Tuesday, October 10, 2017

What the "Holy Day Plan of Salvation" Means for You

Last time, we looked at the someone tenuous origins of the traditional Church of God doctrine that the Hebrew holy days represent God's ongoing, progressive plan of salvation for humanity. I also threatened, or rather, promised to explain why I find this doctrine so troubling.

So what's my problem with the holy day “plan”? Besides that it's just a theory passed off as rock-solid, salvific Bible truth? A theory used by many in the COGs to self-righteously disparage what they call "counterfeit Christianity". Those are issues, for sure. But they're not the biggest one.

The COG's teachings on plan of progressive salvation diminishes the significance of Christ's sacrifice and lures believers back into salvation by works, a fact which groups like the United Church of God and others vehemently deny, yet consistently reinforce in their literature.

“The sacrifice of Christ constitutes that important first basic step in God's majestic plan of salvation,” wrote the late John Ross Schroeder in a July 2010 article on the Holy Day plan. “Nonetheless, an subsequent passage in Ephesians shows other essential steps.”

I turned to the passage Schroeder referenced – Ephesians 1:9-10. I don't see any other “essential steps” Christians must take. Let's look at the whole passage, in context. This time, I'm turning to the ESV, because this passage is convoluted, even to me, in the NKJV. I'll emphasize verses 9 and 10 for you.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Hmmm. I don't really see any evidence of Christ's sacrifice being the first step in a progressive salvation plan here. The only thing I really see that rings a bell is the word “plan.” Basically, in this passage, we have God revealing His Son at the appointed time in history, opening our minds to the fact that Jesus was God's Son, redeeming us and forgiving our sins through the shedding of His blood, and eventually setting right the fallen world.

This passage bears almost no resemblance to the COG narrative of this plan, which goes something like this:

1. Jesus died for your sins on Passover. (so far so good).
2. We then put sin out of our lives, which is pictured by the Days of Unleavened Bread. (hmmm.)
3. We receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Wait. How did we put sin out of our lives without the Holy Spirit?)
4. Jesus Christ returns at the Feast of Trumpets. (debatable, but it's a possibility)
5. Those who have successfully completed these “essential steps” celebrate their millenial reign during the Feast of Tabernacles (where they have achieved divinity, despite what Isaiah 43:10 says).
6. Satan is put away on the Day of Atonement (wasn't Jesus our Atonement? 1 John 2:2)
7. Humans who never had a chance to learn about God's plan will receive another chance to accept God's way at the Great White Throne Judgement on the Last Great Day (despite 2 Thessalonians 1:8, which tells us Jesus will judge both those who don't know God and didn't follow the gospel at His return).

But I'll admit, UCG leaves the salvific significance component of our works vague. But competing sister splinter COGWA does not. Consider what Jeremy Lallier, a full-time writer for COGWA's Discern magazine, recently wrote on his private Sabbath Thoughts blog for the Feast of Trumpets:
“As Christians, that trumpet will be the moment that defines us for eternity. As our Lord and Savior descends through the skies and voices from the heaven proclaim Him King of kings and Lord of lords, we'll either rise up to meet Him... or we won't. Those are the possibilities. There isn't a third option.”
Wow! You have my attention! That paragraph alone made me sit up two inches straighter in my chair.
“What kind of life did you live? What kind of choices did you have to make along the way? What did you value, and what did you let go of? What did you have to overcome? What aspects of your character changed – and what stayed the same?”
“How did those changes happen? What habits did you develop or break that helped lead to them? Who influenced you – and who did you have to step away from so they'd stop influencing you? What sacrifices did you have to get used to making, and what things were so important you vowed to never let go of them?"'
I'm starting to notice a trend here - a whole lot of "you, you, you" and not a whole lot of "God, God, God." But let's hear him out.
“Keep stepping backward from your future until you get to the present, then connect the dots.
Well, at least he isn't pulling out a sticker chart. Yet.
“Using the tools we've been given, we chart our way to the finish line, plotting out a life that leads to hearing, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Woops. I spoke too soon. I stand corrected.
“This isn't just a thought exercise. Your destiny hangs in the balance. If you want to make sure it's a good one, now's the time to reverse engineer it.”
All right. I've had enough. It's intellectually dishonest, at best, to claim to teach that salvation is a free gift, but then state that we are responsible for plotting our own destiny to a heavenly crown. If we make our own destiny, then we have reason to boast, which directly contradicts scripture:

What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh. For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace, but as debt.  - Romans 4:1-4

I'm glad you brought up Abraham, our COGWA friend would probably say, at this point, in our imaginary debate. Doesn't the Bible tell us that Abraham was justified by his works when he offered Isaac in James 2:21.

