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Wednesday, February 28, 2024

Primer To The Quartodeciman Controversy

Any good discussion on Easter ought to eventually mention the disputes in the early church over the observance of Easter, and particularly the one that has since become known as the Quartodeciman Controversy (aka the Easter Controversy). In the fourteen years since I first started investigating Easter, I have never dug into this topic in its own post.

Many people try to adopt the Quartodecimans. I find it curious that many of those who try to ally with the Quartodecimans don't really understand them. Many know they refused a fixed Sunday observance of Pascha, but that is about it, and the imagination fills in the rest. I found the reality quite interesting. My point today will be to review the general framework of the Quartodeciman Controversy and try to clarify what really happened and when.

This topic is far larger than I ever anticipated. The Quartodeciman Controversy is just one of many Easter-timing disputes at that time. It seems the presence of Jewish converts and the multitude of calendars and ways to calculate moons caused several areas to be slightly off from one another - both before and after Nicaea. Disputes started in the first century and continue until today.
But regarding only the Quartodeciman issue, there are already so many things written on the topic by so many people over so much time, it wouldn't be possible for me to address everything. I am forced to summarize, then begin cutting out material from there. So, today's post is going to be a primer only. A thirty-thousand foot view, so to speak.

For the sake of clarity, I am going to try not to use the word Easter so much. Instead, I will use the older word Pascha. Easter specifically refers to Pascha observed on Sunday. Since the crux of the issue is one feast being observed in two ways, I feel using Easter will be unnecessarily confusing. Whereas Pascha is my way of referring to the New Covenant Passover regardless of particulars. I prefer Pascha over Passover because Passover is specific to the Jews and I don't want confusion there either.

Let's start digging!

INTRO TO THE QUARTODECIMAN CONTROVERSY

Early Christianity was divided over the details of the Paschal Fast and the Paschal meal.

One group, not coincidentally from areas with high populations of Jewish converts, always observed the Lord's Supper on a certain date regardless of what day of the week it fell on - the 14th day of the Hebrew month of Nissan (according to the calendar used at the Temple in Jerusalem).
They received the nickname Quartodeciman, after the Latin term quarta decima meaning fourteen. They were "the fourteeners". The term Quartodeciman doesn't appear until closer to the fourth century, and was not used by the Quartodeciman side to describe themselves.

The other group, from areas with high populations of Gentile converts, always observed the Lord's Supper on a certain day of the week regardless of what date it fell on - Sunday (after the 14th of Nissan). They didn't have a nickname. I will just call them "traditional Christians", for lack of a better term.

I don't have time to explore this today, but by the end of the second century a third group would appear. The Quartodeciman group would split into a third opinion which could be described as between the two.

Eusebius of Caesarea introduces the Controversy this way:

"A question of no small importance arose at that time [in the second century]. For the parishes of all Asia, as from an older tradition, held that the fourteenth day of the moon, on which day the Jews were commanded to sacrifice the lamb, should be observed as the feast of the Savior's Pascha. It was therefore necessary to end their fast on that day, whatever day of the week it should happen to be. But it was not the custom of the churches in the rest of the world to end it at this time, as they observed the practice which, from apostolic tradition, has prevailed to the present time, of terminating the fast on no other day than on that of the resurrection of our Savior."
-Eusebius, "Church History", book V, chapter 23

Please do not misunderstand. Eusebius is not saying some new Pascha tradition appeared in the second century. That is not the case. He specifically means a dispute arose in the 100s AD over pre-existing traditions. The traditions were old, the dispute was new.
Some have claimed the Controversy was over two separate days, one Christian and one pagan. That is not true. Eusebius tells us there was, 

...diversity of judgment in regard to the time for celebrating one and the same feast...
-Eusebius, "Life of Constantine", book III, chapter V, in section “Of the Disagreement Respecting the Celebration of Easter”.

It was one feast, entirely Christian, with differences of opinion on how and when it should be kept.

Most people believe the disagreement was entirely over when to observe the Pascha, but that is not accurate. It could be argued the dispute had more to do with fasting then feasting. The disagreement was over 1) the length of the fast before the Lord's Supper, 2) the nature of the fast, and 3) when to stop fasting and observe the communal meal of the Lord's Supper.

In the 190s AD, Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons (France), wrote a letter to Victor, Bishop of Rome, which gives us a little more detail about the debate itself:

"For the controversy is not only concerning the day, but also concerning the very manner of the fast. For some think that they should fast one day, others two, yet others more; some, moreover, count their day as consisting of forty hours day and night."
-Eusebius "Church History", book V, chapter 24

Eusebius' own criticism adds another detail.

"...some afflicting themselves with fastings and austerities, while others devoted their time to festive relaxation..."
-Eusebius, "Life of Constantine", book III, chapter 5

So, there was fasting, but not universally. Some people were on holiday. Sounds a lot like I Corinthians 11: 17-22.

I think that accurately builds a picture on the issues. Now, a word on what they agreed on.

Both sides agreed our Lord ate the Last Supper and was betrayed on the night at the start of 14th of Nissan according to the Hebrew calendar used at the Temple in Jerusalem. Both sides agreed our Lord was crucified on a Friday and they also agreed He was resurrected on Sunday, the third day after being crucified. There are plenty of Quartodeciman documents that make this plain. These details of timing were never in dispute on either side of the issue. The Quartodecimans were not advocating a Wednesday to Saturday crucifixion scenario. (But that is for another article.)

FASTING (LENT) IS CENTRAL

Fasting was an integral part of Judaism and therefore Christianity. The Mishnah describes a fast before Passover.

"On the eve of Passover, adjacent to mincha [afternoon prayer] time, a person may not eat until dark, so that he will be able to eat matza that night with a hearty appetite."
-Mishnah Pesachim chapter 10

The Mishnah was written a bit later on, but it still illustrates the point of Jews and fasting.

The early church had several regular fasts, even weekly. To this day, the Catholics and Orthodox have a fast before taking the Eucharist on Sunday. There was a fast every year before the Paschal meal.
In English and German the fast came to be called Lent. The Catholic Encyclopedia article on Lent says this:

"The Teutonic word Lent, which we employ to denote the forty days' fast preceding Easter, originally meant no more than the spring season. Still it has been used from the Anglo-Saxon period to translate the more significant Latin term quadragesima (French carême, Italian quaresima, Spanish cuaresma), meaning the "forty days", or more literally the "fortieth day". This in turn imitated the Greek name for Lent, tessarakoste (fortieth), a word formed on the analogy of Pentecost (pentekoste), which last was in use for the Jewish festival before New Testament times."
-Thurston, Herbert. "Lent." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 9. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1910. 15 Apr. 2023 <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/09152a.htm> 

The Germans had a habit of naming holidays after the time of year in which they fell. The English inherited it, because Saxons are German, and here we are today. The Paschal Fast is called Lent for exactly the same reason why Pascha is called Easter.

The Paschal Fast was central to the Quartodeciman debate. The Paschal Fast was clearly not 40 days at first, as it is today. Not even close. As Irenaeus said, "For some think that they should fast one day, others two, yet others more; some, moreover, count their day as consisting of forty hours day and night." It started small and grew over time. A 40-day tradition can be seen by the year 329AD in Alexandria:

"We begin the fast of forty days on the 13th of the month Phamenoth (Mar. 9). After we have given ourselves to fasting in continued succession, let us begin the holy Paschal162 week on the 18th of the month Pharmuthi (April 13). Then resting on the 23rd of the same month Pharmuthi (April 18), and keeping the feast afterwards on the first of the week, on the 24th (April 19)..."
-Athanasius, Festal Letter #2, for the year 329-330

The fast was broken by a communal meal as an observance of the Lord's Supper. And that leads us to the big question at hand - when should the fasting and feasting happen? That is the critical issue in the controversy.

And, no, Lent has nothing to do with weeping for Tammuz. That happened in the month of Tammuz, which is about three months later, around June/July.

LOCATING THE GROUPS

You may have heard this issue was east vs west, or Jerusalem vs Rome, but it wasn't nearly as simple as that. From the evidence we have, it is reasonable to conclude both opinions existed to some degree in nearly all areas. All areas had their own struggles deciding between the two. The issue was addressed region by region. Eventually, the only remaining strongholds of Quartodeciman practice were Asia Minor (ie. modern Turkey), Syria, and some areas of Persia. In other words, areas of the Syriac Orthodox Church. Due to this slow decision process, by the time the Council of Nicaea was called, the Quartodecimans were deeply in the minority.

We can see which regions held which opinion from Eusebius' book "The Life of Constantine". In it, Eusebius quotes a letter from Constantine written after the Council of Nicaea. This is the official letter where Constantine wrote to the entire church informing them of the decisions of the Council. Constantine urges them all to come into agreement. In that letter, Constantine says:

"...and since that arrangement [the decision at Nicaea] is consistent with propriety which is observed by all the churches of the western, southern, and northern parts of the world, and by some of the eastern also: for these reasons all are unanimous on this present occasion...

"...that practice [observing the Lord's Supper on Sunday] which is observed at once in the city of Rome, and in Africa; throughout Italy, and in Egypt, in Spain, the Gauls, Britain, Libya, and the whole of Greece; in the dioceses of Asia and Pontus, and in Cilicia, with entire unity of judgment. And you will consider not only that the number of churches is far greater in the regions I have enumerated than in any other..."
-Eusebius, “Life of Constantine”, book III, chapter 19 [bold mine].

This isn't the only place where Eusebius gives us evidence of which areas joined which side. He provides more in his "Church History". I will quote the entire 23rd chapter:

"A question of no small importance arose at that time. For the parishes of all Asia, as from an older tradition, held that the fourteenth day of the moon, on which day the Jews were commanded to sacrifice the lamb, should be observed as the feast of the Savior's Passover. It was therefore necessary to end their fast on that day, whatever day of the week it should happen to be. But it was not the custom of the churches in the rest of the world to end it at this time, as they observed the practice which, from apostolic tradition, has prevailed to the present time, of terminating the fast on no other day than on that of the resurrection of our Savior.

"Synods and assemblies of bishops were held on this account, and all, with one consent, through mutual correspondence drew up an ecclesiastical decree, that the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord should be celebrated on no other but the Lord's day, and that we should observe the close of the paschal fast on this day only. There is still extant a writing of those who were then assembled in Palestine, over whom Theophilus, bishop of Cæsarea, and Narcissus, bishop of Jerusalem, presided. And there is also another writing extant of those who were assembled at Rome to consider the same question, which bears the name of Bishop Victor; also of the bishops in Pontus over whom Palmas, as the oldest, presided; and of the parishes in Gaul of which Irenæus was bishop, and of those in Osroene and the cities there; and a personal letter of Bacchylus, bishop of the church at Corinth, and of a great many others, who uttered the same opinion and judgment, and cast the same vote.

"And that which has been given above was their unanimous decision."
-Eusebius, "Church History", book V, chapter 23 [bold mine].

