Friday, August 5, 2016

David Hulme's Tips for Raising a Christian Moral Child

Hi guys. It's been a while. In light of UCG's recent stance on women in media, I took some time off to reconsider my roles in this blog and my family. I came to one definite conclusion:

It's really hard to type with cookie dough on my fingers.

(insert rim shot here)

Seriously, though, life did require some time away. And some of it did involve baking cookies and playing board games with my children. Many of you have been in a similar season of life, and I thank you for understanding.

Actually, children are the reason I'm writing today. As I mentioned, I have some. I've managed to keep them alive for several years now. So I was naturally intrigued when I discovered the existence of a “special report” on parenting from Vision magazine, which is published by David Hulme's Church of God, an International Community. It had some good points. It certainly offered better counsel than the Philadelphia Church of God, which has advised the parents of a disabled child to abandon them at the mall and to cut off contact with unbaptized children who have left the cult.  Mostly, though, Vision's special report reminded me why I'm thankful I'm no longer raising children in the Churches of God.

I have some experience with parenting in this community. I've spent several years raising my children both the inside the COGs and outside of them – as of late, in an evangelical Christian setting. And I was raised in the Worldwide Church of God. No, this isn't one of those posts. I wasn't beaten or abused. I will say that my family would have benefited greatly from a religious system that encouraged mercy and grace. But in comparison to others, I was very blessed. My parents tried their hardest and did the best they could, and I'm grateful for the reverence for the Bible and fear of the Lord them instilled in me. All that being said, I can see how the religious climate and parenting philosophies of the COGs are spiritually damaging.

How so? Well, Armstrongist parenting philosophy is based in the Aristotelian theory of tabula rasa, or, in Latin, "blank slate." Herbert Armstrong taught that children are born morally neutral and acquire their sinful behavior from Satan, who broadcasts his sinful, selfish, hateful attitude though the air like a radio signal.  Many COGs do not directly state their foundation of tabula rasa as overtly as UCG does.  But nearly all groups minimize scriptures about the original state of man's heart (Psalm 51:5, Job 14:4, Psalm 58:3 and Jeremiah 17:9) and instead focus on man's absorption and acquisition of this satanic “broadcast.”

Who cares, you ask? Who would argue that Satan doesn't influence the world for the worse? Does it really matter?

Yes, it does. Because Armstrong also taught that we are able to change the channel on the “receiver” of our hearts. And, by the way, your eternal destiny depends upon your ability to do so. HWA taught that you must qualify for eternal life by showing that you are trustworthy through works of obedience. And that God might choose to abort you if you do not grow and change enough in this life. These statements all appear directly in Armstrong's writings and underpin the salvific theology of today's COGs.

Most parents would give their right arm – probably their own life – to keep their child out of the Lake of Fire. So what do we do? We get started right away on the obedience checklist. After all, it's for their own good. I'm not judging. It's exactly what I did. Further, it's natural, normal and perfectly appropriate. For toddlers and preschoolers.

But as our children mature, continuing the  carrot-and-stick method the COG prescribes for both children and adults places us on one of two dangerous paths. I suppose there is another path - those who casually follow the tenets of their religion but do not focus purposefully on the implications of their theology or their behavior. Which leads to a whole new set of difficulties. But I digress.

Please note, these ideas are not the product of Martha and her alleged bitterness toward the COGs. These are the conclusions of respected Christian writers like Jerry Bridges, Ravi Zacharias and Chuck Swindoll, among others. These writers, and many more, have addressed this troubling dynamic in mainstream Christianity. I believe that the “unique theology” of the COGs as established by HWA puts our children at even greater risk.


As our children get older, our goal should be for them to obey from the heart; not out of fear of punishment. Unfortunately, Armstrongism never makes this transition. We are still obeying out of fear of punishment. We may dress it up in grown-up clothes and describe it as “doing the right thing” or “doing what the Bible says.” But in the COGs, both of these statements have an implicit, unstated “or else” at the end. I get messages from adults in their 60s admitting as much. The only difference is, a 6-year-old or 16-year-old may still believe he is capable of changing the channel, while the 60 year old knows it is futile.

The portion of Vision's special report concerning self-esteem actually gives us insight into this dynamic. In it, author Gina Stepp explains how the concept of "agency" – or an individual’s sense of personal and independent control over an outcome or event – starts developing in infancy.

“Over time, this realization matures as they successfully complete tasks by setting goals, maintaining effort, and overcoming failure to achieve a desired result. Through repeated opportunities to test the effects of their actions, they form beliefs about their self-efficacy, their ability to perform at the level they have intended or to produce a desired result." Stepp says. "This, it turns out, underpins an individual’s motivation to change his or her behavior and is therefore also crucial to the development of the other component of a positive sense of self: self-esteem.” 

Armstrongist theology completely undermines  this process because it sets the bar impossibly high – the goal is completely overcoming sin in this lifetime. We're not simply talking about acing a math test or achieving the correct form in ballet class. We're talking about overcoming sin as a means of attaining, or more accurately, maintaining, our eternal life.

On the flip side of this concept, each failure reinforces the belief that they are not good enough, will never be good enough and destroys their motivation and self-image. The Vision special report points out the importance of a “history of successes” to creating a child's sense of reality. But in COG theology, one's history of success doesn't matter, because each poor choice separates us from God. We are only as good as our last choice.

Vision quoted a Pavlovian shock conditioning study of dogs that discovered the animals who learned they could avoid a shock by performing certain actions continued those actions even if they stopped producing results. But dogs whose actions never stopped the shock quickly learned that their actions didn't matter and became passive; giving up on affecting the outcome - an important note for parents, according to quoted motivational researchers William R. Miller and Stephen Rollnick:

“To assert that a person is responsible for deciding and directing his or her own change is to assume that the person is capable of doing so. The person not only can but must make the change, in the sense that no one else can do it for him or her.” 

Armstrongism teaches us that we are the only ones who can make the change (somehow wielding the Holy Spirit, of course).  But in reality, we can't do it. Failure and fear of punishment can't change our hearts. Instead, they fill us with despair and bitterness because we know we'll never be able to change the channel. It leads us down a dark path of failure that ends in depression at best, and suicide at worst. I've seen many whom I love echo Paul's thoughts in Romans 7:22-24 – minus the encouraging resolution in verse 25:

For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? 


Not surprisingly, the second path leads in the opposite direction. It was the path I walked. Some children, like me, are naturally obedient and enjoy following rules. Their sticker chart is full. They are told they are good and, over time, they come to believe it. Since they are at least "pretty good” on their own, they grow to trust in themselves rather than God. After all, they don't really need Him that much. They're doing pretty well on their own. Jesus spoke of these people – people like me – in Mark 2:16-17:

But when the teachers of religious law who were Pharisees saw Him eating with tax collectors and other sinners, they asked his disciples, "Why does He eat with such scum?" When Jesus heard this, he told them, "Healthy people don't need a doctor - sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous but those who know they are sinners." (New Living Translation) 

Like the Pharisees, we set ourselves apart from the “scum.” We wonder why they just don't obey like we do. We judge them. Sometimes we even fool ourselves into thinking we are justified in judging and criticizing them, because they need to know they are wrong. What could possibly wrong with trying to keep someone off the road to hell? But really, we are looking down our noses at them. Gradually, our hearts grow cold and harden against our fellow man.

So how do we help our young pharisee stop looking down scornfully from her ivory tower? In its article on raising moral children, Vision encourages parents to foster empathy from an early age. This is a noble goal, no doubt. But is it the solution? Will it make a child change her "channel?"

Stepp, who also wrote the report's article on morality, tells us that brain scientists have determined children are born with innate ideas about things like fairness and harm, responsibility and integrity, sexuality and cleanliness. The key, then, is to wed these innate ideas to a set of virtues to create a "moral belief system."

