Friday, March 3, 2017

Who Then Can Be Saved?

Rod Meredith's terminal cancer diagnosis has been one of the biggest Church of God news items this year. Meredith, 86, long headed the Living Church of God and has declined extensive treatment due to his age and stage of cancer.

Terminal diagnoses are nothing to celebrate, no matter who the patient is. Our prayers go out to the Meredith family as well as those who have been impacted by Meredith's life, both positively and negatively.

End-of-life discussions are often a cause for introspection among the living (no pun intended). Lately, many current and former Church of God members have been engaged in discussions of Meredith's accomplishments and conduct. The main question seems to be, has Rod Meredith qualified for God's Kingdom?

I'd like to know, how is this question even possible among "true Christians" in the LCG and other COG groups? Rod Meredith worked directly with Herbert Armstrong. He was an early evangelist for the Worldwide Church of God and frequent writer for the Plain Truth magazine. He has headed two(!) Church of God groups. He has advocated for the Sabbath and Holy Days - major marks that set "true Christians" apart from the deceived - for years! I mean, Meredith has stated multiple times, before thousands of LCG brethren, that he has not committed a "major sin" since his baptism.

Oh right. Now I remember. THAT'S the problem.

Now, I don't know about you, but I know I made a huge blunder before I even had my first cup of coffee this morning. That's not me trying to make a sardonic point. That's the ugly truth. So I have a hard time believing Meredith hasn't committed a "major sin" since the 1950s. Plus, the last time I checked, the Bible really didn't differentiate between "minor" and "major" sins.

(James 2:10) For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.

Actually, now that I think about it, there ARE some sins that God describes as detestable:

(Proverbs 6:16) Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

Haughty eyes. Maybe windows to a soul proud enough to claim not to have committed any major sins since the 1950s? So, the reasons why Herbert Armstrong removed him from his ministerial responsibilities and "banished" him to Hawaii weren't sins? How about a $750,000 civil libel payout against Meredith in favor of Leona McNair?  The power struggles and tearing apart of the Global Church of God over large sum of cash, and refusing to pay back those who loaned him money wasn't a sin? No heart devising wicked schemes there? No stirring up conflict? Perpetuating division among the COGs isn't sin?

No, nothing to see here, folks. Definitely not any major sins since the 1950s. It doesn't remind me of this parable at all:

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself - 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men - extortioners, unjust adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.                                
(Luke 18:10-14)

The Pharisee checked all the boxes. He clearly wasn't an extortioner or an adulterer. He tithed meticulously. He probably kept the Sabbath better than anyone alive today. And yet these things did not win him favor in God's sight. Only one of these men left the temple right with God, and it wasn't the one who boasted about his personal righteousness or wore a bunch of legalistic acts on his sleeve.

Yet, some leaders in other COG splinters are probably preparing tributes to Meredith - on the basis of his religious works - at this very moment. They'll state that they had their differences with him, but they'll still proclaim him a good and faithful servant because he, like them, kept the Sabbath and Holy Days. I'll allow this indulgence to Jim Franks, since COGWA is reported to be making peace with LCG, but the rest of you need to stop now. You parted ways with Meredith decades ago, ripping apart churches, families and friends. You decided these issues were important enough to divide fellowship. You've made cold, judgmental pronouncements against him. You've pronounced that he's not a leader and his church should be following you instead. It's incredibly hypocritical to wax sentimental now. Either these issues were worth dividing over and you are the one true church; or you were wrong and Meredith headed God's true church. Or, alternatively, you both were mistaken, perpetuating known falsehoods and dividing up congregations and families for your own personal gain.

But most of these issues happened years ago, Martha! What's the matter? Don't you think people can change? Why would you attack a dying man?

Of course I think people can change! But we can't change without realizing that we have made a mistake. One who claims not to have committed a "major sin" since baptism does not sound like someone who has recognized and repented of his mistakes. This isn't an attack on a dying man, it's an appeal!