Now I will quote the entire 25th chapter:

"Those in Palestine whom we have recently mentioned, Narcissus and Theophilus, and with them Cassius, bishop of the church of Tyre, and Clarus of the church of Ptolemais, and those who met with them, having stated many things respecting the tradition concerning the Passover which had come to them in succession from the apostles, at the close of their writing add these words:

" 'Endeavor to send copies of our letter to every church, that we may not furnish occasion to those who easily deceive their souls. We show you indeed that also in Alexandria they keep it on the same day that we do [Alexandria was not a Quartodeciman area]. For letters are carried from us to them and from them to us, so that in the same manner and at the same time we keep the sacred day.' "
-Eusebius, "Church History", book V, chapter 25 [bold mine].

You can see now that the areas where Quartodecimanism was in the majority were mostly located in Asia Minor (except Pontus in the north, and Osroene and Cilicia in the south). We can tell from other writings there were Quartodecimans throughout Syria and some areas of Persia. The rest of the world was in the traditional camp.

ORIGINS OF THE CONTROVERSY

From Herbert Armstrong, I was made to believe Easter Sunday was adopted into Christianity from foreign paganism at the Council of Nicaea due to pressure from the Pope and Constantine the Great. That might perhaps lead one to believe the debate was after Nicaea. All of that is absolutely, completely false.

If I had used even the slightest amount of logic, I would have noticed the Quartodeciman Controversy was one of the reasons the Council of Nicaea was called in the first place. The debate existed within Christianity long before Nicaea. I was surprised to learn not only did the issue predate Nicaea, it existed from the very start, it was debated for centuries, and multiple local Synods were held about the topic before there was a Constantine. I wonder why I didn't know this earlier. Herbert Armstrong knew it! He said as much:

"I found in historic records that there had been heated and violent controversies over this very question directly and indirectly during the first three centuries of the Church."
-Herbert Armstrong, "Where Is The True Church?", 1984, p.21

When I say 'very beginning' I mean it. Nicaea was in 325 AD. Three centuries before that means what? The very beginning.

Most of what we know comes from the historian Eusebius, Bishop of Caesarea in Syria (a Quartodeciman region). Eusebius related details from historical documents he had access to. From what he relates, both groups claimed to have received their traditions directly from the Apostles. The Quartodecimans were taught by John and Philip, according to Polycarp and Polycrates. Traditionalists were taught by unnamed Apostles, according to sources such as Claudius Apollinaris and Eusebius. Tradition states it was Paul and Peter.
Nothing specifically says this, but if Rome was taught by Peter and Paul, then it is reasonable to conclude Alexandria was taught by Mark.

Until recently, I thought the controversy began purely due to calendar differences growing slowly between distant areas. I no longer believe that. The origin according to the historical documents we have is Apostolic. The calendar issues existed without a doubt, but were secondary. Perhaps the Apostles were attempting to solve a calendar-based issue in two different ways. Perhaps the Apostles, being Jews themselves, maintained a more Jewish tradition when with other Jewish converts, but not while they were with Gentile converts (GAL. 2: 11-13) which caused calendar issues. Perhaps the two traditions coexisted better before distance and time exaggerated certain calendar issues. Calendar issues do not appear to be the root cause of the difference, the cause is Apostolic, but certainly made the debate worse and harder to settle.

I know some people will balk at the claim the Apostles taught both sides. I understand. However, I am only relating what the legitimate historical documents indeed say. I must go where they lead me. This is the historical record. Anything else is simply not the historical record. If you've read anything here on this blog at all, then you know we utterly reject Alexander Hislop as a legitimate source. His claims of paganism are empty and worthless.

DEVELOPMENT OVER TIME

Anicetus and Polycarp

First, in "Church History" book IV chapter 24, Eusebius recounts a discussion between Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna and Anicetus, Bishop of Rome. Judging from the time between when Anicetus was elected Bishop and when Polycarp died, this conversation had to be between 153-155 AD. This is quite early, and is our first hint of a dispute. Polycarp traveled to Rome to discuss it with Anicetus. Both men explain how they inherited their tradition. The entire arguments of of both men were based not on law or removal of law, nor on accusations of paganism, but on tradition. The two unsuccessfully tried to convince the other of who had the stronger tradition. In the end, they confirmed their mutual respect and decided to live together in peace. They even shared a Eucharistic meal together.

The next time the United Church of God tries to tell you Quartodecimans were true Christians and Romans were pagans, remind them the two lived in peace and shared the Eucharist together. Or when they try to pin Easter Sunday on events after the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-136 AD), remind them that Irenaeus, whom they cite, specifically mentioned Bishops of Rome by name going back to 115 AD, which was prior to Bar Kohkba.

Start of Local Synods

The timing in this next phase in the dispute seems to last form the 150s to the 190s AD, and beyond. Eusebius, in "Church History" book IV chapter 23, briefly mentions local synods being held in areas such as Rome, Caesarea, Jerusalem, Gaul, Pontus, and Corinth. He recounts that the decision of these synods were in favor of Easter Sunday.

"Synods and assemblies of bishops were held on this account, and all, with one consent, through mutual correspondence drew up an ecclesiastical decree, that the mystery of the resurrection of the Lord should be celebrated on no other but the Lord's day [Sunday], and that we should observe the close of the paschal fast on this day only."
-Eusebius "Church History", book V, chapter 23

From this we know the Council of Nicaea was not even remotely the first time Christians gathered to debate the issue. We also know this is a short list. In the next section, we will see the infamous fight between Victor and Polycrates. Hidden in there is another mention of a local synod in Asia Minor, called upon Victor's request. How many other areas had synods which were left unmentioned? We will never know for certain, but we know it wasn't zero. It seems as if Eusebius' list was meant to convey the idea that synods were happening all around the Empire.

The 1975 booklet "Seven Proofs of God's True Church" page 53, Garner Ted Armstrong says:

"Study into the 'Quartodeciman' controversy some time. See how it finally required pressure from the state to finally force people to quit keeping Passover on the 14th of Nissan..."

When we study into the history as Garner Ted suggested, we see history doesn't quite match the claims of "God's True Church". This stopped surprising me long ago.
The local areas were deciding for themselves, and the vast majority were deciding in favor of Sunday.

Polycrates and Victor

Next, in "Church History" book V, chapters 23-25, Eusebius recounts another important discussion, this time between Polycrates the Bishop of Ephesus and Victor the Bishop of Rome. Judging from the time between when Victor was elected Bishop and when Polycrates died, this conversation had to be between 189 and 196 AD. Eusebius dedicates three whole chapters to this debate, which I will summarize.

From previous paragraphs, we can see Victor wrote to Polycrates to inform him of the decisions of the local counsels and to ask him to assemble his own counsel in Asia Minor. The church leaders in the region were assembled as requested to discuss the issue and the decision came down in favor of the Quartodeciman view. Polycrates wrote back to Victor about their decision. Polycrates, in a rather defiant tone, lays out his case that the Apostles John and Philip taught them, and many church leaders kept that tradition. They decided they were following God and so would continue observing as they had. Victor clearly took offense and responded by excommunicating everyone from the Quartodeciman side of the issue. The majority of the church reacted against Victor's decision, including those who sided with Victor on timing.

Something clearly happened that went unreported by Eusebius. This wasn't Victor and Polycrates' first conversation. Polycrates called the local counsel as Victor asked him to, so there had to have been earlier conversations. The tone in Polycrates' two phrases "I ... am not affrighted by terrifying words" and "we ought to obey God rather than man" leads me to believe he felt pressured by Victor to come to the same conclusion everyone else had. That's my opinion. We have no way to verify it. Polycrates' seemed somewhat passive aggressive. Passive aggression is still aggression. By Victor's harsh response, there must be some layering here. I tend to suspect this was not just Victor lashing out after being slighted. Was Victor grieved the Asians purposefully did not come into unity with the rest of the church? Was Victor angry about Marcionite heretics rising up around the world, including in Italy, and taking it out on Polycrates? There is no telling. We are missing critical information here. I do not agree with Victor's response. But I feel they were both wrong, not just Victor. The rest of the church reacted to Victor as well. You might think the reaction was mainly due to Victor not having the authority to act as he did. From what I can tell, that was not the case. The tone was unity and peace, not authority.

As a brief aside, you will read how this was Rome's first attempt to assert authority over other churches. That is absolutely not true. Examples can be given of other churches looking to Rome to make decisions well before this. Polycrates did call his local synod at Victor's request, after all. Don't mistake me for trying to cheerlead a Pope. I am not. I am just relating historical facts to clear up misconceptions. But I digress.

Eusebius then quotes from a letter by Irenaeus, Bishop of Lyons, to Victor. Irenaeus laid out the case for both sides, emphasized how the church had always lived in peace about this issue, pointed out how no one was excommunicated over it before then - even providing a list of Bishops of Rome who lived at peace with the Quartodecimans, and pleaded for Victor to relent.
Irenaeus was born in Smyrna and was a disciple of Polycarp. This means he grew up a Quartodeciman. He had since become the Bishop of Lyon (France). We can tell from various sources that Irenaeus was no longer a practicing Quartodeciman. Therefore, he lived under both traditions at one point. If anyone was capable of understanding both sides it was him. (I can relate.)

In theory, Victor relented - but we don't know that because that's missing information, too. And the debate went on.

Council of Nicaea

Finally, the issue left to fester over the next century until we get to the reign of Constantine the Great. According to Eusebius, in "Life of Constantine" book III, before Nicaea, Constantine sent out letters to church leaders in several areas imploring them to settle the issue (which was doomed to fail, since they had been trying to settle the issue for two centuries already).
All who to paint Constantine as some strong man forcing one opinion on the church seem to never mention this. I am sure you can see for yourself why that is. Constantine didn't care either way what they chose. He just wanted the issue settled because peace in the church meant peace in the empire.

When that naturally failed, he called the Council to make leaders from all areas sit down together and work it out. He chose a location in Quartodeciman territory that was central for everyone. He paid their travel expenses plus room and board. He let them debate and decide on their own. He was not afforded a vote. When the bishops had finally decided - in favor of Sunday - he enforced their decisions.

Here is what Socrates of Constantinople, also called Scholasticus, says about those who attended:

'Wherefore the most eminent of the ministers of God in all the churches which have filled Europe, Africa, and Asia, were convened. And one sacred edifice, dilated as it were by God, contained within it on the same occasion both Syrians and Cilicians, Phœnicians, Arabs and Palestinians, and in addition to these, Egyptians, Thebans, Libyans, and those who came from Mesopotamia. At this synod a Persian bishop was also present, neither was the Scythian absent from this assemblage. Pontus also and Galatia, Pamphylia, Cappadocia, Asia and Phrygia, supplied those who were most distinguished among them. Besides, there met there Thracians and Macedonians, Achaians and Epirots, and even those who dwelt still further away than these, and the most celebrated of the Spaniards himself took his seat among the rest. The prelate of the imperial city was absent on account of age; but some of his presbyters were present and filled his place."
-Socrates of Constantinople (Scholasticus), "Church History", Book I, chapter 8

Understand, the primary topic of the Council was an issue that started in Alexandria over the nature of Jesus - the heresy of Arius. The details of Pascha were quite secondary at the Council. Nicaea was not called over Pascha, but if you're going to be gathering and making decisions, why not settle Pascha too?

