Throughout the Old Testament, God always worked through one man who was directly under the one who became Jesus Christ. The examples of Abraham, Moses, Samuel, Elijah, David and many others thoroughly prove this. But what about the New Testament? Did Christ come and establish a new form of government, and in so doing, do away with the government of the Old Testament? Why did Christ ordain 12 apostles? Why not just one?
The question of how God’s government operates should be extremely important to us because it has so much to do with the soon-coming Kingdom of God. The Kingdom, after all, will be made up of God’s Family which will administer God’s government.
On May 2, 1974, Herbert W. Armstrong wrote a letter to members and co-workers of the Worldwide Church of God. In it, he said, “As we progress through the Bible on the question of government, the principle of government, from the top down, is consistent. But the application, or details of structure differs, and varies to adapt to the time, conditions and facilities. The revolters from God’s Work confuse structural form with principle of government, which is always from the top (God) down. They are not the same.”
Many people confuse the structural form of government, which can change, with the principle of government, which never changes. With that in mind, let’s look more closely at Church government in the New Testament.
Peter—the Chief Apostle
After Jesus overcame Satan in the decisive battle in the wilderness (Matthew 4), He chose 12 disciples. They were eyewitnesses to the Messiah and His Work. They were right there with Him. One of the main things they preached in the first century was that Jesus had come and gone and was resurrected. They saw it all happen.
In the Old Testament, Moses was commanded by God to select 12 men, one from each tribe, to go and spy out the land of Canaan to see whether it was good or bad. They also were to bring back an eyewitness report.
Twelve is also used throughout the Bible to depict an organizational beginning. So after Jesus overcame Satan, He immediately began to organize what would later be the New Testament Church government.
Now notice how He dealt specifically with Peter, one of the original 12. “And he brought him to Jesus. And when Jesus beheld him, he said, Thou art Simon the son of Jona: thou shalt be called Cephas [in Greek, Peter], which is by interpretation, A stone” (John 1:42).
The Greek word for Peter is petros and simply means “rock.” There is symbolism in Peter’s name. But first, let it be made clear that Jesus did not somehow “fade away” into nonexistence and give all authority of the Church to Peter, as many churches in this world believe.
In Matthew 16:18, we read, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” The rock spoken of here in the Greek is not petros, but petra, which means large, massive rock, or rocky fortress. The “rock” here is referring to Jesus Christ (notice 1 Corinthians 10:4).
Christ is the Head of the Church, as is plainly stated in Ephesians 2:20: “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone.” Christ is the chief corner stone of the pyramidal form of government in God’s Church. It is a government formed like a pyramid, from the top down. Peter himself plainly stated that in 1 Peter 2:6-8. Many other scriptures in the New Testament establish God’s government from the top down.
Simon’s name was changed to Peter because it symbolized the foundation of the Church. Notice Mark 3:14, 16: “And he ordained twelve, that they should be with him, and that he might send them forth to preach…. And Simon he surnamed Peter.”
Here is what Mr. Armstrong wrote in Mystery of the Ages: “A surname is, according to Webster, ‘an added name derived from occupation.’ The surname Peter had for centuries been a surname or title, designating a religious leader, head or headquarters. Peter was the first and chief apostle.”
Christ names His leaders what they are! And among the original 12 apostles, Peter was chief. Of course he didn’t go around abusing his authority and firing people left and right. But he was given authority over the others. There wasn’t a 12-member doctrinal team that decided doctrine in the first century. Mr. Armstrong wrote, “So, at the very beginning of His earthly ministry, preparing the foundation for the Church, Jesus Christ chose His chief human apostle and the other original 11” (page 221).
We already read Matthew 16:18 where Christ said “thou art Peter.” The very next verse makes it even clearer that Peter was given chief authority. “And I will give unto thee [Christ is still addressing Peter] the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou [again, Peter] shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (verse 19). This is an important verse because all the other apostles were standing there, and yet Christ was specifically addressing Peter. Why didn’t He say this to all of them? As chief apostle, Peter was given the authority to “bind” and “loose.” Christ made this statement to no other apostle!
Difference Between Old and New Testaments
Let’s briefly look at the difference between the governments of the Old and New Testaments. They were only different in their structural form, as Mr. Armstrong wrote in the member letter quoted above. But the principle of government from the top down is the same in both cases.
