February 15, 2005 ÓHomer Kizer
Commentary — From the Margins
In the matter of Darwin and Laura Lee's remarriage problems that developed fall 2000, Norman Scott Edwards wrote, "Judging just judgment is a very important issue in the scriptures (Deut 16:18; John 7:24, Acts 17:31). So often, people ‘do not like confrontation' and the popular idea is to leave the issue of judging to ‘the government' or ‘the church authorities'. [sic] Those who hope to reign with Christ should be learning to judge righteously, now" (Sep/Oct 2000 Servant News, page 26). Sounds true. Disciples are to judge matters affecting the Church, and their judgments need to be as unbiased as possible and rendered only after the facts of a case are known. But disciples in distant fellowships are not in a position to second-guess a local fellowship. At best their judgment will be based on hearsay evidence.
Distance doesn't make for impartiality. Nor does public appeal. And possessing wisdom becomes the basis for anyone to judge a matter (1 Cor 6:5).
The Lees felt they were not being fairly treated by the hierarchical framework of the United Church of God, an International Association (UCG-IA), so they attempted to continue a Matthew 18 process by taking their remarriage problems to the so-called Church. But the prevailing condition that must be present for any Matthew 18 proceeding is that a brother sin or commit a lawless act against another brother. Plus, some definition of what constitutes the Church must be established before any appeal can proceed. The Lees had voluntarily placed themselves under the authority of the UCG-IA, but with their suspension from services, they wanted a larger body of believers to judge the matter. They didn't like the locally rendered decision, which whether arbitrary or valid was against extending them marriage counseling for they were apparently determined to marry regardless of what counsel would be given.
The lawless act now becomes an administrative decision to deny them marital counseling, and there seems to be a disconnect between what is truly a transgression of the law and what is a congregational management decision. Regardless, the Lees' problem is not really germane to the concept to taking a matter to the Church if a local decision goes against an individual or individuals. Taking a matter to the Church is an appeal to public opinion, and not an appeal to God. All sorts of noble language can be used to dispute taking the matter to the Church being an appeal to public opinion, but ultimately, the Church to whom the appeal is directed consists of those individuals who have chosen not to submit to human government. They are a mob, democratic in tradition and directly governed by the spiritual king of Greece. This Church to which the Lees appealed does not consist of those disciples who have voluntarily placed themselves in an organization of men, gathered together to do good works for God.
When a disciple voluntarily places him or herself in an organization of men, the disciple can voluntarily leave when that organization does those things that the disciple cannot support. Leaving should be done without fanfare, without trumpeting perceived problems to all who will listen, without commotion. When disciples make themselves judges of those over them, they act presumptuously. They are not learning to judge a matter rightly; they are learning to rebel in the same fashion as Satan rebelled against God.
Voluntarily placing oneself in a human organization does not, contrary to what has been echoed within the splintered churches of God for a decade, insert an individual between the disciple and God. I know of no one in the former Worldwide Church of God who prayed to Herbert Armstrong, or through Armstrong as if he were a plaster icon of the Virgin. A multitude of charges can now be leveled against Armstrong, but not the charge of standing between any disciple and Christ. Even his claim of heading the only true church had no effect on those disciples who didn't believe the claim. Thus, it is a bogus examination of fact to claim that submission by a born-from-above disciple to a human organization necessarily places one or more men between the disciple and the godhead. And those disciples whose inclination is not to submit to any human organization will also refuse to submit to God when He asks the disciple to figuratively sacrifice his or her son of promise—when God asks a couple to wait to marry until after marriage counseling even if this counseling is refused. What was asked of the Lees might have seemed unreasonable from the perspective of their flesh, but their flesh will not cross dimensions to enter the heavenly realm. From the perspective of their spirits, delaying marriage might have produced fruit and judgment that they today lack, as evidenced by their siding with Edwards in the happenings here at Port Austin.
Edwards titles his explication of the Lees' September 16, 2000, letter to Church of God Brethren, "Just Judgment Important for Local Congregations" (SN 26). But the Lees were not seeking judgment by their local congregation. They were seeking to overturn the judgment of their local fellowship, for they felt that the local fellowship had not properly judged the matter. They were appealing to an alleged higher court, because Steve Nutzman, rightly or wrongly, wasn't doing their bidding. They were not willing to wait for God to correct Nutzman. Nor did they wait to be released from UCG-IA fellowship.
Edwards establishes himself as a judge in the matter of the Lees dispute with UCG. The Lees wrote, "Then brother Paul Luecke in his September 13, 2000 letter to us said no less than four ministers were in agreement on this matter [suspension] with us and says we were cynical, insulting, had angry accusations toward the Bismark brethren, issued ultimatums, threatened and had disdain for the local pastor, other ministers and UCG administration" (SN 27). Edwards then comments on the cited passage from the Lees' letter: "I think there were places your letters were cynical, insulting and showed disdain for the UCG administration. In some cases, I think they deserved it" (27). They deserved it—is this judging another man's servant? They might well have deserved it, but where is the evidence upon which a reader could make this decision? And for the reader to make such a decision is going down the wrong road.
Why were the Lees concerned about being suspended? If they believed they were correct, then their suspension should have been perceived as liberation from the fellowship under which they had voluntarily placed themselves. If they thought their suspension was justified, then they needed to reconsider the course of action they were following. Either way, the Lees suspension was not a matter for other distant disciples to judge. They were free to follow God as they believed He was leading them, even to appealing to the Church. But their wisdom and judgments become suspect when they make a confidential matter part of a public record.
