Is it ever wrong to look to some men for guidance, inspiration, or instruction in Godliness, righteousness and truth? Should we only look to God –and God alone — for such purpose?
Here is an example of a situation where we can focus on some particular Scripture passage and build a whole doctrine that thus disregards the testimony of other Bible passages.
For example, we can take hold of what Psalm 60:11 (NKJV) declares [“The help of man is useless” (KJV, “vain”)], and conclude that we should never, ever look to or use the help of any man. Add to that what Psalm 39:5 (NKJV) says [“Certainly every man at his best state is but vapor”(KJV, “vanity”), and one can get the sense that indeed the help of man is useless and vain.
Presumably from such a perspective an accusation has been made of me as looking to men instead of God. And this was occasioned by my mentioning the late pastor-general of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) Herbert W. Armstrong (HWA) as having ordained me, in 1984, as “a minister of the Gospel of Christ” [see: Just What Do You Mean – Christ-centered?], and my often referring to his writings and teachings in my own writings and preaching. Thus the validity of my ministry is being questioned.
What can we learn from “The Whole Counsel of God” (Acts 20:27) in this — and other spiritual matters or issues, for that matter?
On ordination or “laying on of hands”
First, let’s take the matter of ordination. Why should we make a big thing about this? Simply because ordination or the “laying on of hands” is one of the “elementary principles” of Christ and the Christian faith (Hebrews 6:1-2, NKJV). The venerable King James Version (KJV) renders this as the “first principles.” It’s like saying these are “Grade-1” stuff! Or, for adults, “Bible 101.”
Ordination is something very basic in the Christian faith. Yet many still don’t have a clear and ready understanding of what it means and what its importance is to a Christian believer. The apostle Paul, who decidedly wrote this letter to the Hebrew Christians [see: Who Wrote the Letter to the Hebrews?], said that those who needed to have the matter rehashed or explained again had not moved on to higher spiritual principles. He compared them to spiritual “babes” [immature] needing spiritual “milk” and still unable to handle spiritual “solid food” or “meat” [for adults or mature people], and therefore not yet qualified to become teachers of God’s word (Hebrews 5:12-14).
Nevertheless, it is not wrong to need or even desire “spiritual “milk.” The apostle Peter admonishes: “Therefore, laying aside all malice, all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and all evil speaking, as newborn babes, desire the pure milk of the word [of God], that you may grow thereby, if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is gracious” ( 1 Peter 2:1-3).
With this in view, just the same let me explain further here about the Biblical principle of the “laying on of hands,” in hopes that those who read this will grow in spiritual understanding and thus attain to a better, more mature stature as a Christian – better qualified to teach others, whenever called to do so.
The Bible shows at least three instances where God commands the laying on of hands:
1. Sacrificial animals offered for a person’s or a community’s sins had hands laid on them by the sinner and/or a priest, as a symbol of transferring the sin on to the sacrifice, thereby atoning for the sin (Leviticus 1-4; 8; 16). [See: Forgiveness in the Bible and Two Goats Together.]
2. To impart particular blessings like inheritance and healing of diseases. Some examples:
- Isaac blessing Jacob (Genesis 27).
- Jesus healing the sick (Matthew 20:33-34; Mark 10:46-52; Luke 18:35-43).
- Jesus’ apostles/elders commissioned to lay their hands on the sick to make them well (Mark 16:18; James 5:14-15).
3. To ordain people to an office of authority or service:
- Moses ordaining Joshua as his successor (Deuteronomy 34:9).
- Aaron and his sons consecrated as priests (Exodus 29:1-19; 28:41).
- Kings anointed by prophet (1 Samuel 9:22-10:12; 16:1-12;1 Kings 19:16).
- Ministers appointed to various services in the new Testament Church (Acts 13:1-3; 1 Timothy 5:22; 3:6; Titus 1:5-9).
Ordination in our times
The late founder and pastor general of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) Herbert W. Armstrong came to understand the basic Bible principle of the laying on of hands. As he diligently searched the Scriptures, and received understanding of many Bible precepts not understood properly by other preachers, Herbert Armstrong felt a definite sense of Christ calling him into His ministry.
At the same time, he had been studying the true history of the true Church of God founded by Christ in 31 A.D. He believed that such a church has survived through the centuries as Jesus promised. His studies led him to finding a remnant of that church in the Church of God Seventh Day. He later came to understand this church to be a part of what he saw as the “Sardis era” of the Church (Revelation 3:1-6). It was in this church that Mr. Armstrong was ordained by the elders to the office of an elder and “apostle.” He recalls this in his autobiography, which may be accessed through this link: https://www.herbert-armstrong.org, click ENTER HERE, select “Books & Booklets, and scroll down to the booklet titled “The Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong.” While on this link, you may also scroll down to the booklet titled “A True History of the True Church.”