How does one do this? Well, virtues are mostly established by the example the parents set. Most importantly, parents should establish a good socializing relationship - secure attachment and parental warmth – as the basis for moral training. Beyond that, parents should use emotional language and talk about feelings – their own and those of others – with their children.

Parents should give guided practice in thinking about the connection between decisions, behavior and compassion, Stepp advises, possibly by posing hypothetical questions. For example, questions about the morality of running a red light in an emergency will help children practically apply the virtues of kindness and compassion through their innate understanding about harm or suffering. Over time, such thinking is proven to result in “brain change.”

To be fair, this is good parenting advice, on a secular level. But will fostering a child's “moral belief system,” as Stepp puts it, change her channel to the proper broadcast? The answer is no. Parental prodding cannot change a heart. It can guide one to think of others, or at least to keep her judgmental thoughts to herself. Even then, her empathy and understanding is based on the subjective standards of her parents, not an objective source. She will likely learn empathy for those people and situations that her parents taught her were deserving. But empathy for everyone? That's just crazy. Not everyone deserves it. They made their bed, now they need to lie in it.

Following Stepp's advice may lead our little pharisee to look down from her ivory tower with pity rather than scorn, but she still doesn't identify herself with the sinners below. Deep down, she still believes she is better than those around her. Especially if she is taught, week after week, that she is special and that others around her are deceived and false Christians because they do not keep the Sabbath. That she is responsible for purging her spiritual leaven; and that not doing it to an unspecified amount will cost her salvation. This theology teachers her to focuses on the checklist of works she was handed, blinding her to her own self-righteousness and pride.

(Revelation 3:17) Because you say, “I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing” - and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.


To be fair, Hulme's special report offers some helpful parenting tips. But they could be just as easily be employed by parents who want to raise moral children who grow up to be Buddhists, Mormon, Muslim or secular humanists. If these strategies could be used interchangeably to raise well-adjusted, empathetic Taoists or Scientologists, then they aren't Christian.

Vision's special report gives only passing references to the Bible and fails to mention Jesus even once. Stepp's article on moralism gives a nod to scripture in its admonition to “love thy neighbor,” “love the stranger” and “love thy enemy." But it fails to mention who made these statements or why we should give them any more weight than the words of the Buddha or Mohammed.

And this problem is not isolated to David Hulme's COG-AIC. COGWA's Equip, Encourage and Inspire parenting manual is much more explicitly Biblical. But it noticeably fails to mention our Savior in its “People of the Bible” section of role models from the pages of scripture. In both its original edition and in later online editions that add more material. It's not surprising. Back in the Worldwide Church of God, our monthly YES lessons did not discuss Jesus outside of a Holy Day context until somewhere between third and fifth grade.

(John 14:5-6) Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

As a result of HWA's errant theology, the COGs misunderstand Jesus and the grace His sacrifice provided. The focus of the gospel is not Christ's return and reign. Nor is it the Sabbath, the Holy Days or the Sinai Covenant. The gospel is the good news that Jesus came to save sinners from condemnation when they repent and place their faith in Him. It is this true gospel and the grace it provides that both our despairing sinner and our self-righteous pharisee need most. Both their paths converge at the level ground of the foot of the cross.

Any truly Christian parenting guide must be based in these scriptural truths:

(Romans 3:21-24) But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. For there is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus  All have sinned and fall short of God's glory – both the sinner who lies and the pharisee who scorns the sinner in pride. Both have sinned and cost their Savior's blood and have earned condemnation, whether through a sinful act of commission or a prideful act of omission. But true righteousness, or right standing with God, is freely available to both through faith in God's promise of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. 

(John 3:16) For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.  Jesus died for everyone, not just those who are worthy. None of us are worthy. Not the one who cheats, nor the one who is angry because he was cheated. Not the disobedient child. Not the one who obeys, at least most of the time. All of us are equally guilty for His death and all are capable of receiving His love and forgiveness.

(Ephesians 2:8-9) For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. Our salvation is a gift from God, it is not from ourselves. We did not earn it through works and, by extension, neither can we maintain it by works, or else we would have something to boast about. 

(Romans 4:22-24) And therefore “it was accounted to to him (Abraham) for righteousness.” Now it was not written for his sake alone that it was imputed to him, but also for us. It shall be imputed to us who believe in Him who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead. Just like Abraham, Christ's righteousness is credited to us when we place our faith in him.  This standing comes from God, not our own works. 

(John 6:28-29) Then they said to Him, "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God? Jesus answered and said to them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent." Our job is to believe or trust in Jesus for salvation. This "work" is the basis of our Christian walk.

(Galatians 5:4) You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. Those who try to win their salvation through obedience rather than faith are severed from Christ's sacrifice. 

(Romans 12:1) I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.  We do not obey to win God's approval. We obey (the covenant to which we are party) because we already have God's approval and He has changed our hearts. This obedience is proof of that regeneration and the Holy Spirit at work in our lives; not what makes it happen. It is a reasonable to dedicate our lives to God since He has saved us from condemnation. 

(Ephesians 2:10) For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them.  God is the Creator; we are the creation. He created us and set aside specific things for us to do. It is only by Him and through Him that we are able to achieve them. We do not perform them in order to win His approval. We do them to demonstrate our love and obedience to the Lord of our life, and to draw others to Him.

*          *           *

If you want to raise a moral child, that's fine. Vision and COGWA are more than happy to tell you how to do it. But if you want to raise a Christian child, there is only one Way. Give that child the gospel.

The true Christian gospel gives both the despairing sinner and the self-righteous pharisee an accurate picture of their true human condition, their standing before God and their worth to Him. When the sinner's heart is encouraged and the pharisee's heart is softened, both are fertile, well-prepared ground for life of service to God and showing grace and love to his fellow man.

I don't know about you, but I think that's a better goal for my children than discerning when it's morally acceptable for them to run a red light.

But maybe I'll change my mind when they're old enough to drive.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Brexit - Were the COG Prophets Right?

One day after the Brexit vote, various Armstrongist leaders, prophets, and talking heads are publishing mostly pre-written statements about the future implications of Britain leaving the EU. For a good idea on what they're already saying, read Banned by HWA article "Was He Right?" Years ago, it was foretold that Britain would leave the EU, then Germany would rise and enslave us all. All of Armstrongism watched the Brexit with great anticipation, hoping after decades of worrisome prophetic failure that finally they can hold their heads high and say with confidence, "We were right!" It's a much needed boost of confidence for an ailing system.

But we have to ask - were they right?

Let's briefly review some of the details that are being left out in all this rush to proclaim victory over the mapping out of the end times.

Don't forget for one moment that Armstrongism comes out of Ellen G. White's Seventh Day Adventist movement, and that was born in the prophetic failures of William Miller. A long and storied past of false prophecy is in the DNA of Armstongism.

Herbert Armstrong, “the founder, Pastor General, and spiritual and temporal leader” of the Church of God on earth had barely just incorporated the Radio Church of God (later the Worldwide Church of God) when he began publishing his false prophecies that Christ would return in 1936. He did it again in World War II. And again in the early 1970s. Then Christ was to return in the 1980's. Then by the end of the 20th century. But he never once even hinted that he might be wrong. Instead, he claimed no association with being a prophet at all. Those exceedingly detailed claims spoken under the authority of God were all just educated guesses, in effect. Then he tried to bury the past. People were told to burn the old material which contained the errors. All then proceeded as normal with new predictions. "All Systems Go!"

