Monthly letter archive

May 15, 2019

Dear Brethren,

This year, we are again holding the CBCG Elders’ Conference in Cincinnati, Ohio, May 15-18. The elders and their wives are attending, as well as leading men and their wives. And for the first time, representatives will attend from several independent churches of God. Of course, by the time you receive this letter the conference will be concluded.

The Purpose of the Ministry of Jesus Christ: Before He began His ministry, Jesus’ occupation was carpentry—which in His day involved building with wood, timbers, concrete, iron, and stone. Jesus was undoubtedly involved in every aspect of building—from conception and planning to stone cutting and laying, including the “finishing” work. It was rigorous work, because many of the buildings were four-story stone structures, such as those in the nearby city of Sepphoris, only four miles from Nazareth. (This information is from the book Jesus & the Forgotten City, which is unfortunately out of print.) Jesus’ physical trade somewhat parallels the purpose of his ministry: to build the Church of God.

The Head of the Church of God (All Congregations) is Jesus Christ: Early in His ministry—after Peter declared Him to be “the Christ”—Jesus announced to His disciples that He would build His Church. Matthew writes: “And Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jona, for flesh and blood did not reveal it to you, but My Father, Who is in heaven. And I say also to you, that you are Peter [petros, a little stone (John 1:42)]; but upon this Rock [petra, Jesus Himself is the Rock (I Cor. 10:4)] I will build [oiko-domeso] My church, and the gates of the grave shall not prevail against it’ ” (Matt. 16:17-18).

The Greek verb for “build” is oiko-domeo, meaning “to erect a building, to build.” As we will see, the verb is elsewhere translated “to edify, to build up (such as godly character), to encourage” (Berry, Greek-English New Testament Lexicon). In addition, this verb forms the root for “steward.”

There Is To Be No Hierarchy: Later, the mother of James and John approached Jesus, asking that her sons be appointed to sit at His right hand and left hand in His kingdom. Notice Jesus’ response: “Jesus answered and said, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink of the cup that I am about to drink? And to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They answered to Him, ‘We are able.’

“And He said to them, ‘You shall indeed drink of My cup, and shall be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit at My right hand and at My left hand is not Mine to give, but shall be given to those for whom it has been prepared by My Father.’ And after hearing this, the ten were indignant against the two brothers.

“But, Jesus called them to Him and said, ‘You know that the [civil] rulers of the nations exercise lordship [downward, dictatorial rule] over them, and their great [religious] ones exercise lordship over them [the religious leaders also exercised downward authority].

“ ‘However, it shall not be this way among you; but whosever would become great among you, let him be your servant; and whosever would be first among you, let him be your slave; 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’ ” (Matt. 20:22-28).

Following Jesus’ teaching, the apostle Paul made it absolutely clear that the work of an elder in the Church is to serve the brethren in love and to feed the flock of God—to up-build the brethren so they may be prepared for eternal life. The last time Paul saw the elders of Ephesus, he recounted to them his ministry and admonished them concerning their responsibilities to faithfully serve God and the brethren: “For Paul had decided to sail by Ephesus, because he did not want to spend time in Asia; for he hastened in order to be in Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost, if possible. Now from Miletus, he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. And when they had come to him, he said to them, ‘You know how, from the first day I came to Asia, and all the time I was with you, I served the Lord with all humility and with many tears and temptations, which came upon me through the plots of the Jews; and how I did not keep back anything that was profitable, but preached to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, earnestly testifying, both to the Jews and the Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.

“ ‘And now behold, I am bound in the spirit, and am going to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that shall happen to me there; except that the Holy Spirit fully testifies in every city, saying that bonds and tribulations await me. But I myself do not take any of these things into account, nor do I hold my life dear to myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to fully testify [of] the gospel of the grace of God. And now behold, I know that you all, among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom of God, will see my face no more; wherefore I testify to you on this day that I am pure from the blood of all, for I have not held back from preaching to you all the counsel of God.

