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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Armstrongism and the New Year

Happy New Year, everyone! Even to you current Armstrongists.

Yes, you too. Because, whether you like the New Year's Day celebration or not, you operate under the Gregorian Calendar and January 1 is the start of a new year for you every bit as much as it is for everyone else who uses the Gregorian Calendar.

Do you deny it?

YOU DO TOO

What month is it? January. What day is it? Thursday, January 1st. What year is it? 2015. When will you go to church next? Saturday, January 3rd. When is the Passover in 2015? April 3rd. Is it not? Is that not what the Holy Day Calendar says? Let us see for ourselves.
Here is a link to the Holy Day Calendar on the UCG website: http://www.ucg.org/holy-day-calendar
See that? Ordered by Gregorian year, month, and day. Let's do that again. Let's see the old Worldwide Church of God's "God's Sacred Calendar '86-'87" publication. Why, just look at the name. The pagan designation "'86-'87" is right there in the very name of the sacred calendar! And, once again, we see it is ordered entirely around the Gregorian Calendar.

So, not only do you know the Gregorian Calendar, you use it. Not only do you use it in your personal and business life, but you use it to order your religious life as well. You use and respect and honor the Gregorian Calendar in every possible aspect, every bit as much as anyone else does who uses it, only you rail about how pagan it is and refuse to celebrate the New Year's Day.

Now, who can tell me what the name is of the eleventh Hebrew month (don't cheat and look it up)? What about the fourth month? Who can tell me what year it is according to the "sacred calendar"?
Chances are you don't even know the names of the Hebrew months, let alone in proper order. If you did, there wouldn't be any false claims about March/April being the time of weeping for Tammuz.

If the Hebrew Calendar is so very sacred, and the Gregorian Calendar so very pagan, why the continuous intermixing of the two? I thought you were supposed to "come out from among them, and be ye separate ... and touch not the unclean thing" (II COR. 6: 17). It looks bad when you're steeped in what you condemn (ROM. 2: 17-29). If the COGs are going to lambaste every calendar but the Hebrew as "pagan" and the Hebrew calendar as "God's" or "sacred" or "true", then why not dispense with the hypocrisy and cease using the Gregorian Calendar in its entirety? You meant what you said about it being pagan, didn't you? You have a proper calendar from God at your disposal, don't you? Yet, you order your life around the pagan calendar and pay lip service to the "true" calendar a few times each year - at the New Year and holy days.

But, to be completely fair, I am merely making a "you do it too" argument and is a To Quoque argument really any better of a defense? I propose we move away from it, then. Let us instead take a closer look at the details and see if the "Hebrew Calendar" is really God's calendar, or just a convenient excuse to malign the New Year.

THINKING REALISTICALLY

The United Church of God paints the time-honored tradition for us yet again in their article "Dropping the Ball on New Year Celebrations." In it, they say this,
"God's New Year begins in the spring. From ancient times, God's calendar has been in use and the beginning of the year has continuously been at the same time."
-Gayle Hoefker, "Dropping the Ball on New Year Celebrations.", United Church of God, ucg.org, 12-29-2014
I want to point out that the article is dated using the Gregorian Calendar. The true viewpoint of the COGs towards the pagan calendar is revealed - it's only pagan seven or eight times a year. "Think vertically" is a cute catch phrase and all, but we suggest thinking realistically. Maybe even honestly.

First, this claim isn't exactly true that the beginning of the year has continuously been at the same time. It's the Jews' calendar. Ask them when the new year is. They will tell you Rosh Hashana - the Feast of Trumpets. The name Rosh Hashana literally means new year. 
"The name "Rosh Hashanah" means, literally, "head of the year" or "first of the year." Rosh Hashanah is commonly known as the Jewish New Year."
- "Rosh Hashanah", Judaism 101, https://www.jewfaq.org/rosh_hashanah
You will no doubt argue that Moses set one date and the Jews another. I will grant you this. However, my point is not to argue against Nissan 1 but to demonstrate things are a bit more nuanced than the UCG makes it seem. It varied somewhat.
I could also do a little childish equivocate here. If the Jews have run a foul of the Feast of Trumpets, then it's soiled and you have to avoid it. What? It's the same thing people say about Christmas.

Second, we know from history that the beginning of the month of Abib/Nisan was determined visually by a representative of the Sanhedrin sighting the New Moon from the hills outside of Jerusalem. Yes, the sacred calendar is entirely dependent upon New Moons. (I do suggest you read our post "New Moons - What Josephus Says They Were Really Doing".) The representative would report to the Sanhedrin what was seen, and the Sanhedrin would make an official proclamation. If the New Moon could not be visually determined, the start of the year could be delayed by a day. Over the centuries Israel devised a system of calculations, so they knew roughly when the start of the year would be. But history leads us to understand that they would still visually determine the first day of the year regardless. The Diaspora would then be alerted to the time via signal fires. That is, until the Jews were expelled from Jerusalem after the destruction of the temple in 70AD. Things became quite a bit more complicated after that. Thus, the New Year's Day was not "continuously at the same time." It varied somewhat.

Third, the UCG knows what they claimed is wrong. They take this from Herman Hoeh, in his booklet "The Crucifixion Was Not On Friday".
"The Jews have accurately preserved it [the calendar] to this very day, just as they have accurately preserved for us the Old Testament."
"This Hebrew Calendar has continued to be used by God’s true Church ever since apostolic times and it is still being faithfully followed today."
-Herman Hoeh, "The Crucifixion Was Not On Friday", 1968, pp. 33-34
Hoeh was wrong. We know from history that the modern Hebrew calendar is not that original Hebrew calendar, but a reconfiguration of the Hebrew Calendar devised by Rabbi Hillel II in the 350's AD. Hillel altered the calendar by necessity. Since the Temple was destroyed and the Sanhedrin banished from Jerusalem, the calendar system they had used was now nearly impossible to maintain. The mechanisms of how to calculate it were kept a secret and few knew how to work it. The calendar crept back to where the first day of Abib/Nisan happened before the spring equinox. Passover itself could happen before the equinox. One of Hillel's main goals was to prevent this. Additional changes have been made since. The COGs make a grand to-do denouncing the Gentile Christians of abandoning the "sacred calendar" when they set the Pascha timing in 325 AD. But they purposefully ignore that the Jews themselves revamped the calendar system a few years later. The modern Hebrew calendar is not the ancient calendar. Once again, the New Year's Day was not "continuously at the same time." It varied somewhat.
Hoeh knew this back in the 1960s. He just chose to bury it. The modern UCG is even more guilty. Much of I just said was laid out in a Good News Magazine article from April 1981, p. 28. The members and leaders of the UCG read the Good News Magazine. They knew what it said. They should have told the truth. They didn't.

Fourth, a complex system of intercalations - adjustments like leap months and added days at the end of certain years - are mandatory to keep a lunar calendar in line with the solar year (to keep Passover immediately after the spring equinox, for example). The Bible never sets up these intercalations. Therefore, they were devised later. Herbert Armstrong set a great deal of importance on these intercalations. Anyone familiar with Armstrong's writings knows about the "19-year time cycles." They were supposedly a vital key to understanding prophecy. These intercalations are mandatory to keep the system working, yet the Bible is silent about them. If you don't do intercalations, then your months move around the year. The Muslims do not do intercalations on their lunar-based religious calendar, therefore you see Ramadan occurring at any time in the year. How many years did it take for the Hebrews to perfect their intercalations? No one knows. Did the Babylonians help them with this? Notice that the Hebrew months are never named by God. The months of the Hebrew Calendar are all named with pagan names, mainly from Babylon. Therefore we can know for a fact that the Babylonian calendar had an influence on the Hebrew calendar. We cannot know how deep this influence goes, but we can see that the two calendars are not that different. One of them, or both, had to have changed for this to be so. For a third time we see, the New Year's Day was not "continuously at the same time." It varied somewhat.

Fifth, we know there are miracles mentioned in the Bible that deal with alterations in the visible motion of the Sun in its course. For example, Joshua's "long day" in Joshua chapter 10. Not only that, but it has been a widely accepted thing in the COGs for decades that the length of the year prior to Noah's Flood was 5 days shorter than it is now. In other words, many in the COGs believe that the year used to be 360 days long, not 365.242. So, in a proper year, each month should be 30 days long. Is this really true? Who can know! Many ancient cultures were based on 30-day months and 360-day years (eg. ancient Egypt). It is true that the lunar and solar calendars would match up better in a 360-day solar year. At any rate, the calendar between Creation and Moses could not escape any of these changes unscathed. Therefore the New Year's Day was not "continuously at the same time." It must have varied somewhat.

Sixth, we know from history that there were multiple calendars in Israel by Jesus' day. The Temple had one calendar, the Gallileans another, and the Essenes another (not to mention the Julian calendar or any other regional calendars in use at that time). The Essenes used a calendar so regular and so fixed that declared it God's calendar. They were offended by the corrections required by the calendar used at the temple. They did not accept something so imperfect could come from God. Then, there was another calendar used in Galilee. Not only were the Temple and Galilean calendars off by a day from one another, the Galilean calendar started days in the morning. All were "Hebrew calendars." Which is the one true Hebrew calendar? Yet again, the New Year's Day was not "continuously at the same time." It varied somewhat.

Seventh, (because everybody knows a good list should have seven points) in the article, Genesis 1: 14-18 is referenced, where it is stated that the heavens are to help us tell time. Then the article skips nearly 3,000 years to Exodus 12: 2 where God tells Moses when the first month of the year should be. What we are expected to believe from this disjointed proof-texting is that God operates under one and only one sacred calendar, and the Hebrew Calendar is the unbroken continuation of a divine system of time-keeping God had set in place at creation, making Abib/Nisan the one true start of that divine year.
Except there is nothing in the entire Bible making any claim remotely like this. This is just declared to be so with nothing backing it. You cannot prove nor disprove it. There is no time marker in Genesis 1 or Exodus 12 to let us know exactly when that first day was. The COGs assume that the Jews never lost track of that exact day, which is demonstrably false on its face. There is no reason to assume that the Jews, even by Jesus' day, had kept a tight lock on the precise mechanism of when to determine the New Year (we hardly consider the barley crop a "precise mechanism"). There are very good reasons to believe that the New Year's Day was not "continuously at the same time."

At any rate, the base assumptions made by the COGs about the Hebrew Calendar are highly unreliable. There are two main assumptions being made here:
1) That the start of the year which God gave to Moses is exactly the same as Creation Day 1,
and
2) That the Jews have continually protected the correct start of the year from Moses until now.

These assumptions are both exceedingly weak. Holding the Jews up as a calendar authority while simultaneously saying how desperately wrong they are on calendar issues (eg. Rosh Hashanah as New Year, timing of Passover) is opportunistic, to put it mildly. So they are both sacredly correct and sinfully wrong in their chronological reliability?? Spring may very well be the right time for the start of Abib/Nisan. The barley crop does ripen in spring after all. Problem is, demanding that the start of Abib/Nisan was "continuously at the same time" is simply not backed up by much other than wishful thinking, but what's worse is basing the condemnation of the rest of the world on these assumptions is dangerous!
Note: We aren't in any way knocking on the Jews here.

Continue in the assumption if you will, but even so you will only continue in principle, seeing as in practice you respect the Gregorian calendar in nearly every aspect of your life. This effectively renders the entire complaint against celebrating the New Year a great noise. Sound and fury signifying nothing.

