I see that Bob Thiel posted “The Philadelphia remnant: it is really all about love” sometime after my last post about his new organization. Now, I don’t know whether or not he is reacting directly to what I wrote or what someone else wrote. While he occasionally checks in here, I have no preconceived notions that he reads this blog on any regular basis whatsoever. Frankly, I’m still not convinced he’s got it.
It is for times like these, I believe, that this blog exists. What is love? More specifically, what is brotherly love? What is godly love, for that matter? You know, I’ve touched upon some of these in the past, but my recent studies have me pondering whether or not the modern and postmodern Church has missed the point.
For starters, one person, who doesn’t want to be named, emailed me pondering whether or not the Church organizations have focused so much on what they perceive to be “agape” that they have forgotten about brotherly love.
That really got me thinking. And studying. So far, it’s been a bit surprising, actually. I hope to share some of this with you in the very near future. Do we truly understand the difference between godly love, brotherly love and friendship? Is there a difference? These are questions I need to sort through in light of all of this bandying about of “Philadelphia mantles” and other nonsense.
Meanwhile, “Author” at the Preaching the Gospel blog yesterday posted “Robert Thiel Leaves Living Church of God to Start a New COG Group”. There are a number of things in his post I don’t agree with, but there is one statement with which I can concur (albeit with an addendum):
In this matter, I think Dr. Thiel is wrong and is making a serious mistake.
The difference is, perhaps, in why I think Thiel is wrong. The addendum is that I believe LCG may (and I stress “may”, for we only have one side of the story) also be wrong.
Interestingly, Dr. Thiel stated that he had suspended his membership in LCG on July 14, 2012. This may be news to many LCG members who have been reading his blog thinking he was a member of LCG. I wonder if it will be news to the members of the video group he leads or hosts. If a man “suspends” his membership in an organization only in his own mind, but makes no announcement to the rest of that organization, what meaning does it have?
Author is not the only one to point this out, BTW. In fact, when I first read Thiel’s assertion that he suspended his membership on 14 July, I could not help but scratch my head. When I also learned he was still running a video group in spite of this, my mind went tilt. It seems to me to be less than honest, to put it quite mildly.
Let’s set aside for the moment the whole silliness over eras and such, and concentrate upon brotherly love in the context of what we know about the situation. IOW, this is a good case study as an introduction to what brotherly love really is.
You know, it has been said of art and pornography alike that it is hard to define, but you’ll know it when you see it. If we believe that only Christians can see and understand brotherly love, then we need to re-read Jesus’ words:
35 By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Even outsiders, even unbelievers, would recognize the love of brother for brother.
So, standing as an outsider to LCG, did either Bob Thiel or LCG exhibit brotherly love in what transpired?
Back to Author’s article, though my main intent isn’t so much his article as it is to address the Thiel-LCG situation. Author lists a few public disagreements Thiel has had with LCG. Who was right, and who was wrong? For me, it does not really matter. You can be totally right in a factual sense, but you can be totally wrong with what you do with that information.
My view is that Bob Thiel should have submitted to the authority of Dr. Meredith and the LCG ordained ministry in these matters as long as he was a member of or attending with LCG. He should not have contradicted LCG in public, though it is not wrong for him to offer his views to the LCG leadership in private.
Here is where I think I disagree most with Author. Although, I have to admit that it isn’t clear whether or not Thiel first tried to address these privately, he does give that impression. Still, is it necessarily wrong to have doctrinal differences and express one’s opinion?
I ask this because it has been my impression that all of these church organizations tend to be very thin-skinned. You know, when I write about “The Sin of Being Offended”, does anyone doubt that this has as much to do with church organizations as the lay member? Have we as human beings beaten the drum of “all speak the same thing” that our views have gone off into the ditch? Whatever happened to the verses about doubtful disputations?
Speaking as one who has studied what happened between the 1970s and 1990s to the church organization I once knew and have myself witnessed the UCG-COGWA split, I have come to the conclusion that any organization that cannot sustain small differences of opinion will inevitably disintegrate. If even small criticisms cannot be readily received, then there is no incentive for growth or even acknowledging there is anything to overcome. The organization will split because it is unhealthy, and it cannot fight off any infection that it cannot recognize.
Obviously, I am not talking about expelling poisonous attitudes or people. That is part of recognizing and dealing with infection, after all. However, allergies are not healthy, either. Allergies attack things that aren’t even harmful to the organism and create a response to try to rid the body of it. This actually weakens the body, as it overproduces histamines to counteract essentially inert matter.
God gave you and I a brain. Nowhere does the Bible so much as suggest we are to hang those brains up at the church door. In fact, if we aren’t supposed to use our brain, then all that Bible study is nothing more than a waste of time. The consequence to this is that there will be differences of opinion.
In practical matters, this means:
- A member should realize that they are one voice of many. Expressing their opinion the right way is one means of spiritual growth. Feeling fear to be able to express that fear is still fear. Love crowds out fear (1Jn 4:18), and fear is a type of torment (ibid).
