Monday, November 17, 2014

Herbert W Armstrong and Today's Churches of God

I sat on her couch, just like I had a hundred times before. This time, though, I kept my focus on the worn fabric cushions. It was better than making eye contact with her. Over the years, we had laughed and cried together on this couch. We had commiserated about pregnancy pains and nursed babies on that couch. My kids had slept on it, staying in her home during family emergencies.

This time, however, I knew it was the last time I would sit on her sofa. I knew what was coming. I had gone to tell her that we were leaving the Church of God. I told her we could no longer accept their doctrines in good conscience. She dutifully picked up her Bible, turned to Matthew 18, and issued what could only be described as an official biblical rebuke.

I stood to leave before she could herd me to the door. As I grabbed my purse, the words just slipped out. "You know you're following a false prophet, right?"

"Here's the thing I like about my minister," she said. "He teaches directly from the Bible. It doesn't matter what Herbert Armstrong said or did. It's all in the Bible."

If I had a dollar for every time I heard that claim in my lifetime, I wouldn't have to pursue this lucrative blogging career. Seriously, though, I have heard that claim hundreds of times. It's probably the main point that drove this series of posts. (You can find the first post here and second post here.) Which leads me to my final point in this third post.

5. Even if Herbert Armstrong taught things that were wrong, that doesn't affect me. My minister teaches straight from the Bible.

Is that so? I'd like you to to consider the comments of John Kiesz, an elder in the Church of God Seventh Day who was close friends with HWA in the 1930s and 1940s, according to The Journal, which is an independent publication to the COG community. Keisz and Armstrong ran an Oregon Feast of Tabernacles site together for several years after ending up on the same side in a split within the Church of God (Seventh Day). Their friendship continued despite the fact that the Church of God (Seventh Day) revoked Armstrong's ministerial credentials in 1937, and after Kiesz himself resigned from the organization in 1938. Armstrong broke off his friendship with Kiesz in 1945, reportedly after Kiesz held an altar call at a Feast of Tabernacles service.

In this letter to an audience who questioned HWA's legacy, Kiesz disclosed that HWA told him of his plans to start a college not long before he decided to "drop" Kiesz.

"He told me at his Eugene, Oregon office, that he will start a college and train his own men for the ministry, so they will all speak the same thing, and his problems in that area will be over," Kiesz wrote.

His plan seems to have worked. The COG splinters largely retain the doctrines Herbert Armstrong taught at Ambassador College, where they were trained to read the Bible through HWA's doctrinal lens. Some even vie for the title of HWA's true successor. Granted, not all of the men who attended Ambassador College have remained with COG splinters. But the top-level leadership in nearly every organization are all Ambassador graduates. If you're in a COG, the doctrines HWA taught underpin your minister's teachings.  That's great if HWA's Biblical interpretations were revealed directly to him by God, as he claimed. But if they weren't, well, not so much. Let's consider the HWA/Ambassador College connections in the following Worldwide Church of God splinters:

Philadelphia Church of God
It's barely worth the time to trace PCG's connections to HWA, since they run the Herbert W Armstrong College in Edmond, Oklahoma. Still, since we're trying to establish a pattern here: Pastor General Gerald Flurry was graduated from Ambassador College in 1970. I was not able to find any other church officials listed on the group's web site. Fun Fact for the day: Flurry refers to himself as "That Prophet," more specifically, the prophet discussed in John 1:19-25. He also has been known to teach that his book, Malachi's Message, is the "little book" mentioned in Revelation 10.

Living Church of God
LCG's Presiding Evangelist Roderick Meredith received his bachelor's degree in 1952; his master's degree in 1958 and his ThD in 1966, all from Ambassador College (which did not have a doctoral program and shouldn't have been handing doctorate degrees out). He would later serve as an instructor at the college. LCG's other top leadership are all Ambassador graduates - Richard Ames (class of 1965), Douglas Winnail (class of 1970) and Gerald Weston (class of 1971).

Meredith opines about HWA in his "Personal" address section of Tomorrow's World, January/February 2012 edition:
"Tens of thousands of former Worldwide Church of God members remember Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong. They know that he was the leader of the major Church of God movement of his day - and that he was the one used by God to inform the vast majority of new converts about the Sabbath, the Holy Days and all the basic Plan of God. He was used mightily by Jesus Christ - and no one can take that away."
and also
"Dear Brethren and Friends, Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong set all of us a fine example, as many of you older brethren remember. He always tried to move forward, to grow and to improve."
-Roderick C. Meredith: Tomorrow's World, March/April 2012, Personal - Is it wrong to GROW in Knowledge.
Church of the Great God
You may not have heard of this small splinter, headed by John Ritenbaugh. Despite their size, I have to give them an honorable mention since Ritenbaugh still maintains that Herbert Armstrong was an apostle. He believes HWA showed the signs of apostleship through the fruit of his ministry, preaching the gospel, casting out demons, raising up congregations, clarifying doctrine, healing the sick and converting individuals.

