Monday, December 1, 2014

Armstrong the Merciful

"Whereas, if MAN, composed of matter, sinned and refused to repent and turn from sin, he will die the second death - he shall utterly perish (John 3: 16) - he will be as though he had not been (OBE. 16). This reflects God's mercy."
-Herbert W Armstrong, "Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p. 84
Some years ago I sat talking with a close friend of mine and trying to explain what Armstrongism believed about the afterlife. This was back when I was a believing member of the church. I was explaining to my friend who didn’t know the doctrines, and in my heart of hearts I was trying to defend the doctrine to myself. I thought I was right in what I believed, but at the same time I sensed the weakness of the argument.
It seems to be universal that when you are defending a weak position, you bluff and don't give away too much information. Even animals do it. Well, I knew my position was weak, so I reached for a fairly standard claim to reinforce my position: Armstrongism’s view of eternity is far more merciful than mainstream Christianity’s, vis a vis:
Why would a merciful God send people to Hell? In our version, most everyone will find salvation.

Well, I was quite happy at the time to see that it worked. My friend hadn’t ever heard anyone say anything like that before, was therefore unprepared, and didn’t know how to respond. Quite frankly, if it didn't work, I was unprepared to take it much further. Sometimes bluffing pays off.

I wondered to myself, what if my friend had challenged me? So, to answer that question, I have decided to argue against my earlier position. I will take the position of my friend and explore what they did not. I have to say, I learned a lot going through this! I write about it today so that you can see what I saw.

Bear in mind that my goal is not to insult, disparage, castigate, or in any wise belittle anyone in Armstrongism or God or anyone else. God loves you, and I'm not here to mistreat those He died for. No doubt some people are going to feel that way as they read this, but that's only because I'm not affirming your beliefs in this post. If I affirmed your beliefs, you would love me ...and be bored reading this. I'm not going to be unfair. Fairness is one of my motivations here, but I am also not going to affirm the COG view. I spent 30 years on one side, and now I'm going to explore the other side. I don't know of a way that I can do this and offend no one in the process. I have to do this so that we can ask "Is the COG view as merciful as it claims to be?" I have to accept that someone will take this the wrong way. I am just going to admit this up front and state that it's not my intent to be insulting to anyone, and leave it at that.
Also, bear in mind that my goal is not to defend or argue for Hell. If at any point you misinterpret what I'm saying as a defense of or argument for the doctrine of Hell, then you've missed my point. The entire post is about mercy, not Hell. As I said, we are asking, "Is the COG view as merciful as it claims to be?"

Are you brave enough to challenge your own views in an ABD deep inspection with me today? Come and let’s take a critical look at the entire flow of the history of mankind as seen by the Church of God (COG) splinter churches ...starting at the start.


