This idea goes something like this "As Christ often warned in the gospels, there would be false prophets and false doctrines coming, in an attempt to betray believers." The false doctrine, in this case at least, is set up to be Sunday observance. The "true" doctrine, of course, would then be mandatory weekly seventh-day Sabbath observance.
(Mandatory partial Sabbath observance, that is, because the law is never actually followed, it's just insisted that Saturday is the "true" day of worship.)
Is it not true that the prophecies of Matthew 24 and Mark 13 are almost universally interpreted as referring to the time immediately prior to the Second Coming, in Armstrongist and other Adventist circles? Yes it is. As I hinted earlier, that is precisely the way they were taught to me. More specifically I am referring to Matthew 24: 24 and Mark 13: 22.
Is it not true that the official interpretation of the Mark of the Beast (REV. 13: 17; 14: 9, 11; 15: 2; 16: 2; and 20: 4) would be Sunday worship? And that this mark would be given immediately prior to the Second Coming? Yes it is.
Is it not true that the oldest historical document extant all appear to show that "church services" were held on Sunday in the early church? Yes it is.
Is it not true that these ancient documents, often lumped under the name "Early Church Fathers," are castigated and demonized as heretical, false, distorted, full of lies, and many other such accusations, and the reading of these documents is frowned upon by Armstrongists and other Adventist groups alike? Yes it is.
Why mention any of this? Because, here are the facts:
1) Sunday observance is recorded from the first century AD. It is an exceedingly old practice which predates the establishment of the much-maligned Catholic Church.
2) The prophecies used against Sunday observance are interpreted by these groups as being for a time yet future to now. The time has not come yet.
3) If the false doctrines referred to in the prophecy are to arise before the Second Coming, and Sunday has been observed nearly 2,000 years, then according to their own teachings Sunday observance cannot be the thing these prophecies refer to.
It's a pretty simple line of logic to follow, really. If prophecy = new, and Sunday = ancient, then prophecy cannot = Sunday.
I would continue this line of thinking further.
According to their own prophetic interpretation, these teachings (the ones that turn out to be false) are to arise in the "end-times." Do we know of anything that has arisen in this late age? Of course we do! And that would be Adventism.
Around 1840, one William Miller decided that he had figured out the timing of the second coming of Christ. He claimed Christ would return by March 21st, 1844 at the latest. That day came and went. A second date was set at October 22nd, 1844. That day came and went. It would come to be known as "The Great Disappointment." Yet the Millerite faithful muscled on. Soon, Ellen G. White would rise to take over the group, claiming her visions and her teachings were the only truth. She would gather a huge following which eventually took the name "Seventh-Day Adventist Church." The SDA church is the largest seventh-day Sabbath keeping Christian denomination on earth. Her prophecies are held in high regard in that church to this day. But there was one man who would have none of her prophecies; his name was Gilbert Cranmer. Even though Cranmer parted ways a few short years earlier, he officially parted ways with Ellen G. White at the 1963 meeting in Battlecreek, Michigan where the Adventists officially took the name "Seventh-Day Adventist Church." Gilbert Cranmer and a small group went on to form the "General Conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day)." It was this group, the COG7, that hired and credentialed one Mr. Herbert Armstrong in 1927, electing him to the governmental body known as "the Seventy." This is the very same Herbert Armstrong who went on to found the Radio Church of God in 1934.
HWA based his church on beliefs such as British-Israelism, and a series of prophetic speculations based on Divinely-revealed knowledge. One popular claim of his was that he was the first to preach the "true gospel" in 1,900 years.
OK, so to make a long story short, the main thing we've learned here is that Adventism has popped up recently. In fact, HWA claimed that he was the first person in 1,900 years to teach the "true gospel" and that all other churches since antiquity had been preaching a false one. Now, if that's not something new arising in the end-times, I don't know what is. By definition this was something arising in the end-times because HWA's Adventist ministry preached the imminent return of Christ from the very start; in fact he predicted the return of Christ in 1936. I cannot think of any piece that fits this puzzle better than the ministry of Herbert Armstrong and his current followers.