"As our 'father in the faith,' directly or indirectly, he (HWA) played a part in each of our conversions," Ritenbaugh wrote.

Ritenbaugh was ordained as a local church elder in 1966 and attended Ambassador College on a special one-year program for local church elders.

Church of God, a Worldwide Association
In COGWA: President Jim Franks was graduated from Ambassador College in 1972. Doug Horchak, operations manager for Ministerial Services was graduated from Ambassador College in 1974. Media Operations Manager Clyde Kilough was his classmate, he also was graduated in 1974. Britton Taylor, COGWA's Treasurer and Financial Operations Manager also was graduated in 1972 with Jim Franks.

Herbert Armstrong is still praised on COGWA's (rather sparse) web site. In a sidebar to an article titled "Change Your Life This Year," writer Mike Bennett describes HWA as "one of the most successful writers and religious figures of the 20th century."

United Church of God
UCG has an admirable goal of circumventing abuse of power by spreading it among a 12-member Council of Elders. The Council deck, however, it stacked full of Ambassador graduates.

Council members Robin Webber, Roc Corbett and Donald Ward all were graduated in 1973. Ward went on to teach at the college. Council member Scott Ashley and Rex Sexton both were in the class of 1976, and their colleague Mark Mickelson was graduated a few years later in 1978. Council member Carmelo Anastasi was graduated in 1990; and Mario Siegle attended the college but his year of graduation is not listed.

Across the pond, Council member Bill Bradford was graduated from Ambassador College's Bricket Wood campus in 1965, and Rainer Solmaa was graduated from Bricket Wood campus four years later. UCG's web site reports Council member of John Elliot attended Bricket Wood, but his year of graduation is not listed.

Finally, Council member Aaron Dean was graduated from Imperial Schools in 1970, from Ambassador College in 1974, and then became Herbert Armstrong's long-time personal assistant. Few were closer to HWA than was Aaron Dean. Dean was considered to be in the running to take over leadership of the WCG upon HWA's death. Dean refers to Armstrong as a "wise old sage" and remembers January 16 as the "death of my closest friend."
"He was part of my life for as long as I can remember. I thank God he was willing to listen as God gave him biblical understanding and motivated many of us to also pass to others the truth of God's Word,"
-Aaron Dean, "The Search for Wisdom," United News,February 2013.
Dean also writes that the most important lesson he learned from HWA was to "Follow the Leader."

"I followed Mr. Armstrong and made allowances for his physical shortcomings, because God did put him there. There are times when men fall short and we follow anyway when it is not a salvation issue."
-Aaron Dean, "Follow the Leader," United News, January 1999.
UCG has gone to great lengths to distance itself from Herbert W Armstrong, although, to my last knowledge, a framed portrait of HWA adorns the halls of its Home Office. Dean's "Follow the Leader" article reminds UCG members that Christ is the head of the Church, and the Father His head. These reminders are a great start. However, their impact is diminished by other lengthy articles asserting that the organization didn't follow a false prophet. (Cecil Maranville, Treasure Digest, Be Ready to Give an Answer: Didn't You Follow a False Prophet?)
"No, we do not agree that the late Herbert W. Armstrong was a false prophet. He did not claim to be a prophet, nor did the church regard him as one. We believe he was striving to be a faithful minister."
"If you read his writings or heard his messages, you would encounter admonitions he often repeated with great emphasis: 'Blow the dust off your Bible! Do not believe me! Believe the Bible! So we respectfully disagree with the idea that he interpreted the Bible for the Church. It is the responsibility of each person person to study and prove his or her own biblical beliefs."
For my discussion on these points, see my first post on this matter, specifically point one, which demonstrates why HWA was a false prophet.

And please note that nowhere in Deuteronomy 18 does it say a single word about a a thing failing to come to pass by a person who says the phrase "I am a prophet". It only mentions a thing failing to come to pass which was spoken in God's name. The act of speaking about the future in the name of God is the thing being tested, the thing that makes them a prophet. Whether or not that thing comes to pass is the actual test itself, the thing that proves them true or false. Did HWA speak about the future in the name of God?