You see, repentance is a major factor in qualifying for salvation, according to Meredith and other COG teachers. Sure, the Bible clearly requires Christians to repent. Mainstream Christianity, however, teaches this repentance flows from the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit through a supernaturally-changed heart. The result of which is the fruit of our salvation. But in the COGs, repentance and change is a fearful and legalistic affair, from the law and to the law, and mostly by our own effort. Our own effort is what ensures our salvation after accepting Christ's sacrifice. And if there is not enough repentance and change, well,  then... in the words of COG founder Herbert W Armstrong, God aborts you. That is the COG viewpoint. The COGs accept Biblical teaching that man cannot save himself. But they also teach a murky, un-quantifiable tipping point of unrighteousness where one fails to qualify for God's Kingdom.

Maybe that's precisely what's wrong here. Meredith doesn't see himself as needing to repent anymore because the bulk of COG repentance is observing days and tithing. He's done that, in his own eyes. Jesus' death, in the COG view, only forgives for sins up to baptism. It's each man for himself from there. Well, he's Sabbathed and not-Christmassed since then, so he's golden.

And that's the problem. The COG plan of salvation recognizes that Jesus died to forgive our sins, but only those up until baptism. And then, after that, we must keep the law in order to maintain that salvation. But no, not the whole law, just cherry-picked portions our leaders endorse. This circumvents the whole point of the law - to show us our human weakness and continual need for a Savior - and simultaneously reduces what we must "do" to a checklist that seems almost attainable, especially when we're young. Our foolish pride leads us to believe we can "make it." But as we grow older, we can see that salvation is always just out of reach. There's always some sin that comes back, some sin we haven't fully overcome, always one more thing to do. We never outrun the knowledge that we've sinned, again, and fallen short, again, and now we wonder whether God has finally had enough of us.

So, I wonder, how many Sabbaths kept by the letter of the law make up for slandering a brother's wife? How many Holy Days offset a prideful heart? How much leaven must we avoid to sponge away our sins? What does the balance sheet look like, according to Meredith? How about according to God?

This, my friends, is how we get to the point where members of a religious movement can question the eternal destiny of its long-time leaders.

(Hebrews 13:7) Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct.

I don't make these points to kick Rod Meredith while he's down. I make these points because Rod is no different from me, or from you. I make these points because I hope that he will see the depth of his pride and repent. That he will understand that it is the blood of Christ alone and placing full faith in His sacrifice that makes him righteous. As long as Rod Meredith has breath, the Lord may still be found. Rod may not believe in deathbed confessions, but luckily for him, it's not his opinion that matters.

And not just Rod, but this appeal is for us all.

Rod Meredith is the poster child for the COG way of life. If the COGs are right about salvation, then Meredith has nothing to fear. And neither do you. Maybe. But if you're concerned for him right now, perhaps you should consider another path.

(Matthew 7:15-18) Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.

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


Unknown said...

David confessed his sins and wrote about them (Psalm 51). Rod has the means to do the same. ABD should do a simple survey. Will he? Won't he? Wa Da Ya think? My proof text is I Cor5:12.

Anonymous said...

Perhaps it all boils down to one thing: What sort of person would you want to spend eternity with -- forever and ever and ever, with no end?

Would you like to be around a pleasant guy who is easy to get along with? Would you like someone with whom you can share things, someone you can trust implicitly? How would you like to be with someone who is kind and caring? What would it be like to be with someone you can rely on, who always comes through, keeps promises. Makes things 'right'? Never betrays you or anyone else. May be smarter than you, but will never look down on you or trivialize you in any way. Has a lifetime of consistency.

Or would you prefer to spend it with Roderick Meredith?

For decades now, I have tried to persuade people it would be in their best interest to seek redemption. In fact, I'm a sucker for redemption stories, particularly where there's a mystery involved. The story of someone who seems to be terrible, but when the chips are down, reveals that there was a caring person down there somewhere and flowers.