SUPPLEMENTAL INCIDENTALS

Since even the COGs, regardless of how much they prefer to continue in their assumption, cannot deny these points are the historical reality of the situation, they are forced to ignoring the historical reality, bickering with each other over certain hyper-legalistic minutiae (like when to time Pentecost in a year where Passover is on the weekly Sabbath), and fundamentally relying on certain "guilt by association" accusations. To show just how very much nothing there really is, let's look at a few of these accusations from the UCG article quoted above. For example:
"Many New Year’s parties include the drinking of alcohol to excess."
[ibid]
True! It is well known for that. Is drinking to excess mandatory at New Year's? No. So don't do it. There is no need to get inebriated in order to wish "Happy New Year" to friends and family. But! No one ever drinks to excess during the Feast of Tabernacles?? It didn't get the nickname "The Feast of Booze" for nothing, you know! Drinking is a time-honored tradition at the Feast. If you're going to use drunkenness as a serious excuse, then you should be honest about it and apply the standard across the board by skipping the FOT from now on.

Or look at this anachronistic claim:
"...Noisemaking and fireworks on New Year’s Eve are common. It is believed that this originated in ancient times when noise and fire were used to ward off evil spirits and bring good luck"
[ibid]
It is not believed. Hard to take anyone seriously when they state things like this.
So fireworks originate in ancient times? Even though our first record of gunpowder in Europe was in the 1300's AD? What ancient times could the article possibly be talking about? Where does this guy get his information? Don't tell me. I know. Alexander Hislop. Lights were used anciently, therefore these lights couldn't possibly be anything besides? Are we to believe that all lights and sounds are the modern descendant of those ancient superstitions? Seriously? Are we to avoid anything with noise and lights and pagan symbols? Better not attend another wedding for the rest of your life! Not a single one. Best to avoid Independence Day as well. To be safe, don't watch television or drive either. For Heaven's sake, never ever ride in an ambulance if noise and lights are pagan.

Or, here is one of my personal favorites:
"Many celebrate by making New Year's resolutions. This practice dates back to ancient Babylon when people made good behavior promises to the gods. Of those that make resolutions, less than half keep them six months later. Wouldn’t it be better to live by good godly principles every day of your life?"
[ibid]
This sounds very reasonable on the surface. Sure, people do make resolutions and regularly fail to keep them. Guilty! It would be better to live a godly life indeed. It's a terrible thing to assume that a godly life isn't being led just because a person wants to improve themselves, but we'll pass that by. Is that really a reason to dump New Year's Day? People don't keep their resolutions, so don't ever celebrate New Year's Day? This is a mighty stretch indeed.

When I think of what "living a godly life" means to an Armstrongist (law-keeping), I can't help but notice the similarity between a New Year's resolution and what Armatrongists do regularly with the Old Covenant law. Tell me, do you believe you should keep the law? Yes. Do you actually keep it, perfectly? No. Over and over again we have demonstrated that it is not the keeping of the law that the COGs require but the attempt at keeping the law. Tell me the truth, when you feel right guilty because you've failed to keep the law yet again, don't you make a resolution in your prayerful negotiations with God to do better next time? Of course you do. Do you succeed? Be honest! So in all actuality you have made a resolution, a good behavior promise to God, which you don't keep. Are we to conclude that you are a pagan and should never go to church again?
How the standards do shift.

CONCLUSION

The COGs believe that when God gave the calendar system to Moses what God was doing was re-establishing a sacred system set up at creation. This isn't a conclusion taken from the Bible. It's a conclusion put into the Bible. It's pure eisegesis. Even as they do this, they also teach that the year has been critically altered by miraculous events over time. If there were any solid Biblical support for these claims, then the case they made wouldn't be primarily assumption and fault-finding.

At the very least, the Armstrongists certainly wouldn't have wasted decades beating each other up over New Moons, 14th/15th Passover, Sunday/Monday Pentecost, and who has the most accurate, most holy, most one true of the calendar interpretations. The intricacies and inaccuracies of the Hebrew lunar calendar engender strife among those who demand its observance. Either one glosses over the issues and presses ahead, or they spiral into ever-deeper levels of legalism causing division and leaving destruction in their wake. Nothing causes division like a calendar controversy. Legalism tends towards a church of one. Look at the FRUITS!

The COGs believe that God told the Jews that the start of the year is in the Spring. The Bible doesn't say anything about a precise day, though. God simply said that what we now call Abib/Nisan (both pagan names) was the first of the months. An observation of the New Moon is clearly required to make this determination - yet most of the COGs, maintaining their tradition of cherry-picking from the law, are adamantly against New Moons. Still, this lunar observation isn't at a fixed day of the solar year. And where in the law does God demonstrate how and where to observe the New Moon? It's missing. The entire process is arbitrary.
So the COGs turn to rely on the modern Jews as the authority on when these things should be, even as they rail on about how wrong the Jews are on these same issues. Except, we know that the lunar calendar wanders through the year, and that the Jews didn't always have a good lock on it as they had multiple calendars, and that calendar calculations developed over time, and that we have no idea how their lunar year wandered for the first few centuries until the intercalations were set, and that the Babylonian and Hebrew calendars were intermixed somehow, and that the modern Hebrew calendar is not the ancient Hebrew calendar.

Let us come to the heart of the matter. What law is there that says that there should be one and only one calendar? There is no such law. Israel, who ought to know best, supposedly set up a second calendar in the time of King David. What law says that one must not celebrate the New Year? There is no such law. "Where there is no law there is no sin," right? And what's more, the COGs have yet to prove why the Gentiles are in any way bound to the terms and machinations of an abrogated covenant designed specifically for the Israelites in the land of Palestine until the coming of the Messiah. What case do you have against the Gregorian calendar and celebrating the New Year then? Circumstantial, misinformed, and weak at best, and I'm being generous. Herbert Armstrong said it was wrong, and the COGs, although many claim HWA is not important to their faith, continue to teach his traditions to our day. It's a tradition, not a law. Will you condemn so many for a tradition, especially when you use the same calendar in every other respect? I have a resolution for you which you can easily keep - dump the hypocrisy.