Point two of the same post addresses the fact that Herbert W Armstrong did claim to interpret the Bible for the church.

Did HWA claim that the things he taught - both the doctrines and the understanding of what the prophets had written - were revealed to him by God?

While UCG does not, "venerate him as a recipient of 'holy writings' in the way that many religious look to men... you will immediately recognize the same biblical message Mr. Armstrong taught when you read our magazine, newsletter, booklets and brochures. However, we should note that Mr. Armstrong saw the need to constantly grow in knowledge. Similarly, you may find minor changes in our teachings reflecting better research tools that bring out previously unseen nuances in biblical teaching. But the foundation is the same as it was in the Church of God decades ago."

The UCG article also glosses over HWA's practice of date-setting in God's name; instead painting it as a "passionate belief that Christ would return in his lifetime." They go on to equate this belief with the first-century apostles and church elders who expected Christ would soon establish His Kingdom on earth. Even Jesus spoke in terms of an imminent return in Matthew 24, they say. Note that no one in the New Testament ever said, "By the authority of God Almighty ... I say I/Jesus will return within 20 years" or anything close to that. But Armstrong did. Regularly.

In what must be UCG's attempt to head off the "false prophet" label of Deuteronomy 18:20, UCG notes that the prophet discussed in Deuteronomy 18:18 is Jesus.

"Certainly, He was not a 'false prophet,' in spite of the fact that countless disciples took His teachings to mean that He was returning their lifetime."

Right. But the passage they quote juxtaposes the true prophet of Deuteronomy 18:18-19 with the false prophet of Deuteronomy 18:20-22, a description which HWA undoubtedly meets. Context is key, and is something the COGs consistently ignore. In this article, UCG seems to deliberately distract the reader from Deuteronomy 18:20-22 and instead guide you to Deuteronomy 13:1-5, which describes a totally different scenario, one into which HWA does not fit. Don't let their smoke and mirrors fool you. Read both passages.

UCG writer Michael Snyder had this to say in his 2013 book review of "The Fragmentation of a Sect: Schism in the Worldwide Church of God.
"Instead of claiming theological authority from HWA, the United Church of God focuses on confirming that it is a continuation of what the Septuagint renders in Greek Ekklesia tou Theou , literally the spiritual Church of God that transcends any human corporate form of organization. In the United Church of God, Herbert Armstrong is remembered as a man highly respected and regarded as one whom God used in a powerful way, but his legacy of writings, sermons and broadcasts  (particularly as they changed and shifted over his 53-year ministry) are not viewed as divine scripture nor infallible (page 127). Like other human servants of God, Herbert Armstrong was a man, and therefore subject to everything that being a human means."
As you can see, the modern COGs try to have it both ways with Herbert W Armstrong. They distance themselves from his prophecies and claims to be an apostle, calling him a fallible human being. But they cling to the doctrines and their own ordinations to office.

The Bible shows that all humans save one are fallible. The question is, is God fallible? Because HWA claimed to receive an ordination, new truth, divine revelation, and prophetic understanding from Jesus Christ. Nearly all of these truths, revelations, and prophetic understandings are still held and taught in the COGs today.

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

With their mouths they say he wasn't an apostle, but with their actions they say he was. To disregard HWA's claims yet uphold his doctrines as divinely inspired is disingenuous. He did make the claims which they now say are untrue. In effect what they are doing is saying he was not a false prophet ...but he certainly was a liar. Is that a wise trade? Perhaps they would argue that what he claimed was not true, but it wasn't a lie, exactly, it was just tragically misguided. Is it best to promote the idea that God powerfully used a tragically misguided man to found the current era of the true church?

Even so, if HWA didn't have the authority he claimed to have, then he had no authority to ordain his students into office. He cannot pass down authority which he never had in the first place. Herbert Armstrong was ordained to the ministry in the Church of God (Seventh Day) in 1931. He would receive his ministerial license certificate from the same group - which he later described as the dead "Sardis Era" of the true church. The COG7 later split, and Armstrong was then credentialed by the half of the COG7 that was headquartered in Salem, West Virginia. This Salem branch of the Church of God - HWA's only tie to the "true church" - revoked his credentials in the fall of 1937, and later disfellowshipped him. The Salem organization's official record states they revoked his credentials because he taught and kept the annual festivals. Kiesz indicates the real reason behind this decision was HWA's uncooperative attitude.

