Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Boost Your Spiritual Credit Rating this Passover!

It's almost time for the Passover. Soooo... what's your spiritual credit score? Asking for a friend.

Over the years, we at As Bereans Did have poked fun at the transactional metaphors that the Churches of God use to quantify spiritual growth that “leads” to salvation. I have a few favorites - “sticker chart” and “spiritual batting average,” to name a couple.

But Edward L. Winkfield, managing editor of Pack's Real Truth magazine, took it to a whole new level in his recent pre-Passover article titled “Raise your Spiritual Credit Score.”

“This analogy is not farfetched when you consider that God openly says we must seek to be 'approved' of Him. (2 Tim. 2:15) - put to test by trial to produce truth and genuineness," according to Winkfield. 

Before I get started today, I want to make a few things clear. Today, I'm not criticizing the COGs' timing for taking the Passover. I think the biblical instructions regarding frequency are a little less restrictive, but an annual observance definitely falls under the umbrella of “as often as,” so that's good enough for today.

I'm also not going to take issue with self-examination. While I think the COGs skew the idea, there's no denying that Christians should regularly analyze their thoughts, habits and behavior – particularly in conjunction with taking the bread and the wine.

But if I'm taking these concessions, then I expect you to meet me halfway. Because remember, I once was one of you. I know that, right now, many of you are thinking, I'm not in Dave Pack's group, I would never follow that man!

Stop.

I'm asking you to set your biases aside and be objective, since it's the season for self-examination. Remember that both Pack and the leaders of your group were influenced by and are, in many ways, imitate the same man. Remember that your traditions and ideas all came from the same place. Be honest about whether you see the same attitudes and motivations in your group's view of Passover.

What idea? The idea that we need to raise our approval rating with God in order to secure our salvation, at Passover and really, throughout our lives. Because RCG, and to an extent, all the COGs, twist the scriptures about pleasing God from the biblical picture of a beloved, grateful child of God trying to please a loving Father to a servant grasping to hold onto approval and perhaps, possibly, even gain a harsh taskmaster's approval.

But wait, Martha, isn't that exactly what the parable of the talents teaches us?

It's certainly the message that Winkfield gets from the parable. In his article, he explains that God uses similar principles of reward and punishment to “motivate and inspire” Christians.

“Clearly 'damnation' is not God's will for us,” Winkfield writes. “By obediently following His command to examine ourselves each spring, we can raise our spiritual 'credit score' as we seek God's divine approval.”

Interestingly, many get a slightly different message from the Parable of the Talents, the implications of which are easily missed by Armstrongists who don't believe in regeneration.

The parable doesn't give any indication that the two servants who were praised shared the third servant's negative impression of their master. The Expositor's Bible Commentary notes that slaves in the ancient world – apparently, such as these – were often entrusted with significant authority and responsibility. It would seem that the first two servants may have recognized and appreciated the investment their master made in them. The third, however, did not.

“What this servant overlooks is his responsibility to his master and his obligation to discharge his assigned duties,” according to Expositor's. “His failure betrays his lack of love for his master, which he masks by blaming his master and excusing himself.”

Unlike the other two, the third servant saw his master as grasping, controlling, and harsh. He lacked faith in and love for his master. Though he called him Lord, his heart was far from Him – like someone who was unregenerate and lacked the Holy Spirit, as evidenced by his attitude and lack of fruit. What frightens me is, the picture of the Master that the wicked servant paints is not entirely dissimilar from Winkfield's. I pray it's simply a coincidence. 

Just as the Master stated to the wicked servant, Winkfield reminds us that those who lend expect to get their money back, plus interest, within a certain time period.

"God similiarly seeks a return on His investment in us, which He considers our 'reasonable service'," Winkfield says. 

Here, Winkfield references Romans 12:1, in which Paul “beseeches,” begs, encourages or exhorts, us to present ourselves as living sacrifices to God, ones that He would find holy and acceptable. Why? Many translations place the word “therefore" as the first word of Romans 12:1, indicating the "why" - the reason we should choose to serve God as a living sacrifice - are all the reasons Paul has discussed up to this point in Romans, including the following:


  • While we were sinners Christ died for us (Romans 5:8)
  • Eternal life is a free gift from God (Romans 6:23) 
  • Only God can deliver us from our “body of death" (Romans 7:24-25)

You know, just to name a few.

If Paul is cautioning us to remember that God is awaiting our annual report and ROI, well, I just don't see it. Rather, it seems to me that he is reminding his readers of what God has accomplished by dying for us, and encouraging us to live for Him.

But no. Winkfield maintains that, through this "reasonable service," we could actually be “counted worthy” to enter God's Kingdom based on the judgment of our lives.

“It is through the righteous judgment of God, that we may be counted worthy of the Kingdom of God (2 Thessalonians 1:5). This reveals that the only way into the Kingdom is through a judgment. Yet God is not the judge exclusively. He gives us ample opportunity to judge ourselves.”

Ironically, 2 Thessalonians 1:5 does commend the brethren at Thessalonica for being judged righteously, and counted worthy of the Kingdom. On what basis are they found worthy? Well, the preceding verses praise the Thessalonians for their growing faith, for the love they showed for one another, and for their patience and faith in the face of persecution.