In the Old Testament, God chose one man at a time who served directly under Him. This was because Israel was one nation in one location. Due to the conditions and facilities at that time, this was all that was necessary to administer the principle of government from the top down.
Now what about the New Testament? Mr. Armstrong wrote in the member letter, “But in the first century of the Gospel Work in the New Testament, God was sending the Gospel into many countries, over wide areas. So He organized His Work into two principal divisions, or areas—Israel and Gentiles. They were widely separated geographically. Communication was virtually nil, except by personal contact. Transportation was by foot, horse or muleback, or by camel or elephant, or sailboat.”
For this reason, God chose 12 apostles instead of just one. This enabled the brethren to be reached on a much more regular basis. But still, as we have already seen, Peter was chief of these original 12.
What About Paul?
Later in the New Testament, God brought the Apostle Paul to conversion (see Acts 9) and eventually raised many churches through him. Did God raise Paul in opposition to Peter as a competing Church? Not at all. But he was chosen for a different commission than Peter and the other apostles. They were commissioned to go to the “house of Israel” (Matt. 10:6). Paul was commissioned to go to the Gentiles mainly, although part of his commission included the Israelites (Acts 9:15).
Notice what Mr. Armstrong wrote in his letter: “If Peter were the sole human head under Christ, it might take him weeks to communicate with the man next under him in Rome, if he were in Jerusalem. So God worked directly with two in separated areas.”
But you just said God only works through one, the reader might be thinking. Again, the principle of God’s government remains the same in every biblical account. But “the application, or details of structure differs, and varies to adapt to the time conditions and facilities.”
Once the Church began to grow and the gospel was proclaimed to the Gentiles, the time period required that God work through two leaders. Notice Galatians 2:7: “But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision [or Gentiles] was committed unto me [Paul], as the gospel of the circumcision [or Israelites] was unto Peter.” Still, Paul looked to the headquarters Church in Jerusalem. He went to Jerusalem to make sure he wasn’t speaking contrary to the apostles there. Otherwise his preaching would have been done in vain (Galatians 2:2). If Paul wasn’t concerned about Church government and was just off doing his own thing, why did he even bother to go to Jerusalem?
The Jerusalem Conference
Acts 15 is a chapter used repeatedly by groups who have departed from Mr. Armstrong’s teachings. Critics use that chapter to show where Mr. Armstrong’s teaching on government was supposedly in error.
This chapter in Acts discusses the conference held in Jerusalem around a.d. 49. The main dispute was over whether or not the Gentiles should be circumcised. Roderick Meredith, a minister who used to agree with Mr. Armstrong’s teaching on government, wrote, “How utterly different is the ‘flavor’ of this meeting as compared with modern times!” He’s saying Mr. Armstrong did not administer the principle of God’s government like the early apostles did.
There was much disputing at this conference. Notice what happened after: “And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men and brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe” (Acts 15:7). You can read the rest of the verses to see all that Peter said. He basically decided that the Gentiles didn’t need to be circumcised.
Concerning these verses, Mr. Meredith wrote, “But notice that Peter did not issue some decree, or make the final decision…. It was James, not Peter or Paul, who issued the summary conclusion of the matter.”
Compare that with what Mr. Armstrong wrote in The Wonderful World Tomorrow (page 66): “There was sharp contention and much disputing. Then Peter, chief apostle, rose and gave God’s inspired decision…. At Jerusalem, James was pastor. And as a matter of protocol to make Peter’s decision official, James approved it and wrote up the official authoritative document.”
The Need for Authority
There was a “government of God” in the New Testament Church. Yet Mr. Meredith says, “This term never appears as such in the Bible, and certainly not in connection with the New Testament church organization or government.” Furthermore, he writes, “There is no hint of any authoritarianism, highhandedness or threatening behavior on the part of any of the apostles.”
Of course, God’s leaders in the first century weren’t haughty and arrogant. But they did exercise authority! Let’s notice what the Bible reveals. In Titus 1:5, Paul is writing to Titus (who, by the way, was under Paul) and tells him why he left him in Crete. This was done so Titus could “set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city.” As for those “unruly and vain talkers” in the congregation, Paul instructed Titus to “rebuke them sharply” (verse 13).
