Q: Does the Church of the Eternal God and its corporate affiliates believe in and practice hierarchical government?
A: The answer is clearly “yes.” Our Statements of Beliefs point out that the Church of the Eternal God in the United States, the Church of God, a Christian Fellowship in Canada, and the Global Church of God in the United Kingdom, uphold and teach “the major doctrines” which “were taught by Herbert W. Armstrong,” unless ” any particular doctrine is proven to be wrong by the Bible.” As we all know, Mr. Armstrong clearly taught hierarchical government within the Church — that is, rule “from the top down.” He did not teach, and neither do we, that the Church is to be ruled by the lay membership, that is, rule “from the bottom up.” We clearly understand that God the Father is above all, and that Jesus Christ, the Head of His Church, is under the Father. Christ, in turn, appoints those under Him who are to serve, lead and guide the Church on a human level.
CEG’s Bylaws confirm our hierarchical structure. Article V — Governance — states, “The governance of the corporation is, after the Biblical example, hierarchical in form. The corporation is managed through a Board of Directors.” It is also regulated in our Bylaws that every Director must be, and must remain to be, a Church member of the Church of the Eternal God (CEG). In this way, CEG is set up exactly as the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) was set up under Mr. Armstrong.
CEG’s Board of Directors presently consists of the following five Directors who are all ministers: J. Edwin Pope (President, Chairman of the Board), Norbert Link (Vice-President), Dave Harris (Treasurer), Rene Messier from Canada, and Brian Gale from the United Kingdom. Mrs. Margaret Adair, widow of late Evangelist Colin Adair, although not a Director, serves as Secretary of CEG. Messrs. Pope and Link are Pastor-rank ministers. Mr. Pope, as the senior minister in CEG, has served in the ministry of the Church of God for the longest period of time, and also serves as Chairman of the Boards of CEG’s affiliates in Canada (Church of God, a Christian Fellowship) and Great Britain (Global Church of God).
Headquarters of CEG is San Diego, California, where Messrs. Pope and Link, as well as Mrs. Adair, reside.
The Board of Directors of CEG, presently consisting of all of our ministers in the USA, Canada and Great Britain, also functions in effect as, what has traditionally been referred to as a Council of Elders (COE) for doctrinal and doctrinally related matters of our Church organizations and operations worldwide.
Some have asked whether we practice “one-man rule.” If it is meant by this that one man has the absolute and arbitrary authority to establish or change doctrines, or to direct and decide unilaterally how to preach the gospel to the world and how to feed the flock, then the answer is “No.” We understand that in the past, Mr. Armstrong would have had, in theory, such authority (although he never exercised it, but rather he counseled extensively with the other ministers, before rendering a decision). We must realize that Mr. Armstrong was an apostle. He was also the only human apostle during his lifetime.
Mr. Armstrong did say, however, that if God had chosen to call a second individual as an apostle, then the structure within WCG would have had to be, by necessity, quite different. He pointed out that in the New Testament, there were several apostles, with, for instance, Peter being the apostle to the circumcision and Paul being the apostle to the uncircumcision (Compare Galatians 2:7-9: “But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcision had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas [i.e., Peter], and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.”)
After Mr. Armstrong died, NO ONE in the different Church of God groups, including WCG, had been or has been established by God as an apostle. Therefore, there should not have been “one-man-rulership” after Mr. Armstrong’s death. Unfortunately, that mistake was made, however, in that Mr. Joseph W. Tkach was able to assume autocratic authority — and the result of this mistake was an unspeakable tragedy and disaster for the entire Church.
If we had “one-man-rule” today in an unqualified way, where the “ruler” could make arbitrary and capricious decisions, which cannot be supported from the Bible and which cannot be said to be in accordance with God’s Will, we would only repeat the mistakes made within WCG after Mr. Armstrong’s death. With that rationale, all of us should have stayed in WCG, even when the unbiblical changes were introduced and taught, because we would have had to follow “that” leader, “ordained” by God, and “appointed” by Mr. Armstrong before his death. Unfortunately, many did, and some even today follow that erroneous rationale and have chosen to stay in WCG, hoping against hope that WCG, through its human leader, will change its doctrines back to the truth once and for all delivered to the saints.
