Fred R. Coulter—November 4, 1997

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This special sermon is in response to a couple of sermons that I've heard entitled, I Love Hierarchy and I Love Government by one of the ministers in one of the Churches of God trying to justify a very rigid hierarchical system of church government.

Is that true? Is it that we should love hierarchy and love church government as administered by those who have a very rigid structured pyramid type of church government and organization? And in listening to it, he even went so far as to say that because God raised up Babylon and God raised up Nebuchadnezzar that the kind of government that Nebuchadnezzar had was the kind of government that God wanted from the top down, and since Daniel was a part of it, that was approved and accepted by God. Little did he realize that in Dan. 4 God humbled Nebuchadnezzar because of his exalted attitude.

We need to ask some very important questions here concerning a hierarchy. In listening to the sermon and the subsequent booklet that was put out, For the Perfecting of the Saints, Do the People of God Need a Church?… And of course, you need to understand that's the wrong question. The people of God don't need a church, they are the Church. So, you can see where this kind of thinking leads.

Is everything in the Bible something that we should follow and something that we should do? We'll have to say, no, not everything is in there that we should do. Should we do like Manasseh, king of Judah? Of course not! Let's understand now concerning hierarchy and we will see that God does not want a hierarchy and when we are done with this, you will see that God hates hierarchy in the way that man has it, and God's way in structure and function is entirely different.

In conjunction with this, I suggest that you go over the sermon series Structure and Function. That shows that the New Testament structure is not a hierarchy, and we go through the New Testament to show how the structure of the Church developed, the need for it, the functions of it, and so forth.

Let's understand something here that's very important for us to realize. First of all, let's see what God tells us concerning the need for ministers, for brethren, the whole overall goal that God wants us to have, and the whole reason for why we do what we do. I think that so many things have become eschewed because when we come to reading the Bible, in too many cases we read into it what we want to read into it and we assume when we're reading it that we are discovering something such as a hierarchy because it's listed in a certain particular order.

One thing that is true, because someone is in charge does not mean it's a hierarchy. We're going to see that God does not want a hierarchy. God wants a relationship. There is a vast difference between a covenant relationship with God and a hierarchy to control, to manipulate.

Ephesians 4:11: "And He gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers for the perfecting of the saints, for the work... [or the service] ...of the ministry..." (vs 11-12).

The ministry is to be a service. They are to serve; they are not to overlord. We'll see specifically how Jesus made that absolutely clear.

"...for the edifying of the Body of Christ" (v 12). That is for the up-building of the Body of Christ:

  • to prepare it
  • to perfect it
  • to help everyone grow to have the mind of Christ
  • to be ready for the first resurrection

"…until we all come into the unity of the faith... [Paul included himself in that statement] ...and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man..." (v 13).

God wants perfection! Let's understand something here that we need to realize. Spiritual perfection can never be accomplished by physical means! You do not accomplish spiritual things by physical means! We're going to see that a hierarchy is a physical means to try and accomplish a spiritual goal and it will always fail and we'll see why. Now, in listening to the sermon and in reading the booklet, it was 'I love hierarchy' and I love government,' and not once, not once in the entire sermon, nor in the booklet was it said, 'I love God,' or that we ought to love God. That in itself ought to alert us to the dangers of this kind of hierarchy.

Verse 13: "Until we all come into the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."

That is a great tremendous project that Christ is doing to accomplish that. One of the reasons why God is destroying the churches with a hierarchy is because a hierarchy goes contrary to this.

Verse 14: "So that we no longer be children..." There's one thing that hierarchy does. It always keeps the brethren as children and infants in the sandbox and no higher than third grade. Well, I tell you what, if we're going to be to the perfection of Christ then we have to go on beyond those things. You can't do it without:

  • the love
  • the liberty
  • the faith
  • the grace

—which comes from God. You cannot do it with a hierarchy. A hierarchy is not a church. By saying that, do the people of God need a church? What they're really saying is, 'The people of God need a hierarchy and the hierarchy needs to be us!' There are many with rigid hierarchical systems.

Verse 14: "So that we no longer be children, tossed and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the sleight of men..." That's how they do; they go to the Scripture and they:

  • deceitfully handle it
  • twist it
  • turn it
  • manipulate it

and they see

  • a hierarchy here
  • a hierarchy there
  • hierarchy everywhere

It's kind of Old MacDonald Had a Farm and the whole song that goes with it. It could be hierarchy here, hierarchy there, here a hierarchy, there a hierarchy, everywhere a hierarchy, hierarchy. What that does is it:

  • creates tension
  • creates carnality
  • creates division

When we understand, when we get toward the end of it, I'm going to show you the source of the hierarchy and the kind of hierarchy that God absolutely abhors.

" the sleight of men in cunning craftiness, with a view to the systematizing of the error… [whereby they lie in wait to deceive (KJV)] …but holding the Truth in love, may in all things grow up into Him Who is the Head, even Christ" (vs 14-15).

Christ is the Head and all of us have direct contact to God the Father and Jesus Christ, and that's where our fellowship is because it is a covenant relation; it is not a hierarchy! We'll see that in just a minute, and we'll see what the Bible has to say about a hierarchy and we'll see how that happens.

If you have a carnal religion you need a hierarchy. If you have a carnal business that's going to produce and make, you need structure and a hierarchy. You have a carnal church like the Corinthians, they said, 'I am of Paul, I am of Apollos, I am of Cephas, I am of Christ.' There are people who love to be in a hierarchical system and you'll understand one of the reasons is that then when something goes wrong they can blame the one in charge.

We can be sure that the Third Reich was not the first one to come along and say, 'Well, I just did what I was told.' That's as old as from Nimrod on. So, we need to understand that. Many times people are seeking God not for salvation, but to satisfy the self or to satisfy personal ego. That's why a hierarchy is evolved. A hierarchy is employed when you reject a relationship; you must have a hierarchy, because then you cut yourself off from the kind of control that God wants you to have through a covenant relationship. What that leads to is a loveless power, which then becomes ruthlessness.

