Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Dialogue on Jeremiah 10

Today's article is a guest piece sent to us from a long-time reader, Dylan.

Dylan imagines a conversation between two people, one for Christmas Trees (called Inquirer) and one against Christmas Trees (called Objector). The article follows them as they discuss Jeremiah 10 and Christmas Trees.

The hypothetical conversation is a thought exercise, based on pieces of actual conversations which Dylan has had in the past. The point of the article is to demonstrate the motivations of the human heart by exaggerating the biased and subjective nature of some arguments against Christmas trees.

And now to Dylan's dialogue; a coniferous conundrum.


Objector: Jeremiah 10 condemns the Christmas tree!

Inquirer: Oh? Please explain why.

Objector: Well obviously you cut a tree from the forest with an ax then fasten it to a cross base and decorate it with silver and gold. Therefore, Jeremiah 10 condemns Christmas Trees.

Inquirer: The passage is talking about skilled craftsmen being hired to make idol gods for the heathen. The wooden idols would be given golden plates and silver chains, precisely as in Isaiah 40:19-20.

Objector: I disagree. This is speaking of a tree. The workman is a lumberjack. The lumberjack cuts the tree down with his ax then brings it into his home, then decorates it with gold and silver tinsel. Idols in Israel were not large.

Inquirer: You omit that Jeremiah 10:9 mentions skilled men, plural, and a metalsmith specifically. So this is more than just a lumberjack. Or are you suggesting that the lumberjack obtains silver from Tarshish, beats it into plates, and gold from Uphaz, and creates blue and purple clothing - all with an axe?

Objector: Verse 3 mentions an axe. Who would cut a tree but a lumberjack?

Inquirer: The word in verse 3 translated "axe" is not exclusive to an axe only. What's more, the word translated "workman" is also translated carpenter, artificer, smith, and other skilled trades in other places in the KJV, both in Jeremiah (29: 1-2) and elsewhere; never lumberjack. This appears to be some very skilled work from a group of workmen.

Objector: Other translations use words like woodcutter.

Inquirer: Okay let me give your argument the benefit of the doubt. Lumberjacks put gold and silver on a tree. What if the tree was NOT cut down? What if it was decorated outside still rooted to the ground? Like this:

Objector: The tree doesn’t have to be cut down for my points to adhere. It can be decorated outside still rooted to the ground and Jeremiah 10 will still apply here because a tree is being decorated and that is the main point of Jeremiah 10, that the tree is laden with foreign objects. Anything placed on a tree makes it an idol.

Inquirer: So no lumberjack necessary. OK. What then do you make of wooden ornaments, would that still be considered “gold and silver?”

Objector: The fact that other material is used on trees like wood and cloth doesn’t deviate from the expression “silver and gold” in verse 4. Gold and silver in verse 4 is a symbolic term for anything placed on a tree, it doesn’t have to be real gold and silver.

Inquirer: So the use of the word "workman" is quite literal and can only mean a lumberjack, but the use of the phrase "Silver is beaten into plates; it is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz, the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the metalsmith; blue and purple are their clothing; they are all the work of skillful men." is symbolic and can mean just about anything at all?

Objector: It says, "wooden idol is a worthless doctrine."

Inquirer: Oh I see. So it is sinful to hang a birdhouse on a tree?

Objector: No and birdhouses aren’t ornaments.

Inquirer: You just told me “anything” placed on a tree. The word “anything” is an all-inclusive word. Therefore (according to your logic) if we hung anything on a tree, despite the fact that it is NOT cut down, we would be sinning.

Objector: Don’t misrepresent me, I meant anything that shimmers.

Inquirer: You didn’t specify “anything that shimmers” you said ”anything placed on a tree.” Are you changing goalposts or what? But since you brought that up, let me entertain that point a bit. You just qualified your statement and said “anything that shimmers,” so what do you make of wooden ornaments? Wood does not shimmer. Let me guess, “they don’t have to shimmer” right? They just “need to be placed on a tree,” right? Remember you said the tree doesn’t have to be cut down for your points to adhere, no?

Objector: World renowned historian, Alexander Hislop, says that decorating trees comes from Nimrod worship. Dance around the issue all you want, if you decorate the tree then you are a sinner.

Inquirer: You realize that Hislop's claims were exposed as frauds decades ago, right? Let's move to something else. Who created snow?

Objector: God did.

Inquirer: Now who makes snow fall?

Objector: God does.

Inquirer: Would snow fall into the category of “gold and silver?”

Objector: I guess, as long as it's fake snow is placed on a tree.

Inquirer: Does it matter whether the snow is real or synthetic?

Objector: Yes it matters.

Inquirer: Oh? Please explain why.

Objector: It needs to be an object made by human hands to be sinful.

Inquirer: Earlier you said anything, but now you say artificial. What about natural objects? Gold is natural. Silver is natural. Wood is natural. What about those that are not crafted by human hands? For example fruits and poinsettias. What about when objects like apples, oranges, cranberries, or other fruit and nuts, popcorn, feathers, grasses and similar natural items are hung on the tree?

Objector: Yes it would still be considered “silver and gold” because fruits and poinsettias don’t belong to fir trees. Any foreign object that is added to a fir tree during winter, can be considered “gold and silver.”

Inquirer: So the objects don’t have to be made by human hands. They just have to shimmer or not, be natural or not, and be placed on a tree. Does snow grow on trees?

Objector: No, it doesn’t.

Inquirer: So snow is a foreign object added to a tree during winter?

Objector: Yes it is.

Inquirer: And who makes snow fall?

Objector: God does, but what are you trying to prove?

Inquirer: Before I go any further, let me ask you two questions: What if the tree was a purple artificial one like these? Does it matter whether the tree is real or artificial?

Objector: It does not matter what color or whether the tree is real or artificial because an artificial tree was meant to simulate a real tree.

Inquirer: Fake snow was meant to simulate real snow, bulbs were meant to simulate real fruit, and artificial trees were meant to simulate real ones! But you condemn natural trees and natural decorations but not natural snow?

Objector: Artificial snow does not simulate the look of real snow very well. You can so tell it’s fake.

Inquirer: So now you will decide when something simulates an actual object closely enough? No, don’t answer that. A few minutes ago you said anything added to a tree defiles it, then you said it had to shimmer, then you said it had to be artificial, then you said it doesn’t matter whether the objects are natural or man-made, it just needs to be placed on a tree, and it does not matter if the tree is cut down, what color it is, if the tree is real or fake because an artificial tree was meant to simulate a real tree. So, we're back to "anything" again. Your criteria keeps changing! Not only that but you abhor the use of evergreen trees in anything, as if you blame the tree itself, but you give snow a pass? You have double standards!

Objector: I don't worship Santa Claus, like you, I worship God.

Inquirer: God created snow and He allows it to fall on His fir trees and shimmer in the sun. Hold on, wait a minute; doesn’t Jeremiah 10:4 forbid the placement of objects on trees, real or artificial, chopped or already in place, which shimmers? Then why is God doing what Jeremiah 10:4 forbids? Snow is an object that is placed on a fir tree often at Christmas time which shimmers in the sun and decorates the tree quite nicely. It perfectly matches your criteria! But wait, would God ever violate His own principles? Since Jeremiah 10:4 supposedly forbids anyone from placing objects on trees, why does God flout this dictate by placing snow (a foreign object) on fir trees during the winter? To place objects on trees is morally and spiritually wrong, correct? Therefore why is God doing what is spiritually and morally wrong?

Objector: If God does it, then it's not a sin.

Inquirer: But if I do the same thing it is a sin? How is that not a double standard?

Objector: Snow on trees is no more decorative than snow on a house top or raindrops on roses.

Inquirer: So snow is decorative, except when it isn't? Are you saying God didn't create the beauty and majesty of nature so that we can look at it in awe and give thanks and praise to Him? And yes, raindrops on roses also looks beautiful, that’s why it is used in song to begin with and that’s why artificial roses have fake raindrops on it: to replicate the look of real raindrops on a rose! Don't these evergreen trees look beautiful all decked out in foreign objects?


