Reply to Norman Edwards on Anti-Hierarchical Church Government Letter


By Eric V. Snow


I’ve decided to take up your challenge to readers for answers to your letter to leaders in a

Hierarchical Church Organization” in the May/June 2001" issue, which I received December 1,



Although I’m a laymember (yes, I accept the evil Nicolaitan clergy/laity distinction!) of

the UCG-IA, I can’t be considered any kind of official spokesperson” for it.  Nevertheless, here’s

how I would reply if I were a high-ranking minister who received it, although I’m only speaking

for myself below:


Let’s begin by answering the third question first about whether God intended to end the

evangelistic work begun by Herbert W. Armstrong.  The Church of God has been commanded by

God to preach the Gospel to the world as per the Great Commission of Matt. 28:19-20: “Go

therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the

Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with

you always, even to the end of the age.”  Likewise, the church has a commission to issue a

warning (cf. the principle of the watchman in Eze. 33:2-9)  as a witness to the world before the

end comes, as per Matt. 24:14: “And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in the whole

world for a witness to all the nations and then the end shall come.”  This text shows that money

spent on public media evangelism (print, radio, TV) isn’t to be judged as a pure Awaste” if none

or few choose to convert as a result since the job of the church when evangelizing isn’t only to

get new members.




The death of Herbert W. Armstrong in the January of 1986 did not rip out of the Bible

these texts.  True Christians today, which at least include those who learned as a package

doctrines that had been neglected for nearly two millennia through Mr. Armstrong and the men

he taught, still have a duty to preach the Gospel to the world.  Hence, I would not say so much

that we’re continuing the “work of Herbert Armstrong” as simply continuing to obey God’s

commission to preach the Gospel to the world of which the efforts of Herbert W. Armstrong

were the greatest by a non-Trinitarian Sabbatarian since the first-century A.D.  We honor him as

the one whom God used to restore foundational truths of Scripture that the world’s Christianity

rejected, neglected, or had didn’t have altogether in one denomination as a package.  Christians

should not believe, as a number in the Church of God today believe (such as Robert Elliott of

God’s Church Worldwide), that the evangelistic work of God was completed by Mr. Armstrong,

so it’s only our duty just to prepare the bride of Christ (i.e., spiritually improve ourselves as

Christians) until Jesus returns.  Again, the two texts from Matthew cited above were not deleted

from the Bible the day Herbert W. Armstrong died.  (His opinion, stated just before he died, that

he had completed the evangelistic work of God in this age, and that his successor was (mainly) to

prepare the church for Christ’s return, was mistaken).  It’s our duty to preach the Gospel, even if

people don’t believe (re: the first class found in the Parable of the Sower), so fewer people can

claim at the beginning of the millennium, AI couldn’t have known better!”  It may be true that the

Two Witnesses will do more evangelism in a few years than the church has done in the prior

approximately two millennia combined, but it’s our duty to aim to do what we can in the time

that’s left.


A key spiritual advantage of making preaching the Gospel one of the two major focuses

of the church operationally (the other being personal spiritual preparation, preparing the Bride of

Christ,” etc.) is its outward focus.  By now we Sabbatarians in the tradition of the old Worldwide

Church of God of Herbert W. Armstrong have spent some seven years since clear revelation of

the great apostasy of 1994-95 thrashing out internal issues among ourselves.  As the pages of The

Servants’ News and The Journal for years have shown, we make each other the main enemy it

appears, not the world or Satan.  How much more time do we need to spend obsessively bashing

others over matters such as church government and the Jewish calendar?  Can it be balanced for

(say) Dave Havir to have published in every issue of the Journal for months on end a column that

each time denounces some aspect of hierarchical church government?  It would nearly seem,

from the amount of time and print space independents in the COG spend on these issues, that I

Cor. 13:13 must read, “Now abide church government, faith, hope, love, these four, but the

greatest of these is church government.”  How much longer are we going to rehearse the

emotional wounds we received in the WCG or some other corporate COG?  It’s time to get over

it, and move on!  Isn’t seven years, a tenth of a standard human lifetime, enough already?  If the

independents spent as much time and zeal in (say) attacking evolution or decaying family life as

they do corporate church government, a mighty work might result!