I say again, HAPPY NEW YEAR TO YOU! May it be blessed and filled with grace and love. May this be the year that you finally step into the New Covenant in the finished work of Jesus Christ!



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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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Friday, December 19, 2014

Established and Imposed

It's one of most celebrated stories of the Bible. It has been dramatized in songs, in books, and even by Hollywood. Some were so moved that they created a holiday to memorialize this miracle forevermore. To mark this holiday, many people exchange presents and bestow gifts upon the poor. While some find aspects of the observance to be controversial, others cherish their traditions fondly. Today, let's turn to the scriptures that detail this miracle. Please open your Bible to the book of Esther.

Wait, what did you think I was talking about?

So anyway, on to the story of Esther. We all know it. Esther is chosen queen. Haman's hatred for Mordecai flares and he tricks the king into issuing an edict to exterminate the Jews. The Jews fast, Esther goes to the king, and Haman ends up hanging on the gallows he built for Mordecai's execution.

But then there's this:
"The Jews established and imposed it upon themselves and their descendants and all who would join them, that without fail they should celebrate these two days every year, according to the written instructions and according to the prescribed time..."
- Esther 9:27
So basically, the Jews created Purim to celebrate their deliverance through God's miraculous intervention. It wasn't commanded in the Sinai Covenant, but they decided to create a celebration to remember the miracle. To be more exact, they "established and imposed it upon themselves." They feasted. They even exchanged gifts with one another and also gave them to the poor.
"as the days on which the Jews had rest from their enemies, as the month which was turned from sorrow to joy for them, and from mourning to a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and joy, of sending presents to one another and gifts to the poor."
-Esther 9: 22
God inspired this to be recorded in His holy scriptures, every word of which was "given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3: 16). After all, every good gift is from God (James 1: 17).

Many believe Purim is the feast for which Jesus traveled to Jerusalem in John 5:1. And we know for sure that Jesus was at the temple for the Festival of Dedication, better known today as Hanukkah. Which was also absent from the Sinai Covenant. The miracle honored by Hanukkah doesn't even appear in the canonized Bible. If lighting candles, feasting and exchanging gifts on days not proscribed by the Sinai Covenant are a problem, someone forgot to tell Mordecai and the Maccabees.

I'm sure you can see where I'm going with this. If Jews were within their rights to create annual celebrations commemorating miracles, why can't Christians do the same?

Celebrating holidays and exchanging gifts is soundly condemned by the Churches of God as unbiblical. Seeing that it is in every way biblical, we respectfully disagree. Why do they claim it is unbiblical? We suspect it is mainly because they have blown the dust off of their favorite proof-texts, but not their entire Bible.

In addition to holidays and gift-giving, God also lists the use of statues in His worship (EXO. 25: 17-19), garland, bells and fruit (EXO. 28: 33-34; 39: 25-26; II COR. 3: 16), lights, flowers and ornamentation (EXO. 25: 31-37), greenery (LEV. 23: 40; NEH. 8: 13-15), and other things I could list but won't.

All of these things are used at Christmas, yet they are condemned by the COGs. Yet most of these things are used by the COGs at various times in the year. Is this a double-standard? It would appear they are only condemned at Christmas. Why? These things are condemned because they are associated with Christmas, but at the same time Christmas is condemned because it is associated with these things. Is this circular reasoning?

Over the years, As Bereans Did has done some great research on Christmas. Like "The Plain Truth About December 25th" which makes the case about why the December 25th date likely did not originate in paganism after all. "Jeremiah 10 and Christmas Trees" which makes the case on why Jeremiah was referring to idol worship, not Christmas trees. "On Nimrod and Christmas Trees" part 1, part 2 and part 3, which make the case on how the origin of Christmas Trees has been distorted. "Nimrod's Birthday Was January 6?" which makes the case that the claims on Nimrod's birthday are faulty. And "Quotes Before Christmas" which makes the case that most of the claims the COGs make about Christmas' pagan origins are based on questionable research. And we haven't even found the time to explain how winter was a great time of year for sheep to be in the fields of Bethlehem (see point 5 of the linked article). Perhaps you've heard of this thing called "wool." It keeps sheep warm even when wet. They say some people actually shear it off sheep and use it to make clothing for themselves to insulate against cold temperatures. Sounds crazy, I know.

If you're to the point where your strongest remaining argument is that we're not sure that December 25th is the actual date of Christ's birth, then maybe it's time to admit that Christmas might not be the wisest choice for Custer's Last Stand. And you also may need a refresher on the accuracy and troubled history of the Hebrew calendar.

So if the Jews' deliverance at Purim was worth celebrating, how much more should we celebrate the birth of our Savior, which made a way for all mankind to be delivered? The Jews celebrate God's intervention in human affairs at Purim. How much more important is Christ's actual entrance into the world? I know it isn't commanded. Neither were Hanukkah or Purim. Yet humans were so moved by God's miraculous intervention that they "established and imposed" a holiday honoring God and remembering what He did for them. And God honored that. Jesus' birth was the second greatest miracle of all time, and facilitated the biggest miracle of all time. If you're not moved by the fact that God divested Himself of His glory, humbled Himself to be born as a baby whose sole purpose in life was to live and die to pay for your sins, then, well, maybe you should ask yourself why.

With all that out of the way, if you're still with me, let's turn to the book of Luke. I'm just going to quote scripture. No Santa, no mistletoe, no logs, no gifts. Just the Bible. If it really makes you uncomfortable, come back here in March or September or something.
"So it was, that while they were there, the days were completed for her to be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.  
Now there were in the same country shepherds living out in the fields, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were greatly afraid. Then the angel said to them, 'Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.  For there is born to you this day in the city  of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.' 
And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying: 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men.' 