This was not Constantine trying to force his Easter opinions on the church. Constantine was there, but could not vote. Constantine didn't even personally follow all of the decisions of the Council. Constantine is reported to have sided with Arius on the nature of Jesus, and retained that opinion until much later in life. How can Nicaea be Constantine forcing his opinions on the church when he apparently did not agree with all of the decisions of the Council? It cannot. If you know anything about Constantine, you know he liked to play it safe. He wasn't even baptized until he knew he was dying, just to make sure all his sins would be covered. He wasn't given to taking extreme positions on religious particulars. It really is a baseless accusation to blame Easter on him. That whole canard really needs to be ended. It's dishonest.

Armstrong would have us believe this was all the doings of those dastardly Catholics who were up to no good again, forcing the innocent and godly Passover-keepers to bow to their will. That is a serious mischaracterization. First, as stated earlier, the traditional dating was already well established in most areas. Rome had its own local synod. Second, every bishop voted. If people have power when they can vote to elect a government, then the same holds true here. Losing a vote is not the same as being oppressed. Third, the Pope wasn’t even at the Council of Nicaea. Eusebius states the Bishop of Rome didn't attend due to his "extreme old age" (Eusebius, "Life of Constantine", book III, chapter 7), so he sent two representatives to be there in his place - Vitus and Vincent. Two representatives out of an estimated 318 Bishops (the exact number of Bishops present is unknown and various numbers were given). Fourth, records indicate the delegates in attendance were mostly from the East. Nicaea was in Quartodeciman territory after all, naturally it would be weighted in their favor. And finally, delegates from Persia and other areas outside the Roman Empire came as well. They could not be pressured by the Pope or Constantine. What shall people say about them?

After Nicaea

Nicaea was a great effort, but in the end it was not entirely effective. Regardless of what the Bishops agreed to on any given topic, people continued to do what they pleased regardless. It wouldn't be another century until another ecumenical Council would have to be called to decide certain issues a second time. The Quartodeciman practices would linger another century, mainly in Persia, until they eventually died out on their own. So much for the story you've heard about being being forced to give up their ways.

The Medieval Sourcebook has a detailed and mercifully brief article on the specifics of how Easter timing played out going forward, called "Excursus On The Subsequent History of the Easter Question". Nicaea may have created a formula for how to calculate Easter Sunday, but they didn't say what calendar to use. Here we go with the calendar issues again. Rome and Alexandria had back and forth issues with calculating Easter until Dionysius Exeguus (the guy who invented "AD" and "BC") came up with 19-year Easter time cycles (wow does that ever sound familiar) in 525 AD. The new calculations would catch on slowly across the West, until about the year 729 AD when Britain finally accepted them. At long last, there would be peace.

...Or not.
Technically, troubles continue until this very day, since the Catholics/Protestants and Greek Orthodox have two entirely different calendars and celebrate Easter almost always at different times. Hope for a solution seems to be possible, according to the article "Why Catholics and Orthodox might once again celebrate Easter on the same date" on CatholicNewsAgency, which says,

"According to an earlier report by Vatican News, [Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople] supports such a common date to be set for the year 2025, which will mark the 1,700th anniversary of the First Ecumenical Council of Nicea."
I wouldn't hold my breath, though.

That sums up the development of the issue over time. I only have so much space and cannot get overly detailed about it, but that is the summary of the major points. If you hear anything wildly divergent from what you've read here, you can be assured those claims are suspect at best.

CONCLUSION

As I said at the start, there is so much more to this one topic. I chose to cover what I did, which I feel are the basics, because these things were most relevant to my own history in Armstrongism. I had to read quite a bit about this topic. It's not like you just read Eusebius and you're done. There are rabbit holes inside the rabbit holes. I seriously have fifteen tabs open in just one of my three web browsers right this minute, all with pages on this topic.

Having come from an Armstrongist background, I found many things to be challenging to what I thought I knew. Challenging because so many things I thought I knew were wrong. Wrong because I had relied on thoroughly biased material from Armstrongists. I would never have known this had I not done what Garner Ted Armstrong suggested and researched the topic myself.

Today we've seen that both Quartodeciman and traditional practices were Apostolic, that the local regions held synods to decide for themselves well before Nicaea, that Quartodecimans were in the minority by choice of local regions, and that this was not due to pressure from the Pope or Constantine. The only example of pressure from the Bishop of Rome was met with pressure from the other Bishops.

Many will be surprised about the fasting. Lent is not some foreign pagan thing imported into Christianity in later years. It was there from the start, developing organically from Christian piety towards Jesus' betrayal and death. Everyone had a Lentin fast, even the Quartodecimans. If one wishes to claim some ancestry from the Quartodecimans, it follows that one also adopts a Lentin fast.

I bet you're wondering who was right in this debate, the Quartodecimans or the traditional Christians? In short: they were both right!
Life is messy. This was not by any means the first time the church dealt with two opinions on one topic (ACT. 15: 6-29; 21: 17-25 and ROM 14: 1-13). These are growing pains of a church leaving its infancy. Both groups were taught by Apostles from the start and both groups had long lists of illustrious names who agreed with them. They tried living in peace, but the years were not kind to that. The difference made for poor unity, and they disputed for centuries. They tried peace, pressure, councils, contention, and plain old ignoring it and hoping it would go away ... nothing worked. The dispute needed to be settled before it led to schism. I for one am persuaded it was necessary and a good idea to try and settle it at the Council of Nicaea in 325 AD.
Even thought that didn't really settle it.

Remember at the start of this article when I said, "I find it curious that many of those who try to ally with the Quartodecimans don't really understand them"? In my next post, we will dig into actual details and investigate the beliefs of the Quartodecimans. I think you will find the reality quite interesting. It was for me!




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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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Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Does John 11 Define A Biblical Day?

(JON. 11: 8-9) 8 The disciples said to Him, “Rabbi, lately the Jews sought to stone You, and are You going there again?” 9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world."

Many are the times when I have heard someone point to John 11: 9 in an attempt to support a 72-hour length of time for the phrase "three days and three nights" in Matthew 12: 40. "Jesus comes right out and tells us precisely how long a day is," they say, "so we know He had to be 72-hours in the tomb." Are they right about that? Is it truly appropriate to take "are there not twelve hours in the day" and apply that to the phrase "three days and three nights"? Or, are there other mitigating factors we should be aware of before we go this route?

Let's just start off by putting this out there - it is an undeniable fact that the ancient Hebrews (and most of the surrounding cultures besides) did recognize twelve hours in a day and twelve hours in a night, making twenty-four hours altogether. Hebrews apparently got this from the Babylonians, who got it from the Egyptians. Nothing at all that I say here should be understood as disputing or taking away from that fact. It is true.

Does that mean the game is over? Set and match? Let's investigate this further.

IDIOMATIC EXPRESSIONS

Their day had twenty-four hours just as much as ours does. But is it true we always mean a twelve or a twenty-four hour period every single time we say the word day? No. We can use words in colloquial ways. When we use a word in a non-literal sense, it is called an idiom.

Webster's first definition of idiom is:

"1. An expression in the usage of a language that is peculiar to itself either in having a meaning that cannot be derived from the conjoined meanings of its elements (such as up in the air for "undecided") or in its grammatically atypical use of words (such as give way)"
-Mirriam-Webster, "Idiom", https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/idiom

The meaning of an idiom cannot be derived from its elements. In other words, you say one thing but mean something else entirely. Do you know what the phrase "tickling the ivories" means? It means playing the piano. Every culture has idioms, and the Bible is full of them.
Perhaps the most well known is this:

(PRO. 7: 2) Keep my commands and live, And my law as the apple of your eye.

Is there an apple in your eye? No. Not literally. There is not a Macintosh inside your eye fluid or a Red Delicious in the reflection. Here's a fun fact for you - "apple of your eye" is an English idiom, not a Hebrew one. The literal translation is "little man of the eye". It just means your pupil.
Here is another:

(JOB. 19: 20) My bone clings to my skin and to my flesh, and I have escaped by the skin of my teeth.

Are your teeth covered in flesh? No. Not literally. A completely other understanding is hiding in that phrase.
Here is an example we all know:

(GEN. 4: 1a) Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain...

You know exactly what is really meant when the Bible says "knew". They say it, but they don't say it. Idioms are very handy for that sort of application.
Here is an example from the very verse we focus on most:

(MAT. 12: 40) 40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

Jesus was placed inside the literal beating heart within the cardio-vascular system of the earth? No. An idiom is right here in exact same verse which people demand is the most literal of all.
Let's do just one more:

(ISA. 2: 12) For the day of the Lord of hosts shall come upon everything proud and lofty, upon everything lifted up - and it shall be brought low -

I chose this example specifically because it uses the word day in a way that is neither twelve nor twenty-four hours. Taken all together, the many examples of the phrase "day of the Lord" will paint a very clear picture that this is a period of time far beyond a single day. The word day is not always literal, dear reader. It just isn't.

These are all examples of non-literal uses of words and phrases. They are idiomatic expressions. 

Today, we can use the word day every bit as literally or idiomatically as anyone else. Take for example the phrase "in my day." It doesn't mean, "In my literal twelve or twenty-four hour period of time." It means, roughly, "Back when I was in my prime." For another example, "Have a nice day!" Do we intend people only to have twelve nice hours, or for their period of niceness to end at sunset? No. Not at all. It was never intended to be chronologically specific. Sometimes language can just be unspecific. It's one of the hardest parts of literal translations of the Bible, and why we sometimes need thought-for-thought translations.

A person went to a job interview at 3 o'clock PM. They did well and got the job. The hiring manager said, "You're hired. You start in two days." Two days later, the employee arrived precisely at 3 o'clock PM. The manager saw the person walking in, and angrily said, "What is the meaning of coming here at this hour? Turn right back around and go home. You're fired!"
Why? The employee arrived exactly forty-eight hours later, didn't they? But starting time was 8 o'clock AM, not 3 o'clock PM. When the manager said, "in two days," their intent was at the appropriate hour on the second day. It is still the case, even in our mathematically and chronologically meticulous day and age, that day is not always meant to be literally twelve or twenty-four hours.

A minute has sixty seconds, does it not? Must it follow that every time we use the word minute it only refers to a literal sixty-second period of time? No. For example, we say "a hot minute." When things get hot, they expand. A hot minute is a completely inexact period of time that is longer than a minute. It has no specific meaning at all. It's the same when we exclaim, "Give me a minute!" We don't mean to say, "Give me precisely sixty seconds because that's the definition of a minute." No. We just need more time. It doesn't matter how much time, precisely, just however much more it takes to finish the task at hand.

Why waste so many words on this simple concept? Two reasons. First, to show that words with specific meanings like day can be idiomatic under the right circumstances. Second, because I intend to demonstrate an inconsistency. It is the tendency of some people to apply a literal meaning to day when they want to force the length of Jesus' interment to be precisely 72-hours. They will go right back to defining a day loosely elsewhere. Let's see that.

CONSISTENTLY INCONSISTENT

As I pointed out in my article "Three Days and Three Nights", the only verse in the New Testament that uses the phrase “three days and three nights” is Matthew 12 verse 40. There are twenty other places where the length of Jesus interment was described. In all of these twenty other instances, none of them repeat Matthew 12: 40. Here is how they play out in the NKJV:

  • "The third day" 11 times.
  • "In three days" 5 times.
  • "After three days" 2 times.
  • "On the third day" 1 time.
  • "Within three days" 1 time.

