I have been wondering what is an effective way to approach an Armstrongist with ideas that are outside of their usual circles. When I first started blogging, I wanted two things. The first was to share the joy I had in my heart after coming to grace in the New Covenant. The second was to highlight the judgment and condemnation that seemed to swirl all about in the writings and attitudes of Armstrongists. After a while, I learned a great deal more about how very misled we all were in the Worldwide Church of God by Herbert W Armstrong and his close associates. I can safely say that when I started I had no clue how deep that rabbit hole went. I personally refuse to investigate the more base accusations against HWA's person, I personally do not feel it is either necessary or dignified, but I'm certain the hole is deeper than I can tell. Over time, my posts have become more about details that show how far-off my understanding was, and less about that joy and support. I hope this post bridges the gap back to my primary goals.
I ask myself how I would possibly have been approached back when I was at the height of my time in the former association. I can tell you that should someone approach me with the shotgun method, and read me off just the highlights of the posts that are here on As Bereans Did, I would never ever have believed it and I would have gone straight away into fight or flight mode.
For me it had to be very slow and methodical. It took me no less than 6 years to come out of that group. Little by little, a crack here and a crack there, the dam began to burst. Most of the doctrinal studies I did, studies that opened my eyes, were things I had to accomplish on my own. I am unaware of very many similar studies on the Internet. Some of the things that helped me along the way were websites like Exit and Support Network and the Painful Truth, as well as several blogs like Life After WCG, Shadows of WCG, and Purple Hymnal's Weblog. I had friends who patiently helped me, and family that prayed for me with their church group regularly. I think in the end what broke the dam apart was a single question from an anonymous person on a chat group regarding if I could condemn someone for not keeping the Sabbath. I had to sincerely ask myself if I was qualified to condemn anyone at all. From then on all of the judgment and condemnation was plain as day, and my sins were red as scarlet. My whole standing with Christ was built upon how well I could say "Sure, I'm not perfect - but look at that guy!"
This all culminated at the same time that an Armstrongist minister, for whom I still have a great deal of respect, challenged us in a sermon that we had never actually invited God into our hearts. He challenged us to sincerely, with deep and heartfelt desire, consider actually asking God to reside in us. Since I was basically in a world of confusion over what I had been learning, I went ahead and did it. I prayed the prayer of faith. I had no idea it would lead to where I am today, but here I am and I wouldn't ever go back. The New Covenant is not just the better covenant, it is beyond superior. My heart was filled with ineffable joy. To this day I want to share that with everyone who is still shackled by their own hopeless inability to "qualify" for a legalistic system of fear and doubt, judgment and condemnation. I want us all to be free in Jesus Christ. So I continue to look into things and post them here, hoping that something or the other will aid in any way in leaving the old Worldwide Church of God.
Oddly enough, all of that intro is leading somewhere. I was reading a book. The book is "Creeds, Councils, and Christ" by Gerald Bray. The most incredible thing was said in this book, starting around page 68. I had never even approached the idea from this angle before in all of my days, nor had I heard it put forward quite like this. The thing I am referring to is how the early Christian church managed to convert Jews to Christianity.
I would like to take that idea and put it into terms a student of the various COGs can relate to.
Had you ever even asked yourself that question before? I hadn't. Yes, of course I have read a thousand times about Paul going to the synagogues on the Sabbath to preach, and Peter converting around three thousand Jews with a single sermon. But I am asking if you have ever wondered what they said that actually convinced a life-long Jew to give up nearly everything that made sense to them and convert to Christianity? Keep in mind, the people Peter preached to in Acts 2 had come to Jerusalem from all around the known world. There's a reason why "travel" is etymologically linked to "travail". Travel was hard in those days! These people were hard core! And the Holy Spirit, through Peter, managed to convert three thousand of them at the height of a holy day in Jerusalem!
But what does any of this talk about converting ancient Jews have to do with a modern Church of God member?