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

Monday, December 8, 2014

The Quotes Before Christmas

The Armstrongist Church of God splinter groups quote, or perhaps I should say ‘strategically quote-mine’, from about any source which even so much as appears to undermine Christmas. For example, in his definitive booklet on the topic of Christmas, “The Plain Truth about Christmas” Herbert Armstrong quotes a section of the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge article on Christmas. He quotes just enough of it to smear the day, and then proceeds to leave us, the readers of his booklet, to conclude that history itself has soundly denounced the day as pagan.
"How much the date of the festival depended upon the pagan Brumalia (Dec. 25) following the Saturnalia (Dec. 17-24), and celebrating the shortest day in the year and the 'new sun,' . . . cannot be accurately determined."
-Herbert Armstrong, "The Plain Truth about Christmas" 1957, p.5
Our complaint is not that they argue against Christmas. A healthy, well-formed argument is a good thing. We all improve from the challenge. The truth can take care of itself. Our complaint is the unhealthy and poorly-formed arguments, the shifting standards, the ideologically driven shoddy research, the pseudo-history, the unwillingness to consider evidence to the contrary, and the manipulative quote-mining that come close to outright deception. Just as they do with British-Israelism, so they do with Christmas. They expose us to the oldest, least reliable sources and call it "truth." If they do accidentally quote a quality source, they are not above only quoting just enough to get what they want from it, even if they alter the entire meaning of the quote. This is the plain truth? I find their lack of integrity disturbing.

This is fairly typical of the way the modern COGs treat their source material each year when they trot out their litany of hand-crafted quotes before Christmas. It has become so dogmatically important to them to oppose Christmas that any means justifies this end. It is the great white whale. Back in 2009, ABD began looking into Easter and Christmas to see if what the COGs claim is true. We were surprised to learn the claims were not true, but shocked to learn how very badly we had been lied to. The discoveries continue uninterrupted to this day. Let's see just a few examples.


I would like to show you how the quote above actually started because there is a very important part that Armstrong skipped over.
"How much the calculation of Hippolytus had to do with the festival on Dec. 25, and how much the date of the festival depended upon the pagan Brumalia (Dec. 25), following the Saturnalia (Dec. 17-24) and celebrating the shortest day in the year and the 'new sun' or the beginning of the lengthening of days, cannot be accurately determined."
-"Christmas", The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Volume III, Grand Rapids, 1952, p.48, [bold mine] from Christian Classics Ethereal Library.org, p.67, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/encyc03.pdf 
See there? I've bolded the key portion that the COGs leave out. The COGs fundamentally transform the entire quote. I want to explain what that quote says, because it is easy to misunderstand.

On page 47, the author of this New Schaff-Herzog article on Christmas spent a good number of words reviewing how the dates of Jesus' death and birth were calculated by several second and third century theologians. Other theologians concluded a winter birth but one theologian in particular, Hippolytus, is credited with being the first to calculate December 25th as the birth date at some time near 211 AD. Well, there are several people who say Theophilus of Antioch should get the credit for the first mention of December 25 at some time around 185 AD, but until I see some better evidence I am going to give this a mention and then ignore it. Hippolytus arrived at this date by first calculating the date of Jesus' conception at March 25th. December 25th is exactly 9 months after March 25th. The December date relied entirely upon the March date.

That's where we come in with this quote. We can see that the article clearly points out that Hippolytus calculated the date. It is completely forthcoming about that point. Armstrong leaves that part completely out. All we get to see is the article wondering if Hippolytus was influenced by Saturnalia or Brumalia. The author concludes it cannot be accurately determined.

We at ABD, not having read Schaff-Herzogg, came to the conclusion that the date was calculated by Hippolytus and then caught on over time. It was a surprising find to us. Should it have been surprising, considering the material Armstrong used states that Hippolytus calculated the date ? No. I spend thirty years in Armstrongism, eating up their material on Christmas, but never once did I hear a whisper about calculations. All I heard was that it came from several varieties of paganism. Yet there it is.

Now here is a detail you absolutely must know: Hippolytus wrote around 202-220 AD.

Why is that important? Because there was no festival on December 25th at that time.

Granted, December 25th had been the traditional Roman date of the solstice for centuries, but there was no festival at all marking the solstice. Romans did not celebrate the solstice anciently. No Roman festival falls on the solstices before 274 AD. There is no evidence that it fell on the solstice in 274 either, this is complete speculation, but it's a reasonable guess. The fact remains that the Roman traditional date of the solstice was important for astronomy but completely unimportant for religion.

So let us return full circle again to the conjecture from earlier. How much the calculation of Hippolytus had to do with a festival is in fact simple to determine: it wasn't. There was no solstice festival to influence Hippolytus.


So, am I saying that the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia is wrong? Well, to be fair, the author was simply offering some conjecture. They didn't say it was and they didn't say it wasn't. An encyclopedia is an odd place for conjecture, but it is what it is. Armstrong took this conjecture as some solid evidence. Obviously he had no idea what makes for good evidence, but he sure knew what makes for good propaganda. This conjecture is easily determined now, in our time, by modern scholars who are far better informed than 100 years ago. So, no, the conjecture isn't "wrong" per se, but we can definitively answer this conjecture.

Yet, in other places the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia's article on Christmas is wrong.

The Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge was written in the 1800's. It was revised and published in 1952 as the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religous Knowledge. This is a fairly old encyclopedia by today's standards. When Herbert Armstrong was writing his Plain Truth about Christmas booklet, this information must have seemed new to him, definitive, and quite fascinating. And rightfully so. I cannot necessarily blame the man, he concluded as he did at least in part because of the information he had on hand. But we aren't in the 1950's anymore. We have learned much in 60 years.

In the late 1800's to mid 1900's, the prevailing theory in religious history was that Christianity borrowed most every component that it has from pagans, including Jesus Himself. Which is why you get the kind of information that you do in books like The Golden Bough by James Frazer, a favored source of the Living Church of God. Yes, the LCG frequently references a book that believes Jesus Christ is a false god created from borrowed pagan material. So is the book authoritative or not? You decide.
For more on why Frazer's claims are outmoded, see this article at Tektonics.org.

That kind of "Christians borrowed everything from pagans" conclusion has lasting appeal to some people. I have the COGs in mind in particular. This is no longer the prevailing theory among religious historians. The prevailing theory now is precisely the opposite - Christianity is uniquely a spin-off of Judaism, pagans primarily borrowed from Christianity, and other similarities are superficial. This effectively obsoletes a good deal of older material, like that which we find in this Christmas article from the New Schaff-Herzog. Undaunted, the COGs continue to use select quotes from obsolete and inaccurate material to this very moment for no other reason than it says what they want to hear.

One would think the Shaff-Herzogg Encyclopedia is wholly condemnatory against Christmas. It is not. To be completely forthcoming, this Christmas article is pretty damning. Some sections of the Christmas article which Armstrong left out are even worse towards Christmas than those he included! Yet, even in this, the reality is quite different than the picture painted for us. Christmas is not nearly the train wreck that the Christmas article makes it seem. As a witness for the defense, let us call … the Shaff-Herzog Encyclopedia.

I was able to find the Shaff-Herzog Encyclopedia from 1912. Its article on Yuletide on p.491 once again goes into a great deal of detail regarding how December 25th was a calculated date. Afterwards, it says this:
“It has also been conjectured that the day was selected because of its significance in the Roman calendar, where it bore the name of deis invicti solis (“the day of the unconquered sun”), since on this day the sun began to regain its power and overcame the night. … It is, however, unlikely that the birth-day of Jesus was first determined by this heathen festival. Nor can Christmas be assumed to owe its origin to the Roman Saturnalia, since they lasted from Dec. 17 to Dec. 19, and even with the later prolongation to seven days, ended on Dec. 23. Still less can the origin be sought in the Germanic solar festival, since the Christmas festival arose long before the Christianizing of the Germans.”
-“Yuletide”, Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Volume XII, p.491, Funk and Wagnalls, New York and London, 1912. From Google Books
Can you believe that?
I want to reiterate, for clarity. The Yuletide article of the same brand of encyclopedia answers the conjecture put forward in the Christmas article. It went from "cannot be accurately determined" to "unlikely."
Odd, it didn't seem so impossible for them to determine.

Wouldn't that have been nice to know before? I have a little conjecture of my own as to why Armstrong and the COGs leave this information out. I'll give you a hint -- it doesn't fit the narrative.

But wait, there's more.

The articles Christmas and Yuletide conflict regarding the dates of Saturnalia. Both articles claim Saturnalia started on December 17th, but whereas the Yuletide article correctly states that it was concluded on the 23rd at its longest point, the Christmas article errors by adding a day. Saturnalia did not conclude on the 24th.

A second notable error is that the Christmas article states the festival of Brumalia fell on December 25th. The festival of Brumalia was a month-long observance which began on November 24th and ended at Saturnalia which was December 17th. Brumalia was not on December 25th.