There is no possible way all of these can be taken literally. All twenty-one instances (these 20 plus Matthew 12: 40) speak of one and the same event. One event that played out one way descried with six different phrases. They cannot all be literal. Every single person who just set John 11: 9 as their standard to define day as exactly a twelve or twenty-four hour period of time will now abandon that standard for most if not all of these other phrases.

If someone, unwisely, decides not to abandon their literal standard, they cause a terrible issue. Let's see that. Let's replace the word day with twelve-hour period.

  • The third twelve-hour period.
  • In three twelve-hour periods.
  • After three twelve hour periods.
  • On the third twelve hour period.
  • Within three twelve hour periods.
Do you see the problem caused? The, in, after, on, within... creates several different resurrection times. If we insist on a strict literal interpretation, we turn the Bible into an inconsistent mess. No one involved agreed on the length. Not even Jesus Himself!

Of those, if we only look at what Jesus said, we see: "the third day" 8 times, "in three days" 1 time, and "after three days" 1 time. One man speaking of His own resurrection in four different ways (these three plus "three days and three nights"). When we force a literal definition onto the word day, we see only inconsistency in the words that came from Jesus' own mouth.

There is but one way to solve this issue: they all mean the exact same thing and day is not meant to be taken as a literal twelve or twenty-four hours in any of them. Not even in "three days and three nights".

EMPTY ASSERTIONS AND PREDETERMINED CONCLUSIONS

It seems we have an option. I have shown you why I think day should not be literal. Now we need to ask, what evidence is there to support applying a literal definition to "three days and three nights"?

Please supply a reason why we should. We need some kind of legitimate, biblical reason, not just, "Because it suits our desired outcome of Jesus not dying on a Friday." Demanding a certain definition without plotting out support for it makes it just that - a baseless assertion. If this were some petty point, nobody would really care. But it's not. This is a premier claim for some people, and they use it to accuse billions of other Christians of being pagans. Evidence for something this important is required.

Having spent decades in a church that taught me to believe it should be literal, and having read thousands of articles and booklets over the years, and having reviewed many here at ABD, we have yet to see any particularly convincing evidence. No sermon from any minister, nor article from any author I have ever read or reviewed, has given any convincing reason why we should take that phrase literally. It is just assumed we should. So, I went to look for my own evidence. I went over in my article "Three Days and Three Nights" how there is no other biblical reason. In fact, there are several legitimate biblical reasons why it should not be defined literally. "Three days and three nights" is a known and quite ancient idiom.

Why is "three days and three nights" held as the gold standard, but those twenty other utterances are shoved aside? I will tell you why. Because the claim of 72-hours in the tomb absolutely relies on it. It is necessary in order to get the result they went looking for in the first place.
But, as we hope you have seen, there is no good reason to take the phrase literally. There is no good reason to showcase it to the exclusion of the others. Therefore, "three days and three nights" is simply a convenient means to an predetermined end. It is a conclusion looking for support.

Predetermined conclusions are not a very good thing. You know how scientific research is suspect when it has been funded by a special interest? It's practically the same thing here. Does that mean it is wrong? No, not necessarily. But it makes peer review more important. What happens when we peer review the 72-hour assertion in the patented As Bereans Did gauntlet? As I said, it comes up completely unsupported. We have a desired outcome looking for evidence and suppressing anything that disagrees.

One strict definition for day is used in one place, and another loose definition is used in twenty other places. One verse is emphasized, others are shoved aside. The modern way to count time exclusively is used, and the way Hebrews count time inclusively is ignored. The demonstrably false claims of Alexander Hislop are promoted, and the historically documented ideas of the Pharisees and the early church are dismissed. The 12-hour definition of day is insisted upon in one verse, and the words sabbaton and prosabbaton used by Matthew and Mark are redefined out of existence.

Did I lose you there? I am referring to topics covered in other articles. See our articles "Three Days and Three Nights", "The Two Sabbaths of Matthew 28", and "Easter FAQ" for more.

There really is nothing whatsoever to support the conclusion. What some people are doing with John 11: 9 is neither intellectually honest nor consistent.

THREE DAYS IS FOUR DAYS?

I assure you, dear reader, that even after 14 years, we are still searching the topic, trying to be as even-handed in everything as we can. Perhaps we have missed something. Perhaps someone noticed some new detail everyone else overlooked. We have not come across anything that pursuades us to change our minds.
That isn't to say we haven't seen new ideas. There are some. For example, there are people out there saying "the third day" is actually four days.

To explain, let's turn to the first chapter of the Gospel of John.
Some of John the Baptist's disciples are meeting Jesus for the first time and being called to follow Him, then they head together to Cana for the wedding where Jesus turns water into wine. There is a time progression described here that we need to see.

John 1: 29 says, "on the next day," then v.35 says, "again, the next day," then v.43 says, "the following day," and finally we come to John 2: 1 which says, "on the third day". Did you catch that? Day, day, day, third day.  ??
Some people look at that and conclude, "John says 'on the third day' when it was actually the fourth day, so 'third day' is a phrase that refers to the fourth day."

You might be saying, "Huh. I never noticed that before. That's really interesting." If so, that's fine. But please follow that up with, "I am going to go see if there is any other example anywhere within the Bible or without where 'the third day' indicates a fourth day, and if not, this conclusion is merely a simple misunderstanding which needs to be clarified."

There are several examples showing this is not how the Bible uses the phrase "third day". The Hebrews counted inclusively. The phrase "third day" is easily recognizable as being equivalent to saying 'day after tomorrow' (e.g., EXO. 19: 10-11; HOS. 5: 2). You can even find an example of "fourth day", where the timeline is meticulously laid out and there is no doubt that four days are involved (ACT. 10 all). In all of the Bible commentaries I dug through, none agreed that "third day" can be understood as "fourth day". In all the oldest and most reliable extra-biblical sources I read, I found no hint of support. So, we have no examples within the Bible or outside of it to support the claim that third day means fourth day.

It doesn't even make sense chronologically.

The distance between where John was baptizing in the Jordan in Judea, somewhere due west of Jericho, and Cana of Galilee where the wedding was, is roughly 60 miles in a perfectly straight line (verified on Google Maps). If you walk at a steady 4 miles per hour, it would take 15 hours. The terrain is rough, and Samaria lay in between the two. Jews would never go into Samaria unless they absolutely had to. The Bible makes no mention of it. Some time later, when Jesus did go through Samaria, the Apostles protested strongly. Clearly, this was not something they were accustomed to doing. We can reasonably assume they went around at this point. This means they would have to first go east into the Decapolis to go north and then west into Galilee. Your 60-mile trek just got much longer. The only way that journey could have been made in one day is by purchasing transportation, which Jesus was not accustomed to doing.

One cannot simply walk from the Jordan River on day three to Cana on day four. That interpretation is prohibitively difficult. So, I feel justified in rejecting it.

There are four explanations for John's choice of words:

  1. John is referring to Tuesday, which was called 'the third day'.
  2. John starts the count at John 1: 35 where Jesus first gains a following.
  3. John means it had been three days since John 1: 43 where Jesus decides to go to Galilee.
  4. John means it is the third day since Jesus entered the area of Cana.
Options #1 and #2 are weak, and the hardest to accept since they are so arbitrary. Options #3 and #4 are strong. I feel the more reasonable of those is option #3. They left John the Baptists on day one, on foot, and arrived in the region of Cana on day three.

There is no clear way to settle which is the correct option, but it is abundantly clear 'the third day' cannot be defined as 'the fourth day'. This is not only unsupported but contraindicated from the rest of the biblical and extra-biblical evidence. It is simply not a possible option.
Yet, someone is out there, right this minute, relying on it as part of their Biblical interpretation (in this case, the person making this argument wanted to support a Thursday crucifixion).

These are the wild things we get when people start with a conclusion -- making the cherry-picked evidence go in the direction of the pre-determined conclusion, rather than allowing the total evidence to lead us to the reasonable conclusion. What we should be doing is letting the Bible interpret the Bible.

CONCLUSION

Is a day defined as 12-hours in the New Testament? Yes, that is a possible option. We granted that at the start. But must that definition always apply to the word day? No. We demonstrated that. In fact, forcing a literal definition in every instance of day causes terrible issues for resurrection timing.
More importantly, does John 11: 9 define the meaning of Matthew 12: 40? Does it apply for "three days and three nights"? From what we have seen in this article and others, I say no.

If there is an option, we need a good reason why we should choose one or the other.

Those who argue Jesus was entombed for 72-hours make assertions without a compelling explanation why. We investigate the claims, and they keep coming up making the same mistakes over and over again. Their conclusion depends on proof-texting and too many other things I categorize as nothing shy of intellectual dishonesty.

As for the evidence we provide for our conclusion, aside what I have shown you here today, As Bereans Did has several articles where we lay our case out in detail. Some of them I have already mentioned. We invite you to our Categories page where our articles are listed under the topic Easter.

All of the best evidence leads us to conclude the phrase "three days and three nights" is a very ancient and known idiom that was never meant to be understood as literally 72-hours. Choose exegeses over eisegesis!



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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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Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Escaping Armstrongism - part II

A few weeks ago, I asked how we could help you, our esteemed readers. The answer I got is, people want to know more about what it is like to exit. Having done that once, I believe I can oblige.

This request turns out to be more complicated than I anticipated. There are so many variables. What is the best way to approach things? I decided to approach it in more than one way. In my last post, I started this effort by telling the story of how I left. My hope is that someone will find hidden in there some nugget of help; something to relate to.

This time, I am going to tell the story of how life went after I left.

OUTSET

It was late summer 2008. It had been a highly traumatic roller coaster of a year. I had just exited Armstrongism after three decades. The exit process took 6 years, starting in 2002. My life was upside down and backward. My beloved prophecy was gone, the bedrock of doctrine was gone, the Apostle himself was gone, and even the weekly Sabbath was gone - all victims of what would become what I like to jokingly refer to as "the patented As Bereans Did gauntlet". By this, I mean a whole new process of studying to allow the truth to be what it is - where we take as neutral an approach as possible, weighing all the evidence to see what holds up and what gets destroyed in the process. The cons far outweighed the pros for those items. They had to go.

I was afraid and excited at the same time. Everything seemed to be in extremes. Both north and south, but with no equator. I was blogging to try to make sense of it all. The world was filled with options, but I didn't know which way to go. It was like being in a large and energetic city ...watching your ride drive off and leave you there.

The only thing I was still sure about was Jesus and the paganism inherent in mainstream Christianity.
Rather, the only thing I was consciously aware I was still sure about was Jesus and the paganism inherent in mainstream Christianity. I had been in Armstrongism for so long, I didn't realize there was more baggage.

When you exit, you don't leave everything behind. I would guess you don't even leave half of everything behind. You might think you have, but it's hiding inside you. It's invisible until we run into situations that make us aware. That isn't necessarily bad, but it can be. I wrote a post called "How To Move Forward" where I write about the dangers. 

Learning about myself would be a recurring theme for the next several years of my life.