Church governance doesn't operate under the same assumptions as do civil governments. A bad attitude is enough for the clergy to remove a person from a fellowship, for the kingdom of God is not of this world, is not of the flesh, but of Spirit. A bad attitude is the spiritual equivalent of leaving a rotten apple in a stored bushel. The one apple will contaminate every apple it touches. The good apples don't miraculously heal the rotten piece of fruit. Rather, the rot spoils the good fruit. So Edwards noting the difference in how UCG handled the Lees' case as opposed to what would occur in a civil court is an example of carnal or physical mindedness, and of him not being able to rightly judge a spiritual matter.
The greatest problem of the so-called independent Church of God is physical mindedness. With every few exceptions, disciples in the so-called independent Church are unprofitable servants who have buried their talents, for they have proved that they don't have to tithe and they do no work themselves in discipling newly born-from-above sons of God. They are lukewarm, fit for nothing, and proud of their independence. And it is to this body of believers that the Lees appealed for righteous judgment.
Not enough was really known about the Lees' remarriage problems for anyone outside of their fellowship to have made an informed decision, but that didn't stop Edwards from weighing in. Edwards, in direct address to the Lees, wrote:
The reason why you have had all this difficulty in the first place is twofold: 1) The UCG-IA has replaced the instructions of Matthew 18:15-17 and related scriptures with their own polices. These policies allow a few ministers to decide to remove a person from their local congregation, rather than letting the brethren in that local congregation decide. The only way to solve this problem is for either the leaders or the brethren to insist that it be done. (SN 28)
Here at Port Austin, both the leaders and the brethren of the Sabbatarian fellowships voted to commit Norman Scott Edwards to Satan, but that didn't stop the Lees from supporting Edwards in their on-line newsletter. When Edwards was initially being shunned, he appealed for support to the Like Minds chat group, and the Lees were among the first to support Edwards without hearing the matter except as presented by Edwards himself. With their rush to judgment, the Lees demonstrated that they are today unable to discern right from wrong. They apparently wished to overturn the decisions made by the local congregations. Perhaps it would have been best for the Lees to have grown in spiritual maturity before being enjoined in marriage, a chance they lost when they did not wait to receive marital counseling five years ago.
When the Lees appealed to the Church, they invited a thousand or more physically minded disciples into their bedroom. None of those brethren had any right to be there. And that decision to invite them in stands as a prima facie example of the Lees being unable to rightly judge even a private matter, which the UCG ministry may or may not have properly handled.
After the entire congregation in the wilderness, with the exception of Joshua and Caleb, had been condemned to death for their unbelief that had become disobedience when they tried to enter God's rest on the following day, Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and 250 chief men of Israel assembled themselves against Moses. They told Moses, ‘"You have gone too far! For all of the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them'" (Num 16:3 ESV). All of the congregation was holy (Exod 19:5-6), so the premise from which Korah spoke was true. The congregation hadn't elected Moses as their leader. So Korah demanded to know, ‘"Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?'" So, why was Moses in the position of leading the congregation in the wilderness? He didn't seek the position; he had tried to get out of talking to Pharaoh. And Israel began complaining about his interaction with Pharaoh before their liberation.
Israel bellyached about everything Moses did. They would have complained about him intervening on their behalf when the Logos wanted to wipe them out because of the golden calves if they had known what was offered to Moses. They were an unruly, rebellious lot that is the direct shadow of the "old man" into whose fleshly tabernacle sons of God are born-from-above. Thus, the physically circumcised nation that left Egypt is analogous to all who were consigned to disobedience (Rom 11:32) when mercy was extended to them. And this collection of carnally-minded individuals who told Moses that he had gone too far is today spiritually telling Christ that He has gone too far. Where is the authority in Scripture for a ruler to be placed over them? All drawn disciples are holy before God. So what gives any man (or woman) the right to exalt oneself over the congregation, over the Church?
Moses told Korah, ‘"In the morning the Lord will show who is his, and who is holy, and will bring him near to him. The one whom he chooses he will bring near to him"' (Num 16:5). And this remains the answer to modern Korahs who would invest equality upon the entirety of the spiritually circumcised nation holy to God.
Unless God makes a person a judge over the spiritually circumcised nation of Israel, a person acts presumptuously when taking that authority upon him or herself. Christendom is in the sixth hour of darkness between when the Lamb of God, slain from the foundation of the world, was sacrificed at Calvary and when the death angels pass throughout all spiritual Egypt/Babylon, ransoming firstborns not covered by the blood of the Lamb for the liberation of the holy nation from bondage to sin. Morning follows liberation. And in that Tribulation morning, God will show who is His. And the many spiritual judges to whom the Lees appealed, and to whom Edwards appealed will not die natural deaths if they persist in their presumptuousness. And they will persist, for they have become green-broke horses with their bits between their teeth. They will not be reined in by anyone. They have the scent of freedom in their nostrils, and their eyeballs rolled back in their heads. And they run with wild abandonment where angels fear to tread.
Again, possessing wisdom is the qualification for anyone to judge a matter in the household of God, and possessing wisdom will cause a person not to judge a matter before the case is heard. The Lees' early siding with Edwards after the local congregations here had condemned Edwards to Satan suggests that more than marital counseling was needed by the Bismark couple.
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"Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved."