Thursday, April 28, 2016

Spiritual Traps from the Days of Unleavened Bread, Part 3

In my previous two posts, we've talked about some reasons that keeping the Days Unleavened Bread can be spiritually dangerous. In part 1,we discussed the veil of spiritual blindness that comes from focusing on the Sinai Covenant. In part 2, we warned about the self-righteousness that keeping the Days of Unleavened Bread can foster. Today, we'll consider the confused allegiance that comes from mixing the wine and wineskins from different covenants.

Retaining extraneous practices from the Sinai Covenant can divide our hearts and our spiritual focus. Consider these confusing statements from UCG's Gary Antion, published March-April 2016 edition of the United News:

“God commands us to remove all leavening from our homes for the Days of Unleavened Bread (Exodus 12:15-20). How diligently we do so is an indication of how badly we want to put sin out of our lives,” writes Gary Antion in the United Church of God's March-April United News.

Then, just paragraphs later, he writes:

“Use intelligence. You can go overboard in cleaning and be exhausted when Passover comes.”

Before you conclude this is the product of UCG's alleged watered-down doctrines, consider that this article first appeared in the Worldwide Church of God's Worldwide News in March 1986.

Contradictory statements like Antion's demonstrate why Jesus warned against putting new wine in old wineskins. If diligence in unleavening indicates our attitude toward rooting out sin, then we should give this task 110 percent. If having leaven in our homes this week is a sin; and sin separates us from God and jeopardizes our salvation, then nothing is too radical! It is better to inherit the kingdom with one eye than to enter the Lake of Fire with both (Matthew 18:9).

But if it's possible to “go overboard” in our deleavening, then we must admit that having crumbs lodged deep in the toaster at the end of this week isn't sin. And if it isn't, then does God truly expect us to do the rest of it? If not, wouldn't it make more sense to forego extensive physical preparations and instead focus solely on spiritual preparation?

The Churches of God fall into this trap regularly. Which should be our priority, preparation for the Sabbath or doing good where we have opportunity? In this fast-paced age, the two are often mutually exclusive. Should the average working COG member spend weeknights preparing his or her home and meals for the Sabbath or have other, more New Testament-focused priorities? That's not to mention the Sabbath itself. That's another topic for another day.

Or what about clean and unclean foods? These days, understanding the terms on food labels practically requires a degree in food science to decode. Does God expect us to spend our lives learning technical names to decode food wrappers? Is every unexamined cup of yogurt, marshmallow and Dorito a strike against us?

These examples may sound silly, but they're the logical conclusion of a religious system that teaches obedience to tenets of the Sinai Covenant factor into our salvation under the New Covenant. They also help feed the mistaken COG belief that we maintain our justification before God through our work, and that each mis-step puts our salvation in jeopardy.

The symbolism of the Days of Unleavened Bread sounds good on the surface. Of course they do! They were shadows pointing to Jesus and what He would do for humanity. But that is what they were – shadows revealing our need. Now that the Son has risen, we need to leave the shadows behind and walk in His light.

When you look deeper, the Days of Unleavened Bread reveal the holes in the COG teachings on salvation – that our works maintain our right standing before God. The symbolism sounds good on a surface level. Now that the Son has risen, we need to step into His light and leave the shadows behind.

I believe it's no accident that Jesus rose during the Days of Unleavened Bread. It's a beautiful picture of what He did for us. In the midst of our losing battle to make ourselves acceptable to God, Jesus came and sacrificed Himself for us. His resurrection interrupted that endless cycle. And yet some are determined to continue in it.

A house divided against itself cannot stand. We cannot serve two masters. When we try to fulfill the requirements of two covenants, we will fulfill neither fully. We must choose one and dedicate our lives to it fully. The law cannot save. Only a Savior can.

So how did you spend this week? What messages have you heard at church? Did most look back to Sinai, back Israel, or focus on the New Covenant in His blood? Did you celebrate a lavish, fabricated observance on the night that your Savior's scattered disciples mourned? Did you ignore the fact that Jesus rose because doing so is too Protestant?

Take heart. The shed blood of your risen Savior can cover these sins and many more. The fact that He rose proves that what He and His apostles said - that you are now truly unleavened.



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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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Sunday, April 24, 2016

Spiritual Traps from the Days of Unleavened Bread - Part 2

Today I'd like to continue my series about the spiritually dangers of the Days of Unleavened Bread. Last time, we examined Paul's writings in 2 Corinthians 3 discussing the veil that kept the Jews from comprehending their Savior, and how it applies to the Churches of God. This time, we'll look at another spiritual trap the Days of Unleavened Bread encourage – fostering dependence on works and self-righteousness.

