Perhaps once or twice a year, I look through old Envoys—yearbooks from Ambassador College. I note the leaders from my student years, and from the better part of the 35 years I spent as a teacher. Where have these “leaders” gone? What happened to most of the student body presidents and even many of the evangelists in the Church of God? For a few years after they graduated, I might see them at various Feast sites as I traveled. They had learned the same Truth that I learned—and taught. They were keeping the same Holy Days that I was keeping—including the “Fall” festivals that you and I are about to keep again this year.
But now, most of them are gone.
It is genuinely terrible to contemplate. Frankly, most of them fell away. In one way or another, the majority of these select individuals left the Work of God, left the Truth and left all that they apparently stood for when they were appointed or ordained as “leaders.”
Only God knows the complete answer in each individual case. However, as one who taught many of them, as one who was “Men’s Guidance Counselor” for many years, I have meditated about and prayed about this matter many times. When I look back on these young men and recall their attitudes and the words and phrases they sometimes used, one key issue keeps presenting itself. Even though these men often came from Church families, then enrolled at Ambassador College and were taught by Herbert W. Armstrong, Herman Hoeh, myself and others, they often lacked one single, yet profound, characteristic.
Most of these student leaders or evangelists had Bible knowledge, reasonably good personality and motivation, but they lacked the very first characteristic which God’s word tells us must come before true wisdom, understanding or spiritual knowledge.
The book of Proverbs tells us: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). Again, God’s inspired word tells us: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Proverbs 9:10).
So genuine wisdom and understanding begin with our profound realization of how real and how great God truly is and how much we need Him. And faith also comes from this basic understanding of the reality of God and His power: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6).
With this deep awareness of the reality of God and a genuine awe of God’s greatness and power, Abraham—the “father of the faithful”—was moved even to be willing to sacrifice his own son (Genesis 22). At the last moment, however, God stopped him from carrying out this act because Abraham had already proved that he did have the profound awe, the reverence and the “fear” of His Creator. God told Abraham, “Do not lay your hand on the lad, or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from Me” (v. 12).
The Real Fear of God
Sadly, many of the early ministers and student leaders in the Work did not have the real fear of God. Rather, as I contemplate their words and actions, I can now see clearly that they were simply trying to “play the game” and trying to “be successful” in the human organization that we called “the Work.” In fact, a few of them literally said in my presence, “You’ve got to learn how to please the fourth floor!” By this, they meant the highest floor of the administration building in Pasadena where Mr. Armstrong, and later Mr. Tkach and other top leaders, had their offices.
Within the context of their statements, I began to realize that these men were trying harder to please Mr. Armstrong and other human leaders than they were to please God. In their carnal reasoning, they forgot that the real boss of the true Work of God has His office way above the “fourth floor”—or any other floor!
Because God was not real to many of these men, they would often “play up” to, flatter, or go along with their superiors in the Work even if those supposed “leaders” were forsaking the right way of doing things or even—as happened later—forsaking the entire Truth of Almighty God! Some were simply “afraid” that they would lose their incomes, their jobs, and their careers in the ministry—because the true God was not real to them! Others, in their utter carnality, were “playing the angles” to get ahead in the organization.
If you or I forsake the Truth—or the faithful leadership that Christ always has made available somewhere in His Church—will we find “security” in numbers in just “following the crowd”? Listen to God’s comment on this attitude: “Everyone proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; though they join forces, none will go unpunished. In mercy and truth Atonement is provided for iniquity; and by the fear of the Lord one departs from evil” (Proverbs 16:5–6).
Clearly, even if seven million or even seven billion people would all “join forces” in opposing God, it does not make any difference! The man or woman who has the genuine fear of the Eternal God will triumph in the end.
Of course, once you prove where Christ is now working, you are commanded by God to show deference and respect to His true servants. “Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:7–8). And again, “Obey those who rule over you, and be submissive, for they watch out for your souls, as those who must give account. Let them do so with joy and not with grief, for that would be unprofitable for you” (v. 17).
Obviously, in all practical and administrative matters, be submissive to the ministry and leadership in the true Church of God. Do not always be the stubborn or recalcitrant individual with whom everyone has a “hard time.” But, on the other hand, in basic doctrine and Truth, remember the statement, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.”
Most of the spiritually “weak” individuals who left the Truth—even during the days of Herbert W. Armstrong—were not walking in the fear of God. Therefore, some allowed themselves to get their “feelings hurt” and left the Work of the living Jesus Christ. Others, lacking the genuine awe of their Creator, simply slipped away into the morass of worldliness as Jesus warned: “Now he who received seed among the thorns is he who hears the word, and the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and he becomes unfruitful” (Matthew 13:22).
Endure to the End!
Think carefully: What is your “breaking point”? What will it take to get your eyes off God and on the “around”? As those former ministers were concerned about the “fourth floor,” are you too concerned about just “getting ahead” in the Church organization as such? Do you get upset or resentful if someone else is ordained a deacon or deaconess, or given some other honor in the Church?
Are you too concerned about what men think? Remember the Apostle John’s pointed critique of the Pharisees: “Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God” (John 12:42–43). What are you doing to ensure that nothing will ever cause you to fall away? That, in spite of God using imperfect men and women to do His Work, nothing will ever cause you to become bitter, resentful, overly discouraged or even disoriented so that you would turn away from the “body” which Christ is using to preach His Truth and do His Work?
Listen to Isaiah’s inspired advice: “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isaiah 55:6–7). And again, “But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word” (Isaiah 66:2).
One way we “tremble at His word” is by keeping the annual Festivals, which picture God’s wonderful plan for all of humanity. Brethren, you and I must be preparing diligently to become the “firstfruits” who will become God’s very literal sons at the return of His Son, as pictured by the Feast of Trumpets. As actual sons of God, younger brothers of our Savior, Jesus Christ, we will rule under Him for a thousand years while Satan will be bound, as pictured by the Day of Atonement. During this Millennium, pictured by the Feast of Tabernacles, the whole world will be called to live God’s way, without the contrary pulls of Satan and society, which we face today. Ultimately, in the Great White Throne Judgment, as pictured by the Last Great Day, we will be able to assist Him in ministering to the vast majority of human beings—never before exposed to the Truth—who will then have their first and only opportunity for salvation.
What a wonderful opportunity we have been given! How awful it would be to turn aside and miss out on this incredible reward God wants to give us—if we endure.
So, let us be sure that we always follow the Apostle Paul’s exhortation, “Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong” (1 Corinthians 16:13). Let us be sure that we sincerely seek for and are motivated by the proper awe, reverence and fear of the Great God. Let us pray that everything we think, say and do will be governed by this, the ultimate reality.