At least when Gerald Flurry of the PCG overemphasizes prophecy, he has two good

arguments for his position intrinsically: 1.  Some 28% or so of Scripture is prophecy, so a priori,

giving one sermon a month on prophecy wouldn’t be unbalanced.  2.  Since we believe we’re in

the time of the end and the final generation before Christ returns, which developments on the

world’s scene (especially in the EU) in recent decades would indicate is a solidly based belief,

we’re the ones who need to know prophecy more than any other prior generation.  We’re the ones

who need to be the experts on (say) Daniel and Revelation since we’re likely going to live

through more fulfillments of prophetically predicted events than any prior generation of

Christians.  By contrast, does the percentage of verses that EXPLICITLY deal with church

government matters reach 1%?  During the English Civil war and the Commonwealth under

Oliver Cromwell (1642-60), the various Protestant groups involved (Anglican, Presbyterian,

Separatist/Congregationalist, etc.) argued nearly endlessly over matters of church government

and administration.  Indeed, nothing is new under the sun!  How much more time are we going to

row the boat with only one oar (i.e., in circles)?  How many more times do the same arguments

need to be reiterated?  It’s time to deal with the world instead, as the likes of Gerald Flurry

determined some months ago (see the dramatic difference in the Trumpet now compared to four

years ago!)


Now, let’s take up specifically the other two questions your letter raised: #1.  The unique

circumstances of the apostasy of 1994-95 made null and void the spiritual authority of Joseph

Tkach Sr. and any others who followed his slide into Evangelical Protestantism.  God has placed

human authority in the church (Heb. 13:7, 17; Titus 2:15; I Tim. 2:12; 5:17), but it isn’t allowed

to cancel out the clear commands of Scripture when they conflict (cf. the principle of Acts 5:29;

4:19).  Just as the existence of abusive husbands don’t invalidate the spiritual principle of

Eph.5:22 about wives obeying their husbands, the existence of abusive ministers doesn’t prove

no ministers at any time have any authority over others in whatever church organization they

have joined of their own free will.  (Likewise, since Romans 13:1-7 shows the gentiles who lord

it over us are to be obeyed even when many of the laws in question are (arguably) stupid, Matt.

20:25-28 doesn’t condemn hierarchy per se, but merely an ABUSIVE hierarchy).   It’s correct to

observe that the “bottom” (i.e., laymembers) or even the “middle” (i.e., field ministers) may be

more right than the Atop” on some doctrinal point(s), but that doesn’t prove the last have never

had any authority at any time.  It’s an invalid argument to reason that because God sometimes

doesn’t govern from the top down, therefore, he never does, which is (presumably) the

independents’ position.  Otherwise, they’re faced with the problem: If God does sometimes (“not

always”) govern from the top, when are the times should they (the independents) obey it? 

“Sometimes” isn’t the same as “never” or “always”!


#2.   As shown by merger discussions (call them what they really were) that eventually bore fruit

with the Remnant Church of God in Ghana and the COG, a Christian Fellowship, the UCG-IA

itself happily allows people from other COG groups to become members, even ministers as per

the credentialling process.  The former group involved people who had never been members of

the old WCG, and they weren’t required to be rebaptized, etc.  We freely acknowledge that true

Christians attend other corporate and non-corporate organizations.


But certain problems can come up with indiscriminate intermixing between different

COG groups that aren’t acknowledged here, hence some caution is in order.  Those who bounce

around from one group to another can have divisive doctrinal or personal agendas.  I know of one

congregation in a corporate organization (the idea didn’t originate from the pastor in official

charge) that had members that asked for a particular independent not to come anymore because

his attitude was so often so negative and critical.  If a person attends a group, and then spends

much of his or her time before and after services bashing its form of church government and

what various leaders or members in it are doing or have done, they have a misplaced emphasis

that can spread divisiveness.  If people come in peace, they’re welcome as per our open door

policy, but not if they’ve come to merely complain and criticize, they can be asked to leave and

not come back until their attitude improves:  “Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those

who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away

from them” (Rom. 16:17; cf. I Tim. 6:3-5, 1:3-7).




The problem often isn’t doctrine, although it can be, but the attitude with which it’s

expressed, whether it be in conversations or on sermon tapes.  Furthermore, there can be certain

doctrinal issues at times that have potential legal ramifications: It isn’t a good policy for the

UCG-IA to allow Ron Dart to speak to its congregations if the U.S. government, down the road,

reinstitutes the draft, and says to the UCG-IA: “Since your organization has allowed minister(s)

to speak in it who don’t object to Christians waging war, young men in your congregations who

have been called up for service are going have more trouble receiving conscientious objector

status.”  To outsiders, unacquainted with our (often) petty feuds, we are going to look pretty

much alike (cf. Acts 18:13-15; 25:18-20), so it isn’t wise to always get lumped together.   I agree

that the COG divisions caused by the ministry’s own divisiveness in various organizations that

have caused friends and family to be divided (Meredith vs. Salyer, Hulme vs. the rest of the

COE, GTA vs. other ministers in the CGI, etc.) are bad.  But divisiveness also can come from the

bottom up, from spiritual fringers who jump from congregation to congregation constantly

criticizing what’s happening in that organization or what had happened to them in the past. 

