Friday, April 13, 2018

Professing Polytheism

If you are in one of the Church of God splinters that came out of Herbert W Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God, then I have some unpleasant news for you - you are a polytheist!

Don't tell me that surprises you. (It sure was a surprise to me when I first found out.)

This whole post got started while we were reviewing the COGWA's "Origin of Easter" article and we noticed the author belittling the idea of polytheism and associating it with paganism. We chuckled at first until we realized that he was serious. But ...then the COGWA was really belittling itself. So here we are today to demonstrate that Armstrongism is indeed polytheistic and so COGWA shouldn't be pretending like that's not a fact, and most certainly should not be pointing fingers at others and insinuating others are pagans for their polytheism.

SEMI-ARIAN

I love history, and this is my blog post, so we're starting with some history. I promise to keep it simple.

Back in the early 200s AD there started an idea that says there is only one God, while the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are just three different ways that this one God presents Himself to us; "modes" if you will. This idea is called by many names today, among which are Sabellianism, Modalism, Monarchianism, Patripassionism, and etc. One of the main teachers of this view was Sabellius. If you are new to Christianity or maybe you are really trying to get away from the Trinity doctrine, this view of God might even make logical sense to you. Good thing is most people eventually give this up. Maybe some day we will go into detail on why this view of God cannot work. If you really want something right away, read Tertullian's "Against Praxaes" and Hippolytus' "Against Noetus" (and keep clearly in mind that these were written in the early 200s). But for the purposes of this blog post, let's just say that the early church was very much opposed to this view.

In the early 300's, along comes a guy named Arius. Arius was one of many Christian leaders around the world who were passionately opposed to Sabellius and his Modalism. So Arius came up with his own view to oppose Sabellius. He went too far in the other direction. According to Arius, Jesus is a created being and is completely separate being from the Father. This view of God started to attract attention and eventually Christianity was split over the nature of God between those who agreed with Arius and those who had a more Trinitarian position. Both halves were opposed to Sabellius. It was this division that motivated Constantine to call the Council of Nicea to settle the issue and reunite Christians. Arius actually accused Niceans of Sabellianism. The decision came down against Arius.

After Nicea, Arianism changed and blended with Trinitarianism. Since all were required to abide by the decision at Nicea, people who still held to Arianism (including Arius) had to try and force their views to make peace with the decision of the Council - at least on the surface. This new view has the Father and the Son as separate beings, but they share a similar substance. The Son is like the Father. They are two separate Gods who consist of the same kind of stuff. This new view is given the name Semi-Arianism. The West held to Nicea but there were so many people in the East holding to this new Semi-Arian view in violation of Nicea that another Council was called, this time at Constantinople.
And the view was indeed new to the fourth century. It was not old or original by any means, as some COG writers might have us believe. Such a claim is simply not true.

In summary, anyone who believes that the Father and the Son are two separate God beings but consist of the same sort of stuff fall into the Semi-Arian category. This is the official view of Armstrongism. The COGs teach the Father and the Son are two completely separate beings and the same stuff that the Father and the Son consist of is called the Holy Spirit. I want to point out that there are two Holy Spirits here - the Father's and the Son's.

Armstrongism is Semi-Arian.

BASIC MATH

The Jews truly believe in one God. They are monotheists. Islam, which seems to be a combination of Ebionite Christianity and Gnosticism, believe in one God. They are also monotheists.

When Jesus arrived and demonstrated that He is both God and distinct from the Father, using language like "the Father and I are one" and "My God! Why have You forsaken Me?" the issue became complicated. How can Christianity be monotheistic, like Judaism, but still recognize the Father and the Son (and the Holy Spirit)? The answer that the early church offered is Trinitarianism. There is only one God being of one substance, but three personalities or minds. One God in three persons. Trinitarian Christianity is monotheistic. One God.