Unfortunately, the kinds of people I've tried to persuade aren't all that responsive and so I took to other, less pleasant tactics, pointing out that "Judgment awaits" and the liars and false prophets have death to look forward to -- and in spite of the fact that's in the Old Testament -- Deuteronomy of all places -- it would seem that the one constant with God is that He isn't much interested in putting in a lot of time with people who absolutely frustrate Him. Can you blame Him? Some people think they are god and that just doesn't go down very well with the Chief Deity.

We could certainly hope that Meredith would repent and find redemption -- that he's not just an empty angry husk, but it isn't looking really good. He doesn't really have any sort of awareness of what sort of person he is deep down (maybe there's nothing there).

At this point, I suspect, that the best we could hope for is that there is some sort of 'second chance' as Armstrongism has posited, but shy of that, perhaps the best we can really reasonably hope for is a swift and eternal death for him so that the rest of us left can have some peace.

xHWA said...

Would I prefer to spend eternity with unrepentant COG leaders like Meredith, or worse? How about a big ol' HECK NO! The constant, endless striving over who is the GOAT. The eternal straining at gnats and tilting at windmills. Condemned to an eternity of self-aggrandizing mentions of how they were in this place or that and the people were so excited to see them.
Yeah. I'll take door #1, thanks.

"At this point, I suspect, that the best we could hope for is that there is some sort of 'second chance' as Armstrongism has posited"

I sure hope there is something. Some kind of special mercy for people who were sincerely misdirected. I believe there is. Things don't make any sense to me without that. But I can't prove it.

I don't want them dead for eternity. I just want them, like you said, redeemed. Maybe when they finally realize the universe isn't in fact contingent on them and their "ministry" they will finally settle down and be normal people.

xHWA said...

Some people just don't get subtlety, so I want to bluntly point out that Meredith's statement that he has committed no major sins since baptism is virtue signaling.

What Martha said in her post is 100% correct.

"Since baptism" is a key phrase. Meredith is stating that he's done what was expected of him to achieve salvation. Jesus forgave his since from baptism and prior, and he's done the rest ever since baptism.
That is the Armstrongist take on salvation.
And the Armstrongist take on salvation is woefully off the mark.

In typical Armstrong style, Meredith read part of the Rich Young Ruler in Mark 10 (specifically, "keep the commandments"), but never read the other part -- the most important part (specifically, "With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible"). And that's why Martha titled this post "Who Then Can Be Saved?"

It's off the mark because in the very chapter Armstrong clung to in order to justify himself, Jesus points out that Armstrong's view is impossible. The Rich Young Man kept the commandments, sure, and Jesus loved Him for it. But then Jesus challenged him to go beyond. What did he do? He walked away!! The law was insufficient to achieve the goal. Keeping the law wasn't synonymous with following Jesus, not even during the time of the Old Covenant. Confronted with this reality, he gave up. Was it ego? Was it greed? He walked away from Jesus ...yet still kept the law! What did Jesus say after this conversation? That it was impossible with men. Jesus didn't forget that the man was keeping the law, yet Jesus said it was none the less impossible with men. Impossible! The Armstrong view of salvation is IMPOSSIBLE.

That isn't to say there is no expectation of righteous conduct after conversion. There is such an expectation. No one here at ABD has ever denied that. But that's not what Meredith believes, nor is that what he's signalling. It's not just that there is necessity of righteous conduct. It's that his salvation is almost entirely in his own hands from baptism to death, based on his observance of a cherry-picked selection of Old Covenant laws.

Meredith doesn't recognize this because he's still under the impression that keeping the law is following Jesus. Jesus said otherwise. The Rich Young Man was no doubt expecting Jesus to tell him he didn't need to do anything more. This is what Meredith expects, too!

I sure hope the Meredith's response is very different than that of the Rich Young Man.

Anonymous said...