This brings up a critical issue!

If HWA was not an apostle then he had no authority to ordain anyone, because the group from which he derived his authority revoked it. Since his only connection to the "true church" revoked his authority, if he wasn't an apostle in his own right then it stands to reason the COG ministers he later ordained were never actually ordained. Their ordinations are invalid. Your minister is not really a minister at all.

You would think folks as concerned with hierarchy and authority as most COGs are today would realize this. Is the true church led by ministers with no office? Which is it, current COG leaders? Was HWA an Apostle; did he somehow retain his authority after a "true church" revoked his credentials, or is your ministry invalid? Your choice.

I already know how this one ends. Today's COG leaders attempt to side-step HWA's invalid ordination by claiming a larger ordination as modern descendants of the one true church through time. But what does that do to the authority of the "true church"?
But doesn't that mean that if the true church revokes your authority, then your authority is not actually revoked after all, because you are part of a larger true church through time? "Revoke, revoke, as much as you can! You can't stop me, I'm part of a larger church through time." Doesn't that also mean that anyone can ordain, even if they lack the authority, because ordinations are apparently part of a larger true church through time? "Anything goes!" Has the church any authority at all, then? So now what?

But what larger true church through time are we talking about? When we check the historical accounts put out by the COGs we find over and over that they are rife with inaccuracies. Most of the past groups the COGs claim as their ancestors were actually Gnostic, or Catholic. There is no "larger COG church through time".  It doesn't exist. There are three churches who can easily trace their history from the first century - the Copts, the Orthodox, and the Catholics - but those aren't COG groups.

HWA is the only direct link to the past anyhow. Remove him and you've cut yourself off from the past completely. Herbert Armstrong is the singular link between the COG's "Philadelphia Era" (the WCG) and the "Sardis Era" (the COG7). So once again we are left asking, now what?

It's unlikely HWA even met the biblical standards to be ordained an elder, let alone an apostle. He fails on at least nine of the eleven qualifying points given in I Timothy 3: 2-11.
Need we remind you that he was disfellowshipped?? He didn't leave in a moment of extreme temptation and repent later, as Peter did. He was kicked out. Banished. How many people did he remove from the church in his day? More than just one or two. He disfellowshipped his own son. All of those people were told they were no longer part of the church and they could expect the Third Resurrection (which for those unfamiliar with Third Resurrection, it means, basically, a one-way trip to death.) But if he himself can be disfellowshipped and then found the one true Philadelphian Era, why should anyone else's disfellowship be any more valid than his? You go to Gehenna but he becomes the "founder, Pastor General, and spiritual and temporal leader of the Church of God on earth." Today, most people do the same. They just attend a different COG and act like nothing happened. After all, that's what Garner Ted Armstrong did, and plenty others besides. Why shouldn't you? But we ask, where is the authority of the church???

So tell me, LCG, was Herbert W Armstrong a fine example to the brethren, and someone Jesus Christ used mightily? Tell me, COGWA, how HWA measured up to other religious writers and figures of his time, like C.S. Lewis? Tell me, UCG, did God talk to Herbert Armstrong or didn't He? Deuteronomy 18:20-22 tell us what we should do with a false prophet. And it doesn't tell us to parse his life, writings and teachings to find the good points.

CONCLUSION

You see, Herbert Armstrong is at the root of everything taught in the COGs today. Even when they teach how irrelevant he is, they're still dealing with him being at the root of their church, their ministries, their doctrines, and their prophetic interpretations.

Friends, I know these are hard things to hear; hard issues to weigh. In many ways, I'm glad that I only learned about them after making my decision based on doctrine. And in the end, you must make your choices the same way, based on doctrine. Truth is truth, no matter who speaks it. But when you consider your doctrines, it's important to have the full picture of where they came from, who delivered them and what he claimed about himself. I submit to you that you have not been given a true picture, and in some cases, that picture has been hidden from you.

If in the end you decide these doctrines from Ellen G. White, G. G. Rupert, Gilbert Cranmer, and later from Herbert W Armstrong, are what the Bible teaches, that's up to you. If you understand that your salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus, and that your works are not a factor in your justification, then I am happy to peacefully agree to disagree on the rest. If you believe that following the teachings of White, Rupert, Cranmer and Armstrong honors and pleases God, that's between you and Him. Do the best you can with what you have. We should always aim to honor our Creator and Savior to the best of our knowledge and understanding. And we can be confident that He will "carry out the words of His servants, and fulfill the predictions of His messengers." (Isaiah 44:26, NIV).