I just want to say something right here that's very important for us to understand: Never, brethren, is it that the word of the minister is the Word of God unless it is truly the Word of God! He cannot come up and say, 'How dare you correct me. I am God's minister, I am His representative.' And that's what's happened. 'How dare you question the ministry!' Well, that's why God destroyed the ministry and the hierarchy, because they became arrogant, presumptuous, authoritative, intimidating and fear-mongering! And everything that has gone wrong in the Church, the brethren are at fault. Of course, that's not true! Most of the fault in the Churches of God lies at the doorstep of the ministry. So then you have spiritual pride and 'How great I am.' All of that comes as a result of a hierarchy. God did not create a hierarchy. God did not give us a pecking order. There are many, many different things that we can learn from a hierarchy.

I remember in a conference that I went to in 1965 when Dolores and I got married in January, 1965, I was one of the only ministerial assistants to go. I was invited to the conference and Herbert Armstrong himself was the one who conducted the conference. There were a total of 42 ministers at that time, plus me. So I took the back row and I remember very distinctly Herbert Armstrong said—and we were up close, we could see him and he was very sincere in it—'Well, I don't know about this apostle thing. I'm not too convinced that this should be or that I'm an apostle.' I remember the first time that this was ever preached was at a Feast of Tabernacles and Herman Hoeh was the one who did it and got up there and said, There is our apostle, Herbert W. Armstrong. Armstrong had to get up there and correct him right afterwards, 'I'm not so sure about this.'

But then a short two years later it began to evolve: not only an apostle, then the apostle, then God's only apostle on earth. All of this was built up and added to because of the power and the counsel and the prestige of Stanley R. Rader and because of those like Rod Meredith and Herman Hoeh. It actually started years before that. Very few people realize that it's all contained in the writings of the Radio Church of God/Worldwide Church of God, how the hierarchy came to be within that church. Carl Franklin has done a research paper entitled The Rise of a Ministerial Hierarchy.

When it was called the Radio Church of God and before it started really getting big, they had many, many people out there who were listening to the program. Then all of a sudden they got in trouble, supposedly with the IRS, and the IRS was going to take away their tax exemption. So Stanley Rader came to the rescue. He went back to Washington, D.C.; he went directly into the office of the director of the IRS and came back with the solution. The solution was: You must have an organized ministry, and that's how the hierarchy started. Right after that there were articles, Is the Church of God a Social Club? And Who Has Authority in the Church?

Then Herman Hoeh and Rod Meredith began to tighten, tighten, tightendown on that and build it up! Then it got to the point where the ministers' word was the Word of God, and the ministers were above correction and no one could question them. Then this thing built up to where then God had to destroy the whole thing. So if you want that article, you write in for it, The Rise of a Ministerial Hierarchy from their own documentation. This is not just the idea of Carl Franklin or one man.

Let's look at something here that's very important for us to understand concerning what God originally intended. Let's go back to Gen. 2, because what God originally intended and what God is doing in the Church is that God originally intended a covenant relationship!

Let's understand something very clearly: A husband and wife relationship and a family is not a hierarchy. Is there authority? Yes, there is! Is the husband in charge? Yes, he is! But it is a covenant relationship so that the two become one. If you understand that, then that changes the whole perspective on the family. If you look at a family and say, 'That's a hierarchy,' then everything else under the sun is a hierarchy—but it's not!

We find that God created Adam, then He took a rib and created Eve. Notice what Adam said here. This is a covenant-created relationship. Man is not in charge by virtue of a hierarchy, he is held accountable by virtue of creation. He is to love his wife, and he is to serve his wife. He is to love his children and serve his children, and likewise the wife the husband. By creation the wife is made to be in subjection to her husband, because she was taken from man.

Genesis 2:23: "And Adam said, 'This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man.' For this reason shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave to his wife—and they shall become one flesh" (vs 23-24). A covenant relationship!

A hierarchy relationship is never a one-flesh relationship. Now we can project forward to the ultimate of what God wants with His family and it is a one-Spirit relationship. Yes, obedience is required, but when there's obedience, when there are laws and commandments, that doesn't create a hierarchy. That's just not so!

Let's look at the first hierarchy right after the Flood; Genesis 10:8: "And Cush begat Nimrod. He began to be a mighty one in the earth"—one who ruled. Christ has something to say about that a little later on.

Verse 9: "He was a mighty hunter against the LORD.... [or in place of the Lord] ...Therefore, it is said, 'Like Nimrod—the mighty hunter against the LORD.'" He was the first tyrant. He was the first hierarchist after the Flood. That's where hierarchy began this side of the Flood. I'm sure it began on the other side of the Flood with Cain. So, that's where it began.

Is that what God wants? Of course not! He wants the relationship; that relationship is very important. That way obedience comes because it is required within the relationship. When you turn that into a hierarchy, you turn that into something that is:

  • hard
  • cold
  • loveless
  • demanding
  • destroying

Remember the movie, The Sound of Music with Julie Andrews? Remember how the navy man had his family? He had them in a hierarchy and he would come and he would toot his whistle and they would all run downstairs and they would all line up. He would come down and look them all in the eyeballs and make sure that everything was just right. No love! No freedom! All rigid! All fear! Well, how many churches have been run that way? Almost all of them!

When you take a family and put it into a hierarchy, which almost all of us did—didn't we? I think the worst booklet that was ever written was the one on childrearing, the way it was done in the Worldwide Church of God. We were told that we could literally spank and beat the sin out of our children. We made the mistake, and we were told that our children were innocent, and if you disciplined them enough they would grow up and not have the same kind of sinful nature that we have. That was nonsense! All we did was destroy lives, destroy families, destroy children, and drive people away. I'll just have to say in my own life, my own family, I just wish that I hadn't learned that part of the hierarchy. I still look back and see that the hierarchy really is bad. But you know, we all need to ask ourselves:

  • How much hierarchy do I still have in myself?
  • How much do I still apply to my wife?
  • How much do I still apply to my family?
  • How much do I still apply to others around me?

It's the same old question, people are trying to find out where God is. Then they drag the same old church experiences with them that they had before, and when they come and start fellowshipping with us, then they have to begin to learn that there is a different way.

  • God's way is based upon love
  • God's way is based upon a relationship
  • God's way is based upon grace

Not a hierarchy! Now, that doesn't mean that we believe in anarchy. That doesn't mean we don't believe in organization. That doesn't mean that we don't believe that certain people need to be in charge of certain things to get certain things done for the overall benefit of everyone. But that does not create a hierarchy. We'll see what a hierarchy is. Let's look at some here.

