Sunday, October 13, 2019

Our prayer for you this Feast of Tabernacles

Every year, As Bereans Did likes to offer some food for thought with regards to the fall holy days. This year, we spent some time in prayer trying to narrow things down, because we found several topics that sounded interesting to explore further. But we kept coming back to the same thought:

Anyone who's checking this site during the Feast of Tabernacles is probably not having the "best Feast ever." What you need is encouragement, not an argument.

We know that the Feast can be a challenging time for those who are questioning within the Church of God movement. We've been there. It feels like everyone around you is having the time of their lives. They are rejoicing amidst the sight-seeing adventures, snorkeling and winery tours. Meanwhile, the same canned, reheated sermons and polite lunchtime fellowship are leaving you feeling spiritually empty.

Maybe you're excited to see some old familiar faces - faces of acquaintances you haven't seen since the last split. Maybe they're back! Or maybe your Feast site was closer to home, or in a dream destination they've always wanted to visit. A principled choice, indeed, for folks who left a handful of years ago, saying they wondered if those who lead your organization had ever really been "called."

Or maybe the division within the COGs is hitting you in a different way this year. Your site is smaller than ever before, with friends you're missing noticeably absent. Maybe you're making plans to meet them for lunch when your respective services on the opposite sides of town get out. Or maybe you're praying not to run into them at all, as the friendship dissolved, tragically and painfully, during the last split.

How can this be in God's one true church? Celebrating God's true festivals? In His chosen place? There must be something wrong with you.

Oh yes. Something is wrong. But it's not with you.

We're so, so sorry that you're feeling this way. Truly. We've been there, and it's no fun.

But we're glad these questions are coming up. God often uses pain to wake us up and reach us. It's hard to get our attention when we're comfortable and content.

Trust Him. Listen and follow Him. His sheep hear His voice. And know that we are earnestly praying for you at this time. And that we're here for you, because of you. And that things will get better.





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But... for those who came here for some comic relief, or miss the usual level of snark ABD delivers, we're throwing in our top 5 Feast of Tabernacles ideas as a bonus:
  • Beachfront resort towns seem like a counter-intuitive spot for God to place His name annually during the Atlantic hurricane season. Thanks to the late feast this year, most sites seem to have dodged the bullet – unless you had reservations in the Bahamas. (All joking aside, we pray for those in the Bahamas. If you have excess second tithe, consider donating it here to the disaster fund administered by the Grand Bahama Port Authority). But if the National Weather Service can predict paths with somewhat reliable accuracy several days out, surely the Lord can do even better. Maybe the Feast was never intended to be celebrated in the New World – or even after the fall of the Temple
  • Speaking of Jerusalem – if you're not keeping the Feast there, you may be doing it wrong. Those who support celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles based on the claim that nothing from the Sinai Covenant has passed except the sacrifices need to explain why it's ok to celebrate the festival in locations like Panama City Beach. In a hotel, rather than a palm frond sukkot. (Wait, I know! Because they're not up to hurricane construction codes: see also previous point).
  • If you subscribe to the view that the holy days were established at creation, then there's precedent for celebrating the Feast of Tabernacles elsewhere. However, we'd like to see hard evidence that He has placed His name somewhere besides Jerusalem, after the fall of the temple. Aside from Panama City Beach, that is, where as many as 11 Church of God groups keep the Feast in separate venues. After all, things did not go well for Israel after Jeroboam changed the date and location of the festival. (I am starting to notice a pattern. See both points 1 and 2).  
  • That Paul's dogged determination to get to Jerusalem for ONE Pentecost celebration is not a mandate for the entire gentile world to celebrate the Hebrew festivals. Scripture doesn't clarify whether Paul went primarily to celebrate the festival or to publicly exonerate claims against him through fulfilling a Nazirite-like vow. What it does make clear, though, is that he spent two uninterrupted years at the School of Tyrannus in Ephesus, more than a thousand miles from Jerusalem. And that when he finally did make his pilgrimage to Jerusalem, he didn't try to convince the Ephesian brethren they were obligated to join him. 
  • That, despite recent claims from the United Church of God, you do not need to celebrate the Hebrew festivals to enter the Kingdom of God.  One recent Beyond Today article we find particularly annoying tries to link the Hebrews 10:25 admonition to assemble with meeting to celebrate the holy days. The author completely inserts this idea into the text, which primarily deals with not losing the faith and assembling to encourage and serve one another. Not to mention that the concept is in complete contradistinction to Acts 16: 30-34. Paul and Silas had the perfect chance to instruct the jailer – likely a Philippian gentile – on UCG's finer points of salvation. Alas, they did not. 



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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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Thursday, August 22, 2019

Rock Valley & Oak Stone Christian churches: Trendier, Gentler COGs




It's become popular in recent years for churches and ministries to incorporate numbers into their name or logo. Ken Ham's Answers in Genesis organization stamps a 1:1 shorthand trademark on its materials. A group of Michigan churches called 2|42 embraces the practices listed in Acts 2:42-47 as a means of making disciples. Hebrew Roots ministry 119 alludes to the Psalm 119 reference to David being a man after God's own heart.

Turns out that even Armstrongism isn't immune from this trend.

We at As Bereans Did recently learned about the existence of 14:12 churches. What are 14:12 churches? As of now, there appear to be two – Rock Valley Christian Church in Murrieta, California, and Oak Stone Christian Church in Dallas, Texas. While Rock Valley has been around for many years, Oak Stone is less than a year old, and was planted by Rock Valley's pastor, David Liesenfelt.  These churches rally around Revelation 14:12 because its members “keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus,” according to Liesenfelt.

