Sunday, December 22, 2013

Crazy About Christmas

My heart is racing. My palms are sweating. This is way more intimidating than any public speaking assignment I've ever had. I don't think I've been this nervous since childbirth.

What am I doing? Making plans to attend my first Christmas Eve service since leaving the Churches of God. 

Whether you've been out of the COGs for a while and wonder what's the big deal, or are in the COGs and are disgusted by the previous sentence, I am pretty sure almost every reader out there is silently wondering, "Are you crazy?". 

Yes. Absolutely. Making peace with decades of COG programming and learning to see Christianity through a new lens is driving me totally mad, especially this time of year. Ironically, several friends and family members who ridiculed my decision to leave the COGs hinted that a desire to fit in during Christmas factored into my thinking. 

Nothing could be further from the truth. I don't fit in, and, frankly, I just wish December were over. This first Christmas season out of the COGs has caused me more anxiety than my family and friends will ever know. They would say it is because, deep down, I know Christmas is wrong. I would counter that it's the stress of coming face-to-face with decades of programming and cognitive dissonance about Jesus Christ in the COGs.

I've heard the first Christmas sermons and sang the first carols of my life in the last few weeks. You know what's been unbiblical about them? 

Nothing. 

The worst I can say about my church experience so far is that I'm not a fan of all the Christmas trees, although many claim that the symbolism has its roots in Christianity, not paganism. And, to be totally Biblically accurate, they need to remove the wise men from nativity depictions and songs, since they didn't arrive on scene until much later. But I don't expect evangelicals will scrub their cherished music any more than the COGs will eliminate their teachings on the modern identity of the tribes of Israel, even though genetic research has totally debunked the theory. To each his own spurious tradition, I guess.

A funny little story about altering songs. We were singing a Christmas hymn at church the other week about the angels who sang over Bethlehem, and I couldn't shake the feeling that I already knew the melody. Turns out that UCG borrowed the tune and completely rewrote the lyrics. If you're curious and have a UCG hymnal, turn to hymn 161, "From the Realms of Unseen Glory,", then look up "Angels from the Realms of Glory" on YouTube. It's the same, note for note. I've known the COGs to change a few words from time to time, but never an entire song. I thought it was wrong to Christianize anything with potentially pagan roots! Especially anything to do with Christmas. But I digress.

Every COG article criticizing Christmas focuses heavily on the holiday's materialism and on parents who lie to their children about Santa. Well, there has been no mention of Santa at my church. I'm not saying there aren't parents there who perpetuate the myth, but the church certainly isn't propping it up. Materialism has been discouraged from the pulpit, unlike at the Feast of Tabernacles. And increased discussion of the Biblically factual account of Jesus Christ's birth has not distracted from His death. Every message leads back to the sacrifice He made for each and every one of us.

But the Bible doesn't tell us to celebrate Christ's birth, you say. Well, no one would need to tell you to celebrate if you won the lottery. Receiving the gift of eternal life by grace through faith in Jesus is much, much better than winning the lottery, and the Bible does tell us to give thanks for that (1 Corinthians 15:57). There cannot be a death of our Savior without His corresponding birth. 

And it's not like the COGs don't have extra-biblical traditions. I'll bypass discussion of the man-made practice of taking up an offering on all seven holy days (instead of three times a year as the Bible states) in favor of something a little more touchy-feely. Where is the Blessing of Little Children mentioned in the Bible? It's loosely based on the scriptural account where parents brought their children to Jesus, but Mark 10 doesn't mention a date or occasion on which children should be blessed. The COGs have established this tradition on the second Sabbath after the end of the Feast of Tabernacles (except for the those COG groups that hold their blessing during the Feast so rogue grandparents can't bring non-member grandkids). Church leaders have done nothing wrong in creating this man-made tradition. Besides, of course, the COG leaders who have used it to further divide families, an increasing by-product of life in this religious community. Their actions are shameful.

But blessing children is not a man-made worship tradition, you say. Ok, what about holding opening night church services at the Feast of Tabernacles? That's a worship tradition. As are the multiple services some COG groups hold on other annual holy days. Where is that mentioned in the Bible? Only one holy convocation is prescribed per sunset-to-sunset time period. No extra worshiping God beyond what Sinai commands, or you are in big trouble! 

I've always wondered how the Jews got a pass for creating worship traditions at Hanukkah since it's nowhere to be found in the law. COG pastors have told me Hanukkah is kosher for Christians (pun intended), yet it's not commanded anywhere in the Bible. Still, we know Jesus was at the temple during the Feast of the Dedication, another name for Hanukkah (John 10:22-23). If extra-biblical traditions are wrong, then Jesus should have been nowhere near the temple at that time. Well duh, you say. The Jews created the celebration to commemorate a miracle God performed for His people centuries earlier. 

Ahem. Was Jesus' conception and birth a miracle that would bring great joy to all people (Luke 2:10-11)? Has there been any greater miracle in the history of, well, history? And Who do you think put Him there? If that wasn't God's intervention in human affairs, then I don't know what is. 

I suspect the main reason we in the COGs rarely discuss Jesus Christ's birth, besides anti-Christmas programming, is that He does not play a very prominent role in our theology. Yes, His sacrifice made our forgiveness and salvation possible. But in COG theology, our actions going forward from that initial point of forgiveness are the means by which we maintain our salvation.  As a result, we focus on our works, and Jesus Christ becomes like a spiritual debit card we swipe when we slip up and sin. He becomes the gate code we enter to have our prayers accepted by the Father. We take him off the shelf at Passover, then more or less put Him back and leave Him there until the Feast of Trumpets. This marginalization of Jesus is alarming when you consider He Himself said He was the way, the truth, the life, and the only way to the Father (John 14:6). That He is the door to salvation (John 10:9). The Vine to which we must be actively connected to grow (John 15:5-6). 

In contrast, evangelical Christians believe the Bible teaches salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9). That they are saved by the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross (John 19:30, Hebrews 10:10). That the debt of their sin - past, present and future - is cancelled at the moment God justifies them, declaring them righteous in His sight (Colossians 2:13-15). That the righteousness of Jesus Christ is credited to them when they renounce any faith their own goodness and place their full faith for salvation in Jesus (Romans 4:4-5, 2 Corinthians 5:21). Good works and a transformation of the heart should increase as evidence of justification, but this is not linked to our justification, that we might boast (Ephesians 2:9). Understanding the magnitude of our debt that has been forgiven through Jesus Christ's sacrifice naturally results in placing a higher value on the praise and worship of our Savior (Luke 7:47), something the COGs neglect, I fear, to their peril. 

I'm not trying to convince you to keep Christmas. I am only trying to show you that rehearsing a Biblically accurate account of the birth of our Savior is appropriate for Christians. Angels rejoiced on that night, and they had no skin in the game. How much more should we, the redeemed, join the angels and shepherds in praising God and giving thanks that He entered the world?

Uncomfortable with focusing on Jesus' birth in December? I totally understand. I'm not super warm and fuzzy on that point either. Still, people who are a lot smarter than me believe the date has merit. I know it's pretty close to the winter solstice, although it's not on the solstice itself. The COGs have emotionally linked solstice worship to anything that goes on in December and early in January, even though there's only one actual solstice day. If proximity to the solstice taints any gathering where family and friends share meals, fellowship and offer extra praises to God, then the COG splinters have some explaining to do about their various Winter Family Weekends. On the other hand, maybe they've read Romans 14:14 and know that nothing is inherently unclean. Yes, the verses that immediately follow it discuss food, but the ones that precede it specifically mention esteeming specific days.  

If December freaks you out, pick another time to to read about Jesus' birth and give thanks for that miracle. Or don't pick a day at all - instead, do it every day (Romans 14:5-12). Thankfully, our salvation doesn't depend on determining proper dates for Jesus' birth. It doesn't even hinge on whether Pentecost was on Sunday or Monday, or Passover is on the 14th or 15th of Nisan. Good thing, since the Jews have changed their calendar a bit since Sinai. We are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8), not through keeping holy days on the right day, or keeping them at all.

There is no day of the year on which it is inappropriate to read the Bible, praise Jesus Christ, or give thanks for the birth that made His sacrifice possible. It is programming and false guilt, not logic, that make contemplating Christmas so nerve-wracking for me. If God has declared me to be righteous in His sight (Romans 3:21-22), whom shall I fear?  I am grateful beyond words for what Jesus did for me every day of the year, whether that day is February 21, July 18 or December 25, and there is no wrong day to express that. 


************
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
************

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Nimrod's Birthday Was January 6?

