Monday, November 17, 2014

Herbert W Armstrong and Today's Churches of God

I sat on her couch, just like I had a hundred times before. This time, though, I kept my focus on the worn fabric cushions. It was better than making eye contact with her. Over the years, we had laughed and cried together on this couch. We had commiserated about pregnancy pains and nursed babies on that couch. My kids had slept on it, staying in her home during family emergencies.

This time, however, I knew it was the last time I would sit on her sofa. I knew what was coming. I had gone to tell her that we were leaving the Church of God. I told her we could no longer accept their doctrines in good conscience. She dutifully picked up her Bible, turned to Matthew 18, and issued what could only be described as an official biblical rebuke.

I stood to leave before she could herd me to the door. As I grabbed my purse, the words just slipped out. "You know you're following a false prophet, right?"

"Here's the thing I like about my minister," she said. "He teaches directly from the Bible. It doesn't matter what Herbert Armstrong said or did. It's all in the Bible."

If I had a dollar for every time I heard that claim in my lifetime, I wouldn't have to pursue this lucrative blogging career. Seriously, though, I have heard that claim hundreds of times. It's probably the main point that drove this series of posts. (You can find the first post here and second post here.) Which leads me to my final point in this third post.

5. Even if Herbert Armstrong taught things that were wrong, that doesn't affect me. My minister teaches straight from the Bible.

Is that so? I'd like you to to consider the comments of John Kiesz, an elder in the Church of God Seventh Day who was close friends with HWA in the 1930s and 1940s, according to The Journal, which is an independent publication to the COG community. Keisz and Armstrong ran an Oregon Feast of Tabernacles site together for several years after ending up on the same side in a split within the Church of God (Seventh Day). Their friendship continued despite the fact that the Church of God (Seventh Day) revoked Armstrong's ministerial credentials in 1937, and after Kiesz himself resigned from the organization in 1938. Armstrong broke off his friendship with Kiesz in 1945, reportedly after Kiesz held an altar call at a Feast of Tabernacles service.

In this letter to an audience who questioned HWA's legacy, Kiesz disclosed that HWA told him of his plans to start a college not long before he decided to "drop" Kiesz.

"He told me at his Eugene, Oregon office, that he will start a college and train his own men for the ministry, so they will all speak the same thing, and his problems in that area will be over," Kiesz wrote.

His plan seems to have worked. The COG splinters largely retain the doctrines Herbert Armstrong taught at Ambassador College, where they were trained to read the Bible through HWA's doctrinal lens. Some even vie for the title of HWA's true successor. Granted, not all of the men who attended Ambassador College have remained with COG splinters. But the top-level leadership in nearly every organization are all Ambassador graduates. If you're in a COG, the doctrines HWA taught underpin your minister's teachings.  That's great if HWA's Biblical interpretations were revealed directly to him by God, as he claimed. But if they weren't, well, not so much. Let's consider the HWA/Ambassador College connections in the following Worldwide Church of God splinters:

Philadelphia Church of God
It's barely worth the time to trace PCG's connections to HWA, since they run the Herbert W Armstrong College in Edmond, Oklahoma. Still, since we're trying to establish a pattern here: Pastor General Gerald Flurry was graduated from Ambassador College in 1970. I was not able to find any other church officials listed on the group's web site. Fun Fact for the day: Flurry refers to himself as "That Prophet," more specifically, the prophet discussed in John 1:19-25. He also has been known to teach that his book, Malachi's Message, is the "little book" mentioned in Revelation 10.

Living Church of God
LCG's Presiding Evangelist Roderick Meredith received his bachelor's degree in 1952; his master's degree in 1958 and his ThD in 1966, all from Ambassador College (which did not have a doctoral program and shouldn't have been handing doctorate degrees out). He would later serve as an instructor at the college. LCG's other top leadership are all Ambassador graduates - Richard Ames (class of 1965), Douglas Winnail (class of 1970) and Gerald Weston (class of 1971).

Meredith opines about HWA in his "Personal" address section of Tomorrow's World, January/February 2012 edition:
"Tens of thousands of former Worldwide Church of God members remember Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong. They know that he was the leader of the major Church of God movement of his day - and that he was the one used by God to inform the vast majority of new converts about the Sabbath, the Holy Days and all the basic Plan of God. He was used mightily by Jesus Christ - and no one can take that away."
and also
"Dear Brethren and Friends, Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong set all of us a fine example, as many of you older brethren remember. He always tried to move forward, to grow and to improve."
-Roderick C. Meredith: Tomorrow's World, March/April 2012, Personal - Is it wrong to GROW in Knowledge.
Church of the Great God
You may not have heard of this small splinter, headed by John Ritenbaugh. Despite their size, I have to give them an honorable mention since Ritenbaugh still maintains that Herbert Armstrong was an apostle. He believes HWA showed the signs of apostleship through the fruit of his ministry, preaching the gospel, casting out demons, raising up congregations, clarifying doctrine, healing the sick and converting individuals.

"As our 'father in the faith,' directly or indirectly, he (HWA) played a part in each of our conversions," Ritenbaugh wrote.

Ritenbaugh was ordained as a local church elder in 1966 and attended Ambassador College on a special one-year program for local church elders.

Church of God, a Worldwide Association
In COGWA: President Jim Franks was graduated from Ambassador College in 1972. Doug Horchak, operations manager for Ministerial Services was graduated from Ambassador College in 1974. Media Operations Manager Clyde Kilough was his classmate, he also was graduated in 1974. Britton Taylor, COGWA's Treasurer and Financial Operations Manager also was graduated in 1972 with Jim Franks.

Herbert Armstrong is still praised on COGWA's (rather sparse) web site. In a sidebar to an article titled "Change Your Life This Year," writer Mike Bennett describes HWA as "one of the most successful writers and religious figures of the 20th century."

United Church of God
UCG has an admirable goal of circumventing abuse of power by spreading it among a 12-member Council of Elders. The Council deck, however, it stacked full of Ambassador graduates.

Council members Robin Webber, Roc Corbett and Donald Ward all were graduated in 1973. Ward went on to teach at the college. Council member Scott Ashley and Rex Sexton both were in the class of 1976, and their colleague Mark Mickelson was graduated a few years later in 1978. Council member Carmelo Anastasi was graduated in 1990; and Mario Siegle attended the college but his year of graduation is not listed.

Across the pond, Council member Bill Bradford was graduated from Ambassador College's Bricket Wood campus in 1965, and Rainer Solmaa was graduated from Bricket Wood campus four years later. UCG's web site reports Council member of John Elliot attended Bricket Wood, but his year of graduation is not listed.

Finally, Council member Aaron Dean was graduated from Imperial Schools in 1970, from Ambassador College in 1974, and then became Herbert Armstrong's long-time personal assistant. Few were closer to HWA than was Aaron Dean. Dean was considered to be in the running to take over leadership of the WCG upon HWA's death. Dean refers to Armstrong as a "wise old sage" and remembers January 16 as the "death of my closest friend."
"He was part of my life for as long as I can remember. I thank God he was willing to listen as God gave him biblical understanding and motivated many of us to also pass to others the truth of God's Word,"
-Aaron Dean, "The Search for Wisdom," United News,February 2013.
Dean also writes that the most important lesson he learned from HWA was to "Follow the Leader."

"I followed Mr. Armstrong and made allowances for his physical shortcomings, because God did put him there. There are times when men fall short and we follow anyway when it is not a salvation issue."
-Aaron Dean, "Follow the Leader," United News, January 1999.
UCG has gone to great lengths to distance itself from Herbert W Armstrong, although, to my last knowledge, a framed portrait of HWA adorns the halls of its Home Office. Dean's "Follow the Leader" article reminds UCG members that Christ is the head of the Church, and the Father His head. These reminders are a great start. However, their impact is diminished by other lengthy articles asserting that the organization didn't follow a false prophet. (Cecil Maranville, Treasure Digest, Be Ready to Give an Answer: Didn't You Follow a False Prophet?)
"No, we do not agree that the late Herbert W. Armstrong was a false prophet. He did not claim to be a prophet, nor did the church regard him as one. We believe he was striving to be a faithful minister."
"If you read his writings or heard his messages, you would encounter admonitions he often repeated with great emphasis: 'Blow the dust off your Bible! Do not believe me! Believe the Bible! So we respectfully disagree with the idea that he interpreted the Bible for the Church. It is the responsibility of each person person to study and prove his or her own biblical beliefs."
For my discussion on these points, see my first post on this matter, specifically point one, which demonstrates why HWA was a false prophet.