There's no denying that the Sinai Covenant was works-heavy. Eat this. Don't eat that. Rest on a certain day. Make your clothes in this certain way. Obey these things and you will be God's special people. He will bless your nation, water your crops, multiply your herds and scatter your enemies.

As a result, the Hebrews became pretty pleased with themselves. They took pride in their special status with God. Consider the Pharisees' statement to Jesus in Matthew 3:9 - “We have Abraham as OUR Father.” Throughout the gospels, we get a good picture of how the Jews viewed the gentiles. They regarded them as dogs.

Gentiles, of course, could join the nation and become party to the Sinai Covenant. If a foreigner wanted to join the nation, all the males in his family must be circumcised before he could take the Passover (Exodus 12:48). And if one did not keep the Passover, he was cut off from Israel and remained in his sins (Numbers 9:13).

This is why circumcision was such a big deal in the early church. Many Jewish Christians believed their Gentile brethren needed to become circumcised to enter the community of faith. But make no mistake – this was not just about circumcision. Circumcision was the rite, the gateway that made outsiders eligible to be party to the Sinai Covenant and “keep the law.”

It's obvious that many Jews still felt superior to the Gentiles. We are more than a quarter of the way through the book of Acts before we see that Gentiles can receive the Holy Spirit – and even the apostles are astonished! Even after the matter is settled in Acts 15, many Jews still tried to pressure Gentiles to become circumcised. Even Peter was not immune to this prejudice and hypocrisy, as we see in Galatians 2.

There's no doubt that self-righteousness like this exists in the COGs today. It's probably partially due to confusion caused by Herbert Armstrong's disproven theory of British Israelism. But even COG publications give evidence of this self-righteousness; mostly over points of Sinai Covenant law keeping. How many times have you seen statements like these in print over the years: “True Christians keep the Sabbath.” “True Christians faithfully observe God's Holy Days.” These statements are coupled with language disparaging sincere Christians as “so-called” and “deceived” in publications like the Living Church of God's “Tomorrow's World” magazine. Forget what Jesus said would be the true sign of His disciples.

“I see all that too, Martha, and it disgusts me,” you might say. “But that's not me. I keep certain laws because I can see that they have benefits, not because I think they qualify me for salvation.”

Look, I totally understand the desire to continue with habitual, often lifelong, physical practices, especially if you think you see blessings. But the fact is, we were heavily propagandized about many of these practices, and that thinking doesn't go away overnight.

But the Sabbath is a great blessing, you might say. I don't disagree, in theory. Physical rest certainly has benefits, as does assembling with those of like mind. Assembling for worship, prayer and support is commanded in the New Testament as well. But these practices would benefit us ANY day of the week, not just on Saturday.

Perhaps tithing is your hang up. God loves a cheerful giver! But if 10 percent is good, wouldn't 15 percent be better? I mean, if we are to be “living sacrifices,” well, Jesus didn't just lose a couple of limbs. He gave it all.

Or maybe clean and unclean meats is your thing. God made all animals, and knows which ones are good and bad to eat. Certainly following food laws has physical benefit! Peter avoided unclean meats for years after the crucifixion! Many believe that pork carries health risks. Many more believe eating red meat, such as beef, is even more risky. If you're really concerned about taking a stand for health, you probably should cut out all meat, not just pork. Paul said he would never eat meat again if it was causing a brother to stumble. Maybe we should all listen to Paul, PETA and Dr. Mercola.

The fact is, blessings for physical observances that were stated in the Sinai Covenant vanished with the Sinai Covenant. Scripture plainly says that covenant is obsolete. True, things like adultery and murder are still wrong under the New Covenant. But it's because they violate the teachings of Jesus, not because they violate the 10 Commandments. They, along with the rest of the Sinai Covenant, were  intended to show people their sinfulness and need for a Savior. Once we come to that understanding, it has done its job, and we no longer need a tutor. The indwelling Holy Spirit becomes our guide. God uses this method to shows us our sins and flaws on a far deeper level than any checklist ever could.

This same God who knows our hearts so deeply understood that linking salvation to our works would lead either to self-righteousness or despair. It would cause us to either see ourselves as better than others or as a desolate sinner with no hope. God knew what He was doing when he established grace, not works, as the basis for salvation.