Everyone who attends a Church of God splinter group knows the teaching that Christmas is nothing but a modern celebration of Nimrod's birthday. Year after year this claim is taught throughout the Churches of God, and sent out into the wide world by print, television, and Internet. But I'll bet you didn't know that the Church of God has two completely different dates for the birth of Nimrod. It's true!
Today I want to dive into this and show you, dear reader, how the Church of God undoes its own teachings. Some parts of this post are going to be difficult to wade through, but I found it was necessary to approach it as I did or we wouldn't see how the COGs got their doctrines in the first place. My apologies in advance.
"December 25th was the birthday of Nimrod."
Herbert Armstrong, Plain Truth magazine, December 1957, p.7
Herbert Armstrong, the “founder, Pastor General, and spiritual and temporal leader” of the Churches of God, tells us December 25th originated as the birthday of Nimrod.

This is interesting considering the Babylonians had no month of December. December is a Roman month. Rome didn't exist in Nimrod's time. December is an English translation of a Latin word. Neither of these languages existed in Nimrod's time. It is impossible for the Babylonians to believe Nimrod was born on December 25th.
"In Egypt, it was always believed that the son of Isis (Egyptian name for “Queen of Heaven”) was born December 25th. Paganism celebrated this famous birthday over most of the known world for centuries before the birth of Christ."
Herbert Armstrong, Plain Truth magazine, December 1956, pp.8-9
Egypt didn't have a "December" either, let alone most of the known world.
As for the Egyptians always believing the son of Isis was born on December 25th, we deal with that in detail in our article “On Nimrod and Christmas Trees part2”. In short – this claim is simply not true.

Still, Herbert Armstrong seemed to very much believe any December 25th holiday ultimately came from Nimrod. That is what he taught, and that is what his church believes.
"The Romans used to celebrate December 25 as the Saturnalia birthday of Saturn or Nimrod.”
Herman Hoeh, Plain Truth magazine, December 1958, p.6
Saturnalia was never on December 24th or 25th. It was never once celebrated on either of those dates. We deal with that in detail in our article "The Plain Truth About December 25". But more to the point, when you read that quote above would you believe Herman Hoeh agrees with Herbert Armstrong?
It would only be proper to agree with the founder of your church while writing in the church magazine he started. Herbert Armstrong claimed to be an Apostle inspired directly by God, after all. Armstrong's approval does make the claim official church doctrine. Herman Hoeh appears to be saying that December 25th was Nimrod's birthday.
But there's something important you should know:
     Herman Hoeh didn't believe December 25th was Nimrod's birthday.

You read that correctly. Herman Hoeh, the official historian of the Worldwide Church of God, believed that Nimrod was born on January 6 ...and it was printed in not just one but three separate editions of the Plain Truth magazine. This makes it an official church teaching as well.
The Churches of God have two official dates for the birth of Nimrod. And if Herman Hoeh was any kind of historian at all, as Herbert Armstrong said he was, that means December 25 was the wrong one.

Just listen to how Herbert Armstrong lauds Hoeh's work:
"Studying, delving into intricate research from the vantage-point of THIS BASIC KNOWLEDGE, Mr. Hoeh has made vitally important discoveries. It is my personal opinion that he is today the most accurately informed historian in the world."
Herbert Armstrong, Plain Truth magazine, Aug. 1956, p.4
Hoeh did base his claims from actual evidence, right? He didn't just make this up, right?

I want to go over this January 6 date with you today because this says quite a lot about the way Armstrongism treats history in order to achieve the goal of demonizing mainstream Christianity; Christmas is merely a tool in this larger game.
If you're not from an Armstrongist background, don't worry. Enjoy the read anyway! You'll see how "research" is done by those church groups who tell you Christmas is pagan.

The quote above from Herman Hoeh is taken from a larger article that was run in the Plain Truth magazine in 1958, 1960, and 1962 (with heavy edits). What I would like to do here is quote for you from the version of Hoeh's article that ran in the December 1958 edition of the Plain Truth magazine. I want to give you some of what Hoeh wrote, then I will insert some of my own commentary to point some important things out to you.
Ready?

IT'S LIKE CHRISTMAS IN JANUARY
"In the western and especially the eastern parts of the Roman Empire, many sects were beginning to follow a false tradition that Jesus was born on January 6.”
Herman Hoeh, Plain Truth magazine, December 1958, p.6
Hoeh is describing the early adoption of Nimrod's birthday into the pagan Roman culture long prior to the birth of Jesus. He claims that tradition was given to Rome while it was yet a Republic and was kept through the centuries. Then this tradition was handed unchanged to the early church. They began to follow it on January 6 because the tradition had been this way for centuries.
This claim has no basis in fact. It is simply untrue. But it is noteworthy.

Why is this important to point out? Because he is saying that the entire world adopted Nimrod's birthday on January 6, not December 25!
Hoeh claims the entire world, for centuries and centuries, celebrated January 6th with no regard to December 25. This length of time is important to point out because just imagine how hard it would be to change the traditions of the whole world after centuries of unaltered observation.
It is also important to point out because it demonstrates that even though the date of the solstice was supposedly moving, no one on earth cared. They maintained January 6th regardless.
It is also important to point out because it undoes Herbert Armstrong's claims that from the beginning it was December 25th that was observed. Hoeh says no!

Just think of the implications of this, and how deeply it contradicts Herbert Armstrong and the church's claims on December 25th over the years. If Nimrod wasn't born on December 25th and if the entire world wasn't celebrating December 25th from time immemorial, then the whole foundation of Armstrongism's claims about Christmas is destroyed.
“Even the church at Rome for nearly two centuries OBSERVED THIS FALSE DATE FOR CHRIST'S BIRTH ON JANUARY 6. This festival was called Epiphany. (Bingham’s Antiquities, Book xx, chapter iv.)”
Herman Hoeh, Plain Truth magazine, December 1958, p.6
Notice how Hoeh says "the church at Rome". Keep this in mind for later. It will be important.
Hoeh tells us that the entire church – what Armstrongism would call “the Catholic Church” - did not celebrate anything on December 25th for over two centuries.
In other words, Hoeh claims January 6th was being observed from the start, down through 2,000 years of time, and well into the first two centuries after Christ.

Just think of the implications and contradictions in this! If  Romans weren't celebrating anything on December 25th, then they couldn't force it on the Catholics. And if the Catholics weren't celebrating on December 25th, then there couldn't have been any pressure at all on Constantine the Great. Everything the Churches of God teach against December 25 is vaporized.
Yet there is the claim, right there in the Plain Truth.
“The celebration of January 6 was anciently introduced in Babylon as the birthday of Nimrod at the time when the winter solstice occurred on that date-before 1900 B.C. (See page 35 of The Evolution of the Christian Year by A. Allan McArthur.)”
Herman Hoeh, Plain Truth magazine, December 1958, p.6
To seal the deal, Hoeh now un-does everything Herbert Armstrong claimed about Nimrod's birthday. Hoeh makes it absolutely clear that Nimrod was not born on or near December 25th.

Consider the implications and contradictions in this! Yet, there it is, in print, written by the official church historian and published thrice in the Plain Truth magazine for the entire world to read.

We are about to get into some confusing territory. I'll try to guide you through it gently.
“The introduction of the birthday of Nimrod among the Romans occurred when the winter solstice on their religious calendar occurred on December 25! That occurred about 300 B.C., shortly after Alexander the Great conquered the Persian empire and introduced the Mystery Cult of Babylon into the West.”
Herman Hoeh, Plain Truth magazine, December 1958, p.6
Hoeh is saying that in Nimrod's time, 2000 BC, the winter solstice was January 6. Hoeh says that over the next 1,700 years the date of the solstice slowly crept back. Hoeh says by 300 BC the solstice was on December 25.
Now, just think of how this sentence makes a mockery of Armstrongist claims on December 25th. Hoeh just got done saying that everyone in the world was observing January 6th even well into the Christian era, regardless of when the solstice fell on the calendar. No one on earth cared when the solstice was on January 5th, or 4th, or 3rd, or 2nd, or 1st. No one cared when the solstice crept into December. According to Hoeh, they observed January 6 no matter when the solstice was.
Hoeh is saying the solstice was important, but no one on earth seemed to think so.

I will say this plainly to you. What Hoeh is really doing is this: Hoeh is trying to tie Nimrod's birthday both to Christmas and to Epiphany, and the way he hopes to pull this off is by making both dates into solstice festivals.
Hoeh is saying that Nimrod was born on the winter solstice. He says in extreme antiquity, the solstice fell on January 6. He says when the tradition came to Italy in 300 BC, the solstice fell on December 25. He's trying to kill two birds with one stone. He's just making a terrible mess of it.

THREE BIG PROBLEMS

There are several problems with Hoeh's claims. For instance, they contradict. How can Rome celebrate January 6th even two centuries into the Christian era when the December 25th tradition came to them three centuries before the Christian era? This is a contradiction. Or for another example, Hoeh's accusation against the holidays is that they are supposedly unchanged traditions from Nimrod's day. But Hoeh claims the dates did change with the solstice. He says in 2,000 years it slowly moved from January 6 to December 25th. This is a contradiction. Or for another, Epiphany on January 6th does not honor the birth but the baptism and the visit by the Magi. Celebrating a birthday without a birth? This is a contradiction. There are plenty more! But there are bigger issues we should focus on.