"God is reproducing Himself", say the Armstrongist Church of God (COG) groups. According to the founder of the COG movement, Herbert W Armstrong, perhaps billions of years before Adam, God's first "children" where the angels.
"This earth, originally, was intended to be the abode of a third of all the angels."
-HWA, "Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p. 54
Did it work? No. After countless ages, Satan rebels, he deceives one third of all of the angels, all creation decays, horrific wars ensue in the heavens where the angels prove themselves unworthy to rule over what God has made. This apparently catches God off guard.
"As God surveyed this cataclysm, He must have realized it left Himself as the ONLY BEING who will not and CANNOT SIN! The only possible ASSURANCE of accomplishing His great PURPOSE was for Him now to reproduce Himself!"
-Herbert Armstrong, "Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p. 59 [emphasis mine]
Must have realized?? So, he didn't realize this before?
As a plan B, the Godhead creates mankind with the intent of transforming them into God-beings like Himself so we can rule creation in place of the angels.
"God saw that no being less than God, in the God Family, could be certainly relied on to never sin - to be like God - who cannot sin. To fulfill His purpose for the entire vast universe, God saw that nothing less than Himself (as the God Family) could be absolutely relied upon to carry out that supreme purpose in the entire universe.
God then purposed to reproduce Himself, through the humans, made in His image and likeness, but made first from material flesh and blood, subject to death if there is in unrepented of - yet with the possibility of being born into the Divine Family begotten by God the Father.
And that is why God put man on earth!"
-Herbert Armstrong, "Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p. 51
God does this, knowing that humans can and will sin and go astray without His direct participation, just like some of the angels did. God must infuse the Holy Spirit with our spirits or there is no hope.
"The spirit of man was in him [Adam] - but not the Spirit of God. God offered him freely the fruit of the TREE OF LIFE - which symbolized the HOLY SPIRIT. Taking of the tree of LIFE would have done two things: (1) opened his MIND to comprehend spiritual knowledge, and (2) imparted within him the GIFT of God's Holy SPirit, leading to ETERNAL LIFE."
-Herbert Armstrong, "Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p.76
Does God work closely with mankind as is necessary? Yes!
Did it work? No. Adam and Eve soon sin anyway. The solution? Cut mankind off from the only thing that could have helped them.
"God made the needed second spirit - the HOLY SPIRIT - available to Adam. But on Adam's rebellion and taking the forbidden fruit, God had driven Adam out and closed all access to the tree of LIFE - symbolic of His Holy Spirit."
Rather than His direct involvement, which is the only possible way to achieve the goal of avoiding sin, God establishes a set of laws to give mankind direction.
Does it work? No.
To the COG groups, the law as defined in the Old Covenant is what God expects of mankind. Not just the Jews, but all mankind. They do not accept that the law was first given at Sinai; they believe it to have been there since creation (DEU. 5: 3). To the COG's it is mankind's means of growing in Godly character (ROM. 3: 21; 4: 13; GAL. 2: 21; PHP. 3: 9). They teach that Godly character is the result of law-keeping. Not the whole law, just some of it (it varies from church to church).
But there's the rub. The Holy Spirit is necessary before people can even so much as recognize that they so much as ought to keep the law in the first place, and is mandatory in order to have the ability to actually put the law into practice once it is known. The knowledge itself is spiritual knowledge, you see. Spiritual knowledge cannot be received without the Holy Spirit to complete our minds and make this possible (I COR. 2: 13-14). All Christians believe this to be true to some degree, but the COGs believe it in the most extreme sense.
So what do we see here? The COGs believe God put a law in place that mankind cannot hope to realize, thus God condemns mankind to a futile system of unguided "trial and error" as they hopelessly try and figure out on their own what is good and evil.
Mercifully hopeless and futile, that is.

Thus we have an enigma. The result of which is that now man can't even plead ignorance in their ignorance (ROM. 7: 7) because they had the law there ...which they couldn't understand to begin with without the Holy Spirit.

It gets worse! God leaves Satan here to broadcast sin into our heads against our will!
You read that right. The COGs teach that Satan doesn't just tempt us, he actually radiates harmful sinfulness like uranium radiates harmful energy. Satan can affect us without our knowledge just by being there.

So, mankind cannot know that we should keep the law, we can’t keep the law even if we did know, we are influenced by Satan to break the law even if we don't want to, and we can’t even plead ignorance because the law witnesses against us.
How's that for mercy?

I want you to notice something here. It is very subtle, but very important. First, a summary then I’ll get to what I want you to notice.

According to the COGs, Adam and Eve chose the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God had been helping them, but they chose poorly. Now God refuses to give us the Holy Spirit as punishment. This teaching is necessary! Without this teaching, how can anyone in the COG churches be “called" and "elect” by God? The “calling” and “election” is the giving of the Holy Spirit so that they can know and attempt to keep the law. The mystery revealed to them which makes them "God’s Church" is law-keeping (with the help of the Holy Spirit). Not all of the law, not all 613, but a cherry-picked and highly modified subset  – especially the weekly Sabbath and annual holy days. And not perfect law-keeping, because they fail too, just like Adam and Eve and Lucifer, so it's just the attempt at law-keeping that they receive. Otherwise, if mankind *can* know that they should keep the law all on their own without the Holy Spirit, then there is nothing at all different between the members of the COG churches and anyone else and no reason for a special calling. There is no calling; there is no election. So you see the teaching that God revoked His Holy Spirit, even though it was absolutely critical for the success of the goal, is necessary to establish identity for the COG group.