Sure enough there was a hierarchy that was instituted. I'll tell you one thing. When anyone starts off their church government by going to Exo. 18, I will guarantee you one thing, they do not have a clue as to what kind of structure there should be in the Church of God.

Let's understand what are we dealing with? Children of Israel, all carnal, just coming out of Egypt. They traveled over to where Jethro, Moses' father-in-law was, and Jethro gave this suggestion because Moses was killing himself trying to do everything.

Jethro said, Exodus 18:19[transcriber's correction]: "Hearken now to my voice. I will give you counsel, and God will be with you. You be for the people toward God that you may bring the causes to God." When you have 1.8-million people out in the desert you have a different kind of structure that is needed.

Here's what he suggested, v 20: "And you shall teach them ordinances and laws, and shall make them know the way in which they must walk, and the work that they must do. And you shall choose out of all the people able men, such as fear God, men of truth, hating covetousness. And place them over the people to be leaders of thousands, and leaders of hundreds, leaders of fifties, and leaders of tens" (vs 20-21).

Now then, this is a hierarchical system and Moses did institute it. But what are we dealing with? Are we dealing with the Church or are we dealing with the nation of Israel? We're dealing with the nation of Israel! What was their condition out there? They were all together in one mass group! They were all camping tent by tent-by-tent-by-tent. When you're in that close, and when the only thing between you and the next person is a couple pieces of canvas as it were, then you need some rigid control, because things will get out of hand with carnal people. But did God continue with this kind of organization after they got into the 'promised land'? A lot of people say, 'Well, this is here, therefore, this is right and we should do this.'

No! This is here and if you're in a camping situation with carnal people, then maybe you need something like this. If you're out in the desert and you're wandering around, maybe you need something like this. But the Church is not in the desert and the people are not in the desert and we are not camping, so we don't need something like this, and when they got into the 'promised land' they didn't have anything like this. God did not want them to have it.

What happens when you get the kind of control that way? Soon you lose what God really intended! Did that not happen? Right after God gave them the Ten Commandments, right after Moses went up to get the first message from God, and he left everything in Aaron's hands and he went up on the mountain—what happened? All the carnal people rebelled and went after Baal, right there at the foot of the mountain after God spoke to them! Did that hierarchical system work? No! Because it was not based on the covenant!

Let's see that even in spite of everything that Israel did, in spite of all the rebellion that went on, in spite of all the things that took place and all of the carnality, God still wanted a covenant relationship with them. We will see that when they got into the 'promised land' God gave them a good form of government, which was not hierarchical.

Let's see what God desired from the children of Israel. God desired the same thing. God does not desire a hierarchy; God desires a covenant relationship, and that's what He wanted to have with Israel. Right after giving the Ten Commandments:

Deuteronomy 5:29: "Oh, that there were such a heart in them that they would fear Me and keep all My commandments always so that it might be well with them and with their children forever!" So, God was interested in their well-being, their children, that they would prosper, and so forth.

We will see what it builds to. You start from the beginning of commandment-keeping and you build to the covenant relationship that God wants you to have. If you are still just in the commandment-keeping mode and that's the highest level of your understanding, then you have a long, long way to go. You start with that. That is the beginning, but remember that we're to go on to perfection!

Deuteronomy 6:1: "Now, these are the commandments, the statutes, and the judgments which the LORD our God commanded to teach you so that you might do them in the land where you go to possess it, that you might fear the LORD your God, to keep all His statutes and His commandments which I command you, you, and your son, and your son's son, all the days of your life, and so that your days may be prolonged. Hear therefore, O Israel, and be diligent to observe it, so that it may be well with you..." (vs 1-3).

Most people accuse God of hatred, vindictiveness and harshness. Finally, after people just reject God so many times, He's got to punish them, but that's not God's desire. Part of the difficulty is, that we will see, a hierarchy was super imposed and that became the first form of punishment. Most people don't realize that, because that hierarchy cuts you off from the covenant relationship with God and then you have a relationship with a hierarchy. But God wanted it to be well with them.

"...and that you may greatly multiply, as the LORD God of our fathers has promised you, in the land that flows with milk and honey. Hear, O Israel. Our one God is the LORD, the LORD" (vs 3-4).

Here is the relationship that God wants this to develop into and in our lives as well. We'll see what Jesus had to say about that a little later on.

Verse 5:"And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." There is the covenant relationship and your response to God, because you love Him.

Here's something that is so true: A hierarchical relationship does not have love. A hierarchical relationship then becomes very cold; it becomes just law and order. And yes, you can have law and order without a covenant relationship, but it's fear, it's intimidation, it's ruthlessness, it's political, and that how all of the hierarchies work. And it's based on duty, you know like Douglas MacArthur—country, honor, duty.

  • God wants you, because you love Him
  • God has called you, because He loves you
  • God has not called you into a hierarchy

I'll just state right here: The ministry is not the government of God! You need to understand that. We'll see what the true government of God really is, and you will see that we teach the highest form of church government, the kind that God wants, not the kind that men superimpose twisting and turning the words of God to have their own hierarchy so they can love it, and then control and intimidate people by the use of it. And you need to understand something else also with a hierarchy: A hierarchy becomes very political.

God desired, right here, v 5: "And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." That's what God wanted: the covenant relationship with them

  • so that He could bless them
  • so that He could dwell with them
  • so that He could be their God

Verse 6: And these words, which I command you this day, shall be in your heart. And you shall diligently teach them to your children... [that's a family relationship, not a hierarchical relationship] ...and shall talk of them when you sit in your house and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise up. And you shall bind them for a sign upon your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. And you shall write them upon the posts of your house and on your gates" (vs 6-9).

God wants it now written in our hearts and in our minds that it's a very part of our being, that we:

  • live by the Word of God
  • think by the Word of God
  • use the Spirit of God
  • let God lead us

That is a covenant relationship that God wants.