The three big problems with Hoeh's claims are, 1) he has to keep saying that the solstice occurred on dates when it did not, 2) he has to say the solstice was generally ignored even though it was supposedly the truly important factor in his equation, and 3) his math is all wrong.

It is a crude fact of history that the solstice was most likely not on December 25th in 300 BC. In order to understand this, I need to bore you with a little history about the Roman calendar. I will try to make this as painless as I can. Please, don't skip past this, though. It's important to know for later on.

In deep antiquity, from around 700 BC, Rome used a lunar calendar. Their calendar was originally only 304 days long and had ten months, with a huge month-less winter gap. There were no months in winter at all. The first month was March, and the last month was December, but December was in autumn. For centuries, the winter solstice was in no month whatsoever.
The calendar was so confusing that in the 500's BC they added two months – January at the start of the year and February at the end of the year. You read that right; February used to come at the other end of the year from January. For several centuries the winter solstice should have been in February. Problem was, due to a superstition against even numbers they only allowed 355 days in their year, so their calendar was still horribly inaccurate. Every once in a while they would add an extra month to correct the year.
Around 450 BC or so, February was moved from the end of the year to where we know it now; between January and March. Now December was the last month again, and now it generally fell in winter.
What this means is that only after 450 BC did the winter solstice have any chance of falling in December. All of the claims of Armstrongism about December and the solstice prior to 450 BC are absolutely impossible! But this still doesn't mean the solstice fell on December 25th. (Just because December is a winter month doesn't mean the solstice is on December 25th. December is our winter month now, as you read this, yet the solstice is not on December 25th, and hasn't been for almost 1,900 years.) Their calendar was often months out of sync. The Roman officials who were in charge of the calendar would often purposely manipulate it for political ends. Almost nothing was reliably on a given date.
Now, here comes the truly important part. -- In 46 BC, Julius Caesar reformed the calendar and set it up with 365¼ days, and leap years. He also added two days to December. December used to only have 29 days; now it has 31. He also set it up so that the solstice was on December 25th. This is the calendar system that we know as the Julian calendar.

To reiterate:
Only after 46 BC did December have 31 days. Only after 46 BC was the solstice more or less reliably on December 25th. Only after 46 BC did anyone have a year that was 365¼ days long.
Except, the year isn't exactly 365¼ days long, so the Julian calendar was wrong by 11 minutes a year or roughly a day every 130 years. The solstice was only reliably on December 25th only for a little more than one century. By the second century AD, December 25 was no longer the date of the solstice.

You still with me? Hoeh claimed the solstice fell on days it didn't -- days that it couldn't -- and when we check into that we find that Hoeh inadvertently claims no one cared when the all important solstice was anyhow. As the solstice supposedly moved back from January 6, no one cared; they observed January 6. As it moved into December, no one cared; they observed January 6. As it moved to December 25th suddenly they care?? Then, when the solstice moves past December 25th, as we see it today, no one cared.

I told you all of that so you could know for certain that Hoeh's claims are built on how things work today. He attacks holidays as we see them today. He failed to adjust his claims for how things worked anciently. When we think it through, everything falls to pieces.

And it's about to get worse! I haven't yet explained why Hoeh's math is wrong.
“Alexander wanted to found one world and one religion - AND THE ONE RELIGION TO WHICH ALL COULD TRACE BACK THEIR ORIGIN WAS THE BABYLONIAN MYSTERY CULT! It claimed to be a universal or catholic form of religion in which all peoples could find unity! According to the religious calendar maintained by the priests of the mystery cults, each year averaged 365 1/4 days.”
Herman Hoeh, Plain Truth magazine, December 1958, p.6
As we just saw, this claim is utterly false. This claim is inexcusably false. Hoeh is crediting the calendar of Julius Caesar (ca. 46 BC) to Alexander the Great (ca. 300 BC). In fact, Hoeh is crediting the calendar of Julius Caesar to Nimrod (ca. 2000 BC)!

Alexander died some 223 years before Caesar was even born! Hoeh knew good and well the Romans, let alone the Greeks, did not have a 365¼-day solar year in 300 BC. No one did!

Keep in mind that Alexander never conquered Rome. Alexander had no say in the Roman calendar or their religion. Alexander was a Greek emperor. He spent most of his time in Asia. The Greeks, Medo-Persians, and Egyptians – among whom Alexander spent most of his time - had no December nor did their years average 365¼ days.

So why did Hoeh choose Alexander the Great at all? It all has to do with math ...wrong math.

BAD MATH

The foundational claim in this entire article is that in 2000 BC the solstice was on January 6. This is the cornerstone. Everything hinges on this.

Next, Hoeh needs to get the solstice from January 6th to December 25th. It has to move to December 25th. Hoeh must demonize both Epiphany and Christmas or he betrays his ideology. He can't simply say January 6 is the right date or he calls his Apostle a liar! He must move that solstice date. So Hoeh did a little math.

January 6 is how many days from December 25? If you count it out, chances are you'll count 12 days. The 12 days of Christmas! Except the Romans counted inclusively, which includes both the start day and the end day, so ancient Romans would have counted 13 days. Hoeh needs to move the solstice 13 days. How?

Hoeh employs the error of the 365¼-day Julian calendar created in 46 BC. That calendar lost one day roughly every 130 years because the solar year is not 365¼ days long exactly (it's about 11 minutes and 14 seconds shy of that). Hoeh says it loses a day every 133, but let's not squabble over the minutiae. I will use his numbers to better recreate what he did. We need to multiply 133 years by the number of days Hoeh wants the calendar to move. If we take 133 years and multiply that by 13 (the number of days Hoeh needs to move the calendar) we get 1,729 years. It would take 1,729 years to move the solstice the 13 days from January 6 to December 25. Just round that off to 1,700 because we are only talking rough numbers anyway. Now, if the solstice was on January 6 in 2000 BC, 1700 years later it should be on December 25th. That equates to 300 AD.

It was this math, not any historical document, that causes Hoeh to claim the solstice was on December 25th in 300 BC, in Alexander the Great's day.
“This made the year a fraction too long. It caused the winter solstice to drop back over the centuries about the rate of one day in about 133 years. In Rome the winter solstice - “Christmas” - had gradually dropped back to December 25, beginning 300 years before Christ.”
Herman Hoeh, Plain Truth magazine, December 1958, p.6
It was math that got him to 300 BC; but it was bad math! Why? I'll show you again why. It was bad math because the 365¼-day calendar didn't exist in Nimrod's time. It didn't exist in Alexander's time either. It first existed in Julius Caesar's time - 46 BC. You cannot use the error of this calendar in years before the calendar ever existed!

But not only that, Hoeh counted 13 days from January 6 to December 25. Except, until 46 BC December wasn't 13 days from January 6. December only had 29 days, not 31. In 300 BC, December 25 was 11 days from January 1. Hoeh's math is off by two whole days - which means his math is off by 266 years! If Hoeh had thought through what he was doing, he would have ended up in the 500's BC, not the 300's. And, as we saw earlier, in the 500's BC the solstice wasn't in a month named December, it should have been in a month named February!

Truth be told, the real number by which Hoeh's math was off is incalculable. How do we compensate for the centuries when there was no winter month? How does anyone do that math?

If Hoeh was the great historian he was held to be, then he knew this without a doubt. Did he get this so very wrong because he didn't know, or because he was deliberately passing on false information? You decide! But the fact remains -- this is official COG doctrine, written by the church historian, published in the flagship church magazine.

WHEN IN ROME...
“The early Babylonian date of January 6 as the birthday of the pagan savior Nimrod was first applied to Jesus by the apostatizing Eastern Christians.”
Herman Hoeh, Plain Truth magazine, December 1958, p.6
Keep that sentence in mind as we read this next part.
“But this date for the birth of Christ was not universally accepted. In 245 A.D., Origen, like numerous other Catholic leaders, still repudiated the idea of observing any day as Christ’s birthday. The traditional date of January 6 therefore did not gain a very strong foothold in the western parts of the Roman Empire because certain heretical sects were also following the same tradition."
Herman Hoeh, Plain Truth magazine, December 1958, p.6-17
At first, Hoeh said that the west kept the January 6 tradition alive. Remember when he said this, "Even the church at Rome for nearly two centuries OBSERVED THIS FALSE DATE"?
Now Hoeh says the east kept the January 6 tradition alive, and it didn't really catch on in the west.

The west observed the date since the time of Alexander, but it never caught on? Contradiction!