- A church should realize that people will grow at different rates, and that includes the church leadership. Not every challenge is a rebellious act against authority. If God does not beat them down for every minor misunderstanding, then neither should the members receive such treatment from the church.
- God and God’s Church isn’t so weak that it cannot withstand discussions from different points of view about satellite (non-core) doctrines.
At the same time, this requires, as any freedom requires, certain responsibilities:
- A member has the responsibility to try to understand the doctrines of the church as they stand. The member has the responsibility to realize the church has been around longer than they, and the likelihood that others haven’t come before them with similar questions is very small indeed. It should only be after a great deal of prayer and study that rejection of any doctrine should take place.
- The church has the responsibility to understand that length of time in existence, amount of collective study of the leadership or conviction of those who passed down traditions does not guarantee correctness. Grace and mercy are part of the Christian walk, and not extending that to any member sincerely struggling with questions is not acting in a godly manner.
- Getting tangled up in the weeds on the side of the road does no one any good.
Yes, I used that ‘G-word’ “grace”. We must never become ashamed of what ‘The G-word’ “Gospel” teaches, and if we cannot treat one another with grace, dignity and mercy, then we are simply another ‘g-word’ “goats” that will stand on the left hand of Christ’s throne, ready to be cast into the Lake of Fire.
I am not kidding, and I am not exaggerating.
How does the case study in Thiel vs LCG look now? Pretty bleak for both sides, no?
Do I really need to repeat yet again that we are talking about minor matters here? What was disfellowship used for in the NT? For that matter, when was it used in the OT? Murder, adultery, fornication with one’s stepmother, rebellion against parents, breaking the Sabbath, etc. Was Thiel guilty of any of these? If he was truly disfellowshipped (which is far from clear), then I would say it potentially could have been an unjust putting out.
Then again, was Thiel guilty of division? This does have potential, as well. However, division over what? A salvation issue? Why the stubborn insistence of LCG to change a doctrine on such flimsy reasoning?
Is it “philadelphian”, full of brotherly love, to make mountains out of molehills? Is that even Christian? Or, is it the way of the world, filled with politics that is vicious, divisive and will exaggerate every minor point and flaw of “the other side”? If a dispute is between two Christians, should there even be “another side”?
Jesus said offenses would come, and they certainly did soon after the Church was founded in 31 AD. We see disputes about which of the elderly widows were being properly served. We see a greater dispute about circumcision years later. However, what we do see is people coming together to resolve those differences rather than ending up with 12 or 13 different church organizations.
Instead, what we see is some organizations (and their supporters parroting) claiming to be “Philadelphian”. Well, you know, I’m good looking. I’m so good looking that women swoon when I enter the room, and men instantly become jealous. I’m so good looking that I must hide from the paparazzi. You know I am because I told you so. You don’t believe me? Well, that just means you’re jealous. Anyone can see that I am because I have said I am.
I will assume you are reasonable and can easily see through such an argument. Just because a church leader stands up and says “We are Philadelphian” does not make it so any more than me standing up and saying “I am good looking” makes it so.
How would I really know whether or not I was good looking? Perhaps someone else would tell me. After all, my own view is going to be skewed, so it doesn’t count for much unless someone else can see and appreciate certain things. Still, if only one person tells me, then it still may not mean very much.
How would I really know that I have brotherly love? If I perceive myself as being giving and loving, that doesn’t mean a whole lot in reality. Everyone views themselves as being virtuous, after all. Even more than looks, brotherly love means nothing at all unless it is being perceived and received by another person.
2 Let another man praise you, and not your own mouth;
A stranger, and not your own lips.
The sad truth is that no organization who claims to be “philadelphian” is. Neither can they be. Boasting is not brotherly love, and it shows arrogance, which fights against love.
10 Arrogance leads to nothing but strife,
but wisdom is gained by those who take advice.
“Those who take advice” should be the members of any given group or congregation. At the same time, church leadership has a responsibility to set the example and be able to publicly correct themselves if needed. Those who are filled with arrogance have crowded love out, and instead they become self-serving, self-righteous and abominable in God’s eyes.
HWA defined love as “outgoing concern for others”, as I have pointed out in the past. Somewhere in either the definition or follow-up explanation, he always used the world “selfless” to describe love. Arrogance and pride are the opposites. They serve self and self alone. Arrogance only reaches out long enough to justify itself. However, it has no true interest in others. Others are simply the accessories required to serve self.
The interesting thing is that everyone can change, if they have the mind to do so. The sad part is that the arrogant cannot acknowledge their problem. The “Christian” landscape is scattered with the spiritual fatalities of those who have suffered at the hands of the arrogant, some being self-inflicted wounds. Yet, they do not change because their arrogance prevents them from seeing themselves as they truly are.
Is this really God’s Spirit?