This pattern of false prophecy and cover-up continues to this very day under the guidance of Herbert Armstrong's many "one true" successors. A fabulous example is Ron Weinland's spectacular failure with "2008: God's Final Witness." In summary, we were all supposed to begin dying in 2008. "But wait," you say, "It's 2016." Correct. I don't want to ruin the end of the book for you, but [SPOILER ALERT] Ron got the predictions right from God and transmitted them to us all accurately, but God was lying in order to fool Satan. [END SPOILER] Well, if you can't blame God who can you blame?
He's still at it even now. For a great deal more, I highly recommend you read our friend Mike's blog about the False Prophet Ron Weinland.

Don't be so surprised by this. Armstrongism has a very long history of prophesying something that never comes to pass, moving the goal posts, then proceeding forward as if they were right all along. We've written about it more than once before (eg. Herbert W Armstrong's Doctrine and FruitAn Inconvenient Plain TruthAll Systems Are Go, or read our Categories page for many more). The story ends the same every time with wait and see. And tithe.

Why dredge up this ugly past? Because in order to properly understand the current clucking about Brexit, you absolutely must know there's a lot more to it - decades more - than just Britain leaving the EU. If you don't know your history, you won't know that Britain leaving the EU isn't even what was supposed to happen in the first place.

If we all recall, in the original version of prophecy there was no EU. It was the early 1930s and no one ever dreamed that an EU was even possible. In the original version, a ten nation group from somewhere in the old Holy Roman Empire was simply going to run amok then Jesus would return. Next, Mussolini was going to become the Beast. Then Hitler was to be the Beast. Then Hitler supposedly went into hiding and would re-emerge as the Beast. There was no EU. There was no Brentrance let alone a Brexit.

In the 1960s it began to become clear that the new European trade agreements were more than just a series of trade agreements. It didn't take a prophet to see that the point was political unity to prevent World War III. What was the reliable prophecy from that time? Britain was never supposed to join in the first place. They might float around the edges, but since this political union was to be the Beast we couldn't have "Ephriam" join in. (For those of you who are somehow unaware, Herbert Armstrong was deeply involved in British Israelism aka. Anglo Israelism. In Armstrongism, England is the modern identity of the ancient Israelite tribe of Ephraim.)

But by the mid-1970's Britain did join. Emergency! It was now necessary that the only people on earth who knew what the future would be like should change their story yet again. In the new version, Britain was going to leave the EU and then the end would come.

This is where we find ourselves today. This is what all the crowing is about. So "We were right!" ...after several attempts. One thing right, out of Lord knows how many wrong things. But are the COG prophets right? We at ABD are not impressed.

The issue isn't just in the past. Going forward is an issue as well. A few additional details come to mind and they are rather important.

  • After Brexit there will still be 27 EU nations. One down, 17 left to go to hit that correct ten-nation Beast power. Technically speaking it's really eleven nations, because ten nations are supposed to ally themselves under Germany. 10 + 1 = 11. 16 nations left to go.
  • The Beast power can't just include Germany, it has to be formed by Germany and dominated by Germany. In other words the whole EU needs to be dissolved and a new ten-nation combine needs to be formed. To put it another way: Britain left the EU -- so what?
  • These ten nations can't just be ten random nations surrounding Germany. They have to be mainly nations that are not on the list of British Isreal nations of western and northern Europe (the Beast isn't Israelite). For example France can't be a partner with Germany as France is the modern identity of the ancient Israelite tribe of Reuben. Or Denmark can't be a partner because Demnark is the modern identity of the ancient Israelite tribe of Dan. (Something we're not even supposed to be able to find out until the very end.) To put it another way: the entire EU -- so what?
  • The Beast power can't just be Germany in the lead, either. It has to be a singular ultra-charismatic human being who leads Germany who leads the ten other nations.
  • This Beast king must be closely partnered with the Pope and at least pretend to be Catholic himself and convert the majority of the world to Catholicism. In an increasingly secular post-Protestant Europe where Catholicism in particular is not very popular and waves of Muslim immigrants arrive daily, this point is going to be particularly difficult to pull off.
  • This whole mess is supposed to happen quickly and it's only supposed to happen at the end. It's supposed to take the world by surprise, not drag out over several decades (or centuries as the case is). And then the end shall come.
  • The ten nations under Germany in association with Vatican City are supposed to enslave Britain, Australia, and the entire North American continent - and then still have enough military wherewithal to turn and attack Russia while a 200 million strong Chinese army marauds its way across the Middle East. I'm no military tactician myself, but as it stands the entire EU doesn't seem capable to conquer even one of these things let alone all of them.

We could go on and on this way. The point is Britain leaving the EU isn't the whole story, and getting lucky on a small fraction of the story (after several iterations) isn't the same as being prophetically accurate.

If this were a math problem, would the teacher grade them correct? No. If a prophet from another religion got only this much right, would we say they were sent by God? No. In what other area of life would anyone with this track record still hold any credibility at all? The only place that comes to my mind is in the U.S. Federal Government. <--- FAR cry from God there. This reminds me of a movie quote that goes like this, "60% of the time, it works every time." Only instead of 60% it's somewhere closer to 2%. And I'm being generous. Does "2% of the time, we're right every time," make sense to you? Because it doesn't to me. One certainly cannot claim "we were right therefore we're God's one true church" and at the same time expect us all to ignore all the overwhelming majority of the time when they weren't. And we are supposed to base our current and future plans, hopes, and dreams on this??

Will Brexit have powerful and far-reaching implications for the world? Yes. That much is inevitable. And I'm not saying that as any form of prophecy. I'm saying that because history proves it's unavoidable. Could it lead to war? It might; it might not. Lots of lesser things have. Lots of greater things have not. Should you worry about it? No. All of this entire mess regarding false prophecy is born in fear and worry. Armstrongists tend to dislike the world and they would rather it finally just go away. They obsess over bad news because it feeds their desperate hope that the end is nigh, even at the door.

But don't be like that. Love your neighbor as yourself. And don't fear. Just trust! Not in COG false prophets, nor us here, but in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Believe in Jesus and love your neighbor. That's your work as a Christian.

There is much more we here at ABD have said and could yet say on this topic. But does what we have seen make Herbert Armstrong or any of the other COG prophets right? When you consider the context and the changes and the details, the answer is a resounding NO!

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Honor Thy Father

Within the mindset of Armstrongism, from its heritage in Adventism and even to the COG splinter groups of this day, there is a pervasive belief that in order to honor Jesus one must withhold honor from the Father. This is a clumsy way to put it, but the spirit of what I am trying to convey is true. Armstrongism sees honor as zero sum. In other words, there is only so much of it to go around. It is the overall view that all honor should rightfully go to the Father, and since all honor should rightfully go to the Father in order to honor something other than the Father – like Jesus - one almost borrows against the Father to give to the Son. It is a “Rob Peter to pay Paul” situation. I am not going to dive into the background on what builds up to this conclusion, suffice it for now to simply say that it is.

As a result, we often hear from Armstrongists that mainstream Christians pay far too much attention to Jesus and not nearly enough attention to the Father. Mainstream Christians might say that the COGs take Jesus out of His box once a year at Passover. If there is almost a guilty sensation in honoring the Son because it somehow diminishes the Father, how much less then could an Armstrongist agree that honoring a person can honor bring honor to the Son? Sadly, the view that mainstream Christianity has of Jesus and even our calling as Christians cannot be fully understood while laboring under the COG view of honoring God.

Is this “rob the Father to pay the Son” view Biblical? Can you honor the Father without directly honoring the Father? Can we honor the Son by honoring pitiful, lowly humans? Let’s look and see.

(I JON. 2: 23) Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

Whatever you do to one, you do to the other. This is how God views things. Thus is the relationship between Father and Son. There is no such thing as having more of the Father or of the Son. It’s a package deal. There are many other verses to demonstrate this. The main thing to glean from this is that to honor the Father it is required of us to honor the Son. This is how we honor the Father. This is the method.

(JON. 5: 18-23) 18 Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. 19 Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. 20 For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will. 22 For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, 23 that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.