Then, for some unknowable reason, despite the January 6th date being continually observed since 2000 BC, and despite it being in Rome for 600 years, and despite it being church tradition for 200 years, now certain Romans in the west suddenly decided December 25th would be a better day. Even though December 25th was supposedly the date they received from Alexander the Great. Contradiction!

Why? Why would anyone trash 2,300 years of tradition and suddenly assume December 25th was important? Hoeh says January 6th was the accepted date in that place and time. Then why the sudden change?

The main reason the Armstrongist COGs say Christmas is on December 25th is because that date was supposedly Nimrod's birthday. But Nimrod wasn't born on that day! He was supposedly born on January 6th according to the "most accurately informed historian in the world". So why change?
Hoeh says Nimrod's birthday followed the solstice, but then he amply demonstrates no one seemed to care about the solstice. If it was tied to the solstice, why did no one celebrate it that way? Know this: December 25 wasn't the solstice in the fourth century AD anyway! So why change?
If the solstice is so important, and for 2,300 years no one cared about the solstice, and December 25th wasn't the solstice -- then why change from January 6 to December 25? Hoeh never really tells us why.

I'll tell you why. He has to smear both Christmas and Epiphany, and he has to point a finger at Constantine the Great, and that's all that matters. In short --- there was no change. Hoeh made it all up!

Lest you think perhaps there is some misunderstanding on my part, here's a quote from this article in its edited form run in the Plain Truth 1962:
"The celebration of January 6 was anciently introduced in Babylon as the birthday of Nimrod before 2000 B.C, when the winter solstice-the shortest day of the year-occurred on that date. (See page 35 of The Evolution of the Christian Year by A. Allan McArthur.) But the winter solstice did not continue to fall on January 6 because the pagan calendar was not accurate. When the birthday of Nimrod was first celebrated in Rome, the winter solstice had dropped back to December 25. But the Babylonian priests in Rome continued to celebrate January 6."
Herman Hoeh, Plain Truth magazine, December 1962, p.29
There was no misunderstanding.
Hoeh said plainly that the Romans ignored the solstice and just celebrated January 6th. Then, for no real reason, a date that wasn't the solstice is suddenly important.

Why? How is that even possible? In one place, Armstrongism teaches the Catholic Church had no choice but to adopt a pagan date because the Romans were so adamant that they celebrate a certain traditional date, but in another place, Armstrongism teaches that Romans didn't care much for 600 years of unbroken tradition.

We know from history that in the fourth and fifth centuries AD the solstice was not on December 25th. But according to Hoeh, it should have been roughly three more days farther away than it actually was. Hoeh's timeline is worse for his explanation than actual history. There was absolutely no reason whatsoever, according to Hoeh's claims, to change from the ancient tradition of January 6th to December 25th. December 25th wasn't the solstice in Constantine's time.

CONCLUSION

The Worldwide Church of God had two different, irreconcilable dates for the birthday of Nimrod. If this is so true, and so plain, then why the discrepancy?

Today we've seen many contradictions.
Herman Hoeh claimed January 6 was the real date of Nimrod's birthday, but if January 6 is the right day then December 25 cannot be. He claimed the whole world observed January 6 for over 2,000 years, but if the whole world was observing January 6 then no one could be observing December 25. At the same time, he said the Romans first received the tradition when the solstice was on the 25th. If that's the case, then no one in Rome should be celebrating January 6. He claimed, starting in 2,000 BC, the solstice crept backwards from January 6, but if that's true then every day the solstice touched is Nimrod's birthday. Nimrod went from one, to two, and now has dozens of birthdays! He tried to claim that both January 6th and December 25th were days for traditional solstice celebrations, but he ended demonstrating no one cared about the solstice. In one place he said the Italian pagans and then the church in Rome observed the January 6 date. In another place he said the Greek east preserved the date, because it never caught on in the west. Assumptions were made about ancient cultures that are based on modern circumstances. Features unique to the Latin calendar were ascribed to Babylon and Egypt and Greece. He said Alexander the Great and even Nimrod had access to a calendar that wasn't invented yet. Then, because he had the wrong number of days in December, he miscalculated his conclusion by over 250 years.
This is the plain truth??

In short - in one article Herman Hoeh managed to destroy the Church of God's teachings regarding Christmas on December 25th.

I bet you didn't know about Nimrod's January 6th birthday, did you? What I'm telling you today shouldn't be a surprise to you. It was printed in the Plain Truth magazine three times!

Hoeh says Nimrod was born on January 6th, then Hoeh says the celebration was moved to December 25th by Constantine. But why? How? Hoeh never says. The truth is there was no change!! No one ever celebrated Nimrod on January 6th or December 25th. January 6th celebrated events in Jesus' life like His baptism and the visit of the Magi; December 25th celebrated Jesus' birth. Never did January 6th "change" to December 25th. Every stitch of it is made up using terrible pseudo-history.

In its zeal to trash mainstream Christianity, the Worldwide Church of God simply couldn't pass up on the temptation to connect Epiphany (January 6) to Nimrod. It was unfortunate that Hoeh was not creative enough to invent some other explanation. Nimrod's birthday was already taken! No one seemed to care. After all, why should they? The Church of God leadership knew the regulars wouldn't notice. And if they did notice, they would be called "demon influenced" and put out of the church.

They call it "God's truth", but it isn't true. They knew it then, and they know it now.

Are you surprised? I sure was! For thirty years of my life I followed Armstrongism. That is, until I began fact-checking the material.

But this January 6 business isn't sitting well with you, is it? You've seen too much before now that supposedly proved December 25th was always the date, haven't you? Yet, there January 6 is, in print, in the church's flagship magazine, from the most accurately informed historian in the world. Don't think that the solution is simply to disregard the Plain Truth magazine's articles about January 6. This is the Plain Truth we're talking about. They wouldn't put anything untrue in the Plain Truth, would they? That date is official church teaching. You know, in your heart of hearts, that something is wrong with the official church teaching that Nimrod was born on January 6 and December 25, don't you? You automatically know one birthday cannot be on two different dates. Hoeh did read some history, didn't he? He cited some sources, didn't he? Herbert Armstrong read history and cited sources, didn't he? How can both claims be right? They are mutually exclusive. How can both January 6 -and- December 25 be the original date of Nimrod's birth? They can't! How can the whole world celebrate December 25 -and- the whole world celebrate January 6? They can't!
What do you propose to do about that?

As Bereans Did has many articles showing why you should give a second look at the facts about Christmas. In my next article, I hope to demonstrate several more contradictions in the claims about Christmas printed in the Plain Truth magazine from the 1950's through the 1970's. 




************
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
************

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Sheryl Meredith Has Passed

In case anyone hasn't heard - Sheryl Meredith, wife of Rod Meredith, passed away November 29th.

We might write in disagreement with Armstrongist doctrines, but it's not personal. Our common humanity is a tie that ought to bind all of us here on this planet. It is good to set aside our differences for a time, out of respect.

Our deepest sympathies go out to Mr. Rod Meredith and family for their loss.

Now, this from Penny:

"It is with sadness that I have learned of the passing of Sheryl Meredith.
She was the loving wife of Roderick Meredith, who calls himself the presiding evangelist
of The Living Church of God. All of us take no pleasure in the sufferings of any person
associated with Armstrogism. We pray for the Comforter to visit Mr Meredith during this
time of loss, and trust that our Almighty God will show His mercy to Mrs Meredith. May
God bring peace to the members of that group as well, as they accept her loss.
In particular, events such as this tend to stir up fears of the end being close, and we
pray that God calms their troubled hearts. Rest in God's loving, peaceful arms Mrs Meredith."

http://www.lcg.org/memoriam_smeredith.shtml

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

We Were Right By Default

I was having a rather interesting conversation with some friends recently, and we were recalling back to when we were active, believing Armstrongists. We were recalling what our attitudes were like, and in what way we reacted when someone wasn't in agreement with us.
I wanted to talk about that a bit today.

We all seem to recall two general things, really: fear and pride.
These two words pretty well sum up what our attitudes were like before we found out how specious the teachings of Herbert Armstrong actually were.

I recall the sensation that I would get when someone would present me with anything not already within my belief system. I would feel fear and pride. Anything that didn't come to me from the pulpit, or church literature, or a trusted church member, was already wrong to begin with. We were right by default.

I was so prideful that I actually felt pity for anyone who didn't agree with me. Didn't matter what they were saying. Poor deceived souls. I was elect and they were not. I had the Holy Spirit and they had none. They would eventually learn how right I was ...in the second resurrection, that is. No matter what the topic, they were deceived and I was not, and it was only a matter of time until that was visible to everyone.
Even if the facts were nigh entirely on their side. Even if I had no response. I trusted that Herbert Armstrong [or you can substitute your favorite church leader] was an Apostle, a prophet, and directly inspired by God. If I was caught off guard, at least such pillars of "the truth" would never be as weak as I am. Would they ever agree with what I was being presented with? No. So what reason was there for me giving anyone a fair hearing?