Stereotypical Pinterest church sanctuary photo
But Rock Valley and Oak Stone don't just have a trendy tagline. They have the telltale matching pallet wood backdrops and string light accents to back it up. Drums and electric guitars accompany their contemporary Christian worship services. Their web sites are peppered with Christian-ese terms like “non-denominational” and “church plant.” To the unsuspecting passer-by, they look like any other community church.



Rock Valley sanctuary, courtesy of YouTube




And therein lies our problem.


COG-Lite

We have mixed feelings about criticizing these 14:12 churches. They appear more relaxed than any Church of God we've ever seen. We see jeans in the audience, and even hands lifted in worship. They've ditched British Israelism and a few other points of Armstrongist nonsense. To be honest, if our extended families continue to attend the COGs, this seems like the kind of place we hope they end up.

But here's the thing.  Rock Valley and Oak Stone are more into evangelism than their COG predecessors. They, unlike many COGs, appear to get visitors who have no connection to Armstrongism.  And also unlike other COGs, which scare people away with their hotel meeting spaces and three-piece suits, their atmosphere seems culturally congruent. Visitors have no reason to suspect they are witnessing anything other than a small, yet vibrant, Christian church plant.

As xHWA so aptly explained, we don't blame those who were drawn into the COGs early on. It seemed like the right thing to do at the time. It's hard to criticize those who wanted to please God and showed the courage to turn away from long-held mainstream traditions, regardless of the personal cost. And we sympathize with those raised in the tradition who feel pressure to stay, despite their questions. But in 2019, with decades of documentation, resources and good old Google available, it's hard to understand making the decision to join.

Unless you don't know what you're joining. Unless you're not getting the full story.


The Rest of the Story


This is our impression, as well as the impression of one Google reviewer, who really enjoyed the church, but eventually left because he was uncomfortable with the ambiguity of Rock Valley's Statement of Beliefs, as well as its anti-Trinitarian stance.

“Transparency from the church leadership, a clearly defined statement of beliefs and a truly Biblical theological position from a church group is a high importance to me.”

(We won't make a big deal about the Trinity today, although you're more than welcome to check out our musings on the topic.)

  The vagueness of Rock Valley's statement of beliefs is a red flag.  But it was an even bigger red flag when Liesenfelt wasn't transparent with ABD about his theological background. After reading about his churches, I emailed Liesenfelt with several questions, including asking from which seminary he received his certification.


“I never attended seminary,” he responded. “My authority comes from Jesus Christ.”

We believe Liesenfelt is telling the truth when he says he didn't attend seminary. However, Liesenfelt also runs abudantliving.org, a web site featuring his sermons, radio shows and  other material he produces. On abundantliving.org, Liesenfelt states that he graduated from college in 1990 with a degree in Theology. We later asked Liesenfelt why he did not disclose this fact when responding to our seminary question, since we were clearly seeking details about his theological training. As of the time this piece was posted, he has not responded to the question. It has been almost a month since we posed this question to him.

We are reasonably certain we know the source of some of Liesenfelt's theological training. According to The Worldwide News' June 5, 1989 edition, Liesenfelt received his Associate of Arts Degree from Ambassador College at Big Sandy, Texas - an unaccredited institution founded by Herbert W Armstrong. Armstrong founded and ran the Worldwide Church of God, which is discussed in Walter Martin's book, The Kingdom of the Cults, until his death in 1986. Since then, WCG has splintered into hundreds of smaller organizations that retain different permutations of Armstrong's teachings.

Does attending Ambassador College disqualify Liesenfelt from the role of pastor? Of course not. Does membership in a questionable religious institution disqualify him pastoring, teaching or other theological commentary? Again, I obviously don't think so, since everyone at ABD is in the same boat. But if you call yourself a pastor, and you're asked about your religious training, and have religious training from a specific institution, hiding it is concerning. Admit it. Affirm what you were taught, if you still believe it. If not, state where you have turned or departed. Especially if you are a Bible teacher, when the Bible exhorts us to tell the truth and avoid deceptive words and behavior. Liesenfelt's answer feels like more than an oversight to us. Further, it seems congruent with the reviewer's assessment of Rock Valley leadership.


Filling in the gaps


We're left to Liesenfelt's own answers and posted sermons to try to determine how much Ambassador College material is left in his teachings. He doesn't promote British Israelism - the theory that the United States and Western European peoples are direct physical descendants of the lost 10 tribes of Israel - which we applaud.

The Old Covenant law, including a seventh-day Sabbath and the Holy Days (as interpreted by those who founded Ambassador College), is still emphasized. The sites include many topics that are borderline Evangelical, we still see some key Ambassador College/COG buzzwords, like "Law of Liberty," "Faith Without Works," "Lean Not On Your Own Understanding," "He Who Endures To The End Shall Be Saved," and more.

You might ask, those are just Bible verses, what's the harm? Anyone who has spent any time in a COG knows these old, familiar verses. You've heard them over and over and over again. These ones aren't chosen at random - they know it and we know it.

In one sermon, titled "The Whole Gospel in one Bible Chapter," Liesenfelt asks his audience which one chapter of the Bible they would use to preach the gospel to an unbeliever. Audience members had many suggestions, including Romans 8, Hebrews 10 and John 3. Instead, Leisenfelt explained that Leviticus 23 was the best source for explaining God's "plan of salvation."

