"Should you believe a movie or what the Bible says? So much hype about the movie and not much talked about opening up the pages of the Bible and reading His entire story."
The statement stood out like a sore thumb between pictures of kittens and weather-related complaints in my Facebook news feed. A friend of mine, who works in a Church of God media department, posted this comment the day the Son of God movie came out. I sighed, then mentally steeled myself for the barrage of negative comments about the movie I was sure to read in the coming days. I was surprised to see almost nothing posted that weekend, but figured the pace would pick up when people were back at work on Monday. I was mystified when, almost a week later, I had seen next to nothing said about the movie from either official COG sites or individual members.
Incidentally, my pastor shared his thoughts on the movie that weekend. Like any dramatization, the depiction was not 100 percent accurate, he admitted. Complete accuracy would be almost impossible, considering even the synoptic gospels vary a bit in some of their accounts. There's nothing wrong with watching a movie about Jesus, but it doesn't replace reading the Bible, he reminded us. Over all, he concluded that it was a great tool for sparking interest in the Bible and spreading the gospel.
Finally, it hit me. Why would the COGs draw any attention to the movie, let alone try to capitalize on it? They are preaching a different gospel.
Of course they are, you're probably thinking. The people promoting that movie teach a FALSE gospel. The TRUE gospel Jesus and His disciples taught is about the coming Kingdom of God.
That's what I thought, too. For years. The problem is that the COGs set up a false dilemma for us - that they are the only ones who believe the true gospel. They narrowly define the gospel as being only about Jesus' second coming and establishing a literal Kingdom on earth. Then they tell us virtually no one else believes this will happen. Deceived Protestants blatantly ignore all those scriptures and only teach about going to heaven, they claim. So conscientious Christians have only two choices - attend a COG or ignore the Bible and go to the Baptist church down the street.
My friends, we have been misled about what mainstream Christianity teaches. Millions of your Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian and Catholic neighbors believe Jesus will literally return to this earth; that He will establish a literal Kingdom on earth. Granted, there are some differences based on teachings about when one is born again, when one enters the Kingdom of God and whether soul sleep is biblical, as well as several other doctrines. But to assert that most so-called Christians don't understand that the Kingdom of of God is literal - as LCG, UCG, COGWA and all the other alphabet soup of COG abbreviations do - is a total fabrication. Some might even call it a lie.
To be fair, Jesus Christ had a lot to say about the Kingdom of God during His 3-1/2 year ministry. His focus is understandable - He could hardly teach his disciples about His own death and resurrection when they had yet to occur. They barely understood his parables, let alone His foreshadowed comments about His death. It was only after seeing Jesus' resurrection and receiving the Holy Spirit that His disciples fully grasped the significance of what He had done. So it's intellectually dishonest to claim the true gospel focuses solely on the Kingdom of God, and that any gospel focusing on His life, death and resurrection is inherently false. Jesus' return, establishment of His Kingdom and the resurrection of believers to glory certainly is part of the gospel - in fact, it's the consummation of the gospel - but it's not the full story. One can only see the complete picture from the other side of the cross, so we must also consider the teachings of those Jesus Himself sent into the world.
When it comes to reliable preachers of the gospel, few would debate the apostle Peter's credentials. He was taught by Jesus, both during His 3-1/2 year earthly ministry and after His resurrection. Let's turn to Acts 10, where Peter shares the gospel with Cornelius, a God-fearer and a gentile centurion of the Italian regiment. In verse 36, the Apostle to the Jews notes he is relating the same good news sent to the people of Israel. What was that message?
In short, Peter told Cornelius and his household that Jesus died on the cross (verse 39), that He rose on the third day (verse 40) and that all who believe in Him will be forgiven of their sins (verse 43). Apparently Peter's version was close enough to what Jesus taught for Cornelius and his household to receive the Holy Spirit. This message and result is similar to that of Acts 2, although Peter's Pentecost message also included an element of repentance.
The Apostle Paul might not be the COG's favorite Biblical author, but he does seem to corroborate Peter's gospel summary in 1 Corinthians 15. Paul relates the gospel by which we are saved (verse 2) - that Jesus died for our sins (verse 3) and that He rose on the third day (verse 4). Later on in the chapter, Paul details the consummation of the gospel we discussed earlier - believers' resurrection to glory.
If you're still not sure, we can check out the slightly more poetic version Paul included in Romans 3:21-26. In this passage, Paul tells us that righteousness does not come from keeping the law (verse 21), but through faith in Jesus (verse 22). That all men are sinners and are justified by grace through faith in the shed blood of Jesus (verses 23-26). Bonus points for style in this passage, but the basic message is the same.
Paul warns us not to be led astray by those teaching a gospel that was different from his, both in Galatians 1:6-9 and 2 Corinthians 11:4. Let's turn to the message several major COG groups call the gospel and see how they compare to what both Paul and Peter taught.
The Living Church of God describes it this way:
"Open your Bible and turn to Mark 1:14-15. Read what God inspired Mark to write: "Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel. This is the Gospel. There is only one - and it is about the Kingdom of God."
The United Church of God asserts that Jesus defined His mission as preaching the gospel, or good news, of the Kingdom of God. And when Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God,
"He was simply continuing the messages of the Hebrew prophets whose words are recorded in the Old Testament. Centuries earlier God had inspired such faithful men as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and Zechariah to look beyond the difficulties and destruction of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah to a magnificent future when God would establish His world-ruling kingdom on earth under the reign of the Messiah."
The gospel of the Kingdom of God is the message that Jesus urges us to believe today, according to COGWA. Since He is the only Being through whom we may receive salvation, we must heed his instruction to repent, and believe in the gospel.
"Old Testament prophets had spoken of the Kingdom of God while under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Many of them had described the universal peace and abundant prosperity that would accompany this Kingdom. When Jesus came to earth, He gave this teaching even greater prominence. Indeed, it was the central core of His instruction."
Hmmmm. Sounds like a different message to me, or an incomplete one at the very least. I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be flippant. I know these are hard things to hear. I've been in your seat all too recently. But warnings about curses against those who teach a false gospel (Galatians 1:8-9), admonitions about being led astray by false apostles (2 Corinthians 11:3) and false prophets (Matthew 7:15) should lead us to carefully examine the predictions of Herbert W. Armstrong (for starters, see our article An Inconvenient Plain Truth). If we believe the Bible is God's word, then we need to heed Deuteronomy 18:18-22, which shows HWA did not speak for God. Neither do those who still advance many of his teachings today.
The gospel is not a witness against the world. Neither is it a Terminator gospel simply warning humanity that "I'll be back." The gospel does not speculate about the lineup of God's future executive ruling team, nor does it repackage Mormon doctrines about a pantheon of divine beings ruling over planets, as COG booklets have for decades.
The gospel the apostles taught does the same thing as the Law and the Prophets - it points sinners to Jesus Christ for salvation. In contrast, the incomplete COG gospel teaches sinners to focus on their future as glorious deities, largely looking past their Savior and the work His Father asks of us - to believe in the One He sent (John 6:29). I can see how this "gospel" led me to lose sight of who Jesus really was and who I really am - a sinner deserving death. That I can be saved from that fate is the best news I could ever hear.
--If you would like more detail on the Gospel, please see the Gospel section in our FAQ page.--
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