Our hearts were so filled with pride! I say this to my own shame.
But don't forget the fear.

See, this pridefulness was all just a defense mechanism.
I recall that sickening, sinking tinge of fear that accompanied anything new. I couldn't ever help but wonder in my heart of hearts - what if I have no answer? What if they are right? What if this is a test and I don't have the wherewithal to pass it? Then one thing leads to another, one thought to another thought, down the slippery slope to the ultimate conclusion - what if I lose my crown?

Oh my! What fear! I had invested so much. I had sacrificed so much. I left friends for this church. I separated from family. I lost jobs. I passed up careers. I tithed too much. I preached too much. Everything I did and everything I was hung in the balance. The truth HAD to be that I was right and they were wrong. It had to! The alternative was simply too much for my heart to bear. Too much is at stake; I can't be wrong. We HAD to be right by default!

What did we do?

Enter the pride response, which answers all my problems by shutting down any possibility of us being wrong. Armstrong was right by default, and so was I, and that is that.

Now, I just let my cleverness come up with some pithy response and we'll seal that deal.
Any response. No matter how unworkable, no matter how impractical, no matter how irrelevant, no matter how it contradicts other things I believed. A quote from a church leader. A proof-text. A reference to some obscure point which was proven false 100 years ago. Any response at all would do.
If there is still no response, then there is always the nuclear option -- revert to ad hominem attacks.
Call the person a deceived pagan, perhaps a Nimrod worshiper, and dehumanize them. If they do not have any value themselves, then what value can their words have? We were the called and elect. They were only ever going to be second best anyway.

You can always read about how right we are in this church literature. Send away for it; it's free. I'll be going now!

Oh, dear reader, that is how most of us were, deep down inside. I don't mean just myself and my friends, I mean the whole of Armstrongism. These are the fruits of legalism - false pride and frustrated failure. But I want to warn you about this whole mess. These mechanisms cannot simply be turned on and off like with a switch. Once your heart learns to puff itself up as a defense against fear, then you will always react that way; even towards the ones you fellowship with.

Here is a typical scenario:
I didn't keep the Sabbath well enough. Is God angry with me? I'll plead for forgiveness! I'll promise to do better! Why isn't my guilt assuaged? Did God hear me? Will God ever forgive me again? After all, was it really all that bad what I did? It's not like I'm as bad as that other person I know from church. That person is worse than me. What I did is really small compared to what this other person from church does all the time. Compared to them, I'm looking really good. I feel better now, actually. Come to think of it, I'm better than this second person I know from church. They can't control their children. And just a few weeks ago I knew more about Deuteronomy than person #3 from church. You know, I'm not so bad after all. I'm actually kinda good, all things considered. I'm no Armstrong, but I'll be there in time. God must really think I'm special.

Do you see how fear becomes pride becomes judgment? It's circular. Beware of this!
The failures you point out in people outside of your church today, to prop your ego up, will become the failures you will point out in people inside your church tomorrow, to prop your ego up. Until you are a church of one. The only person in creation who can meet your own standards; intimately frustrated because inside you know that you can't meet your own standards.
Being right by default is a snare of the Devil and it does not please God! How much less does does it please Him to lash out in fear and pride against another, for whom Jesus died, dehumanizing and demonizing them simply so we can win an argument.

The truth is that the truth can handle itself. The truth is true. It is reality. Anything else is simply not reality. If it isn't true, then it doesn't really exist. That is why Satan has no real power. He is a liar and the father of it. Though he has the power to kill our bodies temporarily, he can do us no eternal harm. His lies are simply not true. They don't actually exist. But Jesus Christ is the truth! Trust in Him, not in yourself.
We can insist we have the truth, but if we in fact are wrong, then we in fact do not have the truth and we insist a lie. It doesn't matter how desperately we want something to be true. If it isn't, then it isn't. For you and for me as well! Insisting we and we alone have God's truth, when our words are little more than empty, prideful, self-serving rejoinders, is the very definition of delusion.
I implore you to always give someone a fair hearing. Judge rightly (JON. 7: 24)! If something is true, then it is true. Let it be what it is. Stop worrying about always being right and saving your own skin, which you cannot save anyway, and let go of that illusion of control. Give it all to God and He will sort it out.

I ask you, honored reader, to give us a fair hearing. What we here at As Bereans Did have presented you with may be contrary to what you have heard. What we present may be a bit scary. What we present may make you angry with us. But we plead with you - at least hear us out. We have tested what we write, and presented you not only with our opinions but with many explanations of why we no longer believe as we once did. Should we actually be right, then you won't want to miss out. If we really can demonstrate a point, for example that British-Israelism is demonstrably false and there are better explanations for those prophecies, then you would do well to take that to heart and pray about it. If still you must go away in disagreement, then go freely in peace.

Believe me, we know what it's like; we were there once too. Once we set ourselves aside and stepped into the New Covenant in faith, all that fear melted away. Don't take our word for it; try it for yourself and see!




************
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
************

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Pack's Proofs on Peter's Pontificate

Today, I want to talk about Dave Pack's "Ten Proofs Peter Was Not the 'Pope' at Rome".

After completing my review of Herman Hoeh's "True History of the True Church", and finding it remarkably flawed, I wanted to see if the Church of God groups had progressed since 1959. Finding that the COGWA had made several false claims about their roots did not fill me with optimism.
Completely at random, I chose a more recent attempt at documenting the history of Armstrongism. I chose "Where Is The True Church? And Its Incredible History!" (2009 version) by Mr. David Pack, which is currently downloadable in PDF format from the Restored Church of God website.
I wanted to see how the claims had changed over the years, and whether or not the scholarship had improved.

After reading a few pages and checking sources I can tell you that my pessimism is justified. I am not impressed. Not only had Mr. Pack not improved upon Mr. Hoeh's earlier work, in my opinion things had gotten worse.
Today's post is not going to go over the entire book. I'm still working on that. The booklet is 223 pages! I almost expect it to come in hard-cover form. Rather, today I am just going to sample one small area which is easy to bite off and chew, and which is representative of the rest of the work.

On pages 90-91, Mr. Pack sets out a list of 10 reasons why Peter was not the Pope at Rome. Some of these points try to demonstrate that Peter was never in Rome, and some of them try to demonstrate that even if he was in Rome he still wasn't the first Pope. I want to go over just that section in today's post. Unless otherwise stated, all of my quotes are from those two pages.

What I'm going to do is quote the ten points straight from the booklet, one at a time. Then I'm going to give my summary of what that quote means, just to make it easier to understand. Then I'm going to give my response.

You might say that you don't believe Peter was in Rome, and you certainly don't believe Peter was the first Pope, so what's the problem? I don't necessarily agree with the Catholic Church's claims in this arena either. But that's entirely beside the point.
Whether one agrees with a claim is secondary to whether or not the claim is intellectually honest and well formed. This is fundamental to the pursuit of truth. I can agree that George Washington, the United States' first president, was an important historical figure. But if I believe that because I rely on silly evidences such as "he chopped down a cherry tree and admitted it to his father", an event that never actually happened, then really I'm just a chattering mouth making noises devoid of substance. He is a great historical figure; but not because of silly folk tales. Or, I can disagree that Peter was the first Pope. But if I do that because I rely on empty conspiracy theories and fiction authored by pseudo-scholars, then I'm really just a misinformed gossip and a tale-bearer.
Mr. Pack spends a good deal of time talking about truth in his book. Well, do we really value truth, or are we tickling in the ears - only interested in what upholds our preconceptions?

Let's get started, shall we?

Point #1
"(1) Rome is in Italy. This means that Gentile Italians live there. The apostle Paul was ordained to be the apostle to the Gentiles, not Peter. Paul wrote this to the Gentile Romans: “That I should be the minister of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles, ministering the gospel of God, that the offering up of the Gentiles might be acceptable…” (15:16). He also described himself to the Galatians as having the gospel of the “uncircumcision”— the Gentiles—committed to him (2:7)."

My summary: Peter did not reside in Rome because Rome is Gentile and Paul was sent to the Gentiles.

This is simply not feasible even by Mr. Pack's own standards.
Peter wasn't forbidden to go to the Gentiles. Who was the first Apostle to go to the first Gentile convert? Peter. He was sent to Cornelius.
In many places throughout the book, Mr. Pack makes definite claims that Peter was sent to Israelites and Paul was sent to Gentiles. That is the root claim that point #1 relies upon. However, in many places throughout the book, Mr. Pack tells us where Peter supposedly went during his life. Britain, Babylon, Galatia, Antioch, the regions around the Black Sea, and every other area outside of Palestine that Peter supposedly went to, were also Gentile. This is beyond doubt.
In order for Mr. Pack to get Peter out of Rome and in to Britain and other areas, he had to fall back on British-Israelism which claims Israelites were there somewhere. (We are supposedly forbidden from knowing exactly where they were.) If Peter and Paul both supposedly went to Britain, then why can't both go to Rome? Well, Jews are Israelites after all. We know from the Bible as well as from history that a large population of Jews and Jewish converts to Christianity were in Rome.
Therefore, point #1 is simply not feasible.