"It's time we face the hard, cold, realistic fact: humanity has two alternatives: either there is an Almighty, all-powerful God who is about to step in and set up the kingdom of God to rule all nations... or else there will not be a human being alive on this earth twenty years from now!... It's about time you come to know who are the false prophets, and who is speaking the true Word of God faithfully."
-Herbert W. Armstrong, 1962, Just What Do You Mean... Kingdom of God, p. 19.

You can find part 1 of this series here. You can find part 2 of this series here.


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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
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12 comments:

Questioner said...

So what then, do you propose? If everyone (mainstream Christianity, CoGs, etc) teaches from their own interpretations, based off human teachers before them, ordained by humans before them... where is the truth? Is it all just subjective? Should we all interpret the Bible for ourselves? From you perhaps? But then where would we get our own interpreting "lens" from? Where did you get yours? Are we all just a product of what's come before us? Were the only true Christians those who were taught directly by Jesus and His apostles, and not those who came in the generations afterwards?

Correct me if I'm wrong, but based on your article, no one understands the Bible and no one will properly follow or believe in God&Christ until we actually meet Him/Them.

xHWA said...

Hello Questioner. Welcome to ABD. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

What great questions you ask! I want to focus on, "What then, do you propose?"

What we are saying is not that no one understands, nor that only the first Christians were true. God is still active among us.
What we are saying is that Armsrtongism is in an identity crisis. In order to ditch Herbert Armstrong, they have turned to "we are just reading right out of the Bible" but reality is they are not "just reading out of the Bible." The reality is that they are seeing things through a lens, and Herbert Armstrong's interpretations are this lens.
We propose that it is disingenuous to claim that Armstrong is irrelevant while using his doctrines and interpretations.

In short, we propose that people be aware of the lens and to challenge those base assumptions.

A lens in and of itself isn't necessarily a bad thing. All things that we know - not just religion but all things - have an interpretational lens to them. Just for example, secular humanists have a lens to their approach to science and Republicans in American government have a lens to their politics. It's just how we are. It's the human condition of being less than 100% informed, and less than 100% true.

In a way we do believe that we will not know for absolute certain until we stand before Him. Isn't that what John hints at in I John 3: 2? So it's not necessarily bad to have a lens and it's not necessarily bad to not have a quick and easy answer for every problem. Some problems cannot have a quick and easy answer. For example the nature of God. Our human minds cannot grasp the infinity of God. He will always be, to a great degree, a mystery for us to explore. But if we are stuck with a lens then it's wise to use the best lens available, rather than a lens of a false prophet from a long line of false prophets who wasn't an apostle, who lied about history, who plagiarized the teachings of other church groups, and whose doctrines are at their foundation contradictory.

The best that we can do is pray and then search under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to find the best explanation for things that explain all of the facts on hand in the best way. Jesus is the truth, and all who love truth come to Him. Can we still be partially wrong? Sure. But we'll be a lot less wrong when we rest in His mercy than when we insist God instituted a cosmic conspiracy to hide facts from us so we couldn't know the truth that we are physical Israel.

The key is to be honest, let go of the illusion of control, and love truth. Let the truth be what it is. The truth is reality, so it can handle itself. Anything that isn't true is not real. If it's not true that Herbert Armstrong is irrelevant, then let that be the truth. If it is true that he is a false prophet, then let that be the truth. If it is true that his doctrines and views influence a person's understanding, then let that be the truth. Because it is true, and denying it won't make things less true.

xHWA said...

Questioner,

Please allow me a short addendum to my earlier response.

It seems to me that you are genuinely questioning, but you feel we've left something out. I fear we have taken something away but offered you nothing in its place to move towards. This is a flaw of blogging. We get enough space to debunk something, then we run out.

I want to personally extend to you an invitation to email us. That is always open to our visitors here, but we want you to know that we personally invite you.

Martha said...

Hi, Questioner, thanks for reading!

I apologize if came across as trying to convince you to take my own personal doctrinal lens. That wasn't my intention. My purpose was to explain the origins of the COG doctrinal lens and to educate those who, like me, had little exposure to HWA and his background. As xHWA said, a lens is not a bad thing; it's inescapable as a finite human being. But we can never go wrong by having a better understanding of our own lens.

One main goal of mine at ABD has been to explain mainstream Christian doctrines the COGs generally misunderstand and misrepresent. I just want people to have all the information, and a lot of that information has been left out or hidden. If, in the end, you decide that the doctrinal lens that HWA and the COGs have arrived at is true, despite some of these issues, then stick with it. We each must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.