When it becomes obvious that a leader is no longer leading properly, based on Biblical standards, then the Word of God shows that no true Christian should follow that individual merely because he holds an “office.” Leadership in the Church of God is for service to God’s people based upon these Biblical standards. Our check and balance in the Church of God is that given by Paul in 1 Corinthians 11, verse 1: “Imitate me, JUST AS I also imitate Christ.”
We have the history of the Church of God up until the present time. Jesus also made reference to that history in Revelation 2 and 3. He certainly holds all of His people accountable to follow the correct teachings in order to please the Father and to do all to the glory of Him and to our Savior, Jesus Christ.
In the early New Testament Church, there was more than just one apostle. We note that none of the apostles had autocratic one-man-rule authority. Rather, when the early Church needed to decide a doctrinal issue, they had to convene a ministerial conference, as recorded in Acts 15. It appears that all of the apostles, as well as the elders from the Headquarters Church in Jerusalem, participated at that conference (Acts 15:2, 4, 6). We find that after much dispute, the apostle Peter spoke, followed by the apostles Paul and Barnabas, followed by the apostle James. James was, of course, the half-brother of Jesus Christ (who had grown up together with Christ) and he was also at that time the apostle for the Headquarters Church in Jerusalem. From the Biblical record, we find that it was James who rendered the final decision (Acts 15:19), but it was based on a consensus of the ministry, who had been guided and led by the Holy Spirit to find the answer to the issue at hand (Acts 15:22, 25, 28; 16:4). James did not pronounce an arbitrary and capricious decision, but his judgment was inspired by the Holy Spirit, as had become manifest to the ministry and to the members (Compare also the same principle in 2 Chronicles 30:12: “Also the hand of God was on Judah to give them singleness of heart to obey the command of the king and the leaders, at the word of the LORD.”).
It is also not true, as some claim, that God always works with only one man. God worked at least with Peter, Paul, James and John at the same time (compare again Galatians 2:9. Note, too, as to the function of James, besides Peter and Paul, Acts 12:17; 21:18; 1 Corinthians 15:3-11; Galatians 1:18-19; Galatians 2:11-14; Jude 1). God worked with Moses, but He reserved certain responsibilities for Aaron, over which Moses had no jurisdiction. God announced these responsibilities through Moses to Aaron, but once the announcement was made, the authority and duty for these responsibilities stayed with Aaron and his descendants.
God worked with David and other kings, but these kings did not have the authority to usurp powers specifically given to the priests. King Saul was severely punished when he offered sacrifices — a task reserved to Samuel (1 Samuel 13: 8-14). King Uzziah was severely punished, too, when he entered the temple to burn incense on the altar — a task reserved for the priests (2 Chronicles 26:16-21). King David was corrected by the prophet Nathan — God obviously worked at that time with both David and Nathan (2 Samuel 12:1-15).
We in the ministry of the Church of the Eternal God, the Global Church of God in the United Kingdom, and the Church of God, a Christian Fellowship in Canada, discuss things among ourselves, “submitting to one another in the fear of God” (compare Ephesians 5:21). We are convinced, and experience has shown, that if a person is not willing to submit to others “in the fear of God,” such a person will sooner or later cease to be a part of the organization. When we do not reach an agreement on a given point, we place the matter on hold, meditate and pray about it, and come together again for further discussion. When we decide an issue, we do it under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, expecting full consensus, as was the case in Acts 15.
In the unlikely event, however, that we could not all agree on a given point, even after extended discussion, prayer, and meditation, and that the President/Chairman of the Board felt that it had to be done in a certain way, and that the rest of the ministerial Board/Council members could not point out Biblical reasons why it must not be done in that way, then we would all submit to the direction of the President as the oldest and longest-standing minister in CEG. We don’t expect this to happen, however, and if we all earnestly seek, pray for, and submit to the lead of the Holy Spirit, we will all come to agreement that will allow the kind of unity God expects of us.