Friday, May 1, 2020

Dave Pack Is A Fraud

Back on March 31, 2020 we posted an article called "COVID-19: No More Fearmongering". In that post I vented some frustration on the blatant fear mongering inherent in Armstrongism. What got me started was No2HWA over at the Banned By HWA blog reported about Dave Pack telling his flock that they will not see another Sabbath. In my Fearmongering article, I stated:
"God did not send Dave Pack this prediction. If you read this blog post on or after May 1, 2020, then you have your proof that Jesus did not come by "next Sabbath" and you are surrounded by a false system."
Guess what day it is? (No, not Hump Day.) It's May 1, 2020. And SURPRISE! Jesus did not make his second coming that week as Pack assured us.

So Dave Pack asked all of his top Ministers and they all agreed that none of them could see how we would be here another week. Well, it hasn't just been a week but another month. Out of the generosity of our hearts we gave Pack an extra month. Here we are. Not a single one of them could see how we would be here today reading this. Not. A. Single. One.

Funniest thing is, No2HWA has plenty of other articles in the meantime about how Pack just kept making more and more statements. Any hint of an apology, or remorse? No. And that, dear reader, is how it always goes. That's how it's been going since 1843. When are people currently in the system going to say enough is enough?


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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 2, 2020

Passover in the Age of Social Distancing

In recent weeks, Christians have found themselves navigating waters that have been relatively uncharted for a century. As the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, or COVID-19 has spread across the globe, leaders worldwide have started placing restrictions on social gatherings in attempts to limit transmission. Many state and national leaders have requested that U.S. Residents restrict group meetings to 10 or fewer individuals; some have gone as far as asking residents to stay home at all times unless except for essentials like groceries, medical attention or exercise.

These requests have challenged leaders from all denominations, now forced to help the church come together as one body – in a hundred separate homes. How can individuals serve others as the hands and feet of Jesus when all their limbs are required to maintain six feet of distance. Many churches have instituted online services. Some have opened drive-thru centers to hand out public assistance. But few seem to have found a good solution for handling communion – the commemoration of bread and wine.

While all Christian traditions adopt this sacrament, differing theological viewpoints affect how the ritual is practiced. Many protestants churches view communion as an important, yet symbolic, ritual memorializing Christ's sacrifice in remembrance “as often as” it is done. Some churches practice it weekly; others monthly; still others quarterly. In the current situation, many feel relatively comfortable waiting indefinitely for the next safe opportunity.

Catholics vary some in their belief about communion, but generally view the practice less symbolically and more as a ritual to be practiced regularly. The elements are served at every mass; but as I understand, it is generally accepted that Catholics should take communion at least once per year; preferably around Easter.  In my area, the diocesan archbishops has granted dispensation from mass – – to all within our district until the crisis passes.

It's more challenging to clearly define the views of the Churches of God, since they never had a  systematic theology and each splinter has its own flavor. Generally, though, the COGs view Passover – their annual communion service – as an observance critical to salvation. This view is based on Numbers 9:13:

But if anyone who is ceremonially clean and not on a journey fails to celebrate the Passover, they must be cut off from their people for not presenting the Lord's offering at the appointed time. They will bear the consequences of their sin. 

This application is in keeping with COG teachings on “ongoing justification” - that man is initially reconciled to God through Christ's sacrifice, but then is responsible for keeping his own slate clean – to varying extents – through a track record of repentance and spiritual growth. In short, if you're required to keep your library record up to date, the appointment for renewing your library card is critical.  and the schedule for available renewals is pretty limited - in this case, one evening per year.

I clearly no longer accept the reasoning behind the annual COG service, for both theological reasons and practical ones. Covenants aside, I find that annualizing the spiritual disciplines communion is intended to foster undermines our Christian walk. If we wait several months to get serious about a matter of sin in our lives, they have likely already taken root. If we wait almost a year to restore a relationship - and only do it because we have to - that relationship is likely over. If we make examination and reconciliation an annual practice, our personal holiness and relationships suffer.

Regardless of my reasons, many who I know and love disagree. And that's who I want to talk to today. Because I have no doubt that COG leaders are currently wrestling with decisions about the upcoming Passover. I also know that small groups of members are considering meeting for Passover even if their organizational leaders cancel official services. And I'm concerned about the graying COG population, given the risk COVID-19 poses to the elderly.  Today I'd like to give some food for thought - or at least consideration - advocating NOT gathering for Passover.