HALFWAY HOUSE

I was clearly going to need a new church. It was going to have to be something without all those unsightly pagan elements. It was going to have to be less authoritarian and not at all personality-centered. No more "God's appointed Apostle on earth" stuff. Catholicism was right out. Pentecostals? No way was I speaking in tongues. Out! Apostolic is basically the same as Pentecostal. Out. JW's was 100% out. Seventh Day Adventism seemed too personality-centered with their founder, so out. Not on your life was I about to go with some fringe Sacred Names cult, either. Totally the wrong direction. OUT! I needed to rethink this entire thing.

What I needed was something like Armstrongism, but not at all like Armstrongism. A place to avoid culture shock and buy some time while I wrapped my head around mainstream Christianity. A step-down detox. The only choice left in my area was the Church of God (Seventh Day). About whom I knew next to nothing save they kept the Sabbath and fired Herbert Armstrong.

I made a call to the local COG7 Minister. I was invited to attend the very next Sabbath. There was no interview, no home visit, no background check, no need to read material first, no correspondence course, none of that. Just show up and ...

... I honestly didn't know what.

The realization hit me. I had been doing 3 songs, opening prayer, sermonette, song, sermon, song, closing prayer, pot luck for so long, it had just become secondhand nature. I took it completely for granted until this situation made me aware.

What do other churches do? Is there going to be a sermon? Will there be a pot luck? Will there be a sacrifice and golden calf? Will there be singing?
Oh no! Singing!!
I didn't know anyone else's songs! You want to feel like a stranger and an outsider in a church, try not knowing their songs. And nobody there knew "Blessed And Happy Is The Man".

You see where this is going? I will spare you the details about every time this happened. Let's just say my first service was very uncomfortable.
And then came the sermon.

It started out mild enough. Familiar language with familiar Biblical principals about goodness and virtue. I started hearing a word I wasn't accustomed to: Jesus. For some unknowable reason, we in Armstrongism always call Him "Christ" or sometimes "Jesus Christ". You will rarely ever hear Him called just "Jesus". Yet, there was that name. Do you know what that Minister said next? (Of course you don't, I haven't told you yet.) He said it didn't matter to the COG7 what denomination people went to, they are our brothers in Christ if they have faith in Jesus. Then he said we just need to share our faith in Jesus with everyone.
The what? So, I'm not supposed to condemn people who think differently than me? I'm in a church that is nice to other churches? Share my faith? Does not compute! (More hidden baggage.)
Then he said, "Jesus Christ is the most amazing gift you could possibly receive. How could you keep such a gift to yourself? Share that gift with others. Share Christ!"

And that, my dear reader, was the first time in my entire life I recall hearing the Gospel. I had to go to the COG7, to the Sardis church of all places, to hear the Gospel.

That joy cranked up to 11. I felt it crashing like waves. I had to fight to maintain my composure because I was about to start crying like a baby right there in front of these people and my kids and the heavenly host and everyone. (There is a little dust in my eye right now just thinking about it.) I really could have that direct relationship with Jesus, just as my friend said. Jesus was trying to love me. If only I would let Him. He was trying to give a relationship to me. All I had to do was accept it. I had been too busy trying to earn it all this time. How could this have been there all along?

I spoke to the Minister later that week and told him how his words affected me. He was happy to help. We talked about my past and about the differences between the COG7 and Armstrongism. It was nice.

Piece by piece, the New Covenant in the finished work of Jesus Christ was coming in and it was pushing out the deprecated Old Covenant that never applied to Gentiles in the first place.
Yeah, it was going to be a hard day when I left this place. I only wanted a halfway house until I could acclimate to being on the outside. If it wasn't for those remnants of the Old Covenant they kept, I would just stay put.

INSERT PURPOSE HERE

I found myself at somewhat of a crossroads. I had a blog, I had an inexhaustible topic, and I had a choice. What should I do with it?

I was blogging to make sense of everything I had been through. That started to change into blogging about the flaws of the old system. I put up posts about prophetic failures, and I had in my pocket several posts about tithing and meats so those started going up too. Then there were the posts about Ron Weinland. It was the heyday of the latest prophet in all of history. I knew Weinland, you see. He performed my wedding. He once made the congregation take a written test. He allowed people to stay or kicked them out based on the answers. He had pre-printed letters ready to go for the people he expected to evict. I was one of two men passing them out, so I handed mine to myself. I was out. He was trying to gain sole control of the church's money. He needed to get the church corporation to vote him that control, so he was rigging it to where only loyalists would be there to vote. He called me later to tell me he made a mistake and I was back in. Oh, thank you, m'Lord! Thank you! I knew what a snake he really is. He wasn't fooling me at all. I had so much material to work with!

Was that really what I wanted to do? Write blog posts about former Armstrong things? There were quite a few other former Armstrongist blogs already. Aside from the ones I mentioned in my last post, there was Seeker's blog, James Pate's blog, Red Fox's blog, Felix's blogs, Mike DDTFA's site, Purple Hymnal's many sites, just to name a few. All of them were speaking out. Most of these blogs worked together. Felix even gave me the broken chain icon I still use. And it was nice to see regular commentors on the blog, like Third Witness, Henrik Blunck, Biker Bob, Bill Hohmann, Corky, and Doug Becker, among others. Perhaps this was a new community for me to join? That would be nice. I could use a community of people who understand what I went through. Maybe even understand what I was about to go through.
But what kind of blog would I have? There were blogs that focused on one thing, blogs that focused on many things, blogs that were light, blogs that were deep, blogs from people who were in Pasadena and saw how the sausage was made, blogs from people who had never been to Pasadena in their lives, blogs from atheists, blogs from Christians, and even a blog from a Marxist. All formers. All working in their niche.

I kept up on my studies on topics of interest. It wasn't hard to find things to study. Topics practically walked up to me and introduced themselves. Every day there was some new discovery. I was reading books like "Sabbath in Christ" by Dale Ratzlaff, God rest his soul, and "Difficult Scriptures" by David Albert. Clearly, I wasn't by any means the only one to see what I was seeing. Every time I opened my Bible study software, I would notice new things. Perhaps the biggest surprise of all was that the entire book of Galatians, which I had read for decades, was surgically removed from every Bible on earth and replaced by an entirely different book. It was called Galatians, sure enough, but it was filled with this stuff about grace. It wasn't law-centered at all. In fact, it's against legalism. I suppose that's why we only read a couple verses at a time back in the old church.

We were woefully prepared by our Church of God teachers. "Poorly catechized" is how Catholics would say it. We were told precisely what to think, but never how to think, or how to study, or what good source material is versus bad. (That was by design.) I remember abusing Strong's Concordance to get my will out of the Bible. You open it, find your target word, pick the best fit from the list of options to achieve the desired result, then off you go to demonstrate how the Bible translators were wrong. I am sorry, dear reader, that is not how Strong's or the Bible or even how language itself works. Translators might not always agree with one another, but Hebrew and Greek are particularly structured languages. It only works in certain ways. Strong's has instructions right at the front. We ignored them. I for one never even read the instructions until this point. We only wanted what we wanted, so proof-texting and cherry-picking was a way of life. I needed to exorcise that demon. Why not help others to do the same! 

I saw my niche. Someone needed to investigate the doctrines of the system, from a Christ-centered perspective. Investigate them, verify them, expose them if necessary. Showing my work step by step. I would help people by giving them access to different perspectives about the doctrines themselves, apart from the personalities. If Herbert Armstrong had only known how to study, per chance none of this would have ever happened in the first place. Oh, I might kneecap Weinland from time to time, or Meredith, or Flurry (they deserved it) but it wouldn't be about that. I wouldn't rely on the low road of Herbert Armstrong's personal failings. I would take the harder path of doctrine because I knew it could be done. Ratzlaff and Albert had proved it.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I admit I did wonder what the people in my old congregation would think. I could tell one or two of them were visiting the blog. I didn't want them to hate me. I was already called a deceiver by one of my best friends (the guy from the truck incident). That didn't feel very good. It's nothing at all to brush off when some stranger shows up and starts running their mouth off because they have nothing of value to contribute. But these people were like family. Well, they used to be. I hadn't heard a single word from most of them in months. They didn't call. They didn't email. They didn't send a hello through an intermediary. I talked to one of them every day because I worked with him. They could have sent a message through him, but they didn't. I made certain to send email from time to time to my one friend who knew what I was up to at Pentecost. Otherwise, nothing.

When you leave a legalist church, you get marked. All communication stops. It isn't some gradual losing touch, it's fairly immediate. Jarring. Only the people who don't yet know what happened will still communicate, and only until they find out what happened. Then they call you a deceiver and never talk to you again. Even when you message them your condolences on the death of their wife, they still won't respond. It's quite devastating to some people where the church constitutes their entire social order. I knew a guy who got marked and couldn't find a character reference for his resume.

Not me, though. I had a family outside the church, a blog, a job, and a new church. I was going to be ok. Was I marked? Probably not officially. I was in a kinder, gentler group - but none the less legalist. Well, we would have only drifted apart anyway.

Could I blame them? If they left and I stayed, I wouldn't accept their new ideas. How could I expect them to accept mine? Especially now that I was actively disassembling theirs! I understood and accepted their distance. I hoped using the name xHWA would help obfuscate things and protect us from each other. Plus, I tried not to write anything that would give it away (in a way, I'm still doing that right now). 

I'LL GET TO THAT LATER

Certain topics were too much for me to bear, and worst of them all was (ugh!) holidays. The shadow of days loomed large on my mind as the year drew on. I still wanted to hate them.

The COG7 does not keep annual holy days. They don't see them as being directly tied to the Ten Commandments at all, and therefore were a novel introduction by Herbert Armstrong. It was one of the many reasons he was fired. No holy days? No starving at Atonement? No unleavened bread (I'm still eating bread of affliction, though). No second tithe for Tabernacles, at the place where the Lord places His name down the road from the go kart track? I was onboard with that!
Yet, they don't observe holidays either. How odd. No special days at all. Sounded .. bland.

Halloween came around again. It had been my tradition that, annually, when October 31st at 5:50 PM arrived, I would turn all the lights off and head to the grocery store to shop slowly for an hour and a half. I wasn't ready for all that trick or treating. I had not studied Halloween at all. It was too soon. Too Samhain-ey. Too much else going on. And clearly, I was still terrified from the years of indoctrination. I didn't realize it, but I brought with me from Armstrongism the notion of "once pagan always pagan". In a word - fear. I brought fear with me. (More baggage.) That's what going to the store on Halloween is, you see. It's fear. And I had a bad case of it.
Maybe some other time, guys. I need some canned goods.

Seemed like a proper time to dig up my copy of Ralph Woodrow's book. I never finished reading it from earlier. Time to change that.

Ralph Woodrow was a hero of sorts to us Armstrongists. To know Ralph Woodrow, you need to know Alexander Hislop. Herbert Armstrong and his lackeys, like Herman Hoeh, relied heavily on the work of Alexander Hislop. If there was a saint outside of the system, it was Hislop. His word was taken for truth. Ralph Woodrow wrote his own book supporting everything Hislop said. That earned Woodrow the status of a venerable sub-saint. Not a demi-god, exactly. More like a "hero of old" status, like Hercules. He was not a Hislop, but he was quite highly respected. Well, Woodrow had since recanted everything he ever wrote in support of Hislop. He wrote a new book called "The Babylon Connection", pointing out quite clearly the extraordinary level of nonsense that was Hislop's "The Two Babylons". Hislop's material was industrial strength, weapons grade, laboratory-pure bovine scatology. All of it.