But! Here comes two things that I wanted you to notice.

Baptism is where one receives the Holy Spirit. The COG initiate must know and keep the law before they are baptized and receive the Holy Spirit. One must prove one's worthiness and loyalty. But how? One must be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit in order to attempt to keep the law, but one must already be attempting to keep the law in order to be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit. A contradiction?
Next, regardless of the law, without the Holy Spirit how can mankind be held accountable and punished terribly for something they could not possibly have understood? Why give a law if we are incapable of understanding it? Indeed we are prevented from understanding! But then how can God make any exception for ignorance (LUK. 23: 34, ACT. 17: 30)? Another contradiction?
Something is seriously flawed here!

And not just this, but there is another related issue to discuss: angelic beings.


The COG narrative both says that God blinds the hearts of mankind and that Satan blinds the hearts of mankind. God gives mankind over to blindness by withholding the Holy Spirit because of our wickedness, but we cannot know our wickedness unless the Holy Spirit works in us in the first place. So it is God’s doing. At the same time, Satan broadcasts evil like a radio station broadcasts music, and God gives mankind over to Satan who deceives us and darkens our understanding. So it is Satan’s doing.
As much as it pains me to even consider such a thing, there very much appears to be a tag-team in the COG doctrines of God and Satan against mankind.

Continuing on.

God, knowing the potential for our failure ahead of time, was prepared with a plan to save us. ...but not save the angels.
You see, the COGs do believe in a Hell. Oh, they most certainly do! They just prefer to believe the only ones that will be there are Satan and his demons. Here are some proof-texts often used to demonstrate this eternal fate:

(II PET. 2: 4) For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment
(JUD 6) And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day
(II PET. 2: 17) These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.
(REV. 20: 10) The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
"Angels, being spirit, are immortal. Those who sinned shall go on bearing their punishment forever. Their punishment is NOT death. Their punishment is loss of the glorious opportunity God gave them to accomplish His purpose on earth, and to live forever in the resentment, bitterness, attitude of rebellion, and utter hopelessness and frustration of mind their own sins brought upon them. Once they perverted their own minds, they can never regain balance. Happiness and joy has left them forever."
-Herbert Armstrong, "Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p. 84
So this far more merciful Armstrongism isn't really more merciful at all. There is a Hell. There is an eternal, conscious punishment for created beings. Just not for humans. That's not mercy; that sounds a lot more like opportunism to me.

You might say, "But the demons deserve it!". OK. You'll get no argument from me. But so do any humans who sin! In all fairness, any mainstream Christian should be able to tell you that God didn't create Hell for humans; some humans simply insist on going there and God refuses to force them to remain in His presence against their will. Yet consider this - it's not just the fallen angels who are punished. No! If you want to talk about something being unmerciful, consider the poor holy angels!

Two thirds of the angels have never sinned, yet they are punished eternally too, only because Lucifer sinned. According to COG documents, Lucifer was such a magnificent creation that when he sinned it was proof to God that no angel was capable.
"As God surveyed this cataclysmic tragedy, He must have realized that since the highest, most perfect being within His almighty power to create, had turned to rebellion, it left God Himself as the only being who would not and cannot sin."
-Herbert Armstrong, "Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p. 51
In other words, Michael and Gabriel might be superb holy angelic beings now, but some day they'll fall too. It's inevitable. This is the logical conclusion of what the COGs believe.
And what was the punishment for angels? The COGs believe that angels are immortal and cannot die. So what punishment can you give an eternal being?
 "Their penalty (they are still awaiting final judgment up to now) was disqualification - forfeiture of their grand opportunity, perversion of minds, and a colossal earthwide CATACLYSM of destruction wreaked upon this earth."
-Herbert Armstrong, "Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p. 57
Stop and consider, though, that this "disqualification - forfeiture of their grand opportunity" is also born by the holy angels! The holy angels have to live forever, rejected by God because of what Lucifer did, and ruled over by the humans who replaced them - yet they didn't ever do anything to deserve it.
Consider further, the angels who never sinned are not to be redeemed even though they are eternal while mankind who sins continually is to be redeemed even though he is temporary. If anyone should have been redeemed it should be the immortal beings. But no.