The Son should be honored just as the Father is honored. It is commanded it is right and it is just. Perhaps the COGWA could remember this in their next talk about being "Father-Centered."

There is no such thing as having too much emphasis on the Son. To emphasize the Son is to emphasize the Father. To honor the Son is to honor the Father. This is how the Father is honored. Why do we honor the Son? Because of the Father. It is in order to glorify the Father that the Son came. It is in order to glorify the Father that we glorify the Son. No one goes to the Father except through the Son (JON. 14: 6). The Son does not steal from the Father. There is no taking from the Father to give to the Son. All that is, be it tangible or intangible, is the Fathers – and the Father has given all to the Son. That includes glory and honor. Why? Why does this not take away from the Father? Because the Son then turns right around and returns all to the Father, so that the Father may be all in all.

So, the common saying that mainstream Christianity honors the Son too much is not correct. It is untrue. It is a misunderstanding of the Father and the Son, it is a misunderstanding of honoring the Father and the Son, and it is a misunderstanding of what we are called to do as the spiritual Body of Christ.

So, if we honor the Father by honoring the Son, we must ask how do we best honor the Son?

We honor the Son by following the Holy Spirit whom the Son sends. We honor the Son in spirit and in truth, with sincere hearts. We honor the Son with our intentions and thoughts and words which flow into our deeds. What deeds? The Old Covenant law? No. With acts of charity towards those whom He has created. We honor the Son by loving those whom the Son loves.

This is what James speaks of, that faith alone is dead faith. We need to do for those whom Jesus loves. We need to actively love those whom Jesus loves. We need acts of charity. Armstrongism teaches that James is merely speaking of an attempt to observe the Old Covenant law, but that is not what James speaks of. James comes right out and tells us what he is speaking of:

(JAS. 1: 27) Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

James speaks of our true religion; our service to Jesus. What is that service to Jesus? Serving others.

When Jesus restored Peter, what did Jesus say? If you love Me, tend My flock (JON. 21: 15-17). He didn't say "If you love Me, ignore Me and concentrate on the Father." Nor did He say, "If you love Me, tithe and we'll call it even." No. If we love Jesus, we should do well for those whom He loves. The prescribed method of returning love to Jesus is acts of love to other humans. We honor our Lord by honoring others.

For years, as I attended the WCG and later my COG splinter group, I heard about how James talks of the law, and how everything else had to be seen in the light of this interpretation of James. But James isn’t speaking of the Old Covenant law. James is speaking of letting faith and the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit have its expression in our lives. James is speaking of charitable actions to others. James is speaking of our reasonable acts of worship. James is talking about how to love Jesus by loving those around us. James is talking about our religion.

Several times in this article I have compared and contrasted Armstrongism to mainstream Christianity. Does that mean mainstream Christianity always get this right? HA! No!! Anyone misleads you who says to you that all we need is faith in Jesus Christ. There is more to it than that simple phrase. This is precisely what James speaks about. Faith must have its expression in our lives. Good thing that most people who say this know there is a lot more to it, and both their lives and their fruit bear this out.

I am not speaking of law but of love. Old Covenant law does not equal love. To love is to fulfill the law. In fact to love is to fulfill the spirit of the entire law. All of it. It’s the only way to do this. The only way to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees is to love. But to keep the law is not to love. The Pharisees had the law, but they did not have this kind of love. They honored God with their mouths and their law-keeping, but not with their hearts. Love fulfills the law, but the law does not fulfill love.

The point is that in order to express your love to Jesus you must pass on to others this love that He has given you. His gifts to us – none of us merit them in the slightest, and none of us are able to repay them. So how do you respond to the love of God? Simple. You believe in Jesus and love one another.

When I search the New Testament in the NKJV for “love one another” I get quite a few great hits from all over. I’ll give you one:

(I JON. 4: 11) Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.

If God so loved us, we ought to love one another. Sums it up.

This is what it means to live as a Christian. Bear in mind that the church is the Body of Christ. What we do to one another that we also do to Him.

(MAT. 20: 37-40) 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

(Mat. 20: 44-45) 44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’

Here is the summary of all that I am saying - you honor the Father by honoring Jesus, and honor Jesus by honoring those whom Jesus loves.

To honor the Son is not to diminish from the Father, and to honor a human is not necessarily to diminish from the Son. I affirm that it is not possible for an Armstrongist to fully understand mainstream Christianity without accepting this Biblical truth.

Is this charity and love to go to the people in your COG splinter only? We were taught as much within Armstrongism many, many times in the past. I know it is still taught today. I personally sat through more than just one sermon instructing us to actively withhold charity from “the world” for one reason or the other. We were instructed that to be charitable to “the world” is to defy God. (Do all COG groups teach this? No. But most do. Kudos to those who do not.)

Are those big-named and many-titled men that lead large splinter groups really correct when they say to shun everyone that doesn’t go to their group? Are they right that they are Philidelphia and everyone else is Laodicea? Are they justified in splitting up families and indirectly causing suicides? Does that teaching really mesh with what you read in the Bible?


(MAT. 5: 43-47) 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?

No, not just to those in your splinter group. Not just to other Armstrongists. Everyone! Everywhere. Every human being bears the image of God, and we are called to love them all.

How can you love the people with whom you disagree if you can’t even love those with whom you do agree? Oh, how the COG groups fight! How they strive against one another! What do you really disagree on? I mean really. Your current glorious leader? The importance of Herbert Armstrong? The timing of the Wave Sheaf offering? The date on which Jesus will return? Seriously. If we had to quantify what the COG groups truly disagree on, it wouldn’t be more than 2% of the overall body of doctrine. Yet you can’t seem to love one another. Not just failing to love, but actively tearing down.

Since your COG splinter teaches you to observe the law (some of it anyway) I want to challenge you. I want to challenge you to implement this honor of the Father into your life. While you go about intending to observe the law, be mindful of the law in its New Covenant, spiritual, royal fulfillment – by that I mean faith and love. Don’t just go to church services on Saturday. Go out of your way to be kind to someone each and every time. Not the same person and not in the same way each time. Go out of your way. At the same time, accept the help and generosity of others. At the time I write this, Pentecost is coming up. More people means more opportunity to love and serve.

Then go out and do the same for people who aren't in your church.

Pray to God that He grant you His love. Then pray to God that He grant you the will and opportunity to give it all away. You cannot just take this up on your own. It has to be granted. Then be a living sacrifice. Do as James exhorted us to do. Live pure and undefiled religion. Be a Christian. Love one another.

In honoring others you honor the Son and through the Son you honor the Father.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Paul and Pentecost

Well, Pentecost is almost here. Have you finalized your travel plans to keep the festival in Jerusalem?

You haven't? Well, you'd better get cracking, if you want to be like Paul. I mean, we're supposed to imitate Paul as he imitated Christ, right? Both of those guys celebrated Pentecost in Jerusalem.

Speaking of which, COGWA recently quoted Paul in its Daily Bible Verse blog, titled “I Must By All Means Keep This Coming Feast.” In this blog entry, COGWA writer Mike Bennett cites Acts 18:21 as evidence that Christians should keep the Hebrew holy days listed in Leviticus 23.

“As we saw in Acts 20:16, the apostle Paul planned his journeys around the biblical festivals,” Bennett writes. “Here he also explains his need to get to Jerusalem for one of the festivals.

Is this true? Did Paul plan his travels around biblical festivals? Further, did he need to go to Jerusalem to keep Pentecost? Or is this just another COGWA proof-text?

Let's take a look at one of the passages in question, Acts 18:19-23:

And he came to Ephesus, and left them (Priscilla and Aquila) there; but he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to stay a longer time with them, he did not consent. But took leave of them, saying, 'I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem, but I will return again to you, God willing.” And he sailed from Ephesus. And when he had landed at Caesarea, and gone up and greeted the church, he went down to Antioch.