Semi-Arianism has two Gods, the Father and the Son, who are truly separate from one another. "God" is a family.
This can be seen in the way Armstrongism teaches how Jesus took on human flesh. According to Armstrongism, God the Son completely divested Himself of Godhood and became 100% man in every way. (This is called Monophysitism.) Yet, the Father was utterly unaffected by this because He is a separate God being. So, how many Gods do we have here? Two! Is that monotheism? No. Is is Binitarianism? No. Despite how some COGs writers try to use the phrases Binity and Semi-Arian as synonyms, they most certainly are not synonymous at all. A Binity is monotheistic; one God in two persons. We don't have that here. We have Semi-Arianism. Two distinct Gods. Armstrongism would condemn Binitarianism. Armstrongism does not have one God; it has two.

Two Gods = Polytheism.

IS THAT SO?

Yes.

Back in August 2010 we wrote a piece called "Primer to the Trinity Doctrine." In this article we tried to explain the Trinity. Please don't be afraid of that article! We made it pretty clear that we weren't trying to push the idea, just show our readers what the Trinity Doctrine really says. The post came from us recognizing that we had a great deal of misinformation fed to us over the years about what the Trinity doctrine actually is. So we tried to clear it up a little. Very basic stuff.

We thought we would compare and contrast views. To represent the Armstrong view we figured what could possibly be a better comparison than the "Is God A Trinity?" booklet. This was the premier booklet on the subject. Everyone was referred to it back in those days. Much of the current COG material comes from it. But as we read through it again, something really stuck out at us that none of us had ever noticed before. The COGs were polytheistic, and they admitted as much!
"The ancient idea of monotheism was shattered by the sudden appearance of Jesus Christ on the earth. Here was someone who claimed He was the Son of God. But how could He be? The Jewish people believed for centuries that there was only one God. If the claims of "this Jesus" were accepted, then in their minds their belief would be no different from that of the polytheistic pagans around them. If He were the Son of God, their whole system of monotheism would disintegrate. 
When Jesus plainly told certain Jews of His day that He was the Son of God, some were ready to stone Him for blasphemy (John 10:33). To get around the problem of a plurality in the God head, the Jewish community simply rejected Jesus."
-George L. Johnson, "Is God A Trinity?", 1973, p.15 
If monotheism disintegrates we are left with what? That's right. Polytheism.

But who is George L. Johnson? It's not like Herbert W Armstrong came out and said this kind of thing, right?
"Only ONE God - More Than One Person!"
"One Family. God IS a Family. That Family is ONE GOD."
-Herbert Armstrong, "The Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p.62
I just want to point out that Armstrong is trying to have it both ways here. But he just can't quite seem to make a plural singular. That polytheism shines right through.
"Likewise, there is but ONE God - but GOD is the family name, and there is more than one person in the ONE Family."
-Herbert Armstrong, "The Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p.64
Oh yes. Herbert Armstrong did come out and say this kind of thing. When he says "person" he is not using accepted theological language. He really does mean there are two Gods - two minds and two substances and two beings - in one family. Even when he says there is "but ONE God", he still says there is more than one God, because "ONE God" is in reference to the family not the beings. This is doublespeak. The Father and the Son are no more one God in his view than you are one human with your parents.

Notice that these quotes aren't from the "Is God A Trinity" booklet. No, they are from THE book - "The Incredible Human Potential." This book was Armstrongism's magnum opus. It was said to be the last book of the Bible. If Herbert Armstrong will talk polytheism here, then absolutely nowhere can be more official.

Herbert Armstrong once was required to describe himself under oath in court. Here is what he said about himself:
"I am the founder, Pastor General, and spiritual and temporal leader of defendant Worldwide Church of God, Inc. (" Worldwide") . In addition, I am chief executive officer, chairman of the board of directors and chairman of the board of trustees ... I am the appointed Apostle of the Lord Jesus Christ and, as such, have been both the spiritual and temporal leader of the Church from its inception."-Herbert Armstrong, Pastor's Report, pp. 28-29, Jan. 8, 1979
The prime leader in the prime material. Cannot be topped. If this guy, the founder, Pastor General, appointed Apostle, Chairman and CEO, and spiritual and temporal leader of the Church of God on earth says the COGs have more than one God being, within the pages of his most important publications with one of them being the last book of the Bible, then the COGs have more than one God.