We agree, in a roundabout way, that Leviticus 23 does point to God's plan. And that plan was the coming of Jesus Christ, the One whom the holy days foreshadowed, and our salvation by grace through faith in Him. The holy days do not lay out a jigsaw puzzle we must piece together in order to attain salvation. They demonstrated the insufficiency of Israel, the law and anything else besides the Messiah to save, and pointed Israel to Him as their only hope. And as Paul explained in 2 Corinthians 3:12, Israel didn't see it.

And Liesenfelt doesn't seem to see it, either. His message on the Leviticus 23 "gospel" dwells on the fact that those in "the world" see the Holy Days through a veil, which is lifted when they turn to God. Those who read scripture in context will note that 2 Corinthians 3:13 specifically tells us this passage refers to Israel - specifically when Israel focuses on the Sinai Covenant. Sadly, the COGs unknowingly fall into the same trap.


Rock Valley's typical Christmas sermon sounds like a slightly better-marketed version of the moldly leftovers the COGs serve up each December. We note Pastor Liesenfelt quoted The Golden Bough, a tome that rejects the story of Jesus Christ as nothing more than a re-iteration of other ancient Mesopotamian religious myths. In short, if you put stock in The Golden Bough, you have no business professing faith in Christ. Incidentally, most of the other sources Liesenfelt cited were ones ABD has researched and addressed. In his message, Liesenfelt encouraged his audience to think critically about what they had been taught and why they do what they do. He also claimed that he had “never seen a source that disagreed” with his assessments. Well, now you have.

It's annoying to see a hip, trendy church try to spin WCG's 1967 anti-Christmas material, or really, Alexander Hislop's 1800's anti-Catholic propaganda, as cutting-edge truth. But it's just Christmas, not a matter of life and death. We bring this up simply as anecdotal evidence of how far Rock Valley Christian Church and Oak Stone have or haven't fallen from the Ambassador College/WCG Tree. We'll drop it and get back to actual matters of life and death.


Seek and ye shall find?


We find some of Rock Valley's doctrinal statements – and by extension Oak Stone's – to be vague.

To be fair, Rock Valley's statement of beliefs includes a handful of long statements that sound relatively convincing. But they preface it with the statement that “any listing of specific beliefs will fall utterly short in that we accept the teaching of the Bible as our primary source of belief.”

We honestly do appreciate churches that have the courage to say “we don't know,” because we recognize there are places where scripture is murky. But that's not seems to be going on here. Rock Valley's statement of beliefs seems intentionally vague to us in some key areas – specifically, the area of salvation. We initially asked Liesenfelt for clarification on his teachings in this area – specifically whether keeping the Sabbath and Holy Days are required for salvation. We got this answer:

“Jesus is the only true judge, so the question you are asking should only be answered by the One Who alone has the authority to give life (salvation) to whom He wills.”

True. But a pastor's role is to help shepherd and guide the flock on eternal, spiritual matters. There is no greater spiritual matter than your salvation. We are all to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling. But a pastor's key job is to lead and feed the sheep.  If your pastor – regardless of the denomination – can't or won't tell you what he believes you need to do to avoid damnation, we suggest that you walk away.

We also initially asked Liesenfelt whether he taught that salvation is a one-time event or an ongoing process that can be. He replied that is both, and gave the following explanation:

“The Bible declares that a person is saved when they believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, the person who continues to work out their own salvation with fear and trembling, and the person who endures to the end, and does not reject the salvation offered, shall be saved.”

This sounds like the common Armstrongist teaching of ongoing justification, and so we asked for more clarification whether this was what he taught. We also asked what he believed we must to do maintain our state of justification before God – since Liesenfelt stated that we are saved upon professing faith – and what exactly we must persist in until the end. To date – nearly a month after our inquiry - he has not responded.

We understand that asking what one needs to do to lose his salvation is not a great question. It's not an indicator of an obedient, Christian heart that's eager to please God, as Liesenfelt stated on one of his radio programs about Law and Grace. Christians should be focused on obeying God and following the prompting of the Holy Spirit, not trying to tow the line. Searching for the line is not exactly in keeping with the focus and intent of Christianity.

But here's the problem. If you teach any form of ongoing justification, you need to know where that line is. If you are saved by grace (as taught at Rock Valley) but have the power to stray or reject the offer of salvation (as Liesenfelt seemed to indicate), you better know where that line is. In short, if salvation is a pass-fail proposition, then you better make sure you pass. And you can't pass if you don't have a clearly defined set of rules.

In his Law and Grace radio programs, Liesenfelt explains that Christians are saved by grace, but that the Bible indicates Christians have an obligation to obey "the law" after they are saved.  While he focuses significantly on the Ten Commandments, Liesenfelt repeatedly brings up obedience to the Law.

But which part of the law? Just the 10 Commandments? Presumably not, because Rock Valley appears to observe the Leviticus 23 Holy Days. Do members of Oak Stone Christian church believe they are obligated to keep the whole law? The parts about mixed fabrics? Seclusion and purification days after childbirth? Unless my eyes deceive me, the pictures on Rock Valley's web site indicate neither pastor is following the whole law - specifically, the portions pertaining to beards for men.

Conundrums like this are why we believe Jesus warned us not to mix wineskins. Christians are not party to the to the Sinai Covenant. That covenant ended with the death of its Jesus Christ, its testator (Hebrews 9:16). The covenant is obsolete and vanished (Hebrews 8:13). Had it not, God would not have been free to enter the New Covenant.