It's probably safe to assume that Paul made it to Jerusalem for Pentecost in this particular case. Caesarea was the port nearest to Jerusalem – it was only about 75 miles away. But an assumption is the best we can do, because scripture doesn't even mention what Paul did there, other than greeting the church.

Now let's read COGWA's other slam-dunk passage, Acts 20:15-16:

We sailed from there, and the next day came opposite Chios. The following day we arrived at Samos and stayed at Trogyllium. The next day we came to Miletus. For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost.

IF POSSIBLE? If Paul planned his travels around the Holy Days; if it was imperative for him to be there, shouldn't he do a little better than “if possible?” Once again, we never learn whether or not Paul actually made it to Jerusalem for Pentecost. Acts 21:17 tells us that he finally arrived, and the rest of the chapter details his meeting with the apostles and subsequent arrest.

So, does the Bible give us evidence that Paul always plan his travels around the Holy Days? Did he always feel compelled to be at Jerusalem for Pentecost? The answer to both questions is NO.

A few verses before the first Pentecost mentioned, we learn in Acts 18:11 that Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and six months. There is no indication he left the city for any Holy Day. Could he have celebrated them with Crispus; the converted ruler of the Corinthian synagogue? It's possible. But he certainly didn't make any trips to Jerusalem. The Expositor's Bible Commentary tells us this 18-month stay at Corinth most likely began in the fall of 50 AD and ended in the spring of 52 AD.

Furthermore, Paul's desire to travel to Jerusalem may have been compounded both times by external factors. Prior to the first Pentecost we're discussing, we learn in Acts 18:18 that Paul had taken a vow (possibly Nazirite)  that he needed to fulfill in Jerusalem. Some scholars believe that Paul came to Corinth dejected from his opposition in Macedonia, and took this vow to ask for God's intervention in both his emotional state and his ministry. Once the period of his vow ended, he needed to return to Jerusalem to fulfill his vow.

“Such a vow had to be fulfilled at Jerusalem, where the hair would be presented to God and sacrifices offered. Some have proposed that Paul cut off his hair at the beginning of his vow. But there is no evidence for this, and much in the literature about Nazirite vows speaks directly against it,” according to the Expositor's Bible Commentary. 
“Evidently at some time during his residence at Corinth—perhaps at its beginning when he was depressed—Paul had taken a Nazirite vow to God as he asked for his intervention," according to the Expositor's Bible Commentary. "And now having seen God's hand at work in Corinth and a thriving church established there, Paul was determined to return to Jerusalem to fulfill his vow by presenting his hair as a burnt offering and offering sacrifices in the temple. The vow could only be fulfilled after a thirty-day period of purification in the Holy City."

Prior to the second Pentecost in question, Paul had been gathering offerings from gentile congregations to bring to the impoverished brethren at Jerusalem. Though COG readers are familiar with this passage for other reasons, we see in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 that Paul asked the Macedonian brethren to set aside gifts for the saints in need. In verse 4, he specifically states that, if possible, he could take them to Jerusalem personally. In Romans 15:25-26 Paul writes:

“But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem.”

In Acts 24:17, we see Paul recounting his testimony to Felix and detailing that after many years he brought “alms and offerings” to his nation. This undoubtedly refers to the offerings mentioned in 1 Corinthians, which he delivered to the Jerusalem brethren at Pentecost. Some scholars believe the offering was the main reason Paul wished to get to Jerusalem. I wouldn't go that far, but don't doubt their assertions that Paul was eager to get the offering to Jerusalem to build solidarity between himself and his gentile congregations and the ethnically Jewish Christians at Jerusalem, whom the Jews were trying to turn against him.

Next, let's look at Acts 19, which details Paul's travels between these two Pentecosts in question. Acts 19:9-10 tells us that, while in Ephesus, Paul taught daily in the school of Tyrannus. Scripture doesn't tell us much about this school, but it DOES tell us that Paul taught there daily for two years. There is no biblical evidence that Paul left Ephesus to keep Pentecost either year.

In fact, 1 Corinthians 16:9 tells us Paul planned to stay in Ephesus for one of the intervening Pentecosts. We know that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians while in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:19 sends the Corinthian brethren greetings from Priscilla and Aquila, who hosted the Ephesian church in their home). We don't know whether Paul may have changed his mind after devotees of the goddess Diana stirred up in a riot in Acts 19 (Paul references his conflict with these men in 1 Corinthians 15:32). 1 Corinthians 16:5 discloses Paul's intention to travel through Macedonia,  and Acts 20:1 tells us Paul departed for Macedonia shortly after the riot. Some sources tells us that a festival to Diana/Artemis occurred in early May, which would fit the understood timing that the book of 1 Corinthians was written shortly after the Days of Unleavened Bread.

At any rate, these scriptures indicate that Paul's travel to Jerusalem for Pentecost was inconsistent. And they cast reasonable doubt that his travel plans were set in stone and revolved around the Holy Days.

What does all this mean? In case you're more of a big-picture person, here is a rough outline of Paul's post-conversion timeline:
  • Paul was converted around 36 AD
  • He subsequently preached in places like Tarsus and Antioch and met with the apostles at Jerusalem 
  • His first missionary journey started around 48 AD
  • He was imprisoned for the first time in Jerusalem around 58 AD and spent the next 10 years in various states of confinement and release
  • He died around 68 AD 

And here's what we know based on scripture:

  • Paul mentions going to Jerusalem for Pentecost twice during this estimated 32-year time span
  • Both times, Paul had additional compelling reasons to travel to Jerusalem
  • On one occasion, Paul stated his intention to stay in Ephesus until after Pentecost 

That's it.

Here's what we else we learn from reading these scriptures in context, without COG eisegesis:

  • Not once, not even once, did Paul tell any converts to go to Jerusalem for Pentecost, with or without him. When he went, he was presumably accompanied by his traveling companions, but that's it. It's no shock that Paul kept the holy days. We know that even late in his ministry, he still considered himself a Jewish Christian, as we see in 2 Corinthians 11:22, Acts 23:6 and Acts 26:5. Peter similarly abstained from food the Sinai Covenant declared unclean. But they never forced these practices on gentiles who were not party to the Sinai Covenant in the first place. 

  • Not once did he TELL any converts to celebrate Pentecost. It's safe to assume that some did, since he references it in his letters. We know that many early Christians kept the Hebrew holy days because they were coming into a community largely made of ethnic Jews who still held to their traditions. Most notably, we see Paul referencing leavening with the Corinthian brethren, whom we know met in the home of the synagogue leader at Corinth and therefore had exposure to the Hebrew holy days. Although the context of 1 Corinthians 5 indicates that Paul was admonishing the Corinthian brethren to break fellowship with a brother who was sinning, not giving them direction in how to keep a holy day. Most COG and non-COG sources agree that the Days of Unleavened Bread had just passed when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. He was hardly instructing them how to celebrate the festival. Further, he states that they are "already unleavened."
  • Not once did Paul teach that keeping Pentecost nor understanding its part in a “holy day plan” was necessary for salvation. He taught just the opposite – that salvation was not something that could be earned or maintained through actions. And that the works – or evidence – of that salvation manifested itself in the works of the Spirit, not in understanding and keeping a Gnostic-like code of mysterious observances. And if it did, what does that portend for those listed in Hebrews 11 – the “faith” chapter – men like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph; who died before the holy days were ever delivered at Mount Sinai?

In a way, the Hebrew holy days do point to God's plan for salvation. Because that plan was salvation by faith in Jesus. The holy days, as well as the other tenets of the Sinai Covenant, made plain the inadequacy of law to change men's hearts as well as the need for a Savior.

How does Pentecost do this? Well, COG and non-COG sources agree that the Sinai Covenant was given on Pentecost.

