twelve spies who went into Canaan, one from each tribe
Twelve stones set up by Joshua at the crossing of the Jordan
Twelve Judges in the Judges period, almost certainly one from each tribe
Twelve stones in Elijah's altar over which he poured twelve buckets of water
Twelve oxen under the great "molten sea"
Twelve cakes on the golden table
Twelve tribes of spiritual Israel, the Church of God (Jas 1:1)
Twelve gates in New Jerusalem
Twelve months in a regular year
Twelve stars on the crown on the head of the woman in Rev 12:1 picturing the Church
Moses and Joshua were raised up for special purposes, however no leader like them was appointed at Joshua's death. On the contrary, while Joshua was still alive, Josh 22 shows that the 12 tribal leaders were soon governing the country, under, and in consultation with, the high priest (a type of Christ). A serious misunderstanding almost led to civil war, but Joshua did not get involved in solving the problem, rather the leaders of the ten tribes living west of the Jordan, in cooperation with the priesthood, diffused the stand off with the leaders of the tribes on the east of the Jordan.
After Joshua's death, no one man ruler was appointed. If Israel had not strayed from God during the Judges period, the raising up of any of the Judges would not have been necessary and would never have happened; government of the state would have remained with the twelve tribal leaders of Israel under the high priest.
It makes sense that Christ's role as high priest retained a physical counterpart in Israel, but not His role as Head of State, as the high priest's role pointed forward to the role that Christ was yet to fulfil as atoning sacrifice between man and God. Meanwhile, the invisible Christ, as Head of State residing in heaven, would provide for them, bless them, and protect them.
However, over time Israel rejected Christ as Head of State, and His form of government with its twelve tribal rulers under a high priest, and requested instead to be ruled by a king, like the nations around them. It was 350 years after Joshua divided up the land of Israel among the twelve tribes that King Saul began to reign.
Over time, King Saul disobeyed God and became demon possessed. This placed the nation in a very difficult position. In a system where twelve govern, when one goes astray, the other eleven can deal with the bad apple. This is what happened in the case of Judas Iscariot. This is also what happened to the tribe of Benjamin, as shown in Judges 19 and 20, where this tribe was severely punished by the other eleven tribes for doing great evil. This form of government is a safeguard to the truth and to those who are governed.
When one man ruling as sovereign goes astray, the consequences are enormous.
Had the Worldwide Church of God not had one man government when Herbert Armstrong died, and Joe Tkach Sr had instead been one of a group of twelve leaders, he could never have led the Church to throw out all its doctrines. He would have got nowhere with his abominable ideas.
Herbert Armstrong's "restoration of the government of God" actually caused the Church's virtual destruction, by the very same, very unbiblical Church government he set up.
One man government is not the government of God under the New Covenant. One man government is what the Church adopted in the Laodicean era when it rejected the government of God. Just like Israel in the days of Samuel, they said "We don't want to be ruled by God, we want to be ruled by a man".
Like the twelve sons of Israel and the twelve leaders of the twelve tribes, Christ again appointed twelve apostles in establishing His Church. He could have chosen one apostle and eleven evangelists, or one apostle and eleven pastors or perhaps one apostle and eleven deacons, but He didn't.
Nothing has been as destructive to the Church of God in this end time as the establishment of "Image of the Beast" government in the Church. This happened in the late 1950's. Over time, this led to the alienation of God's people from Him and His law, looking as they did first and foremost to a man, depending on that man for direction rather than having a personal, close relationship with God. This was followed, after the death of that man, by the total fragmentation of the Church, with a number of men now claiming to be "some special one" (Acts 8) and seeking to draw believers after themselves. The damage done to the longsuffering people of God is incalculable.
If ever there has been a time in history when believers once again say "I am of Paul" or "I am of Apollos" or "I am of Cephas" (I Cor 1:12 and I Cor 3:4), then this must be it. Truly there is nothing new under the sun.
Some of the end time Churches think that if only all the "Laodiceans" would unite behind their "one man" all would be fine in the Church of God. This is total nonsense. The Catholics are all united around their Pope, but what does that achieve? All the people in the world uniting behind one man will not solve our problems.
The problem is that we are transgressing God's law: His Ten Commandments. We need to be united with our Creator, on His terms, not those of "one man".
Individual men are not capable of ruling justly over an extended period of time. As long as they are human they are not ready for that. Only a God Being can rule justly, independently, as sovereign. That's why God appointed twelve men over the Church.
As already mentioned, there have been many occurrences of God sending or using one man for a particular job in Old Covenant times. Noah, Moses, Joshua, the Judges and Samuel are such examples. All these men were a type of Jesus Christ, as a lawgiver, provider, protector, deliverer, mediator, prophet etc. None of these men, however, were permanently set up by God, or set themselves up permanently, as a one man government that was to have ongoing successors. That permanency was implemented by Jesus Christ Himself, when He overcame Satan and founded His Church and became its one and only permanent Head.
Successive "one man rule" was not found in Israel until it became a kingdom, which was a rejection of God's government. Under the New Covenant, God gave the Church "One God" government under Jesus Christ. In the Laodicean era, many people in God's Church have once again rejected Jesus Christ as King and instead accepted a man as king.
