Friday, April 10, 2009

What Is The Gospel?

Herbert Armstrong often said something to the effect of,
"This world's so-called Christianity has taken the name of Christ -- has proclaimed to the world that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ -- has preached the name of Christ with a Message about His Person -- but they have rejected His Gospel -- the Gospel God sent for all mankind by Him -- the Gospel He taught."
-Herbert Armstrong, "The Wonderful World Tomorrow - What Will It Be Like", 1979 edition.

Over this past year, I have come to understand and know without a doubt that Herbert Armstrong was in error on his doctrine and teachings in a great many places and ways. So I asked, "What does the Bible actually say about the gospel?"
The gospel is NOT ONLY the "gospel of the kingdom of God" (that is to say, as HWA defined it, "gospel of the second coming"). Certainly if you look up the word "gospel", you will see that very phrase "gospel of the kingdom" several times. Even so, for as many times as Matthew says "gospel of the kingdom", Paul says "gospel of Christ". What do we make of this? I think at least two things are going on here. 
First, the second coming is only a part of "the gospel". Important, yes, but not the whole thing. When HWA said he taught the real gospel message and everyone else is a liar, it is my belief that HWA took a part of the gospel and misrepresented it as the entire thing. What does that mean about him? (I leave it to the reader to decide.)
Second, HWA misunderstands what "the kingdom" is. I won't get into that here, but I would like to investigate the first point more closely. Let's start with the gospel as Paul described it.

(I COR. 15: 1-5) 1 Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, 2 by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you—unless you believed in vain. 3 For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve.

The debate should end right there and then, with that verse. Paul says plainly what gospel he preached. The rest of this chapter goes on about Christ's death and resurrection, and ultimately the eternal life that results.
Again, let's see what Paul taught.

(ROM. 1: 1-4) 1 Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle, separated to the gospel of God 2 which He promised before through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, 3 concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who was born of the seed of David according to the flesh, 4 and declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead.

Did you catch that? "...The gospel of God ... concerning His Son Jesus Christ our Lord..." It is a gospel that includes elements about Christ! This is directly contradictory to what HWA taught.
But it also mentions the prophets. What did they teach?
I Chronicles 16: 23 and Psalms 96: 2 both say, "Proclaim the good news of His salvation from day to day." Isaiah 61: 1 speaks about good news of liberty to the captives. Christ did that for us -- paid our ransom in His blood to set us free. The "glad tidings of great joy" brought by the angels to the shepherds in the field was that Jesus Christ was born (Luke 2: 8-14).
Even Abraham heard the gospel. Did he hear of the Tribulation and second coming, or of justification by faith through Christ?

(GAL. 3: 8-9) 8 And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, “In you all the nations shall be blessed.” 9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham.

The gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ was preached to Abraham. He believed and it was counted to him as righteousness. Do you believe? Paul believed.

(ROM. 1: 16-17) 16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.”

Faith is involved. Faith to salvation. Where is our faith to be placed, and who is our salvation? Jesus Christ. So.. the gospel isn't about Jesus? Really? Paul's apostleship was to preach the gospel. What did he preach?

(I COR. 2: 1-2) 1 And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

Nothing but that? No focus on the second coming? No fire and brimstone sermons about two thirds of the earth perishing in the Great Tribulation? No intricate word games, clever explanations, or reinterpretations for proof-texting? Did we read that right? No telling of how enemies will recognize us as glorified God-beings and kneel before us?
What, again did the Apostles preach?

(ACTS 5: 42) And daily in the temple, and in every house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. [the NIV translates this as "the good news that Jesus is the Christ."]
(ACTS 8: 35) Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture [ISA. 53: 7-8], preached Jesus to him
(ACTS 10: 36) 36 The word which God sent to the children of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ—He is Lord of all
(ACTS 10: 42-43) 42 And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. 43 To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins.
(ACTS 13:32-33) 32 And we declare to you glad tidings—that promise which was made to the fathers. 33 God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. [Continue to read through verse 41.]
(I COR.1: 22) For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness 

We are told time and time and time again that the Apostles preached our Lord Jesus the Christ. Paul also preached the same gospel...

(ACTS 20: 24) ...the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

...which was the grace of God through Christ crucified. That's not what Herbert Armstrong said! It would appear it was foolishness and a stumbling block to the COGs as well. 
And again, Christ and faith in christ are inexorably intertwined with the gospel. He is central to it.