The Days of Unleavened Bread reinforce the very things salvation by grace was intended to short-circuit. We focus obsessively on a physical task, on our actions. We attempt an admittedly impossible task – removing all leavening from our dwellings - as symbolic of an even more impossible spiritual task. We pause to remember the death of our Savior; then deny the reality He came to establish – that we are truly unleavened now, thanks to Him (1 Corinthians 5:7).

Avoiding sin is good. Taking in the Bread of Life is good. But we can do these things without flirting with a yoke of bondage; without celebrating a Holy Day that focuses on the physical and establishes a performance trap mentality.  Which leads to the third concern about the Days of Unleavened Bread, which I'll discuss in my final DUB post.



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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, April 22, 2016

World Vision Honors LCG Contract; Will Host Seminar

World Vision Canada will honor its existing contract with the Living Church of God and host its "Tomorrow's World" seminar as scheduled on June 4.

Earlier this week, As Bereans Did learned that World Vision Canada had rescheduled LCG's seminar. Originally, LCG planned to host its "Tomorrow's World" seminar on May 14.  But that date was cancelled after concerned ex-Armstrongists contacted the humanitarian organization with concerns that the cult may have misled World Vision about its history and ties to Herbert Armstrong's doctrines.

 At that time, World Vision said they planned to review their rental policies to make sure they weren't allowing groups that went against the ministry's mission and values. They confirmed today that the review was in process; but that it was in its early stages and would take time to complete.

"Until a resolution on our policy is reached, any Licensee agreements that we already have in place will be honoured as per the terms of their current contractual agreement," World Vision Canada told ABD today.

We wish that World Vision had stuck to its guns when it first cancelled the cult's seminar due to a "planned building cleaning" on May 14. But we understand that a contract is a contract, and that LCG's laywers are already working overtime thanks to the Scarborough lawsuit against the cult. What's a breech-of-contract filing when you're already dealing with a mess like that?

This isn't the first time LCG has hidden in the skirts of evangelical World Vision to lure in unsuspecting prospects. But we hope it will be the last.





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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, April 21, 2016

Spiritual Traps from the Days of Unleavened Bread - Part 1

It's just about time for Passover, so I assume your Wonder Bread and Saltines are long gone. Mine are, too.

But only because I don't buy them in the first place. They're gross. But the yeast in my refrigerator is alive and well.

I kept the Days of Unleavened Bread for most of my life. I even started festival traditions with my own family.  Even now, I wish I could look back on these memories with warm, fuzzy feelings. But I don't. In hindsight, I find the festival troubling.

Why? Isn't this celebration acceptable, possibly commanded for Christians? Isn't it part of the law? An astute reader asked us last week -  is it wrong to keep portions of the law – as long as we understand that it is not REQUIRED salvation? Especially if we see doing so keeps physical and spiritual blessings?

The short answer, of course, is no. Scripture tells us that Peter continued to follow Sinai's dietary laws for years after Christ's sacrifice. We have evidence that Paul marked Pentecost and occasionally spent the feast day in Jerusalem several years after his conversion. It would be foolish to argue that continuing these practices disqualified these great apostles for salvation.

Furthermore, we know many gentiles in the early church kept the Holy Days along with their Jewish brethren. Consider the brethren at Corinth, who met in the home of the local synagogue leader. A deeper look at scripture reveals Paul referenced the festival they had recently celebrated, but wasn't commanding them to literally keep a feast. Regardless, we can see the brethren were familiar with the concept of leavening.

It was only when the balance of the early church shifted primarily to a gentile population that these festivals – which the apostles determined were not binding upon gentiles – were discarded. Really, the argument the COGs make today regarding the Holy Days is nothing new – it's a debate that started in Acts 15. Nothing is new under the sun. But at any rate, no one would argue that these early Christians – many of whom were persecuted and martyred – disqualified themselves for salvation by keeping the Holy Days.

So what's the big deal? Why do the Days of Unleavened Bread bother me so much? I know, it's because I'm bitter. Or because I let someone else take my crown. Or maybe I'm just really lazy and don't want to clean the house (please don't raise that issue with my husband!). Some of  might be your minister's answer. But I disagree. Strongly.

I truly believe keeping the Holy Days can be spiritually detrimental. And none seem more potentially toxic to me than the Days of Unleavened Bread. While the DUB are not inherently wrong, they are backward-looking and can distract us from many spiritual realities that Christ came to establish. They can help feed the very pride and self-righteousness the COGs teach should be expelled at this time of year. Finally, they split our focus between two very different covenants and sets of promises. I'd like to discuss these problems in my next several posts.