God inspired Paul to write in Hebrews 13:17: “Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.”
1 Thessalonians 5:12-13: “And we beseech you, brethren, to know them which labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. And be at peace among yourselves.”
Those who “despise government,” Peter warns, “shall utterly perish in their own corruption” (2 Peter 2:10-12).
I Corinthians 12 makes it quite clear that we are all baptized into one body but that there are many members in the body. Each member has a specific role. That’s why God discusses the “spiritual gifts” in the same chapter. God gives each member spiritual gifts according to their natural talents. And the very fact that we all have different responsibilities requires that there be organization!
What About Today?
Now why was there just one apostle in this 20th century? Mr. Armstrong answered that in the 1974 member letter: “Today, if I, for example, need to communicate with Mr. Hunting or Dr. Meredith at Bricket Wood, or with Mr. Luker at Sydney, Australia, I can usually reach them in a matter of three minutes to an hour or so by telephone. Or I could reach them in a matter of hours by airplane. With such communication and transportation facilities available today, Christ requires only one, once again, directly under him. Several times I have questioned whether Christ would ordain one or several more apostles, but always on counseling with evangelists, their response has been a decisive and absolute no.”
Again, the principle of government from the top down doesn’t change, but the application oftentimes does. I mentioned already how God was mainly working through two men in the first century—Paul and Peter. Paul went to the Gentiles while Peter went to the Israelites. They both had separate commissions. Paul told the Corinthians that he had begotten them through the gospel (1 Corinthians 4:14-16). The Corinthians were Paul’s sons and daughters in Christ just as those churches Peter raised up were his sons and daughters in Christ.
Mr. Armstrong wrote in that letter, “You, brethren, today, all were called, directly or indirectly through me and the government of God doing the Work of God—you are all my sons and daughters in Christ.”
Do we see the difference? God has called people to His truth in this 20th century through Herbert Armstrong. So many people today want to reason around that. “The Bible brought me to the truth,” they might say. Yes, but whom did God use to unlock the mysteries in the Bible and to make the truth so plain even a child could understand it?
There is one other main difference between the first century and today. The prophecies concerning this end time all speak of one man who would come in the spirit and power of Elijah (Matthew 17:11). One man would come and prepare the way for Christ’s second coming as John the Baptist did for Christ’s first coming (Malachi 3:1). One man would be raised up in these latter days to not only lay the foundation for the Philadelphia era, but also finish it (Zechariah 4:9). Nowhere does the Bible mention three or four groups getting the spotlight, or three or four main leaders. All the prophecies point to one man.
But right here is where the Philadelphia Church of God differs from every other church. The Laodicean churches no longer believe Mr. Armstrong fulfilled these prophecies. And as far as I know, no other group does either!
From the Top Down in the World Tomorrow
In the World Tomorrow, Jesus Christ will rule (under the Father) as the King of kings and Lord of lords (Revelation 19:6, 16). Directly under Him will be Abraham who will serve over Israel and the Gentile nations. The resurrected David will serve as the king over a reunited Israel (Jeremiah 30:8-9; Ezekiel 37:22-25). Directly under David will be the 12 apostles—each apostle over one of the 12 tribes (Matthew 19:28). Under the apostles will be rulers of cities (Luke 19:17). Notice, Luke 19 reveals we will be rewarded according to our works.
Christ will be ruling and administering His government from the world headquarters at Jerusalem. This is where the Philadelphians come in. They will serve at headquarters with Christ, probably under the immediate direction of the Old Testament Elijah and John the Baptist (Matthew 11:11).
Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever (Hebrews 13:8). That includes His government. Mr. Armstrong wrote in The Wonderful World Tomorrow (page 67): “God doesn’t use a Babylon of confused, disagreeing religious organizations, divided into hundreds of different concepts of theological doctrine, as His instruments.”
God’s government has not changed today. Only man’s interpretation of His government has. Don’t be deceived about God’s government! Let’s look at one last quote from Mr. Armstrong’s member letter: “Brethren, we in God’s Church are being trained and prepared, now, to rule in the Kingdom of God during the millennium. What kind of government are we being trained to administer?”