(ROM. 10: 9) 9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
(ROM. 10: 14-17) 14 How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!” 16 But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “LORD, who has believed our report?” 17 So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

It's a gospel of peace, not terror about the coming Tribulation. Ephesians 6: 15 also calls it the "gospel of peace". But we must ask, "what peace"? It is the peace of reconciliation between us and God through Jesus Christ by faith. The peace was shown to be achieved when the veil that symbolically separated us from God was torn in two. And once again, the gospel is plainly and clearly shown to be one of our salvation through Christ's death and resurrection.
The second coming was not left out, mind you, we do have a great hope and a looking-forward to that time, but the important part, the part that brought the Holy Spirit, was the gospel of salvation through Christ by faith. It is called "gospel of your salvation".

(EPH. 1: 13-14) 13 In Him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until the redemption of the purchased possession, to the praise of His glory.

And what is the only name by which we are saved? Jesus Christ. It is, at least in good part, a gospel about Christ after all! Just as the prophets told us it is!

You've read what Romans 10: 9 teaches about the gospel, but that's not what HWA taught! He taught something quite different and opposed. He says,
 "The principal purpose for which Christ is returning to earth is to spiritually develop in humanity Godly character, and to save the world." [emphasis mine]
-Herbert Armstrong, "The Wonderful World Tomorrow - What Will It Be Like", 1979 edition.

HWA says this is so, but is this really so? First, let's start by reminding ourselves what HWA is really saying. He means that Christ only came to set a scant few under grace, but the second coming is when salvation will happen. Read it for yourselves!
"Most religious people, ministers, and evangelists (fundamentalist), have supposed that this time, now, is the only day of salvation. The verse of Scripture they rely on is a mistranslation (II Corinthians 6:2). It should read 'a day of salvation,' not 'the' (quoted from Isaiah 49:8, where it is 'a' not 'the')."
-Herbert Armstrong, "The Wonderful World Tomorrow - What Will It Be Like", 1979 edition.

He said we have mistranslated Isaiah. OK. Let's read that too and see.

(ISA. 49: 8-9) 8 Thus says the LORD: “In an acceptable time I have heard You, and in the day of salvation I have helped You; I will preserve You and give You as a covenant to the people, to restore the earth, to cause them to inherit the desolate heritages; 9 That You may say to the prisoners, ‘Go forth,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Show yourselves.’...

Nope, it says "the" in my NKJV, so HWA is nit-picking at best. Depending on what version you use, it will say either "a" or "the". But is that change even important? Let's ask a few other things to nail it down.
Who is the "You" here? None other than Jesus Christ. Who are the prisoners set free? That would be us. What is "the day" here? None other than His FIRST coming! So, the a/the controversy is moot. Let's prove that out, though. Let's start by seeing exactly what the "acceptable time" of Isaiah 49: 8 is talking about. To do that, we have to go to chapter 61.

(ISA. 61: 1-2) 1 “The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, because the LORD has anointed Me to preach good tidings [gospel] to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; 2 To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn...

Who heals the broken hearted and freed the slaves and preached the gospel? Jesus Christ! Paul agrees:

(GAL. 4: 4-5) 4 But when the fullness of the time had come [the acceptable year...], God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those who were under the law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.

So Isaiah 49 and 61 are talking about Christ. Those who are familiar with Armstrong's views on prophecy will read "day of vengeance" and immediately conclude "pre-millennial fulfillment", but that's just more of Armstrong's doctrine and personal speculation talking rather than the Bible. In Luke 4: 16-20, Jesus reads these very verses from Isaiah 61 to the crowd, then sits down. Now, read verse 21:

(Luke 4: 21) And He began to say to them, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing."

Regardless of what HWA said, Christ said in His own day those verses were fulfilled. This is a matter of HWA's word vs. Jesus Christ's word. My faith is in Christ. The a/the controversy is undone. HWA bases his conclusions on a faulty premise and his conclusion is also wrong.
Any elementary understanding of the gospel will tell you that and end-time salvation is not Biblical. How can I be so bold? Let's read one more selection!

(JOHN 19: 28-29) 28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, said, “I thirst!” 29 Now a vessel full of sour wine was sitting there; and they filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on hyssop, and put it to His mouth. 30 So when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit.

"It is finished," He said. FINISHED! As in no more work is needed to be done to complete salvation. That is the gospel!! There is nothing at all more basic or central to defining the gospel than that very idea! Christ did it! We are saved if only we have faith in Jesus Christ!
Now that we've seen what the Bible has to say, let's take that look at II Corinthians 6: 2 which HWA says we have all wrong:

(II COR. 6: 1-2) 1 We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 For He says: “In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.” Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.

Paul quotes Isaiah, the very verses we just went over. Not only does the New Testament say "the", but Paul himself says "the". So "a", "the", it doesn't matter! What can be more plain than "now is the day of salvation"?