Armstrongism (and I mean no offense by using that term) posits that Jesus did very little, really. Their "gospel" in a nutshell is that Jesus would return - in 2,000 years!! In HWA's doctrine, New Covenant Christianity was virtually indistinguishable from Old Covenant Judaism. The Commandments are there, the Holy Days are there, tithes, meats, and all sorts of things are still there. The only major difference is that sacrifices and circumcision are no longer required. (I know! I know. I'm glossing over the fact that Armstrongism in reality only teaches around 0.2% of the law. I'm not interested in the dirty little details of all that right now.) The other half of that is a story woven to make modern Christianity and its Gospel appear to be a pagan heresy, begun in the late first century, and perpetuated down through the ages by the accursed Catholic Church. This, says HWA, is a false Christianity, while the true Christianity, which is virtually indistinguishable from modern Messianic Judaism, was not preached for 1,900 years.
The large point I'm trying to glean from this is - if Christianity and Judaism are so virtually indistinguishable, and the gospel was that Jesus would return in 2,000 years, then what in the Sam Hill would convince any Jew to convert?
Think about it. They already had a means of atonement for sins; they believe they still do to this day even without the sacrifices. They already had the law; in fact their law was far more complete than Herbert Armstrong's cherry-picked version of the law. They were God's only special people (no Gentiles need apply); their linneage from Abraham was their major source of pride (see MAT. 3:9). They had symbols and traditions that separated them from the Gentiles (ACT. 10: 28). They already had an understanding of a Messiah who would save them from the Romans and set up Israel as a mighty kingdom (ACT. 1: 6). They had a priesthood, a temple, lawyers, scribes, orders, traditions, communities.... they had it all!
I never before realized the "truth" I was expected to swallow was that any Jew in his right mind would 1) change his whole worldview, 2) accept the loss of all public and private standing, 3) worship Jesus as Messiah... all because Jesus got rid of circumcision and animal sacrifice, and promised to return in 2,000 years.
I absolutely refuse to believe that any person in control of their faculties would make such a ludicrous decision! But that is precisely what Herbert Armstrong's version of history claims regularly went on.
So what is the answer to this riddle? What convinced the Jews to convert?
The most reasonabe solution is that Herbert Armstrong had a grossly incorrect view of the Gospel, and with that false premise all we can hope to do is come to false and confusing conclusions.
Perhaps you are still a bit lost as to what I'm getting at? I'm still trying to build the case here, please bear with me. I am trying to show how the conversion of the Jews to Christianity bears a great deal of lessons for us regarding the relationship between Arstrongism and mainstream Christianity. Perhaps if we can see a bit more about this, we can break down the dam that stops people from stepping into the New Covenant in Christ.
We have to ask ourselves what was so attractive about Christianity that the Jews would not only choose of their own free will to do those three things I just listed, but in droves. I cannot accept that "I will return in 2,000 years" would be much of a motivator for them. The Apostles followed Jesus because they believed He was going to set up a Kingdom now! Had they learned it wouldn't come for another 2,000 years, I doubt any of them would be so very excited and call it "good news."
You could say "They didn't know it was going to be 2,000 years." But that still leaves the barest minimum to go on. Why change anything at all if the entire change was no more sacrifices and no more circumcision?
Why do I keep coming back to that phrase "return in 2,000 years" anyway? Because that is as succinct a way I know of to describe what HWA taught is "the Gospel". HWA said over and over and over, and his ministers to this day repeat, the Gospel is "the Gospel of the coming Kingdom of God." This is what the "Good News" was, according to Armstrongism. He was the first in 1,900 years to preach it. And mainstream Christianity has it all wrong.
"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.
To put it another way, according to HWA Jesus said, "I come to proclaim the Good News of what the you already know about, and had known for a long time, and you will be waiting several years more for. Oh, and I'm going to die for your sins, but never mind that."
The Jews didn't need Jesus to arrive and proclaim what each of them already accepted - that a Messiah would come and set up a kingdom. How can that be the Gospel? And to prove out his views, HWA went where? To the Old Testament!