How is mankind redeemed? The Word of God becomes a man in order to die so that with His own blood the sins of man can be forgiven. Now, if you can live a life of attempted law-keeping until death, you might qualify for a promotion to godhood when Jesus returns. You would think "in two millennia I'll return and I might even call on you" would be at least mildly encouraging news to people. But then God does something unexpected - He hides the Gospel …for 1,900 years!

Herbert Armstrong’s primary claim to authority was that he was an Apostle as great as Paul...
"And I can say now, with the apostle Paul, 'that the gospel which [is] preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. . . . But when it pleased God . . . to reveal his Son in me . . . immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: neither went I [to a theological seminary, but I was taught by Jesus Christ, the Word of God (in writing)]' (Gal. 1:11-12, 15-17)."
-Herbert Armstrong, "Mystery of the Ages", p. 29
...who was chosen in the sunset days of mankind to bring us a final warning. The gist of the warning he supposedly was tasked to deliver was that we need to attempt to keep the law.
But wait. Wasn't this the same message that was supposedly given to Adam? Yes. So for 6,000 years the same warning supposedly went out? Yes.
Does it work? No. Did it ever work? No.
What good is a warning to attempt to obey the law going to do people who cannot understand without the Holy Spirit? It does no good. Why send a warning without sending the ability to heed? It does no good. And why warn people at all if they aren't really "called" at this time anyway? None of this makes any sense.

Herbert Armstrong said over and over and over again that one of the proofs of his authority was that he was the first person in 1,900 years to teach the Gospel.
--If one rejects this then one rejects the COGs because one rejects everything the COGs are founded upon. Just like the man who built his house on sand. If you reject Herbert Armstrong (as some say they do), then why not attend at the COG7 church instead? Or become an SDA? Or a Seventh-Day Baptist? Or --

Consequently, this claim means that for 1,900 years the “Church of God” had no solid knowledge of the Gospel, ergo the Gospel is absolutely unnecessary for “calling” and “election” and salvation.

What is necessary? No one ever really defined that. In one place Herbert Armstrong says the entire duty of a lay Christian is to pay money and pray in support of the ministry of the Church of God.
“But this giving of their prayers, encouragement and financial support was God's assignment as the very means of developing in them God's holy, righteous character.”
-Herbert Armstrong, “The Incredible Human Potential”, p. 111 
“ the very means for the general body of lay members to develop God's own holy, righteous character – by means of giving – giving their continuous prayers for the apostle, giving their encouragement, tithes and offerings.”
-Herbert Armstrong, “The Incredible Human Potential”, p. 112
But in other publications we see that the qualifications for being the “Church of God” included such things as Sabbath observance, or having the right name [Church of God], or full-immersion baptism, and etc. (See our study "True History of the True Church" for details.) Oh, not that you needed all of them at once! No. You really only needed one from this list in order to be identifiable as a Church of God. If you have more, great! But you only need one.
God kept His church technically alive for 2,000 years so long as they observed at least one thing from a list. So... one would think God could have just taught all mankind to keep that one thing and it would have sufficed. But He apparently didn't do that either.

Just so you know, when other non-COG churches keep at least one thing from the same list (like Baptists and full-immersion baptism or the SDA church and Sabbath-keeping) it doesn't count.