“ ‘Take heed therefore to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which He purchased with His own blood. For I know this: that after my departure grievous wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will rise up speaking perverse things to draw away disciples after themselves. Watch, therefore, remembering that for three years I ceased not to admonish each one night and day with tears’ ” (Acts 20:16-31).

The truth is, all of the brethren belong to God the Father and Jesus Christ—not to any human or corporate organization! Elders and ministers are to keep this fact in the forefront of their minds, because Christ has purchased each one with His own blood.

In his epistle to the Ephesians in 61 AD from Rome, Paul clearly states that the purpose of the ministry is to perfect the saints and up-build, or edify, the body of Christ: “And He gave some as apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers. [All of these are functions of elders—not “exalted offices” through which ministers are to rule over God’s people.] For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ; 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; so that we no longer be children, tossed and carried about with every wind of doctrine by the sleight of men in cunning craftiness, with a view to the systematizing of the error; but holding the truth in love, may in all things grow up into Him Who is the Head, even Christ from Whom all the body, fitly framed and compacted together by that which every joint supplies, according to its inner working in the measure of each individual part, is making the increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love” (Eph. 4:11-16).

All of the apostles understood this, as evidenced by the apostle Peter’s admonition to the elders to serve the brethren and be examples of loving, righteous conduct—but not as overlords! “The elders who are among you I exhort, even as a fellow elder, and an eyewitness of the sufferings of Christ, and a partaker of the glory that is about to be revealed. Feed the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight not by compulsion, but willingly; not in fondness of dishonest gain, but with an eager attitude; not as exercising lordship over your possessions; but by being examples to the flock of God. And when the Chief Shepherd is manifested, you shall receive an unfading, eternal crown of glory” (I Pet. 5:1-4).

There is no question that Paul and Peter always followed the teachings of Jesus—as did the other apostles—and understood that they were not to exercise lordship over the brethren. Notice again Jesus’ direct teaching to the apostles: “Jesus called them to Him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the nations [the kings and civil rulers] exercise lordship over them, and the great ones [the religious leaders] exercise authority over them. However, it shall not be this way among you; 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 did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:25-28).

Not wanting to use harsh correction, Paul appealed to the Corinthians to resolve their own problems. He reminded them that he and the elders did not exercise lordship over them: “But He Who establishes us with you in Christ, and Who has anointed us, is God, Who has also sealed us and has given the earnest of the Spirit in our hearts. But I call upon God to bear witness of my intentions, that in order to spare you I did not yet come to Corinth—not that we exercise lordship over your faith, but because we are working with you to increase your joy. For you stand by faith” (II Cor. 1:21-24).

It is clear that the apostles never established a rigid, hierarchical government over the Church of God. The top-down form of government that developed in the Roman Catholic Church is absolutely contrary to the teachings of the New Testament. Indeed, throughout the Gospels Jesus taught against the iron-fisted, intimidating, fear-breeding authority typically exercised by pagan religious leaders and rulers.

Expressing His hatred for heavy-handed approaches to government, Christ exposed them as “the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which thing I hate” (Rev. 2:15). He warned, “Repent! For if you do not repent, I will come to you quickly, and will make war against them with the sword of My mouth” (verse 16).

Church leaders claiming to be “presiding evangelists” or self-appointed “apostles” or “prophets”—and who exercise rigid, pagan, top-down authority over their members—are taking to themselves a level of authority that Christ, as the Head of the Church, absolutely forbids! Such leaders are self-exalted, self-appointed corporate hirelings—religious professionals. Not only are they sinning against God the Father and Jesus Christ, they bring fear, intimidation, and suffering into the lives of the brethren—while robbing them of income beyond God’s tithes and offerings. Such “leaders” deprive their followers of the joy of coming to know the true love and grace of God—denying them the opportunity to develop a deep personal relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ, wherein they might thrive spiritually in faith, hope, and love.