So, you're telling me, Mr. Woodrow, that not only are there entire swaths of the Bible that I've never seen before that disprove half of everything I held dear for most of my life, but there are books out there which have been available to me and the ministry which disprove the other half of everything I held dear for most of my life?    Yes.

Ouch!!

Christmas was fast approaching. I had learned a little about myself from Halloween. I recognized now my fear of "once pagan always pagan" meant I was still indoctrinated. I wasn't sure what to do about that. By this point, I was distanced enough from regular attendance in Armstrongism that I was feeling a bit cheeky. Maybe taking a liberty would help. I went out and bought some decorations. It was only some silver candles and a couple faux-crystal snowflakes (the snowflakes are on my mantle right this minute). Norman Rockwell it was not. But at the time it felt bold! Here is what I wrote about Christmas in my post "God Is Love":

"Next week is Christmas 2008. I have been out of Armstrongism for about 4 months. I suppose this is as good a time of year as any to do some introspection. I don't personally keep Christmas (but I no longer fear it). Perhaps it's the years of indoctrination speaking. Or maybe I *gulp* agree with Armstrong on the origins of the day and it really does bother me. If my conscience is bothered by something, then I shouldn't do it. I know that in the COG7, Christmas is frowned upon. I support them in every way. God bless them and prosper them. But I will have my own relationship with my Savior, thank you. (Nor have they ever tried to dictate to me. It's really not like Armstrongism there!)"

In that quote, you might see a bold, free, self-aware man being reasonable and level-headed about Christmas, blazing his own path in life. The truth is, inside I was highly conflicted. Notice how I had read through Woodrow yet still wondered if I agreed with Armstrong. How? Such is the way of the Armstrongist mindset. I would like to introduce myself. My name is cognitive dissonance.
Healing was clearly going to take time, courage, and effort.
Some other time, though. Not today.

I went to my mother's house and helped her set up her Christmas tree. It was such a bonding moment. I loved it! Made me feel like a kid again. But, when I went home, I was afraid. It was one thing to share memories at another person's house. It was another thing entirely to have that at my house. I was wondering if it was wrong of me to have those two faux-crystal snowflakes. WWJD? I was getting cold feet. Sometimes healing is two steps forward and one step back.

Seven years after this, a very good Armstrongist friend of mine called me. One of the Heretics Club guys. He hadn't contacted me in, oh, about seven years. I didn't even recognize his voice anymore. He said he loves me and supports me and believes in his heart I am a faithful and genuine Christian even still ...but please, whatever I do, just don't keep Christmas.
The important message that motivated this man (who loved me and whom I love to this very minute) to call me after so much time was, "Whatever you do, please just don't start keeping Christmas."
THAT is the power of our indoctrination against Christmas.
I appreciated his call for what it was. I knew it meant he cared. He genuinely meant well, and I thanked him for it. Haven't talked to him since.

That sentiment reflected who I was seven years earlier. In 2008, Christmas couldn't leave soon enough. I let it pass with barely a notice. Problem is, this was just delaying the inevitable. Other holidays were coming.

SPRINGTIME OF MY LIFE

I spent the winter pretty much the same way as I did the autumn - absorbing information, keeping an eye on who the latest 'Elijah for to come' was, and giving thanks for grace. I still had so much to learn. Aside from holidays, I hadn't tackled huge ideas like Trinity, church government, sanctification, soul sleep, the millennium, eucharist and transubstantiation, "true history of the true church", religious icons like the crucifix, how exactly to relate to the Old Covenant, etc. etc. etc. There were even mundane things to work through, like which Bible version I like best. Was the NIV really a cursed version written in the blood of sacrificed goats by a coven of pagans?
Another detail I needed to work through is precisely what is the real nature of Armstrongism. Is it a (come in close and I'll whisper this word into your ear) cult (gasp!) or not? I was heading toward a solid yes, based on what I was reading in a book about thought control by Lifton. That was a mighty big pill to swallow.

There are many things to endure when one makes such a large switch in religions like I was. As I said, you just don't realize until later. "My yoke is easy and my burden is light," still felt pretty good, don't get me wrong, but there comes a time when the high of conversion wears off and you begin to circle back around to the details once again. So many details!

The novelty of the COG7 was also wearing off. I would still recommend it to this day for people who are exiting Armstrongism! If you're leaving, consider going there. But it felt lacking. In my town, there is only a small congregation who were all related to one another and most of them were over 60. I actually started skipping services. I felt bad about that. I had a feeling my time there was coming to a close. But where was I going to go? I couldn't make up my mind.
No speaking in tongues, tho! Nope. Still can't get that movie "Cape Fear" out of my mind. Every time I think of speaking in tongues, I hear Robert DeNero yelling, "Counsellor!"

Meanwhile, I was building up a good friendship with Seeker from the As Bereans Did blog. We both seemed to have a healthy dislike of the Spokesman of the Two Witlesses. We discussed how we might partner our blogs to be more effective. We wanted to build a partnership with other blogs. We eventually changed our plan to having me come over and write for her at As Bereans Did. We would invite others to write with us.

I finished up my series on tithes and meats, said a few other words, and just like that, the era of having my own blog was over. My last post at Escaping Armstrongism and my first post here (entitled "Hello World" as a little computer programming joke) was March 16, 2009.

Easter was coming. I didn't like Cadbury cream eggs. I hated bunnies and eggs and pastels. I don't hate them anymore, but I still don't like them. OK! I still hate pastels. How many more times would I have to avoid these holidays? Yet, if I wasn't going to keep Passover like the Armstrongists do, remembering the Exodus, then what was I going to do? I was learning more about what the Gospel really is. I know there is no New Covenant requirement to keep any day. Yet I felt like it would be nice to do something. I could attend with the COG7 I suppose. I spoke to my brother. He is an Evangelical. He was attending a small non-denominational Christian Fellowship church at the time. He invited me to attend Easter services with him. I figured why not. I'm free to go wherever I want. I had never stepped foot in a Protestant church before, save for one wedding ceremony, so this was a good opportunity to see what it was like. And I'll get to learn more about Easter.

Remember all that stress I had over attending the COG7 for the first time? Multiply that. I chose COG7 because they were distantly related to Armstrongism. Evangelicalism was absolutely not. These were completely uncharted waters. Being with family was the only thing saving me.

What songs were these? Again, no "Blessed and Happy Is The Man". People were singing enthusiastically! We never did that. No burgundy hymnal, either. All the lyrics were on a big screen. Why do some people have their hands in the air? That really happens? I thought that was just for television. Why were some people randomly shouting 'amen' during the sermon? My hands are staying DOWN and I am NOT shouting amen under any circumstances.
It was so foreign. No, I was so foreign. This was their land. Yet, beyond all reason, something felt nice.

There was an "old rugged cross" at the front of the hall, draped in white. There was a singular focus in the messaging on Jesus and what He did for us. I didn't feel guilt. No one was bashing other religions as pagan, or arguing over 14th v 15th, or emphasizing how days start at sundown. Nothing in the message was designed to make me feel guilty. I didn't have to drum up a sense of sadness. There was no focus on Moses and the Israelites. This day was about victory and overcoming and glory and life. This day was about the Lord who lived and died and lives again. This was the culmination of everything the Old Testament hoped for. This was an expression of the grace and the Gospel I was coming to know.

It was about Jesus from start to finish. This is how Christianity should be. The entire world felt like springtime. Who would have thought a holiday I was told is pagan could bring me to the foot of cross. I took it all in, and it brought me nearly to tears again.

I gave myself permission to question Armstrong's prophecy and I was rewarded. I gave myself permission to question doctrine and I was rewarded. I asked God for the truth, HIS truth, and I was rewarded. I gave myself permission to participate in a religious holiday and I was rewarded. I found just as much value in it as I did in any of the holy days I kept in Armstrongism. And not a single rabbit or egg or Asherah Pole was involved. No weeping for Tammuz. I didn't gyrate even once. No one went outside to face the sun. Nobody baked cakes for the Queen of Heaven. Total silence on Nimrod.

The halfway house had done its job. I was finally free! I found a good home church. I could go anywhere I wanted, and I wanted to go to this church again next week.

The As Bereans Did team had one year to study Easter. I needed to get that gauntlet greased up. This was going to be a very big job.

CONCLUSION

I had been in one church for most of my life. The very prophecy that sucked me in was what helped set me on the path out. I learned to give myself permission to question. Turns out the prison had no walls. I had to abandon everything familiar and step out into the unknown. I got a blog. I spent several months in a rehab church. Now I was a Gentile Christian with freedom to go wherever I want and worship the Lord in Spirit and truth. I was finally free!

I still had much to wrestle with.

Why did God let this happen to me? Was I punished for some crime committed as a child? No, this was all my dad's fault. I was angry at him! My life was nothing like it would have been if only he had avoided this mess. How could he do this to his family? He was supposed to be wiser than this! Seeing large flaws in a parent can be traumatic. Wait. I did the same to my kids. It wasn't about my dad or his intelligence. Far smarter, richer, more powerful, more experienced, and more travelled people than I were sucked in. Tens of thousands of people were sucked in. It was indoctrination. The deceived don't know they are deceived. I could forgive my dad.

But why did God let this happen to me? Wait. Was there no good that came from it? Let's imagine I hadn't gone through this, I would have been a nominal Christian at best. Uninspired and uninspiring. Now I had a roller coaster ride of a life to tell about. I had a perspective you couldn't buy from Harvard. I had an in-depth knowledge of cult mindsets, the Old Testament, and best of all a deep appreciation for grace. I could really use this to help people. Using my powers for good instead of evil. I think that life gives all of us lemons. I would have had tribulations no matter what. "Pick your hard" as they say. This was mine. So, I made lemonade to give to weary people in the system. For free! And a few of those lemons I froze so I could throw them at the likes of Weinland and Flurry.

Here is what I wrote in my article "How To Move Forward":

"I advise you to take this with you - God allowed you to have the COG experience you did for a reason. What is that reason? Find the good, and be thankful to God for it. You can be miserable, or bitter, or fearful, or thankful. Be thankful! God has never abandoned you and it wasn't all for naught."

I had many paths to choose from. I could do nothing. I could turn around and go backwards into the familiar (I've seen people do that). I could let it beat me, and end up dead or insane. I could give up and be an atheist. That's an easy road, and there are lots of people ready to help you walk it. We don't call Armstrongism the atheist-making machine for nothing! Or, I could insist on Jesus Christ and go into grace.

I insisted on Jesus Christ and pushed forward into grace.

And here you are, reading about some of the things you can expect if you're going through what I went through. Your experience will be different than mine in many ways. Hey! We're all unique. My hope in writing this is you would recognize some familiarity hidden in here somewhere and find some nugget of value in my story that might be of help to you. I don't know what that nugget will be. I don't know what help it will bring. Maybe it's just the knowledge that you're not all alone in this. I have a gut feeling that telling my story will help somebody move forward some day. I have learned over the past 15 years to follow that gut feeling. Whoever you are, you're welcome.