And please note that nowhere in Deuteronomy 18 does it say a single word about a a thing failing to come to pass by a person who says the phrase "I am a prophet". It only mentions a thing failing to come to pass which was spoken in God's name. The act of speaking about the future in the name of God is the thing being tested, the thing that makes them a prophet. Whether or not that thing comes to pass is the actual test itself, the thing that proves them true or false. Did HWA speak about the future in the name of God?

Point two of the same post addresses the fact that Herbert W Armstrong did claim to interpret the Bible for the church.

Did HWA claim that the things he taught - both the doctrines and the understanding of what the prophets had written - were revealed to him by God?

While UCG does not, "venerate him as a recipient of 'holy writings' in the way that many religious look to men... you will immediately recognize the same biblical message Mr. Armstrong taught when you read our magazine, newsletter, booklets and brochures. However, we should note that Mr. Armstrong saw the need to constantly grow in knowledge. Similarly, you may find minor changes in our teachings reflecting better research tools that bring out previously unseen nuances in biblical teaching. But the foundation is the same as it was in the Church of God decades ago."

The UCG article also glosses over HWA's practice of date-setting in God's name; instead painting it as a "passionate belief that Christ would return in his lifetime." They go on to equate this belief with the first-century apostles and church elders who expected Christ would soon establish His Kingdom on earth. Even Jesus spoke in terms of an imminent return in Matthew 24, they say. Note that no one in the New Testament ever said, "By the authority of God Almighty ... I say I/Jesus will return within 20 years" or anything close to that. But Armstrong did. Regularly.

In what must be UCG's attempt to head off the "false prophet" label of Deuteronomy 18:20, UCG notes that the prophet discussed in Deuteronomy 18:18 is Jesus.

"Certainly, He was not a 'false prophet,' in spite of the fact that countless disciples took His teachings to mean that He was returning their lifetime."

Right. But the passage they quote juxtaposes the true prophet of Deuteronomy 18:18-19 with the false prophet of Deuteronomy 18:20-22, a description which HWA undoubtedly meets. Context is key, and is something the COGs consistently ignore. In this article, UCG seems to deliberately distract the reader from Deuteronomy 18:20-22 and instead guide you to Deuteronomy 13:1-5, which describes a totally different scenario, one into which HWA does not fit. Don't let their smoke and mirrors fool you. Read both passages.

UCG writer Michael Snyder had this to say in his 2013 book review of "The Fragmentation of a Sect: Schism in the Worldwide Church of God.
"Instead of claiming theological authority from HWA, the United Church of God focuses on confirming that it is a continuation of what the Septuagint renders in Greek Ekklesia tou Theou , literally the spiritual Church of God that transcends any human corporate form of organization. In the United Church of God, Herbert Armstrong is remembered as a man highly respected and regarded as one whom God used in a powerful way, but his legacy of writings, sermons and broadcasts  (particularly as they changed and shifted over his 53-year ministry) are not viewed as divine scripture nor infallible (page 127). Like other human servants of God, Herbert Armstrong was a man, and therefore subject to everything that being a human means."
As you can see, the modern COGs try to have it both ways with Herbert W Armstrong. They distance themselves from his prophecies and claims to be an apostle, calling him a fallible human being. But they cling to the doctrines and their own ordinations to office.

The Bible shows that all humans save one are fallible. The question is, is God fallible? Because HWA claimed to receive an ordination, new truth, divine revelation, and prophetic understanding from Jesus Christ. Nearly all of these truths, revelations, and prophetic understandings are still held and taught in the COGs today.

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

With their mouths they say he wasn't an apostle, but with their actions they say he was. To disregard HWA's claims yet uphold his doctrines as divinely inspired is disingenuous. He did make the claims which they now say are untrue. In effect what they are doing is saying he was not a false prophet ...but he certainly was a liar. Is that a wise trade? Perhaps they would argue that what he claimed was not true, but it wasn't a lie, exactly, it was just tragically misguided. Is it best to promote the idea that God powerfully used a tragically misguided man to found the current era of the true church?

Even so, if HWA didn't have the authority he claimed to have, then he had no authority to ordain his students into office. He cannot pass down authority which he never had in the first place. Herbert Armstrong was ordained to the ministry in the Church of God (Seventh Day) in 1931. He would receive his ministerial license certificate from the same group - which he later described as the dead "Sardis Era" of the true church. The COG7 later split, and Armstrong was then credentialed by the half of the COG7 that was headquartered in Salem, West Virginia. This Salem branch of the Church of God - HWA's only tie to the "true church" - revoked his credentials in the fall of 1937, and later disfellowshipped him. The Salem organization's official record states they revoked his credentials because he taught and kept the annual festivals. Kiesz indicates the real reason behind this decision was HWA's uncooperative attitude.

This brings up a critical issue!

If HWA was not an apostle then he had no authority to ordain anyone, because the group from which he derived his authority revoked it. Since his only connection to the "true church" revoked his authority, if he wasn't an apostle in his own right then it stands to reason the COG ministers he later ordained were never actually ordained. Their ordinations are invalid. Your minister is not really a minister at all.

You would think folks as concerned with hierarchy and authority as most COGs are today would realize this. Is the true church led by ministers with no office? Which is it, current COG leaders? Was HWA an Apostle; did he somehow retain his authority after a "true church" revoked his credentials, or is your ministry invalid? Your choice.

I already know how this one ends. Today's COG leaders attempt to side-step HWA's invalid ordination by claiming a larger ordination as modern descendants of the one true church through time. But what does that do to the authority of the "true church"?
But doesn't that mean that if the true church revokes your authority, then your authority is not actually revoked after all, because you are part of a larger true church through time? "Revoke, revoke, as much as you can! You can't stop me, I'm part of a larger church through time." Doesn't that also mean that anyone can ordain, even if they lack the authority, because ordinations are apparently part of a larger true church through time? "Anything goes!" Has the church any authority at all, then? So now what?

But what larger true church through time are we talking about? When we check the historical accounts put out by the COGs we find over and over that they are rife with inaccuracies. Most of the past groups the COGs claim as their ancestors were actually Gnostic, or Catholic. There is no "larger COG church through time".  It doesn't exist. There are three churches who can easily trace their history from the first century - the Copts, the Orthodox, and the Catholics - but those aren't COG groups.

HWA is the only direct link to the past anyhow. Remove him and you've cut yourself off from the past completely. Herbert Armstrong is the singular link between the COG's "Philadelphia Era" (the WCG) and the "Sardis Era" (the COG7). So once again we are left asking, now what?

It's unlikely HWA even met the biblical standards to be ordained an elder, let alone an apostle. He fails on at least nine of the eleven qualifying points given in I Timothy 3: 2-11.
Need we remind you that he was disfellowshipped?? He didn't leave in a moment of extreme temptation and repent later, as Peter did. He was kicked out. Banished. How many people did he remove from the church in his day? More than just one or two. He disfellowshipped his own son. All of those people were told they were no longer part of the church and they could expect the Third Resurrection (which for those unfamiliar with Third Resurrection, it means, basically, a one-way trip to death.) But if he himself can be disfellowshipped and then found the one true Philadelphian Era, why should anyone else's disfellowship be any more valid than his? You go to Gehenna but he becomes the "founder, Pastor General, and spiritual and temporal leader of the Church of God on earth." Today, most people do the same. They just attend a different COG and act like nothing happened. After all, that's what Garner Ted Armstrong did, and plenty others besides. Why shouldn't you? But we ask, where is the authority of the church???

So tell me, LCG, was Herbert W Armstrong a fine example to the brethren, and someone Jesus Christ used mightily? Tell me, COGWA, how HWA measured up to other religious writers and figures of his time, like C.S. Lewis? Tell me, UCG, did God talk to Herbert Armstrong or didn't He? Deuteronomy 18:20-22 tell us what we should do with a false prophet. And it doesn't tell us to parse his life, writings and teachings to find the good points.

CONCLUSION

You see, Herbert Armstrong is at the root of everything taught in the COGs today. Even when they teach how irrelevant he is, they're still dealing with him being at the root of their church, their ministries, their doctrines, and their prophetic interpretations.

Friends, I know these are hard things to hear; hard issues to weigh. In many ways, I'm glad that I only learned about them after making my decision based on doctrine. And in the end, you must make your choices the same way, based on doctrine. Truth is truth, no matter who speaks it. But when you consider your doctrines, it's important to have the full picture of where they came from, who delivered them and what he claimed about himself. I submit to you that you have not been given a true picture, and in some cases, that picture has been hidden from you.

If in the end you decide these doctrines from Ellen G. White, G. G. Rupert, Gilbert Cranmer, and later from Herbert W Armstrong, are what the Bible teaches, that's up to you. If you understand that your salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus, and that your works are not a factor in your justification, then I am happy to peacefully agree to disagree on the rest. If you believe that following the teachings of White, Rupert, Cranmer and Armstrong honors and pleases God, that's between you and Him. Do the best you can with what you have. We should always aim to honor our Creator and Savior to the best of our knowledge and understanding. And we can be confident that He will "carry out the words of His servants, and fulfill the predictions of His messengers." (Isaiah 44:26, NIV).