“By the time of the first Christian century, however (Pentecost), it was considered the anniversary of the giving of the law at Mount Sinai (as deduced from the chronological note at Exodus 19:1) and as a time for the annual renewal of the Mosaic covenant; and it was therefore looked upon as one of the three great pilgrim festivals of Judaism,” according to The Expositor's Bible Commentary.

 This covenant spelled out in minute detail exactly how God's chosen people were to live in God's chosen land. If they followed it, they would be blessed beyond measure. If not, well, not so much.

As we all know, they failed miserably. The lesson from Israel is clear. If God's chosen people in his chosen land couldn't maintain their standing with Him, what hope do we have? The Sinai Covenant – which New Testament writers refer to as “the law” - was incomplete. It could not make man follow God. But the indwelling Holy Spirit could, and this was made possible at Pentecost.

“Now no one who had been a companion of the apostle Paul (or, for that matter, even a distant admirer, should Lukan authorship of Acts be denied) could have failed to have been impressed by the fact that it was on the Jewish festival of Pentecost that the Spirit came so dramatically upon the early believers in Jerusalem," according to The Expositor's Bible Commentary. "It is this significance that Luke emphasizes as he begins his Pentecost narrative; viz., that whereas Pentecost was for Judaism the day of the giving of the law, for Christians it is the day of the coming of the Holy Spirit.” (Expositor's Bible Commentary)
“By his stress on Pentecost as the day when the miracle took place, he is also suggesting (1) that the Spirit's coming is in continuity with God's purposes in giving the law and yet (2) that the Spirit's coming signals the essential difference between the Jewish faith and commitment to Jesus, for whereas the former is Torah centered and Torah directed, the latter is Christ centered and Spirit directed," according to The Expositor's Bible Commentary.
So what's wrong with keeping Pentecost? Nothing, in a vacuum. Paul did it, The early church did it. Who on earth would argue that keeping the Hebrew holy days jeopardized their salvation? No one.

But celebrating Pentecost keeps us mired in a physical system that was not meant to last. In order to keep it as the Sinai Covenant mandated, we must look for new moons, focus on an obsolete observance and then meticulously count the proper number of days past that point. And, of course, travel to Jerusalem. In all of this watching and counting, we overlook the very thing we are counting from - the day of our Savior's resurrection! In some ways, Pentecost is the very picture of the problem with the Sinai Covenant - why the New Covenant was needed. The Holy Spirit promised under the New Covenant does not enable us to properly keep the Sinai Covenant. It something new. The very fact that the priesthood established by the Sinai Covenant has changed is evidence that these were not the unchanging laws that God promised to write in our hearts.

(Hebrews 8:7-9) For if the first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: "Behold, the days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah - not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in my covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. 

(Hebrews 8:9-11) For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their mind and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people."

(Hebrews 8:13) In that He says, "A new covenant, He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away."

Physical observances can never make us right or keep us right with God. We cannot add to Jesus. Rather than counting days and focusing on the shadows of Sinai, we should give thanks for the coming of the Holy Spirit and live each day walking in the the Light of the World.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

UCG - The Law is Our Key to Life

Hello valued and astute reader! xHWA here.

Usually Martha would be writing today's post, but since she's a woman and apparently completely unqualified to write about anything but Christian living pieces, we have a guest post instead.

By, umm... Martin.

^^^^^^^^Definitely not a woman. :-)

If you're angry at me for that insensitive and misogynistic statement above, please let me explain.

Robert Dick, head of the UCG Council, presented a highly pro-Herbert Armstrong sermon at a recent Council meeting. Afterwards, a discussion ensued among the Council. At one point in the discussion, several of the Council members discussed what role women should have in writing articles for UCG publications. Seems the ladies aren't writing in sufficiently legal forms, preferring dangerously "Christian living" tones in their articles. In a boldly mediocre move, the Council decided not to decide anything for now.

We at ABD think this to be a very Worldwide Church of God tone from a group that is reputed to be distancing themselves from Herbert Armstrong. And Martin has a few things to say about that.

So, Martin, take it away!

I have really good news for the Armstrong loyalists in the United Church of God and really bad news for the progressives. Or maybe it's the other way around. I'm really not sure.

UCG recently held its annual General Conference of Elders, which featured the theme “Live the Word.” During the conference, Council Chairman Robert Dick gave a sermon by the same title that focused on learning and living sound doctrine. Now, according to UCG, if I were a woman, I would be totally unqualified to analyze this sermon. Especially in writing. It's a good thing that my chromosomes are in alphabetical order; and thus I can safely tell you that the rumors that UCG is jettisoning the teachings of Herbert W Armstrong are unfounded. Either that, or UCG leaders are trying to pull off one of the greatest bait-and-switch schemes in history.

Now, some of you who heard the sermon are probably thinking, what are you talking about, Martin? Mr. Dick didn't even mention Herbert Armstrong by name in his sermon.

You're right, I'm pretty sure he didn't. He was either too wise to do so, or someone advised him not to do it. But there is no question whose doctrines he endorsed. Throughout the first third of the sermon, Mr. Dick repeatedly commended the conviction and efforts of those who died “in the faith,” as well as living members of this “pioneer” generation.

Now let me think a minute. Just whose teachings did those guys follow?

So anyway, Mr. Dick lauded these pioneers who “lived the word” for badges of honor like losing jobs over the Feast of Tabernacles and being punished by local draft boards. These people, he says, were living for the future. One day the world will recognize the example they set.

“There is a comment made by Peter that I think all of us in this room are familiar with, where Peter talks about living this way and being spoken evil of because you live this way,” Mr. Dick said. “But, and the inference is, when the kingdom comes, and God converts them, they will glorify God for the example they saw.”

When giving a sermon on sound doctrine, one might be better off actually reading scripture rather than citing inferences. But then again, doing so would detract from Mr. Dick's point. Let's look at 1 Peter 2:11-12, which is the verse to which he alludes:

“Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.”

Is Peter talking about “good works” like observing the Feast of Tabernacles? No! He is exhorting Christians to abstain from “fleshly lusts.” Works of the flesh like adultery, theft, lying and murder. Peter is exhorting Christians to live morally upright lives, not to observe the Holy Days.

Next, Mr. Dick reminds us that it's not just older generations that have made tough choices. Plenty of young people have chosen to “live the word,” in ancient and modern times. For example, remember Daniel? He stood up by refusing to eat the king's food. He refused to compromise.

Point taken, but really? That's the first example you give? Mr. Dick follows up with Joseph, who refused to sin with Potiphar's wife, and Daniel's friends who chose the furnace over bowing to a false god. In a message about living the Christian life, why not mention those guys first? This is a prepared message, not an off-the-cuff conversation. It's broadcast to congregations around the world. If the choice to mention unclean foods ahead of fornication wasn't deliberate, it's certainly could indicate misplaced spiritual priorities.

Still not fully convinced that UCG still endorses HWA's doctrines? Well, its council chairman then directly states that “21 years ago we saw the effect of abandoning sound doctrine.”

“Stop and think about it,” he said. “We (UCG) came into existence at a time where preserving sound doctrine was paramount.”

Now, what happened 21 years ago? Oh right. That was 1995, when the Worldwide Church of God abandoned HWA's teachings and UCG broke off to preserve them. And now those in Mr. Dick's generation have the responsibility to teach them to the next generation, like Paul did with Timothy.

But it's not enough just to know doctrine, Mr. Dick then tells us.

“But as the dust settles and as the air clears, and as you look around, you come to realize that you have to have sound doctrine, but if that's all you have, you are still bankrupt.”

SPOILER ALERT: This is not going where you think it is. It certainly didn't go where I expected, because I mentally jumped to 1 Corinthians 13:2, which tells us:

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (ESV).

Instead Mr. Dick told us UCG's “spiritual house is built upon two pillars: having the word, then living the word.”