Under the New Covenant, Christians have responsibilities for moral living and Christian growth into the image and stature of Christ under the New Covenant. Many Christians will debate, until they're blue in the face, whether Christians are once-saved-always-saved, or whether it's possible to throw away one's salvation. You can find passages in the Bible that support both. What you can't find, though, are passages that reinforce what many COGs teach: that you waver back and forth between saved and unsaved, for lack of a better phrase, whenever you break the select tenets of Law your splinter group chooses.

Is that was Oak Stone and Rock Valley teach? We don't know, because Liesenfelt won't answer. We suspect, however, that he, like others with an Armstrongist background, are
confusing the covenants. Was he trying to be evasive, or is the problem with the doctrine? Ongoing justification sounds good on the surface, but doesn't make sense when you actually tease it out. We're guessing the problem is a matter of cognitive dissonance based in faulty doctrine, but Liesenfelt's not-so-straightforward answers to other questions don't exactly give us confidence.

The bottom line

So why are we taking the time to post this? Is it because we want to smear Rock Valley Christian Church, Oak Stone Christian Church, and their pastor?

Definitely not. We admire these “14:12” churches for stepping away from teachings like British Israelism, knowing the potential cost. We liked a lot of we heard in Liesenfelt's messages on the critical doctrine of imputed righteousness . As we stated earlier, if our loved ones remain in the COGs, we hope they'll end up somewhere like this. Dare we recommend that established COG members dissatisfied with their current fellowship check them out?

At the same time, if you Google these churches, you won't find a lot of information. We think that potential members with no COG background need to have the facts before joining them. We're not confident that's happening. We think potential members should know they are visiting a non-Trinitarian sect, that embraces soul sleep, an alternative interpretation on salvation, and has its roots in Herbert Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God. If no one else is going to let them know, we will.



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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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Saturday, July 20, 2019

You Were Right To Join

Hello, dear reader. It's been a few minutes since I last  posted. Truth is, I simply don't have the time anymore like I used to. Sometimes you just have to make time.

Today I want to give you two things - one that I almost never do, and one that I almost always do. First the one I almost never do...

YOU WERE RIGHT!

You were right to join your Church of God group.
You heard me. You were right to join Armstrongism.

Have I lost my mind? No. (I don't think so anyway.) Hear me out. Let's take a closer look here. What was the situation? You were faced with a huge decision - given the information that you had, your choice was either deny what you were convinced was true -or- you leave the world behind and join a Church of God. You saw something - maybe the 4th Commandment - and you were challenged with what to do with it. You chose to go with what you had been convinced was true with the information you had. How can that be a bad thing?

It's no small decision, either. You sacrificed, you faced scorn, you swam upstream, you basically had to isolate yourself from society. And you did it all because you have respect for truth and faith in God. Personally, I can't fault that. In fact, I think that anyone who does find fault in that isn't thinking clearly about the human condition. We all have to do the best we can with what we have. We have finite knowledge and finite resources. What can be expected!?

So I say again, you were right to join Armstrongism. Bear in mind that nothing I write in this article will diminish this.

That's what I almost never do; I almost never say people were right for joining a COG. Now for what I almost always do...

A BIG BUT

I always seem to have a "but!" to throw into the mix. It's kinda my thing. And my "but" is - you have access to more information now. And the information you now have access to should not be dismissed offhand but considered in every bit as much gravity and importance as the information that convinced you to join, or remain in, a COG group. You didn't dismiss the COGs; don't just dismiss us, please.

DECISIONS, DECISIONS

Life tends to go in large circles and by being here at ABD you have arrived back once again at that very same decision point. My question is - how would your original decision have been changed if you had access to more information?

Back when you made your decision to join or remain in a COG, you had already in your possession a certain set of information. You had on one hand what you brought with you and already accepted as true up to that time, and you had in the other hand what you were being given by the COGs. Then you made the best decision you could at the time. No one can fault you! You know what you know and that's all you know. Ya know? Well, now you have at your fingertips all of the articles and experiences of the writers and contributors here at ABD.

We all faced and made the same decision you made. We were all once in a COG (either born into it or joined later). But then we were presented with more information that we simply didn't have access to previously. We each found ourselves at that same decision point once again, but this time with better information. We share that information freely with you.

Today, you have in one hand the things the COGs have convinced you is true, and in the other the articles in this blog which give you the rest of the story that the COGs left out.

GOING FORWARD

I am not exaggerating when I say there are very important things you need to know that will completely alter the equation. There are things that were purposefully hidden from us by the COGs. Things they don't want us to know. What should one do with such information? Bury the head in the sand? Dismiss it outright? Refuse to listen?

We ask, what will you do?

So, you were right to make the decision you did. Nothing said here diminishes this in the least. You did the best you could at the time. So did we! But we offer you more information than what you had then. Are you willing to at least hear us out? Are you willing to prove all things and see if what we are saying is true? What if it is?

If no information in the world could possibly convince you to reconsider, then go in peace. We harbor no ill will here. But, we suspect you wouldn't be here in the first place if that were so.




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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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Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Boost Your Spiritual Credit Rating this Passover!

It's almost time for the Passover. Soooo... what's your spiritual credit score? Asking for a friend.

Over the years, we at As Bereans Did have poked fun at the transactional metaphors that the Churches of God use to quantify spiritual growth that “leads” to salvation. I have a few favorites - “sticker chart” and “spiritual batting average,” to name a couple.

But Edward L. Winkfield, managing editor of Pack's Real Truth magazine, took it to a whole new level in his recent pre-Passover article titled “Raise your Spiritual Credit Score.”