Ask yourself, if Paul was the Apostle to the Gentiles only and Peter the Apostle to the Israelites only, then why was Peter in Babylon and Paul in the synagogue?

Point #2
"(2) The Emperor Claudius had banished all Jews from Rome in AD 50. Acts 8:1 describes the “great persecution against the Church” and that “they were all scattered abroad” as a result."

My summary: Emperor Claudius banished all Jews from Rome, so there were no Jews for Peter to go to.

Mr. Pack is anticipating the obvious response to point #1. Here is his reason for why Peter could not go to Jews in Rome.
This expulsion most likely happened in 49 AD. This is long before Peter's death. St. Peter supposedly died in 67 AD. Jews were not permanently expelled. This wasn't the first time they were expelled, either; the most recent was under Emperor Tiberius. They always came back. This time there were so many Jews that Claudius was worried of rioting.
Claudius died in 54 AD. The ban could not have lasted beyond then. We know from history that it didn't even last until that point. Either way, the expulsion could not have lasted 5 years.
Rome made no distinction between Christians and Jews until later in the first century. The Christians and Jews knew the difference, but Rome didn't, and that's what counts in 49 AD. If the Jews were expelled, the Christians were also. Hence, why Priscilla and Aquilla - being Christians and not Jews by religion - had left Italy. If any Christians went back to Rome, and we know they did or there would be no epistle to the Romans in 57 AD, then the Jews were also allowed back in.
Therefore, what Mr. Pack is trying to establish - that there were no Jews in Rome for Peter to go to - is simply not tenable.

Ask yourself, does having no Jews in Rome between for the 5 years between 49 and 54 AD mean Peter could not possibly have gone to Rome during the 13 years between 54 and 67 AD?

Point #3
"(3) Peter wrote his first general epistle from the city of “Babylon” (5:13). Many have assumed that this is Rome, when it is actually the Babylon of Mesopotamia. It is interesting to note that historians generally confuse—switch—scriptural references to Babylon by applying those that do apply to Rome as though they apply to Babylon, and vice-versa—in other words, those that do not apply to Rome are assigned Roman designation."

My summary: Peter wrote from Babylon, not Rome.

This point is neither here nor there. Peter wrote an epistle from Babylon. So what?
If the claim is "Peter wrote from Babylon, therefore he couldn't be in Rome" then he also wrote from Babylon therefore he couldn't be in Britain or any of the other areas Mr. Pack said he went to either.
If the claim is that "Peter wrote from Babylon, not Rome, because Babylon isn't Rome" then this contradicts far too many of his other doctrines. The entire claim that the Catholic Church is Babylon the Great rests on the assertion that Babylon absolutely is Rome. You can't have it both ways. You can't both insist Babylon is always Rome in Revelation, and insist Babylon never Rome at all so we know it isn't Rome in Peter's epistle.
The only other option is that Mr. Pack means to say that, taken on a case-by-case basis, this one instance Babylon is not symbolic and does not symbolize Rome. OK. Now, where's the proof for that? Mr. Pack gives us nothing but his good word. Well, we know Rome was called "Babylon" in early years. So it could have been Rome. But no matter what interpretation you side with, the claim is weak.
Either way, that is really neither here nor there. All this talk about "Peter didn't mean Rome" is nothing but a distraction. Symbolically Rome or literally Babylon, either way the claim is weak. Mr. Pack is trying to demolish the weakest possible evidence and then claim absolute victory. What he cannot do is demolish the strong evidence we have from the witness of names like Irenaeus, Clement, Tertullian, Ignatius, and etc who say Peter was there. I would have you know, Mr. Pack cites some of the names I just mentioned as reliable source material in other areas of his book. So, are they reliable or aren't they? In one place he says they are reliable. What other conclusion can we reach other than he is saying in this place they are completely unreliable? If he doesn't believe his own sources, then all he ever does is quote mine them; taking what he wants and disregarding the rest. Then what's the value of any of it?
Therefore, this claim is beyond weak and contradicts his own evidence in other areas of the book.

Ask yourself, is it good to quote sources as reliable for one thing, then ignore those same sources in other things?

Point #4
"(4) Paul told the Romans, “Yea, so have I strived to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build upon another man’s foundation” (15:20). Paul’s assertion would make no sense had Peter been resident at Rome, having established this congregation."

My summary: Paul only preached where no one else had.

This point is demonstrably false.
Paul strove to preach in areas where Christ was unknown; this much is clear. However, this doesn't by any means indicate that he always preached where Christ was unknown and never preached where Christ was known.
On pages 60-64, Mr. Pack claims Paul preached in Britain, along with Peter, James, Simon the Zealot, Joseph of Arimathea, and Aristobulus. Now, he uses some pretty shaky sources to make this claim. I'm not concerned about the accuracy of the claim at this point, only that he made the claim. The question is, how can Mr. Pack both claim that all of these people were in Britain, and claim that Paul never preached where others preached first? At some point he's going to have to become consistent.
What's more, it is undeniable that Paul did preach in Rome. It would appear that Priscilla and Aquilla were Christians before they met Paul, and they had only met Paul because they were expelled from Rome for being of Jewish descent. Someone had preached Christ in Rome long before Paul got there. He also built on someone else's foundation in Damascus after he was first converted (ACT. 9: 19-22), and then in Jerusalem (ACT. 9: 28-29), and again in Antioch (ACT. 11: 19-26). Acts 11: 19 tells us Christians were scattered to Phoenicia and Cyprus where they preached; Paul went to both of these places to preach (ACT. 13: 4-5; 15: 3).
Therefore, this claim is demonstrably false as well as inconsistent.

Ask yourself, is it just to use something as evidence if that thing is shown to be false?

Point #5
"(5) Then, in light of the previous point, why would Paul offer the following salutation to the Roman congregation, also if Peter had been there for years?: “For I long to see you, that I may impart unto you some spiritual gift, to the end that you may be established” (1:11). Think how insulting this expression would have been to “Pope Peter,” had he been in Rome."

My summary: Paul wanted to impart a spiritual gift to the Romans to establish them, so Peter could not be there or Paul's gift was really an insult to Peter.

Note that point #5 relies on point #4. Point #4 is false. Therefore point #5 builds on a false premise. As Herbert W Armstrong was fond of saying, if the starting point is false then the conclusions will be false.
Think about this a moment. Mr. Pack's book is meant to impart a spiritual gift to establish you. Therefore, by his own reasoning, this book is an insult to all of the others in his church and everyone who came before him. So we should learn the lesson -- don't impart any spiritual gifts.
I jest, because the claim is ridiculous on its face.
Paul was writing to whom? No one? No. He was writing to a congregation. Was this a non-congregation, un-established and void? No. Let's ask Romans 1: 8 if they were un-established: "First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for you all, that your faith is spoken of throughout the whole world". The what? The un-established church, where no one had yet preached, was so faithful they were spoken of throughout the world. It's a miracle!!
This claim depends on there being no one in Rome, but if there was no one in Rome then there could be no epistle to the church in Rome. Luckily, there were many Jews in Rome (in Acts 28, Paul preaches to them) and Christians of both Jewish and Gentile background (in Romans, Paul writes to both). I was certain point #1 said that never happened.
Therefore, this point, as with the previous point upon which it relies, is demonstrably false.

Point #6
"(6) Paul concludes the Roman letter in chapter 16 with separate greetings to 30 different people in Rome—Mary, Andronicus, Junia—(these last two were probably apostles; Rom. 16:7)—Amplias, Urbane, Stachys, Apelles and 23 others— with no reference to the one who was supposedly the Pope, guiding the congregation and the entire New Testament Church from that city. No reasonable person could believe that Paul would so insult his own spiritual superior!"

My summary: Paul never mentions a leader, so there must not have been one.

I thought there was no one in Rome? How do we have no less than 30 Christians if Paul was the first to preach there?
Now, because a thing wasn't mentioned is not proof that it didn't exist. This is basic logic. He's arguing from silence. By this same reasoning, neither the book of Esther nor Song of Songs ever mention God; therefore He must not have been anywhere in the Middle East!
Anyone who reads the New Testament will know that one of the primary concerns of the Apostles was establishing Elders. But Mr. Pack's claim is that Paul established the church in Rome. This only makes things worse for his claim as Paul would never establish a church and not appoint an Elder (ACT. 14: 3; TIT. 1: 5). How could there be a world-renowned group, thirty of whom Paul greets by name, but there is no church and no Elder? It's a nonsensical claim to make.
Therefore this claim is not tenable.