So it was, when the angels had gone away from them into heaven, that the shepherds said to one another, 'Let us now go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has come to pass, which the Lord has made known to us.' And they came with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the Babe lying in a manger. 
Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds. But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart. Then the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told them." - Luke 2:6-20
There? Was that so bad? I mean, I know it lacks the intrigue and suspense of Esther's story. Death and destruction are noticeably absent, unlike the Purim account, in which more than 75,000 people lost their lives between Esther 8:7 and 9:16. Although blood does become significant later on in the story. But it's still inspiring. It has a certain element of joy and peace that Esther lacks. All in all, it's still a good read, and it's at least as good of a reason to celebrate. You know, like scores of angels did.

There is no wrong day to tell this story. December 25th is not the wrong day to proclaim the good news of the coming of our Savior. It is our commission as Christ-followers to share the story of Jesus. The beginning is a great place to start.

God bless, and have a Christ-centered merry Christmas!



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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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Tuesday, December 16, 2014

A Dialogue on Jeremiah 10

Today's article is a guest piece sent to us from a long-time reader, Dylan.

Dylan imagines a conversation between two people, one for Christmas Trees (called Inquirer) and one against Christmas Trees (called Objector). The article follows them as they discuss Jeremiah 10 and Christmas Trees.

The hypothetical conversation is a thought exercise, based on pieces of actual conversations which Dylan has had in the past. The point of the article is to demonstrate the motivations of the human heart by exaggerating the biased and subjective nature of some arguments against Christmas trees.

And now to Dylan's dialogue; a coniferous conundrum.


-------


Objector: Jeremiah 10 condemns the Christmas tree!

Inquirer: Oh? Please explain why.

Objector: Well obviously you cut a tree from the forest with an ax then fasten it to a cross base and decorate it with silver and gold. Therefore, Jeremiah 10 condemns Christmas Trees.

Inquirer: The passage is talking about skilled craftsmen being hired to make idol gods for the heathen. The wooden idols would be given golden plates and silver chains, precisely as in Isaiah 40:19-20.

Objector: I disagree. This is speaking of a tree. The workman is a lumberjack. The lumberjack cuts the tree down with his ax then brings it into his home, then decorates it with gold and silver tinsel. Idols in Israel were not large.

Inquirer: You omit that Jeremiah 10:9 mentions skilled men, plural, and a metalsmith specifically. So this is more than just a lumberjack. Or are you suggesting that the lumberjack obtains silver from Tarshish, beats it into plates, and gold from Uphaz, and creates blue and purple clothing - all with an axe?

Objector: Verse 3 mentions an axe. Who would cut a tree but a lumberjack?

Inquirer: The word in verse 3 translated "axe" is not exclusive to an axe only. What's more, the word translated "workman" is also translated carpenter, artificer, smith, and other skilled trades in other places in the KJV, both in Jeremiah (29: 1-2) and elsewhere; never lumberjack. This appears to be some very skilled work from a group of workmen.

Objector: Other translations use words like woodcutter.

Inquirer: Okay let me give your argument the benefit of the doubt. Lumberjacks put gold and silver on a tree. What if the tree was NOT cut down? What if it was decorated outside still rooted to the ground? Like this:




Objector: The tree doesn’t have to be cut down for my points to adhere. It can be decorated outside still rooted to the ground and Jeremiah 10 will still apply here because a tree is being decorated and that is the main point of Jeremiah 10, that the tree is laden with foreign objects. Anything placed on a tree makes it an idol.

Inquirer: So no lumberjack necessary. OK. What then do you make of wooden ornaments, would that still be considered “gold and silver?”

Objector: The fact that other material is used on trees like wood and cloth doesn’t deviate from the expression “silver and gold” in verse 4. Gold and silver in verse 4 is a symbolic term for anything placed on a tree, it doesn’t have to be real gold and silver.

Inquirer: So the use of the word "workman" is quite literal and can only mean a lumberjack, but the use of the phrase "Silver is beaten into plates; it is brought from Tarshish, and gold from Uphaz, the work of the craftsman and of the hands of the metalsmith; blue and purple are their clothing; they are all the work of skillful men." is symbolic and can mean just about anything at all?

Objector: It says, "wooden idol is a worthless doctrine."

Inquirer: Oh I see. So it is sinful to hang a birdhouse on a tree?

Objector: No and birdhouses aren’t ornaments.

Inquirer: You just told me “anything” placed on a tree. The word “anything” is an all-inclusive word. Therefore (according to your logic) if we hung anything on a tree, despite the fact that it is NOT cut down, we would be sinning.

Objector: Don’t misrepresent me, I meant anything that shimmers.

Inquirer: You didn’t specify “anything that shimmers” you said ”anything placed on a tree.” Are you changing goalposts or what? But since you brought that up, let me entertain that point a bit. You just qualified your statement and said “anything that shimmers,” so what do you make of wooden ornaments? Wood does not shimmer. Let me guess, “they don’t have to shimmer” right? They just “need to be placed on a tree,” right? Remember you said the tree doesn’t have to be cut down for your points to adhere, no?

Objector: World renowned historian, Alexander Hislop, says that decorating trees comes from Nimrod worship. Dance around the issue all you want, if you decorate the tree then you are a sinner.

Inquirer: You realize that Hislop's claims were exposed as frauds decades ago, right? Let's move to something else. Who created snow?

Objector: God did.

Inquirer: Now who makes snow fall?

Objector: God does.

Inquirer: Would snow fall into the category of “gold and silver?”

Objector: I guess, as long as it's fake snow is placed on a tree.

Inquirer: Does it matter whether the snow is real or synthetic?

Objector: Yes it matters.

Inquirer: Oh? Please explain why.

Objector: It needs to be an object made by human hands to be sinful.

Inquirer: Earlier you said anything, but now you say artificial. What about natural objects? Gold is natural. Silver is natural. Wood is natural. What about those that are not crafted by human hands? For example fruits and poinsettias. What about when objects like apples, oranges, cranberries, or other fruit and nuts, popcorn, feathers, grasses and similar natural items are hung on the tree?

Objector: Yes it would still be considered “silver and gold” because fruits and poinsettias don’t belong to fir trees. Any foreign object that is added to a fir tree during winter, can be considered “gold and silver.”