Physical succession was also found in the physical priesthood, but it has been replaced by a spiritual priesthood, the ministry, since the time of Christ. The physical high priest was a position symbolic of the position occupied by Jesus Christ. It is not an office men occupy today. The book of Hebrews tells us this is Christ's office. Christ is the High Priest, while the place of regular priests is now occupied by ministers. Interestingly, the priests were anciently organised in 24 courses (2 x 12) in regard to their times of Temple service. Again we find biblical organisation involving the number twelve, or a multiple thereof.
Israel as a physical nation was organised as twelve tribes with twelve leaders working in consultation with, and under direction of, the physical high priest. Likewise, the Church was organised with twelve apostles working with, and under the direction of, their spiritual High Priest.
It is true that Peter had a leading role among the twelve. This can be seen in his address to the crowd on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2, his address to the Jewish leaders in Acts 4, his role in handling of the affair concerning Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5, as well as his part in the calling of the first Gentile, Cornelius, in Acts 10. However, these and other examples do not justify the one man government doctrine which the Catholic Church calls "the Primacy of Peter". At no time did the responsibility that Christ gave Peter translate into domination of the other eleven. All the apostles were just that, apostles, not "one man" lording it over eleven others of a lower rank. Not one apostle and eleven evangelists. Peter was sanctified for a special role among the twelve, but not elevated over the others. If so, he would have received a higher office than the other apostles.
A good comparison would be a sporting team. Think of the apostles as being a team of twelve players. Peter's role is that of captain of the team. He makes calls on the field, whenever situations arise requiring special guidance. Christ, however, is the manager of the team. He is the one in charge of play overall. He is the one who leads the training, directs the team and determines its playing style. Ultimately however, as manager of the team, Christ is accountable to the owner of the team, God the Father.
At no time in any of Peter's words or actions does he give the impression that he believes he is above the other eleven apostles. He doesn't take any titles, certainly not God's titles, and he does not speak of any prophecy as pertaining to himself.
Mt 16:19 is often cited to show that Peter alone had the authority to "bind and loose", supposedly setting him high above the others, but only two chapters later in Mt 18:18, all twelve apostles collectively are told the same thing, that they have the authority to "bind and loose". This explains the cooperation so evident between them at the Acts 15 Church conference.
In Mark 10:35-45, James and John ask Jesus to grant that they might sit next to Him in His Kingdom, one on His left side and one on His right. However, if Peter had been given a higher rank than the other disciples, the two brothers would surely have expected that Peter would occupy one of the places next to Christ in the Kingdom.
When God raised up a prophet for a particular purpose, such as to deliver a warning message, that prophet fulfilled his commission, but no more than that. He didn't start an alternative government, or an alternative nation, or "break away" and build an alternative Temple or Church. Rather, he was just a man who did the job he was entrusted with, and that was it.
Some of these prophets did have followers, obviously people who were called by God and recognised the truth when presented with it. However again, these prophets did not constitute or create a "government".
Where did one man government over the Church, under the New Covenant, originate? Look at Acts 8. Simon Magus came claiming to be "some special one". He was inspired and possessed by Satan the Devil, who also claims to be some special one. Can you imagine Satan having the humility to sit down as one of twelve, like the Apostles in Acts 15, and willingly submit to the consensus of the overall group as guided by Christ? Simon Magus went on to lay the foundation of the ultimate "one man Church government".
Herbert Armstrong was stripped of his ministerial credentials by the Church of God (7th Day) (COG7) in 1937, but not because of doctrines that he believed, and that others wouldn't accept. The COG7 permitted ministers and members to have personal views on biblical matters, and even to publish these. A number of ministers had publications, as did HWA when from 1934 he published the Plain Truth for years whilst still continuing as a COG7 minister. Rather, he had his ministerial licence revoked because he wouldn't cooperate or work with other ministers. He wanted to be the "one man". Many matters have been left out of Herbert Armstrong's Autobiography, but his ambition to be "some special one" is evident from beginning to end. You would have to erase the whole book to hide that fact.
As an example of his sense of self-importance, compare the 1967 version and the later version of the Autobiography in regard to HWA's ordination. The wording has been edited in the later version to hide the fact that he was ordained at the request of another minister who needed someone to assist him. The involvement, including prayer and laying on of hands by other COG7 ministers, has been deleted! Why?
Some Church leaders point to Eph 3:5 and claim they are an apostle or prophet, that God is revealing things to them and them alone, and therefore they are to be followed as the only representative of God's government on Earth.
This Scripture, however, proves the exact opposite.
Eph 3:5 speaks of apostles (plural) and prophets (plural), not one man government. In addition to the core leadership group of twelve, the New Testament mentions eight other apostles by name, so 20 in total.
The New Testament mentions many prophets (people who speak by inspiration of God's spirit); I Cor 14:29-32 lays down some basic principles for how they are to conduct their speaking in an orderly fashion in each congregation.