HWA would tell us all about the Kingdom of God, and how lions would lie down with lambs, and how Israel would be restored. That may be good from a certain point of view, but it's not "news" by any means. HWA emphasized the portion that the Jews already full well knew, and de-emphasized the rest of the message. Why?
I maintain that the "gospel" HWA brought was a false gospel. (See the Categories page under the heading "What is the True Gospel" for more details.) It was a false gospel because it was only a partial, cherry-picked gospel, and because it de-emphasized the most important tenet of the Gospel: that Jesus was God and God died to truly atone for our sins. Here is exactly what Paul taught:
(I COR. 15: 1-4) 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 ...
(II TIM. 2: 8) Remember that Jesus Christ, of the seed of David, was raised from the dead according to my gospel
This is just a snapshot of the Gospel, but Paul emphasizes what HWA de-emphasized, and speaks nothing of what HWA said it was all about!
Now, what do you suppose caused the Jews to convert in droves? Was it because,
A) Jesus promised what they already had been promised [HWA's version of the "Gospel of the Coming Kingdom"],
B) Jesus was the Christ and the Son of God, and as God He could live a sinless life, die a perfect sacrifice, fulfill the law and the prophets, be resurrected to life before hundreds of witnesses, truly atone for all of our sins, healing the breach with God and granting an opportunity for eternal life, completing what we could never accomplish by our own effort, in a way all of the laws and traditions of the Old Covenant could never do [the traditional "Gospel of Jesus Christ"]?
I'm going for B), and by far!
The Jews were not even convinced that Jesus was the Messiah. In fact, because He didn't set up a Kingdom at that time, they were convinced He was not! Peter went fishing, remember. What might convince them?
A promise to set up a Kingdom some other day [HWA's Gospel],
His success at rising from the grave and proving He is who He said He is and He did what He said He would do [Traditional Gospel]?
I'm going for the latter, and by far!
I tell you the truth, it's the same thing that caused Paul to say this:
(PHP. 3: 4-8) If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: 5 circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; 6 concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.
7 But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. 8 Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ
Would Paul have said that over animal sacrifice? Not a chance.
So, what does Jewish conversion have to do with Armstrongism?
The Apostles, already having made the choice, approached their fellow Jews with what had convinced them... something far and away beyond what they already had. The book of Hebrews is mainly about how Jesus was far and away better than what the Jews had and His Covenant a better Covenant and His promises better promises. We sum this better way up in one word: "Gospel".
I feel the same approach is a fine approach towards Armstrongists seeking support for leaving the old Worldwide Church of God. Learn what the real Gospel is!
I was a second gen Armstrongist. When I came to understand grace after an entire life of legalism, immediately I knew the New Covenant was better beyond description. For the love of how much better the Gospel is than what I had previously believed, I started blogging. I simply had to share this with you, God's dearly loved and cherished children who are still in Armstrongism. That joy compels me to this day. The truth of the Gospel is something far and away beyond what HWA offered you. And if you won't take my word for it (and I'm not suggesting you do), or the testimony of the others here at ABD, or the witness of such a cloud of others who have left Armstrongism for grace, I believe the proof will be found in the Jews!
Armstrongists have been sold a faulty bill of goods; a partial gospel - a false gospel. This false gospel would never have convinced the Jews to come to Christ. Look where it leads!
How many Armstrongists are marching right back in the direction of legalism? With all the wrangling over laws, and days, and meats, and fibers in clothes, and calendars, and "one true church" and all that. They are vehemently against a great many things, but how many of them are for the Good News of salvation by faith in Jesus Christ? The Gospel brings us forwards, not backwards!
The Jewish converts began to leave those Old Covenant ways and move into the New Covenant. Sure, it was an imperfect process; we are imperfect beings in a process of justification. But our assured salvation is by faith in Jesus Christ. Isn't that great news to a weary soul?
(ROM. 16: 1-17) 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.”