17 “Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty;
You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor;
I cast you to the ground,
I laid you before kings,
That they might gaze at you.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,
23 Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.
I submit to you two things about this passage in Galatians 5:
- The correct translation is “meekness”. It is a type of humility put into action. Moses was meek. Jesus was meek. Yet, Moses ground up the golden calf and made Israel drink it sprinkled in their water. Jesus made whips and drove out the money changers in the Temple.
- You cannot have love without some form of meekness. If self is never squelched, then love will die.
I’m sorry, but I have not seen any fruits of meekness out of LCG for a very long time. Neither have I seen any such fruit from Bob Thiel in perhaps even longer. While we are at it, there is no meekness at all in the leadership of the extremely misnamed Philadelphian Church of God, Weinland’s Church of God – Preparing for the Kingdom of God, David C Pack’s Restored Church of God or in any of the writings of James Malm. Their bitterness is a poison that will spiritually kill all who drink of it.
One thing that these organizations and people have in common is that they will squelch individual thought rather than enable the individual to grow at the rate they need to grow. Satan is the one who is into possession, brain washing, hypnotic and hidden influence, slander, accusations, attacks and punishing anyone who dares to have independent thought or action.
“God is a gentleman” goes the saying. While that is arguably an oversimplification, the end result is that God will not force anyone to be in His family who does not come willingly. Satan seeks to squelch individual thought and desires in order to supplant them with his own. God seeks to change and then shape hearts and minds with the willing assent of the individual. While a person may be forced into a situation where they must make a decision, God still gives the person the right to make that decision on their own.
I daresay that if many of the Protestant churches misunderstand and undervalue the Law, then many of the COG organizations misunderstand and undervalue love.
Love still is not an organization. Love still is not a “mantle”. Love is not beating one’s chest saying, “We are the True Philadelphians!” Love is not pointing the finger and saying, “You are Laodicean”, either. Love is not about getting people lined up to join your particular organization either!
49 And John answered and said, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name; and we forbad him, because he followeth not with us.
50 And Jesus said unto him, Forbid him not: for he that is not against us is for us.
We are only told about a few instances in which Jesus said, “Follow me.” He engaged the Pharisees on a regular basis, but where were any of those discussions about belonging to a particular group? Where did they engage in arguments about “brotherly love”, let alone belonging to the correct “Philadelphia remnant”?
What is truly amazing is that the apostles did not really consider they were starting anything truly new. It wasn’t their goal to create a “church” in the same way we think of a “church” in all honesty. They believed their religion was the logical continuation of Judaism but with the recognition of Who the Messiah was, even to the extent they still met in the Temple and met with others in the synagogues. In fact, it would not be evident for some time after Pentecost 31 AD that God was calling anyone but Jews.
We need to examine our COG-speak under a microscope. What is a “Philadelphian remnant”, anyhow? If you are an outsider to the COGs, would that even make sense to you? Wouldn’t you be inclined to believe it to be a silly argument for argument’s sake? Couldn’t it be that would be the case because it really is? Would they look at someone beating their chest about how “Philadelphian” they are and want to join because “ye have love one to another”?
You know, if it sounds illogical, then it probably is.
I have searched 1 Corinthians 13, and I cannot find “Philadelphian mantle” or “Philadelphian remnant” anywhere in it. Neither can I find “you must believe the same way about every little thing”. Nowhere does Paul call love “thin-skinned”, and he certainly did not write to make mountains out of molehills.
What I do find is this:
4 Charity suffereth long [puts up with differences lovingly and for long periods of time], and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up [does not have to beat its chest and claim to love more, have more of The Truth™, be The True Church, etc.],
5 Doth not behave itself unseemly [making mountains out of molehills, arguing about which side of the tomb the napkin was laying], seeketh not her own [not looking for “converts”, paying members or even high attendance numbers to parade around, as though that’s what counts], is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil [no gossip and no slander!];
Yet, when I look at the many corporate churches, I see people who are willing to silence people at the drop of a hat, kick people out of their
synagogues churches over minor matters, puff themselves up with talk of how great they are, give their leaders vaunted titles (sometimes silly ones that are supposed to impress us), and they have no compunction for speaking evil of others or scaring their own crowd by saying the others will go into the Great Tribulation or even the Lake of Fire for some imagined wrong.
It’s just not that hard to see why a skeptical, postmodern society would not be attracted to any of this.
Paul wrote about how God is blasphemed through the misconduct of Christians. How much more will this generation be judged?
And, it is actually even worse than that.
10 Here is how one can distinguish clearly between God’s children and those of the Adversary: everyone who does not continue doing what is right is not from God.
Likewise, anyone who fails to keep loving his brother is not from God.
From the context, it is easy to see that not loving one’s brother places them as being children of Satan.
That should be a sobering thing to contemplate.
Another sobering thing to contemplate is a statement Jesus made.
12 And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold.
~ Mt 24:12
The question is: Is Jesus talking about the world or the Church?
I think the answer is “Yes”.