But the modern imitators of HWA have become even more bold in what they teach. Some have gone so far as to say that HWA was a false prophet and a law-breaker, others say HWA was not the Elijah he claimed to be, but even though they still see HWA as the Apostle of his time and even though they recognize their entire authority and credentials as ministers come from him, they have rearranged what he taught and prophesied as they see fit. Some teach Jesus was created a man, some teach Jesus is Satan's brother, some teach Mohammad is a prophet of God, some teach that all Christians are physical descendants of Israel and that Gentiles were never called (they explain away this blatant error by claiming we simply misunderstand what the word "Gentile" means), and some just plain appear to teach whatever pops into their head at the time. None of it makes sense in any context apart from the self-appointed authority of the wild-eyed prophet who makes the claims.
(II TIM. 3: 13) But evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived.
I would continue this line of thinking even further!
(MAR. 13: 22) For false christs and false prophets will rise....
False prophets are supposed to rise. Do we know of any false prophets? Of course we do! And that would be Herbert W Armstrong and his current imitators.
As we've seen earlier, Herbert Armstrong left the gate breathing out prophecies which were all claimed to be the "absolutely SURE!" and "REAL" and "TRUE MESSAGE FROM GOD" given "on authority of God Almighty." [Emphasis his; not mine.] His crowning failure came in 1972 when a two-decade long series of prophecies, all supposedly culminating in the 1972 escape to "The Place of Safety" in preparation for the Second Coming in 1975, all failed to materialize. (For a great deal more info on this, please see the post "All Systems Are Go!") All total, not a single prophecy HWA ever made has come true.
To this day, his faithful defend him by claiming that he was not a prophet at all. Ahhhh! ABD has demonstrated several times that this is a ploy at best. (And we are not by any means the only ones who have done so.) HWA made multiple date-specific claims about the future, claiming they were given by authority of God Almighty, and even staked his authority on their accuracy in clear reference to Deuteronomy 18: 20-22. He was a false prophet, in a long line of false prophets. No if's, and's or but's.
"JESUS CHRIST chose and appointed me"
-Herbert Armstrong, Pastor General's Report, p. 3, Jan. 31, 1980
OK, so here we have 2 categories met. New teachings arising in the "end-times" and false prophecies.
I would like to continue this line of thinking further still!
(MAT. 24: 24) For false christs and false prophets will rise...
Matthew 24: 24 and Mark 13: 22 both refer to false Christs. Do we know of any false christs? Of course we do! Let's get a closer look at what a false christ is, shall we?
What is a false Christ? The Greek is "pseudochrist." This isn't necessarily a person claiming to be Jesus Christ. These verses don't say "false Jesuses will rise." "Christ" is just the Greek word for "Messiah" which basically means "Savior." A false Christ is someone who isn't Jesus Christ and who holds themselves up as a form of savior to the people. In other words, if Jesus is the Vine, and we are the branches, a false Christ either attempts to replace the vine or attempts to position themselves or their ministry between us and the vine. To put it bluntly, a false christ claims to have the only truth and the only true church. So, a false christ in reality is claiming to be pivotal to your salvation.
Now, do we know of anyone who might fit that description? Yes! For decades, HWA taught that this was the Pope. Well, even though the Vicar of Christ who goes by the title "Holy Father" may appear to fit the description, do we know of anyone else who may also fit? Of course we do! You guessed it - Herbert Armstrong himself.
It was a mainstay of the Worldwide Church of God under Herbert Armstrong that the WCG was the only true church and the only entity on earth for 1,900 years that had the "true gospel". Oh, from time to time a sermon would include a blurb about how God may have hidden some people somewhere on the earth that we didn't know about (perhaps hidden in some mountain range in Russia somewhere), and those would also be His people, but for the most part, we were it. HWA specifically taught, in his book "The Incredible Human Potential", that it was the whole duty of the Christian to support his ministry through tithes and prayers. Excommunication from the WCG meant eternal death, since the WCG was the only path to the Kingdom of God. Only WCG trained and credentialed ministers were qualified to teach "the truth." Only WCG ministers were validated to perform rites such as laying on of hands, annointings for the sick, annointings to office in the church, or baptism. Even such seemingly innocent things as group Bible studies were frowned upon without the presence of a church official. Only WCG leadership was capable of receiving and spending tithes. Their judgments were to be unquestioned. It was accepted as truth that the higher up the hierarchy of church leadership one went, the closer to God they got, so one could only get close to God through one of them. At the apex of it all sat HWA - the Elijah, God's only Apostle, the only true leader of the church on earth.