Anciently, the Bruma was an event where the Roman head of state fed the Senators in a meal symbolizing their importance to the nation during the quiet months of winter. It grew to be a longer festival over time. It eventually grew so long that it ended at Saturnalia. We speculate that is where the name Brumalia came from. The lengthy Brumalia was actually a later development. Neither Brumalia nor Saturnalia were on December 24th or 25th. Neither the correct dates nor the correct location could have had any influence on the calculations of Hippolytus. So the reference in the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia on Religious Knowledge article on Christmas is factually incorrect in regards to this point.
"Moreover, the Byzantine Brumalia was actually called a festival of Cronos, and December 17, the day on which it closed, was the opening day of the Saturnalia.
...Balzamon, Tzetzes, and Zonaras, twelfth century Byzantine writers, affirm that the Brumalia was a festival of Dionysus, inasmuch as βροῦμοςwas an epithet of that god. It is a fact that at this festival, in the eighth century, the Emperor Constantine Copronymus revered Dionysus and Broumos as creators of corn and wine.
-John Raymond Crawford, “De Bruma et Brumalibus Festis”, Byzantinischer Zeitschrift, pp.365-396.
Am I saying the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia is wrong? Yes! Yes I am. Even WikiPedia manages to get the dates right. See what you can achieve when you use quality source material?

It seems apparent to me that the COGs care a lot less about what actually happened in the past than they care about preserving the narrative. Do you honestly think that they want to hear that something might exonerate one of their favorite money-makers? Tell me truthfully, if you are from the anti-Christmas side of this debate, don't you really want me to be wrong?

For more detail on these points, please see our article "The Plain Truth About December 25" especially the sections Bruma/Brumalia and Saturnalia.


Keeping all of these dates in line can be difficult. I want to put up a timeline for you.

80-120 AD

Mithras mystery cult begins in Rome. Distinct from Persian Mithra worship.
150-190 AD

Theologians in Egypt try to discern the birth date of Jesus. May and January are favorites.
190-195 AD

Clement of Alexandria believes Jesus born in winter. November or January. Also references a baptismal celebration which could be Epiphany.
202-211 AD

Clement's student Hippolytus calculates Jesus’ death as March 25 and birth as December 25.
218 AD

Elagabalus becomes Emperor at age 14. Introduces Sol Invictus to Rome.
221 AD

Julius Africanus confirms Hippolytus' March 25 date.
222 AD

Elagabalus is assassinated. Sol worship is suppressed.
243 AD

Cyprian confirms Hippolytus' March 25 date.
274 AD

Aurelian reintroduces or recreates Sol Invictus. Dies the next year. Sol Invictus is a favorite of Roman rulers for the next 40 to 50 years until Constantine.
314 AD

Christianity legalized by Emperor Constantine I. Mithraism and Sol Invictus begin to decline. Mithraism gone by mid-century.
336 AD

The first mention of Natalis Invicti (notice Sol is not mentioned, but it likely is Sol Invictus). This is the first record of a pagan festival on December 25. Same document mentions Jesus born on December 25.
337 AD

Constantine the Great dies. His sons continue the spread of Christianity in Rome.
361-363 AD

Emperor Julian “the Apostate” tried to return Rome to paganism. Gives us the first explicit reference to sun festival on December 25th in his poem "An Ode to King Helios."
380 AD

Gregory of Nazianzus gives the oldest extant Christmas Homily.
387 AD

Last inscription to Sol Invictus struck in this year, though Solar worshipers continue into the next century.
391 AD

Christianity is declared the official religion of the Empire.
400s AD

The Bruma festival on November 24th begins to grow into the Brumalia in the East

Some important points which can be gleaned from this:
1) At some time after 211 but before 336 is when the December 25 celebration of the birth of Jesus began.
2) At some time after 274 but before 336 is when the December 25 celebration of Natalis Invicti began.
3) The Bruma was on the 24th of November and grew into the Brumalia by the sixth century


This pattern of quote-mining is family tradition in Armstrongism. Just to demonstrate this point, I would like to show a couple other strategic quote-mines from the "Plain Truth about Christmas" booklet in order to demonstrate how manipulative and IMHO deceptive this can get:
“Let us examine the Catholic Encyclopedia, published by that Church. Under the caption ‘Christmas,’ you will find:
'Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church …'”
-Herbert Armstrong, Plain Truth Magazine, “The Plain Truth about Christmas”, December 1957, p.6
Let's pause here briefly here, mid-quote.

This is a favored entry from the COG quotes before Christmas. And the Catholic Encyclopedia was right; Christmas wasn’t among the earliest festivals. But there's more to it than that. The celebration of the early events in Jesus’ human life on another day, namely Epiphany, goes back several decades before Christmas. Every major Christian center observed Epiphany. There is some reason to believe a generic observance of the Nativity goes back even before Epiphany. So celebrating the early events of Jesus' life was not so unheard of as Hebert Armstrong would have us believe. Only celebrating His birth specifically as the feast of Christmas was.

Armstrong's response to Epiphany was to have his court historian, Herman Hoeh, "the most accurately-informed historian in the world," try to smear the day as the true birthday of Nimrod. The results are laughable.
Please see our article "Nimrod's Birthday Was January 6?" for more details on this.

Let us not forget that the angels, shepherds, Magi, Anna the prophetess, John the Baptist, Zecharias and Elizabeth the parents of John the Baptist, and Mary and Joseph all rejoiced to see His first coming. All of the angels and heroes of old eagerly awaited that time. Abraham rejoiced and was glad to know He was coming. There is nothing wrong with being overjoyed that the Lord was born. It remains the second-greatest miracle in the history of mankind. He couldn't die if He wasn't born.

Continuing with Armstrong's citation where we left off from above:
“'… The first evidence of the feast is from Egypt.'”
-Herbert Armstrong, Plain Truth Magazine, “The Plain Truth about Christmas”, December 1957, p.6
That’s Christians in Egypt, particularly. Christians! Not pagans in Egypt.

Armstrong only quotes a small snippet in order to lead his readers to conclude Egyptian pagans were being spoken about. The very next word he quotes is "Pagan," just to make sure you get the point, but that is completely misleading. It is manipulative and bordering on outright dishonesty. Let’s look at the whole sentence. I will again bold the parts the left out.
“The first evidence of the feast is from Egypt. About A.D. 200, Clement of Alexandria (Stromata I.21) says that certain Egyptian theologians "over curiously" assign, not the year alone, but the day of Christ's birth, placing it on 25 Pachon (20 May) in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus.
-Martindale, C.C. (1908). Christmas. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. [Bold mine] Retrieved November 25, 2014 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03724b.htm
Where Armstrong attempts to leave us with the impression that Christmas comes from Egyptian pagans, the quote is clear that it came from theologians in Egypt. Don't be surprised regarding Egypt. Alexandria was one of the largest Christian centers in those days.

Clement of Alexandria (Egypt), mentioned in the quote above, wrote in the 190's AD. Since Clement was referring to theologians before himself, we can be confident that the attempt to locate Jesus' birth goes back to the mid-second century.

So, you see, this pattern of 'strategic quote-mining' is something that is done quite often. A source will be strategically quoted as authoritative, so long as it appears to say what they want to hear. If it doesn't say what they like, they just leave out the parts they don't like, then conclude the opposite anyhow. This includes the Bible. Does "the truth" need to be supported by such incredible amounts of acrobatics and misdirection?

For more examples, please see our article "A Pattern of Dishonest Documentation."


Speaking of documentation, I went searching on the COG websites to see if they still at this late date use the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia as a reference as Herbert Armstrong did. (Not that I'm against the entire book, mind you. I was just curious.) Here is what I found.

Philadelphia Church of God

The PCG does use the New Schaff-Herzog as a reference.
The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge says that the pagan celebrations of Saturnalia and Brumalia were popularly held on that date. Further into antiquity, the Egyptians marked December 25 to celebrate the birth of the son of Isis.
-Joel Hilliker, “Two Views of Jesus Christ Reflections on the Christmas Season”, Philadelphia Church of God, on PCOG.org, accessed 11-25-14, https://www.pcog.org/article/348/two-views-of-jesus-christ
I don't know about you, but I didn't see anything saying Saturnalia celebrations were held on December 25. The Brumalia part we have already addressed. Seeing how poorly they read their already poor source material, everything in their Christmas article has suddenly become suspect to me.
One questionable reference can't ruin the study though. Perhaps I'm being overly cautious. Perhaps it is best that I check out some other detail just to make sure. How about we check out the claim about the birthday of Isis.