"It's time we face the hard, cold, realistic fact: humanity has two alternatives: either there is an Almighty, all-powerful God who is about to step in and set up the kingdom of God to rule all nations... or else there will not be a human being alive on this earth twenty years from now!... It's about time you come to know who are the false prophets, and who is speaking the true Word of God faithfully."
-Herbert W. Armstrong, 1962, Just What Do You Mean... Kingdom of God, p. 19.

You can find part 1 of this series here. You can find part 2 of this series here.


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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
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Monday, November 10, 2014

Herbert W Armstrong's Doctrines and Fruit

Hi! I'm glad to see you're here for part two. (You can find part one of this series here.) I was a little afraid you wouldn't come back. At least not for a while anyway, what with all the false prophet business and questioning HWA's apostleship in my last post.

Guys, I know this is controversial stuff. I've approached this series with even more prayer and input than usual. At this point in the Church of God timeline, it's hard to find the right balance when discussing Herbert Armstrong. There's some people who hear about him nearly every week at church, and who believe he was an apostle God used to restore true doctrine. Others rarely hear his name, or came into the COGs decades after his death. To them, it's hard to understand why anyone would get worked up over HWA.

To be fair, those folks have a point. The modern COGs have largely left behind HWA's bombastic prophecies and date-setting, although speculative prophecy is still their calling card. The leaders of most COG groups have ditched HWA's trademark opulence. They've had no other choice, since each successive split chops their tithe base. They've largely excised Herbert Armstrong from the religious movement he started, holding to a handful of his doctrines and theories.  Then, when people criticize HWA, they feel justified in stating that HWA is tangential, even irrelevant, to their religious practices. I would know. I did it, too. For years.

It's not that simple, guys. It's not that simple both because of who and what HWA claimed to be, and because his teachings are still being perpetuated today.

HWA claimed to be an apostle divinely inspired by Jesus Christ, and said we would know his message came from God because his predictions would come to pass. Which they didn't. Since God didn't appear to back him up on his predictions, we have to question whether he really was an apostle, and thus ask if the rest of the message really came from God.

If the test he gave for his genuine apostleship failed, then the entire message must be re-evaluated. Problem is, it's not. It's being perpetuated. Even the failed prophecies! The COG groups who admit that he was wrong and rush to distance themselves from him still rely on the framework by which Herbert Armstrong misinterpreted prophecy. Is it any wonder why their predictions fail, too? They try to extract the man yet retain what he taught. Beloved of God, this is not good. We have a duty to reevaluate the entire system.

Today, I'd like to look at two more common arguments those in the COGs make when trying to explain why the man who pieced together their doctrinal foundation is not relevant to their beliefs. I know these things aren't fun. I know they aren't inspiring. They aren't particularly enjoyable for me to write, either. But they are things that you in the COGs, especially the young adults, need to hear and consider today. 

3. Herbert Armstrong must have been inspired by God to restore these truths, because no one else taught them.

It's true that Armstrong taught a very eclectic mix of beliefs. Many of them, however, can be traced back to others that were part of his religious background.

The COGs descend from the Millerite movement of the mid-1800s American midwest. Joseph Bates, one of the co-founders of the Seventh Day Adventist denomination, introduced the Millerites to observance of the Saturday Sabbath. He received this doctrine from the Seventh-Day Baptists. Armstrong references William Miller, a baptist preacher, as responsible for a resurgence in Sabbath-keeping in the American midwest (Mystery of the Ages, p. 288). But William Miller never kept the seventh day Sabbath. That was introduced by his followers, led by Ellen G. White. Most of the teachings that HWA espoused seem to have originated with people and organizations who emerged from the Millerite Movement.

William Miller is best known for his prediction that Jesus Christ would return on October 23, 1844, which resulted in what is known as the Great Disappointment. After the Great Disappointment many of Miller's followers refused to accept the obvious truth that his predictions had failed. They changed the narrative then forged ahead. The Millerite movement, now thoroughly Sabbatarian, took on the name Seventh Day Adventist in 1860.

At that very same meeting, an Elder in the Millerite movement by the name of Gilbert Cranmer officially broke away from the SDA church in protest over Ellen G. White and her visions. Cranmer gathered together a loosely knit group under the working name "General Conferences of the Church of God". Cranmer taught that the whole Law of Moses was never abolished and should still be observed. The group added the term "(Seventh Day)" to the name in 1923.

Herbert W. Armstrong was ordained by the Church of God (Seventh Day) in 1931. He later exited the COG-7 during a period of governmental splits in the organization to start his own congregation in Eugene, Oregon. (The Kingdom of the Cults, Walter Martin, p. 510-511).

It can be demonstrated that much of what Herbert Armstrong taught regarding prophecy came from William Miller. Just take a look at this prophetic chart from William Miller in 1843 and see if you recognize this from Armstrong's works and even modern publications in the COGs. It should appear quite familiar to you. So here we have Herbert Armstrong whose prophetic claims failed in no small part because he perpetuated the earlier failures of William Miller. Armstrong extracted the man William Miller yet kept his failed teachings. And the COGs are falling into exactly the same pit right now!

But William Miller isn't the only source from whom Armstrong borrowed.

G. G. Rupert was born a Methodist but later joined the Seventh Day Adventist movement. He went on to found the Independent Church of God. He believed Christians were required to keep the laws of the Old Testament, including Holy Days and dietary laws; taught church eras; and taught that Sabbath-keeping groups were the only true Christian churches. In 1917, Rupert started a periodical he called the "Remnant of Israel" which espoused a form of British Israelism, claiming the United States was descended from the tribe of Ephraim.

Many sources claim that Ambassador College employees found boxes of the "Remnant of Israel" publication in HWA's basement. If this is true, it would seem to support claims that Armstrong borrowed heavily from Rupert's writings. Similarities between HWA's writings and Rupert's writings, including topics, conclusions, and general writing style, lends considerable weight on its own. As we can see, Herbert Armstrong was demonstrably not the only one teaching what he did.

Some have set out to demonstrate that Armstrong plagiarized portions of many others' publications and passed them off as his own research. (See our article "This Has All Happened Before" for more details.) The most notable case is HWA's United States and the British Commonwealth in Prophecy, which was published in 1954, and appears to have largely plagiarized Judah's Sceptre and Joseph's Birthright, written by John Allen Harden in 1902. Joseph Tkach, Jr., a leader of the post-1995 Worldwide Church of God, had this to say about the booklet:
"In fact, it is no secret that Herbert Armstrong's "The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy" was copied from a book titled Judah's Scepter and Joseph's Birthright by J. H. Allen. It is possible to run down almost the entire list of "new truths" supposedly revealed to Mr. Armstrong and point out where he got them and what preceded them." (Joseph Tkach, Jr., Transformed by Truth, Chapter 7).
WCG withdrew the United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy from circulation in 1990. Say what you want about the Tkaches, but you must recognize that they took a stand for what they believed, even though they knew withdrawing the booklet would be wildly unpopular among the WCG membership. They realized that one cannot simply remove the man yet retain the failed material. You can compare excerpts from both books here.

(For more on how many of the doctrines "revealed" to HWA were borrowed from the COG7, we recommend you read our articles "50 Truths part 1" and "50 Truths part 2".)

So is it a crime to write about the ideas and theories of others? Of course not. I'm clearly using research from other people in this post. Although I am citing it and giving others credit for their work. The problem comes when one passes off someone else's ideas and writings as his or her own. It's even more problematic when they claim the ideas came from God.

Herbert Armstrong never cited Rupert, Allen, Dugger, Dodd, White, Smith, the Watchtower Society or any of the other writers from whom he "borrowed" in his own writings. Remember, in his November 29, 1954 co-worker letter, he certified that his teachings came not from from man, but was revealed by Jesus Christ.
"No, I know of no one else who was thrust into the Ministry of Jesus Christ, untaught by man by the living Christ through His written word, in the manner in which I was." -Herbert W. Armstrong, Autobiography, p. 318-319.
When he said that he was "untaught by man" what he really meant was he was never formally trained as a preacher. He admitted that God spoke to him through the writings of other men.
Herbert Armstrong was not by any means the only one teaching what he did. Not by a long shot. If you really want to see something, we recommend you read the book Churches That Abuse by Ron Enroth. There are a great many groups out there with absolutely no connection to the COGs who teach strikingly similar things and make eerily similar claims to that of Herbert Armstrong, and this book documents several.