God created quarantining

First of all, the concept of social distancing to prevent illness is biblical - they're discussed in both Leviticus and Numbers. God mandated that Israelites who had symptoms of leprosy, or who had a suspicious discharge (among other concerns) stayed outside the camp until their
symptoms passed. This was intended to prevent contagion from spreading through the camp. Social distancing is a similar concept, except we avoid infecting others - or being infected - by isolating ourselves from the public by staying on our own property. Also, today, infection isn't as easily recognized as a seeping wound. COVID-19 has a lengthy incubation period, so it's possible to infect others unknowingly before knowing you're sick. As a result, retreating to your own home – and taking more drastic isolation measures if you're symptomatic – makes practical and biblical sense.


The Second Passover

God certainly wants us to fear and obey Him, but He's also a merciful God who understands that life is messy. Jesus experienced it firsthand; but we even see evidence of this in the Old Testament. In His wisdom, God established a second Passover for Israel when His quarantining mandates made people unclean. In Numbers 9, we see that a group of men who handled a dead body were concerned about being cuff off from Israel because they missed the Passover. God directly told Moses that those men could wait a month.

God's instruction didn't apply only to the ceremonially unclean - it even applied to those who were “away on a trip” during the first Passover. The Bible doesn't elaborate why men would be traveling near Passover - I can only assume it would be for an unexpected or critical reason. Most Israelites wouldn't choose to travel at that time. Regardless, this provision shows that God wants us to take Him seriously - but understands that life is messy. Will our current messiness clear by May 8? I doubt it. President Trump recently extended social distancing recommendations to April 30, and stated society might return to more normalcy by June 1. But an extra month would give church leaders - and the experts informing them - more time and data to evaluate.


Passover at Home 

Another possibility is keeping Passover at home. It's unconventional - but what isn't right
Pretend there's fewer than 10 here.
now. Most churches have already been tuning in to weekly services at home. There's no reason Passover couldn't be handled the same way. Chances are good that you already have unleavened bread at home (if not, and you're considering this option, I'm happy to send you a recipe).

But what about foot washing? Especially if you live alone?

Here's the thing. Foot washing is a beautiful symbol of Christ's humility and submission. It's an amazing symbol, and there's not one thing wrong with doing it ourselves. But in scripture, we have no evidence this practice was repeated in following years. New Testament authors repeatedly reference taking the bread and the wine, but foot washing is not a focus of those passages. Is it a beautiful reminder? Absolutely. Is it possible to do from 6 feet away? No. And does it appear to play into our salvation? Honestly, I don't see it.


Sacrificial love

During the Lord's Supper itself, where Jesus established the tradition of communion, He also told us that love would be the mark of His followers. The word used in this passage is a form of agape, or sacrificial, unselfish love characterized by outflowing concern for others. Throughout the New Testament, we see examples where Jesus, Paul, Peter, and others made choices that cost them personally in order to benefit others.



So what does that mean today? It means we may need to sacrifice our comfort and our preferences for the good of others. You may be young and healthy (although that's not a guarantee), but your graying COG brethren to whom you risk passing the virus are not. This knowledge has led to restrictions on assisted living and nursing home visits. It is not loving your elderly neighbor to risk passing the virus to them.


The Bible instructs us to respect governing authorities

Service at the River church held March 29, 2020
Early this week, news leaked that a megachurch in Tampa, Florida, preached before a crowd of several hundred parishioners over the weekend. Many Christians were shocked that the River at Tampa Bay Church ignored local orders restricting gatherings in non-essential services to 10 individuals or fewer. Other Christians were shocked when the pastor, Rodney Howard-Browne, was arrested.



I don't intend to rehash the arguments for and against Howard-Browne here - I'm sure we'll hear them ad nauseum in coming weeks. I've also heard of earlier instances where churches held services while restrictions on crowds larger than 50 were in place for weighty reasons like "we usually only have 80 fewer or people anyway" or "we didn't like the government telling us we couldn't meet."