December 25th was absolutely not the ancient birthday of Isis. This is an absolutely unfounded claim. The Egyptians didn't use the Roman Calendar. They didn't have a December. They would not ever tie anything to a calendar that they did not use. Nor did the Roman and Egyptian calendars match up so that we could say "such and such a date on the Egyptian calendar equated to such and such a date on the Roman calendar." The Egyptian calendar had to be corrected annually. Meanwhile, the Roman calendar fared little better. Rome was founded in the 700's BC. For the first few centuries they had no winter months at all. In the 500's BC, February was in the place of December. Around 450 BC they moved December to the end of the year. After that, the calendar was regularly manipulated for political purposes. In 46 BC, Julius Caesar completely revamped the calendar. In 8 BC Augustus corrected the calendar. Attempts to match the calendar in Alexandria to that of Rome were still problematic. Then in 1582 the Gregorian calendar was introduced. So the claim about Isis' birthday being on December 25th is farcical. Laughable! In reality, and depending on which version of Isis you look at, the birthday of Isis was in the summer.

For more on this, please see our article "On Nimrod and Christmas Trees - part 2."

If the PCG can't figure this out, perhaps they need to try using better source material. Perhaps, just perhaps, they might want to get that beam out of their own eye before they go falsely accusing billions of faithful Christians of not knowing history.

Church of the Great God

The CGG does not seem to cite the New Shaff-Herzog as a source in their articles. Good for them! But they do host the 1974 version of “The Plain Truth about Christmas” on their website.

United Church of God

The UCG does use the New Schaff-Herzog as a reference, but apparently not in any Christmas article. Even so, they continue the tradition of making incorrect claims about Saturnalia and Brumalia. For example,
"On the heels of the Saturnalia, the Romans marked December 25 with a celebration called the Brumalia. Bruma is thought to have been contracted from the Latin brevum or brevis, meaning brief or short, denoting the shortest day of the year."
-"Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Observe?", United Church of God, 2008, p.7
Or how about this one:
"The church adopted Dec. 25—the date of the ending of the Roman Brumalia, immediately after Saturnalia—as the date of Christ's birth"
-Gary Petty, "4,000 Years of Christmas", United Church of God,

Now which do you suppose it was? A) Did the Romans mark December 25 with a celebration called the Brumalia? -OR- B) Was Dec. 25 the date of the ending of the Roman Brumalia?
Let's ask a friend.

John Raymond Crawford, who we quoted earlier, wrote on the Brumalia. Let us look to him again.
"From the beginning of the sixth century A. D. to the middle of the tenth, a festival, known as the Brumalia, flourished at Constantinople. It began on November 24 and continued until December 17; each of the twenty-four days thus included was designated by a letter of the Greek alphabet."
-Roger Pearse, "A Review of Crawford on the Bruma and Brumalia", on Roger-Pearse.com, 12-2009.
The correct answer is C) None Of The Above. Brumalia was not after Saturnalia at all, it was before. It was two centuries after the start of Christmas. Plus it was primarily a Byzantine Roman celebration. Not something the UCG seems to be swift to have corrected on their website, though.

Let's look at another quote. This time from John the Lydian, a Byzantine Roman Christian, who wrote in Greek a work called De Mensibus (or, “On the Months”) in the early 500’s AD.
"...and in November and December, until the “Waxing of the Light,” they bring [these] things to the priests. For the [custom] of greeting [people] by name at the Brumalia is rather recent; and, the truth [is], they call them “Cronian festivals” —and because of this the Church turns away from them."
-Roger Pearse, “A translation of John the Lydian, “De Mensibus” 4.158 (on December)”, 2009, Roger-Pearse.com
So the Brumalia was from November until the Saturnalia, and the church turned away from such practices. Well, isn't that odd. In every way the opposite of what we were told.
You won't see these among the COG quotes before Christmas!

And what does our friend Philocalus have to say? Well take a look at the Philocalian Calendar for yourself, in the month of November, on the 24th day (the eighth day before the calends of December) and you will see Bruma listed. So, what does that mean? It means that anyone who tells you that the Bruma/Brumalia festival was on December 25 is mistaken.

Read the rest of Roger Pearse's articles. They are superb. Also, please see our article "The Plain Truth About December 25" especially the section Bruma/Brumalia.

Church of God - A Worldwide Association, Inc.

I was unable to find any reference to Schaff-Herzog on the COGWA, Inc. "Life, Hope, & Truth" website. Don't count them out, though. Their articles claim to draw on past information which is not directly quoted, so there is a high degree of probability that they indirectly pull information from this source. From what they do write they were nevertheless able to open mouth and insert foot.
"It is a well-known historical fact that Dec. 25 had nothing to do with the actual birthday of Jesus Christ. Instead, it was chosen to coincide with a popular festival season in ancient Rome. Three popular pagan festivals were celebrated in late December in the pagan Roman Empire:
• Saturnalia was an annual seven-day festival to the god Saturn, celebrated from Dec. 17-23.
• Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (the birthday of the unconquered sun god) was celebrated on Dec. 25.
• The birthday of Mithra, a Persian god who was primarily worshipped by Roman soldiers throughout the Roman Empire, was also celebrated Dec. 25."
-Erik Jones, "Jesus Christ vs. Christmas", Church of God - A Worldwide Association, Lifehopenadtruth.com, http://lifehopeandtruth.com/discern/nov-dec-2014/jesus-christ-vs-christmas
It is not a "well-known historical fact" that December 25 had nothing to do with the actual birthday of Jesus Christ. Even Garner Ted Armstrong, as opposed to Christmas as he was, counted nine months backwards from the Feast of Tabernacles and admitted that December 25th was either the date of birth or the date of conception of our Lord.

• Saturnalia at its longest ended on December 23rd. It was never on the 25th. Ergo it had nothing to do with December 25 as the date of Christmas.
• Deis Natalis is not actually named "Deis Natalis Solis Invicti" as they claim. Why is it every time I see a claim like this, the name is slightly different? Because that wasn't the name. It was named Deis Natalis. And there is no proof it was celebrated at all before some uncertain point between 274-336 AD.
• The Persian Mithra and the Roman Mithras bear little resemblance one to the other. The Roman cult of Mithras was a secret society; a mystery cult. The soldiery did honor Mithras, but Mithras was not a god honored by the general populace. The cult of Sol Invictus was the more cosmopolitan cult. Sol Invictus was a separate god from Mithras, but Sol Invictus often appeared in Mithras imagery. The evidence appears to say that December 25th was made a festival somewhere between 274-336 AD, long after December 25th became associated with Jesus. Mithras worship died out in the mid-fourth century.

With excellent modern scholarship and primary source documents available to them, the COGWA is content to read the World Book Encyclopedia. This tells us that the COGWA desperately needs to update their source material and research techniques. An attempt to be fair and balanced on the topic wouldn't hurt either.

For more detail on Mithras, we recommend you read the material on KingDavid8.com. We also recommend you read "The Roman Cult of Mithras" on Tertullian.org.

Living Church of God

The LCG manages not to use Schaff-Herzog as a reference, but somehow manages none the less to snatch failure from the jaws of victory by making claims with startling factual inaccuracy.
“But why do people celebrate Christ's birth on December 25? Late December is the time of the winter solstice, one of the major festival periods in the ancient world.”
-Douglas S. Winnail, “What Is Hidden by the Holidays?”, Living Church of God, on Tomorrowsworld.org, accessed 11-25-14, http://www.tomorrowsworld.org/magazines/2000/november-december/what-is-hidden-by-the-holidays#sthash.cwcekP2V.dpuf
As we stated earlier, there is no evidence whatsoever that the solstice was celebrated by Romans. There was no festival on that day at all when Christmas was being calculated, let alone a "major festival."

The first evidence we have that Romans did anything festive on December 25th comes from a document written in 336 AD. That occasion couldn't have started more than 62 years prior. The same document also lists the date as Jesus' birthday. That can be traced back 130 years prior. Which came first? Hippolytus came first. So who borrowed from whom?

Restored Church of God

The RCG actually quotes Schaff-Herzog precisely as Armstrong did, starting where he started and stopping where he stopped. Could it be that they simply cut and paste Armstrong's material into their own?

So you've read the COG literature and you're certain Christmas is pagan?


The COGs will be unimpressed by any of this. As we have demonstrated, if the material doesn't fit the narrative, simply massage the quote until it appears to. But if even that fails, deflect and move the goal posts. In other words, rationalize.

