Changing Locations?

In my previous Editorial, “Are We Easy Targets?,” which was published in Update #662, I made the following observation: “Thinking that we can solve or ignore our personal problems by just changing church organizations (even within the Body of Christ) is also useless and futile, because our problems will accompany us, no matter where we go. Unless we are willing to focus on, face and overcome OUR problems—not the problems of others—we are and will continue to be easy targets of Satan’s craftiness and deception.”

In this Editorial, I’d like to say a few more things about this common mistake. Far too many think that they can escape reality and live in an illusionary dream world by just changing locations.  But we do not meet our God-given responsibilities by just changing our jobs, leaving our employers, moving to another town or turning our backs on our Church congregation, while avoiding to deal with our own personal problems. This will never work, “because our problems will accompany us, no matter where we go.” When God led Israel out of Egyptian slavery, “Egypt” went with them; their hearts never left it.

Of course, if a job requires of us to break God’s law, or if a Church organization begins to water down or change God’s truth, then it is time to flee (Revelation 18:4). But to run away strictly for personal reasons, because we do not want to deal with our personal challenges, is never a solution. In fact, it is sinful conduct because God commands us to face and overcome our problems, where we are. Trying to flee from our problems by changing locations is, in fact, attempting to flee from God, who wants us to confront our challenges head on—and it is futile and foolish to think that we can flee from God’s presence (Psalm 139:7). Jonah was unwilling to fulfil his mission. He thought he could “flee… from the presence of the LORD” (Jonah 1:3). But God saw to it that Jonah became obedient—even though it was a long, laborious and thorny path.

Proverbs 27:8 tells us: “Like a bird that wanders from its nest Is a man who wanders from his place.” Trying to escape our God-given responsibilities by just changing our status quo is tantamount to wandering “from the way of understanding” and resting “in the assembly of the dead” (Proverbs 21:16). It is the “foolishness of man” that “twists his way” (Proverbs 19:3). A person who “isolates himself” for improper reasons from his co-employees or Church brethren reveals a lack of love and shows that he only “seeks his own desire” (Proverbs 18:1).

It did not happen because of time and chance that we found ourselves in a particular Church organization. Rather, God placed us there. If we truly believe that God works in our lives, then we will not flee when we are facing problems. Isaiah 28:16 says: “He who believes need never run away again” (Living Bible). It is the uncommitted “hireling” who does not care for others and who flees when he is confronted with challenges (John 10:12-13). Rather than fleeing from our responsibilities, we are to submit to God and resist the devil, and it is Satan who must flee from us (James 4:7).

It may be tempting to just change Church organizations if we do not like “something,” because we might think that all teach the same thing, and that it really does not matter where we attend, and we might justify our conduct by rationalizing that we will still remain to be part of the Body of Christ. But if Church group and minister “shopping” are being done to escape our God-given responsibilities, then we commit a terrible and tragic mistake and even a grave sin, which might cost us our eternal life. To leave a Church organization within the Body of Christ and “join” another one, which may also be in the Body of Christ, constitutes sinful conduct, if it is being done for unbiblical reasons.

A person who has been validly disfellowshipped by a minister of God within the spiritual Body of Christ is never “free”, in God’s eyes, to just join another Church organization within the Body of Christ, as long as the reasons for the disfellowshipment continue to exist. To do so would heap sin upon sin, and it does not matter whether the other Church organization, for whatever reason, would grant access to their fellowship. At the same time, it is also sinful conduct for anyone, including relatives and friends, to leave their Church organization because of a falsely-perceived “loyalty” for the disfellowshipped person, and to follow the disfellowshipped person into another Church organization—even within the Body of Christ—because such conduct would not be justified in the eyes of God. To do so would show a wrong kind of “sympathy” for the disfellowshipped person, and it would be SIN against God as it would manifest rebellion against God’s Church government and a lack of love for God, while loving a human being more than Christ. If we did this, we would not be worthy of Christ (Matthew 10:37-39).

At this point, I’d like to bring to your attention a previously unpublished article by Herbert W. Armstrong, the late human leader of the Worldwide Church of God, who died in 1986. Mr. Armstrong wrote an article in the early 1980’s, titled, “Clarifying Church Doctrine on Disfellowshipping.” Here is what he said:

“God’s own Biblical teaching for His Church is the necessity of harmony and unity in Christ. In I Corinthians 1:10, all in the Church are commanded to speak the same thing—unity in clear Biblical teaching. God’s Word teaches that God’s Law is LOVE to all—first, love to God, then also love toward fellow human. God’s Law is love toward all. But also God teaches a special fellowship love toward brethren in Christ. In I John 1, we have that special close fellowship not only with one another, but also with God and with Christ. Jesus said of Church brethren, ‘By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one for another.’

“When one deliberately breaks that unity and causes division among brethren, or causes it by deliberate and continuing sin, God commands, ‘Mark those that cause division among you, and avoid them’ (Romans 16:17). The word ‘mark’ is from the Greek ‘skopeo’ meaning ‘look at, consider, take note of.’ The same word ‘mark’ from the same Greek word, in Philippians 3:17, says ‘mark them which walk so as you have us for an example,’ speaking favorably of such a person. ‘Mark’ certainly does not mean ‘brand,’ or ‘stigmatize,’ or ‘condemn,’ but ‘take note of, avoid them.’ This does not violate God’s command to have the attitude of love toward all people. We still have love for those disfellowshipped. But it does mean avoid contact—avoid fellowship—especially avoid contact. Jesus taught us to LOVE even our enemies and those who despitefully use us. To avoid a disfellowshipped one does not mean hold malice toward. It does not mean injure, fight against, or defame. It simply means avoid fellowship or even personal contact. It does not accuse, any more than we accuse, brand, or fight against any or all outside the Church.

“The Church are those ‘called out’ from the world. We do not fight against the world, but merely withdraw from whatever ways in which it lives contrary to God’s way of life defined by His Law. We remain friendly toward those of the world, but do not have close friendship or fellowship with them. But we still do love disfellowshipped former members.”

We ought to take these words to heart. We have to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. We must never give in to the thought that we may know it better than God. We are told exactly what we must do. Rather than trying to escape our responsibility by changing locations, we must choose to follow God’s directive, no matter where we are.

©2024 Church of the Eternal God