I recognize that there are complex constitutional questions, among other nuanced issues, involved in this debate. But the Bible came before the U.S. Constitution. And Romans 13 clearly instructs Christians to obey the governing authorities, unless our leaders instruct us to commit an immoral act or to contradict God's instructions. I don't believe that requesting people temporarily limit gathering crosses this threshold. No one is singling out churches in this request - it's ALL GROUPS. No one is forcing church leaders to change their message, editing their sermons, or restricting access to broadcast media. It's not ideal, it's not fun - but it's not persecution.


This has all happened before 

The decisions we're being forced to make may seem unbelievable, but they're not unprecedented. Church leaders had to consider similar issues during the Bubonic Plague, and more recently, in the Spanish Flu outbreak. Martin Luther, father of the Reformation, had this to say regarding whether Christians should flee the Plague, in a surviving letter to the Rev. Dr. John Hess:
"I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me and I have done what he has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my own death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me however I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this is such a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor foolhardy and does not tempt God."

Throughout history, it's highly likely that Christians have occasionally missed taking the bread and the wine without jeopardizing their salvation. For example, we know Paul taught and received visitors while under house arrest. But it's unlikely he was able to continue Passover and other religious traditions as scheduled while in Roman prison in the late 50s A.D. We know he wasn't the only disciple imprisoned before martyrdom. Given the chaos that has defined much of human history, it's improbable that believers have been able to observe the Passover on the exact date, every year, for more than two thousand years. (This is just one more reason that ongoing justification, partially based on dates and observances, is implausible in my eyes).

We should, as Luther stated, pray for protection. We should ask God to wipe this virus out. And He could. But I'm not expecting it. God can do anything, and a miracle of epic proportions would capture the world's attention, for His glory. But my gut says He would have stepped in by now if that was part of the plan. Like everything else in His creation, God designed viruses for natural purposes. And like everything else He made, He designed them to be efficient and effective. In our fallen world, many things intended for natural purposes have spun out of control. xHWA wrote an excellent piece earlier this week explaining why COVID-19 is not a sign that Jesus' return is imminent, despite what some COG leaders are saying. Boils are the only human illness specifically named in prophecy, although the word translated as "pestilence" can have broad meanings, including human illness. In general, human life isn't expected to get easier as time draws to a close. While we should not be ruled by fear, I'm not getting my hopes up for a quick fix, either.

Really, there's only one reason for hope. Thankfully, it's a pretty big one.

Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in Him may have eternal life. 
                                                                                        - John 3:14-15
In this passage, Jesus cited a miracle from the book of Numbers, when God was punishing Israel for instance number 867,213 of disobedience and faithlessness. God sent serpents to
torment the Israelites. Many were bitten and died, but even then, God made a way for those who repented to live. The Lord instructed Moses to make a bronze serpent and lift it up among the congregation. Those who were bitten but looked on the serpent lived.

If there's one thing that hits home at this time of year, it's that sin has bitten us all. Maybe that lesson is hitting you harder this year than in the past. Maybe virus-forced disruption to your usual preparation routine has left you wondering whether you've done enough to be worthy to take the Passover. Or maybe the time you've spent thinking during extended periods of down time has convinced you that you aren't.

In the example Jesus cited, there was Iittle the Israelites could do. They were bitten. They were dying. They couldn't hobble over to Moses. They couldn't touch the pole. All they could do was look at the bronze serpent in faith. And hope.

Good thing that was the one thing they needed to do.

And it's the one thing we need to do, too. Your eternal life doesn't hinge on your ability to fully remove leaven from your home, your vehicle or your church hall. It doesn't hinge on washing feet. It doesn't hinge on drinking bread or wine in the same room as your pastor - or even on a specific day. It hinges on recognizing that you aren't worthy and never will be, on repenting of your sin, and on placing your faith in God's promise of salvation to those who fully place their faith in Jesus' sacrifice for them. In His work instead of yours. That's more important to your future than deleavening, washing feet, wearing a mask or bathing in hand sanitizer.

Best of all, you can do at home.

In fact, please do it at home.

Stay safe, and know that even when we don't have time to post, you're still in our thoughts and prayers.


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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, March 31, 2020

COVID-19: No More Fearmongering

I haven't posted in quite a while. Just couldn't let the COVID-19 situation go by without one. I needed to get my thoughts out regarding the Church of God leaders who make some sort of prediction about Jesus' imminent return.