There is nothing inherently wrong with HWA learning doctrinal truth from other people. It's the model God created for His church. But there is a problem with him passing off the teachings of others as his own, claiming they came directly from God. Which leads to my next point.

4. Herbert Armstrong wasn't perfect. No one is. By your rationale, you would have rejected David - a man after God's own heart - as king of Israel because of his sins with Bathsheba.

And by this same rationale, would this same defense apply to Nimrod, or the Pope, or Ellen G White?

I don't think that Herbert W. Armstrong had to be perfect to start a church. There's only been one perfect man, and HWA wasn't Him. HWA wasn't perfect, and neither am I, neither is my pastor, neither is my Bible study leader... the list goes on. And includes everyone. All of us have sinned and fallen short of God's perfection. So I'm not going to ramble on about the Czar's golden flatware or Steuben crystal or $2,500 bottles of Remy Martin Lousi XIII cognac in the special baccarat decanter. I won't focus on the makeup flip-flop, the Pentecost controversy, or on the families destroyed by WCG's policy on divorce and remarriage in the years before HWA's own divorce.

I originally planned not to mention the most troubling accusation against HWA. But then I noticed that, in one of the Living Church of God articles I quote later, Rod Meredith states that those who accuse HWA of "major sins" often have no proof whatsoever. (Note that he said "often" and not "never.") I simply cannot let that statement go unchallenged. So I'll just include this link for those who are inclined to read about it. It's important to note that HWA never filed a libel suit against David Robinson for the claims he made in his book; he simply tried to prevent the book from being published, as the link's author also points out. The allegations were reported as fact during HWA's divorce proceedings with Ramona Martin. Even UCG's own Gary Antion is reported to have said he knew the claims were true since the 1970s. And with that, I will move on.

Matthew 7:15-17 tells us we will know a false prophet by his fruit. What was HWA's fruit like? What was he known for, the fruit of the spirit - love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self control? As Christians, we are supposed to grow in the fruit of the spirit over the course of our lives. What does the fruit of his church look like? Gentleness, love, forbearance, kindness? Good, healthy trees don't grow bad fruit, Matthew 7:17 tells us. Did HWA gently tend the sheep in his care? Did he gather the lambs in his arms, as Jesus instructed the apostle Peter to do? Or was he a different kind of shepherd?

There are many examples of difficult words HWA wrote to the WCG membership. Perhaps the most troubling letter was written on March 2, 1967, addressed to the "Brethren and Co-Heirs of God." At this time, his wife, Loma, was critically ill with a bowel obstruction. Armstrong wrote that the Holy Spirit produced her tragic illness to awaken Church leadership and membership to the fact that they had become spiritually sluggish. It's a long letter, so please allow me to quote from the most relevant sections. The only changes I have made to these sections are to refrain from HWA's practice of capitalizing letters for added emphasis, only because it slows down my typing too much.
"Brethren, I have suffered as perhaps never before, with my wife lying there - with a bowel blockage that held locked inside of her putrid human waste - knowing that unless God grants her continued life by a miracle of healing, I would have to go it alone, without her. And Jesus has looked down upon His beloved wife, whom He loves, as I so deeply love my wife. And as I have seen my wife about to die unless purged of this physical poison, so Jesus sees His wife - our church - about to die for eternity, unless we are purged of our spiritual poison."
"It may be that God is still waiting for this spiritual awakening to spread through the whole church - on down to the last member - even you! before my dear wife can be delivered, and completely healed and restored to active, vigorous health."
"Many professing to be church members say, when a co-worker letter arrives, in a grumbling, complaining disgust, 'Oh, that's just another of Mr. Armstrong's requests for money,' and many don't even read the letter."
"Are you one of those? If so, let me burn your ears before the almighty God burns you in the Lake of Fire! If that has been your attitude - if you are only on the getting side, and shun helping, and giving to the cause of God, then I say to you on authority of Jesus Christ, if you don't repent and quickly, and change that hostile, despicable, detestable attitude, you do not belong in God's Church! You are some of the rotten, putrid, spiritual waste that has been plugged up inside the spiritual body of Christ's wife, just as the physical waste is plugged up in my dear wife's body! And the living Jesus is just as able to expel you from the spiritual body of his wife as He is to expel this physical waste from my wife's body."
So how has the Church been "falling down on the job," as HWA asserts? Well, the church was in the middle of a building campaign to expand Ambassador College and church mail processing facilities. Without more space for students or room to process mail, the work could not grow. Special offerings for the building fund - those over and above tithes and regular offerings - had dwindled to about half the amount from the previous year, even though membership was up by 30 percent.
"Think of it! How ashamed God must be with this, His Church!"
I have no words to follow up on the content of this letter, other than to urge you to heed the words of Hebrews 13:7. Remember what those who rule over you have taught you, whose faith you follow. Consider the outcome of their conversations and conduct. You can read the full text of the letter here if you wish.

So why am I writing all this? I must really despise Herbert W. Armstrong and harbor bitterness toward everyone the COG ministry. Not really. I was indifferent about the man for years. It's hard to work up a deep loathing in a matter of months. Even now, as I read his letter calling people I've known and loved "rotten, putrid spiritual waste," all I can really do is shake my head. And the ministers? Some of these guys were a big part of my childhood and teenage years. It sometimes pains me to quote men who, years ago, taught this shy young girl to play YOU basketball or shoot a rifle at youth camp.

Maybe it's because I think everyone in the COGs is a dummy? No, that's not it either. Remember, I was there for years. It took me almost two years to untangle the convoluted doctrinal web to the point I felt marginally comfortable leaving. In some cases, I'm still working on it. And I still have family there. A few of you folks even still consider me to be a friend.

I know. I must be really bored, so I sit around picking on HWA and the COGs all day. I need to get a life. I probably should just turn off my computer and watch "Dancing with the Stars" like everyone else. I've "thrown the baby out with the bathwater" and now I obviously don't have anything else going on. No, I assure you, that's not it either.

So why do I do it? Believe it or not, it's because I care about you. First of all, God loves you and calls after you. That is my primary motivation. Second, Galatians 4 and 5 have some strong words for those who believe observance of Sinai Covenant laws factor into their salvation. I'm concerned for your eternal spiritual welfare. 

I could just hang it up and use my computer to play Candy Crush Saga while the COGs come to nothing, like Gamaliel described in Acts 5:38. Surely, deep down, you know that's where the COGs are headed. But that doesn't mean I want you to suffer through the fallout. I've been through splits, and I've cried through the isolation. It's not going to get any better as time marches on, and deep-down you know. You hope it won't, but you know it will. My heart aches when I think of the future the youngest in my family have ahead of them. Herbert W Armstrong is primarily responsible for the doctrines and the interpretations and the points of view and the attitudes that have caused splinter after splinter. If holding to those is what God expects of you, what He requires for salvation, then it's worth it. Anything is. But what if it isn't? What if the teachings of HWA handed down through his disciples are not what God requires of you at all? What if the problems you see all around you, the splits, the egos at the top, the failed prophecies, the difficult scriptures, the anomalies with history and science, and all the rest, aren't because of a cosmic conspiracy against you but rather because the system itself is fundamentally flawed and it's just behaving as all fundamentally flawed systems do? Jesus came for you to have an abundant life, not the one that lies ahead of you in the COGs. 

Finally, I want you to experience the full blessings of the New Covenant. The blessing of salvation by grace, through faith in the shed blood of Jesus. The blessing of peace that surpasses all understanding. The blessing of truly understanding grace, and the restoration it allows in your relationships with others. None of these are possible while you are actively steeped in HWA's doctrines and his misconceptions about the historic Christian faith. In my next post, I will explore one of the biggest myths in the COG young adult mind - the belief that Herbert W Armstrong and his mistakes don't influence their churches today.

You can find part 1 of this series here. You can find part 3 of this series here.

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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
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Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Herbert W Armstrong: Why He Still Matters

"I want to tell you that all this weather disturbance means a terrible famine is coming on the United States that is going to ruin us as a nation inside of less than 20 more years. All right, I stuck my neck out, right there. You just wait 20 years and see whether I told you the truth. God says, 'if a man tells you what's going to happen, wait and see. If it doesn't happen, he was not speaking the word of God, he was speaking out of his own mind.' You watch and see whether these things happen. You see who's speaking to you, my friends."
-Herbert W Armstrong, World Tomorrow broadcast, mid-1950s.
If you recently attended the Feast of Tabernacles with a Church of God splinter group, you probably heard at least one reference to Worldwide Church of God founder Herbert W Armstrong during the festival. Some of you at the more senior end of the spectrum may have gotten a little misty-eyed. Others of you - mostly in the under 40 crowd - probably tried hard not to roll your eyes.

