We addressed this issue, to an extent, in the Editorial, “An Independent Mind,” in Update 208. In the Editorial, we quoted some of Mr. Armstrong’s statements about “independents,” as follows:
“This is what Mr. Armstrong thought about independents: ‘What about a single member, “a joint, or part,” going off by itself–or following a man instead of the Church of God that is in direct continuous succession from the apostolic Church founded by Christ, in A.D.31? He is like a joint or a piece of wood or stone, entirely outside of, and therefore no part of the body of Christ that shall marry Christ’ (The Incredible Human Potential, ed.1978, pp.123, 124-125).”
These appear to be powerful statements; yet, there must have been a reason why Mr. Armstrong felt this way. Mr. Armstrong’s statements are Biblically founded, as explained below.
An “independent” has in essence taken upon himself the prerogative to reject the government of God which was established by God Himself, and which was revealed by Christ in Ephesians 4:11-13: “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping [or perfecting] of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect [or full-grown] man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ…”
The purpose of the ministry is to edify the members to achieve the goal of becoming sons and daughters of God. In addition, Hebrews 10:25 admonishes us not to forsake the assembling of ourselves together, especially on the weekly Sabbath and the annual Holy Days, to be nourished by God’s Church and His ministry, and to encourage each other through uplifting and positive communication.
God’s Church is a spiritual organism, but this does not mean that it is not organized. Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 12:18-28: “But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased… And the eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you, ‘[i.e., I am an independent; I don’t need the Church or anyone in the Church]; nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you.’… But God composed the body… that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it… And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues.”
Christ said to His Church in John 15:12: “This is My commandment, that you love ONE ANOTHER as I have loved you.”
Can’t we see that passages like the ones quoted above totally disprove and refute the concept of an “independent”–that he can be on his own, and still be a part of the Church? The Bible makes it very clear that he CANNOT BE.
Christ will marry His bride–His Church–when He returns. At that time, the bride will have made herself ready (Revelation 19:7). This means, the Church has allowed Christ to “sanctify and cleanse her… to present her to Himself as a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish… For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones” (Ephesians 5:26-30). Christ has decreed, as we saw earlier, that Church members can only become “perfect” WITHIN the Church–within HIS very Body. Christ told us in John 15:6: “If anyone does not abide in Me [that includes Christ’s BODY, His Church, compare Ephesians 1:22-23; Colossians 2:18-19; 3:15; 1 Corinthians 10:17; 12:27], he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”
To reject the ministry established by God and Christ, and to separate from Church brethren who are sanctified by God, is paramount to rejecting Christ and His Body, as well as the government of God which God established in His Church.
Let us examine an example of this rejection in the Old Testament, as revealed in 1 Samuel 8:4-7:
“Then all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah, and said to him, ‘Look, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations.’ But the thing displeased Samuel [or, was evil in Samuel’s eyes], when they said, ‘Give us a king to judge us.’ So Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, ‘Heed [or listen to] the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them.”
Notice that when the nation insisted on having a king over them, like the nations around them, they rejected God’s rule over them. By extension, they rejected God. In the same manner, when people reject God’s true ministry in this Church era, as established by God, they reject the government of God, and by extension, they reject GOD.
As a result of this rejection, God has no choice but to reject THEM. Notice what Christ says in John 12:48: “He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him–the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day.”
Some might justify becoming independent in the face of widespread heresy in the doctrines, teachings and practices of the Church. False leaders have arisen and have actually gained control of some of the membership and assets of God’s Church. That has forced faithful members to withdraw from those who begin to preach “a different gospel” (compare Galatians 1). In times like this, the people of God have become scattered; however, far too often, this has become an opportunity for false ministers to build their own following. John wrote of this very attitude and problem in the Church at his time: “I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to have the pre-eminence among them, does not receive us” (3 John 9).
Paul instructed Timothy, who was a minister under his guidance: “Take heed to yourself and to the DOCTRINE. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you” (1 Timothy 4:16).
The Church of God has experienced a very challenging time following the death of Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong. Those who gained the leadership in the Worldwide Church of God rejected the core doctrines, as established under Mr. Armstrong. In this context, it is difficult for those who now seek to faithfully and zealously adhere to the gospel brought by Jesus Christ and faithfully proclaimed by His established ministry! However, Christ says that when we ask, seek and knock, we will find, as God will open the door of understanding to us.
Our advice to “independents” is to look to the Word of God to test what is being taught. Note the record of the people in Berea: “These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Paul said, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
Even though we recognize the difficulties for those who want to stay loyal to God and His Church to find and identify their brethren who have remained faithful, to become an “independent” is not the answer–judging by God’s inspired Word. This is even more so, when a follower, be it for imagined or even real “injustice,” or because of MINOR disagreements with perhaps technical points of non-salvational issues, leaves a faithful organization, which belongs to the spiritual Body of Christ, to BECOME an “independent.” As explained herein, “independents” are in a very precarious position if they do not repent in time, since they, in effect, might miss out on salvation. We should bear in mind that it was Satan who originally rejected the government of God and invented an alternate way of doing things– following the way of competition, get and self-aggrandizement, which he felt was superior to God’s way of cooperation, give and humility.
In summary, when a person rejects the government of God, including the true and faithful ministry established by God in His Church, he rejects God. This sin MUST be repented of! Mr. Armstrong once asked, that if in this life we do not want to be ruled by the government of God, how can God use us to rule over others in the future? This is a serious matter which anyone who is inclined to reject God’s government in His Church has to consider, for the sake of his own salvation. Therefore, it is imperative to those who by their words and/or actions have rejected the government of God in the Church, to repent before it is too late.
Lead writer: Rene Messier