Perhaps the most popular deflection claim is that Christmas isn't in the Bible. Well, that's just asinine. If the birth of Jesus isn't in the Bible then there is no reason to go to church, or be a Christian. What this claim really means to say is there is no explicit command in the Bible to celebrate "Christmas." It's true, there isn't. And there's no law that says you shouldn't either. Jesus celebrated Hanukkah without a command, and that's a festival marking a religious event which doesn't even appear in the canonized Bible. No doubt He celebrated Purim, also without a command. People are more than willing to celebrate their own birthday, without a command - just not their Savior's. Certain people celebrate Thanksgiving without a command. Paul could not have said, "he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it" in reference to the holy days if the holy days are mandatory. Either they are not mandatory or Paul is talking about some other, non-commanded day. Therefore we are free to celebrate or not celebrate additional days. But there is no command in the New Covenant to celebrate any day. Every day that the COGs observe is either made up or brought forward from the Old Covenant, and is done so through indirect circumstantial evidence. Assumption upon assumption. The Church of God (Seventh Day), who keeps the weekly Sabbath, teaches strongly against the holy days. This was one of the reasons why they fired Herbert Armstrong and revoked his ministerial credentials.

Another claim is if God wanted us to celebrate the birth of Jesus, then He wouldn't have hidden the date. To that we reply that it is an assumption that God "hid" the date. We disagree that God "hid" the date at all. Matthew and Luke gave us several clues as to the timing. They tell us who was involved, who the political leaders were, who was serving at the Temple, what the conditions were like, and so forth. All of these were dating markers in their time. We simply have lost the ability to properly interpret the information. Not only that but Daniel left us the Seventy Weeks Prophecy. Since there are date cues we can affirm that God did not "hide" the date.

The same can be said for Jesus' death. What year does the Bible say He died in? It doesn't say. We may know the day of the week or even the date itself, but if we don't know the year then we cannot tie it to our calendar. Using the Jewish calendar will not work. The modern calendar has changed so much over the centuries that it cannot help us. The ancient system fares no better. We have no idea when the Sanhedrin declared the New Moon which started the month of Abib/Nisan, so we cannot know exactly how the Passover falls. So God must have "hid" it and therefore doesn't want us to observe His death? Hardly! So this is a line of reasoning that really doesn't hold up. We need to try and figure these things out for ourselves, just as Daniel tried to figure out the 70 years mentioned in Jeremiah. We have no choice. Yet this is precisely what the early Christians were doing. They arrived at Jesus' birth by first arriving at His death.

The next claim will be that if we can't know the exact correct date, then it's not worth the effort. So, if you don't know the exact date then you're not going to rejoice in the coming of the long-awaited Messiah? Your choice. The December 25th date might not be right. It has a 1/365 chance of being correct; same as any other day. Many claim Jesus was born at the Feast of Tabernacles. Based on what? Pure speculation. This is precisely the reason why Garner Ted Armstrong concluded Jesus was conceived on Christmas. This Tabernacles idea isn't backed by any more evidence than any other day. Even as the COGs say this, they argue among each other on when Passover and Pentecost should fall. They are beginning to wonder if the Last Great Day is a proper Feast day. Seems they can't even agree on the name. UCG has even changed its name to "The Eighth Day". Not only that but the Night to be Much Observed/Remembered, another day whose name was changed, is completely made up from whole cloth. That doesn't stop the COGs from observing it. Strangest of all is that some of them will have Winter Family Weekend events during Christmas, which wasn't instituted by the Apostles either. They say they are just offering an alternative to Christmas ...while they condemn the early Christians for offering any alternative to genuinely pagan celebrations of their day. Those goal posts sure do move! If Armstrongists held themselves to their own standard, they wouldn't observe half of what they do. But most ominous of all things is, if the Lunar Sabbath theory is correct, the COGs aren't even keeping the Sabbath itself on the right dates.


Today we have looked into a few of the COG's favorite quotes before Christmas, especially the New Schaff-Herzog article on Christmas, and we have found them wanting. If the COGs want to make a case against Christmas, fine. Be our guest. Please at least be intellectually honest about it, though. To cite unreliable source material, to insist on things that are blatantly incorrect, and to alter the evidence presented to make it fit the narrative is not "the plain truth." It is dishonest and it is supremely disappointing.

We can only conclude that the theory stated in the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, that “The pagan Saturnalia and Brumalia were too deeply entrenched in popular custom to be set aside by Christian influence,” should be dismissed, seeing as it depends on three specious things:
1) That there was a popular festival on December 25th in Hippolytus' day. There wasn't.
2) That Christmas depends on the dating of the Brumalia festival. It doesn't. They get the Brumalia date wrong. Nor does it depend on the dating of Saturnalia, as that was never on the 25th either.
3) The assumption that the Christians could not set aside a festival that clearly they had set aside. They set it aside even farther than the UCG set aside Christmas to hold the Winter Family Weekend. Christmas isn't on the dates of Brumalia or Saturnalia. If it isn't on those dates, then it is inescapable that it isn't from those dates.

And therefore, we can respond to the conjecture, "How much the calculation of Hippolytus had to do with the festival on Dec. 25, and how much the date of the festival depended upon the pagan Brumalia (Dec. 25), following the Saturnalia (Dec. 17-24) and celebrating the shortest day in the year and the 'new sun' or the beginning of the lengthening of days, cannot accurately be determined” with confidence that it can in fact be determined. Another article of the same encyclopedia say this scenario is "unlikely" but we say it is more than just that. It would appear that it is nigh impossible for these things to have affected Hippolytus and the theologians of his time, such as Clement of Alexandria and Julius Africanus. If by some odd chance there was any influence at all, it was indeed minimal at best. At worst it is an astronomical stretch of the imagination that Hippolytus was influenced by Saturnalia or Brumalia to choose March 25th as the date of Jesus' death. But no COG quotes the Catholic Encylopedia when it says, "The origin of Christmas should not be sought in the Saturnalia" [ibid].

The fact is that Hippolytus et al were basing the date of the birth from the date of the conception and death. An old Jewish tradition stated that great men died on the day of their conception. Hippolytus concluded that March 25th was the conception and death of Jesus. He then counted up nine months to December 25th as the birth of Jesus. Accurate or not, that's how it went. The March date had nothing to do with the winter solstice. It is improper to stand on the claim that Hippolytus worked in the opposite manner from how he actually worked.

This is the sum of the entire matter --

(ROM. 14: 5-6) 5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.

If Christmas disturbs you so much, then don't observe it, but don't judge those who do observe it. And if Christmas is fine with you, then do observe it, but don't judge those who don't observe it. Stop the judgment and condemnation and start loving each other as Jesus said to do. Either way, observe or no, do that in honor of the Lord in the peace and unity of the Holy Spirit.

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

Monday, December 1, 2014

Armstrong the Merciful

"Whereas, if MAN, composed of matter, sinned and refused to repent and turn from sin, he will die the second death - he shall utterly perish (John 3: 16) - he will be as though he had not been (OBE. 16). This reflects God's mercy."
-Herbert W Armstrong, "Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p. 84
Some years ago I sat talking with a close friend of mine and trying to explain what Armstrongism believed about the afterlife. This was back when I was a believing member of the church. I was explaining to my friend who didn’t know the doctrines, and in my heart of hearts I was trying to defend the doctrine to myself. I thought I was right in what I believed, but at the same time I sensed the weakness of the argument.
It seems to be universal that when you are defending a weak position, you bluff and don't give away too much information. Even animals do it. Well, I knew my position was weak, so I reached for a fairly standard claim to reinforce my position: Armstrongism’s view of eternity is far more merciful than mainstream Christianity’s, vis a vis:
Why would a merciful God send people to Hell? In our version, most everyone will find salvation.

Well, I was quite happy at the time to see that it worked. My friend hadn’t ever heard anyone say anything like that before, was therefore unprepared, and didn’t know how to respond. Quite frankly, if it didn't work, I was unprepared to take it much further. Sometimes bluffing pays off.

I wondered to myself, what if my friend had challenged me? So, to answer that question, I have decided to argue against my earlier position. I will take the position of my friend and explore what they did not. I have to say, I learned a lot going through this! I write about it today so that you can see what I saw.