In trying to set up a picture of a wildly confused Christianity, HWA said,
"Some designate their gospel as 'The Gospel of Jesus Christ.' Others call their gospel 'The Gospel of Salvation.' Still others profess 'The Gospel of Grace,' some 'The Gospel of the Kingdom.'"
-Herbert Armstrong, "What is the True Gospel", Good News magazine, 1982, p.2

But, as we have seen, each and every one of those terms come directly from the Bible! Those are the things the Bible says about the gospel. Is HWA trying to say the very Bible itself is confusion?? We have proven that the gospel most assuredly is about Christ. HWA said only Satan's deceived "so-called Christianity" taught such. Are we to believe the Bible is Satan's? God is not the author of confusion, but I can show you a truly confused author indeed:

"And yet there are some in this modern day of religious confusion who believe the Gospel of the KINGDOM OF GOD is not for this age - this New Testament time of grace. They reject and therefore do not BELIEVE the true Gospel as Jesus commanded and thereby reject the very conditions to SALVATION, saying the Gospel of the KINGDOM is a gospel for some future age yet to come."
-Herbert Armstrong, "What is the True Gospel", Good News magazine, 1982, p.2

This statement directly and completely contradicts his own words with which we started this study! It's as if he is speaking of himself!!
I have tried to demonstrate, beginning with my former blog, that in so many ways and in so many doctrines Herbert W. Armstrong taught the exact opposite of what the Holy Scriptures plainly say!! Is this a small thing to God?

(II COR. 4: 3-5) 3 But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, 4 whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them. 5 For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake.
(II COR. 11: 3-4) 3 But I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ. 4 For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!
(GAL. 1: 6-9) 6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.

Certainly it is not a small thing. Certainly what gospel we follow and what name we call upon for salvation is of utmost import - today -- in THIS age. Certainly there should be a sign on the door of each Armstrongist congregation that reads "GET OUT NOW, WHILE YOU STILL CAN!"
So, HWA was wrong about the gospel. I have heard that HWA changed the law out of necessity. Please DO NOT accept that he changed the gospel, too. Deeply loved and cherished by Christ, please do not exchang the joy of eternal salvation for the errors of a misguided salesman who strokes the ego. Please take a step back and re-evaluate what you think you know about the gospel of salvation. Christ died to bring this good news to you. It's the very least you can do.


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.



Seeker Of Truth said...

Excellent article!

"...the simplicity that is in Christ."

This reminds me of the day (about a year ago.. I think), when I was talking to my sister about NC, and she said, "But that's too easy."
That seems to be a stumbling block for people because they think it is supposed to be difficult, and ask, 'How could it be that easy?' That's why it's called Grace.

4 For if he who comes preaches another Jesus whom we have not preached, or if you receive a different spirit which you have not received, or a different gospel which you have not accepted—you may well put up with it!

I guess what's most disturbing to me is that RW teaches a different Jesus. He & Herbert take the focus off of Jesus who is the door to salvation, and put the focus on works, which is in the opposite direction!

(GAL. 1: 6-9) 6 I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, 7 which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. 9 As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed.

Isn't it amazing how we couldn't see it before & easy it to see it now?

Just yesterday, I was thinking about why Paul put so much emphasis on how the OC separates one from Christ. I've been wondering about this for a year now.
If it is no big deal because one could say "Oh! I get it!" when Christ returns, then Paul would have said nothing... right?
But he was very concerned.

It seems there are two possible consequences... Either they are:
1) doomed for the pit, or;
2) not to be part of the Bride of Christ...
Q: If one is not the Bride of Christ... what does that mean for them exactly? I speculate, but that's all I have right now... speculation.

xHWA said...

Thanks, Seeker! I'm glad you liked it. I merely point out what God wrote. But I really needed to do this study. This really taught me some things.

Your sister and a good number of other people have that same concern. I just talked to a buddy of mine about this two nights ago. Oh, how we love to earn salvation! But even if some want it to be more difficult than that, who is it that still does the work? Even Jesus Christ said,

(JOHN 14: 9-10) 9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and yet you have not known Me, Philip? He who has seen Me has seen the Father; so how can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father, and the Father in Me? The words that I speak to you I do not speak on My own authority; but the Father who dwells in Me does the works.

So, what benefit is there to greater perceived difficulty? When it's easy, it's because of Christ. When it's hard, it's because we make it hard, but salvation is still in Christ alone. The law was added to condemn (ROM. 5: 20; ROM. 7: 13). Do people want MORE condemnation? No one can keep the whole law. Fail in one teensy, tinsy part and you fail in all. So then you're condemned again, and you need Christ all the more.

(ROM. 6: 1-2) 1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? 2 Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?

What have we gained, then? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. But we sure do risk Galatians 5: 1-4!

So, who are we trying to please? Who is the focus here?
Listen to the logic:
"It has to be harder for ME." Certainly, Christ isn't the focus there. It's not more difficult for God, nothing is too difficult for God. It's, once again, the self that is the focus.