“This analogy is not farfetched when you consider that God openly says we must seek to be 'approved' of Him. (2 Tim. 2:15) - put to test by trial to produce truth and genuineness," according to Winkfield. 

Before I get started today, I want to make a few things clear. Today, I'm not criticizing the COGs' timing for taking the Passover. I think the biblical instructions regarding frequency are a little less restrictive, but an annual observance definitely falls under the umbrella of “as often as,” so that's good enough for today.

I'm also not going to take issue with self-examination. While I think the COGs skew the idea, there's no denying that Christians should regularly analyze their thoughts, habits and behavior – particularly in conjunction with taking the bread and the wine.

But if I'm taking these concessions, then I expect you to meet me halfway. Because remember, I once was one of you. I know that, right now, many of you are thinking, I'm not in Dave Pack's group, I would never follow that man!

Stop.

I'm asking you to set your biases aside and be objective, since it's the season for self-examination. Remember that both Pack and the leaders of your group were influenced by and are, in many ways, imitate the same man. Remember that your traditions and ideas all came from the same place. Be honest about whether you see the same attitudes and motivations in your group's view of Passover.

What idea? The idea that we need to raise our approval rating with God in order to secure our salvation, at Passover and really, throughout our lives. Because RCG, and to an extent, all the COGs, twist the scriptures about pleasing God from the biblical picture of a beloved, grateful child of God trying to please a loving Father to a servant grasping to hold onto approval and perhaps, possibly, even gain a harsh taskmaster's approval.

But wait, Martha, isn't that exactly what the parable of the talents teaches us?

It's certainly the message that Winkfield gets from the parable. In his article, he explains that God uses similar principles of reward and punishment to “motivate and inspire” Christians.

“Clearly 'damnation' is not God's will for us,” Winkfield writes. “By obediently following His command to examine ourselves each spring, we can raise our spiritual 'credit score' as we seek God's divine approval.”

Interestingly, many get a slightly different message from the Parable of the Talents, the implications of which are easily missed by Armstrongists who don't believe in regeneration.

The parable doesn't give any indication that the two servants who were praised shared the third servant's negative impression of their master. The Expositor's Bible Commentary notes that slaves in the ancient world – apparently, such as these – were often entrusted with significant authority and responsibility. It would seem that the first two servants may have recognized and appreciated the investment their master made in them. The third, however, did not.

“What this servant overlooks is his responsibility to his master and his obligation to discharge his assigned duties,” according to Expositor's. “His failure betrays his lack of love for his master, which he masks by blaming his master and excusing himself.”

Unlike the other two, the third servant saw his master as grasping, controlling, and harsh. He lacked faith in and love for his master. Though he called him Lord, his heart was far from Him – like someone who was unregenerate and lacked the Holy Spirit, as evidenced by his attitude and lack of fruit. What frightens me is, the picture of the Master that the wicked servant paints is not entirely dissimilar from Winkfield's. I pray it's simply a coincidence. 

Just as the Master stated to the wicked servant, Winkfield reminds us that those who lend expect to get their money back, plus interest, within a certain time period.

"God similiarly seeks a return on His investment in us, which He considers our 'reasonable service'," Winkfield says. 

Here, Winkfield references Romans 12:1, in which Paul “beseeches,” begs, encourages or exhorts, us to present ourselves as living sacrifices to God, ones that He would find holy and acceptable. Why? Many translations place the word “therefore" as the first word of Romans 12:1, indicating the "why" - the reason we should choose to serve God as a living sacrifice - are all the reasons Paul has discussed up to this point in Romans, including the following:


  • While we were sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)
  • Eternal life is a free gift from God (Romans 6:23) 
  • Only God can deliver us from our “body of death" (Romans 7:24-25)

You know, just to name a few.

If Paul is cautioning us to remember that God is awaiting our annual report and ROI, well, I just don't see it. Rather, it seems to me that he is reminding his readers of what God has accomplished by dying for us, and encouraging us to live for Him.

But no. Winkfield maintains that, through this "reasonable service," we could actually be “counted worthy” to enter God's Kingdom based on the judgment of our lives.

“It is through the righteous judgment of God, that we may be counted worthy of the Kingdom of God (2 Thessalonians 1:5). This reveals that the only way into the Kingdom is through a judgment. Yet God is not the judge exclusively. He gives us ample opportunity to judge ourselves.”

Ironically, 2 Thessalonians 1:5 does commend the brethren at Thessalonica for being judged righteously, and counted worthy of the Kingdom. On what basis are they found worthy? Well, the preceding verses praise the Thessalonians for their growing faith, for the love they showed for one another, and for their patience and faith in the face of persecution.

It is on the basis of faith that God declares us worthy to enter His Kingdom. It was the same for Abraham (Genesis 15:6), as it was for the Thessalonian brethren as it is for us:

And he (Abraham) believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
                                                                                                                           - Genesis 15:6





Not only was Abraham's faith credited as righteousness, it happened before he was circumcised, before he attempted to offer Isaac, before anything mentioned in the book of James. But somehow, Winkfield misses this point, giving us five primary factors that God uses to calculate our score. (Spoiler alert: they weren't the same factors used to judge Abraham). His article is somewhat vague, mixing physical terms like our “current debt” of forgiveness and repentance, our “credit history” of appropriate spiritual growth level, and developing “new credit” with God created by overcoming sins and weaknesses.