Why yes, it does. But is that the whole story? Let's look at the passage rather than a single verse.

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see, then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. -  James 2:21-24

Abraham's true faith was confirmed when he attempted to sacrifice Isaac upon the altar in Genesis 22. But his faith was accounted to him for righteousness – God justified him – much earlier, in Genesis 15, even according to James. His decision in Genesis 22 was evidence of what happened in Genesis 15.

And what kind of life did Abraham live? What kind of choices did he make along the way? What aspects of his character changed, and what stayed the same? Let's see. Abraham made some good choices. He left Ur. He rescued Lot, and then let him have his pick of the land. He attempted to sacrifice his son when God told him to do so. He also lied about his wife to try to save his skin. Twice. Once was even after God “counted him righteous.” He doubted God. He fathered a child with Hagar.

If we plotted and charted Abraham's life, what kind of picture would we see? Someone who secured his own destiny through grit and determination? Or a sinner who, like Paul, warred against his nature throughout his life and relied upon the grace and mercy of his Creator? What about YOUR life?

There are many reasons that Christians should live godly lives:

1. We are bondservants of the Lord purchased with His blood.

For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's. - 1 Corinthians 6:20

2. Since we have died to sin and have been raised  with Christ, we are living sacrifices.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is good and acceptable and the perfect will of God. - Romans 12:1

3. We are representatives of God's kingdom.

Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given s the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed us to the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. - 2 Corinthians 5:18-20

4. To witness against those who mock us.

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. 
- 1 Peter 3:15-16

5. To turn others to God

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
- Matthew 5:14-16

There are these reasons, and many more. But noticeably absent is the goal of securing our entrance into God's Kingdom through an elaborate, metaphysical game of connect-the-dots. We can neither obtain nor maintain that destiny.

This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?   - Galatians 3:2-3

We can't reverse engineer, connect the dots or force out enough fruit to sell for a ticket into God's kingdom. Thankfully, the ticket is free and the fruit is a by-product, or evidence that we are connected to the True Vine. With that assurance, we can rest in Christ, knowing that He is the author and finisher of our faith.

A holy day plan that reveals an ongoing “plan of salvation” sounds tidy, inspiring, even desirable. On paper. But in real life, a checklist of “essential steps” means that you must achieve in order to progress to the next step. And if you don't achieve enough by the time the last step comes, then you fail.

Whether it's a progressive holy day plan, Lallier's subtle “we'll either rise up and meet Him... or we won't” or Herbert Armstrong's deity, who aborts Christians who don't grow enough, the message and theology are the same. Thankfully, they're not true. Thanks be God for His indescribable gift!

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10.

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


Mark said...

Good article. I liked your statement about "keeping the Law doesn't save you, but you can't be saved without keeping the Law" as being intellectually dishonest. My big problem with the COG movement was their almost obsessive need to discount "so called," "nominal," and "deceived" Christians.

Brian said...

A recent sermon in COGWA stated that “yes, salvation is a free gift, but the right to receive that free gift is determined by our obedience” - to which many in the audience nodded their heads. Of course that argument doesn’t make any sense for COGWA’s claim that they don’t teach a salvation based on works. It is still disappointing to hear their verbal gymnastics as they continue clinging to Armstrongism. The organizations will never change

Mark said...

Brian... I think statements such as those made by COGWA creates a sense of cognitive dissonance. The Holy Days and Sabbaths I think are shadows that paint a beautiful picture, but they all pointed to Jesus - the substance.

Martha said...


That always bothered me, too, even when I bought what they were selling. I even asked, wouldn't we be better off praising these "nominal" Christians for desire to serve God but show them there is a better way? I mean, don't we see that over and over in the New Testament? Nobody cared. I later understood that unless the COGs discounted and undermined these "other" Christians as false believers they had no reason to exist. If faith is what matters, not law, then there is nothing to keep people there instead of going elsewhere, no reason to give the ministers power, no reason to keep giving money. So there you go. But among the works of the flesh are divisiveness, jealousy, rivalries... Seems like they never read Luke 9:50, either.