As for the rest of those 15 years, you can read about my progress in the many posts here on As Bereans Did. God bless you, dear reader! May He guide you and guard you. May your path ultimately lead to Him. May you step into the New Covenant and find the freedom of the finished work of Jesus Christ!

The Road goes ever on and on,
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can...



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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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Thursday, February 8, 2024

Escaping Armstrongism - part I

A few weeks ago, I asked how we could help you, our esteemed readers. The answer came back, people want to know more about what it is like to exit. Having done that once, I believe I can oblige.

There are several ways to approach this. Where to start? I have a sinking feeling this is going to take more than one post.
Nothing to it but to do it.

Maybe it would be helpful to start by telling you how I left. I've told parts of it here and there, but never really plotted it out. Not that you care about me, or that I hope to get you to care about my tale, but maybe there will be a helpful nugget in my story that you can relate to.

This is the highly abridged version of how I left.

In today's post, I am going to take you through the major events that led to my initial exit from thirty years of following Herbert Armstrong. In my next post, I will go over my experiences after I made my escape.

WHEN THE LEVEE BREAKS

One thing I've learned over the years is that everyone's exit has to be personal. Nobody leaves for an empty reason. No one leaves for someone else's reason. My reason to leave, like my reason for joining in the first place, was deeply personal, and it starts with prophecy.

I was big into prophecy when I was a young boy. Prophecy is what got me interested in Herbert Armstrong in the first place. My father was a tithe-paying Armstrongist in good standing. He was a stern man, and I wanted to make him proud. My mother was not an Armstrongist at all. So, my father was never allowed to force anything religious on his children. He spoke to the Ministry in the Worldwide Church of God, and they said to just let it play out on its own. The church was always odd that way. Regular people were actively discouraged from evangelizing. I suspect it had something to do with money. My father would talk to me about the church and prophecy, and I would eat that up. He had all the written material and watched The World Tomorrow regularly, so I ate that up, too. It was prophecy that got me into other topics, like Easter for example, and the Sabbath. The hook being set, I was reeled in like a fish. And like a fish, I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

As I got older, I would read through everything I could get my hands on (approved material only, of course). I wanted to crack that nut. I needed to fully understand prophecy. I could understand Revelation, I just knew it! That led me to gravitate towards others in the church who loved prophecy. Funny thing about prophecy nuts - none of us agree about much. And some of us didn't agree with Herbert Armstrong.

I was at the Feast of Tabernacles in 2002, in Pensacola, Florida. Hurricane Isadore was taking a tour of the Gulf of Mexico. A room full of friends had gathered to chat about nothing in particular. In my circle, the topic turned to ... yes, prophecy. Doesn't it always at the Feast, though? A friend of mine asked me if God could lie. (That was his ice breaker this year. He asked a lot of people that as a conversation starter.) Of course not! Why would He want to? We investigated it a while. He eventually asked if I believed the church could be wrong on prophecy. I didn't know how to answer that. Was this some kind of trick? I responded 'no'. How could the true church be wrong on prophecy? It was no trick. He pointed out how he disagreed with a few things. Minor things. But minor or not, the idea that the church could legitimately be wrong on prophecy was major. That was the first crack in the dam.

Fast forward a few years. I was at the Feast in Phoenix, Arizona in 2007. When they say "dry heat" it doesn't mean it's not hot. It a lot hotter, only dry. Which makes 113F/45C and full sun better in precisely no way at all. A group of friends from all over the country had arranged to gather there. We would sneak off in the early morning hours before sunrise, with our Bibles and some coffee in hand, to discuss ... yes, prophecy. We jokingly called it "The Heretics Club". We would discuss our disagreements with official views on prophecy, and each other's. It was mostly peaceful. The key to being a prophecy nut and having friends was to disagree with other people gently. Some guys just don't get that. We tried to get along. There we were, gathered in secret to disagree with each other and discuss secrets. Secrets about why the church was wrong. And why shouldn't we? There were sermons and articles piling up about why Herbert Armstrong was wrong. Every minister I knew about was either saying he was off the mark, or insufficient, or that they were even greater than he (they're still doing it). How was that acceptable but what we were doing was wrong? Wrong, no. Effective, yes. For some reason, what we were doing affected me. Here is the difference - we gave ourselves permission. What felt so risky wasn't the disagreeing so much, it was the permission to disagree. That was the second crack in the dam.

We were careful to keep our disagreements solely on prophecy. We weren't real heretics. That was just a fun little name. We saw ourselves as protecting the truth, not undermining it. I remember walking out of a session one morning, looking at the vast horizon, wondering in awe at the natural beauty and grandeur of God's creation. What force would it take to create all that waste? As I looked out at the mesas, I felt small, exposed. It's in moments like that (and, oddly, in the shower) when I do my best thinking. Maybe it's because I get myself out of the way. Then it dawned on me - if the church was so wrong about prophecy, what's to say they aren't wrong on doctrine too? I ducked into a stairwell and looked around to make sure no one saw me have that thought. I kept my mouth shut tight about that! If I breathed out a whisper about it, I'd be exiled for certain. But, like prophecy, articles and sermons littered the floor about why the church was wrong on doctrinal issues. We were wrong on government, evangelism, the role of prophecy, the centrality of Christ, the calendar, the Last Great Day of Tabernacles, race relations, the list goes on and on. Everyone I knew expressed some sort of dissatisfaction with how things were done in the past. Why couldn't I? My novel contribution was simply to put these smaller bites together to see the whole meal. Since no one was going to allow me to question, I needed to give myself permission to question. As providence would have it, Harold Smith's sermon that morning was his attempt to get ahead of all the doctrinal drift and force everyone back on point. It was a real stinker of an obvious attempt to manipulate everyone. Coincidence? I think not. It seemed there might be something to this doctrine idea after all. That was the third crack in the dam.

I held my cards tight to my chest. No one needed to know what I was going through. Not fully, anyway. I had a friend in my local congregation who was a black sheep if ever there was one. Intelligent and searching, that man. God rest his soul. He wasn't afraid at all to disagree openly. He was a thorn in everyone's side and I enjoyed that about him. He had a soft and friendly face that made you want to forgive him, or else I'm sure he would have been put out years before. Upsetting the powers that be so many times has a way of changing one's perspective. It made him see himself as having a direct relationship with Jesus. No man could come between him and God (or put him out of the church). What a novel idea. I couldn't tell if it was true or arrogant, but it felt nice. Can I have a direct relationship with God, too? No Minister between us? Scary! But a key idea.
One average day, I was studying an average topic - the Sabbath and how it was magnified in the New Covenant - preparing for an average sermonette, when, all at once, I "got it". An incredible torrent of joy washed over me. Jesus Christ really did magnify all things! Our flaw was that we had defined "magnify" as "made harder". That was wrong. Joy was unusual and strange. Armstrongists don't have joy. We feel best when we're given a right good beating in the sermon. But this wasn't guilt, it was joy! And I didn't trust it one bit. I studied late into the night, trying to see if what I thought was real or some elaborate emotional deception. Was I falling away? Was this Satan? Other sinful things feel pretty good, so joy wasn't necessarily proof. I buried my face in church material. By the time I went to bed, I had managed to quench that joy and go back into believing Armstrong. Whew! A close call! That was the fourth crack in the dam.

I needed to know if we were right or wrong. Really know. I decided to do a little trial. I was going to take a doctrinal topic and put it to the test. I hated tithing. Nobody loves tithing. That would be my topic. I was going to study tithing every bit as hard as I studied prophecy, but I was going to be critical and try to poke holes in it. Devil's advocate. I think that is where the prototype As Bereans Did doctrinal gauntlet was first constructed. I would see for myself if the church was solid on doctrine. The doctrine went in, and wreckage came out. Did you know there's a difference between 10% and one-in-ten? Neither did I until that study. We were doing tithing very, very wrong. Highlights of that study are in the ten articles on tithing over at the old Escaping Armstrongism blog. Trust me, you wouldn't want to read the whole thing. It was 27 pages! That winter, I showed it to some close and respected friends. Try as they might, they couldn't disprove my thesis. It brought one of them to tears. He had sacrificed so much over the years. Tithing was his thing; his hill to die on. The thought of all that sacrifice being for nothing was too much for him to bear. He told me I was right, then apologized and said he could never read it again. Remember when I said 'nobody loves tithing'? Nobody but him. I loved that man. I still love that man. If he needed to bury this, then I say bury it. Burn it! But as for me, the church could be wrong on doctrine after all. That was the fifth crack in the dam.

What if it was only tithing? Logic dictates I had to try one more topic. One could be a fluke, but two is evidence. I had to know! I chose clean/unclean meats. Pork made me feel sick when I ate it. I always knew when some found its way into my food at a restaurant. I thought this would be a fair choice. Certain of my inevitable defeat and confidently awaiting my comfortable return to orthodox Armstrongism, I fired up the doctrinal gauntlet. Much to my disappointment and confusion, the doctrine went in and wreckage came out. Did you know God gave Noah every creeping thing to eat, and that includes lizards? Neither did I until that study. Highlights of that study are in the eleven articles on food laws over at Escaping Armstrongism. You wouldn't want to read the full study of that one, either. It was 50 pages! That was the sixth crack in the dam.

This studying business was getting uncomfortable. I found the Painful TruthIronWolfAmbassador Watch and other websites with counter-information. Who knew an entire universe of information already existed? I wasn't quite ready for it all, but there I went all the same. I kept studying and I kept finding. Did you know we are commanded to travel three times a year to the place where the Lord places His name, not just once? We were even doing holy days wrong. So many flaws! How could the one true church have been so wrong? Notice, I still believed it was the one true church. We had lots of doctrines that I thought were unique to us (because I hadn't yet found out they weren't unique to us), so we had to be one true. I was so sure of it, I tried convincing a co-worker of this foundational truth. A long series of discussions culminated in him agreeing to read "The Incredible Human Potential" by Herbert Armstrong. I gave him my copy. He didn't say anything about it for several days. I asked how he was doing. He mildly responded that he had certain disagreements with the material. I was flabbergasted. How can a person read this material and come away with disagreements? I found the book online and read it that very night. My review: what a complete load of steaming Holstein! How did I ever find that book to be convincing?? The next conversation I had with my co-worker went very differently than the last. I never gave him "Mystery of the Ages" like I planned. Turns out that was pretty bad, too. That was the seventh crack in the dam. A big one!

I travelled to Illinois to spend the Spring holy days with some very dear friends. It didn't hurt that the lady of the house, God rest her soul, made this wonderful stuff called "bread of affliction", which was unleavened (technically). It used egg whites to add air. Affliction never tasted so good! We were all later told by Harold Smith that this was cheating and we were not to whip air into unleavened bread. On the last day of Unleavened Bread, my friend and I drove to church together in a beat up old pickup truck. The drive was a bit long so I took the opportunity to mention some of what I had learned about holy days. I specifically mentioned the laws that required travelling to the place where the Lord places His name three times in the year. My friend told me about how, in the beginning, Herbert Armstrong taught travel three times in the year, but he later changed it when things proved too difficult and expensive. That certainly was news to me. I chewed on that a little and responded it was necessary because it is the law. He didn't agree that was necessary. But it was the law, I complained. (The law! The law! Just not THAT law!) That was when he said the words I will never forget, "Herbert Armstrong changed the law out of necessity."