The eternal straining at gnats and tilting at windmills

xHWA, what a magnificent statement. It enters into the brain and there's this mystical explosion. I've not seen anything like it. Well done.

You know, this discussion really boils down to one thing: That at baptism, the laying on of hands and receipt of the Holy Spirit, a person is transformed into a new being. The old life should disappear. It's a new life. People who used to live a life of debauchery are now different. In fact, the testimony of several people in the New Life Church of God Seventh Day is this (a sample): A man heeded an altar call and was baptized. He didn't feel different, but in a few days people at work noticed that he didn't swear any more. He stopped smoking and drinking. It was a change from the inside out. His was a new life. Eventually, he became a minister of Jesus Christ. It isn't that there isn't any effort, it's that the effort is in concert with something larger and stronger than the self.

The mistake that Herbert Armstrong, Roderick Meredith and the rest of the Armstrongist tribe makes is that they believe that the transformation is from the outside in -- if you work hard enough and white knuckle it, eventually, especially if you resist temptation on your own, you will be righteous enough to make it into the Kingdom of God (where you can be the same horrible person you always were).

I suspect that this quenching of the Spirit by not acknowledging functionally that it exists, is the reason that people just don't see much difference in Armstrongist converts. Armstrongism relies on physical rituals grounded in a physical priesthood which no longer exists and never had what we could call a 'spiritual' component to it. It was all about, you keep the laws and you will have physical prosperity. There's a trap in that and the trap is that it requires no faith. No faith, no pleasing God, no pleasing God, no spiritual progress.

Armstrongists don't actually respect God, they just use Him as a talisman to acquire power, prestige and wealth.

Well, that's what I think.

What do you think?

Anonymous said...

One additional thought: As some of us have been reading through Orlin Grabbe's letter to his mother written back somewhere around 1974, it becomes clear that a lot of problems, particularly the very sticky one of Divorce and Remarriage became extremely murky because of the propensity of the Armstrongist leadership (read: Herbert Armstrong) to mix and match (or mismatch) the Old and New Testaments in order to make a decision, set a direction and establish doctrine.

G. G. Rupert was responsible for this, although it may have gone back much further. His idea, taken hook, line and sinker by Herbert Armstrong, was that anything not covered in the New Testament would automatically be covered by Old Testament laws, statutes, judgments, ordinances and miscellaneous happenstances. It really appears that many of those things encroached upon the New Testament teachings in a substantial way, overwhelming what some have come to see as the New Covenant.

This was taken to silly extremes. Getting into the minutia of one insignificant ritual or other became significant to doctrines governing whether or not a person could enter the Kingdom of God. In fact, some of the Old Testament was extrapolated into Armstrongism where there was no basis for it at all, with even the Orthodox Jews pointing out that it was not necessarily the way the Armstrongists thought. For example, tithing. Tithing was absolute and was based on gross income which people had to pay first before anything else AND it was expanded into three tithes (why not just give ten tithes and be done with it?). There was one tithe on agriculture produce only (not on wages and not on gross income). It was used three different ways.

Then there were fruit trees.

Trying to bend all this into a spiritual Christian base was extremely burdensome, and to top it off, this stuff was supposed to be administered by the Levitical priesthood. Moreover, WCG farmers tried the 7th year land Sabbath and failed at it (and if it ever worked, it only worked in Palestine, the 'land the Lord' gave them and only during Old Testament times).

Divorce and Remarriage? OK, there were some things about fornication that had to be 'extrapolated' from the Old Testament concerning fornication that weren't explicitly stated and certainly NOT in the New Testament.

This all begged the questions about Gentile converts, so everything became more and more complicated with the attempt to put new wine into old wineskins, to coin a phrase.

All these problems just disappear when people put the Old Covenant aside and commit to the New Covenant and only the New Covenant. None of this hand-wringing and endless debate about what the New vs the Old covers and NO more confusion about which is which.

This also handily answers a lot of things to about such matters as "Why does God allow suffering?"