I am not saying you or anyone should get their doctrinal lens from me. I appreciate the disclaimer that appears at bottom of all ABD posts. After decades in the COGs, I have only recently begun to learn what other Christian denominations believe. Some have excellent reasons for their teachings. Some, not so much. My lens is not 100 percent settled, and is not even 100 percent in line with the church I now attend. I know this is hard to understand when you've spent your life in a church community that claims to have a corner on truth.

The New Testament says a lot about examining fruit. This is also a difficult shift coming from a background that heavily focuses on the Sinai Covenant. Why would we need to judge fruit when we can just turn to Deuteronomy? End of story. Being led by the Spirit is a very different thought process, and I think it's why faith is such a big emphasis in the New Covenant.

In the end, as xHWA said, the best thing we can do is pray and search under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. And in some instances, we might come to different conclusions. Romans 14:4-6 tells us this very thing may happen. But Paul doesn't say that the one who eats is a true Christian and the other one is deceived. He tells them they are both Christians, tells them to be convinced in their own mind and not to judge a fellow servant of the Most High. While we should strive for the best understanding possible, if our salvation hinges upon having perfect understanding, we are back to a place where our salvation depends on ourselves and not on Jesus.

Martha said...

And my inbox is always open, too at marthacog@gmail.com.

Questioner said...

xHWA,

So what you are saying is that we will always have a lens we look through, a twist to our interpretation based off our upbringing, environment, etc.- but that we should stay away from lenses that are "worse"?

What would you say to someone who genuinely recognized that: indeed HWA was a false prophet, taught very many incorrect things, and who himself did many incorrect things; but yet after studying the word for him/herself, looking at multiple viewpoints, this person came to a conclusion on a certain matter that happened to be the same as what HWA taught? What lens would they then be using?

-----
Martha,

Actually I was unable to glean what your personal doctrinal lens was in the article- so no harm done!

You mentioned examining and judging fruit. How can one examine and judge fruit (of an organization, doctrine, idea, person) if they do not have something to compare it against (such as Deuteronomy, or the Bible taken in its entirety)? As someone who seeks to follow Christ, I believe in an overall objective truth (as opposed to the philosophical viewpoint of all truth being subjective)- there must be an absolute, a code, a standard (Christ the Word/the Bible). Therefore wouldn't you indeed judge fruit based on the OT and NT alike?

The example you note of Paul addressing eating meat offered to idols is one that I have contemplated a lot. God often puts multiple meanings into scriptures according to His will. However, this seems to be a menial issue. Do you not believe that upon meeting God/Christ, that there will be explained the absolute truth and correct "lens"? (perhaps not in relation to eating meat offered to idols, but "weightier matters" of doctrinal standpoints) If one man eats pork, and another abstains from it- do you not think that in the end one has to be right and the other wrong? Regardless of who is who, it does not negate the fact that they are Christians... but I am questioning whether you believe that God has a moral absolutism, or if He is more "wishy washy" (for lack of a better term)?

-----
Both of you,

I appreciate the sincere and genuine comments.

xHWA said...

Questioner,

I would say that, yes. Even me!

While we all have a lens, it is difficult to know if ours is "better" or "worse". It's all we know. But if we do find that ours is "worse" (say, we learn that something we once held to be true is not true after all) then the trick becomes allowing our lens to improve, rather than ignoring the evidence and forging ahead with the false narrative. Sadly, I've seen a lot of people forge ahead.

But, yes, I believe we will always have some sort of a lens until we stand before Him.

----

What would I say to them? I would start by asking them if they've read all of our material.
;-)

This would be a truly exceptional person. to be so honest with themselves. I would say to that person that I can respect them for investigating their beliefs. Regardless of the outcome, the courage to question is respectable.

I don't disagree with HWA in all things. I think he actually had a few things right. And in some things even though I tend to disagree with him I could probably argue both sides.

I've known people who have come to those conclusions like you mention. I've known people who have agreed with Armstrongism, then left for a few years, then for whatever reason returned again. I'm very good friends with one. We agree to disagree. But we understand each other now in a way we wouldn't have before. It's not "my way or the highway" between us.

Whatever conclusion this person you mention has come to, they are still on a journey. Hopefully they see this. So I hope they can see that there are reasons people come to the conclusions they do which are contrary to Armstrongism, and those reasons are rarely "person x hates the law" or "person y worships Nimrod." Just like there are reasons people conclude in agreement with Armstrong, and those reasons are rarely "person x hates grace" or "person y spits on the cross."