On the other hand, we are to teach the brethren—which is feeding the flock of God with the Word of God—so that they might grow into the perfection of Christ through a personal, direct relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ. As the apostle John wrote: “That which was from the beginning, that which we have heard, that which we have seen with our own eyes, that which we observed for ourselves and our own hands handled, concerning the Word of life; (And the life was manifested, and we have seen, and are bearing witness, and are reporting to you the eternal life, which was with the Father, and was manifested to us;) That which we have seen and have heard we are reporting to you in order that you also may have fellowship with us; for the fellowshipindeed, our fellowship [our personal relationship]—is with the Father and with His own Son, Jesus Christ. These things we are also writing to you, so that your joy may be completely full” (I John 1:1-4).

Elders are Stewards of God: Though the term is seldom used today, “steward” primarily means: “One who acts as a supervisor or administrator, as of finances and property, for another or others.” This is the biblical meaning as well. A steward always works on behalf of the property owner. Elders are stewards working with someone else’s property—God’s property—the members of the Body of Christ, purchased by Jesus’ own blood.

The Greek root oiki (or oiko) means “to edify.” The following are variations of this root and their relative meanings:

Oiki-a—a house, a household, a family, a house and all the goods within it
Oiki-akos—one of a family, whether a child or a servant
Oiko-domeo—to erect a building, to build, to build up, to edify
Oiko-domee—the act of building, a literal building, a spiritual body, of the church’s edification, spiritual advancement
Oiko-doomos—a builder
Oiko-nomeo—to be a steward
Oiko-nomia—management of household affairs, stewardship
Oiko-nomos—a household manager, steward; the Christian stewardship
Oikos—a house, a building, a family residing in a house; a family perpetuated by succession; the house of God, the temple, the family of God, the Church of God (Berry, Greek-English New Testament Lexicon).

As we can see, the various meanings related to the root oiko all point to the service-oriented ministry of Jesus Christ and the building up of the Church—so that we all might grow into the spiritual perfection of Christ. Everything an elder does for God and the brethren—God’s family—is the work of a steward. Therefore, the leadership is never to “lord it over” God’s people—Jesus Christ alone is Lord over the household of God! Leaders are never to exploit the brethren to gain power and control!

A steward is to be absolutely faithful in leading and shepherding the brethren: “So then, let every man regard us as ministers of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Beyond that, it is required of stewards that one be found faithful” (I Cor. 4:1-2). As stewards of the household of God, elders are to protect, up-build, increase, and develop God’s people as they prepare for eternal life. The Church is God’s property—it is not up to the steward to do as he sees fit by implementing his own ideas and doctrines for his own personal profit and aggrandizement.

Thus, elders are to always teach the way of the Lord and preach the truth of God’s Word: “Therefore, having this ministry, according as we have received mercy, we are not fainthearted. For we have personally renounced the hidden things of dishonest gain, not walking in cunning craftiness, nor handling the Word of God deceitfully; but by manifestation of the truth, we are commending ourselves to every man’s conscience before God. But if our gospel is hidden, it is hidden to those who are perishing; in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of those who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, Who is the image of God, should shine unto them. For we do not preach our own selves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake because it is God Who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, Who shined into our hearts the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (II Cor. 4:1-6).

Notice Paul’s instructions to Titus concerning the qualifications of elders, also called overseers: “For this cause I left you in Crete, so that you might set in order the things that needed to be done, and might ordain elders in every city, as I commanded you: If any man be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children, not accused of debauchery or rebellion. For it is obligatory that as God’s steward an overseer be blameless, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not given to wine, not a bully, not greedy for material gain; but hospitable, a lover of good, sound-minded, just, holy, self-controlled, holding steadfastly to the faithful word, according to the teachings of Jesus Christ, so that he may be able both to encourage with sound doctrine and to convict those who are gainsayers” (Titus 1:5-9).