I can totally relate. I was in your place, barely suppressing that eye roll as recently as five years ago. Herbert Armstrong died when I was young. I had no emotional attachment to him. He was little more than a footnote in my COG experience. The splinters I attended distanced themselves from him. So on the rare occasion that a speaker waxed nostalgic about him, the voice in my head was yelling "Move on! He died more than 25 years ago!" I thought he was irrelevant.

I was wrong. Totally wrong. Herbert Armstrong is extremely relevant. Few things could be more relevant.

Let me state up front that this post isn't a rant about how much I dislike HWA. For most of my life, I regarded him with apathy, when I regarded him at all. It was only when I started searching for answers about the state of the WCG splinter groups that I understood just how relevant he was to everything I had been taught.

Many COG groups distance themselves from HWA, especially his claims to be an apostle who received revelation directly from Jesus Christ. So it strikes me as intellectually dishonest for them to uphold his teachings as divinely inspired. In this post and others, I'll address arguments along these lines that I myself made as a COG member or have heard others make.

1. Scriptures condemning false prophets don't apply to Herbert Armstrong. He never claimed to be a prophet.

So, he's not a prophet? Then what is he, a fortune-teller? Is that really any better?

It's true that HWA technically called himself an apostle, and never used the phrase "I am a prophet." But! He was indeed seen as a prophet, regardless of what some today might lead us to believe. Gerald Waterhouse, the most vocal evangelist in the WCG, went on speaking tours throughout the church and often waxed on for hours at a time extolling Armstrong's prophetic greatness. Waterhouse would often make ludicrous claims such as, "If Christ doesn't return in Mr. Armstrong's lifetime, the Bible is false!" Bold words! But not so bold after all, since this is essentially the same claim that the UCG makes when they attempt to demonstrate how wrong the Apostles were on the timing of the return of Jesus. They defend Armstrong's foibles by pointing out that the Bible is wrong. Wise? Probably not. We ask, were the Apostles wrong, or is there just something fundamentally incorrect on the UCG's understanding of what the Apostles were saying? Best bet is the latter. Where did the UCG get their understanding of what the Apostles were saying in the first place? From the very man they admit was totally wrong. Whereas Waterhouse said, "If Armstrong was wrong then the Bible was wrong," the UCG says, "Armstrong was wrong, but the Bible is wrong too." We find it the apex of irresponsibility to stand on this defense. Is this truly the hill they are willing to die on?

And then there were statements in church publications like this:
"WHERE ARE God’s true prophets today! In this age of world chaos and sudden death, you had better rid your mind of preconceived ideas and prejudice and honestly seek to find out! Listen! This work has been warning America of definite and tremendous events to come for many years! ... They use the words “may," “could,” or “might.” They are afraid to be definite and specific! The truth of the matter is that they DARE NOT be specific about the future because they just DO NOT KNOW what the Bible says is going to happen! But on “The World Tomorrow” broadcast and in this magazine we have dared to unlock the Bible prophecies and apply them to specific nations and events that are NOW being affected. Do you grasp the SIGNIFICANCE of this?"
-Plain Truth Aug. 1957, p.3 (bold mine)
Oh, we grasp the significance alright. The church did see itself as having "true prophets" who made prophetic statements under divine influence. (For more, see our article, "An Inconvenient Plain Truth".) But it wasn't just future prophecies, no. Armstrong also claimed to have divinely-revealed understanding of the interpretation of ancient Biblical prophecies. He spoke as if the Bible itself was written for him personally, and you could tag along.
"And, knowing that such an unbelievable catastrophe is soon to strike, I HAVE TO WARN YOU!! You can read what God says to me in Ezekiel 33: 1-6."
-Herbert Armstrong, 1975 In Prophecy, p. 20 (bold mine)
What God said to him through Ezekiel?? So, God supposedly wrote the Bible to Herbert Armstrong, but he's not really relevant to anything? We respectfully disagree.
Armstrong understood himself as the end-time fulfillment of several Biblical types.
"Although God has personally given Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong no commission, he nevertheless feels that virtually every commission God has ever given is his. Mr. Herbert W Armstrong either thinks he is, or is to do the job given to: Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the 'watchman,' the 'inkhorn,' the one who 'cries aloud and spares not,' Elijah to come, a type of John the Baptist, either Joshua or Zerubbabel, one of the two witnesses, an apostle, a 'messenger' one who 'prepares the way,' Hosea, Malachi, Moses (anyone who disdains Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong’s authority or position is immediately compared to Korah), Daniel, Joel, Amos, etc., etc., etc. And, of course, he primarily feels he is to fulfill Matt. 24:14 -- see Rev. 14:6 for the most likely individual to take care of that job."
-Taken from Robert Garringer's 1975 letter to Charles Hunting, as posted on the Exit and Support Network website.
Most popular of all was how Armstrong called himself the end-time Elijah. Click here for a YouTube video entitled "The End Time Elijah - Herbert W Armstrong" for one example. Or, here again:
"It is revealed in Malachi 3:l-5 and 4:5-6 that God would raise up one in the power and spirit of Elijah, shortly prior to the Second Coming of Christ. In Matthew 17:11 Jesus said, even after John the Baptist had completed his mission, that this prophesied Elijah “truly shall first come, and restore all thigs.” Although it is plainly revealed that John the Baptist had come in the power and spirit of Elijah, he did not restore anything. The human leader to be raised up somewhat shortly prior to Christ’s Second Coming was to prepare the way-prepare the Church-for Christ’s coming, and restore the truth that had been lost through the preceding eras of the Church."
-Herbert W Armstrong, Mystery of the Ages, 1985 edition, pp. 290-291
This doesn't just apply to Armstrong as some nickname, it claims he had the power and spirit of Elijah. The last time I checked, Elijah was a prophet, and one of the greatest of them. When Elisha received the spirit and power of Elijah, he also became a prophet. When John the Baptist came in the power and spirit of Elijah, he too was a prophet. And this is precisely what everyone in the WCG understood Armstrong's claims to mean! When the imprisoned "Spokesman of the Two Witnesses," Ron Weinland, set out to eclipse his former master, Weinland opted to claim to be an even greater Elijah than Armstrong was. (For a great deal more on this, see our articles "Elijah - Ron Weinland or Herbert W, Which?", "Herbert W Armstrong: End-Time Elijah?", and "The Plain Truth About the End-Time Elijah".)

Only Elijah and John the Baptist never went around wildly speculating on time-specific events. (Nor either did the Apostles, but we digress.) Everything happened precisely as they said it would. But we are supposed to overlook all of this.

Several sections in the Bible were written to HWA, he is the fulfillment of multiple Biblical types, he is the end-time Elijah, he was the first person in 1,900 years to preach the Gospel, he is the "founder and spiritual and temporal leader of the Church of God on earth," God spoke to him and through him ...but Armstrong never uttered the magic phrase, "I am a prophet", you see, so he's irrelevant and it's all just harmless exuberance.

Armstrong doesn't help his case by concluding statements with phrases like, "thus saith the Lord," as in this prophecy about Mussolini triggering the battle of Armageddon:
"But then what will Mussolini and these ten dictators do? Notice the prophecy - absolutely sure to happen - in Revelation 17:16-17... Thus shall the Catholic Church come to her final end. Thus saith the Lord."
-Herbert W. Armstrong, The Plain Truth, March 1938, p. 8.
While we're on the topic of HWA's failed World War II prophecies, let's consider the time that he said the war that would usher in the Great Tribulation could start within two months' time... in 1939.
"Once world war is resumed, it must continue on through the great Tribulation, the heavenly signs, the plagues of the Day of the Lord and to the Second Coming of Christ, at the last battle, at Armageddon! This you may know! This war will be ended by Christ's Return! And war may be started within six weeks! We are just that near Christ's coming! That should make every reader stop to think."
-Herbert W. Armstrong, The Plain Truth, August 1939, p. 6.
You know what made me stop and think? When I read that HWA said that the Bible showed that Hitler would be victorious in his ill-fated Russian invasion.
"Hitler is the 'Beast' of Revelation.... There, Bible prophecy does indicate that Hitler must be the victor in his present Russian invasion."
-Herbert W. Armstrong, The Plain Truth, October 1941, p. 7.
Unfortunately, HWA did not learn from his embarrassing record of WWII prophecies. Pay attention to the dates on these quotes.
"It's time we face the hard, cold, realistic fact: humanity has two alternatives: either there is an Almighty, all-powerful God who is about to step in and set up the kingdom of God to rule all nations... or else there will not be a human being alive on this earth twenty years from now!... It's about time you come to know who are the false prophets, and who is speaking the true Word of God faithfully."
-Herbert W Armstrong, 1962, Just What Do You Mean... Kingdom of God, p. 19.
"The 'Day of the Eternal' - a time foretold in more than thirty prophecies - is going to strike between five and ten years from now! You will know, then, how real it is... I am not writing foolishly, but very soberly on authority of the living Christ."
-Herbert W Armstrong, The Plain Truth, February 1967, p. 47.
All in all, HWA had hundreds of failed prophecies. You can call them predictions, if it makes you feel better, but there are still more than 200 of them. Deuteronomy 18:20-22 is very clear on the matter of false prophets.