I understand that what COGWA usually claims is that we are saved through Christ's sacrifice but maintain our standing with God through obedience. Which is problematic enough. What you describe is a complete contradiction and completely unscriptural. Did God call Saul out of Judaism because of his obedience? To what? Or did God smack him upside the head and call him despite the fact that he was actively persecuting and killing Christians.

Let me guess, he was obeying the Sabbath and such, so that was enough obedience for God to "work with".

Yes, verbal gymnastics is a very appropriate description.

Mark said...

Martha - you make a very good summation. What did it for me was their insistence that Sunday-keeping Christians were automatically excluded, no matter how much faith they had. Even the seventh-day Adventists publicly teach that the majority of Christians are currently in Sunday-keeping churches, and will later be "called out" of them.

nck said...

Can one be a German or a French person and be a European at the same time.

I guess one can be saved by grace but do different (Buddhist, COG, or some Catholic things) to get there.

Just depends which ones you choose that won't exclude you getting saved. (or be some nationality but not adhere to european law (on human rights) and be excluded from that part)


Martha said...


You raise a fair question, one that actually came up in my bible study group this weekend.

The group leader concluded that individuals from a background such as Mormonism, who put their stock in the Book of Mormon ahead of the Bible, who put their faith in their works and who have a very divergent, unbiblical views of Jesus would neither be relying on faith for salvation nor accept Jesus for who He was and what He offered, would not have their sins covered by His blood. I can follow that logic.

I think for that salvation by faith, one must believe in the concepts of sin and a negative consequence from which to be saved. It is my understanding that Buddhists and many other world religions neither believe in sin or eternal punishment, although I could definitely be wrong on that point. It would be hard to imagine individuals from those faith traditions to see a need for salvation by faith.

But that begs the question of COG types, Catholics and others who understand that they can do nothing to justify themselves before God, who believe Jesus was the Son of God and repent of their sins. I can make the case that they are saved by grace. I certainly hope they are. I have many in my own family.

I do think that the COG doctrinal package pushes people toward faith in works. It's why I do what I do. But salvation is offered to individuals, not churches. We know that God spoke to, and apparently had a relationship with Abimelech. That is one instance of one individual. Who knows what else God is doing, and has done.

This leads me to believe in salvation by faith all the more, because left to himself, man is going to screw it up every single time. Every church out there gets things wrong. I know mine does. As I see it, faith is the only shot we flawed humans have.

nck said...

Thank you Martha,

I am not known for attempts to "win" discussions on matters of faith. You offer food for thought. I also do like your use of the word "hope".

My brain suddenly inserts the phrase "that we all fall short of the glory of God."

The one thing I find interesting about the Catholic organizational model is how Jesuits, Dominicans, Franciscans all have a different take on how to engage life.

I visited many a Muslim country and when the sun sets it is quite a spectacle when an entire nation comes to a hold the call to prayer sets in all people submit themselves to the creator. (as a requirement, a ritual, a work, but probably as an act of faith and hope aswell) It is the closest thing to the opening night of the feast, that I experienced after seperating myself from our former association.

I don't know why I am sharing this or what it has to do with the topic at hand, but I am known for rambling.

Thanks again. I will return and think this over, somehow strenghtened by the fact that your study group raised that question, while I feared sowing irritation.


james said...

I find it encouraging that many people understand that "the work" is the Work of God developing the mind of Christ. And yes, God calls and chooses people out from the world. He were raised in, have come out of, have experienced, reflect, and have been profoundly influenced by this world. On top of that God calls the weak of the world. Salvation in Christ is the only solution. That is what is salvational. Most COG's are organized as marketing platforms. I do not presume to ever suggest to know whom God is calling, who is responding, and whom He is choosing...whoever and wherever they are.
I, myself deeply and profoundly believe the framework presented in the Bible. I started in WCG 2 years before HWA died. I was uncomfortable with the emphasis around him as well as the fanaticism. I choose not to fellowship with the hierarchical COG's. I am more free in Christ now more than ever. God is developing me in relative social isolation as far as they go.

xHWA said...

Sounds like you're saying life is a journey. We completely agree.
God's blessings to you, James Clem. We pray that you will continue to always let Him lead and guide you in all things.