However, in an article linked at the end of Winkfield's, RCG Pastor General David Pack himself reveals more specific criteria, although, again, we receive no quantifiable measure. According to Pack, these criteria include keeping the Sabbath and Holy Days, studying the Bible, watching prophecy be fulfilled, admirable personal conduct, and being fervent for “the work.”

“There is, in fact, revealed in God's Word, a certain spiritual 'seal of approval' that every Christian MUST obtain. Specific actions in a person's conduct confer this approval upon him, and, because God is not a respecter of persons, there are no exceptions to what He expects,” Pack writes. “Without these actions, a Christian, no matter how sincere, has no hope for salvation.”

Huh. Okay. I am having a hard time finding these specs in the verse where Jesus tells us what the work He expects of us:

"Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”
                                                                                                               -  John 6:27-29

Pack's advice also seems to contradict Ephesians 2:8-9:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast.

Winkfield, however, seems determined that the answer comes from working harder in the coming year:

“We can come to grips with our strengths and weaknesses and come up with a creative plan to do better. From there, we can go out and execute our plan with the time we have left,” he advises. “If successful, we can eventually be commended.”

Oh yeah. And do it with God's help. Kinda.

“Upon repentance, God frees us completely from the sins that bring the burdens of spiritual debt. This is vastly superior to trying to dig out of debt on your own. And, as God does His part to fix any 'credit' problem you may have, you must do your part to help build and keep it up.”

Actually, Romans 4 does talk about the work that we do to build and keep up our spiritual credit score. And not in a good way.

What then, shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.
                                                                                                             -  Romans 4:1-5

Now, I know what you're thinking. Remember, I once was you. Martha, everyone knows Dave Pack's extreme. My group's isn't like RCG.

Might I remind you that Dave Pack came from the same place as the man in your pulpit? That virtually all the leaders in the COGs are vying to carry the mantle of the true church, rising from the Worldwide Church of God's ashes? That RCG's theology is just a more extreme continuum along the path of the theology Herbert W Armstrong developed? In fact, Pack's teachings really just flesh out many of HWA's teachings to their fullest extent, while others whitewash the full implications through convenient cognitive dissonance.

If, at Passover, you have elders remarking that "you're the cleanest you'll ever be," or that they don't want to do anything that will tarnish their newly-clean record, your church is simply at a different point along the same road.

Commemorating Christ's sacrifice with bread and wine is a command, but it's not magic. Doing it irreverently, without introspection is foolish, disrespectful and potentially dangerous, but there's no magic formula or outline defining "proper examination." Trying to quantify, and worse yet, to qualify, for approval and entrance into the Kingdom through our efforts and actions puts one in a dangerous position. Once we have become a new creation in Christ by the Spirit, we do not grow into his image by works of the flesh (Galatians 3:3).


If you are the Lord's, you have already been washed by his blood. (John 13:10). Examine yourself and "wash your feet", but if you have taken the bread and the wine, you are already unleavened (1 Corinthians 5:7).


So by all means, take the Passover. Eat the bread and drink the wine. Do it in remembrance of Jesus and what He did for you. Examine your heart and your mind. And when you find yourself unworthy, take heart. God already claimed you as His own when you entered the New Covenant. You already stand approved - not because of anything you have done, but because of what He did for you. 





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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, January 18, 2019

On a Personal Note: Why We're Here


If you've stumbled onto As Bereans Did, chances are good that you have two questions: who are these guys, and why do they criticize the Churches of God so much?

A reader from a COG splinter, who knows me both as myself and as Martha, reminded me recently that it might wise to give any newer readers a refresher on the motives behind this blog. It's a reasonable suggestion, and I'm thankful for it.

So what's the point of As Bereans Did? Are we just a bunch of haters who let bitterness steal our crowns? Are we mockers out to persecute God's true church?

ABD has been around for more than a decade. It's been through many hands, but the goals have always been the same:

  1. To challenge the doctrinal and historical fallacies promoted by Herbert Armstrong, the Worldwide Church of God, and the splinter groups that remain today. 
  2. To reach out to and support those who are questioning or contemplating leaving these splinter groups. 
But why? Do we invest our time because we're bitter, angry and will do anything we can to disparage the COGs? 

Not at all. We do it because we care about you. We do it because we WERE you. 

All of ABD's writers were COG members at some time. Some came in as adults, others were raised in it. But all took a hard look at COG doctrines, found them wanting, and left, embracing mainstream Christianity in some form or another. We're relatively content. Sure, we have some regrets and some scars. But for the most part, we're living the abundant life Christ promises in Him. We're free from the weariness of the mental checklist. We're free from the fear of falling short and ending up in the Lake of Fire. We're free from the ministerial abuse, from the toxic culture, the loneliness.

But you're not.

You - our grandparents, our mothers, our fathers. Our siblings, our cousins, our nieces and nephews. Our childhood friends. Those with whom we went to college. Who stood by us during painful church splits. Who've bandaged our children's skinned knees. Who've shared pieces of our lives that few other can understand.

That weighs heavily on our hearts. And that is why we're here, and why we do what we do. Trust us, it would be a whole lot easier to grab a bag of chips and turn on Netflix.

Let me make it clear:

We don't care what you eat. Eat pork, don't eat pork, whatever. Trying to figure out what to serve our friends on the latest fad diet is much harder, anyway.

We don't care what day you go to church. Sure, the Saturday-Sunday schedule conflict can be a challenge. But whatever. We care about you, and if we all try, we can find a way to make the relationship work.