Polytheism confirmed. Yes, it's so.

ISSUES ARISE

While Armstrongism is quite comfortable with its polytheistic view of God, there are issues with Semi-Arianism. To be completely forthcoming, there are issues with every attempt mankind has ever made to explain God. All views have issues, even monotheism, because God is far beyond our understanding. But let's explore a few problems with Armstrongism's Semi-Arianist doctrine.

>>It's polytheistic.

This is the main topic of this post. Polytheism is a dirty word in the COGs. It's too pagan. The obvious link with paganism is precisely why the author of "Origin of Easter" article was using the word. He wanted to cast aspersions. But mote meet beam!

>>The Son cannot fully know the Father.

Because they are two separate beings, and the Son is lesser than the Father (to a great degree), the Jesus of Armstrongism cannot truly, fully know the Father. The Son may know the Father a lot better than anyone else besides the Father, but He cannot fully know the Father. The Son would be on a journey of discovery just like everyone else. This would also make Him less than omniscient. If we say the Son is omniscient and omnipotent, then we must abandon the idea of Him being less than the Father.

>>Jesus had an end.

We just pointed out that Jesus is without beginning or end. But that is wrong too. Armstrongism teaches soul sleep. In the Armstrongist view, He had an end. God the Son completely emptied Himself of Godhood. Therefore, the God was gone. Then there was a three day period where even Jesus did not exist except for a dead corpse and a memory in the Father's mind. So He cannot be without end in the Armstrongist system.

>>God the Father and Son are still a closed system.

One of the main objections that Armstrongists have voiced over the years against the Trinity is that it makes God a closed system. "How can God add to His family if He is a Trinity? You can't add to a Trinity." But I want to point out that Armstrongism does not teach that mankind will become the Father or the Son. They aren't adding to the Father or the Son either. So this point is moot.

Bear in mind that Trinitarianism does not in any way exclude being part of God's family. The Orthodox church has had this idea for several hundred years. The word for this is Theosis. Even though the Catholic church doesn't make such a prominent case about Theosis, they too believe we all have an opportunity to "partake in the Divine nature."
My point is, the Semi-Arian view isn't really coming to the rescue here. In all reality it's just fighting a straw man.

>>Many Holy Spirits.

In all my years as a member of the COGs, I never gave a second's thought to the fact that if the Father and Son are separate then by necessity there had to be more than one Holy Spirit. In Armstrongism, the Holy Spirit is a force, a power, without a mind of its own. The Holy Spirit is not itself a God, but it is what God is made of. We as humans aren't told how God works, probably because we couldn't grasp it anyway, but if the Holy Spirit is what the Father and the Son are made of then this demands there must be multiple Holy Spirits. This is a real issue because throughout the Bible the Holy Spirit is singular.

>>Monophysite Holy Spirit??

Remember how Armstrongism teaches Monophysitism - where Jesus has only one nature of either God or man but not both at the same time? OK. So, when the Son completely divested Himself of divinity and became 100% the man Jesus, what did He do with the Holy Spirit? Did He put it in a box and save it for later? Was it destroyed? Was it absorbed into the Father? If the Son's mind left His substance, did the Holy Spirit die?

I am not going to go into any more issues today because we already have an article on the biggest issue, "Jesus' Death Under Trinitarianism." I think we've brought up enough issues for now. I only wanted to point out that there are issues - real issues - and the puzzle is not neatly arranged in the COG doctrine with all answers found and all loose ends tied. Many people join Armstrongism because they are looking for some answer or the other, but they just don't like the answers in mainstream Christianity as they understand them. Armstrongism claims to have an answer for most everything. But as always, when we truly dig, we find that things just do not work as well as advertised. A spray-on theology just doesn't cover that unsightly bald spot.

I know a lot of people are opposed to the Trinity because it doesn't make sense to them. It's fine that things don't always make sense. God invites us to investigate but He didn't hand us the answer in a tidy box, so not making sense is going to be part of this. But I don't see how Semi-Arianism makes any more sense once we start critically investigating it. I suspect that not making sense is more of an excuse to avoid the issue. It was for me! Mea culpa!