"But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. And if you say in your heart, 'How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken' - when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken, the prophet has spoken presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him."

This passage does not give wiggle room. It does not allow us to say, HWA was right, his timing was just a little off. It seems to give a cutoff date, not allowing years to pass to see if maybe the prophecy will come true later. Just saying "bad things have happened and are happening more frequently" doesn't count. The Bible says that. But the Bible doesn't set dates. HWA did. So, did HWA speak presumptuously in the name of the Lord? "Thus saith the Lord." "I am not writing foolishly, but very soberly on the authority of the living Christ." You tell me.

If I made the rules, I probably wouldn't be as harsh as Deuteronomy 18 prescribes. No one's perfect. Everyone has an off day now and then. But it's not up to me. When you claim to speak for God, you have to get it right. HWA did claim to speak "the TRUE MESSAGE FROM GOD" (1975 In Prophecy p. 28), and HWA did claim that he spoke "on the authority of God Almighty" (1975 In Prophecy p. 31), but HWA didn't get it right.
Unlike Deuteronomy, I'm not asking for anyone's blood. I'm just asking you to take an honest and unbiased look at the facts.

2. Herbert W Armstrong was a fallible man, but he still revealed a lot of truth despite his problems.

This is a nice thought, but it contradicts the very authority by which HWA established this "truth." It contradicts what the founder of the religious movement taught and believed about himself. Herbert W Armstrong claimed to be God's apostle. He stated that God dealt with him "in no uncertain terms, even as he had dealt with Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Jonah, Andrew, Peter and the apostle Paul." (Herbert W Armstrong, Mystery of the Ages, p. 14).
"I wonder if you realize that every truth of God, accepted as truth doctrine and belief in the Worldwide Church of God, came from Christ through me, or was finally approved and made official through me... I was appointed by Jesus Christ, the head of the Church."
-Herbert W Armstrong, "Personal From..." The Plain Truth, Feb. 1977, p. 17.
It's one thing for a Christian layperson or pastor to make doctrinal errors. It's quite another thing for an apostle to do so. As an apostle, you are either divinely inspired or you aren't. Did Peter sin or make errors in judgment? Sure. But did Peter and Paul make doctrinal errors? In multiple publications, HWA claimed God worked with him similarly to the way He called the apostle Paul. In this Co-Worker letter from November 29, 1954, Armstrong references Galatians 1:11-12.
"And so I say to you, as the Apostle Paul said to those at Galatia. I certify you, brethren, 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... When it pleased God, who... called me by His grace, to reveal His Son in me that I might preach Him to the world; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood - neither went I to any sect or denomination or human theologian, but I went directly to the word of God, on my knees, corrected, reproved , and instructed in God's righteousness and truth."
Incidentally, how exactly did HWA claim he knew God called him to apostleship? Through a vision-like dream his wife Loma had just days after their wedding. In her dream, she and HWA were crossing the stream when they noticed a banner-shaped mass of stars in the sky. The stars quivered and separated twice, then three white birds flew toward them, turning into angels as they approached. In the dream, Jesus Christ descended from among the angels. He put His arms around HWA and his wife, then turned back into an angel. Loma asked the angel if it was wrong for her and HWA to go to the movies so much. The angel replied that Christ had important work for them to do and there would be no time for movies. Then the angel vanished. (Mystery of the Ages, p. 15-17). HWA tried to put the vision out of his mind, but God soon got his attention through the loss of his business. His business fell apart in the flash depression of 1920, when major clients like Goodyear and John Deere fell through.

I'm not saying Loma and HWA made all this up. I'm not saying that there was no dream, or that they didn't find it convincing. There's no doubt that dreams can be inspired by God. After all, Peter saw a vision of unclean animals on a blanket. John had visions of locusts, horses and dragons. Those dreams sound strange, too. Although theirs have a bit more street cred since their dreams came after their apostleship had been established, instead of being the means through which they declared their apostleship. So I guess what I am saying is that if I ever declare my apostleship, I hope I will base my claims on something a little more substantial. Temporary blindness, complete change in life direction along the lines of Paul's experience. Not my business falling apart in a stock market crash. That happened to a lot of people. If God used this to reach HWA, just imagine what He must have been trying to tell Goodyear and John Deere!

Not only did HWA claim Jesus predicted his work in Matthew 24:14 and Mark 13:10 (per HWA's personal letter to cult and false religion writer Robert Sumner, dated November 27, 1958); he also claimed God suppressed the "true gospel" for almost 2000 years in the lead-up to his end-time work. The gospel was hidden from the world from the time of Christ's apostles until a century of 19-year-time cycles (Herbert W Armstrong, Mystery of the Ages, p. 294). The time cycle thing also somehow figured into everything from the expiration date of God's curse against the Israelites, to the Louisiana Purchase, and to the beginning of the "Philadelphia Era of the Church of God" under HWA's leadership. Don't ask me to explain 19-year time cycles, I never understood them. I do, however, understand that this claim seems to contradict Matthew 16:18, which indicates the gospel would never disappear. It also seems to contradict modern COG attempts to trace themselves back to the Mumfords, the Seventh Day Baptists, the Waldensians and any one else who would lend them an air of credibility. More on that later.

Is it possible that God truly did inspire Herbert W Armstrong in some ways, but didn't bestow upon him the role of apostle? Certainly God could have cleared up that detail at some point. But Armstrong never deviated from his claim of divine apostolic inspiration. The above quote about God dealing with him similarly to Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah and Peter came from Mystery of the Ages, which was printed the year before his death.

So why am I writing this? Because I want to sling mud at Herbert Armstrong? Because I am bitter toward the leadership in the COG splinter groups? Absolutely not. Compared to others, I led a relatively easy life in the COGs. Growing up in WCG did have some positive fruit - it ingrained within me a belief in God, respect for the Bible, knowledge of scripture and a strong sense of morality. I have no deep-seated anger toward HWA, although some of the things I've read leave me with the heebie-jeebies.  I regarded him much like the wacky older second-cousin-in-law at the family reunion. You know who I'm talking about - the one who makes off-the-wall comments that everyone pretends they don't hear.

No, I didn't leave the COGs because of HWA. As far as I was concerned, truth is truth, no matter who says it. I left because I saw many doctrines were not true. It was only afterward, as I struggled to understand where some of the issues I saw originated, that I learned so much more about this man. Some of you attend COGs where Armstrong is mentioned almost weekly, where institutions are named after him. You know that he matters. But others of you attend splinters that have distanced themselves from HWA, where he is downplayed. I am writing because you need to be aware that what you now believe as a member of a COG group hangs on Herbert Armstrong. You need to be aware of these things. And more, which I will continue next time.

You can find part 2 of this series here. You can find part 3 of this series here.

(Oh, and in case you are wondering, the video clip I quoted in the introduction can be found here  between time markers 5:10 and 5:42).



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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
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Friday, October 24, 2014

Confusing the Covenants

Some say, “I don’t need Herbert Armstrong. I’ve proven things for myself.” I hear you. But did you really? How did you, when your studies are in the church he started, using material he authored, with conclusions he passed down?
Before you appeal to me that it isn’t that simple, I want you to know that I get it. I was in the Church of God, too, for most of my life. I propose it’s even more complicated than you may realize. I thought I had proven things for myself, too. But had I? How did I, when my studies were in the church he started, using material he authored, with conclusions he passed down? When I challenged myself, that's when I realized I hadn't truly proven anything at all.

To "prove", one must honestly look at the evidence against one's own position. Otherwise it's just propaganda. Your minister isn't going to do that for you. There are aspects of this discussion that are most definitely not in the interest of the COG leadership to promote, aspects which you may not have investigated or considered as part of your studies. If you will stay with me, we’ll see one of those today.

But talking about how complicated the matter is would be the opposite of where I want to take this article. It’s really quite simple when you think about it. So let's focus on what's simple. Today, I would like to talk about covenants.

Why covenants? Because I think you will find that the topic of covenants is absolutely key to any discussion that starts with the phrase “God tells us to…”. No such thing should ever come out of our mouths unless we understand the nature of covenants, especially the Biblical covenants.