Bear in mind that my goal is not to insult, disparage, castigate, or in any wise belittle anyone in Armstrongism or God or anyone else. God loves you, and I'm not here to mistreat those He died for. No doubt some people are going to feel that way as they read this, but that's only because I'm not affirming your beliefs in this post. If I affirmed your beliefs, you would love me ...and be bored reading this. I'm not going to be unfair. Fairness is one of my motivations here, but I am also not going to affirm the COG view. I spent 30 years on one side, and now I'm going to explore the other side. I don't know of a way that I can do this and offend no one in the process. I have to do this so that we can ask "Is the COG view as merciful as it claims to be?" I have to accept that someone will take this the wrong way. I am just going to admit this up front and state that it's not my intent to be insulting to anyone, and leave it at that.
Also, bear in mind that my goal is not to defend or argue for Hell. If at any point you misinterpret what I'm saying as a defense of or argument for the doctrine of Hell, then you've missed my point. The entire post is about mercy, not Hell. As I said, we are asking, "Is the COG view as merciful as it claims to be?"

Are you brave enough to challenge your own views in an ABD deep inspection with me today? Come and let’s take a critical look at the entire flow of the history of mankind as seen by the Church of God (COG) splinter churches ...starting at the start.


"God is reproducing Himself", say the Armstrongist Church of God (COG) groups. According to the founder of the COG movement, Herbert W Armstrong, perhaps billions of years before Adam, God's first "children" where the angels.
"This earth, originally, was intended to be the abode of a third of all the angels."
-HWA, "Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p. 54
Did it work? No. After countless ages, Satan rebels, he deceives one third of all of the angels, all creation decays, horrific wars ensue in the heavens where the angels prove themselves unworthy to rule over what God has made. This apparently catches God off guard.
"As God surveyed this cataclysm, He must have realized it left Himself as the ONLY BEING who will not and CANNOT SIN! The only possible ASSURANCE of accomplishing His great PURPOSE was for Him now to reproduce Himself!"
-Herbert Armstrong, "Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p. 59 [emphasis mine]
Must have realized?? So, he didn't realize this before?
As a plan B, the Godhead creates mankind with the intent of transforming them into God-beings like Himself so we can rule creation in place of the angels.
"God saw that no being less than God, in the God Family, could be certainly relied on to never sin - to be like God - who cannot sin. To fulfill His purpose for the entire vast universe, God saw that nothing less than Himself (as the God Family) could be absolutely relied upon to carry out that supreme purpose in the entire universe.
God then purposed to reproduce Himself, through the humans, made in His image and likeness, but made first from material flesh and blood, subject to death if there is in unrepented of - yet with the possibility of being born into the Divine Family begotten by God the Father.
And that is why God put man on earth!"
-Herbert Armstrong, "Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p. 51
God does this, knowing that humans can and will sin and go astray without His direct participation, just like some of the angels did. God must infuse the Holy Spirit with our spirits or there is no hope.
"The spirit of man was in him [Adam] - but not the Spirit of God. God offered him freely the fruit of the TREE OF LIFE - which symbolized the HOLY SPIRIT. Taking of the tree of LIFE would have done two things: (1) opened his MIND to comprehend spiritual knowledge, and (2) imparted within him the GIFT of God's Holy SPirit, leading to ETERNAL LIFE."
-Herbert Armstrong, "Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p.76
Does God work closely with mankind as is necessary? Yes!
Did it work? No. Adam and Eve soon sin anyway. The solution? Cut mankind off from the only thing that could have helped them.
"God made the needed second spirit - the HOLY SPIRIT - available to Adam. But on Adam's rebellion and taking the forbidden fruit, God had driven Adam out and closed all access to the tree of LIFE - symbolic of His Holy Spirit."
Rather than His direct involvement, which is the only possible way to achieve the goal of avoiding sin, God establishes a set of laws to give mankind direction.
Does it work? No.
To the COG groups, the law as defined in the Old Covenant is what God expects of mankind. Not just the Jews, but all mankind. They do not accept that the law was first given at Sinai; they believe it to have been there since creation (DEU. 5: 3). To the COG's it is mankind's means of growing in Godly character (ROM. 3: 21; 4: 13; GAL. 2: 21; PHP. 3: 9). They teach that Godly character is the result of law-keeping. Not the whole law, just some of it (it varies from church to church).
But there's the rub. The Holy Spirit is necessary before people can even so much as recognize that they so much as ought to keep the law in the first place, and is mandatory in order to have the ability to actually put the law into practice once it is known. The knowledge itself is spiritual knowledge, you see. Spiritual knowledge cannot be received without the Holy Spirit to complete our minds and make this possible (I COR. 2: 13-14). All Christians believe this to be true to some degree, but the COGs believe it in the most extreme sense.
So what do we see here? The COGs believe God put a law in place that mankind cannot hope to realize, thus God condemns mankind to a futile system of unguided "trial and error" as they hopelessly try and figure out on their own what is good and evil.
Mercifully hopeless and futile, that is.

Thus we have an enigma. The result of which is that now man can't even plead ignorance in their ignorance (ROM. 7: 7) because they had the law there ...which they couldn't understand to begin with without the Holy Spirit.

It gets worse! God leaves Satan here to broadcast sin into our heads against our will!
You read that right. The COGs teach that Satan doesn't just tempt us, he actually radiates harmful sinfulness like uranium radiates harmful energy. Satan can affect us without our knowledge just by being there.

So, mankind cannot know that we should keep the law, we can’t keep the law even if we did know, we are influenced by Satan to break the law even if we don't want to, and we can’t even plead ignorance because the law witnesses against us.
How's that for mercy?

I want you to notice something here. It is very subtle, but very important. First, a summary then I’ll get to what I want you to notice.

According to the COGs, Adam and Eve chose the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God had been helping them, but they chose poorly. Now God refuses to give us the Holy Spirit as punishment. This teaching is necessary! Without this teaching, how can anyone in the COG churches be “called" and "elect” by God? The “calling” and “election” is the giving of the Holy Spirit so that they can know and attempt to keep the law. The mystery revealed to them which makes them "God’s Church" is law-keeping (with the help of the Holy Spirit). Not all of the law, not all 613, but a cherry-picked and highly modified subset  – especially the weekly Sabbath and annual holy days. And not perfect law-keeping, because they fail too, just like Adam and Eve and Lucifer, so it's just the attempt at law-keeping that they receive. Otherwise, if mankind *can* know that they should keep the law all on their own without the Holy Spirit, then there is nothing at all different between the members of the COG churches and anyone else and no reason for a special calling. There is no calling; there is no election. So you see the teaching that God revoked His Holy Spirit, even though it was absolutely critical for the success of the goal, is necessary to establish identity for the COG group.

But! Here comes two things that I wanted you to notice.

Baptism is where one receives the Holy Spirit. The COG initiate must know and keep the law before they are baptized and receive the Holy Spirit. One must prove one's worthiness and loyalty. But how? One must be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit in order to attempt to keep the law, but one must already be attempting to keep the law in order to be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit. A contradiction?
Next, regardless of the law, without the Holy Spirit how can mankind be held accountable and punished terribly for something they could not possibly have understood? Why give a law if we are incapable of understanding it? Indeed we are prevented from understanding! But then how can God make any exception for ignorance (LUK. 23: 34, ACT. 17: 30)? Another contradiction?
Something is seriously flawed here!

And not just this, but there is another related issue to discuss: angelic beings.


The COG narrative both says that God blinds the hearts of mankind and that Satan blinds the hearts of mankind. God gives mankind over to blindness by withholding the Holy Spirit because of our wickedness, but we cannot know our wickedness unless the Holy Spirit works in us in the first place. So it is God’s doing. At the same time, Satan broadcasts evil like a radio station broadcasts music, and God gives mankind over to Satan who deceives us and darkens our understanding. So it is Satan’s doing.
As much as it pains me to even consider such a thing, there very much appears to be a tag-team in the COG doctrines of God and Satan against mankind.

Continuing on.

God, knowing the potential for our failure ahead of time, was prepared with a plan to save us. ...but not save the angels.
You see, the COGs do believe in a Hell. Oh, they most certainly do! They just prefer to believe the only ones that will be there are Satan and his demons. Here are some proof-texts often used to demonstrate this eternal fate:

(II PET. 2: 4) For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment
(JUD 6) And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day
(II PET. 2: 17) These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.
(REV. 20: 10) The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
"Angels, being spirit, are immortal. Those who sinned shall go on bearing their punishment forever. Their punishment is NOT death. Their punishment is loss of the glorious opportunity God gave them to accomplish His purpose on earth, and to live forever in the resentment, bitterness, attitude of rebellion, and utter hopelessness and frustration of mind their own sins brought upon them. Once they perverted their own minds, they can never regain balance. Happiness and joy has left them forever."
-Herbert Armstrong, "Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p. 84
So this far more merciful Armstrongism isn't really more merciful at all. There is a Hell. There is an eternal, conscious punishment for created beings. Just not for humans. That's not mercy; that sounds a lot more like opportunism to me.