We don't even care - really - about the holy days. We do think holy day observance can be dangerous - because of the self-righteousness they foster, the bad theology your church uses to support them, and mostly because we believe they distract from the very One they pointed to. But hey, Paul turned out ok. Evidence is mixed on whether he continued to keep all of them or mainly used them as a gospel opportunity. But we're not here to argue about that, not today.

We don't care about lobster, about the sabbath, or about Pentecost. We care about what's happening to YOU.


Toxic Culture

Even you can't deny that the COGs have a toxic culture. Oh, not the COG that you attend, of course, just all the other ones. Rather than consider that the shared doctrines might be causing the dysfunction, you blame the guy(s) at the top of the other groups. Don't forget that they're ALL trying to imitate the same guy, and restore what he taught to some degree or another. Yes, even "so-called Christian" churches have struggles that are inevitable as long as men are in charge. But even ugly disagreements are handled with a level of discussion and grace that is unheard of in the COGs. It infuriates us to see you demeaned, slandered and cast aside, especially by lifelong "friends." We want better for you.


Self-Righteousness

We know you'll deny it, but the COGs reinforce, and sometimes directly teach, salvation by works. This can't help but reinforce a culture of self-righteousness. Instead of living for Christ, you live in fear of screwing up. Understanding grace sets the tone for true forgiveness, compassion and a basis for real Christian relationships. But if your salvation depends upon what you do, then you must do your best to get everything right - or at least some mysterious, unquantified percentage.

This false doctrine fuels the underlying dynamic of criticism, fractious relationships between brethren and the never-ending cycle of church splits. These painful splits shook our worlds, ended have ended our friendships and tore apart our families. We're done with them, and are trying to learn how to forge relationships based on grace, love, mercy and forgiveness. But it breaks our hearts to see you suffer in fractured organizations and fractured relationships, because we know the pain all too well.


Isolation

Life in the COGs was isolated enough when we were in them, and it's not getting any better. Fellowship with mainstream Christians and apostate family members is often discouraged, and sabbath and holy day observance make it a challenge with friends and co-workers. That wasn't fun, but wasn't as bad when congregations were large and thriving. But today, splits, an aging population and lack of growth make most COGs a lonely place to be, leaving many members vulnerable to depression, alcoholism and suicide. In many ways, this can become a spiritual concern. The Bible describes Satan as a hungry lion, prowling to find whoever he can devour. Lions don't attack the pack head-on. They come from behind, looking for those who are young, sickly or weak, and try to pick them off. Isolation makes you vulnerable to the devil.

The Bible makes it clear Christians function best in community, working together to fill different roles and take care of widows, orphans and members in need. Yes, we know you have scattered congregations and Facebook communities. But an elderly member can't come shovel your driveway when you're snowed in. Someone who lives two hours away can't sit with you while you wait for the paramedics to arrive. A Facebook friend across the pond can't care for your children during a family emergency. We have felt the strain of loneliness and the pain of isolation. It doesn't have to be this way. We want you to be joyful, safe and healthy, both physically and spiritually.


Salvation

I'm going to tread lightly on this one because it's above my pay grade. I'm not going to argue about when one attains salvation, when one becomes part of God's family, or the so-called "once saved, always saved" doctrine. This is not a treatise on salvation. If we believe that salvation comes by grace, through faith rather than works or perfect understanding, it would be foolish to claim that false doctrines will jeopardize your eternal life.

At the same time, in one of our favorite books of the Bible, Paul has strong words for those who promote a gospel that combines grace and works. He tells them that they are cut off from Christ, that His sacrifice does nothing for them if they try to secure their salvation through their actions, works, observances and abstentions. A church that at best hints - and at worst promotes - observance of commandments, sabbaths and holy days as components of salvation leads its members toward sinking sand rather than the Rock. We can't judge your heart, judge your motives, judge your standing with God. We don't want to. But we'd be lying if we said we weren't concerned, and didn't pray for you regarding this matter.


You are Worth It

We know that we don't update this blog as often as we used to. The truth is, Jesus knew what He was talking about. Life gets amazingly, ridiculously abundant when you're trying to serve Him instead of spending your time reading ingredient wrappers or calculating sunset times. We hope that someday, we'll find time to write on occasions other than milestones, holy days, Easter and Christmas. But for now, there's lots of good information here to help you on your spiritual journey. I know, because it was one thing that helped me start mine.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Jesus told us that we'll be rewarded for the things we give up in this life. If what the COGs teach, and the doctrines and practices are what your Creator expect of you, it's all worth it. The abstentions. The observances. The rigidity. The isolation.

But what if it isn't what God expects of you? Is it worth it then?

We believe that isn't what He wants for you. We believe He wants more for you. And so do we.

So, in case there's any further doubt, why are we here?

The answer is simple:

Because of you.



                                                      *******************
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, December 25, 2018

Jesus: He's Kind of a Big Deal

Much like xHWA, writing at this time of year has become a tradition of mine. It's taken me so long, in part, because I was having a hard time deciding what to write. After all, the time we have available time for blogging is getting to be so infrequent that it's hard to know whether anyone is reading As Bereans Did anymore.

Actually, that's not entirely true. I can make a decent guess about some of our web traffic. We noticed that, ahead of this Christmas season, COGWA has added an article explaining that the American and Canadian Thanksgiving holidays are acceptable to the Lord, possibly in response to our tongue-in-cheek efforts to connect them to paganism. Apparently COGWA has decided that, though many modern customs associated with Thanksgiving "may not be pleasing to God, they are not rooted in paganism" and don't subvert the truth presented in the holy days.