        And at that very second, the dam broke.


STOP THE WORLD, I WANT TO GET OFF

Something snapped. No, snapped isn't the right word. Shattered! Yes, something shattered. It was the strangest sensation. One second everything was normal, the next second everything - everything - was different. Do you know what a Dolly Zoom is? I imagine in the camera of my life it looked like a Dolly Zoom. A switch was flipped. I was in the same truck with the same person, but it was as if it were an entirely different truck and an entirely different person. The friend who I loved so dearly was a stranger to me. Where I had felt comfortable, now I felt trapped. I was taking a cab to a place I didn't want to go.

To understand why that phrase shattered my worldview, you need to understand all it entailed. It meant we didn't really care about law. Armstrong made everything up as he went, and changed what he liked. All that talk about the law being eternal and "not one jot or one tittle" was all just propaganda.

All the prophecies, all the tithes, all the holy days, all the magazines, booklets, and shows, all the sermons given or received, all the discussions, all the studies and debates, all the stands taken over the Sabbath, all the jobs lost, all the opportunities missed, all the ridicule endured, all the sacrifices, all the tithes paid, all the years up until then, and all the reasons for being at the Spring holy days, were all at once shattered by those eight words. I felt cold. I felt trapped. I needed out of that truck, out of that state, right the heck now!

It was everything I could do to keep my mouth from hanging open. I felt like a man trying to stay calm after a life-threatening injury. The building was on fire and I needed the wherewithal to carefully walk toward the exit. I tried my best to act like nothing happened. It's fine. Everything's fine. They must not suspect a thing. I went to church and I did the motions on auto pilot. I no longer felt like I was inside the story. I was outside looking in. Like a near death experience, I watched events from a third person perspective, somewhere removed just off screen. Packed into a meeting room at a hotel with a crowd of strangers I knew and loved. My seat safely in the back close to the exit door. I didn't sing. I had no idea what the sermon was about, I only knew it lasted an eternity. When services finished, I walked outside to the sight of the most beautiful Redbud trees I had ever seen. A purple so vibrant it almost hurt. That little touch of God's beauty helped ground me. I went to lunch afterward, deeply contemplating the laws against having someone work for you on the Sabbath. Herbert changed that law out of necessity, too. We were hypocrites. All of us! Not that day only, but always. I even stayed the night. But I no longer saw the point.
The church was wrong on doctrine. My brain had finally accepted it was all made up as we went along. This entire time, we all were just saying whatever we thought sounded good at the moment.

AFTERSHOCKS

I went home and studied as hard as I had ever studied before. I was fairly down and needed something positive to happen.

I did a lot of looking into the holy days, since I had to give the sermon at Pentecost. My message was about how wrong we were about the holy days, but I stated it in a way that sounded like I was agreeing with everyone. They all said it was the best Pentecost sermon they had ever heard! All but one man. He knew. He came up to me afterward with a glint in his eye and a smile hidden in the corner of his mouth. Oh, he knew exactly what I'd just done. He was genuinely one of the most intelligent human beings I had ever known. He shook my hand with a wink and said it was a good message. We talked very briefly about how nobody else realized. I asked him if he'd thought about leaving. He said yes, but he was going to stay. That's where all his friends were. I thought that was a good reason for a man like him. That was it. Lord, do I ever miss that man!

I spent the summer studying and debating what I had learned online. I read "Churches That Abuse" by Ronald Enroth. That book hurt! I started to read "The Babylon Connection" by Ralph Woodrow, but that took a back seat to another matter. I happened across the infamous story of Herbert Armstrong's personal failings. (You know what I mean. We never go into detail about that here. That's for other websites. But it's all true!)

I was not actively looking for information on Armstrong, specifically. I was just reading everything I could find. I found out about his reliance on the ravings of G. G. Rupert, how he borrowed doctrines from the SDA and the Mormons and would read the JW's Watchtower magazine to get ideas, how he read "Mein Kampf" and was a Communist sympathizer, how a woman offering him a stack of wood caused him to believe he was chosen by God, how he was fired from the Church of God (Seventh Day), how he predicted Jesus would return by 1936, how he was a plagiarist, how he let his wife die of a simple bowel obstruction but had a suitcase full of pills for himself, how he used to teach Pentecost was on a Monday, how he was remarried to a woman young enough to be his granddaughter, and how he almost lost the Worldwide Church of God to the State of California in a receivership debacle in the 1970s. He was the test I never wanted. He needed to endure the gauntlet. He failed spectacularly. It was a thing of grotesque beauty. Like watching the Bismarck sink. This was the Apostle?! (Those who see you will gaze at you, and consider you, saying: ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms'?) Could this get any worse??

Once again, I was crushed. I recalled Armstrong's words, "The deceived don't know they are deceived." Finally, I knew I had not just been wrong. Yes, things could get worse.. I had been deceived. There was a marked difference between the church being wrong and me being deceived. There is no way for me to write to you about how that felt. I promise you, it was as if the very gravity that held me to the earth could not be trusted anymore, and I could possibly float away at any moment. Nothing was worthy of my trust. The only thing I was sure about at that point were the Ten Commandments. What else was hiding out there, waiting for me? I was about to find out.

Enter Justin Martyr.

For some reason I cannot explain, for about the past year or so by this point I suspected answers were hiding in the writings of the early church. I didn't know the first thing about these early church writers. We were always told to stay away from them. I forced myself to read them and become familiar. There were quite a few, so it took a long time. And, to be honest, they were confusing to me. I couldn't relate because I was coming from such a different place. They were saying things that weren't Armstrong's message at all. Like, at all. Not even a little. All of them did this. The natural proclivity of an Armstrongist mindset is to try and force everything into our worldview box, to protect it and keep it true. I couldn't do that with these "Church Fathers". Normally, when something defies every attempt to fit it into the box, it gets dismissed as deception from Satan, and condemned. I wasn't about to do that either. The point was to understand them as they are, and get answers. Yet, to be even more honest, since we were told not to trust them, I didn't seriously trust them. I was afraid of this "lost century" thing. If you aren't familiar, Armstrong told us the true church was forced underground before the end of the first century and all the writings from about 90 AD and onward were nothing but Catholic propaganda. "Lost history" referred to the true church being nowhere to be found, even though it endured, secretly. Maybe in some valley in the French Alps. We don't know. They were lost. You can't prove it, so it must be true! Was any of that really true? No. Not at all. But we believed it was true. Long story short, it took me a long time to get through any of the writings from that period.

One average night as I sat on my couch, I came across a second century document written by a man named Justin. They call him Justin Martyr, for obvious reasons. Justin is the earliest extant Christian apologist. One of his writings is about a discussion he had with a Jew named Philo. Among other things, Justin described to Philo how Christians no longer observe the Sabbath. It was nowhere near as simple as, "We don't keep the Sabbath because the Pope changed it to Sunday." No. He went into detail about it. He debated a Sabbath keeper about it from the guy's own scriptures. I will never forget sitting there, realizing the church was wrong on the Sabbath, too. Not the Sabbath! Yes, the Sabbath.

Do you remember when I said I was shocked when I felt an inexplicable joy come over me as I contemplated the New Covenant? And how I said I was shocked when my friend said, "Herbert Armstrong changed the law out of necessity"? This was another of those times. Like earthquakes and aftershocks, they just kept coming. But this one was good!

It all made sense all at once. Armstrong was wrong! The early church were not Sabbatarians, and it was for completely Biblical reasons. There was no lost history. Jesus is our Sabbath! 
I sat on that couch, mouth agape, reading and re-reading Justin's words. I tried to explain it to the person sitting next to me, but I was so energized I stumbled and fumbled over my words. My mind was going faster than my mouth could keep up.

No wonder why we weren't allowed to read that stuff!!

The next day, I prayed about it. I kid you not, I laid face down on the living room floor like the men of old, and I prayed my heart out. I wanted the truth - GOD'S truth. I didn't care what the consequences were, so long as I knew the truth. And just like that, the joy I felt that one night retuned. It was one of the best feelings I'd ever experienced.
Something inside me knew the joy was temporary. This world can't keep joy like that. It was only a down payment; a foretaste. It would dissipate, but I was going to ride that wave as long as I could.

OUTRO

After services one Sabbath shortly thereafter, I asked my Minister to step aside and speak to me privately. He was an honorable man. Not at all like the rest. I told him I was having issues with what I had learned about Armstrong's behavior. He asked if I thought the Holy Spirit came through Armstrong. I considered it for a moment then responded, no. If the Holy Spirit comes at all, it comes directly to us through Christ. I assured him I wasn't questioning his ordination. Realizing that wasn't all there was to it, he probed for more. I responded I could not tell him more, because if I did, he would have to answer the same questions I was, and either he would have to agree with me or lie to himself.
He needed that place, he needed those people, and it wasn't right for me to take it away. It was clear I had to escape Armstrongism. I couldn't stay, like my friend would. I had to go. I was a threat to the group. All I could do any longer is cause division. For their sake and mine, I had to go.

A few days later, a Minister from another area called to ask if I would speak at his Feast of Tabernacles in Panama City, Florida that year. A great honor, which I had to politely decline. I didn't tell him I was leaving. I just said I couldn't attend that year. It was true enough.

Prophecy, gone. Doctrine, gone. Armstrong, God's appointed Apostle, gone. Sabbath, gone.
This is how I described my last day in my post "Welcome To Escaping Armstrongsm" on the old blog:

"I left my splinter group on Saturday, August 23rd, 2008.
I had followed Herbert Armstrong for 30 years.
I insisted on going to services in order to see everyone one last time. I arrived dressed in my best. I made sure to give out as many hugs and hardy handshakes as possible. I got a cup of coffee and settled in for the sermon. When the coffee was gone, so was I. Quietly, I sneaked out the back door, and I am not going to return.
These were the people who were there when I was a child. They were at my wedding. They saw my wife and I through our pregnancies. Everyone was invited to my wife's baptism. They were grandma and grandpa to our children. We went through agonizing church splits together. They loved us like their own. They were a closer family than my physical family. And I never wanted to have to go."

Three decades of my life dedicated primarily to one thing. All gone. All except for Jesus and a belief that mainstream Christianity was steeped in pagan ideas.

I bet my life and my future on the inerrancy of the church Herbert Armstrong founded. I lost that bet. This was supposed to have been the one true church sent from God to tell us the astounding truth! God's truth!!

I knew I had one last bit of unfinished business that I would not enjoy in the least.
... [deep breath]...
I went to my mother's house to humiliate myself and admit my failures. She was right that whole time, and I was wrong. I didn't listen, and I should have. I put her through so much for nothing. She took it well.

I started the Escaping Armstrongism blog that same month. I was still escaping. That's also when I came up with the name xHWA. In other words, ex Herbert W Armstrong believer. Seemed fitting. And sounded better than Silence DoGood.



I hope you found some nugget of value in my story. God willing, in the next post, I will tell you about how I went from recovering Armstrongist to mainstream Christian. See you then!


 

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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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