What kind of government did they have when they got into the land? They set up a whole system of judges (Deut. 16). Judges and a system of judges is not hierarchical. Let's look at it this way today: In the United States do we have a system of judges? Yes, we do! Is our government a hierarchical system? We need to set aside the bureaucracies, because they are, but aside from the bureaucracies, it is not a hierarchical kingship. Do we as a result of that have more freedom, more liberty, more ability to express ourselves and develop ourselves, and whatever we desire to do to make choices that are right, than any other country in the world? Yes! That's the same kind of system that God set up in Israel when they went into the land. They set aside all of the rulers of thousands, rulers of hundreds and rulers of fifties and rulers of tens because that was the camping organization. They did not keep it that way.

Deuteronomy 16:18: "You shall appoint judges and officers... [law-enforcing officers; that's the same thing we have here today] ...for yourself in all your gates..."

They were to choose and decide. just like we do today. When you live in something like a dictatorship, then you have a hierarchical system and your whole order of law is entirely different. That's the difference between the law of Europe and the law of America, because the law of a dictatorship is that you are guilty until you prove yourself innocent. The law of the system of judges is you are innocent until proven guilty. That's based on the principle that God had here.

"...which the LORD your God gives you, tribe by tribe. And they shall judge the people with righteous judgment" (v 18)—using the laws of God. Christ said judge right righteous judgment!

Verse 19: "You shall not pervert judgment... [in other words you're not going to twist and turn it for your own use and own ability] ... you shall not respect persons, nor take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous."

When you have a hierarchy you have the political system. How do you get along in a hierarchy? Oh, you please the boss and you 'stroke' him and you become a sycophant! The Egyptian hierarchy was hierophants; those were the ones in charge. Then they had they their sycophants, and the sycophants were the ones who 'stroked' the hierophants. The sycophants that had favor with the hierophants were then promoted and they were lifted up in position, because they pleased the hierarchy.

When you transfer that kind of thing into the Church of God, you know why the ministry went to 'hell in a hand basket,' brethren, and you will know why most of the ministry has been educated wrong and they need to repent. That's why all the reorganization in the world, unless you get rid of the hierarchy and there's repentance with it, isn't going to change a thing. It's just going to defer things for a while. But I'll guarantee you, by the Word of God and by the authority of the Scripture, God is going to destroy every hierarchical Church of God, and He's going to put His heavy hand down upon them until they learn the Truth, that God is love!

Now back to this, the best carnal system, the system of judges here.

Verse 20: "You shall follow that which is altogether just so that you may live and inherit the land which the LORD your God gives you."

So, God gave them the system of judges. Let's go to the book of Judges and let's see what happened after Joshua conquered the land and all the elders that were after him and the judges that were with him. Let's look at what happens when people leave that kind of system and want something else. We're seeing that evolve here in America in quite a profound way. People are willing to give up their rights for law and order, which is a substitute for character.

Judges 2:8: "And Joshua the son of Nun, the servant of the LORD, died, being a hundred and ten years old. And they buried him on the border of his inheritance in Timnath Heres, in Mount Ephraim, on the north side of the hill Gaash. And also all that generation were gathered to their fathers…." (vs 8-10).

I want you to understand that there is coming in America a great generational shift. There has also been within the Churches of God a generational shift. Satan takes advantage of those generational shifts.

"…And there arose another generation after them who did not know the LORD... [we have the same thing transpiring today within the Churches of God] ... nor even the works which He had done for Israel. And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim" (vs 10-11).

Now as we're going through and reading this, I want you to think about what's happening in the Churches of God. They are leaving God and leaving His commandments, and now they are becoming a more and more sinful state. As they are doing that, they are rejecting the covenant relationship that God desired to have with them, just like they're rejecting the judgeship that God set up for them.

Verse 12: "And they forsook the LORD God of their fathers..." I want you to remember that, because there's going to be a lesson that we're going to learn here in just a little bit: What happens when you forsake God and reject that covenant relationship that God desires you to have?

"...Who brought them out of the land of Egypt. And they followed other gods, even the gods of the people who were around them, and bowed themselves to them, and provoked the LORD to anger. And they forsook the LORD and served Baal and Ashtaroth. And the anger of the LORD was hot against Israel..." (vs 12-14).

Brethren, I'm telling you the anger of the Lord is hot against His Church and hot against His ministers! And all those who love hierarchy better hear and fear and repent, because God's heavy hand is going to come upon you, because you are cutting the people of God off from a relationship with God, and God is not going to allow that to stand. When I speak of the Churches of God, I speak of those:

  • who started it
  • who continue it
  • who perpetuate it
  • who use it for their own means
  • who use it for their own religion
  • who use it for their own church

God's angry with the Church! That's why He's scattering it. That's why God is causing the brethren to search out, 'What's right? Where is God?'

They can look at some of these hierarchies and see that God's not there. No, they forsook God! And when you forsake God you must have a hierarchy. So what did God do?

"...and He delivered them into the hand of spoilers who spoiled them…." (v 14).

  • Is that happening to the churches? Yes!
  • Is that happening to the brethren? Yes!
  • Is it painful? Yes!
  • Is it miserable? Absolutely!

Verse 15: "And He sold them into the hand of their enemies all around, so that they could not any longer stand before their enemies. Wherever they went out, the hand of the LORD was against them for evil..." (vs 14-15). They didn't repent. And finally, when they moaned and groaned, God raised up a judge to save them!

(go to the next track)

Now let's go to the very last verse in the book of Judges and this is a famous verse that people use to show that they must have a hierarchy.
Judges 21:25: "In those days there was no king in Israel. Every man did what was right in his own eyes."

  • Why did that happen? Because of sin!
  • Was it because there was no king? No!
  • Did they sin after they had kings? Yes!
  • The king didn't stop sin—did it? No!
  • The hierarchy didn't change human nature—did it? No!

Let's see what a hierarchy does with the relationship of God, and where it was instituted. This is very instructive. This is something you need to think very deeply about and you need to really understand. This is not a wrong application of hierarchy. This is the whole substance and form of hierarchy.

1-Samuel 8:1: "And it came to pass when Samuel was old, he made his sons judges over Israel." Then it gives the names.

