Friday, January 18, 2019

On a Personal Note: Why We're Here


If you've stumbled onto As Bereans Did, chances are good that you have two questions: who are these guys, and why do they criticize the Churches of God so much?

A reader from a COG splinter, who knows me both as myself and as Martha, reminded me recently that it might wise to give any newer readers a refresher on the motives behind this blog. It's a reasonable suggestion, and I'm thankful for it.

So what's the point of As Bereans Did? Are we just a bunch of haters who let bitterness steal our crowns? Are we mockers out to persecute God's true church?

ABD has been around for more than a decade. It's been through many hands, but the goals have always been the same:

  1. To challenge the doctrinal and historical fallacies promoted by Herbert Armstrong, the Worldwide Church of God, and the splinter groups that remain today. 
  2. To reach out to and support those who are questioning or contemplating leaving these splinter groups. 
But why? Do we invest our time because we're bitter, angry and will do anything we can to disparage the COGs? 

Not at all. We do it because we care about you. We do it because we WERE you. 

All of ABD's writers were COG members at some time. Some came in as adults, others were raised in it. But all took a hard look at COG doctrines, found them wanting, and left, embracing mainstream Christianity in some form or another. We're relatively content. Sure, we have some regrets and some scars. But for the most part, we're living the abundant life Christ promises in Him. We're free from the weariness of the mental checklist. We're free from the fear of falling short and ending up in the Lake of Fire. We're free from the ministerial abuse, from the toxic culture, the loneliness.

But you're not.

You - our grandparents, our mothers, our fathers. Our siblings, our cousins, our nieces and nephews. Our childhood friends. Those with whom we went to college. Who stood by us during painful church splits. Who've bandaged our children's skinned knees. Who've shared pieces of our lives that few other can understand.

That weighs heavily on our hearts. And that is why we're here, and why we do what we do. Trust us, it would be a whole lot easier to grab a bag of chips and turn on Netflix.

Let me make it clear:

We don't care what you eat. Eat pork, don't eat pork, whatever. Trying to figure out what to serve our friends on the latest fad diet is much harder, anyway.

We don't care what day you go to church. Sure, the Saturday-Sunday schedule conflict can be a challenge. But whatever. We care about you, and if we all try, we can find a way to make the relationship work.

We don't even care - really - about the holy days. We do think holy day observance can be dangerous - because of the self-righteousness they foster, the bad theology your church uses to support them, and mostly because we believe they distract from the very One they pointed to. But hey, Paul turned out ok. Evidence is mixed on whether he continued to keep all of them or mainly used them as a gospel opportunity. But we're not here to argue about that, not today.

We don't care about lobster, about the sabbath, or about Pentecost. We care about what's happening to YOU.


Toxic Culture

Even you can't deny that the COGs have a toxic culture. Oh, not the COG that you attend, of course, just all the other ones. Rather than consider that the shared doctrines might be causing the dysfunction, you blame the guy(s) at the top of the other groups. Don't forget that they're ALL trying to imitate the same guy, and restore what he taught to some degree or another. Yes, even "so-called Christian" churches have struggles that are inevitable as long as men are in charge. But even ugly disagreements are handled with a level of discussion and grace that is unheard of in the COGs. It infuriates us to see you demeaned, slandered and cast aside, especially by lifelong "friends." We want better for you.


Self-Righteousness

We know you'll deny it, but the COGs reinforce, and sometimes directly teach, salvation by works. This can't help but reinforce a culture of self-righteousness. Instead of living for Christ, you live in fear of screwing up. Understanding grace sets the tone for true forgiveness, compassion and a basis for real Christian relationships. But if your salvation depends upon what you do, then you must do your best to get everything right - or at least some mysterious, unquantified percentage.

This false doctrine fuels the underlying dynamic of criticism, fractious relationships between brethren and the never-ending cycle of church splits. These painful splits shook our worlds, ended have ended our friendships and tore apart our families. We're done with them, and are trying to learn how to forge relationships based on grace, love, mercy and forgiveness. But it breaks our hearts to see you suffer in fractured organizations and fractured relationships, because we know the pain all too well.