Wait. I thought. Jesus was the foundation. The Bible tells us He is the chief cornerstone, He is the Rock upon whom we should build our lives.

Nope. Mr. Dick insists that, when Paul stressed sound doctrine to Timothy, he was speaking about the law. Listening to him, one would think that the pastoral epistles can be summed up by 1 Timothy 1:8-11, which begins:

But we know the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate...

According to him, “the law” is the foundation for a righteous life.

"What's the law? It's a guidebook, an instruction book, a how-to. It's life for dummies," he said. "So we all had to read it. And that's what it taught us.”

Let me be clear. Sound doctrine is important. Consistent systematic theology based on biblical exegesis in context - which the COGs do not have - is vital. It is vital because it is the basis for our faith. Without faith, we can neither receive the gift of salvation nor understand our Christian responsibilities. Evangelical teacher John MacArthur explains how Paul masterfully achieves this goal in the book of Romans - establishing an 11-chapter doctrinal foundation before transitioning to practical application in chapter 12.

"Resting on eleven chapters of profound doctrine, Paul calls each believer to a supreme act of spiritual worship — giving oneself as a living sacrifice," MacArthur explains. "Doctrine gives rise to dedication to Christ, the greatest practical act. And the remainder of the book of Romans goes on to explain the many practical outworkings of one's dedication to Christ.

But "the law" is not the same thing as "sound doctrine."  Mr. Dick incorrectly interchanges the concept of sound Christian doctrine with "the law" throughout his message. Though he's hazy in his terminology, this becomes abundantly clear when he links 1 Timothy 1:8-11 and 2 Timothy 4:2-4 in the context of 1995.

When New Testament writers refer to “the law,” they are speaking of the Sinai Covenant, which was delivered to the Hebrew people. The law is not the oral tradition of the Jews, a claim which some in the COGs make to try to twist Paul's statements on law. The law is not the 10 Commandments. The law is not the cherry-picked handbook of regulations that the COGs endorse. The law is the entirety of the Sinai Covenant, all 613-ish laws that God gave to the Israelites at Mount Sinai.

UCG and the other COGs get in over their heads when they endorse their cherry-picked method of "law-keeping" as a factor in salvation. The book of James makes it clear that the law is a package deal. If we break one, we break them all. How many of those 613-ish laws do we need to keep, how consistently do we need to do it, and for how long in order to qualify for salvation? And let's not forget about the commands of Jesus and his Apostles. Although, at least as far as this sermon goes, UCG has.

I've never found an Armstrongist minister who can tell me what my spiritual batting average must be at death to escape the Lake of Fire. Mr. Dick, who interchangeably equates the law and the Armstrongist way of life in his sermon, doesn't tell us exactly which 10, 25 or 613 we must master, but at least he gives us a time frame.

“It is sobering in reading that hymn to say that a man who has been righteousness, and in the end abandons that righteousness, all of his righteousness will be forgotten,” he said. “Ninety percent's not good enough. Simply isn't going to cut it.”

Ironically, the doctrines that Paul stressed in his writings – the doctrines he pleaded with Timothy to hold fast – taught the opposite. A pharisee who strived to keep the law rigorously, Paul came to see that he could neither dig himself out of sin debt nor keep himself out once his “debt” was paid off at conversion. Paul recognized that obedience could never change his flawed heart (Romans 7:24). Only the Holy Spirit could do that. He spent the rest of his life after conversion spreading that message – that salvation comes to Christians by grace through faith in Jesus. As an ethnic Jew, Paul continued in some of his Hebrew practices. But he did not try to force them on Gentiles. In fact, most New Testament books mention the early church's struggle to keep Jewish Christians from placing a burden on Gentiles that the Jews themselves could not carry.

Paul stressed salvation by grace through faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9), not a spiritual scorecard. He stressed that all men fall short (Romans 3:23), that no condemnation remains for those who have accepted Christ's sacrifice (Romans 8:1), that  it is God who sees us through to the end (Philippians 1:6) and that nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39). The Christian's moral life; his obedience to the commands of Jesus (and His apostles) are an act of worship and thanksgiving for bearing our sin. These “works” are intended to glorify God and draw others to Christ.

Go through the books of first and second Timothy as Mr. Dick suggests. You will not find Paul instructing Timothy about Holy Days or clean and unclean meats. Actually, you will find one reference to meat, and it does not support UCG's “sound doctrine.” You will find Christian living guidelines, qualifications for leaders and directions for correcting church members. You will find warnings of coming apostasy. You will find exhortations to pursue faith, love, patience and gentleness. Discussion of “law” are limited to its usefulness in showing man his sinfulness and futility in reconciling himself to God. And admonition of teachers unnecessarily clinging to the law and causing division. Hmmm, the COGs wouldn't know anything about that, would they?

The law was intended to teach sinners, for sure. But the lesson was not that sinners needed to keep all 613-ish laws consistently in order to live a righteous life. The lesson was that sinners could not keep all 613-ish laws at any point in time. That they could neither make themselves right with God, nor maintain their right standing after repentance. The law was intended to lead sinners to Christ – to show them that their only hope for salvation, for right standing before God, was to stop placing their faith in themselves and instead place their faith in Jesus.

(Galatians 3:19-25) What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we ere kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

Once we humble ourselves at the foot of the cross, we no longer need a tutor. We are guided by the Spirit of God living in us. We strive to follow the teachings of Jesus and His apostles. We strive to live moral, upright lives that bring honor and glory to God and turn others to Jesus. But when we fall short, as we undoubtedly will, we can have peace because our hope depends upon God's goodness, not ours.

Unless you are in UCG. In that case, your hope depends upon living sound doctrine, according to Mr. Dick.

“Sound doctrine, the basis for the formation of this body, and then living that sound doctrine, are our keys to life,” he said.

There you have it. There's no “new direction” for UCG, at least not if this message is representative of UCG's position. There's only the sanitized, modernized, shined-up doctrines of Herbert Armstrong. Law and behavior, not faith in Jesus Christ, are the way, the foundation and the keys to life in UCG.

It's so clear, I suspect even a woman could see it.

Well well well. There you have it indeed!

Yet again, we see that it's not just the Ten Commandments, or the holy days, or tithing, or meats, or even just "Spiritual Israel," but a wholesale desire to return to the Old Covenant - with women as silent, invisible, second class citizens and all. Is that really the tone the UCG wants to set? Is that really the same UCG that we've been told is changing the errors of the past? The law is their life. But even so, even in all of this, they still don't want to keep but a fraction of their own cherry-picked selections from the law. So, time after time after time we hear "The law! The law! Just not that law."

Thank you again, Martin, for taking the time to write this insightful piece and thus saving us all from the embarrassment of having a woman critique the UCG's stance on the law.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11

Friday, May 6, 2016

The Letter Kills: PCG Claims Another Life

Here at As Bereans Did, we are frequently asked the question: what's wrong with keeping the law? What's the danger in teaching your children that they must keep the Sabbath and Holy Days? Weren't these things given to man for good? What's the big deal?

We see a very basic warning on this matter in Titus 3:9:

“But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless.”

Why would debates about the law and genealogies be useless? Isn't this what God wants us to follow; what He expects from us? The Churches of God largely differentiate themselves from “deceived” Christianity by two of these things listed in Titus 3 - that Christians should “keep” the law, and that modern Israel populates the United States and Western Europe. What's the harm in this?

Unfortunately, we recently learned about a heart-breaking situation that demonstrates why strivings over the law can be so destructive. We take no joy in reporting this situation. Rather, we hope that bringing to light issues and consequences like these can  help prevent future tragedies in the Armstrongist community.