Verse 3: "Yet, his sons did not walk in his ways, but turned aside after dishonest gain and took bribes and perverted judgment." The opposite of what God said to do; all through the Bible we have a good king or judge and then a bad son. It's always been a mystery as to why that worked that way. Was it that all the good judges and kings were bad fathers? Or was it that the sons saw what their fathers did and chose to do the opposite as more of a primary thing than the goodness or the badness of the fathers? I think that they chose to do that! They had the right example—didn't they? Wasn't Samuel a righteous judge? Wasn't he one from conception that God used? Yes!

Notice how it was so bad, v 4: "And all the elders of Israel gathered themselves and came to Samuel to Ramah. And they said to him, 'Behold, you are old, and your sons do not walk in your ways. Now make us a king to judge us like all the nations'" (vs 4-5).

Notice what happened here. The elders didn't come and say, 'We read in the book of Deuteronomy that when we want a king thus and such.' No! It wasn't in the book of Deuteronomy at that particular time, otherwise, Samuel would not have responded this way.

Verse 6: "But the thing was evil in the eyes of Samuel when they said, 'Give us a king to judge us.' And Samuel prayed to the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, 'Hearken to the voice of the people in all that they say to you...'" (vs 6-7).

Sometimes God will give you exactly what you want. But what people want is not necessarily what is the best or the right thing. Notice what happens when you have a hierarchy and a king:

"...for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them" (v 7). That's what happens when you reject the covenant relationship and desire a hierarchy. You reject God and you put yourself one step removed from God. That's why:

  • hierarchies do not have love
  • hierarchies do not understand the Word of God
  • hierarchies do not understand the Truth of God

beyond the minimal points that they come to, because the hierarchy has rejected God in the first offset of things to begin with.

Verse 8: "According to all the works which they have done since the day that I brought them up out of Egypt even until this day—works with which they have forsaken Me and served other gods—so they do also to you. And now hearken to their voice. Only, you shall surely protest solemnly to them...'" (vs 8-9).

Then He shows what the king was going to do. He was going to oppress them, he was going to take from them their sons, their daughters and make armies, castles, vineyards and so forth.

Verse 19: "But the people refused to obey the voice of Samuel. And they said, 'No, but we will have a king over us. And we shall be, also we, like all the nations...'" (vs 19-20).

God wanted them different from all the nations. Why should the Church of God be like all the churches in the world that have their hierarchy?

"' that our king may judge us and go out before us and fight our battles.' And Samuel heard all the words of the people, and he repeated them in the ears of the LORD. And the LORD said to Samuel, 'Hearken to their voice, and make them a king.' And Samuel said to the men of Israel, 'Every man go to his city.'" (vs 20-22). So then, they got ready and Samuel called them all back when he was ready for the king:

1-Samuel 10:17: "And Samuel called the people together to the LORD to Mizpeh. And he said to the children of Israel, 'Thus says the LORD God of Israel, "I brought up Israel out of Egypt, and delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians, and out of the hand of all kingdoms of those who oppressed you. And you have this day rejected your God...'" (vs 17-19).

When you have a hierarchy in the church, you reject God! The other extreme of hierarchy is an 'underarchy' which is controlled by the politics of the people. God doesn't want a hierarchy, doesn't want an 'underarchy.' One leads to oppression from the top down, the other leads to oppression from the bottom up, and you reject God either way.

"'...Who Himself saved you out of all your calamities and your tribulations. And you have said to Him, "But set a king over us." And now present yourselves before the LORD by your tribes and by your thousands'" (v 19). So he did and Saul was selected.

Verse 24: "And Samuel said to all the people, 'Do you see him whom the LORD has chosen, that there is none like him among all the people?' And all the people shouted, and said, 'Long live the king!' Then Samuel told the people the manner of the kingdom, and wrote it in a book..." (vs 24-25). We will see he put it in the book of Deuteronomy.

"...and laid it up before the LORD.... [in the Ark of the Covenant where the book of the covenant was] ...And Samuel sent all the people away, each to his house" (v 25).

Now in spite of the fact that they rejected God; in spite of the fact that they didn't want God to rule over them; God said, 'All right, I've got the promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob that I'm going to fulfill, so I'll work through the kingship in spite of its handicap.' So likewise, in the Churches of God. God has worked through it in spite of the handicap, but now is the time to get rid of it!

Notice the instructions to the king. Did the kingships of Israel and Judah ever really work? No! They were total failures! Even David, a man after God's heart, corrupted himself, though he repented of it.

  • Did he cause trouble in Israel because of his sins? Yes!
  • Did he cause trouble in his household because of his sins? Yes!
  • What about Jeroboam, the son of Nebat, the first king of Israel?

One of the most evil and wicked kings that was ever raised up; he had a chance to do it right, but he rejected even that, and caused Israel to sin. Set up his own calendar! Set up his own priesthood! Set up his own temples! Rejected God!

Here was a requirement that God gave for a king so that wouldn't happen, but even all the kings violated that, with the exception of maybe David when he repented, and Hezekiah, Jehoshaphat and Josiah; they did what God wanted. So to turn to the last verse in the book of Judges and say, 'Well, God authorized a kingship, we need a hierarchy.' They don't go to 1-Sam. 8 and show that it rejects God.

In spite of the handicap, here's what God said when Samuel wrote this, Deuteronomy 17:14: "When you come to the land, which the LORD your God gives you, and shall possess it..." At the time of Samuel they didn't possess all the land. Later David had to go conquer it and the land was not fully conquered until the end of the life of David. When Solomon took over the kingdom then everything was conquered at that time.

"...and shall live in it and shall say, 'I will set a king over me, like all the nations that are around me,' you shall surely set a king over you, whom the LORD your God shall choose. You shall set a king over you from among your brethren. You may not set a stranger over you who is not your brother. Only he shall not multiply horses to himself... [which Solomon did and the others did] ...nor cause the people to return to Egypt... [to the Egyptian religion or the way of life in Egypt] as to multiply horses because the LORD has said to you, 'You shall not return that way again.' Nor shall he multiply wives to himself, so that his heart does not turn away" (vs 14-17).

Isn't that what Solomon did? It's exactly what it said here! It was right there as was a witness for Solomon and what did he do? Transgressed the laws of God grievously!

 "...Nor shall he greatly multiply silver and gold to himself. And it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law... (vs 17-18). The king was to go to the priest, get a copy of the Scrolls of the Law and handwrite himself a copy of the Laws of God so that he wouldn't be lifted up among his brethren.