Through this ordination Mr. Armstrong claimed to have been given, by Christ, the authority to teach Christ’s gospel as handed down from the original apostles. While he consulted Bible helps like commentaries, concordances, dictionaries and literature of other church denominations, Mr. Armstrong maintained that he had asked for direct guidance and understanding through God’s Spirit and that he did not depend on this literature to shape his understanding and formation of Christ’s doctrines. Thus he wrote and spoke (through radio and TV) with such authority and conviction that many considered him a modern-day “prophet.” However, some who disagree with Mr. Armstrong’s views of Scripture, have labeled him a “false prophet.” Many, even in the leadership of the former Worldwide Church of God (WCG) — now “transformed” into an “evangelical” denomination and renamed Grace Communion International (GCI) – have so judged him, too. [See: Where Is God’s Church Today? and About the Author.]
As I relate in my brief above-mentioned biography, I took up Mr. Armstrong’s challenge to his readers and listeners/viewers to “prove all things” from the Bible and not merely believe what people say, but rather to see what the Bible really says, and believe what one finds written there. I believe I was led by God’s Spirit as I did my searching and studying of Scripture, while checking Mr. Armstrong’s claims, against or vis-à-vis the Bible. I believe that I did not simply and blindly follow Herbert Armstrong, as a former WCG evangelist accused WCG members of having done.
I also submit that this position of mine can be demonstrated in how I have reconsidered Mr. Armstrong’s long-standing teaching about the “azazel” goat of Leviticus 16 picturing Satan the Devil. [See: Two Goats Together, especially the box titled “Reexamining the roots of our beliefs.”]
The apostolic teaching on regard for church leaders
We come now to Scripture verses which many church leaders love! Let’s see what the apostles Paul and Peter had to say about how we are to regard church leaders.
Paul , the author of the letter to the Hebrews [see: Who Wrote the Letter to the Hebrews?], wrote: “ Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct… Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you.” (Hebrews 13:7-17).
Paul also instructed: “We urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves” (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).
Church brethren who fail to follow Paul’s admonition here often run into conflicts and disagreements – have no peace at all among themselves! Jesus Christ – who is ever alive and is managing His Church even to this very minute! – has ordained the various offices of His ministry in order to edify church brethren so “we can 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 and fullness of Christ, that we should no longer be children [spiritually immature], tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting” (Ephesians 4:11-14).
Peter also exhorted church elders to serve the brethren “not as being lords over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (1 Peter 5:1-3). He also exhorted: “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for ‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble’ [quoted from Proverbs 3:34]. Therefore humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you” (Verses 5-7).
Thus we can see that there is, after all, God’s instruction for us to look to or regard highly those church leaders whom Jesus has placed over His church. While we are not to “idolize” these leaders, we are to look to and follow their Godly examples and Biblically true and sound teachings. Even in our everyday, mundane life, are we not being encouraged to read or study and learn from the biographies of noble men and women who are worthy of emulation?
Paul also wrote to the evangelist Titus, concerning the qualities to look for in a candidate for ordination as a “bishop” or overseer in Church that he should be “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” (Titus 1:5-9).
Paul also told his protege Timothy: “Consider what I say, and may the Lord give you understanding in all things” (2 Timothy 2:7). Furthermore: “But you must continue in the things which you have learned and been assured of, knowing from whom you have learned them…” (2 Timothy 3:14).
In the case of Titus and Timothy – and other church leaders at the time, for that matter – Paul told them to teach as they had been taught by, and had learned God’s word from, the one who had taught them, Paul himself, who was personally taught by Christ and who received an abundance of revelations from Him (Galatians 1:11-12, 15-16; Acts 26:16; 2 Corinthians 12:7).
It’s not a matter of following whatever we “have been taught” by just any person. The teacher must be evaluated or “tested” [“proved”] using the standard for truth, God’s word (Isaiah 8:20). For, even in the early days of the New Testament Church of God, many false teachers had wormed their way into the church and misled some brethren, even wrecking their faith (2 Peter 2:1-3; 1 John 4:1; Acts 20:29-31; 2 Corinthians 11:12-15). [See: Leanings.]
Many who feel they have been “sent” by God to teach on His behalf today are actually self-appointed, and have not really been sent by God. Jeremiah 14:14-16 and Ezekiel 13:3-9 show that this has happened to Israel, just as it is happening to God’s church today! And what a dire end God pronounces on such deceivers! May they heed God’s warning and repent before it is too late! [See: “Whoever Loves and Practices a Lie.”]
How to know what is “truth”
God has not left it entirely to our human device or intellect to determine what is truth and what is falsehood. Our natural minds simply cannot know or understand “the things of God…the deep things of God” unless we have received the Spirit of God, and “have the mind of Christ,” for these things “are spiritually discerned” – not understood or accepted by the merely natural or unaided knowledge and understanding of man (1 Corinthians 2:2-16).
