A Way That Seems Right
Those of us who came out of the Worldwide Church of God may recall a scripture that was recited to us many times over the years: "There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death" (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25, KJV). There was also discussion about the fact that this verse appears two times in a short space. It was explained that the idea was so important, God had it placed into the book of Proverbs twice for emphasis.
We knew very well what those verses meant. From a philosophical standpoint, man is unable to arrive at godly decisions on his own, and whatever plans or lifestyles men have invented have not lived up to the high standards and positive outcomes of Godís Way of life. Living lives cut off from God, mankind has not produced good fruits, nor can manís ideas and philosophies give them the head start we all need in preparing for the next life.
It seemed, though, that the main reason we were being reminded of this was so that we could keep in mind that manís heart -- meaning our heart -- is always evil.
If the local pastor thought there were people in his congregation looking into the scriptures for themselves and coming to a different understanding than what had been authorized by headquarters, he would trot out this verse and expound on it.
As a result, over time, a different, more sinister application of this verse came to the fore. Simply put, if any members exercised freedom of thought, challenging "the powers that be" with a different interpretation of a scripture, or questioning the doctrines of the Church, they were treated as if they were automatically wrong, as if they were sinners, and that they were risking losing it all -- eternal life, rulership in the Kingdom of God, being a son of God, and even losing their customary seat and pecking order in the local congregation!
In later years, the message was clearly understood to be that members were to accept whatever was taught, preferably without questioning, because questioning betrayed a bad attitude, or a satanic spirit, or some such thing.
IS THAT WHAT THE VERSE SAYS?
Letís look at the scripture quoted above. It says that there is a way -- a way of life, a course of action -- that seems right to someone. Of course, if it seems right, the connotation is that it must therefore be wrong! Thatís the way language works, and it is the intent of the verse.
But we were told that any way of doing things we might come up with, any course of action or set of ideas that seems right, if it differs from the accepted doctrines of the church we were attending, leads inexorably down the road to death. Is that the correct understanding of this verse?
Although many men in the paid clergy might not admit it, we church members were encouraged to not think, not question, not check up on the local pastor or the headquarters personnel, and most of all never hold meetings or Bible studies unless an ordained, headquarters-trained pastor was present to officiate and answer questions (read, "steer the conversation"), as the official representative of headquarters.
What did this represent? Mind control! The more they controlled us, the more we would mind them! (Please forgive the pun.)
To keep members under control, it was a common practice for many in the clergy (by no means all of them, but far too many) to remind the congregation, almost weekly in some cases, that there is a way that seems right, but it leads to death, so donít even think about following any other path than the one the clergy and/or headquarters lays out for you to follow, because the headquarters path is the path that leads to life!
To back up that scripture, sermon speakers would often remind us that "The heart [that is, your heart] is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9), and read other scriptures designed to hold us in our self-abased state. We were to look to the clergy and to headquarters for correct thinking, even for salvation. The way we were to work out our own salvation (Philippians 2:12) was to let headquarters do it for us! We were assured that we could never direct our own paths (Jeremiah 10:23-24) without the continual guidance of the clergy.
The clear objective of some members of the clergy was to train their congregations to only do or think according to the "official" teaching or way of doing things, without questioning. "Groupthink" was the order of the day. Independent thinking was simply not tolerated. Critical thinking was suppressed. The stage was being set for disaster.
When Worldwide began going in a different direction doctrinally, only a minority of people were able to jog themselves awake and realize what was going on. Others were able to arouse themselves awake at a later time. Predictably, many of the people who just went along with everything said, "You know, thereís a way that seems right to a man. Leaving Worldwide may seem right to you, but believe me, itíll end in death." Of course, staying with Worldwide was the way that seemed right to those people.
WHAT WAS REALLY MEANT?
What about this concept that was ingrained into us? Is every thought we have evil? Isnít it possible, even likely, that church members could be trained to think correctly, then turned loose to think their way through circumstances and situations, rather than always deferring to their pastorís way of thinking? Isnít that the whole idea behind Christian growth and development? I havenít yet met a salaried pastor in any corporate Church of God who thought that even one of the people in his congregations might remain faithful to God if the pastor (along with the headquarters top-name personality) wasnít there to constantly remind them!
If clergymen have always had such a low regard for the average church memberís thinking capacity and loyalty to God, where is their faith? Is their faith in God, or is it in their own ability to rule over and subjugate others? The clergy have repeatedly shown that they have absolutely no faith in the people they have spent years teaching and training. Why is that? Doesnít that reflect on the quality of their teaching?