DISTRACTION

Paul explains my first reason upon my first reason in 2 Corinthians 3. While Paul refers specifically to his Jewish brothers, I believe this danger applies to anyone who clings to practices from the Sinai Covenant.

(2 Corinthians 3:13-15, NIV) We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.”

Remember back in Exodus, when Moses' face was illuminated after he came down the mountain with the tablets of the Sinai Covenant? It was so dramatic that he wore a veil so he wouldn't frighten the Israelites. But rather than being sobered by the significance of what Moses' shining face indicated, Paul says, the veil became a barrier that prevented Israel from seeing God's glory. It distracted them, much like their devotion to the law distracted them from seeing Jesus for who He was and what He did.

Expositor's Bible Commentary explains it this way:

“Although the OT does not explicitly state that the radiance on the face of Moses gradually faded and then disappeared, Paul deduced that the reason for Moses's veiling or masking his face was not so much to prevent the Israelites from being dazzled by its brightness as to prevent them from continuing to gaze in amazement till his face had totally lost the brilliance of the reflected glory. He was attempting to teach them, Paul implies, that the newly established order was destined to be eclipsed and pass away.” 

Moses veiled his face, Paul claims, so the Israelites wouldn't focus on him until the shine was totally faded. But figuratively speaking, they kept staring at the veil even once the glow was gone.

Let me give a more concrete example. Are you familiar with the glow sticks the dollar store sells around July 4th and Halloween? You know, the ones full of neon chemicals so toxic they would probably burn a hole in your finger if they leaked? My children are obsessed with them. These sticks light up for 24 hours, tops, and yet my children will hold onto them for a week, insisting they still see a faint glow. Trying to take them away reminds me of Gollum and the Ring.

With all due respect, the Jews are like my kids and their glow sticks. They are holding onto the Sinai Covenant, convinced that some light remains. They were unable to see that the Sinai Covenant, the “ministry of death, written and engraved in stones” (2 Corinthians 3:7) has passed away (2 Corinthians 3:8), was “becoming obsolete and growing old” and was ready to vanish (Hebrews 8:13). Their desperation to focus on the glory of the Sinai Covenant and retain their passing status as God's special people rendered them unable to see the true Light of the World.

“Paul could call it the "same" veil, because in both cases a veil prevented vision, whether physical or spiritual, or because it was identical to the veil of ignorance about the transitory nature of the Mosaic economy covering the hearts of the contemporaries of Moses. “ (The Expositor's Bible Commentary). 

In a similar way, when the COGs cling to select tenets of the Sinai Covenant, it keeps them looking backwards. It keeps their focus on the passing glory of Sinai rather than on the Light of the World, what He taught and what He accomplished.

Don't believe me? Consider this pre-Passover “self-examination” questionnaire COGWA made available to its members this week. The very first question focuses on the 10 commandments; question two analyzes Sabbath observance and question three concerns the Holy Days. We see their first  mention of Christ and following his teachings in question five – almost a third of the way through the questionnaire. But I thought Passover was all Jesus and his sacrifice, mercy and humbling ourselves? If so, why do He and His teachings get such a mediocre ranking?

When we look back to Sinai for the basis of our actions, we can't help but get mired in works. Which brings us to the next problem with the law and the Days of Unleavened Bread – the issue of the self-righteousness. We'll explore this problem later in the festival.



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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, April 19, 2016

LCG Back on Schedule at World Vision Canada Headquarters

Those of us who lauded World Vision Canada for giving the Living Church of God's seminar the boot may have spoken too soon.

Today we learned that LCG's "Tomorrow's World" seminar has been rescheduled for June 4 at World Vision Canada's headquarters. LCG's seminar was originally scheduled for May 14, but was cancelled after many ex-Armstrongists contacted World Vision.

World Vision officials told As Bereans Did that the seminar was cancelled because the building would be closed for cleaning on May 14. The same message, however, stated that the organization was going to revisit its rental policies given what had unfolded with LCG.

Calls and messages to World Vision Canada were not returned as of the time of this posting.

Previous messages from World Vision Canada to ABD gave the impression that LCG insinuated the "church" had discarded Herbert Armstrong's teachings and came from the now-evangelical Grace Communion International. Of course, anyone familiar with LCG still adopts Armstrong's teachings and came out of his Worldwide Church of God cult long before Joseph Tkach embraced mainstream Christian doctrines.