Let's start at the start - the Church of God splinter groups all come from the Worldwide Church of God which was founded by Herbert Armstrong. Herbert Armstrong was a minister in the Church of God (Seventh Day). The COG7 was founded by former Elders in the Adventist movement - most particularly Gilbert Cranmer - who had disagreements over Ellen G White. The Adventist movement was started by William Miller in the late 1830s.
I want to emphasize the time here. Late 1830s. That was roughly 180 years ago. We are just shy of 200 years away.

Why is that important? Because of what William Miller was doing. William Miller decided that he had figured out Biblical Prophecy and preached that Jesus would return in 1843.  Clearly that did not happen. Undeterred, he reset the date for 1844. That also failed. He gave up but his followers did not. Jesus' second coming is called the Second Advent. Miller's followers were therefore called Adventists. This is how the Adventist movement started. They only adopted the Sabbath later. Their origin, their foundation, their entire genesis is in false prophecy.
Ellen G White continued to move the goal posts. Predictions came and predictions went until her death in 1915. Nothing came to pass in all those 75 or so years. Undeterred, her followers continue to this day. And not just her followers, but the many, many off-shoots of the Adventist movement, including the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Hebrew Roots movement, the Church of God (Seventh Day) - who, to their credit tend to stay away from prophecy - and, of course, the Worldwide Church of God.

In the early 1930s, Herbert W Armstrong started his own ministry on the sly, not letting his COG7 leaders know. What did he do? Let's take a look at his message:
"...19 years after the first seige, or 585 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar made his final siege, drove out all the Jews, took complete possession of the land, and the Times of the Gentiles came fully in. And 2520 years later, or 1936 A.D., the Times of the Gentiles will have completely ENDED. As nearly as we can calculate from the dates of ancient history, the year 1936 will see the END of the Times of the Gentiles. Those "Times" have not been completely fulfilled until that year."
-Herbert Armstrong, Plain Truth, June/July 1934, pp.4-5

That's right. He started with false prophecy about the imminent return of Christ. Did Jesus return in 1936? No. Did that stop Mr. Armstrong? No.
To save myself the time and effort of writing all this out again, I will direct you to our article "All Systems Are GO!" where we document HWA's repeated false prophesies that did not stop until his death.

HWA tried to weasel out of it all by claiming that he didn't "prophesy" but "predict." No. He DID prophesy! We have documented it. Read our article, "An Inconvenient Plain Truth" and see. We document over 60 time-specific prophecies from one small window of time, and some of those were done in the name and authority of the Almighty God. That's 60 time-specific prophetic failures, from only one publication, from only one decade. How many more are there? Countless!

We have plenty more articles that you can find on our Categories page.

Now, you might be thinking, "How is any of this relevant to me? This isn't 1972 and I don't follow Herbert Armstrong." It is relevant to you because it wasn't just William Miller, or Ellen G White, or Herbert Armstrong, but everyone that followed those people - including the leaders of the Church of God splinter groups today. And those people are relevant. When Dave Pack named his group "Restored" what do you suppose he was restoring? Why, the Worldwide Church of God, of course! Just Google it. It says so right there. When Gerald Flurry named his group "Philadelphia Church of God" it was because that was the name Herbert Armstrong chose for his next church, should the government of California force him to give up leadership of the WCG in the Receivership debacle in the later 1970s. Why do all Church of God groups call themselves Church of God? Because they all come from the Worldwide Church of God. They are not just following naming convention here. This is a continuation in every sense. Herbert Armstrong may not be directly relevant to you, but he is directly relevant to every leader of every Church of God splinter - and that makes this relevant to you.

If you are a member of a Church of God splinter, you come from an organization that was born in false prophecy. It was raised on false prophecy. It makes its living off of false prophecy. And to this very minute it is led by men and women who continue the family tradition without shame or remorse.

No2HWA over at the Banned By HWA blog reports that Dave Pack is telling his flock that they will not see another Sabbath. I will not waste the energy to collect more examples, but we all know they are all around. You have personally experienced a conversation with content much like this, no doubt.

But I want you to ask yourself - does the COVID-19 pandemic really meet the requirements of the imminent return of Christ, as taught by the Church of God movement? Does it? No.

