The Problem of Centralized Corporate Church Government

Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.

~ James Arthur Baldwin

A stronger centralized corporate church government allowed Herbert W Armstrong (HWA) to effectively control the “product”, in this case the Gospel message.  It ensured that the ministry stayed in line and, to some degree, staved off what seemed to be constant splitting away of church congregations.

However, has man ever come up with a form of government that did not have problems?  HWA used to say that the problems down through history were because mankind rejected God and His government.  Yet, was God’s government really about the form of government, as HWA seemed to strongly believe was part of the equation in his later years?  Or, was it rather more about Who was in charge?  It should be a little more evident now that HWA took many of his ideas about corporate control from worldly corporations.  The worldly corporations worked.  They were successful.  Therefore, HWA might have concluded they were being blessed because of their form of government.

However, with control and power comes problems.  The more power, the more problems, and that it is independent of whether or not you have one in charge or a committee in charge (although a committee does admittedly dilute power to some extent).  Namely, the problems with a tightly controlled centralized corporate form of church governance have a few very obvious problems:

1. Power corrupts.

Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men.

~ Lord Acton

You know, God seems to use very flawed men for His purposes (cf 1Co 1:26).  Much of the time, God chooses the underdog to do His bidding.  Even David was the last of seven sons!  It has been said that greatness is due to an overcompensation of a huge defect.  There seems to be some truth in that.

Once a man has the power, those defects can become larger and more apparent.  Sometimes, they can even be manipulated by others around him, who have their own aims and defects to deal with.  They will flatter with their tongues and hasten the corruption in one’s heart.

Human beings tend towards corruption.  If a Christian is not vigilant and walking in the Spirit, then the consequences can be rather dramatic.

Power, fame and success seems to lead to a lack of restraint.  Can you say, “Tiger Woods”?  I knew you could.  It can lead to an ego problem (cf Dt 8:10-20), and most great men have ego issues.

It would be an understatement to say that in his later years, the average layman had little chance to convince HWA that he was teaching erroneous doctrines. The average layman could not even gain access to Mr.Armstrong. If he did, any attempts to correct "God’s Apostle" would have produced thundering denunciation. This is to say nothing of the furor that would have developed if a woman tried to correct him!

~Nickels, Richard. (n.d.). Retrieved from

2. A strong church government is more likely to place itself between the individual and God.  However, we have only one mediator (1Ti 2:5).

3. A controlling church government is like a hovering parent.  It will stunt the growth of the offspring.

4. A controlling church government, sooner or later, begins to place its own materials and teachings above that of the Bible.

5. A controlling church government tends to insulate its members from the real world.  So, whenever something from the real world barges in upon a member’s life, as it will sooner or later, the critical thinking necessary to deal with the situation isn’t there.

6. Members not grounded in the Bible are much more likely to be deceived, whether that deception comes from within our outside of the organization.

7. Members are not equipped to evangelize, to answer questions or to be able to show they have given various doctrines any degree of thought.  They are taught to hide their talent.

8. A controlling church government does not reflect the freedom we have in Christ.

Next time, let’s explore the myth that the OT mandates a hierarchical form of government.

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