Inquirer: So the objects don’t have to be made by human hands. They just have to shimmer or not, be natural or not, and be placed on a tree. Does snow grow on trees?

Objector: No, it doesn’t.

Inquirer: So snow is a foreign object added to a tree during winter?

Objector: Yes it is.

Inquirer: And who makes snow fall?

Objector: God does, but what are you trying to prove?

Inquirer: Before I go any further, let me ask you two questions: What if the tree was a purple artificial one like these? Does it matter whether the tree is real or artificial?



Objector: It does not matter what color or whether the tree is real or artificial because an artificial tree was meant to simulate a real tree.

Inquirer: Fake snow was meant to simulate real snow, bulbs were meant to simulate real fruit, and artificial trees were meant to simulate real ones! But you condemn natural trees and natural decorations but not natural snow?

Objector: Artificial snow does not simulate the look of real snow very well. You can so tell it’s fake.

Inquirer: So now you will decide when something simulates an actual object closely enough? No, don’t answer that. A few minutes ago you said anything added to a tree defiles it, then you said it had to shimmer, then you said it had to be artificial, then you said it doesn’t matter whether the objects are natural or man-made, it just needs to be placed on a tree, and it does not matter if the tree is cut down, what color it is, if the tree is real or fake because an artificial tree was meant to simulate a real tree. So, we're back to "anything" again. Your criteria keeps changing! Not only that but you abhor the use of evergreen trees in anything, as if you blame the tree itself, but you give snow a pass? You have double standards!

Objector: I don't worship Santa Claus, like you, I worship God.

Inquirer: God created snow and He allows it to fall on His fir trees and shimmer in the sun. Hold on, wait a minute; doesn’t Jeremiah 10:4 forbid the placement of objects on trees, real or artificial, chopped or already in place, which shimmers? Then why is God doing what Jeremiah 10:4 forbids? Snow is an object that is placed on a fir tree often at Christmas time which shimmers in the sun and decorates the tree quite nicely. It perfectly matches your criteria! But wait, would God ever violate His own principles? Since Jeremiah 10:4 supposedly forbids anyone from placing objects on trees, why does God flout this dictate by placing snow (a foreign object) on fir trees during the winter? To place objects on trees is morally and spiritually wrong, correct? Therefore why is God doing what is spiritually and morally wrong?

Objector: If God does it, then it's not a sin.

Inquirer: But if I do the same thing it is a sin? How is that not a double standard?

Objector: Snow on trees is no more decorative than snow on a house top or raindrops on roses.

Inquirer: So snow is decorative, except when it isn't? Are you saying God didn't create the beauty and majesty of nature so that we can look at it in awe and give thanks and praise to Him? And yes, raindrops on roses also looks beautiful, that’s why it is used in song to begin with and that’s why artificial roses have fake raindrops on it: to replicate the look of real raindrops on a rose! Don't these evergreen trees look beautiful all decked out in foreign objects?




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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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Monday, December 8, 2014

The Quotes Before Christmas

The Armstrongist Church of God splinter groups quote, or perhaps I should say ‘strategically quote-mine’, from about any source which even so much as appears to undermine Christmas. For example, in his definitive booklet on the topic of Christmas, “The Plain Truth about Christmas” Herbert Armstrong quotes a section of the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge article on Christmas. He quotes just enough of it to smear the day, and then proceeds to leave us, the readers of his booklet, to conclude that history itself has soundly denounced the day as pagan.
"How much the date of the festival depended upon the pagan Brumalia (Dec. 25) following the Saturnalia (Dec. 17-24), and celebrating the shortest day in the year and the 'new sun,' . . . cannot be accurately determined."
-Herbert Armstrong, "The Plain Truth about Christmas" 1957, p.5
Our complaint is not that they argue against Christmas. A healthy, well-formed argument is a good thing. We all improve from the challenge. The truth can take care of itself. Our complaint is the poorly-formed arguments, the shifting standards, the confirmation bias, the pseudo-history, the unwillingness to consider evidence to the contrary, the manipulative quote-mining, and the rhetoric and sentiment rather than reasoned discourse. Just as they do with British-Israelism, so they do with Christmas. They expose us to the oldest, least reliable sources and call it "truth." I have literally had "conversations" where people would display a meme from a Wicca website and hold that up as the most authoritative source of truth outside of the Bible. To heck with quality sources. If they do quote a quality source, they are not above only quoting just enough to get what they want from it, even if they alter the entire meaning of the quote. This is the plain truth? I find their lack of integrity disturbing.

This is fairly typical of the way the modern COGs treat their source material each year when they trot out their litany of hand-crafted quotes before Christmas. It has become so dogmatically important to them to oppose Christmas that any means justifies this end. It is the great white whale. Back in 2009, ABD began looking into Easter and Christmas to see if what the COGs claim is true. We were surprised to learn the claims were not true, but shocked to learn how very badly we had been lied to. The discoveries continue uninterrupted to this day. Let's see just a few examples.

QUOTATION EXPLANATION

I would like to show you what the quote actually says because there is a very important part that Armstrong skipped over.
"How much the calculation of Hippolytus had to do with the festival on Dec. 25, and how much the date of the festival depended upon the pagan Brumalia (Dec. 25), following the Saturnalia (Dec. 17-24) and celebrating the shortest day in the year and the 'new sun' or the beginning of the lengthening of days, cannot be accurately determined."
-"Christmas", The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Volume III, Grand Rapids, 1952, p.48, [bold mine] from Christian Classics Ethereal Library.org, p.67, http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/encyc03.pdf 
See there? I've bolded the key portion that the COGs leave out. The COGs fundamentally transform the entire quote. I want to explain what that quote says, because it is easy to misunderstand.