Elders are stewards of God’s Word, and must be diligent to teach and preach, to watch over and guard, and faithfully divide the truth of God. Paul instructs Timothy: “Diligently study to show yourself approved unto God, a workman who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of the truth; but avoid profane and vain babblings because they will only give rise to more ungodliness…. Preach the Word! Be urgent in season and out of season; convict, rebuke, encourage, with all patience and doctrine” (II Tim. 2:15-16; 4:2).

Furthermore, true Christians are stewards of the Holy Spirit! God has entrusted us with His spirit in order to empower us to grow in grace and knowledge—to enable us to develop and use our individual talents and abilities to serve the brethren. This is our part in up-building the Body of Christ in brotherly love. Notice Peter’s instructions: “Let each one, according as he has received a gift from God, be using it to serve the others as good stewards of the grace of God which manifests itself in various ways” (I Pet. 4:10).

Jesus Christ is the Master Steward over the entire household of God for the Father. Jesus is the Head of the Church, and leads us in grace and knowledge so that we might grow and develop the godly character necessary for eternal life. Paul expresses it this way—using related Greek words sharing the same oiko root: “Now when He came, He preached the gospel—peace to you who were far off and to those who were near. For through Him we both have direct access by one Spirit to the Father. So then, you are no longer aliens and foreigners; but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of the household [oikei-oi] of God.

“You are being built up on the foundation of the apostles and prophets [NT as well as OT], Jesus Christ Himself being the chief Cornerstone. In Whom all the building [oiko-dome], being conjointly fitted together, is increasing into a holy temple in the Lord; in Whom you also are being built together [sun-oiko-dmeisthe] for a habitation [kat-oike-rion] of God in the Spirit” (Eph. 2:17-22).

These verses emphasize that we are to be faithful stewards of all that God has generously given to us—our physical bodies and material possessions, our families and brethren, the Holy Spirit, and our personal relationship with the Father and Jesus Christ. We accomplish this through daily prayer and study as we live God’s way of life. This is how Jesus Christ is building His Church and dealing with each one of us individually in His love.

(For more on the subject of godly leadership, please call, write, or e-mail us for a copy of the booklet Is the Ministry the Government of God?)

Pentecost: Because of the many biblical events connected with Pentecost—the beginning of the visible return of Christ and the first resurrection—Jesus’ second coming will be awesome, literally a heaven- and earth-shaking event. Everyone alive at that time will witness these events. This year, Pentecost falls on June 9. (I hope that you fully understand our studies on Pentecost; if you have any questions, please send them in and we will do our best to answer them.)

It is a fact that God’s holy days are the most important keys in unlocking the understanding of prophecy. Always remember, however, that while prophecy is certainly exciting, it is nothing without the love of God. Paul writes of this in I Corinthians 13: “If I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but do not have love, I have become a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give away all my goods, and if I deliver up my body that I may be burned, but do not have love, I have gained nothing.

“Love is patient and is kind; love envies not, does not brag about itself, is not puffed up. Love does not behave disgracefully, does not seek its own things, is not easily provoked, thinks no evil, does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether there be prophecies, they shall cease; whether there be languages, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. For we know in part, and we prophesy in part; but when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part shall be set aside.

“When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I reasoned as a child; but when I became a man, I set aside the things of a child. For now we see through a glass darkly, but then we shall see face to face; now I know in part, but then I shall know exactly as I have been known. And now, these three remain: faith, hope and love; but the greatest of these is love” (I Cor. 13:1-13).

Brethren, we need to continue to draw close to God the Father and Jesus Christ in heartfelt daily prayer and in the daily study of the Bible. Using the power of the Holy Spirit God has given us, we can grow in grace and knowledge and always be overcoming. We continually thank God for the goodness and mercy He bestows on His people. We thank you personally for your continued love and dedication to God and to each other. Thank you for your prayers for us and all the brethren, and for your continued faithfulness in tithes and offerings. We pray that God will continue to bless you and keep watch over you in everything—for your health, your healing, and that God’s love and grace will be upon you.

With love in Christ Jesus,

Fred R. Coulter