On the other hand, look at what the apostle John wrote about a Church member seeking to elevate himself above others: "I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the preeminence among them, does not receive us. Therefore, if I come, I will call to mind his deeds which he does, prating against us with malicious words. And not content with that, he himself does not receive the brethren, and forbids those who wish to, putting them out of the church." (III Jn 9-10)
We see Christ commending this same Ephesus era for withstanding the overtures of persuasive men seeking preeminence: "how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars" (Rev 2:2).
Paul warned about "grievous wolves" seeking to acquire a personal following among God's people (Acts 20:29-30).
The Pergamos era is when the Papacy came to the fore and so we find this era being warned about this domineering form of Church government, labelling it "Satan's seat" (Rev 2:13). It would appear that in some areas the true Church followed the Papal model.
The bottom line is that God's people are God's people; Christ is their head and chief apostle (Heb 3:1), and it is not for any man to put himself in the place of Christ.
Not a Pope or a Pastor General.
In summary, let's bring all the information together regarding this crucial subject of the "Government of God".
Satan the Devil is the ruler of this world. He is its sole ruler and doesn't want to share power with anyone. In his image he has been allowed to set up kings, emperors, tyrants and despots throughout his almost 6000 years of rule, to carry out his form of government, his tyranny. The terrible results of this form of government fill the pages of man's history.
God the Father and The Word, Jesus Christ, are two. They reveal in their writings, the Scriptures, that they are selfless, and happy to share, to the point of desiring to expand and share their Family. Human beings have been created in their image, with the potential of being transformed into their spiritual image as well. There is not a hint of self-centredness to be seen in the way that God and Christ conduct themselves.
In the lengthy process by which God and Christ are working out their Family building plan, the nation of Israel was created. Israel the physical nation was just a type of Israel the spiritual nation, the ultimate Family that God and Christ are creating. Over the physical nation Israel, a physical leader was placed. The people of the nation did not have the spirit of God and could not see things from God's spiritual point of view.
The physical leader served as their only way of access to God, as this physical leader did have the spirit of God.
This physical leader was a type of Jesus Christ in His role as Head of State: lawgiver, provider and protector. Additional to this leader, a high priest served alongside him. The high priest was a type of Christ's other role as Head of Religion. This role pictures Christ as intermediary and spokesman for the God Family, as well as the one who makes atonement for the sins of the people by sacrifice.
Physical Israel was given Moses and Aaron, and after them, Joshua and Phineas, to picture these two roles. Even when Israel rejected God's direct form of government and demanded a king, the picture continued through the reigns of the various kings and high priests. These men acted as types of Christ, as intermediaries between God and man, because the people did not have God's holy spirit and therefore could have no direct contact with Him (Jn 7:39).
Since New Testament times, when Christ died for the sins of mankind and established the New Covenant, human beings can receive God's spirit, can have access and direct contact with God the Father.
Human beings who have received God's spirit can pray to Him directly, rather than only access Him through a physical leader. God's begotten children who have received His spirit are now represented by a spiritual High Priest, Jesus Christ, who is our sacrifice, our intermediary and advocate.
Jesus Christ is now the Head of State and Head of Religion over the spiritual nation of Israel, the Church.
These roles have ceased to be filled by human beings.
Dictators and other tyrants love to be idolised and worshipped, just as Satan wants to be worshipped. History records few better examples of this than the Roman Emperors. Their statues were erected in many places, people were forced to bow down to them and make offerings, and many a person was killed for not complying. The Roman Empire is pictured in the Scriptures as a "Beast". The great false Church imitated the form of government of this "Beast" and created what Scripture calls the "Image of the Beast", i.e. the Papacy. For a carnal empire or God's Church to have such one man government is simply idolatry. As explained above, Jesus Christ fills both "one man" roles under the New Covenant. No such role remains for a human being to fill in New Covenant times.
What do remain are the roles Christ created, those of twelve apostles, which correspond to the twelve tribal leaders of Israel. What also remain are the twelve tribes themselves, which are now the twelve spiritual tribes, the Church (Jas 1:1).
For any man under the New Covenant, where human beings in God's Church have His Spirit, to take on a "one man" leadership role is to accept the Image of the Beast. It is usurping a role that belongs to Jesus Christ, just like Satan tried to do. It amounts to a man who "as God, sits in the Temple of God" (II Thes 2:4). Herbert W Armstrong introduced this office of the "man of sin" into his branch of God's Church in its final era.
It is a noteworthy thing that during the 2520 years of Israel and Judah being deprived of their blessings, they suffered under kings and despots, but as soon as their time of punishment was over and they started to receive their blessings, they also began receiving some form of representative governance as one of those blessings!! This happened with the northern European nations, Great Britain, the United States of America and even with the State of Israel in 1948.
It may not usually have been government by twelve or a multiple thereof, but it did by its nature involve dialogue and people humbly thinking and working together as the Scriptures show human beings must be willing to do.
Nations of Israelite origin, led by a body of God fearing men, have been the most blessed and the most prosperous of all nations. It is only when these bodies of leaders have distanced themselves from God that their nations have begun to suffer.
"Without counsel purposes are disappointed, but in the multitude of counselors they are established" (Pr 15:22).
"When the righteous (plural) are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked (singular) bears rule, the people mourn" (Pr 29:2)