People who have constantly bad attitudes who can’t keep them to themselves shouldn’t be free to

just come and go as they please.  Trying to prevent such problems may cause divisiveness in turn,

especially if certain people get unfairly tagged, etc., but doing nothing (i.e, having no controls)

can lead to divisiveness as well.  Here some kind of balance between the two extremes is

necessary.  Our tendency as humans is to swing from one extreme to the other, like a pendulum,

just as independents want to reject all hierarchy in church organizations because of the one-man

rule dictatorship they experienced in the WCG, when a merely tamed, reformed, flattened (no

ranks such as apostles, evangelists, etc.) hierarchy will solve most of the problems, such as exists

in the UCG-IA presently.


Consider: If a person spend most of his or her time condemning and criticizing others,

whether they be the local or other ministers, various corporate church organizations,

administrative procedures of corporate church organizations, Herbert W. Armstrong, Garner Ted

Armstrong, Ambassador College, the old WCG, tithing as exploitive, etc., is that the spiritual

emphasis Christ would want us to have?  (See Matt. 7:1-5; Phil. 4:8 if anyone has doubts).  Isn’t

it judgmental to say “Today, many Christians are afraid to place their church congregation

directly under Christ and trust His protection, even when there is no immediate persecution for

doing so they prefer a state-granted incorporation because the state promises them liability

protection and other benefits” (SN, “May/June” 2001, p. 7)?  How does this differ in form from

the old WCG teaching that going to doctors shows a lack of faith?  (Alluded to on p. 21, the

same issue).  If people don’t agree with the SN’s legal advice on not incorporating churches,

especially when no lawyers are writing for it, are they automatically spiritually benighted

Laodiceans?  Or, are there legal drawbacks or trade-offs to free, non-incorporated churches that

have to be admitted, as they are at least in part in “Starting a Local Congregation”?  There can be

legal, not just merely medical, quackery, although it appears that free churches have a better track

record (so far as the SN reveals) than (say) iridology, naturopathy, etc.  A second opinion is

called for, I’d say.  Do research on your own independent of the obvious Apro-free church”

sources.  At least, it’s time for some tolerance of differences of opinion on this matter among

Christians and others of good will.




So in conclusion: 1.  Since the New Testament commands hierarchy in many fundamental

in society at large, such as between citizens and their government (Titus 3:1; I Pet. 2:13-15),

children and their parents (Eph. 6:1; Col. 3:20), slaves and their masters (Col. 3:22-23; Eph. 6:5-

6; I Pet. 2:18-19), wives and their husbands (Col. 3:18; I Pet. 3:1, 5-6), and even between Christ

and the Father (Heb. 5:8; I Cor. 11:3; 15:27-28), it shouldn’t be surprising that God can rule from

the top down through ministers on earth within church organizations.  The fact abuses occur

doesn’t refute the principle of hierarchy, otherwise, wife-beating would abolish the principle

found in Eph. 5:22, child abuse would nullify Eph. 6:1, and communism would obliterate Rom.

13:1-7.  Proving that the ministry (or leading ministers) can be wrong sometimes doesn’t prove

they never have had any authority at any time over anyone.  2.  A lack of controls can cause

division to spread as well as having too many controls on brethren meeting together.  Certain

people who wander from place to place, constantly condemning and criticizing, divisively

bringing up pet doctrinal ideas or even outright deadly ones (the Conder controversy, for

example), should be told not to come back if they refuse to repent.  3.  Since Matt. 24:14 and

Matt. 28:19-20 weren’t torn from the Bible the moment HWA died, there are good reasons for

Christians to engage in preaching the Gospel by large-scale media evangelistic efforts.  Personal

evangelism has its place also, but it can’t easily do everything.  It can’t easily cover the same

territory, especially by Christians tied down to one location by commitments to their jobs and/or

families who aren’t going to want to “rough it” in poor Third World countries. Both approaches

have their place, and both should be encouraged.