We touched on something a few paragraphs back that I want to dive more deeply into for a minute. The “true Gospel” is hidden for 1,900 years. Not just lost. Hidden! First God revokes the Holy Spirit, then God hides the Gospel. What this implies is that mankind didn't "turn from the truth" on their own, they were driven there! We would often say "God has blinded the minds of the world." We would say that God did this because of the sins of the world. But if God revoked the Holy Spirit and then hid the Gospel, what possible chance did the world have against sin? So in response God piles on a third layer of guaranteed failure - the blinding of their minds?

That's merciful?

As for this end-time warning, recall that the last generation has no hope of accepting the warning because they don’t have the Holy Spirit. So why warn them? God hid the Gospel purposefully. So why reveal it now? God blinded their minds purposefully. So why call now? He isn't calling the world now. So why call if you're not really calling? We were told time and again that God doesn't want these people in His church right now; He isn't calling them now. So why punish them? And why wait until the last minute? God does almost everything possible to remove our ability to obey, then punishes us for not obeying. Not just punish, cataclismically punish, to the verge of cosmocide! We're talking end of the universe here. But not all people are slated to be punished so hideously. He singles out a late generation to punish them unspeakably for the sins of all people throughout time. Sins which they themselves did not commit.

That's MERCIFUL???


To summarize:
According to the COGs the Word of God puts off being God completely and becomes fully man (this is akin to Kenosis and of it we must ask what happens to the spiritual component of the Word of God when He "puts it off"?), He then dies completely to wipe away our guilt (so the self-existant I AM can cease to be??), and is resurrected again so that He can lead us to the Father.
Does it work? No. By the end of the first century all of Christianity en masse, save a scant few, have supposedly gone right back into rank paganism. (This claim is accompanied by some pretty questionable scholarship, but it is what it is.) So just as He once revoked the Holy Spirit, He now revokes the Gospel and blinds the minds of the world.
Wow! In the Armstrongist narrative, God is really having a hard time. Nothing He has done so far has been very successful.

Hope would be completely lost for us all, they teach, had it not been for the glorified Christ selecting a painfully small group of people to hide out in mountainous and far-away regions through the ages, observing at least one thing from the list of laws and thus keeping the church technically alive. This secret church progresses through several "eras". Most of the COGs teach that the seven letters to the seven churches in Asia, found in Revelation 3 and 4, are actually Jesus prophesying to these church eras. So the church actually ends up failing not just once at the start but over and over and over again.
At last, in the 1930’s, Jesus sends Herbert W Armstrong, a down on his luck advertising man from a Quaker family, to find the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel, preach the Gospel to them, found the Philidelphia Era, and to deliver a warning for the final generation that they should attempt to keep the law before Jesus’ second coming. A warning God apparently doesn't actually want the world to heed and has prevented them from heeding anyway.

To make it just that much more odd, throughout time God had been clandestinely selecting 144,000 people to become His "true church" who will rule with Him over an artificially small population for a final 1,000 year period of post-apocalyptic paradise known as “the Millennium”. God “calls” and “elects” what amounts to 24 people each year over 6,000 years, and gives them His Holy Spirit, un-blinds their minds, and works with them so that they can know they should attempt to keep the law (note, the Gospel is still optional). Why? The unofficial official answer is because He wants to have these people train others during a 1,000 year period of paradise. These "chosen" and "elect" people who form the "true church" will train the rest of the world who were purposefully kept from the "true church".

Now I must ask the obvious questions. If He can make this special exemption for 144,000 people, why not just do this for all people? Why not do this from the start with everyone?
During this Millennium, God does give the Holy Spirit to everyone born, and gives them His Gospel, and is literally present with them, and gives them training, and gives them good examples, and gives them a perfect planet with no competition for resources, and even keeps Satan locked away. Thus proving He could have done this all along ...but refused to. Why?

After the Millennial period is over, all of the people who have lived and died prior to this Millennial period, who were not part of the secret church, will then be resurrected and given a second chance to get it right. But... most of them only sinned in the first place because they were all but caused to sin. So why put them through it twice, some people once, and some people not at all?