"...write for himself a copy of this law in a book from that which is in the custody of the priests the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life… [the only one to ever do that was David, none others] ... so that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, to keep all the words of this law and these statutes, to do them so that his heart may not be lifted up above his brethren..." (vs 18-20).

Even then with his kingship God did want this hierarchy to be oppressive from the top down though the hierarchy rejected God. And it came just that way—oppression!

"...and that he does not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left, to the end that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children, in the midst of Israel" (v 20). Needless to say, the whole history, the whole history of it is how bad and how evil and how wrong it was.

I remember sitting in a Bible study in Pasadena and you've probably heard this. Herbert Armstrong came, when there was trouble in the Church, and he shouted at this Bible study, 'If there's any one thing the Catholics have right, it's government from the top down.' And he said it many, many times. I was sitting there in that Bible study and it wasn't a rebellious thought, and it wasn't an angry thought, and it wasn't a thought of rejection or anything like that, but the thought just came in my mind: Why would God use Satan's form of government in His Church? And that thought stuck with me, but I just went on from there. I guess that was the beginning of the understanding of the hierarchy, and why the Catholic Church does not have it right and why should the Church of God follow the structure of any of the churches of the world? Shouldn't do it!

Let me read to you from this book called, The Jesuits: Society of Jesus and the Betrayal of the Roman Catholic Church by Malachi Martin. Let's see what he says about the kind of obedience that the Jesuits have, what kind of highly structured hierarchy that they have. And of course the whole Catholic Church is based upon a hierarchy.

The Jesuits: Society of Jesus and the Betrayal of the Roman Catholic Church by Malachi Martin

The Jesuits were to be based on the fundamental thing was the account of conscience which then was to be a father/son relationship between the Jesuit superior and the Jesuit subject. The account of conscience, also the superior as such was to be approached and treated and obeyed as Christ.

No man is as Christ. No minister had better, ever stand in the pulpit and say, 'My words that I tell you are the same as Christ's.' If he's reading the Scripture, then he's reading Christ's words and those aren't his in the first place.

The corporate unity of such members...

The problem with the hierarchy is that it's based upon a civil corporation or a church corporation in this world, which is hierarchical and that is tradition. And tradition rejects God and a hierarchy rejects God!

The corporate unity of such members was insured by systematical obedience. The internal government and unity of mind in action within the society was carried on by a regular approved systematic practice of report writing.

That's what Roderick Meredith instituted in the Worldwide Church of God. Every week the ministers had to report and send in a report and write up all the problems of every problem that they had in the Church, along with the names, the addresses, the problems, and send it in. This is a Catholic way of doing it. This is not God's way of doing it!

For their superiors there were three levels of obedience. Your obedience could be one of three kinds:

  • The lowest grade is the obedience in performance.

You do what you're told even though you may disagree with the whole idea, think that your superior is a fool, or think you know what he should have told you to do. You obey, but unwillingly. Ignatius who was the founder of the Jesuits, in his judgment, this grade of obedience was very imperfect.

  • The second grade of obedience, you may still think the superior is a fool and that you know what he should have commanded, but out of obedience to Christ...

And that's where the hierarchy locked in the brethren and put guilt trips on them and fear-trips on them, that if you disobey the ministry you're disobeying Christ. No one ever asked: What if the ministers are disobeying Christ? This is pure Catholicism! pure Jesuitism! pure Satanism! This is what Satan wants people to do: check your brain in at the door, be intimated and fearful.

You decide you will do what he says willingly. The point here is that you are so intent in pleasing Christ that your obedience is transformed from unwillingness to willingness. In effect, you choose the same as your superior. At this stage, Ignatius comments, there is already joy in obedience.

Doesn't that sound familiar? No, there's oppression in that kind of thing!

  • There is yet one more, the highest grade of obedience. You do not merely do what you're told without showing any overt opposition, nor do you merely choose to will as your superior wills, to do willingly what he commands. Now you agree mentally with your superior.

You have the obedience of intellect. Unconditionally you think like your superior. You submit your judgment to that of your superior so far as only the surrendered will can sway the intellect. This highest form is what Ignatius calls blind obedience.

That's not God's way. God wants you to obey,

  • because you love Him
  • because He's God
  • because you're in a covenant relationship with Him

and that you

  • see
  • you know
  • you choose
  • you understand

It's not blind obedience, because when you give yourself over to blind obedience you can be led down any heresy trail, to the end is satanism.

...called blind obedience, the voluntary renunciation of private judgment.

Jesus commanded us to have righteous judgment!

The grades of obedience obviously are arranged according to the degree one's will is engaged in that obedience. Accordingly, in other words, to one's willingness Ignatius penned a few short lines, his ideal of obedient Jesuit:

"Altogether... [Here's what he says of obedience]: ...I must not desire to belong to myself but to my Creator and His representative."

Unscriptural! You must belong to your Creator and Him alone!

"I must let myself, therefore, be led and moved as a lump of wax lets itself be kneaded. I must be as a dead-man's corpse without will or judgment; as a little crucifix which lets itself be moved without difficulty from one place to another; as a staff in the hand of an old man to be placed where he wishes where he can best make use of me. Thus, I must always be ready to hand so that the order may use me and apply me in the way that, to him, seems good."

Isn't that something?

Many, including early Jesuits have used military metaphors to describe the nature and mode of the operation that Ignatius designed for his society of Jesuits. The pyramidal chain of command, the division of Jesuits in the grades, the idea of Jesuit obedience, these elements are reproduced certainly in military groups. The very name Ignatius used to designate his group was "company of Jesus," seen by many to be derived from army structure.

Malachi Martin tries to justify it and say no it wasn't, but it is well known the Jesuits are the Gestapo of the pope. If you haven't seen the videos, The Jesuit Agenda for the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, I suggest that you see them.

Let's understand something: If there's any one thing that the Catholic Church have wrong and that is government from the top down. There is in the Scripture government from the top down, but that's from Christ to each individual. That's the highest form of government. Now, all of these are from the top down.

Let's see something very important, what Jesus said concerning what those apostles should not do, what the Church should not do, what the ministers should not do. He makes it very emphatic, just like the children of Israel rejected God when they put up a hierarchy, so do the ministers of God create a layer between the people of God with their hierarchy and they reject the words of Christ.

