Blast from the Past….
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.
— Gal 5:22-23
If we were ever “Christian soldiers”, carrying out God’s mission, then certainly the ministers were the officers who led us into battle. During my experience in the Worldwide Church of God, the ministry was very much an officers’ corps, and they acted out the role. The ministry did not, as a general rule, “fraternize” with the enlisted people. Rather, they ruled from the top down; this was justified by the picture of “God’s government”, which, we were told, was pyramidal in nature, with God at the top, followed by Jesus Christ, Mr. Armstrong (or whoever the current “apostle” happened to be), and then the ministry. At the bottom, squeezed beneath the crushing weight of all that authority, were the rest of us.
Does your current COG still believe in “God’s government”? Is it still a pyramidal, top-down chain of authority? Are you still at the bottom of the pecking order? Chances are, if you belong to a Meredith, a Billingsley, a Pack or a Flurry, then you’re still living under that kind of oppression.
But let’s talk about your local minister. What kind of guy is he? Do you like him? Are you comfortable in his presence? Does he make you feel positive? When you need to talk to him about something important, do you feel relaxed and confident that he will hear you out, that he will help? After the meeting, do you walk away with a sense of calm, knowing that you got some expert advice, advice that has your best interest in mind?
Or just maybe, when you’re standing in line to talk to him, do you feel nervous, on edge, just a little scared? When you are halfway through the explanation of your situation, does he cut you off and take off on some tangent that has nothing to do with your problem? Does he start accusing you of something? Maybe not praying enough, not fasting enough, not contributing enough? When you’re done, do you feel frustrated, misunderstood, abused?
Answer honestly, please. And don’t tell me, tell yourself. You are the one who needs an honest answer. You are the one who doesn’t need to be lied to, especially by yourself.
What’s He Like?
Have a conversation with yourself, or your spouse if the two of you are close enough; talk honestly about your local pastor, no matter his rank. What kind of guy is he? Is he someone you would associate with if you weren’t both in the same church and had no choice? All things being equal, would you willingly put yourself under his authority?
When your minister puts in an appearance, does he have a smile on his face? Do his eyes light up when he greets the “little people”? Does he leave smiles on the faces of those in his wake? Or does he arrive with a scowl, his forehead furrowed in permafrost, his eyes cold and hard? If he shakes your hand at all, does he glower at you with suspicion? Do you feel a coldness in your bones both before and after greeting him? Would you much prefer never having to shake his hand at all? Does he leave you feeling empty?
During the week, in the relative safety of your daily life, do you experience a sense of disquiet when you think of your minister, or when someone mentions his name? Do you feel suddenly depressed? Does a cold dread settle over you?
What about his sermons? Are they upbeat? Cheerful? Encouraging? Do his sermons fill you with hope? Does listening to him make you think, “I’m going to make it!”?
Or are they mostly negative, focusing on the horrors of the tribulation, painting current events with a black brush? Do his sermons leave your stomach in a knot, because of the imminent sense of doom they create? Does your local leader leave you feeling guilty without quite knowing why you should?
Be honest. Just what kind of guy is your leader?
Ask yourself this: Does your minister exhibit any of the Fruits of the Spirit as described in Gal. 5:22-23?
I’m sure a few of them do. I’m equally sure that the overwhelming majority of them don’t.
Is your minister even converted?
Just What Do You Mean, “Converted”?
In WCG, members were judged on whether they were “converted”, and exactly how converted they were. The worst thing you could say to a person was “You don’t seem very converted”. And when someone “fell away”, it was usually opined that the individual “probably was never converted to begin with”.
Being converted meant surrendering yourself to God, debasing yourself before God, and admitting that you were “a burned-out hunk of junk” (Herbert Armstrong’s personal definition). Once you did all that, and were baptized, you were supposed to be converted. This meant the Holy Spirit was actually dwelling in you, helping you overcome your carnality. If you had trouble with any of that, there was always a minister handy to browbeat you through sermons or personal counsel. You were never allowed to forget how rotten you were, no matter how much progress you made.
But I don’t remember anyone ever questioning the conversion of the ministry, except in those rare cases when a minister “went bad”, which usually meant they no longer followed Armstrong doctrine. These “renegade” ministers were judged to have gone over to the devil, or become “demon possessed”, and we were told to avoid them. Even then, it seems their original conversion was never questioned.
But how converted were they, really? When you look at the “fruits of the spirit” as outlined in Galatians, how many ministers exhibited those qualities? I remember lots of sermons exhorting us to conform to Galatians 5, but everyone seemed to assume, by default, that the ministry was already perfect.
And yet I never, in my entire life, witnessed a less converted group of people. Few, in my experience, showed any love, joy, kindness, or longsuffering. Few left me feeling peaceful. I witnessed very little gentleness, goodness, or faithfulness. Certainly, none of them showed much self-control. The vast majority of them were arrogant, overbearing, and self-righteous. Has that been your experience too? Is that still your experience?
What Is a “Minister”
The dictionary has several definitions of the word “minister”, and they all seem to derive from the way the word has been used to describe certain individuals. The nouns are as follow:
- a. One who is authorized to perform religious functions in a Christian church, especially a Protestant church.
b. Roman Catholic Church The superior in certain orders.
- A high officer of state appointed to head an executive or administrative department of government.
- An authorized diplomatic representative of a government, usually ranking next below an ambassador.
- A person serving as an agent for another by carrying out specified orders or functions.
Only the first of those refers to ministers in a church. The others derive from government positions. But the real definition of a minister, or what should be a minister, comes from the verb:
To attend to the wants and needs of others:
Before there was the noun, there was the verb: i.e., the act of ministering. This is what Jesus reportedly did, helping people in need. The New Testament has several examples of people ministering, yet they weren’t even called ministers. From those acts, presumably, the noun was derived. So what a minister should do is “attend the wants and needs of others”.
Is that what your minister does? Does your minister call you up periodically to see what you need, if he can do anything for you? Or does he call you and others over to his house to mow his lawn, wash his car, and clean his house? Has he ever had you over for dinner? If he did, has he done the same for everyone in your congregation, including the poorest and spiritually weakest members?
One or two of you might surprise me and say yes, but if you’re honest, the overwhelming majority of you will have to admit that your COG minister just doesn’t do that.
Who Do You Believe?
Let’s face it: your minister, if he is truly converted, if he truly loves God, if he truly has the Holy Spirit…should be mowing your lawn, lending you money, driving you to the grocery store when your car is broken. Does he do that? Has he ever done that? For you? For anyone?
We both know the answer, don’t we? I’m willing to bet your next paycheck that your minister is arrogant, self-willed, deceitful, overbearing, and unreachable. When you go to him with a problem, he has already put the blame on you before you even start to explain what’s wrong. And when you walk away from the conference, you are left feeling frustrated and helpless, aren’t you? You never feel like you get a fair hearing from him. You feel abused, unjustly accused, and you probably want to cry.
Then why are you going to his church? Do you really think a man like that represents the true God? The Bible says “by their fruits you shall know them” (look it up); what kind of fruits does your minister exhibit? Is he converted? Would he call you converted if you acted the way he does?
Take good, hard look at the man in charge of your spiritual life. What do you see? You’ve been told, repeatedly, that God placed that man over you, that even though he “isn’t perfect” (and he’s far from it, isn’t he?), that you still have to obey him! That’s been battered into your skull for years, hasn’t it? You know it has! But if you believe the Bible, that “by their fruits you shall know them”, then something is wrong; either the Bible is lying, or your minister, and the men above him, are lying.
Who do you believe?
And what are you going to do about it?