Next week begins Daylight savings time for a lot of people.

Is Daylight savings time covered by the Old Testament or the New Testament?

And Armstrongism is just that ridiculous.

nck said...

From what I hear, the divorce and remarriage thing was draconian in the sixties and before.

Hearing types like Black Ops speak I have serious doubts they have ever laid eyes on the Roman Catholic christian "mothership" regarding the laws governng d & r. Any favorable modifications have only been in the past 10 years in a 2000 year history.


Anonymous said...

Speaking of daylights saving time...When I was little, we had so much secret truth that I thought only those of us in "The Church" knew about daylights saving time!

Martha said...

Black Ops Mikey,

I recognize that everyone has had different experiences in the COGs, often wildly dependent upon where one lived.

I'm sorry that your experience was around people who "used" God like a talisman for power, prestige and money. I've heard stories about that. I'm thankful it wasn't my experience. I would say, for the most part, I've experienced the natural consequences of a blighted system and the wranglings of spiritually misguided men, mixed with infrequent spiritual abuse. At the same time, I know many are not so "lucky."

In my corner of the Armstrongist world, it seemed to me that people used Jesus not so much as a talisman as a gate code they punched in for access, usually about once a year at Passover. The rest of the year, they put Him back on the shelf. And that was ok with them.

I think it's because Armstrongists have such a narrow view of sin. Real sin was breaking the Sabbath. Oh, of course, there was all the stuff Jesus mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount. Yeah, that stuff is important, but not AS important. What really counts is their finite list.

When it's a list of things we THINK we should be able to handle, grace is undervalued. When we really understand that sinful, prideful motives stain even our well-intentioned acts, we see how flawed we really are. Grace suddenly becomes a lot more valuable.

That's what I think.

Anonymous said...

nck brings up a good point.

The answer is, of course, we can never know. We can never know because in the view of Armstrongism the Catholics are wrong about absolutely everything and there would be no interest at all in learning about the Catholic view of Divorce and Remarriage.

The Popes and by extension, the entire Roman Catholic Church, have made some significant changes since World War II in many of the doctrines, and it hasn't just been in the last 10 years. Leaving Latin behind, forgiving the Jews for the death of Jesus and babies not going to Purgatory are just some of the doctrines which have been altered.

Make no mistake though, the Catholics are a lot more inflexible about many things than most people would like or think and some things are still mortal sin (we leave to your imagination what things).

xHWA said...

I'm surprised how very mistaken I was on what the Catholic Church taught, and doesn't teach. Armstrongism was so full of garbage in that regard.

The Catholics are definitely inflexible on many things. I see that as more positive than negative. It's a more steady, stable organization because of it. What they teach, if it is ever going to change, takes centuries to change. It helps them to stand up through the winds that blow other groups around.

It may be popular to believe a certain thing in current American culture. This same thing probably was not popular at all 15 years ago. No doubt this same thing will not be nearly as popular 15 years from now as it is today. But the RCC can say that even though a thing they teach isn't very popular at the moment, it's what they've taught for centuries, and it's probably going to be what they keep teaching for centuries to come.

And I notice none of the things they've changed are truly core doctrines. It's all ancillary things, having more to do with form or style than genuine substance.

Like with marriage, they haven't changed their stance on marriage all that much. A marriage is valid if it is performed in the RCC by the appropriate person, and it must be consummated. A valid marriage is indissoluble. Divorce is allowed, albeit frowned upon, but technically the marriage is not dissolved. There can be no future marriage or marriage-like relationship. Otherwise, if it is declared to have never been valid for whatever reason, it can be annulled. That makes an invalid marriage as if it never was, and a valid marriage can be entered into.

Here's one thing I look for and hope for every day - that the RCC and the Orthodox would put their arguments behind them and truly come together again, in respect and even love of the uniqueness of their differences.

Anonymous said...

Martha, I posted a response to your note to me on Gary's blog. Ian Boyne