Do you think that as a minister or as a church if you reject the words of Jesus Christ that you're doing the will of God? And with the clear commands that Jesus gave here, do you think in continuing to institute a hierarchy—preach a hierarchy, love a hierarchy—and create this idol in the minds of the brethren and yourselves that you're going to please God? No!

You read the message to the Church of Pergamos who had the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, because the doctrine of the Nicolaitans comes from Nimrod who we saw was the first tyrant this side of the Flood. They rule over the people and they conquer over the people. Nicolaitans means ruler over the laity—not brethren—laity.

Matt. 20—there was some politicking going on here. Good old mamma Zebedee said, 'My sons—James and John—I want one to sit on the right hand, Lord, and one on the other hand.' And He said, 'No, that won't happen.' Then when the others heard about it (v 24), they were moved with indignation, because they wanted that, too. 'How dare they get up there ahead of us?' So, Jesus wanted to settle the whole score.

Matthew 20:25: "But Jesus called them to Him and said, 'You know that the rulers of the nations exercise lordship over them, and the great ones exercise authority over them.'" The English translation here completion misses what the Greek really is. The Greek here is to exercise dominion over, that is 'kata'—in the Greek is down. And dominion comes from 'kurio.' 'Katakurio'—to lord it over downwardly. Government from the top down. That's the way the Gentiles do it. And is not the Catholic Church a Gentile church? Yes, indeed it is!

"…and the great ones exercise authority over them." To exercise authority, you don't get the sense in the English either. That is 'kata exousia,' which is authority downward. So, this is lordship down, authority downward, and who are the great ones? Who was a great one?

Let's see where it talks about one of the great ones who had an oppressive religion and let's what he did and how he did it. He was called Simon Magus.

Acts 8:9: "But there was a certain man named Simon, who had from earlier times been practicing sorcery... [that's what all of this gets down to] ... in the city and astounding the nation of Samaria, proclaiming himself to be some great one." He exercised authority downward, 'kata exousia.'

Verse 10: "To him they had all given heed... [yes, they bowed] ...from the least to the greatest, saying, 'This man is the great power of God.'" He was the closest thing to the pope that you could get.

Verse 11: "Now, they were giving heed to him because he had for a long time bewitched them with sorceries." Let's see what Jesus says in relationship to them:

Matthew 20:25: But Jesus called them to Him and said, 'You know that the rulers of the nations exercise lordship… [downward] … over them, and the great ones exercise authority… [downward] …over them. However, it shall not be this way among you... [Can anything be more clear? It shall not be so!] …but whoever would become great among you, let him be your servant'" (vs 25-26)—KJV: minister. You do it by

  • serving
  • loving
  • example
  • Word of God
  • persuasion
  • inspiration
  • up-building the Church

You don't do it by ruling, controlling, beating, fearing, intimidating, corralling and using carnal means of command and control. Because 'a man persuaded against his will is of the same opinion still.' So, all of those things didn't work.

  • Did they work in the Worldwide Church of God?
  • Where is it today?
  • Is it going to work in the Catholic Church? No! Christ is going to destroy it!
  • Has it ever worked in any church? Oh, for a while!
  • Did it create Truth? No!

It created areas of subversion where the Jesuits could come in and twist and change and pervert and bring it back to what they lost when the Protestant Reformation took place. Christ says, 'It shall not be so among you.' Those are the words of Christ! Yes, we need order, supervision and oversight, but the kind that is based upon this:

"'…but whoever would become great among you, let him be your servant, and whoever would be first among you, let him be your slave; just as the Son of man...'" (vs 26-28).

He was God before He became the Word, before He became the Son of man. He could have come to this earth and demanded anything, by saying, 'I'm the Creator. I made the heavens. I made the sun, the moon, the stars and everything on earth. Why don't you respect Me?'

  • He came to His own and He was rejected!
  • He was despised!
  • He was a man of sorrows!
  • He carried our sins!
  • He loved us!

—because God wants a covenant relationship based upon love and love comes down. Agape love from God comes down to us. The whole lesson we need to learn out of this is that if you don't have the love of God and the love of brethren:

  • you do not understand the purpose of God
  • you do not understand the government of God
  • you do not understand the relationship—the covenant relationship—that God wants you to have

You may have a religion, but God hates religion. You may understand carnally some Scriptures, but that is not salvation. You may be a good speaker, but good speakers are a dime a dozen. You can get them at the speaker's bureau. Whatever has to be done has to be to serve, to minister, because

  • it's not head knowledge, it's heart knowledge
  • it is not control, it is conviction
  • it is not ruling over, it's up-building and inspiring

That's what God wants, v 28: "Just as the Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many"—one of the most important sections that we have in the New Testament.

Now let's see how God brought this about. Let's understand that God could destroy this earth by command. It is upheld by the word of His power. One word and it's gone! But God is merciful and kind and longsuffering. God is not exercising His power. God is exercising:

  • His kindness
  • His longsuffering
  • His mercy
  • His understanding

—because God loves the world and God is going to save the world. God is not going to do it with a hierarchy. God is going to do it with a covenant relationship, because you love God and God loves you.

John 3:16: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son... [He gave Him!] that everyone who believes in Him may not perish, but may have everlasting life."

That is so profound for us to understand, brethren. How can you have a church with a hierarchy that doesn't have love?

  • which discourages?
  • which intimidates?
  • which puts down?
  • which rules over?

Can we not as brethren with the highest form of government possible, Christ in us:

  • get along with each other?
  • love each other?
  • serve each other?
  • have our fellowships together?

Just like our Feast of Tabernacles, they are fantastic, because that's how they are run. It runs smoothly, wonderfully, nicely, all in decency, in order and inspiring. That's what God wants it to be! Christ in you is the highest form of government!

Let's go to 1-John 4, because here's something that's very important to understand. You cannot understand the purpose of God and you cannot fulfill the purpose of God in your life, nor help it be fulfilled in others if you don't understand that God is love. The very God-likeness that God is trying to build in us is

  • based upon love, not based upon hierarchy.
  • based upon yieldedness, not based upon submission and obedience

because of power. It is based upon love and obedience because of desire from the inward part. Completely different. And that's based on the loved of God.