The non-official answer to "why" is "because God wanted to teach everyone what life would be like if we disobey Him". Which, on the surface, sounds like a good idea and everything, but on closer inspection we see it has issues. Not the least of which is He proves there was a better way!

So, what the COG view inadvertently demonstrates is that if God had only lived with us and given us His Holy Spirit and sent Satan away from the start, everything would have worked perfectly from the start and into eternity. For 1,000 years, God proves this. Thus conclusively demonstrating that there is a far better way to have gone about things. He just chose not to!

And that's by far more merciful than the mainstream view??


At this point you might say to me, “Hey! Some of those things are what I read in the Bible. Prophecy talks of a 1,000 year reign and Satan being let out at the end. You are arguing against the Bible here. You go too far!”
Bear with me, dear reader, if you think this of me. As I said at the outset, it’s not at all my point to disparage God or the COG groups. In my defense, I am just doing what I said I would do - explaining things that the COG churches teach, only without the sugar coat. You might misunderstand what I'm doing as speaking out against God, but I do no such thing. I am merely explaining the unintended consequences of a particular worldview held by the COGs. I am looking at what I refused to look at critically for most of my life, and what most COG members refuse to look at. I no longer subscribe to this view because I finally worked up the wherewithal to look critically. These same verses which it appears to some that I am speaking against (when I am really not) are a completely different story when seen through a different lens.

If we take for example a Protestant view, we have humanity who is inherently flawed in their relationship with God from birth, their nature is fallen, Adam their first representative has failed, but they can yet throw themselves at the mercy of Jesus Christ, their new representative, who accomplished what neither Adam nor they could.
In the extreme Protestant view, everyone is going to be saved. Everyone! God will work on them with His love and given enough time they will all choose Him. You want mercy, well you cannot beat that mercy right there.
Even in the Roman Catholic view, the only ones who end up in Hell are the ones who choose it. Look at Michaelangelo's famous "Creation of Adam" on the ceiling of the Sistene Chapel, for example. God is stretching out, straining to reach a 'ho hum' Adam. All Adam has to do is extend his arm and he has God in his grasp!

In the mainstream view, God runs across the finish line and pleads with us just to believe He's really done it. Jesus constantly reaches down to us here below to help us up.
But in the COG view, God abandons the angels to their fate, all but walks off with the finish line, and only shows it to a handful of people. God has made the target extremely hard to hit and missing the mark is called "sin". The only ones who succeed are the ones He drags across the finish line.


So, what have we seen today? According to the COGs:
God creates the earth for the angels but this fails when Lucifer unexpectedly sins. God abandons this plan. All angels are disqualified though most of them are perfect to this day. But if the best of them failed then it proves they all will fail, so abandoning them is the safe bet. Instead, God creates mankind, but this fails when they sin too. In response God withholds His Holy Spirit from man, which is a missing component in mankind's very design without which we can neither know nor perform God's will. Failure is guaranteed. God gives a law but this fails because we cannot keep it or know we should keep it without the Holy Spirit. The result is the law removes our ability to at least plead ignorance. God leaves Satan here on earth with the power to broadcast sin into our minds. The eternally self-existant Word somehow ceases to be eternal or self-existent and becomes a man. He dies for mankind to forgive our sins - not not the angels sins - and is resurrected to lead a new church. This fails when His church soon abandons Him en masse. In response, He hides the Gospel for 1,900 years - even from His own church. God keeps a tiny remnant of the church hidden away but technically alive through the ages by making sure they at least attempt to keep part of a list of laws. The church doesn't have to make many disciples because God isn't calling the world at this time anyway. At the last moment, God sends Herbert Armstrong to preach the Gospel and warn the purposefully blinded world with a warning they can't understand to keep a law they can't keep, right before God unspeakably punishes the last generation for the sins of all time. All of this is to teach the world a lesson of what it would be like if they sin. The next 1,000 years are a veritable paradise completely devoid of this lesson. It goes perfectly ... until Satan is released. After that it all goes wrong again. Finally, the incorrigible among men are annihilated, and Satan and the demons are sent to eternal damnation in conscious torment in a condition exactly matching Hell but care is taken to never referred to as Hell. The holy angels spend eternity as servants to the humans, now made into gods, who replaced them, through no fault of their own.
And this is supposedly far more merciful than the mainstream Christian scenario.
I find "God won't send humans to Hell" to be a candy-coated and grossly oversimplified version of the real Armstrongist position. This isn't nearly the whole story! This is in reality comparing a stylized and abbreviated version of what the COGs teach to a charicaturized and abbreviated version of what mainstream Christianity teaches.