Isolation

Life in the COGs was isolated enough when we were in them, and it's not getting any better. Fellowship with mainstream Christians and apostate family members is often discouraged, and sabbath and holy day observance make it a challenge with friends and co-workers. That wasn't fun, but wasn't as bad when congregations were large and thriving. But today, splits, an aging population and lack of growth make most COGs a lonely place to be, leaving many members vulnerable to depression, alcoholism and suicide. In many ways, this can become a spiritual concern. The Bible describes Satan as a hungry lion, prowling to find whoever he can devour. Lions don't attack the pack head-on. They come from behind, looking for those who are young, sickly or weak, and try to pick them off. Isolation makes you vulnerable to the devil.

The Bible makes it clear Christians function best in community, working together to fill different roles and take care of widows, orphans and members in need. Yes, we know you have scattered congregations and Facebook communities. But an elderly member can't come shovel your driveway when you're snowed in. Someone who lives two hours away can't sit with you while you wait for the paramedics to arrive. A Facebook friend across the pond can't care for your children during a family emergency. We have felt the strain of loneliness and the pain of isolation. It doesn't have to be this way. We want you to be joyful, safe and healthy, both physically and spiritually.


Salvation

I'm going to tread lightly on this one because it's above my pay grade. I'm not going to argue about when one attains salvation, when one becomes part of God's family, or the so-called "once saved, always saved" doctrine. This is not a treatise on salvation. If we believe that salvation comes by grace, through faith rather than works or perfect understanding, it would be foolish to claim that false doctrines will jeopardize your eternal life.

At the same time, in one of our favorite books of the Bible, Paul has strong words for those who promote a gospel that combines grace and works. He tells them that they are cut off from Christ, that His sacrifice does nothing for them if they try to secure their salvation through their actions, works, observances and abstentions. A church that at best hints - and at worst promotes - observance of commandments, sabbaths and holy days as components of salvation leads its members toward sinking sand rather than the Rock. We can't judge your heart, judge your motives, judge your standing with God. We don't want to. But we'd be lying if we said we weren't concerned, and didn't pray for you regarding this matter.


You are Worth It

We know that we don't update this blog as often as we used to. The truth is, Jesus knew what He was talking about. Life gets amazingly, ridiculously abundant when you're trying to serve Him instead of spending your time reading ingredient wrappers or calculating sunset times. We hope that someday, we'll find time to write on occasions other than milestones, holy days, Easter and Christmas. But for now, there's lots of good information here to help you on your spiritual journey. I know, because it was one thing that helped me start mine.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again. Jesus told us that we'll be rewarded for the things we give up in this life. If what the COGs teach, and the doctrines and practices are what your Creator expect of you, it's all worth it. The abstentions. The observances. The rigidity. The isolation.

But what if it isn't what God expects of you? Is it worth it then?

We believe that isn't what He wants for you. We believe He wants more for you. And so do we.

So, in case there's any further doubt, why are we here?

The answer is simple:

Because of you.



                                                      *******************
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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3 comments:

xHWA said...

Thank you.

Ekklesia said...

Very nicely stated. i appreciate all of the work you all have put in over the years.

Anonymous said...

Hey Martha,

Thanks for the article, I always enjoy your writings. I would add from the perspective of being a child in the WCG when congregations were "large and thriving", it was still difficult to maintain a sense of community. Being told as a child that the kids at school and your neighborhood were "worldly" and that the "members of the church" were who we were supposed to be around was still very difficult even then. As a child, my closest friend in the church was a fifteen minute drive, 2 towns away. To an adult, that's not far at all, but to a child who didn't have social media back then and couldn't just call anyone because of toll call rates back then, it was still very lonely. There was never anyone from the church to play ball with or hang out with during the week unless your parents made special arrangements for a sleepover.

As far as my parents were concerned, while there were people within a 10 mile radius from us in the church, my folks tended to click with people who tended to live as far as an hour away. So trying to depend on those you consider friends for help still posed a challenge. And even back then, calling the ministers and elders did little good because they had little interest in your personal problems unless they were going to "anoint you with oil" because you were deathly sick and couldn't see a doctor. And when or if the person anointed recovered, then they could take the credit. What a horrible existence it was then as it is far worse even now for those still trapped in that wretched system. Thank you for letting me vent.

Yours in Christ,
Child Survivor.