Ask yourself, if something is not mentioned does that prove it is not there?

Point #7
"(7) Galatians 1:18-19 and 2:7 demonstrate that Peter was based at Jerusalem, from where he periodically traveled to places like Bithynia, Northern Galatia and Babylon, and other places where Israelites (also see #9) had migrated, from AD 38 to AD 49—the dates of these events described in Galatians."

My summary: Galatians 1: 18-19 and 2: 7 demonstrates that Peter was based in Jerusalem from 38-49 AD, so he couldn't have been based in Rome.

First off, Galatians 1: 18-19 are the the only verses mentioned here that show Peter was based in Jerusalem. Galatians 2: 7 does absolutely nothing for his point.
Second, the Epistle to the Galatians was written around 49 AD, but the timing of Galatians 1: 18-19 is not 38-49 AD at all. The timing of verses 18-19 was more like 35-36 AD.
Those verses are very early on in Paul's ministry, immediately after he became a Christian, before the word was preached to the Gentiles at all, and before Acts 15. Of course Peter was going to be in Jerusalem at that time. Citing these verses does absolutely nothing for his point.
That means nothing he cited does anything for his point.
Mr. Pack, in many places in his booklet, relies on Peter being away from Jerusalem. In fact, in Galatians 2: 11-12 Peter is in Antioch, acting like a Gentile, with the Gentiles (I thought point #1 said that never happened). So, Mr. Pack has to contradict himself in order to make this point.
Therefore this point is anachronistic at best, and contradicts his own evidence in other areas of the book.

Ask yourself, if Peter was in one place at the start of his ministry, does that prove he stayed there for the rest of his life?

Point #8
"(8) Luke 22:24 states, “And there was a strife among them, which of them should be accounted the greatest.” Here is why this passage is important. This debate took place after Christ, in Matthew 16:17-19, had supposedly designated Peter as the one who would become the first Pope. While not directly involving Rome, this provides its own proof that Christ never conferred, at least from the other apostles’ perspective, the office of “Pope” to Peter."

My summary: The striving over who would be the greatest in Luke 22: 24 happened after Christ designated Peter as the rock in Matthew 16: 17-19. Therefore Peter could not be the Pope.

It's a good point to bring up, except for two incredibly important things:
1) Several times in his book Mr. Pack admits that Peter was the lead Apostle, thus negating this point entirely, and 2) this does absolutely nothing to prove Peter wasn't in Rome.
You might think it odd that Mr. Pack would affirm the Primacy of Peter doctrine. Well, let's review a few quotes:

"As coordinator, Peter traveled to many more areas where the Israelites were located than did any of the other apostles." p.63
"John Replaces Peter. After Peter’s death, John was eventually directed to return to the eastern Mediterranean area to oversee the Church." p.72
"Simon Peter (chief apostle under Christ)" p.74

Just look at those quotes! What you, the reader, should immediately take away from this is that Mr. Pack claims Peter was the Coordinator and Chief Apostle. In other words, Mr. Pack admits the Primacy of Peter doctrine! So, if you, esteemed and astute reader, wanted to hang me for defending the Primacy of Peter doctrine, please hold! I'm not the one defending it. I neither defend it nor deny it; I only write this post to point out Mr. Pack's inconsistencies and the unreliable nature of his claims. He is the one who defends the Primacy of Peter!
Most Armstrongists would find this to be scandalous, but it isn't so odd; Herbert Armstrong did the same.
This is terribly close to trying to have your cake and eat it too. In one place, his claims rely on the Primacy of Peter, so they negate this point. However, here where it's convenient, his point relies on there being no Primacy of Peter, thus negating his earlier claims.
Therefore, this point is exceedingly weak and contradicts his own evidence in other areas of the book.

Ask yourself, can Peter both be the "chief apostle under Christ" -and- not be the "chief apostle under Christ" at the same time?

Point #9
"(9) This point proves the other side of point 1. Already referenced, notice how Paul, who first describes himself, concludes his statement in Galatians 2:7, with this about Peter: 'But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision [Gentiles] was committed unto me [Paul], as the gospel of the circumcision [Jews and the other tribes of Israel, referenced in #7] was unto Peter…'"

My summary: The Apostles squabbling and Paul being sent to the Gentiles proves that Peter was not over the whole work.

Just like point #5 relied on #4, and both were false, point #9 relies on #8 and both are false.
As mentioned earlier, Mr. Pack himself grants that Peter was the chief Apostle and Coordinator. So, which is it? Is he Coordinator and chief Apostle, as Mr. Pack said several times earlier on, or is it that he wasn't Coordinator and chief Apostle as Mr. Pack says here? They cannot both be true. He defeats his earlier claims here once again, and defeats this claim earlier -- hoping we won't notice. This isn't "proof"; it's "confusion". This is exactly the same flaw we saw in point #8.
Therefore, this claim is useless and contradicts his own evidence in other areas of the book.

Point #10
"(10) In II Timothy 4:11, Paul, commonly understood to be writing this epistle from Rome, states, “Only Luke is with me.” Further, in verse 10, he describes how one named Demas had “forsaken” him and gone back to the “world,” with Crescens and Titus having also transferred to other places of duty. None of this makes sense if the “Pope”—Peter—had been present."

My summary: In II Timothy 4: 11 Paul tells Timothy that only Luke was with him. This doesn't make sense if Peter was there.

By that same reasoning, it doesn't make sense if any Christian was in Rome. Either this applies to all, or it only applies to the people Paul specifically mentioned; it cannot be narrowed to just Peter.
If Mr. Pack is correct, and Paul means to say out of all Christians on earth only Luke was with him, then there were no other Christians in Rome. The fatal flaw is, this cannot only refer to Peter. Mr. Pack's "proof" tries to prove too much. Rome wasn't empty, and that's a fact.
Earlier he tries to show that there was no church in Rome, when we can demonstrate there certainly was. Now again he accidentally shows that there was no church in Rome, when we can demonstrate there certainly was.
Obviously, that there were no Christians in Rome was never Paul's point. II Timothy 4: 9-16 are very sad verses. I don't want to distract from the abandonment Paul certainly felt. But that all Christians in Rome had utterly abandoned him and only Luke remained was not his point. He was really only referring to his formerly trusted travelling companions, most of whom he mentioned by name. In one sense, perhaps none of the Christians in Rome stood with Paul either. But even in that sense, it does exceedingly little as evidence for his claim that Peter was not there.

Of all the points, this one is the only one that bears any load at all for his claim. Yet, it bears so little. I would generously call this point "evidence". I would not agree that it is "proof". Given the rest of the points, and the rest of his book, I find this "evidence" unconvincing.

Conclusion

Some of his "proofs" are fallacious; some are moot; most are contradictory; some are demonstrably false. These are supposed to be the pinnacle! The apex! The zenith! These are his ten very best "proofs"! But they are empty.
There is no hope that this list of 10 "Proofs" in any way prove that Peter was not in Rome. They are good to prove ideological bias, shoddy scholarship, Biblical ignorance, and intellectual dishonesty! They have convinced me that he didn't think through what he was saying. But they are not good to prove Peter wasn't in Rome.

As I said at the start, this list is representative of the entire booklet.

Please don't think I write this article to prove Peter was the Pope at Rome. I mean neither to prove nor disprove that. I am merely reviewing Pack here. However, if you want to demonstrate that Peter was not the first Pope, or if you want to demonstrate that he was the first Pope, take my advice and do not rely on "Pack's proofs".




************
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
************

Monday, November 4, 2013

There Is No Spoon

In the early days and weeks after I left the Church of God I attended, I experienced horrifying guilt for having promoted that belief system. It is a monumental collapse of reality when the weight of what you have involved yourself in is shown in the light that is God.  

The friends I made in the church had become like family to me. I had begun speaking about their doctrine openly with my now grown child. He had even contacted a minister in his area at my encouragement, and downloaded every sermon on iTunes at my direction. He was relying on his trust in me, and following my lead. He believed me because I was his Mother.
Upon my exit, I felt an overwrought sense of responsibility for dragging the people I loved into all that.

A friend, who was very insecure about the teachings and shy of committing, would come to me for comfort. I would overload her senses with COG doctrines; not aware what I was really doing. I had become one of the deceivers. When I left, I felt keenly the words of Jesus in Matthew 15:13-14.
Later, this same friend confided that her true motive for coming to Sabbath services was to see me.  

Other women I spoke with shared this in common.
Another friend called me, asking if I was leaving “The Church”. “Yes. I’m leaving," I replied anxiously, "I’m sorry for hiding that, and if that has hurt you. It was the only way I could keep myself safe.”