You might say, "But the demons deserve it!". OK. You'll get no argument from me. But so do any humans who sin! In all fairness, any mainstream Christian should be able to tell you that God didn't create Hell for humans; some humans simply insist on going there and God refuses to force them to remain in His presence against their will. Yet consider this - it's not just the fallen angels who are punished. No! If you want to talk about something being unmerciful, consider the poor holy angels!

Two thirds of the angels have never sinned, yet they are punished eternally too, only because Lucifer sinned. According to COG documents, Lucifer was such a magnificent creation that when he sinned it was proof to God that no angel was capable.
"As God surveyed this cataclysmic tragedy, He must have realized that since the highest, most perfect being within His almighty power to create, had turned to rebellion, it left God Himself as the only being who would not and cannot sin."
-Herbert Armstrong, "Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p. 51
In other words, Michael and Gabriel might be superb holy angelic beings now, but some day they'll fall too. It's inevitable. This is the logical conclusion of what the COGs believe.
And what was the punishment for angels? The COGs believe that angels are immortal and cannot die. So what punishment can you give an eternal being?
 "Their penalty (they are still awaiting final judgment up to now) was disqualification - forfeiture of their grand opportunity, perversion of minds, and a colossal earthwide CATACLYSM of destruction wreaked upon this earth."
-Herbert Armstrong, "Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p. 57
Stop and consider, though, that this "disqualification - forfeiture of their grand opportunity" is also born by the holy angels! The holy angels have to live forever, rejected by God because of what Lucifer did, and ruled over by the humans who replaced them - yet they didn't ever do anything to deserve it.
Consider further, the angels who never sinned are not to be redeemed even though they are eternal while mankind who sins continually is to be redeemed even though he is temporary. If anyone should have been redeemed it should be the immortal beings. But no.


How is mankind redeemed? The Word of God becomes a man in order to die so that with His own blood the sins of man can be forgiven. Now, if you can live a life of attempted law-keeping until death, you might qualify for a promotion to godhood when Jesus returns. You would think "in two millennia I'll return and I might even call on you" would be at least mildly encouraging news to people. But then God does something unexpected - He hides the Gospel …for 1,900 years!

Herbert Armstrong’s primary claim to authority was that he was an Apostle as great as Paul...
"And I can say now, with the apostle Paul, 'that the gospel which [is] preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. . . . But when it pleased God . . . to reveal his Son in me . . . immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: neither went I [to a theological seminary, but I was taught by Jesus Christ, the Word of God (in writing)]' (Gal. 1:11-12, 15-17)."
-Herbert Armstrong, "Mystery of the Ages", p. 29
...who was chosen in the sunset days of mankind to bring us a final warning. The gist of the warning he supposedly was tasked to deliver was that we need to attempt to keep the law.
But wait. Wasn't this the same message that was supposedly given to Adam? Yes. So for 6,000 years the same warning supposedly went out? Yes.
Does it work? No. Did it ever work? No.
What good is a warning to attempt to obey the law going to do people who cannot understand without the Holy Spirit? It does no good. Why send a warning without sending the ability to heed? It does no good. And why warn people at all if they aren't really "called" at this time anyway? None of this makes any sense.

Herbert Armstrong said over and over and over again that one of the proofs of his authority was that he was the first person in 1,900 years to teach the Gospel.
--If one rejects this then one rejects the COGs because one rejects everything the COGs are founded upon. Just like the man who built his house on sand. If you reject Herbert Armstrong (as some say they do), then why not attend at the COG7 church instead? Or become an SDA? Or a Seventh-Day Baptist? Or --

Consequently, this claim means that for 1,900 years the “Church of God” had no solid knowledge of the Gospel, ergo the Gospel is absolutely unnecessary for “calling” and “election” and salvation.

What is necessary? No one ever really defined that. In one place Herbert Armstrong says the entire duty of a lay Christian is to pay money and pray in support of the ministry of the Church of God.
“But this giving of their prayers, encouragement and financial support was God's assignment as the very means of developing in them God's holy, righteous character.”
-Herbert Armstrong, “The Incredible Human Potential”, p. 111 
“...as the very means for the general body of lay members to develop God's own holy, righteous character – by means of giving – giving their continuous prayers for the apostle, giving their encouragement, tithes and offerings.”
-Herbert Armstrong, “The Incredible Human Potential”, p. 112
But in other publications we see that the qualifications for being the “Church of God” included such things as Sabbath observance, or having the right name [Church of God], or full-immersion baptism, and etc. (See our study "True History of the True Church" for details.) Oh, not that you needed all of them at once! No. You really only needed one from this list in order to be identifiable as a Church of God. If you have more, great! But you only need one.
God kept His church technically alive for 2,000 years so long as they observed at least one thing from a list. So... one would think God could have just taught all mankind to keep that one thing and it would have sufficed. But He apparently didn't do that either.

Just so you know, when other non-COG churches keep at least one thing from the same list (like Baptists and full-immersion baptism or the SDA church and Sabbath-keeping) it doesn't count.

We touched on something a few paragraphs back that I want to dive more deeply into for a minute. The “true Gospel” is hidden for 1,900 years. Not just lost. Hidden! First God revokes the Holy Spirit, then God hides the Gospel. What this implies is that mankind didn't "turn from the truth" on their own, they were driven there! We would often say "God has blinded the minds of the world." We would say that God did this because of the sins of the world. But if God revoked the Holy Spirit and then hid the Gospel, what possible chance did the world have against sin? So in response God piles on a third layer of guaranteed failure - the blinding of their minds?

That's merciful?

As for this end-time warning, recall that the last generation has no hope of accepting the warning because they don’t have the Holy Spirit. So why warn them? God hid the Gospel purposefully. So why reveal it now? God blinded their minds purposefully. So why call now? He isn't calling the world now. So why call if you're not really calling? We were told time and again that God doesn't want these people in His church right now; He isn't calling them now. So why punish them? And why wait until the last minute? God does almost everything possible to remove our ability to obey, then punishes us for not obeying. Not just punish, cataclismically punish, to the verge of cosmocide! We're talking end of the universe here. But not all people are slated to be punished so hideously. He singles out a late generation to punish them unspeakably for the sins of all people throughout time. Sins which they themselves did not commit.

That's MERCIFUL???


To summarize:
According to the COGs the Word of God puts off being God completely and becomes fully man (this is akin to Kenosis and of it we must ask what happens to the spiritual component of the Word of God when He "puts it off"?), He then dies completely to wipe away our guilt (so the self-existant I AM can cease to be??), and is resurrected again so that He can lead us to the Father.
Does it work? No. By the end of the first century all of Christianity en masse, save a scant few, have supposedly gone right back into rank paganism. (This claim is accompanied by some pretty questionable scholarship, but it is what it is.) So just as He once revoked the Holy Spirit, He now revokes the Gospel and blinds the minds of the world.
Wow! In the Armstrongist narrative, God is really having a hard time. Nothing He has done so far has been very successful.

Hope would be completely lost for us all, they teach, had it not been for the glorified Christ selecting a painfully small group of people to hide out in mountainous and far-away regions through the ages, observing at least one thing from the list of laws and thus keeping the church technically alive. This secret church progresses through several "eras". Most of the COGs teach that the seven letters to the seven churches in Asia, found in Revelation 3 and 4, are actually Jesus prophesying to these church eras. So the church actually ends up failing not just once at the start but over and over and over again.
At last, in the 1930’s, Jesus sends Herbert W Armstrong, a down on his luck advertising man from a Quaker family, to find the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel, preach the Gospel to them, found the Philidelphia Era, and to deliver a warning for the final generation that they should attempt to keep the law before Jesus’ second coming. A warning God apparently doesn't actually want the world to heed and has prevented them from heeding anyway.

To make it just that much more odd, throughout time God had been clandestinely selecting 144,000 people to become His "true church" who will rule with Him over an artificially small population for a final 1,000 year period of post-apocalyptic paradise known as “the Millennium”. God “calls” and “elects” what amounts to 24 people each year over 6,000 years, and gives them His Holy Spirit, un-blinds their minds, and works with them so that they can know they should attempt to keep the law (note, the Gospel is still optional). Why? The unofficial official answer is because He wants to have these people train others during a 1,000 year period of paradise. These "chosen" and "elect" people who form the "true church" will train the rest of the world who were purposefully kept from the "true church".