No doubt many are going to dismiss what I say because they "do not worship Herbert Armstrong and never did". A valid point. No one should worship any man. But this article isn't about Herbert Armstrong. Neither is this blog. We aren't confronting Herbert Armstrong; we are investigating his doctrines. We talk a lot about him so that you can know where your beliefs come from. That's the real elephant in the room - you may ignore the man, but which of his doctrines do you reject? You can look in the Bible and see the law for yourself? Good! But you cannot attend a Church of God group and get from "I see the law" to "the law applies to me" without Herbert Armstrong. Reject the man all you like but you can't simply erase him from the church he founded. The fact that you feel defensive when you read our articles is PROOF of this. If we were only about the man, and if you rejected him completely as you say you do, then you'd have nothing to be defensive about, and then you could just walk off and attend any of a number of different churches.

Let's just admit straight out that all scenarios are going to run into issues with mercy eventually, because mercy is a highly subjective word. Mercy is always going to be in the eye of the beholder.

In either scenario, COG or mainstream, no one can succeed without God.
But in the COG version it really seems like God is small and contrary, angry and fickle. It doesn't matter what you do, it doesn't matter how badly you want it, it doesn't matter how much faith you have, it doesn't matter how often you call on Him, and it doesn’t matter what charitable works you spend your life doing. Even if your name is Mother Theresa, it doesn't matter. Unless! Unless you sit idle every 7th day - during the proper hours or it doesn't count (which are nigh impossible to determine on a round earth). He died for you, but if you don’t recall that during the proper hours after sunset on Friday, the deal’s off! Yet, at the same time, it didn’t have to be that way!

In either scenario, COG or mainstream, there is a Hell.
It doesn't matter if you call it "Hell" or not, the ideas are nearly identical in all respects. The complaint that COGs don't want to worship a God that sends His creation to punishment for all eternity is moot as even in the COG view God will send His creation to punishment for all eternity. Only, in the COG version it is just demons who will spend eternity in conscious punishment. Any human will get burned up and that's "merciful". Meanwhile the holy angels bear an eternal burden for Lucifer's failure. But there will be a Hell, so to speak.
As far as the claim that the COG view is more merciful in this point, I have to say in all honesty, I do not believe the COG view is more merciful. If anything it seems like the two views are even.

Now it occurs to me, this isn't really about mercy at all. At the heart of this is the debate about immortal soul versus Annihilationism. In the COG view, God sends anything incorrigible to punishment. If that being is immortal then that punishment is eternal torment, and if not then it's eternal death. There is every reason to believe He would have sent humans to eternal torment too, but the COGs teach that humans don't have an immortal soul. The COG teachings do have eternal conscious torment, so eternal conscious torment is not really the problem. The COG teachings do have a hell, so this isn't about Hell, it's about humans in Hell. So it's not really about mercy after all, but about the nature of the soul. The COGs don't want a God who makes man immortal; they want a God who makes mankind disposable.
Mercifully disposable.

At the end of the matter, I'm not convinced this is a winning strategy after all. This doesn't seem as merciful to me as it is opportunistic. I admit someone has to be right, but I don't see how a bluffing contest of "who is more merciful" is going to decide the point.

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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