It is on the basis of faith that God declares us worthy to enter His Kingdom. It was the same for Abraham (Genesis 15:6), as it was for the Thessalonian brethren as it is for us:

And he (Abraham) believed in the Lord, and He accounted it to him for righteousness.
                                                                                                                           - Genesis 15:6





Not only was Abraham's faith credited as righteousness, it happened before he was circumcised, before he attempted to offer Isaac, before anything mentioned in the book of James. But somehow, Winkfield misses this point, giving us five primary factors that God uses to calculate our score. (Spoiler alert: they weren't the same factors used to judge Abraham). His article is somewhat vague, mixing physical terms like our “current debt” of forgiveness and repentance, our “credit history” of appropriate spiritual growth level, and developing “new credit” with God created by overcoming sins and weaknesses.

However, in an article linked at the end of Winkfield's, RCG Pastor General David Pack himself reveals more specific criteria, although, again, we receive no quantifiable measure. According to Pack, these criteria include keeping the Sabbath and Holy Days, studying the Bible, watching prophecy be fulfilled, admirable personal conduct, and being fervent for “the work.”

“There is, in fact, revealed in God's Word, a certain spiritual 'seal of approval' that every Christian MUST obtain. Specific actions in a person's conduct confer this approval upon him, and, because God is not a respecter of persons, there are no exceptions to what He expects,” Pack writes. “Without these actions, a Christian, no matter how sincere, has no hope for salvation.”

Huh. Okay. I am having a hard time finding these specs in the verse where Jesus tells us what the work He expects of us:

"Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” Then they said to Him, “What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?” Jesus answered and said to them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent.”
                                                                                                               -  John 6:27-29

Pack's advice also seems to contradict Ephesians 2:8-9:

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works so that no one can boast.

Winkfield, however, seems determined that the answer comes from working harder in the coming year:

“We can come to grips with our strengths and weaknesses and come up with a creative plan to do better. From there, we can go out and execute our plan with the time we have left,” he advises. “If successful, we can eventually be commended.”

Oh yeah. And do it with God's help. Kinda.

“Upon repentance, God frees us completely from the sins that bring the burdens of spiritual debt. This is vastly superior to trying to dig out of debt on your own. And, as God does His part to fix any 'credit' problem you may have, you must do your part to help build and keep it up.”

Actually, Romans 4 does talk about the work that we do to build and keep up our spiritual credit score. And not in a good way.

What then, shall we say that Abraham, our forefather according to the flesh, discovered in this matter? If, in fact, Abraham was justified by works, he had something to boast about – but not before God. What does Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.
                                                                                                             -  Romans 4:1-5

Now, I know what you're thinking. Remember, I once was you. Martha, everyone knows Dave Pack's extreme. My group's isn't like RCG.

Might I remind you that Dave Pack came from the same place as the man in your pulpit? That virtually all the leaders in the COGs are vying to carry the mantle of the true church, rising from the Worldwide Church of God's ashes? That RCG's theology is just a more extreme continuum along the path of the theology Herbert W Armstrong developed? In fact, Pack's teachings really just flesh out many of HWA's teachings to their fullest extent, while others whitewash the full implications through convenient cognitive dissonance.

If, at Passover, you have elders remarking that "you're the cleanest you'll ever be," or that they don't want to do anything that will tarnish their newly-clean record, your church is simply at a different point along the same road.

Commemorating Christ's sacrifice with bread and wine is a command, but it's not magic. Doing it irreverently, without introspection is foolish, disrespectful and potentially dangerous, but there's no magic formula or outline defining "proper examination." Trying to quantify, and worse yet, to qualify, for approval and entrance into the Kingdom through our efforts and actions puts one in a dangerous position. Once we have become a new creation in Christ by the Spirit, we do not grow into his image by works of the flesh (Galatians 3:3).


If you are the Lord's, you have already been washed by his blood. (John 13:10). Examine yourself and "wash your feet", but if you have taken the bread and the wine, you are already unleavened (1 Corinthians 5:7).


So by all means, take the Passover. Eat the bread and drink the wine. Do it in remembrance of Jesus and what He did for you. Examine your heart and your mind. And when you find yourself unworthy, take heart. God already claimed you as His own when you entered the New Covenant. You already stand approved - not because of anything you have done, but because of what He did for you. 





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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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3 comments:

xHWA said...

Herbert Armstrong's view on Passover Examination.

Mickey said...

Thank you Martha for your analysis. I had never thought to look at this parable from the angle of the problem with the third servant having a lack of love and trust. This is very helpful.

Anonymous said...

What’s your view re footwashing at the Lord’s Supper? If you believe it’s a practice instituted by Christ then what if you’re all alone and can’t wash anyone’s feet? If you omit it then doesn’t that imply it’s probably an optional extra? Maybe not even a commandment just a tradition the Church has maintained over the centuries even though Christ merely washed his disciples feet (as most people’s feet were in the Roman Empire at the time) to teach or illustrate to them the lesson of humility?