It seems that without my having any idea of it (I was ever plagued by feelings of inadequacy, always striving to be a good example and someone the people could lean on) the other women felt they wanted to be like me. They felt I was the one they wanted to model themselves after. I thought this was the craziest thing I had ever heard!
I make mention of it to point out a few things: that you can fool yourself and others about who you are quite effectively, and to emphasize just how committed I was to the church transforming me.
When I left, I was petrified that God was going to hold me responsible for what I had done, and those "I had ensnared".  I felt their blood on my hands. So, for a while, I was caught in a cycle of pseudo-penance, trying to atone for what I had done, and working to break the chains that enslaved others in every opportunity I saw.

I lost much sleep talking with Church of God followers, studying, and trying to win arguments with current members. It gave me some small sense of relief to know that at least God saw me trying. He could see my guilt, my regret, because I was now soldiering on for grace in Christ! Yes, God was witnessing my conversion!

Was that really true?

No it wasn’t. 

I used those people to hone my skills in defending the lies and false claims that they believed. I wanted them to come out of it, of course, but there was definitely an element of using them to better my degree of penance. If I could just perfect my reasoning, then I can defend the truth, and God can use me to free them! The very fact that I can argue the truth more effectively is proof of how ashamed I am of what I did, and how God is converting me, in a similar fashion as the Apostle Paul.  (Galatians 1:13-14)

Except that one day I realized that penance was not grace.

Freeing them, no matter how unbearable for me, was not my job (Philippians 1:6)! The only thing I could actually do was to proclaim the truth, express the fruits, be a light, and live in the freedom He died so horrifically to give me.

The best things I can do are step out of the way of God's work, and earnestly contend for the faith once delivered. That is the work being wrought in me; trust, faith, and hope in Him, for Him and in all things.

I realized that I was still performing. Trapped doing works to please God. The same coin, only the other side.

I now focus on my own trust issues with God, and my faith. I pray for the people still in Armstrongism, but leave it in God’s hands. He will always do a much better job than I could anyway.

When I rest in Jesus, I have to be both my weakest and strongest. I have to be brutal in my honesty with Him about who and what I really am, and leave myself vulnerable to Him in a way that perfectly speaks to striving.  In doing so, real change can come about.

It's about Him, not me. His perfection, not my inadequacies. His triumph, not my penance. So then I set down those works, and instead walk toward Him; knowing for the first time, "there is no spoon".


************
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
************

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

The Hardness of Our Hearts

Alone. I felt totally alone. 

Sure, technically there was a baby in the room with me. But, contrary to what the fairy tales say, a baby doesn't always fill a raw, gaping hole in your heart. 

The first few weeks of motherhood are rough for many women, and I was no exception - nursing problems, healing stitches and broken sleep. Going from a bustling office to a silent house was the hardest part for me. I felt so isolated. Sure, I didn't really expect my co-workers to check in on me. But what about my brethren? Where were all the women who ooh-ed and ahh-ed with me over tiny pairs of shoes at my baby shower? Who rejoiced that another child would soon be added congregation?

Over time, I realized I was suffering from post-partum depression. My hormones gradually stabilized, and after three months, I finally was able to discuss my feelings with one woman at church without crying.

"I'm so glad to hear that!" she said. "I could tell something was wrong with you."

Her response was unsettling. She knew something was wrong with me and said nothing? For weeks? Unfortunately, she was not the only one. I had the same conversation with about a dozen other women over the next few Sabbaths.

Across town, a Protestant friend of mine was heartbroken when her baby was born with a chromosomal disorder. Her Bible study partners guessed something was wrong when newborn pictures didn't appear on Facebook. They arrived at the hospital within hours to lift her up in prayer and to take some pictures for the baby book. Mom was too shell-shocked to think long-term, but they were not going to let these fleeting newborn moments slip away forever.

The contrast baffled me. Why did these "false Christians" spring into action to support their sister when my brethren in the "true church" ignored a problem they admittedly saw for weeks on end? 

To be fair, there were a handful of women who tried to support me, and I will always be grateful for their efforts. Still, most conversations focused on whether I had tried this or that herb for my milk supply problems. Or, if I couldn't breastfeed, where I might find fresh goat's milk for my baby. Even those kinder hearts who reached out couldn't look beyond determining the "right" thing to do and address the bigger problem - that their sister in Christ was hurting. 

Sisters, I sincerely hope your experiences in the Churches of God have been different from mine. I hope you worship with warm, vibrant women who rejoice with you in good times and who lift you up when you are suffering. If you do, you are blessed, and I am happy for you. But, if you do, I suspect your experience in the splintered, scattered COGs is the exception, not the rule. In contrast, if you feel alone and wonder why, please keep reading.

Few in the COGs claim that Christians are saved by their works. Instead, we mix the New Covenant with bits and pieces of the Sinai Covenant, claiming we can't qualify for the free gift of eternal life if we do not observe certain pre-requisite Hebrew practices. The bad news, ladies, is that if we are either doing or not doing something to maintain our salvation, then our salvation is still dependent upon our works.  And our salvation is not linked to works, according to passages like Ephesians 2:8-9 and Romans 3:27-30. (A note to all of you who are now waving Romans 3:31 at me - please step back and consider the context. Paul just said we are justified apart from law, and Chapter 4 goes on to discuss Abraham's justification through faith. This post is not meant to be an exegesis of this single verse. Suffice it to say that, logically, verse 31 cannot explicitly contradict the verses that come directly before and after it).

Even if the belief in "pre-requisites" wasn't clearly outlined in COG literature (don't worry, it is!), the works-based focus of our church culture reveals what's in our hearts. Let's consider some of the issues we have allowed to damage relationships and, in some cases, divide churches. White flour vs. wheat flour. Honey vs. sugar. Epidural vs. natural birth (let's not even mention c-sections!). No makeup vs. eyeshadow. Formula vs. breastfeeding. The correct form of church government. Kosher marshmallows. Head coverings during prayer. Yoga. Restaurants on the Sabbath. Need I continue? Please explain to me again how I was not trying to establish my own righteousness?

If we really, truly believe that our physical works have no bearing on our salvation, then why have we been hurting one another and splintering our churches over them for decades?

Hold on just a minute, you say. James taught that works were important. You're right, James discusses works - as fruit of our saving faith, not as a pre-requisite. I'd love to discuss that connection in another post. For now, let's take a look at the works James addresses. Being quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. Controlling the tongue. Caring for widows and orphans. Not showing favoritism. Loving your neighbor as yourself. Clothing the naked. Feeding the hungry. Being a peacemaker. Praying for your brethren instead of criticizing them. Where are the the Sabbath, Holy Days and food laws? I'm sure they're in there somewhere. Maybe in James 6?

God intended the Sinai Covenant for a specific purpose, nation, geographical location and time period. Trying to intuit how to follow portions of it outside those parameters results in disagreement and division - the fruit that we see in the COGs today. Furthermore, it seems that the unnecessary focus on physical observances takes our focus off the one thing our Savior clearly instructed us to do: love one another.

But wait! Doesn't I John 5:3 say we have to keep the 10 Commandments? By now, you're probably not surprised to hear I believe that the 10 Commandments were the cornerstone of the Sinai Covenant (Exodus 34:28, Deuteronomy 4:13 and 9:9,11,15), which Paul tells us to reject (Galatians 4:21-31). So what is John talking about? Look back just a few verses to I John 4:21 and you will find your answer: love your brother. If you want more context, start in verse 7. Even the book of James, which works-focused COG ministers tout, supports this conclusion. Or go to the source - John 13:34, where Jesus commanded his disciples to love one another as He loved us. The COGs characterize this view as hollow and simplistic. I ask you, which is harder - to stay out of restaurants for 24 consecutive hours or to show others the same kind of love as the One who died for them?

Notice the contrast in Mark 3:1-6, when Jesus healed a man on the Sabbath. Verse 5 reveals that Jesus was grieved by the hardness of the Pharisees' hearts. They didn't rejoice that a handicapped man was healed. They were angry that He had broken the rules and plotted to destroy Him. Are we much different today? I know I wasn't.

Trying to obey the law didn't change the Israelites' hearts, and it won't change ours, either. The difference is that Israel was commanded to do so and we are not. Our sincere, but misguided, focus on physical works has hardened our hearts. It has created a bumper crop of Marthas, busily working within earshot of our Teacher but tuning out His words.

Sisters, please know I am not throwing stones here. I didn't choose the name Martha because it's so trendy. If I lived in Bethany the day that Jesus stopped in, I would have been in the one in the kitchen, complaining bitterly that my sister wasn't helping me chop dates. It is only through the grace of God that I can see how a lifetime of focusing on the law and my works was hardening my heart. 

I was born a Martha, raised to be a Martha and lived in a sea of Marthas. I will probably always be a Martha at heart, at least until He changes it. But now I am earnestly seeking the better part. And He promises great things to those who seek Him (Matthew 7:7-11). Please join me. You won't regret it.  




************
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
************