Where is the Beast Power? I don't see Germany rising, do you? I don't see Italy doing anything but suffering. Where is the World War? Where is the famine killing over a billion people? Where is the False Prophet? I mean THE False Prophet of Revelation, not Dave Pack. The Pope in Rome isn't going around raising armies and moving the Vatican to Jerusalem right now. In fact, he is all alone; just as isolated as the rest of us. Where are the signs and wonders? Where are the Two Witnesses? I don't even know where Ron and Laura Weinland are right now. *giggle* Where is ANY of the rest of the end time narrative? Nowhere.

You have one thing, the SARS-COV-2 virus, causing one plague, the COVID-19 disease, which is infecting millions, and killing thousands, and will burn itself out in a few more weeks from now. The response has been dangerous to the world economy, yes, but it hasn't been terminal. The quarantines will lift. The unemployed will return to work. The economy will be in recession, maybe even depression, for a while, but it will come back fairly soon. And when this happens what will you have? Among other things, like a job, you will have more evidence of false prophecy.

I wonder - what will you do with it?

Will you take almost 200 years of unrelenting false prophecy to heart? Will you hold yourself and others to a higher standard of evidence from now on? Will you stop tolerating wild speculation? Will you understand, and I mean truly understand, that a church getting this many things wrong cannot possibly have any authority on prophecy? Will you finally give yourself permission to question the teachings on prophecy? Will you reconsider what you have been taught and take steps anew to understand what the Bible is actually saying in prophecy? Will you hold your leaders to account?
-Or-
Will you continue on as normal? All systems GO! Will you wait and hope for the next bit of tragedy to stoke up that flame inside you? Will you continue to fall for it over and over and over again. Year after year. Time after time. Again and again and again. Until, like Ellen G White, Charles Taze Russell, Herbert Armstrong, Rod Meredith, and so many others, you pass away from this life wondering why nothing happened?

I sure hope you choose the former! I sure hope you hold these false prophets to account.

I have a suggestion! Write or speak to them and tell them you will not pay one more cent in tithes until they can prove to you that they speak for God where prophecy is concerned. Don't let them put it back on you by asking, "How?"  Don't let them back away with arguments over "predict" vs "prophesy." Don't let them gaslight you and place fault on you for holding them to account. You put their failure at their feet and let them get themselves out of it.

No more fear mongering! No more profiting off of misery! No more false prophecy! No more!

Are you afraid? I am! It's natural to be afraid. It is a perfectly normal human response to want a way out and to look for comfort. It is comforting to hear that Jesus is coming next week. It is comforting to think you won't have to endure anything because in 7 days you're out of here. The problem is it's a false hope. This, ladies and gentlemen, is what we call a lie. God did not send Dave Pack this prediction. If you read this blog post on or after May 1, 2020, then you have your proof that Jesus did not come by "next Sabbath" and you are surrounded by a false system. False prophets are profiting off of your fear. You are afraid, you buy into their message, and that message gives you a temporary though false hope. Then the message fails and they go on to the next opportunity to make money form people's misery. They have been doing this for almost 200 years. 200 years of failure and going on as if nothing happened. Don't allow them to do this to you any longer!

No more fear mongering!

Finally, I want to ask God's blessings on you all. He loves you. He cares for you. When you suffer, He suffers with you. Is this a dark time? Yes. These things happen. Remember, Ezekiel and Daniel were taken in exile to Babylon even though they were righteous. Remember, the Apostles were all murdered, but one. Remember, Jesus specifically said we will have tribulation in this life. Bad things happen to good people! It doesn't mean God is particularly angry at you. Sometimes towers fall on people, and sometimes plagues disrupt lives indiscriminately. That's life. It doesn't mean there is no God. It doesn't mean He is golfing while we suffer. It just means there is a problem here below, and has been since that terrible decision our first father made in Eden. This said, don't take unnecessary risks! I know you may be hoping on hope that Jesus will return and you won't have to face this current tribulation. Unfortunately, that isn't going to happen. Nothing else is in place at this time. You will have to face it with the rest of us. So, PLEASE, take every precaution and stay isolated. I will be praying for and with you. God bless you and preserve you! God keep you safe and secure! God provide and protect you! God have mercy on us all who look to Him. I pray in His Son's Holy Name. Amen.

UPDATED: See our follow-up article posted on May 1, 2020: "Dave Pack Is A Fraud."


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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, 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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