I think, to answer your question directly, I would say to them, "Let's talk, like two people who both are just trying to do the best we can with what we have, and let's see if we can't understand why we came to the differing conclusions we did. You give me a fair hearing, and I'll give you the same."

Martha said...

Questioner,

Good questions, thank you for clarifying!

I definitely believe there is absolute truth, and absolute truth and HWA's teachings are not mutually exclusive. For example, HWA taught a literal return of Christ; I believe in a literal return of Christ. The church I attend now teaches a literal return of Christ. HWA taught that murder was wrong, I believe that murder is wrong, and of course my church teaches that murder is wrong. You get the idea.

Do I believe that there are things - doctrinal and practical - that Jesus will correct me on when He returns? Yes, absolutely. Can I name them this side of His return? No. Because if I could, I would know them, and be trying to obey them now, and then He wouldn't need to correct me on those errors.

Jesus gave His followers many commands; the fact that I believe the Sinai Covenant passed away doesn't mean I think there is nothing to obey. Some commands, for example, include repenting of our sins, being baptized, preaching the gospel, turning the other cheek when wronged, taking the bread and wine in remembrance of the sacrifice He made for us, showing love for one another, our enemies. Not to lust, not to murder, not to hate, not to worry about our physical needs being met. Many, many more along those lines. I know when I fall short in these areas, it is usually a matter of my own weakness, not a knowledge gap. Or my not fully comprehending the depth of my own sinfulness or the height of God's righteousness.

I also know these commands are not as straightforward as abstaining from certain foods or work on the seventh day, meeting on a certain date and blowing trumpets or fasting. So I recognize this might not be a terribly satisfying answer. Some of it is a matter of understanding which requirements and/or doctrines are part of which covenant. For a good explanation of this, please see this recent post: http://asbereansdid.blogspot.com/2014/10/confusing-covenants.html

Whether one views the Sinai Covenant (or even just the Decalogue) as detailing God's expectations for humanity vs. an instrument for humans realizing the depth of their sinful nature and their need for a Savior makes a huge difference. God has moral absolutes; He is absolute holiness. And the magnitude of His holiness is indescribable and un-achievable through a list of do's and don'ts.

So anyway, in my lens, how does one judge by the fruits if the lists in Deuteronomy are no longer in play? The Bible does give us some guidelines:

In Matthew 7:15-20, Jesus told us to judge prophets by their fruits; that a healthy tree does not bear bad fruit, nor does an unhealthy tree bear good fruit.

The fruit of the Spirit - the evidence that God's spirit is dwelling inside us - is listed in Galatians 5:22-23. Love, joy, peace, patience, gentleness, etc. That's not to say that a Christian will display these fruit perfectly at all times, but that someone whose life is guided by the Spirit will demonstrate these fruit on a consistent basis. Rather than the works of the flesh, like hatred, sexual immorality, envy, drunkenness, murder, etc.

Hebrews 13:7 tells us to consider the leaders who are over us, those who teach us, whose faith we follow and consider how their lives turn out, the fruit of their conduct. This isn't a demand for perfection, but again, advises us to consider patterns of behavior.

James 3:13-18 tells us the fruit that seeking and living by Godly wisdom will bear in our lives. That fruit is meekness, peaceable, gentle, merciful, without partiality, etc. I'm not saying there is never a time or reason to be bold, to disturb the peace, to take a stand instead of yielding for peace's sake, but if that is one's first reaction nearly every time it might be good to wonder why?

Martha said...


I'm including some links here from those who gave gone before me at ABD discussing the issue of antinomianism and Christian responsibilities under the New Covenant. Like I said, the options aren't only a)either what HWA/the COGs promote or b. total licentiousness. But as I said, I am still learning in many of these areas and would welcome the input of other writers here who have more experience in this area.

http://asbereansdid.blogspot.com/2014/07/antinomianism-and-motivation-of-heart.html

http://asbereansdid.blogspot.com/2010/06/chapter-3-spirit-of-law.html

http://asbereansdid.blogspot.com/2010/09/without-law-there-is-no-sin.html

http://asbereansdid.blogspot.com/2010/12/gods-law-controversy.html

Martha said...

I feel like, once again, I should clarify my statements about fruit and wisdom to make sure I'm being clear and fair.