Now I must ask the obvious questions. If He can make this special exemption for 144,000 people, why not just do this for all people? Why not do this from the start with everyone?
During this Millennium, God does give the Holy Spirit to everyone born, and gives them His Gospel, and is literally present with them, and gives them training, and gives them good examples, and gives them a perfect planet with no competition for resources, and even keeps Satan locked away. Thus proving He could have done this all along ...but refused to. Why?

After the Millennial period is over, all of the people who have lived and died prior to this Millennial period, who were not part of the secret church, will then be resurrected and given a second chance to get it right. But... most of them only sinned in the first place because they were all but caused to sin. So why put them through it twice, some people once, and some people not at all?

The non-official answer to "why" is "because God wanted to teach everyone what life would be like if we disobey Him". Which, on the surface, sounds like a good idea and everything, but on closer inspection we see it has issues. Not the least of which is He proves there was a better way!

So, what the COG view inadvertently demonstrates is that if God had only lived with us and given us His Holy Spirit and sent Satan away from the start, everything would have worked perfectly from the start and into eternity. For 1,000 years, God proves this. Thus conclusively demonstrating that there is a far better way to have gone about things. He just chose not to!

And that's by far more merciful than the mainstream view??


At this point you might say to me, “Hey! Some of those things are what I read in the Bible. Prophecy talks of a 1,000 year reign and Satan being let out at the end. You are arguing against the Bible here. You go too far!”
Bear with me, dear reader, if you think this of me. As I said at the outset, it’s not at all my point to disparage God or the COG groups. In my defense, I am just doing what I said I would do - explaining things that the COG churches teach, only without the sugar coat. You might misunderstand what I'm doing as speaking out against God, but I do no such thing. I am merely explaining the unintended consequences of a particular worldview held by the COGs. I am looking at what I refused to look at critically for most of my life, and what most COG members refuse to look at. I no longer subscribe to this view because I finally worked up the wherewithal to look critically. These same verses which it appears to some that I am speaking against (when I am really not) are a completely different story when seen through a different lens.

If we take for example a Protestant view, we have humanity who is inherently flawed in their relationship with God from birth, their nature is fallen, Adam their first representative has failed, but they can yet throw themselves at the mercy of Jesus Christ, their new representative, who accomplished what neither Adam nor they could.
In the extreme Protestant view, everyone is going to be saved. Everyone! God will work on them with His love and given enough time they will all choose Him. You want mercy, well you cannot beat that mercy right there.
Even in the Roman Catholic view, the only ones who end up in Hell are the ones who choose it. Look at Michaelangelo's famous "Creation of Adam" on the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel, for example. God is stretching out, straining to reach a 'ho hum' Adam. All Adam has to do is extend his arm and he has God in his grasp!

In the mainstream view, God runs across the finish line and pleads with us just to believe He's really done it. Jesus constantly reaches down to us here below to help us up.
But in the COG view, God abandons the angels to their fate, all but walks off with the finish line, and only shows it to a handful of people. God has made the target extremely hard to hit and missing the mark is called "sin". The only ones who succeed are the ones He drags across the finish line.


So, what have we seen today? According to the COGs:
God creates the earth for the angels but this fails when Lucifer unexpectedly sins. God abandons this plan. All angels are disqualified though most of them are perfect to this day. But if the best of them failed then it proves they all will fail, so abandoning them is the safe bet. Instead, God creates mankind, but this fails when they sin too. In response God withholds His Holy Spirit from man, which is a missing component in mankind's very design without which we can neither know nor perform God's will. Failure is guaranteed. God gives a law but this fails because we cannot keep it or know we should keep it without the Holy Spirit. The result is the law removes our ability to at least plead ignorance. God leaves Satan here on earth with the power to broadcast sin into our minds. The eternally self-existant Word somehow ceases to be eternal or self-existent and becomes a man. He dies for mankind to forgive our sins - not not the angels sins - and is resurrected to lead a new church. This fails when His church soon abandons Him en masse. In response, He hides the Gospel for 1,900 years - even from His own church. God keeps a tiny remnant of the church hidden away but technically alive through the ages by making sure they at least attempt to keep part of a list of laws. The church doesn't have to make many disciples because God isn't calling the world at this time anyway. At the last moment, God sends Herbert Armstrong to preach the Gospel and warn the purposefully blinded world with a warning they can't understand to keep a law they can't keep, right before God unspeakably punishes the last generation for the sins of all time. All of this is to teach the world a lesson of what it would be like if they sin. The next 1,000 years are a veritable paradise completely devoid of this lesson. It goes perfectly ... until Satan is released. After that it all goes wrong again. Finally, the incorrigible among men are annihilated, and Satan and the demons are sent to eternal damnation in conscious torment in a condition exactly matching Hell but care is taken to never referred to as Hell. The holy angels spend eternity as servants to the humans, now made into gods, who replaced them, through no fault of their own.
And this is supposedly far more merciful than the mainstream Christian scenario.
I find "God won't send humans to Hell" to be a candy-coated and grossly oversimplified version of the real Armstrongist position. This isn't nearly the whole story! This is in reality comparing a stylized and abbreviated version of what the COGs teach to a charicaturized and abbreviated version of what mainstream Christianity teaches.

No doubt many are going to dismiss what I say because they "do not worship Herbert Armstrong and never did". A valid point. No one should worship any man. But this article isn't about Herbert Armstrong. Neither is this blog. We aren't confronting Herbert Armstrong; we are investigating his doctrines. We talk a lot about him so that you can know where your beliefs come from. That's the real elephant in the room - you may ignore the man, but which of his doctrines do you reject? You can look in the Bible and see the law for yourself? Good! But you cannot attend a Church of God group and get from "I see the law" to "the law applies to me" without Herbert Armstrong. Reject the man all you like but you can't simply erase him from the church he founded. The fact that you feel defensive when you read our articles is PROOF of this. If we were only about the man, and if you rejected him completely as you say you do, then you'd have nothing to be defensive about, and then you could just walk off and attend any of a number of different churches.

Let's just admit straight out that all scenarios are going to run into issues with mercy eventually, because mercy is a highly subjective word. Mercy is always going to be in the eye of the beholder.

In either scenario, COG or mainstream, no one can succeed without God.
But in the COG version it really seems like God is small and contrary, angry and fickle. It doesn't matter what you do, it doesn't matter how badly you want it, it doesn't matter how much faith you have, it doesn't matter how often you call on Him, and it doesn’t matter what charitable works you spend your life doing. Even if your name is Mother Theresa, it doesn't matter. Unless! Unless you sit idle every 7th day - during the proper hours or it doesn't count (which are nigh impossible to determine on a round earth). He died for you, but if you don’t recall that during the proper hours after sunset on Friday, the deal’s off! Yet, at the same time, it didn’t have to be that way!

In either scenario, COG or mainstream, there is a Hell.
It doesn't matter if you call it "Hell" or not, the ideas are nearly identical in all respects. The complaint that COGs don't want to worship a God that sends His creation to punishment for all eternity is moot as even in the COG view God will send His creation to punishment for all eternity. Only, in the COG version it is just demons who will spend eternity in conscious punishment. Any human will get burned up and that's "merciful". Meanwhile the holy angels bear an eternal burden for Lucifer's failure. But there will be a Hell, so to speak.
As far as the claim that the COG view is more merciful in this point, I have to say in all honesty, I do not believe the COG view is more merciful. If anything it seems like the two views are even.

Now it occurs to me, this isn't really about mercy at all. At the heart of this is the debate about immortal soul versus Annihilationism. In the COG view, God sends anything incorrigible to punishment. If that being is immortal then that punishment is eternal torment, and if not then it's eternal death. There is every reason to believe He would have sent humans to eternal torment too, but the COGs teach that humans don't have an immortal soul. The COG teachings do have eternal conscious torment, so eternal conscious torment is not really the problem. The COG teachings do have a hell, so this isn't about Hell, it's about humans in Hell. So it's not really about mercy after all, but about the nature of the soul. The COGs don't want a God who makes man immortal; they want a God who makes mankind disposable.
Mercifully disposable.

At the end of the matter, I'm not convinced this is a winning strategy after all. This doesn't seem as merciful to me as it is opportunistic. I admit someone has to be right, but I don't see how a bluffing contest of "who is more merciful" is going to decide the point.

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