On page 47, the author of this New Schaff-Herzog article on Christmas spent a good number of words reviewing how the dates of Jesus' death and birth were calculated by several second and third century theologians. Some theologians concluded a winter birth but one theologian in particular, Hippolytus, is credited with being the first to calculate December 25th as the birth date at some time near 211 AD. (Well, there are several people who say Theophilus of Antioch should get the credit for the first mention of December 25 at some time around 185 AD, but until I see some better evidence I am going to give this a mention and then ignore it.) Hippolytus arrived at this date by first calculating the date of Jesus' conception at March 25th. December 25th is exactly 9 months after March 25th. The December date relied entirely upon the March date.

That's where we come in with this quote. We can see that the article clearly points out that Hippolytus calculated the date. It's clear about that point. The data was calculated. Armstrong leaves that part completely out. With what we were allowed to see from the quote, we were all left wondering how much of Christmas comes from Saturnalia or Brumalia. But that's not really what the paragraph was claiming. The article wonders how much of Hippolytus' calculations were influenced by pagan holidays.

We at ABD, not having read Schaff-Herzogg when we first started, came to the same conclusion on our own, that the date was calculated, likely by Hippolytus, and then caught on over time. It was a surprising find to us. Should it have been surprising, considering the material Armstrong quoted from states that Hippolytus calculated the date? No. I spent thirty years in Armstrongism, eating up their material on Christmas, but never once did I hear a whisper about calculations. All I heard was that it is a continuation of several varieties of paganism.

Now here is a detail you absolutely must know: Hippolytus wrote around 202-220 AD.

Why is that important? Because there was no Roman festival on December 25th at that time.

Granted, December 25th had been the traditional Roman date of the solstice since 45 BC, but there was no festival at all marking the solstice. Romans did not celebrate the solstice anciently. No known Roman festival falls on the solstices before 274 AD. (There is no evidence that one fell on the solstice in 274 either, this is complete speculation, but it's a reasonable guess.) The fact remains that the Roman traditional date of the solstice was important for astronomy/astrology but unimportant for religion.

So let us return full circle again to the conjecture from earlier. How much the calculation of Hippolytus had to do with a solstice festival specifically is simple to determine: it wasn't. There was no solstice festival to influence Hippolytus. We'll deal with more the established festivals like Brumalia in a bit.

MIND YOUR SOURCE MATERIAL

So, am I saying that the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia is wrong? Well, to be fair, the author was simply offering some conjecture. They didn't say it was and they didn't say it wasn't. An encyclopedia is an odd place for conjecture, but it is what it is. Armstrong took this conjecture as some solid evidence. Obviously he had no idea what makes for good evidence, but he sure knew what makes for good propaganda. This conjecture is easily determined now, in our time, by modern scholars who are far better informed than 100 years ago. So, no, the conjecture isn't "wrong" per se, but we can definitively answer this conjecture.

Yet, in other places the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia's article on Christmas is wrong.

The Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge was written in the 1800's. It was revised and published in 1952 as the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religous Knowledge. (Armstrong quoted from the New.) This is a fairly old encyclopedia by today's standards. When Herbert Armstrong was writing his Plain Truth about Christmas booklet, this information must have seemed new to him, definitive, and quite fascinating. And rightfully so. I cannot necessarily blame the man, he concluded as he did at least in part because of the information he had on hand. But we aren't in the 1950's anymore. We have learned much in 60+ years.

In the late 1800's to mid 1900's, the prevailing theory in religious history was that Christianity borrowed most every component that it has from pagans, including Jesus Himself. Which is why you get the kind of information that you do in books like The Golden Bough by James Frazer, a favored source of the Living Church of God. Yes, the LCG frequently references a book that believes Jesus Christ is a false god created from borrowed pagan material. So is the book authoritative or not? You decide.
For more on why Frazer's claims are outmoded, see this article at Tektonics.org.

That kind of "Christians borrowed everything from pagans" thinking has lasting appeal to some people. I have the COGs in mind in particular. This is no longer the prevailing theory among religious historians. The prevailing theory now is precisely the opposite - Christianity is uniquely a spin-off of Judaism, pagans primarily borrowed from Christianity, and other similarities are superficial. This effectively obsoletes a good deal of older material, like that which we find in this Christmas article from the New Schaff-Herzog. Undaunted, the COGs continue to use select quotes from obsolete and inaccurate material to this very moment for no other reason than it says what they want to hear.

One would think the Shaff-Herzogg Encyclopedia is wholly condemnatory against Christmas. It is not. To be completely forthcoming, this Christmas article is pretty damning. Some sections of the Christmas article which Armstrong left out are even worse towards Christmas than those he included! Yet, even in this, the reality is quite different than the picture painted for us. Christmas is not nearly the train wreck that the Christmas article makes it seem. As a witness for the defense, let us call … the Shaff-Herzog Encyclopedia.

I was able to find the Shaff-Herzog Encyclopedia from 1912. The original. Its article on Yuletide on p.491 once again goes into a great deal of detail regarding how December 25th was a calculated date. Afterwards, it says this:
“It has also been conjectured that the day was selected because of its significance in the Roman calendar, where it bore the name of deis invicti solis (“the day of the unconquered sun”), since on this day the sun began to regain its power and overcame the night. … It is, however, unlikely that the birth-day of Jesus was first determined by this heathen festival. Nor can Christmas be assumed to owe its origin to the Roman Saturnalia, since they lasted from Dec. 17 to Dec. 19, and even with the later prolongation to seven days, ended on Dec. 23. Still less can the origin be sought in the Germanic solar festival, since the Christmas festival arose long before the Christianizing of the Germans.”
-“Yuletide”, Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge, Volume XII, p.491, Funk and Wagnalls, New York and London, 1912. From Google Books
http://books.google.com/books?id=n2EhAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA491&lpg=PA491#v=onepage&q&f=false
Can you believe that?
I want to reiterate, for clarity. The Yuletide article of the same brand of encyclopedia answers the conjecture put forward in the Christmas article. It went from "cannot be accurately determined" to "unlikely."
Odd, it didn't seem so impossible for them to determine.