Bible Covenants

What is a covenant? It is a contract, a binding agreement. In the Judeo-Christian tradition, a covenant holds a deeper quality to it than just that. There is a spiritual element to a covenant which mere contracts lack. God is present in a covenant; God is a party to it and active participant in it. I could agree to pay you to mow my lawn, but is God in that agreement? Only in an academic sense. ( <--Not a covenant. ) I could agree to marry you, but is God in that agreement? Absolutely, yes. ( <--Covenant. )

In the Old Testament several covenants have been identified. Marriage is a covenant in which God is present. God made a covenant with Adam, Noah, Abraham, David, and others. God also made a covenant with Israel at Sinai, and this is commonly referred to as the “Old Covenant”. The Old Covenant is one of the two “Great Covenants” of the Christian Bible; the “New Covenant” being the other.

Some people have only ever heard of the two Great Covenants, but as I pointed out there are others.
The covenant God made with Noah, called the Noachide Covenant, for example is seen by the Jews as containing the minimum necessary requirements of righteousness for a Gentile. The requirements for Gentile Christians in Acts 15: 20 and Acts 21: 25 come straight from the Noahide covenant. We are not bound to this covenant, but these were listed in Acts because these would be the minimum requirements for a Gentile in the eyes of the Jews of that time, and would allow the Jewish converts and Gentile converts to come together in peace without undue offense. It was a matter of avoiding undue offense, not reintroducing an terminated contract.
The covenant God made with Abraham is another example. This was a very one-sided covenant. God promised to bless the world through Abraham’s seed. God swore this oath upon His own name and did everything required. All Abraham had to do was believe. His faith was counted to him as righteousness. He took God on His word and his life reflected that (after some fits and starts). We learn from Paul that this promised seed was Jesus of Nazareth. Since the covenant needed to be transferred, an outward sign was stipulated - circumcision. The covenant was transferred to Abraham’s son, Isaac, and then to Isaac’s son, Jacob, and so forth. We are not bound to this covenant. The terms were fulfilled in Jesus. But it can be transferred to us in a way. We can inherit the promise made to Abraham and inherited by Jesus by becoming one with Jesus through faith.

So we’ve seen basically what a covenant is and we’ve seen some examples. Let us now ask – what is the nature of covenants?

The Nature of Covenants

I am not going to get in-depth here. We're keeping it simple today. But I want to explore three things which are key to covenants.

> A covenant needs at least two participants (eg. God and David).

The participants - which in legalese are called “parties” - in a covenant are key. If you are party to a covenant then its terms are legally binding on you, but if you are not party to a covenant then its terms have no legal binding on you. A total stranger cannot enter into an agreement to purchase an automobile and then expect me to be bound by the terms of their agreement. The citizens of the United States of America, while in the United States, are not bound by laws passed in Canada. We simply aren't party to the agreement.

> A covenant needs to have terms (eg. laws and blessings and cursings).

Terms are that which is promised and expected in the covenant. For example, if you keep the laws then I will bless you. Or for another example, if you give to me your lawnmower then I will pay to you so much money for it. The covenant must state what terms are expected from all parties. If it’s not stated, then it cannot be expected (unless it's clearly implied). But if it is stated, then it must be performed as stated.

If the parties do not perform those terms, then they are in breach of the contract. Covenants can include terms for breach, called penalties. For example, if you do not keep the laws then I will curse you. Or for another example, if you do not pay your bills on time then you will be charged a late fee.

The terms of a covenant do not transfer to other covenants. The terms of a covenant are exclusive to that covenant. It is not correct that terms transfer to other covenants automatically unless otherwise stated. No. Terms do not transfer at all unless otherwise stated. Can you imagine taking out a life insurance policy and being forced into coverage that isn’t in your agreement simply because those are the terms that another policy had? I’m fairly sure you would feel robbed if that happened. And rightfully so.

> A covenant needs to have some description of termination (eg. the death of a spouse).

Termination is when a covenant is satisfied and ends. Once the termination point is reached, the covenant dissolves. There is no covenant any longer after termination, and no one is bound by a covenant that doesn’t exist.
Termination of a covenant can be by fulfillment of its terms. For example, if you make all of your mortgage payments to the bank, then they will sign over the deed to your house to you at the termination of the contract. Termination of a covenant can be time-specific. For example, “so long as you both shall live”. Death is a well-known termination limit for covenants in the Bible (see Romans 7: 1-4 or I Corinthians 7: 39).
When a person dies, the covenants they entered into and the terms of those covenants have no further hold. Spouses are bound by their marriage covenant so long as they both live. If one spouse dies then the covenant terminates, and the other is free to enter into a new covenant or not. But if they do, then they are not at all obligated or expected to operate as if they were still in the previous marriage. That would be absurd.

Covenants are obviously more complicated matters than just this, but this is about all we need for our purposes here.
Let us turn our attention now and see how these things apply to Old Covenant.

Who are the parties of the Old Covenant?

The Old Covenant is a covenant agreement between God and the Israelites alone.

(DEU. 5: 2-3) 2 The Lord our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. 3 The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive.

The Old Covenant began at Sinai when Moses received Ten Commandments from God and all Israel agreed to keep the law (EXO. 24: 3-8). It was then sealed in the blood of animals. There was a stipulation that the covenant also included the descendants of Israel (DEU. 29: 14).
Gentiles were excluded from that Covenant (EPH. 2: 11-13). The Jews were separate, set apart, a special people, peculiar. Mixing between Jew and Gentile was strictly forbidden by law (ACT. 10: 28). If a Gentile wished to participate in the Old Covenant, then they had to become a member of the nation of Israel through marriage or circumcision. For example, Exodus 12: 43-49 specifically forbade Gentiles from participating in Passover unless they agreed to become an Israelite. If those terms were to continue on into the New Covenant, then the Gentiles are still forbidden to participate in Passover. But if they don't continue on, then the Gentiles are under no obligation to participate. Pay close attention to Acts 15 and Acts 21. The Apostles under the guidance of the Holy Spirit declared that the Old Covenant law did not apply to Gentiles in the New Covenant (and this is about the law - see Acts 15: 5). In fact, let's look at Acts 21.

(ACT. 21: 20-21, 25) 20 And when they heard it, they glorified the Lord. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many myriads of Jews there are who have believed, and they are all zealous for the law ; 21 but they have been informed about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, saying that they ought not to circumcise their children nor to walk according to the customs.
25 But concerning the Gentiles who believe, we have written and decided that they should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality.

What James and the Jewish converts in Jerusalem were concerned about was that Paul was teaching the Jews not to observe the law. None of them expected the Gentiles to keep the law. That had already been decided against decades before, as recorded in Acts 15. James comes straight out and says as much, plainly.
The law didn't apply to Gentiles in the Old Covenant, and it doesn't apply to Gentiles in the New Covenant. We simply aren't party to that covenant!

Because of this, many have invented elaborate scenarios to paint us all as physical descendants of Israel, and thus get us into the Covenant through a “back door” so to speak (JON. 10: 1).
A very popular “back door” is called British-Israelism, or Anglo-Israelism, which states that many are physically descended from the mythical “lost ten tribes of Israel” without their knowledge - and it is absolutely false. Not only is the genesis of this theory known and it is proven to be a farce, but the pseudo-history it is based on is a sham (for more, we recommend "A Foundation of Sand part XI" on Silenced.co). In addition, modern DNA testing has put a definite end to all possibility of the theory being valid (for more, we recommend dnarefutesbi.com).
There are also some who twist Paul’s words from places like Galatians 3: 7, claiming that all Christians are “Spiritual Israel” (a phrase not found in the Bible), and therefore the Old Covenant pertains to us. But this is also false. If all Christians are “Spiritual Israel” then it is only the New Covenant that makes them so. Once the move to the Old Covenant begins, they cease being "Spiritual Israel". This thinking defeats itself.

There are countless others ways that people dream up to circumvent the simplicity of the situation. I couldn't possibly go over them all here. AsBereansDid has articles covering many of them.

So, we see the parties of the Old Covenant were God and those who were physically Israelites only.

If you are not an Israelite by verifiable descent, then there is nothing in the Old Covenant that is binding on you. You are simply not a party to this covenant.  If you see something in the Old Covenant and are wondering “Is this something God commands me to do?”, you should start by asking yourself, “Am I physically an Israelite?” If the answer is ‘no’, then nothing in the Old Covenant is binding on you. In fact, the covenant itself excludes you from it.

What were the terms of the Old Covenant?

The terms of the Old Covenant were the laws, and its physical blessings for obedience and physical cursings for disobedience. But the foundation of the terms of the Old Covenant was the Ten Commandments.