CONCLUSION

Polytheism. Just like the pagan Babylonians, you have it.

All we are doing in this article is pointing out what has been forgotten. Really, we are asking the same question George Johnson asked:
"Is God one, or are there two separate Gods and is Christianity, therefore, polytheistic?"-George L. Johnson, "Is God A Trinity?", 1973, p.41  
In the COG's Semi-Arian view of God the answer is polytheistic. As Johnson said, "no different from that of the polytheistic pagans around them."

Perhaps someone will say they believe in only one God Family, therefore they are monotheistic.
No. It doesn't work that way. There is no way around this. Armstrongism is inescapably polytheistic.

I am going to assume that many of our readers are still questioning and could use a little more assistance. I would like to recommend to you Martha's article "Rainbows and Earthworms, Or Making Sense of God's Nature." God doesn't always make sense. We don't need to force Him to.

If for any reason you are a member at a Church of God splinter group and you do not agree that you are a polytheist, then we would be glad to welcome you into mainstream Christianity ...because you aren't an Armstrongist anymore at this point anyway.

But if you are comfortable with being just like the pagans and don't mind polytheism, please tell the COGWA leadership that they ought to stop talking down to polytheists.






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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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4 comments:

Anonymous said...

A couple years ago, I was arguing with a woman on Facebook on a site for former Seventh Day Adventists about the sabbath. This woman was a member of the parent group to the WCG, the Church of God Seventh Day. She came out and declared this very heresy about the Godhead, that God was a family (Father and Son). She didn't say if she believed that God would be adding to that family, but I was stunned that she was expressing a belief that is pure Armstrongism while in a group that has formally denounced Armstrongism as a cult. The reason I bring this up is because the COG7, also denounces the Trinity as a "pagan doctrine" and in their writings they never refer to Jesus as eternal God made flesh. They come close, but stop just shy of this. Yet in their doctrinal beliefs, they actually try to appear trinitarian in their presentation, yet denounce the belief later on. Why would "God-family" (a term also found NOWHERE in scripture, yet these people have the same gripe about the word "Trinity") My theory is that when you go to the extent that these groups do in denouncing "3 in 1" as "pagan", the question could be asked as to how "2 in 1" is any less "pagan". Thus, the only solution is either bi-theism or all out polytheism. While I don't believe the thief on the next cross understood the Trinity as he declared Jesus as Lord, I do believe it is more of a growth process. There are times I feel the Trinity doctrine is an over-simplification of a great mystery that we will never understand on this side of eternity, but it's really the only way we can really explain it with our limited understanding. Peace out.

Child Survivor

Stephen Korsman said...

First, brilliant site, an excellent resource.

If there is only one God, and that God is a family, then surely, apart from that family, each member of that family cannot be God in their own right. The CoGs MUST either have two Gods, or neither the Father or the Son is God in their own right, outside the context of that family.

nck said...

What are two children that share one brain? What are 2 people that share three legs?
2 people or one?

What are spirit beings that share one spiritual mind?


What is man who shares all energy and matter with other people and the universe. But not with the spirit world

Hindu religion is greatly misunderstood by people who claim it is polytheistic.

In reality Hindu claim there is one "Brahman" the supreme being who manifests himself in billions of other "gods".

What did God claim when he created man? To manifest himself through man, like ganesha, , siva, shakti?

I believe the nature of God is open to debate since he revealed only few things about "itself" and it defenitely does not sound human although he claims some relationship in physical outer appearance and through inner workings of the mind.

The relationship might be in another dimension than we could relate to through ridiculous constructs like the trinity or other constructs like 2 God, family God, Hindu God, Allah as the one indivisible, or the original mesopotamian god as a member of a council later evolving into major tribal god.

Or the the immense source of energy out there juggling with black holes travelling through absurd wormholes and still be concerned about a sparrow that flies against my window.

nck

nck

Anonymous said...

I find CoGs tend to be technically polytheistic but functionally trinitarian. It's a theological mess.