Additionally, COGWA notes that Purim and Hanukkah are not commanded festivals, but that they are mentioned in the Bible. Presumably, they are acceptable because they commemorate important events, even miracles, in Hebrew national history.

Hmmmm. I'm debating whether it's even worth my time to dignify that assertion by stating the obvious about the birth of our Savior, whenever it actually happened...


Nope. It's not. Moving on...

We also noticed that UCG added a few paragraphs to its annual reheated article about when Jesus was born dismissing the traditional ancient Jewish belief that many prophets were either conceived or born on the same day of the year that they died. Rather than addressing or discrediting our sources, or considering whether this may have been a factor when the original date was set, they brush it off by saying that it "shows how far people are willing to go to justify the Christmas date."

In addition to the false claims about the Saturnalia, we noticed that UCG is still perpetuating the myth that colonial America banned Christmas because of its pagan origins. COG organizations tend to romanticize these "brighter moments" in history, completely ignoring the fact that the early Puritans rejected Christmas because it was viewed as Catholic, not because they believed it was pagan. And, much like the Waldensians, the Puritans neither kept the Levitical holy days; nor did most worship on Saturday.

Many of the COGS desperately try hitch their wagons to the Puritans, especially the handful of Sabbatarian sects of New England. This link is absolutely not true - the COGs stumbled into their brand of Sabbatarianism, prophecy and rejection of mainstream Christian holidays through William Miller, the Great Disappointment, Ellen G. White and others in the Seventh Day Adventist and Church of God-Seventh Day community. If they COGs truly wanted to get back to their Puritan "roots," they would also distance themselves from the evils of dice and card playing; and also place strict limitations on the consumption of alcohol. I won't be holding my breath.

As xHWA explained, those who perpetuate these myths in the COGs seem not to be interested in exploring the truth. We've given logical, reasoned alternatives to their narrative. Heck, we've even given them our sources. They're pretty obviously reading what we have to say. Rather than doing any serious research, they dismiss it with a sentence or two, then copy and paste the same arguments they've been making every December since the 1940s.

Honestly, in a way, I can understand. We at ABD absolutely understand what it means to consider that what you've been taught might not be the whole truth. It can cost you your family, your friends, your social support system and your identity. And though these were hard enough, it didn't also cost us our livelihood or our retirement. The COG leadership is fully invested in this narrative, in every sense of the word. If what they teach about the paganism in mainstream Christianity is a lie, then they have no reason to exist.  

Since they're not listening, I'd like to talk to you.

I'm not interested in convincing you to celebrate Christmas. Sure, it would be nice not to be sighed over and whispered about behind our backs. It would be nice to share this meaningful time with family. But I'm sure they feel that way about the Feast, too, so I'm not going to throw stones. And I'd have to be pretty foolish to try to tell you that you don't need to celebrate the holy days of the Sinai Covenant - but do need to celebrate Christmas - to be right with God.  

In fact, that's exactly what I want you to understand - there's nothing you can do to make yourself right with God. Keeping the Days of Unleavened Bread doesn't make or keep you right with God. Celebrating Easter doesn't make or keep you right with God. Keeping a seventh-day Sabbath doesn't make or keep you right with God. Going to church every Sunday doesn't make or keep you right with God. There is no obedience checklist that secures your salvation.  Yes, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that obedience to the teachings of the New Covenant, its Testator and His apostles are part of Christianity. We were bought with a price, we obey our Lord as best we can, following Him and growing more like Him. But our obedience is the fruit of our faith and the Holy Spirit in our lives; it is not the cause.

There is only one thing that secures your salvation: God's promise to forgive your sins and gift you with eternal life. That promise comes by grace when you place your faith in that covenental promise, sealed in the blood of His Son Jesus. It was Jesus that made it possible. He is wasn't a step in the holy day plan - He WAS the plan, from the foundation of the world. The holy days, the sabbath, the Sinai Covenant, the law and the prophets were all shadows of the Light of the world, the only Way. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:17-20, if Christ is not raised, our faith is futile and we are still in our sins. And that is why Jesus is, in layman's terms, a Big Deal.

We will all stand before God one day, giving account for the way we lived our lives, for every idle word that we spoke. The Bible tells us that faith in Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life, the path to God. It tells us that if we are ashamed of Him, He will be ashamed of us. In that day, you will not be able to point your finger at your minister for relegating Him to a minimal role in your religious system. You will stand on your own.

It was a Big Deal when Jesus Christ was born, because that birth set our freedom in motion. Jesus Christ's teachings and ministry were a Big Deal, because He preached the forgiveness of sins and our new birth. Jesus' death was a Big Deal, because our lives can be saved through the blood He shed. And His resurrection was a Big Deal, because it meant that He was Who He said He was, and that we could have faith in His promises of forgiveness, being born again and receiving eternal life. Your ministers might not make a big deal of those things, but your Bible does.

There's no law that said you had to read the biblical accounts of Christ's birth yesterday or today, just like there's no law that says you must read accounts of His resurrection on the anniversary of its occurrence. But read them - without criticizing the arrival of the wise men or the timeline of when Jesus rose from the dead. Recognize these accounts for the miracles that they were, regardless of when they took place, and what they mean for your life. They were given to you by a God who loves you in order to instruct you, to encourage you, and to give you hope - not coincidentally, the same God who established Jesus as the the plan, the way, the solution for your sin and mine from the foundation of the world.


He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be pre-eminent.

For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him... (Colossians 1:15-22)


Now THAT's kind of a big deal.




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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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