I don't want to get into too much of that here. Really, this hits squarely on what I am studying for another post, and I'm just going to repeat myself.


It is strange how we were completely deceived, isn't it? Where the heck was this plain truth while I was reading the Plain Truth?? It's true that the veil was over me (II COR. 3: 15-16)!

I speculate the ones who preached this other gospel have earned the pit. That doesn't make me happy to say. It just is what I think I see in the Bible. (I could be wrong.)
But I would certainly like to hear more about what you think not being part of the Bride means!

Seeker Of Truth said...

I think not being part of the Bride means eternal life, but not as part of the Bride.
What that means beyond not being the Bride... I'm not sure. :/
I can speculate...

As I said:
There was a reason Paul was concerned about them being separated from Christ.

If a person were to stand before Christ and say "Oh! I understand!" Would it be too late? Would he be doomed? -Christ said all who call on his name will be saved. Or would he receive eternal life, but not as the bride? -Christ said to the unprepared virgins that they couldn't come in & that outside the Kingdom there would be weeping & gnashing of teeth. Now is that weeping & gnashing of teeth because they are in line for the pit, or because they won't be a part of the Bride?

If one has eternal life, but not as part of the Bride... What does that mean? What does that entail?

xHWA said...

Wow, Seeker, I've never realized this before, but I don't see a whole lot in the Bible about what happens to the ones who aren't the Bride.

You bring up a good point about the 5 unprepared virgins. I hadn't thought of it like that. But it goes in line with Revelation 22: 12-17.
I don't know if that means to say that sinners will still be around? But how can they if Satan is put away and the nature of things are changed?

Byker Bob said...

I've got a lot of opinions on the supposed "gospel" that HWA preached, its effects on those who heard it, and the damages that it did.

First of all, he even distorted the half that he preached as being the whole! He co-opted it, virtually preaching that Jesus Christ was going to return in our times to establish Armstrongism as being the government of the Kingdom of God. Who could even stand to live for eternity under such conditions.

Secondly, by ignoring the other elements of the real gospel, HWA robbed all of his followers of the blessings to be enjoyed by Christians during this lifetime. Peace, tranquility, freedom, harmony with other Christians, and the freedoms that being unconditionally forgiven for all sin brings to a Christian's life.

If one reads the Beatitudes and the Sermon on the Mount, one realizes that Jesus was totally against manipulation. The value of freely made decisisions was paramount throughout Jesus' teaching. It was the Pharisees, who were more philosophically aligned with HWA than most of us would ever have been willing to admit, that Jesus criticized most vociferously.

We were part of what is known as a "personality cult". If, at any time during their membership, you had asked WCG members how they picture God, in most cases, the verbal description could easily have been taken as a description of HWA himself! The man re-defined just about everything having to do with Christianity, in such a way that only his own little pissant church could have met the criteria. If that is not idolatry, I don't know what is!


Luc said...

What’s more important, the house, or they who dwell within? Jesus is now forming his bride, the kingdom that comes physically, at Jesus return, is when he and his bride take possession of the estate. Herbert would have had the estate outrank the bride.

Isa 49:8-9 from the Interlinear: "Thus he-says Yahweh in-season –of acceptance I-answer-you and-in-day-of salvation I-help-you and-I-shall-preserve-you and-I-shall-give-you for-covenant-of-people" (joined words are from single words in Hebrew). This is clearly talking to Jesus (a prophecy) about that singular day when he was to be hung on the cross, when he said:”It is finished.” There is no article used, neither ‘a’ nor ‘the’.

Before Jesus comes, his people represent the kingdom on earth. Herbert mocked people who’d say: “the Kingdome comes in your heart;” although the bible makes this statement in Luke 17:21 “nor will people say, 'Here it is,' or 'There it is,' because the kingdom of God is within you." So if the gospel was only about something in the future, this verse and statements like: “the kingdom of God has come unto you, found in Mt 12:28, Lk 10:9 and 11 and Lk 11:20 must be figments of my imagination.

Being a citizen of the Kingdom seems to be a present reality according to Jesus: John 17;14 “I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world.”

xHWA said...

Interesting take, Luc.
I started the post by speculating that HWA was wrong about his explanation of the Kingdom. I would like to hear more along those lines. You may just be on to something. Do you have a study about the kingdom to share with us? I would love to read one.

xHWA said...

OK. Being the season where one naturally gravitates to these verses, I was reading John 18, in which it says this:
(JOHN 18: 36) "My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, My servants would fight, so that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now My kingdom is not from here."

What does this verse say to you all about HWA's interpretations?

Luc said...

I just reread this post, and believe that I need to print it up (and a few others) just to reread occasionally to ingrain it into my head.