World Vision allows groups use meeting space in its facility to promote good community relationships, and they state that this practice does not mean they endorse the positions of every group that uses its space. That's reasonable, but we're not talking about the Rotary Club or the Boy Scouts. World Vision is an evangelical Christian relief organization; LCG is a cult that mocks evangelical Christians and preaches a false gospel that directly contradicts World Vision's Statement of Faith.

We are not trying to silence LCG's freedom of speech here. Notice we're not fighting the cult's planned use of the Ottawa Best Western Plus for a seminar on May 28; nor did we take issue with the United Church of God's April 10 seminar at the Embassy Suites Airport in Columbus, Ohio. We don't advise attending them, but we're not making any phone calls or painting picket signs.

What we take issue with is LCG's attempt to cloak its Armstrongist teachings in the skirts of the very evangelical Christianity it mocks. With its attempts to welcome, disarm and woo moral, God-fearing people with the smiles of Haitian children. Shame on you, LCG. And frankly, shame on you, World Vision.






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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, April 15, 2016

Sin is the Transgression of the Law! (?)

Sin is the Transgression of the Law


The Pharisees and religious leaders had a dilemma to solve. On the one hand, they had a miracle to contend with that arguably could only have been performed by and through God, where a man born blind was made to see. On the other hand, they had an interpretation of Scripture that told them that the One performing the miracle was a sinner, having broken the law, and that God does not "hear" sinners, performing miracles through them. Sin was, to them, transgressing that law, and they had all the evidence they needed to establish the fact that He had indeed broken the law.

A number of rationalizations were used in an attempt to resolve the problem.

He performed miracles, such as casting out demons, by the power of the devil.

The miracle was somehow faked.

The solution they settled on just happened to satisfy their own prejudices and hatred for the man in question, not unlike the Medieval practice of tossing one suspected of being a witch into a body of water. Witches floated, and others did not. If you were not a witch, you sank and drowned, but at least the people knew you were not a witch! Comforting thought...

They therefore condemned the man to death, figuring that if He truly was of God, God would rescue Him. In the back of their minds though, they KNEW He was not of God, and that God had let the prophets of old be put to death by the people of those times without God's intervention. But they did not dwell on that. They had a hatred of Him, and hatred blinds a man from certain realities he does not want to deal with. Hatred corrupts the mind and thinking process.

So the miracles were rejected in favor of the law, specifically the belief that sin resulted from breaking the law, despite the evidence used by Jesus to show that this was not necessarily so, citing the examples of pulling an animal out of a pit on the Sabbath, and how the priests "profaned" the Sabbath by working at the temple on Sabbaths, and how David and those with him ate the showbread that was specifically unlawful for David and company to do so.

But these religious leaders did not want to give Jesus His just exemption for working on the Sabbath. They were the administrators of the Law, and their hatred and prejudices prevented them from wielding the Law in a just manner, being consistent with the Law.

Often, the worst violators of law are the administrators of law, for who else is going to judge them according to the law?

Fast forward roughly 2000 years. Some churches have developed and adopted a legal code derived from that old covenant law. They in turn used law as a means of ruling and controlling those within their churches, wielding it in similar fashion as those religious leaders did in Jesus' time.

As a result, sin is defined as transgressing their law, derived from the old covenant law, specifically in some cases the 10 Commandments, making it easier to enforce it, pointing out that it originated with God, ergo it is "God's Law."

The ironic turn of events is that now, Jesus is embraced with the claim He actually kept that law that He was put to death for breaking. Yet both the religious leaders of Jesus time, and the religious leaders afterwards embrace the belief that sin results from transgressing the Law.

Both groups of religious leaders reject Jesus' appeal to His Sabbath exemption.

Both groups resort to what I like to call, "flipping the legal coin" in determining their verdict.

The religious leaders of Jesus' time declared Him guilty, having rejected His legal claim of exemption.

The religious leaders of today declare Him innocent of breaking the law, despite His own admission for having broken the law, thereby rendering His claim to exemption irrelevant and immaterial.

Both groups have a vested interest in maintaining the belief that sin results when one breaks or transgresses their law.

If you embrace the understanding that Jesus conveyed regarding "righteous judgment" then the power base derived through the administration of "law" slips out through the fingers of those in a position of power. The individual becomes empowered to now determine what is appropriate for himself, and what is not. His conscience as led and influenced by the Holy Spirit becomes his Law.

Can't have that now, can we...

The understanding that sin originates in the mind, and thus condemns the person then and there does not serve the administrators of law whose power and control is derived through controlling the actions of others.

Sin must be the transgression of the law.


Bill Hohmann


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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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