1. GOD SPEAKS THROUGH HIS CHURCH
a. What was the first direction that Jesus gave to Saul of Tarsus after his conversion? Acts 9:6.
“Many have an idea that they are responsible to Christ alone for their light and experience, independent of His recognized followers on earth. Jesus. . . . respects the means that He has ordained for the enlightenment and salvation of men; He directs sinners to the church.”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 122.
b. How important is it to hear God’s voice speaking to us through His church and to cooperate with His people? Matthew 18:18–20.
“The Lord has an organized body through whom He will work.”—Selected Messages, bk3, p. 17.
“The Redeemer of the world does not sanction experience and exercise in religious matters independent of his organized and acknowledged church. . . . The Saviour placed [Saul] in connection with His church, and let them direct him what to do. . . .
“All is done in the name and by the authority of Christ; but the church is the channel of communication.”—Sketches From the Life of Paul, pp. 31, 32.
2. HEARING GOD SPEAKING THROUGH THE CHURCH
a. Three years later, after Jesus had taught him personally, where did Saul (now called Paul) go? Galatians 1:1, 15–19.
“Notwithstanding the fact that Paul was personally taught by God, he had no strained ideas of individual responsibility. While looking to God for direct guidance, he was ever ready to recognize the authority vested in the body of believers united in church fellowship.”—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 200.
“God never designed that one man’s mind and judgment should be a controlling power. He never designed that one man should rule and plan and devise without the careful and prayerful consideration of the whole body.”—Selected Messages, bk3, pp. 16, 17.
“Even the best of men, if left to themselves, will err in judgment. . . .
“The greater the responsibilities placed upon the human agent, and the larger his opportunities to dictate and control, the more harm he is sure to do if he does not carefully follow the way of the Lord and labor in harmony with the decisions arrived at by the general body of believers in united council.”—The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 198, 199.
b. What happened in Old Testament times when God’s chosen leadership was jealously criticized? Numbers 12:1, 2, 9, 10. What can we learn from this?
“Those who are inclined to regard their individual judgment as supreme are in grave peril. It is Satan’s studied effort to separate such ones from those who are channels of light, through whom God has wrought to build up and extend His work in the earth. To neglect or despise those whom God has appointed to bear the responsibilities of leadership in connection with the advancement of the truth is to reject the means that He has ordained for the help, encouragement, and strength of His people. For any worker in the Lord’s cause to pass these by, and to think that his light must come through no other channel than directly from God, is to place himself in a position where he is liable to be deceived by the enemy and overthrown. . . . Every agency will be subordinate to the Holy Spirit, and all the believers will be united.”—Ibid., p. 164.
3. COOPERATION WITH CHURCH DECISIONS
a. What respect should be given to legitimate church decisions? 1 Peter 5:5; Hebrews 13:17; Proverbs 11:14.
“I have often been instructed by the Lord that no man’s judgment should be surrendered to the judgment of any other one man. Never should the mind of one man or the minds of a few men be regarded as sufficient in wisdom and power to control the work and to say what plans shall be followed. But when, in a General Conference, the judgment of the brethren assembled from all parts of the field is exercised, private independence and private judgment must not be stubbornly maintained, but surrendered. Never should a laborer regard as a virtue the persistent maintenance of his position of independence, contrary to the decision of the general body.
“At times, when a small group of men entrusted with the general management of the work have, in the name of the General Conference, sought to carry out unwise plans and to restrict God’s work, I have said that I could no longer regard the voice of the General Conference, represented by these few men, as the voice of God. But this is not saying that the decisions of a General Conference composed of an assembly of duly appointed, representative men from all parts of the field should not be respected. God has ordained that the representatives of His church from all parts of the earth, when assembled in a General Conference, shall have authority. The error that some are in danger of committing is in giving to the mind and judgment of one man, or of a small group of men, the full measure of authority and influence that God has vested in His church in the judgment and voice of the General Conference assembled to plan for the prosperity and advancement of His work. . . .
“Let us give to the highest organized authority in the church that which we are prone to give to one man or to a small group of men.”—Testimonies, vol. 9, pp. 260, 261.
“God has bestowed the highest power under heaven upon His church. It is the voice of God in His united people in church capacity which is to be respected.”—Ibid., vol. 3, p. 451.
b. What type of attitude does the Lord want the church leaders to have toward their fellow believers? Philippians 2:3–8.
4. THE CHURCH NEVER REPLACES GOD
a. Can any member or church officer determine or dictate the individual duty of another member? Matthew 20:25–28.
“Let all who accept human authority, the customs of the church, or the traditions of the fathers, take heed to the warning conveyed in the words of Christ, ‘In vain do they worship Me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men’ (Matthew 15:9).”—The Desire of Ages, p. 398.
“Let your faith and trust be in God. Do not depend on any erring man to define your duty. . . .
“Every church member should understand that God is the one to whom to look for an understanding of individual duty. It is right that brethren counsel together; but when men arrange just what their brethren shall do, let them answer that they have chosen the Lord as their counselor. Those who will humbly seek Him will find His grace sufficient. But when one man allows another to step in between him and the duty that God has pointed out to him, giving to man his confidence and accepting him as guide, then he steps from the true platform to a false and dangerous one. Such a man, instead of growing and developing, will lose his spirituality.”—Testimonies, vol. 9, pp. 279, 280.
b. What advice given to church leaders should also guide any member tempted to control the behavior of another human being? Matthew 23:8, 10–12.
“Instead of considering it their duty to order and dictate and command, [all who occupy responsible positions] should realize that they are to be learners themselves. When a responsible worker fails to learn this lesson, the sooner he is released from his responsibilities the better it will be for him and for the work of God. Position never will give holiness and excellence of character. He who honors God and keeps His commandments is himself honored.”—Ibid., pp. 282, 283.
“Men whom the Lord calls to important positions in His work are to cultivate a humble dependence upon Him. They are not to seek to embrace too much authority; for God has not called them to a work of ruling, but to plan and counsel with their fellow laborers.”—Ibid., p. 270.
5. RESOLVING CONFLICTS
a. What procedure was used in resolving a conflict in the early church? Acts 15:1–4. What can we learn from this?
“[Certain Jews] asserted with great assurance, that none could be saved without being circumcised and keeping the entire ceremonial law.
“This was an important question, and one which affected the church in a very great degree. . . . The matter resulted in much discussion and want of harmony in the church, until finally the church of Antioch, apprehending that a division among them would occur from any further discussion of the question, decided to send Paul and Barnabas, together with some responsible men of Antioch, to Jerusalem, to lay the matter before the apostles and elders. There they were to meet delegates from the different churches, and those who had come to attend the approaching annual festivals. Meanwhile all controversy was to cease until a final decision should be made by the responsible men of the church. This decision was then to be universally accepted by the various churches throughout the country.”—Sketches From the Life of Paul, p. 63.
b. Summarize Peter’s account of the point in question. Acts 11:2–17. Upon what did the apostle James base his argument? Acts 15:13–17. Who settled this dispute? Verse 28.
PERSONAL REVIEW QUESTIONS
1. How do we know that God works and speaks through an organized body?
2. Why is one human not entrusted with the responsibility of ruling over and planning for God’s church?
3. How should we relate to decisions made by church representatives in session?
4. What does God want us to do regarding our personal duty instead of going to someone in the church for advice? Why?
5. How should we handle controversy in the church?