That's why John said, 1-John 4:16: "And we have known and have believed the love that God has toward us. God is love..." I think we still have so much to learn about it that I cannot even express it, yet. I'm still learning it, because we were so steeped in a hierarchical thing. I want you to ask yourself, and any who are elders: How much hierarchy is still in me? May you be willing to let Christ take it out of you and replace it with the love of God! God is love! ...and the one who dwells in love is dwelling in God, and God in him." There is the covenant relationship. That's what God wants.

That's why the whole Passover ceremony is a covenant relationship based upon the love of God. That's why John 13-17. That's why Jesus told His disciples, 'A new commandment that I give you that you love one another as I have loved you.' I don't even think we have come close to fully understanding that. I hope we understand it more than we did the last time that we studied it and went over it. I hope we learn more in the future. But here's something that's very profound. You will hear me go over this again and again, and here's the time I'm going to go over it. May we all learn this, because this is the heart and core of the whole covenant lesson that God gives us.

John 14:15: "If you love Me, keep the commandments…" So, it's based upon love and then commandment-keeping. You cannot generate love by commandment-keeping, but commandment-keeping is a result of loving God.

Verse 21: "The one who has My commandments and is keeping them, that is the one who loves Me; and the one who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will manifest Myself to him."

Brethren, the more that you love God, the more that Christ is going to be manifest and revealed in your life, revealed in the Word of God, revealed in the things that you need to do and how you need to do them and everything. Christ is going to do that. He's going to reveal that to you.

Verse 23: "Jesus answered and said to him, 'If anyone loves Me, he will keep My Word...'" There's no question of obedience, brethren. If you love God you will keep His words. You won't have rebellion in you. No, you won't need someone to come along and beat you over the head and say, 'Do this and do that and do the other thing,' because you will desire to do the things that please Him. That's the highest form of government that Christ wants! That is not a hierarchy.

Whatever church structure is necessary to carry out the functions of the Church, again, go through the six sermons, Church Structure and Function. You will see that where there's a need you structure to it. Where there is not a need, you don't need a structure.

"…keep My words; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him" (v 23). So, Christ and God the Father are in you by the virtue of the Holy Spirit and that is the covenant relationship. Fellowship begins with God the Father and Jesus Christ in the covenant relationship and here it is. The ones who don't have God's Word, they don't hear it.

Let's see what this is, Colossians 1:27: "To whom God did will to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory."

  • Church government is not the hope of glory.
  • Hierarchy is not the hope of glory.
    • They are the destruction of it.
    • They are the tearing down of it!

Christ in you—that's the highest form of government! You keep the commandments of God because you love Him. You keep the commandments of Christ because you desire to do so. This is what we want, brethren. This is what God has called us to. He's called us to shed aside all of this whole hierarchy thing. Leave out all of the 'religiosity' and 'churchiness' that you have had in the past. Ask God to help you overcome it and repent of it and don't bring it into the fellowships with the brethren of God.

Rather do this, Colossians 3:12: "Put on then, as the elect of God, Holy and beloved, deep inner affections, kindness, humility, meekness and long-suffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving one another if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so also you should forgive" (vs 12-13).

I know that are some, even within the fellowships of the Christian Biblical Church of God, because of your past affiliations, your past faults, mistakes, 'religiosity,' self pride and 'religion' that you still have not come together as brethren and forgiven each other the way you need to do.

I tell you, we have the hardest job in the world to do to try and help the brethren coming from all being battered, bruised, wounded, kicked and ruled over to help them see the love of God and shed aside all of this.

  • Can you do that?
  • Can you put it aside?
  • Can you go ask God to help you put it away?
  • Can you, if you've been an elder, ask God to help get the hierarchy out of you and let the love of God flow into you?
  • Let the service of God flow into you to help the brethren?

We need to!

Verse 14:"And above all these things put on love... [let the love of God come into you] ...which is the bond of perfection." That's what binds us together. That is the unity in Christ. The unity in Christ must be based upon the love of God, because that's the purpose of God.

Verse 15: "And let the peace of God rule..."

Brethren, God hates hierarchy! Hierarchies and kingships and power reject Christ. I'm here to tell you that I know for sure, based upon the Word of God, that God is going to further correct and destroy if necessary.

To the Church of Pergamos Christ said He's is going to 'fight against those Nicolaitans with the sword of His mouth, with the Word of God' (Rev. 2). We know by the Word of God that there better be change and repentance on these things and this includes some of the highest 'ranking' ministers that were ever in Worldwide Church of God or any of the other Churches of God.

Can we not have the love of God and do as Jesus Christ said, 'Let the fellowship be with God the Father and Jesus Christ and if you love Me, keep My commandments. And if you love Me, be in that covenant relationship with Me.'

That's what God wants. He doesn't want a hierarchy. He wants that covenant relationship!

All Scriptures from The Holy Bible In Its Original Order, a Faithful Version

Scriptural References:

  • Ephesians 4:11-15
  • Genesis 2:23-24
  • Genesis 10:8-9
  • Exodus 18:19-21
  • Deuteronomy 5:29
  • Deuteronomy 6:1-9
  • Deuteronomy 16:18-20
  • Judges 2:8-15
  • Judges 21:25
  • 1-Samuel 8:1, 3-9, 19-22
  • 1-Samuel 10:17-19, 24-25
  • Deuteronomy 17:14-20
  • Matthew 20:25
  • Acts 8:9-11
  • Matthew 20:25-28
  • John 3:16
  • 1-John 4:16
  • John 14:15, 21, 23
  • Colossians 1:27
  • Colossians 3:12-15

Scriptures referenced, not quoted:

  • Daniel 4
  • Matthew 20:24
  • John 13-17
  • Revelation 2

Also referenced:

  • Sermon Series: Church Structure and Function
  • Study Paper: The Rise of a Ministerial Hierarchy by Carl Franklin
  • Book: The Jesuits: Society of Jesus and the Betrayal of the Roman Catholic Church by Malachi Martin
  • Video: The Jesuit Agenda(from the Seventh Day Adventist Church)

Transcribed: 10-14-10
Reformatted/Corrected: bo—5/17/17