Herbert Armsrtong's official position, according to legal, state of California court documents filed during the 1979 Receivership, was thus:
"I am the founder, Pastor General, and spiritual and temporal leader of defendant Worldwide Church of God, Inc. (" Worldwide") . In addition, I am chief executive officer, chairman of the board of directors and chairman of the board of trustees of Worldwide and its two related entities, defendants Ambassador College, Inc. ("Ambassador"), and Ambassador International Cultural Foundation, Inc. ("AICF"); together with Worldwide, Ambassador and ASCF will collectively be referred to herein as "the Church".
The Church, which was originally known as the Radio Church of God, was founded by me in the mid-1930's for the purpose of proclaiming "the Gospel throughout the world as a witness of the coming of the Kingdom of God." Matthew 24:14. [Prophet!] I am the appointed Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ and, as such, have been both the spiritual and temporal leader of the Church from its inception."
-Herbert Armstrong, Pastor's Report, pp. 28-29, Jan. 8, 1979
Not just temporal, but spiritual and temporal!
"Mr. Armstrong has been the spiritual and temporal leader of the Church since its inception"
-Mike Blackwell, Pastor's Report, p. 3, Jan. 30, 1979
Yes, Jesus founded a church, but not this one! Herbert Armstrong founded the Worldwide Church of God. Ask just about any former Armstrongist and one thing they will note is how very little was preached about Jesus Christ and His work. There was no mention of a "finished work on the cross" at all. Jesus was virtually absent from most sermons, booklets, and even the modern websites! You think I'm exaggerating? Here, read this article "On Following Men" if you need more convincing.
So, we have the founder, Pastor General, and spiritual and temporal leader of the Church since its inception in one man - Herbert Armstrong, not Jesus Christ - who was Divinely appointed to proclaim the soon-coming Kingdom, which was prophecy, thus making him a (false) prophet speaking in the name of God.
We have the modern imitators following suit. For example Ron Weinland who still teaches that if you weren't baptized into Herbert Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God then you will never see the Millenial reign of Christ. In fact, Ron Weinland takes it farther and proclaims - in print - that if you do not join his church and accept him as what amounts to being your master, then you will die horribly in the Great Tribulation before Jesus' return by May 27th, 2012.
These are men who set themselves up as gateways to Christ. They, not Christ, are set up as your path to safety and salvation. They are christs! False ones!
Now, to summarize, we have three things: new teaching, false prophecies, and false messiahs. Sunday observance, which is even found in Revelation 1: 10 (the Greek is specific and in fact refers to Sunday), is not in that list of three things... it must be read into the text. However, all three of these things are demonstrated in Herbert Armstrong and the men who continue what he started.
Yet these ones drive ahead undeterred and teach people to point the finger at mainstream Christianity and say, "these prophecies are about Sunday-keeping." I reject that conclusion.
Current Armstrongists, loved and cherished by God, I am not saying that these prophecies definitely are fulfilled in these men. All we here are saying is that people should take the time to consider what is going on with these men and to prove out these things for themselves, as the Bereans did, rather than avoid the issue. I urge you to pray and to challenge yourself to ask the tough questions. I've made some hefty claims - claims most Armstrongists wouldn't even bother themselves to read because they would shut down the conversation at the start. If you've made it this far, good on you! But I am not claiming that these things are definitely so, I am merely presenting a different perspective to get you to think about points of view. Can you see how there is a possibility that these men may not be what they claim to be? Is there any chance in the world that what I'm saying might be even remotely possible? Might it be too much to ask for you to investigate whether or not these things fit the puzzle more accurately than other things you may have been taught, but perhaps you never thought of it like this before? Is there a possibility that you have been taken by a slick salesman? Then ask the tough questions! The truth is not in any danger of no longer being true simply because you investigate it. If it keeps anyone from stepping into a deeper faith in Christ, in the New Covenant in His blood, then such a one owes it to themselves to investigate the matter.
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. ; )