Why have they not considered these scriptures?
"A manís heart plans his way, but the LORD directs his steps" (Proverbs 16:9, NKJV).
"All the ways of a man are pure in his own eyes; but the LORD weighs the spirits" (Proverbs 16:2).
"The way of a fool is right in his own eyes: but he who heeds counsel is wise" (Proverbs 12:15).
Even a fool can listen to advice and profit from it. Apparently, though, the average church member was considered unable even to do what a fool is capable of doing. However, contrary to the apparent opinion of some of the clergy, notice how the Lord (not men) directs our steps and weighs our spirits (examines our hearts and motives)!
"Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs [KJV: pondereth] the hearts" (Proverbs 21:2).
Left to himself, unconverted man has always run in a direction away from God. But should the converted members of Godís church be expected to do the same?
"O LORD, you have searched me and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD. You hem me in -- behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me" (Psalm 139:1-5, NIV).
God knows our ways. There is no escaping that.
The truly converted Christian will pray, "Teach me Your way, O LORD; I will walk in Your truth: unite my heart to fear Your name" (Psalm 86:11). "Shew me Your ways, O LORD; teach me Your paths" (Psalm 25:4).
Here is the Way that seems right to many of us! This Way seems right, and the ends of it are the ways, not of death, but of everlasting life in eternal light! God called us down this path, not any minister! And God can see to it that we stay on that path, or return to it after a time if we choose to take a holiday from following God for awhile. No human clergyman can cause us to set out down the right path or to stay on it!
WHO IS IT TALKING ABOUT?
Itís the uncalled, unconverted people of the world, running about as slaves to Satan (Romans 6:16-18), who run to do evil. "They have all gone out of the way, they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one. ... Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace they have not known" (Romans 3:12, 16-17).
Described here are the people whose hearts are desperately wicked. Itís talking about the unconverted people of the world. To imply that every living human is equally evil, including all the members of Godís church and all the other people who are striving to live lives pleasing to God, is to make a blanket statement which is terribly wrong! These kinds of generalizations are not from the Holy Spirit!
Although being a Christian is not a guarantee that we will always do everything right, or that we will never again commit a sin, our sanctified condition places us in a different category than the rest of the world. If the Spirit dwells within us (Romans 8:9; 1 Corinthians 3:16), if we strive to be obedient to God (Acts 5:32; 2 Corinthians 10:5; 1 Peter 4:17), if the Father and Christ dwell within us (1 John 3:24; 4:13), if our names are written in the Lambís Book of Life (Revelation 3:5; 21:27), we can be certain that God is working with us to perfect us (Matthew 5:48; Hebrews 6:1; 11:40; 1 John 4:12), and bring us to the resurrection (John 11:25; Romans 6:5; 8:11), to the extent we allow Him to do so.
Look again at the scriptures quoted earlier. God does not condemn His children, but directs their steps, weighs the spirits, ponders the heart, is familiar with all our ways. God can tell the righteous from the unrighteous, even if human pastors canít!
THE ROLE OF "The WAY"
In an effort to help Godís called and chosen people, we will be printing articles in these pages written by children of God from many places and backgrounds. Some doctrinal ideas may seem new and shocking to you. "The WAY" Publications may not endorse every idea in every article. This newsletter is a forum for expounding our research, for stimulating the mind, for sharing new-found ideas. Many articles in these pages are the result of people excercising their freedom to study Godís word and actually arrive at new and different conclusions, for the first time in their religious lives! When those articles appear in these pages, we will have the opportunity to test these new ideas for ourselves, to prove all things, so that we can hold onto the good things (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Our search is for Godís truth, not conformity to someone elseís set of doctrines!
But if reading these articles will help you to follow the Way that is right, if the articles cause you to think a new thought, "prove" or "disprove" an idea or a doctrine, or move you to sit down and write us a letter or article about what you have found in the Bible, these articles will have served their purpose.
We are in a time of searching, of reading our Bibles and publishing the results, similar to the way various people in the church of God in the 19th century produced grass roots periodicals filled with biblical research articles and doctrinal studies written by farmers, workers, technicians -- church members from all walks of life. It was exciting then, and itís exciting now!
There is truly a Way that seems right to converted men and women. Left to ourselves, even against the organized opposition of clergy hirelings, thousands of Godís people around the world have stood up for the faith once delivered to the saints, and are continuing to stand up and be counted.
There is a Way that seems right. God says it is right. In fact, it is the only Way into Godís Kingdom. The ends of following this Way are the ways of life everlasting in Godís Kingdom and Family.