The one same Spirit that inspires the teacher or preacher of Christ’s gospel (1 Corinthians 12:4-11, 28, 29; Romans 10:14-15) also inspires the hearers to understand God’s message and truth, come to repentance, be baptized, and have God’s Spirit beget them as children of God and as brethren (brothers and sisters) of Christ. And that depends on God to call such persons to understand the truth in this present age, or at a later age. [See: The Divine Prerogatives, Predestination, This Is not the Only Day of Salvation and Are We All God’s Children?]
God’s Holy Spirit is a “gift” – something God gives to people who have come to believe the gospel of Christ, have repented of their sins, have been baptized for the remission of their sins, and have had the hands of Christ’s ordained minister laid on them for the receipt of God’s free gift of His Spirit. As Acts 2:38-39 puts it: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God shall call.”
As His brethren, true Christians are led by the Spirit of Christ in them “into all truth” (John 16:13). As “sheep” of His pasture, they will listen to and hear only the voice of Jesus as their “Shepherd” (John 10:2-5, 14, 27). They will turn away from the voice of “strangers.” Jesus told Pilate: “I have come into the world, that I should bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice” (John 18:37).
As the ever-living Head of the Church of God, Jesus has personally set in place the different offices of His ministry in order that His people, the church brethren, will come to and have “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the stature of the fullness of Christ, that we should no longer be children [spiritually immature], tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ – from whom the whole body [the church], joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:11-16).
This way, all the brethren will have the same mind of Christ in them, they will speak the same things [be “on the same page,” as we’d say today] (Philippians 2:5; 1 Corinthians 1:10), and grow as mature Christians.
This is all a part of the “elementary principle” of “the laying on of hands,” as mentioned above. It is a serious matter that shouldn’t be despised, made fun of or belittled! The Bible teaches that all authority comes from God and should neither be despised, nor usurped. [See: The Sin of Rebellion.]
In New Testament times, as in the Old Testament there were those who took it upon themselves to teach things [they usurped the authority to teach] contrary to what God’s called and chosen servants had taught (2 Peter 2:1-3; 1 Timothy 4:1-16; 2 Timothy 4:1-5; Jude 4; 1 John 4:1-6; ). Paul warned church leaders that, after his departure, “savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also, from among yourselves [the church leaders!] men will rise up, speaking perverse things [errors and unScriptural teachings] to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:29-30).
In addition, Paul warned Timothy: “For the time will come when they [some in the Church of God] will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they [those brethren] will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables [falsehoods]. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:3-5).
Those who accuse me of looking to Herbert Armstrong and other servants of God should look themselves in the mirror. If you are not looking to Mr. Armstrong and company, WHO are you looking to? WHO are you “itching” to hear, instead? Are you so original in your thinking that you have not borrowed from other teachers? What are all those website articles that promote contrary doctrines, and of which you boast? As Jesus said, “Judge [condemn] not, that you be not judged. For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, It will be measured back to you” (Matthew 7:1-2).
Let’s get it straight! I did not start the judging about looking to men. I was just “fulfilling my ministry” as I know well how, when I had this “brickbat” thrown at me.
In defense of his ministry
The apostle Paul had his share of afflictions from those who questioned his authority to preach the gospel of Christ as he did. 2 Corinthians 10-12 is his articulate defense of his ministry and authority to teach.
In the final analysis, all teachers [or “prophets”] will be judged by their “fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20). Without evidencing those “fruits,” false prophets will be shown for what they are: “ravenous wolves” in “sheep’s clothing!”
What “fruits” is God looking for in those who claim to serve Him?
For one, there should be the nine-faceted “fruit of the [Holy] Spirit” (Galatians 5:22-26). For another, there should be the “fruit of righteousness sown in peace by those who make peace” (James 3:18). Psalm 119:172 says, “For all your commandments are righteousness.” Those who teach that God’s commandments are no longer to be obeyed obviously do not have the “fruit of righteousness” and disturb the peace of God’s people. For Psalm 119:164 declares: “Great peace have those who love Your law, and nothing causes them to stumble.”
The “work of God”
Let’s get it straight from Jesus’ mouth: “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent” (John 6:29). Jesus here referred to Himself as the One sent by God. If we believe this, we would also believe that Jesus “sends” whomever He wills, to preach what He preached and do whatever He commands them (John 20:21; Mark 16:15-18). [See: About Pool of Siloam, Where is God’s Church Today? and Leanings.]
While God sends human beings to fulfill whatever His purpose may be, He clearly declares: “Most assuredly I say to you, he who receives whomever I send receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me” (John 13:20).
To regard and even accept or receive one sent by Christ to teach His word, is not to look to mere men. To fail to do the former may actually be to fail to look to God as well!
Pedro R. Meléndez, Jr.