What I'm NOT saying is that you will never see self-seeking, fractious, power grabbing, controlling, unchristian behavior in mainstream Christian churches outside the Church of God community. Because you will. These organizations are also made up of humans, who are, at times, prone to envy, strife, bitterness and hatred just as much as a leader in XYZ Church of God. As long as we have humans we will have these problems.

What I AM saying is that you can judge by the fruits by looking for patterns or environments. If the culture is generally peaceful, humble, encouraging of mercy, etc. that is probably a good sign. If the leadership handles these instances of strife, envy, bickering, etc. by encouraging and actively facilitating grace, reconciliation, mercy and patience, all the better. Likewise, if the pattern, time after time, is a harsh, fractious, backbiting, political, adversarial response that generally does not demonstrate the fruit of the spirit, one might wonder why that is. And perhaps pray, study and meditate on that topic.

That's all I meant.

John said...

A very thought-provoking article!

I've thought it odd in recent years that followers of Herbert W. Armstrong have veered between two extremes and either advanced the idea that he was an "apostle" and "prophet" or asserted he never claimed to be such. Yet, both cannot be right!

And looking through his publications we note he definitely assumed the office of both by claiming 1) God revealed His gospel to him exactly like the original apostles and Paul (see www.exitsupportnetwork.com/mike_ep/exam/key.htm for examples) and 2) he predicted the end numerous times "on authority of the living Christ" (see www.existsupportnetwork.com/mike_ep/exam/dates.htm for examples). Thus, his apostleship and prophetic office were assumed by way of his claim to speak for God, which is the primary meaning of "prophet"!

Further, false prophets are proven by their "fruit" i.e. false predictions. Thus, we are warned of their falsity by their actions not by their intentions! So those who assert Armstrong never meant to claim he was an apostle or prophet are deluding themselves and others! For instance, just because a liar makes no claims to lying or a murderer makes no claims to killing doesn't mean he isn't! We judge him guilty of lying or murder by his actions! Thus, Armstrong's followers might erroneously assert he never claimed to be a prophet, but by delving in predictive prophecy, which failed every single time, he indicted himself as a false prophet!

And regarding his credentials you need look no further than his baptism! The family of churches originating from Armstrong have followed his teaching that baptism involves 1) immersion in water and 2) "laying on of hands" and the latter is supposedly "absolutely crucial" to receive the Holy Spirit! It is important to note, however, that Armstrong's own baptism was, according to this "magic formula," invalid for he was baptized 1) by a Sunday-keeping Baptist minister, not a Sabbath-keeping minister, and 2) there was no inclusion of any "laying on of hands" ritual or prayer to receive the Holy Spirit! (see www.isitso.org/guide/hwaord.html) As Pam Dewey astutely notes: "If [Armstrong] were to have applied for membership in the WCG forty years later in 1967, he would have very likely been required to be re-baptized!" I guess from this example (and there are many others I could recite e.g. divorce and remarriage, obtaining medical treatment, etc.) there was one rule for Herbert W. Armstrong and one rule for everybody else?!

Daniel said...

i believe armstrong was a deceiver from the depths of hell. ppl can fool themselves by saying they follow the bible and not armstrong. the true christians were indeed taught directly by Christ and His Apostles. tell me something does one Holy Spirit tell tell one denomination that Jesus is G-d and then tell another He is not? does one Holy Spirit say to worship on Sunday and tell another it is the Sabbath? does one Holy Spirit teach that one must tithe and the other it is no longer needed? does one Holy Spirit say that He is a person and tell another denomination He is a force? does one Holy Spirit teach soul sleep and teach another the soul is conscious after death? does one Holy Spirit teach the existence of hell and teach another annihilation? questioner u asked whose interpretations would we be following if we read the bible by ourselves? imagine im a non armstrongist and i read the bible by myself and i come up with the Trinity doctrine wont u be the first to say that im using catholic doctrine? mmmm? why? because we are a product of what comes before us. who we listen to determines the way we think. what we propose is that armstrong is a bad lens to wear and G-d is not active among armstrongists. discard it immediately. if u are reading straight out of the bible, why are u holding on to material that armstrong authored and using it for exegesis? that is not truly reading the bible. that is using an aid to reading the bible. granted theres only one way the bible can be interpreted but armstrong is not that way. armstrong is wrong through and through. remember its not where he gets it right. its where he gets it wrong that disqualifies him. just like the mormons and jehovahs witness, armstrong had a vision from demons. if armstrong was wrong on crucial matters like the Trinity, how many other crucial matters can he be wrong on?