(EXO. 34: 28) So he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights; he neither ate bread nor drank water. And He wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.
(DEU. 4: 13) So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone.
(DEU. 5: 1-21) … 2 The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. 3 The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive. 4 The LORD talked with you face to face on the mountain from the midst of the fire. 5 I stood between the LORD and you at that time, to declare to you the word of the LORD; for you were afraid because of the fire, and you did not go up the mountain. He said… [lists the Ten Commandments].
(DEU. 9: 9) When I went up into the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant which the LORD made with you, then I stayed on the mountain forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water.
(DEU. 9: 11) And it came to pass, at the end of forty days and forty nights, that the LORD gave me the two tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant.
(DEU. 9: 15) So I turned and came down from the mountain, and the mountain burned with fire; and the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands.

The Jews have identified a list of 613 in total laws covering all aspects of Jewish life. Violate any law of the Covenant, even a little, and you’ve breeched the Covenant.

(JAS. 2: 10) For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.

One cannot stumble in any point of the whole body of law. Any stumble is a breach.
The terms cannot be divided up so that some can be ejected and others kept. Because there is only one covenant and it cannot be divided up, the terms of the covenant cannot be divided up. One cannot keep parts of the law, ignore other parts of the law, and excuse away parts of the law, yet claim that to be keeping the law. That's not keeping the law; that's violating it! That is what it means to be in breach. To keep it all and stumble in any point is to violate the covenant just as much as anyone who doesn’t keep any of it. There are no degrees of violation.
And what does one receive for a breach? Not a blessing for keeping 40% of the law, nor a throne for the hearty attempt and good intentions, but a penalty (DEU. 27: 26; GAL. 3: 10)!

So, we see that the Ten Commandments and all of the rest of the law are a single indivisible unit which are the terms of the Old Covenant. It's an all or nothing proposal. These terms of the Old Covenant do not automatically pass forward into the completely separate New Covenant, or any other covenant for that matter. No covenant behaves that way. In the COG we were always told that the law passed forward into the New Covenant unless otherwise stated, therefore Gentiles had to keep the holy days and etc. That is the opposite of how covenants work. It is a clear violation of reality to assume that any term arbitrarily passes from one covenant to another. 

If you see something in the Old Covenant and are wondering “Is this something God commands me to do?”, you should start by asking yourself, “Is this expressly a term of the New Covenant to which I am a party?” If the answer is ‘no’ then this thing is not binding on you. It is simply not a term of your covenant.

What is the termination of the Old Covenant?

Death is the termination of the Old Covenant. And the Old Covenant has been terminated.

(HEB. 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.

How can we say that the Old Covenant was terminated? It was ended when God became incarnate in order to suffer death. God experienced death. Since God was the main party to the Old Covenant, His death terminated that Covenant for all involved. If His death did not terminate the Covenant, then He is not our High Priest, the Gentiles are not cleansed, there is no uniting of Jew and Gentile, and the Church cannot be the Bride of Christ who is still legally married to Israel. 
He will never die again, so there can be no similar termination of the New Covenant.

Let’s take a look at Romans 7: 1-4 and notice some things.

(ROM. 7: 1-6) 1 Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? 2 For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. 3 So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. 4 Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another—to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God.  5 For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. 6 But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter.

Paul is using marriage as an analogy to the Old Covenant and its laws. Just as when a husband dies and the wife is freed, when we die we are freed. What Paul is saying is that we die with Christ through baptism. We are delivered from the law because the covenant dissolves. When we die with Him, any hold the Old Covenant may have had on us is terminated, and the law - which are the terms of the Covenant – is no longer binding on us. It is impossible.

God died and we die. The Covenant is doubly terminated. Terminated on both sides.

If you see something in the Old Covenant and are wondering “Is this something God commands me to do?”, you should start by asking yourself, “Is this covenant even binding anymore?” If the answer is ‘no’ then the answer is no. Christ died and you died with Him in baptism. The Old Covenant is abrogated. It’s terminated. It has vanished.

Paul Contrasts The Two Great Covenants

Now that we have seen some basics which are necessary to understand to whom God was speaking in the Old Covenant, and why it is not true that the law carries forward into the New Covenant unless otherwise stated, and that the Old Covenant has vanished away, I feel it is a disservice to leave Galatians 4: 21-31 out of this post.

(GAL. 4: 21-31) 21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law?
22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, 24 which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar— 25 for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children— 26 but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all.
27 For it is written: “Rejoice, O barren, you who do not bear! Break forth and shout, you who are not in labor! For the desolate has many more children than she who has a husband.”
28 Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. 29 But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. 30 Nevertheless what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.” 31 So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free.

So many people search for ways to carry forward the Covenant from Sinai. Beloved of God, this is not proper. Do you not hear the law? Cast out the covenant from Sinai! This is the clear and unambiguous teaching of the Apostle Paul. If you cast out the Covenant, then you cast out the terms of the covenant. This is simply how covenants work.

I know someone out there is thinking, "But we see the Apostles keeping the law in the New Covenant period." Yes. They were Jews. Jews were once party to the Old Covenant. The law had become part of their national identity. For 1,400+ years, Israel had done these things. One cannot expect them to simply stop one fine day; most especially not while the Temple still stood. Do you suppose James had Paul shave his had and be bathed (ACT. 21: 23-24) because it was legally mandatory? Or do you suppose Paul had Timothy circumcised (ACT. 16: 3) because he was commanded by law? There is apparently nothing wrong with Jews continuing on with these things as customs. Adding Gentiles into the mix is where the ground gives way.
Someone else is thinking, "But Paul said 'Let us keep the Feast' to the Gentiles." Yes. But there is more than one way to understand this statement. The COG interpretation doesn't have a lock on the meaning. Please see this article "Were Gentiles In Corinth Observing the Feast of Unleavened Bread?"

There are several differences between the Old and the New Covenants. AsBereansDid has a few articles dealing with this. Try our article "Old Covenant vs New Covenant". Perhaps we will have more like this in the future. The topic is very important. I also suggest you check out our FAQ page in the section "Covenants" for some wonderful and quick examples.

Conclusion

Covenants can really be boiled down to three main components: who is a party to the covenant, what are the terms, and how is it terminated. The only parties to the Old Covenant were God and the physical Israelites. The terms of the Old Covenant were the Ten Commandments, and 600+ other laws - all gone when the Covenant was terminated. The termination of the Old Covenant was Jesus' death. We die with Him in baptism, so it terminates for our part as well. Any possible legal hold the law might have on us is gone.

Now, does that mean there is nothing for us in the Old Covenant? Of course not! 
Even though we are not party to the terms of the abrogated Old Covenant, we have much to learn from it (I COR. 10: 11; II TIM. 3: 6). We do not need to be bound to the shadows in order to grasp the reality which cast the shadow - Jesus Christ. We do not need to sacrifice a lamb, smear its blood on our doorposts, and roast it with horseradish in order to grasp the Spiritual reality it pointed to. We don't need to avoid leaven in order to grasp the Spiritual reality it pointed toWe don't need to sacrifice a goat and sprinkle blood on the alter in order to grasp the Spiritual reality it pointed to. We don't need to travel to Jerusalem nor build a succot from Palestinian flora in order to grasp the Spiritual reality it pointed to. And we don't need to sit idle one day each week in order to grasp the Spiritual reality it pointed to. We do not need the anti-type (eg. physical rest on a week day) in order to possess the fulfillment which is pointed to (eg. true Spiritual rest in Jesus Christ who gives us rest).
The people who have the symbolism do not necessarily have the Spiritual reality, and the people who have the Spiritual reality do not necessarily have the symbolism. The people who do have the Spiritual reality can still benefit from understanding the symbolism - but the symbolism is simply not mandatory once the Spiritual reality has come (I COR. 3: 10). They are not mandatory because the terms of that abrogated Covenant do not apply.


Too many people read through the Old Testament but forget all about these points. They conclude “God tells us to…” when God told us "no such thing" (ACT. 21: 25). They see "keep My commandments" and start looking in the Old Covenant for those commandments - which is entirely the wrong place to start looking! The New Covenant, the valid covenant, has its own terms to keep (JON. 13: 34-35, 15: 17; I JON. 3: 23, 4: 21; II JON. 1: 5-6; ROM. 13: 8-10; GAL. 5: 14; EPH. 5: 2; COL. 3: 14; I TIM. 1: 5; JAS. 2: 8). Look there.

See, the matter is not all that complicated at heart. The truth is, people have gotten their covenants conflated. Confusion of the covenants is one of the most fundamental mistakes that we at AsBereansDid have identified that leads people into Old Covenant legalism. It prevents well-intentioned people from simply stepping into the New Covenant.

So I ask again, did you prove it to yourself? Did  you really? Or could there be a critical detail or three that you may have overlooked?



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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
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