Once upon a time, a kind, loving couple who desired to serve God raised their children diligently in the Worldwide Church of God. In 1995, they left for one of the larger, more moderate splinter groups, and the whole family stayed there for years. Their children grew up. One child stayed in the same group as the parents.  Another decided that the lukewarm splinter they attended was not zealous enough for God's law. He and his wife took their young children with them to the Philadelphia Church of God and cut off all contact with their COG family.

Fast forward several years. It is reported that, in their desire to obey their church leaders, the younger PCG couple kicked one of their children out of the house because he had a girlfriend and wasn't spending enough time reading his Bible. Disfellowshipped from PCG, that child moved in with his COG grandparents, whom he hadn't seen in years. He took his own life during the Days of Unleavened Bread, at the age of 21. Not surprisingly, PCG is telling its membership that the young man was mentally ill. Later reports included details that muddy the picture of whether mental illness or PCG's no-contact policy is to blame for his suicide. Some who knew him say they doubt PCG's story. At the very least, the no-contact policy no doubt exacerbated the pain for someone with few emotional and spiritual supports.

Since the young man was cut off from most friends and family, we'll never get a 100 percent accurate picture of what happened. But we've seen enough similarly tragic stories in COG groups to connect the dots fairly well. In 2014, 30-year-old Janet Privratsky committed suicide after PCG's no-contact policy cut her off from her family. Last year, 27-year-old David Ekama – a member of the United Church of God – took his own life. We have personal knowledge of another UCG teen who ran away and left his parents a suicide note after being pressured by tent-mates at UCG summer camp around the time of the UCG-COGWA split. What were they pressuring him to do? Leave UCG for a more conservative splinter that kept the law and Sabbath closer to the way WCG founder Herbert W Armstrong taught. Thankfully, his story had a happier ending. But the pattern is clear.

What's the danger in teaching that keeping the law, or aspects of it, is a condition for salvation? Well, when you teach your children that they are responsible for maintaining their right standing with God, they will believe you. Don't tell me your church doesn't teach this. I've documented that UCG does, and if the supposedly lukewarm UCG does it, the rest do, too. And when they hear from the pulpit, week after week, that being in the wrong church means they are not a true Christian, chances are good that they will believe that, too.

So anyway, some kids are fine with pat answers to questions about moderate COGs' cherry-picked way of keeping the law. Some are satisfied with a simple: “because the minister says it's ok.”  But others will see through the cognitive dissonance and wonder:

  • Why is it wrong for Dad to work on the Sabbath but not wrong to pay a waitress to work for me on Saturday? 
  • If keeping the Holy Days matters, then don't we have to keep them on the right day? Don't we determine Holy Days the way God told us in the Bible – according to the visual confirmation of the New Moon? 
  • If pig meat is unclean, then why is it all right roast marshmallows made from pig bones at the church campout? 

Let me make one thing clear: I don't blame anyone in this family for the disastrous turn of events. The grandparents, the parents, anyone. All of them walked the same road that many of us have traveled. All of them wanted to obey their Creator. All of them were doing their best to please God. None of us can fully predict the consequences of our actions, the reactions of others or know what's in the minds and hearts of those around us. These people are simply the latest victims of the treacherous leadership of the Philadelphia Church of God; and ultimately of Herbert W Armstrong, the late founder of the Church of God movement. Perhaps this is why the Bible tells us to test prophets – so that if they are found to be false, we should not heed what they tell us. Sadly, ignoring this instruction can have a ripple effect on one's children and grandchildren. Perhaps this is how a father's actions affect the third and fourth generations.

Many COG youth are becoming more lax about defining God's true church, but this isn't taught from the pulpit. Most COGs still hint, if not state, that you must attend God's favored splinter group to make it into the Kingdom. Chances are good your kids have absorbed this harmful teaching, whether or not you reinforce it at home. And if you have, don't be surprised when they eventually choose another splinter and turn from you. After all, didn't Jesus come to set son against father, mother against daughter, and mother-in-law against daughter in law? Whoever gives up family for His sake will be rewarded in the Kingdom. (Please read here to learn more about PCG's twisted interpretation of these scriptures.)

This destructive “One True Church” teaching is especially dangerous in the most oppressive cults like PCG, which tend to reject members when they are no longer able to control them. This is when our children find themselves in the true depths of despair. We've taught them that their salvation is dependent upon their record of obedience. We've taught them their salvation depends upon being in the right church. Many have cut themselves off from family and friends outside the cult to be obedient to their ministers. Now, this church chews them up, spits them out and tells them they can't come back. Cut off, they are now unable to obey what they believe they must do in order to “make it.”

Life is volatile enough for teens and young adults. Let's not force them into corners from which they see no escape. Let's not isolate them so that are easy pickings for the prowling devil. I'm not saying all COG children are at risk for suicide, or that mainstream Christian families never experience this kind of tragedy. But let's not set children up for failure. We don't know whether disfellowshipment, the no-contact policy or mental illness was the straw that broke the camel's back for this young man. But fellowship and support in a healthy church or regular contact with friends and family could have short-circuited whatever caused his feedback loop of darkness and might have prevented this tragedy.

When we teach our children that salvation is dependent upon their works, especially works from the Sinai Covenant, we shouldn't be surprised when they see the problem with watered-down keeping of the law. We shouldn't be surprised when they go to greater lengths than we ever expected, and that their decisions affect future generations. If we teach them that these are matters of sin and righteousness, of salvation, then many may see “because the Church says so” as an irresponsible answer with eternal consequences. Those kids are smart. And they are right.

If “not one jot or tittle” means what the COGs teach it means, then it really means not ONE jot or tittle. There is no sliding scale for righteousness; no bell curve; no, “at least I keep the Sabbath unlike these deceived Protestants.” Either EVERY jot and tittle matters for salvation, or salvation is by grace through faith. Either we maintain our salvation through our track record of obedience, repentance and change, or there is a different standard.  If our grace is maintained through our human works, then we are as good as dead now. This is a burden man simply can't bear. Over the years, a number of COG youth have recognized this fact and, tragically, turned the theoretical into a reality.

Thankfully, Scripture tells us that at least some of those “jots and tittles” have changed. Which ones? Well for starters, the laws regarding both circumcision and the tribal requirement for priesthood. Those have changed, indisputably. indisputable. So it stands to reason that others may have, too. And Scripture also tells us we are not as good as dead, but that we have already passed from death to life (1 John 3:14).

If you have serious doubts about your Church of God group but are putting off dealing with them, don't. I know, it's inconvenient, it's awkward, and it can get messy. Besides, you might say, I know the difference between the truth and error coming from the pulpit. Do you? And does the rest of your family there, beside you? You've taught them to listen to the minister, to respect him. What happens when he chooses the radical opinion of a minister instead of yours? Just because you and the rest of your family are in a sane, moderate group right now doesn't mean that they always will be. If God has been telling you to get out, and you've been hanging out on the fence, be obedient. Get out!

And despite what your minister as told you, “getting out” doesn't mean leaving God. Teach your children about God. It's the most important thing you can do. Teach them Scripture. Teach them to take God's word seriously. Teach them to obey His commands – not the ones Jesus gave to Israel in the Sinai Covenant, but the ones He and His apostles gave to participants in the New Covenant. Teach them about grace. Teach them about God's love. Teach them that Jesus died for them; teach them to live for Him. Teach them about their responsibility to obey, to live as bondservants of the one who purchased them with His blood. Teach them to listen for God's prompting, to cooperate with Him, to let Him work with and through them. Teach them to live a life that brings honor and glory to His name. But also teach them the parable of the prodigal son – of a God whose arms are always open to us. And then follow that parable yourself.

What's the danger in teaching obedience to the law as a condition for salvation? This is the danger. Our hearts, our sympathies and our prayers go out to the friends and family of this young man. There are more people praying for you than you will ever know, and we are here to listen if you need us.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; )
Acts 17:11