Wouldn't that have been nice to know before? I have a little conjecture of my own as to why Armstrong and the COGs leave this information out. I'll give you a hint -- it doesn't fit the narrative.

But wait, there's more.

The articles Christmas and Yuletide conflict regarding the dates of Saturnalia. Both articles claim Saturnalia started on December 17th, but whereas the Yuletide article correctly states that it was concluded on the 23rd at its longest point, the Christmas article in the New errors by adding a day. Saturnalia did not conclude on the 24th.

A second notable error is that the Christmas article in the New states the festival of Brumalia fell on December 25th. The festival of Brumalia was a month-long observance which began on November 24th and ended at Saturnalia which was December 17th. Brumalia was not on December 25th.

Anciently, the Bruma was an event where the Roman head of state fed the Senators in a meal symbolizing their importance to the nation during the quiet months of winter. It grew to be a longer festival over time. It eventually grew so long that it ended at Saturnalia. We speculate that is where the name Brumalia came from. The lengthy Brumalia was actually a Byzantine development. That means it developed after Hippolytus' death. Neither Brumalia nor Saturnalia were on December 24th or 25th. Neither the correct dates nor the correct location could have had any influence on the calculations of Hippolytus. So the reference in the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia on Religious Knowledge article on Christmas is factually incorrect in regards to this point.
"Moreover, the Byzantine Brumalia was actually called a festival of Cronos, and December 17, the day on which it closed, was the opening day of the Saturnalia.
...Balzamon, Tzetzes, and Zonaras, twelfth century Byzantine writers, affirm that the Brumalia was a festival of Dionysus, inasmuch as βροῦμοςwas an epithet of that god. It is a fact that at this festival, in the eighth century, the Emperor Constantine Copronymus revered Dionysus and Broumos as creators of corn and wine.
-John Raymond Crawford, “De Bruma et Brumalibus Festis”, Byzantinischer Zeitschrift, pp.365-396.
Am I saying the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia is wrong? Yes! Yes I am. Even WikiPedia manages to get the dates right. See what you can achieve when you do more than just quote-mine your source material?

So let us return full circle a second time to the conjecture that started this post. How much the calculation of Hippolytus had to do with the Brumalia is in fact simple to determine: it wasn't. Brumalia wasn't on December 25th at all, but had ended a week earlier.

It seems apparent to me that the COGs care a lot less about what actually happened in the past than they care about preserving the narrative. Do you honestly think that they want to hear that something might exonerate one of their favorite money-makers? Tell me truthfully, if you are from the anti-Christmas side of this debate, don't you really want me to be wrong?

For more detail on these points, please see our article "The Plain Truth About December 25" especially the sections Bruma/Brumalia and Saturnalia.

A HELPFUL TIMELINE

Keeping all of these dates in line can be difficult. I want to put up a timeline for you.

·46 BC    - Julius Caesar sets December 25 as the solstice. Due to errors in the calendar, the solstice moved 1 day every 130 years.
·90 AD    - December 25 was no longer the solstice. Now only traditionally the solstice.
·150-190 - Christians begin celebrating Jesus' birth, eventually as Epiphany.
·190-200 - Clement of Alexandria calculates Jesus' birth to late in the year.
·200 AD - Tertullian sets Jesus' crucifixion on March 25.
·202-211 - Hippolytus uses the March 25 date to calculate Jesus’ birth as December 25.
·221 AD - Sextus Julius Africanus agrees with March 25 date.
·243 AD - Pseudo-Cyprian concludes the birth and the death are linked (demonstrating the idea really was popular in Christian scholarly thinking in that time).
·245 AD - Origen takes a stand against birthdays.
·274 AD - Aurelian elevates Sol worship. Dies the next year.
·336 AD - The Commemoration of the Martyrs is written. Contains an undisputed mention of Jesus born on December 25.
·354 AD - The Filocalian Calendar is written. Contains the only mention of "Natalis Invicti" on December 25.
·362 AD - Emperor Julian “the Apostate”, gives us the first explicit reference to a celebration of the sun on December 25.

Some important points which can be gleaned from this:
1) Calculations of Jesus' birth were very early, predating Sol Invictus' introduction into Roman society.
2) At some time after 211 but before 336 is when the December 25 celebration of the birth of Jesus began.
3) At some time after 274 but before 336 is when the December 25 celebration of Natalis Invicti began.
4) The Bruma was on the 24th of November and grew into the Brumalia by the sixth century

MORE STRATEGERY

This pattern of quote-mining is family tradition in Armstrongism. Just to demonstrate this point, I would like to show a couple other strategic quote-mines from the "Plain Truth about Christmas" booklet in order to demonstrate how manipulative and IMHO deceptive this can get:
“Let us examine the Catholic Encyclopedia, published by that Church. Under the caption ‘Christmas,’ you will find:
'Christmas was not among the earliest festivals of the Church …'”
-Herbert Armstrong, Plain Truth Magazine, “The Plain Truth about Christmas”, December 1957, p.6
Let's pause here briefly here, mid-quote.

This is a favored entry from the COG quotes before Christmas. And the Catholic Encyclopedia was right; Christmas wasn’t among the earliest festivals. But there's more to it than that. The celebration of the early events in Jesus’ human life on another day, namely Epiphany, goes back several decades before Christmas. Every major Christian center observed Epiphany. There is some reason to believe a generic observance of the Nativity goes back even before Epiphany. So celebrating the early events of Jesus' life was not so unheard of as Hebert Armstrong would have us believe. Only celebrating His birth specifically as the feast of Christmas was.

Armstrong's response to Epiphany was to have his court historian, Herman Hoeh, "the most accurately-informed historian in the world," try to smear the day as the true birthday of Nimrod. The results are laughable.
Please see our article "Nimrod's Birthday Was January 6?" for more details on this.

Let us not forget that the angels, shepherds, Magi, Anna the prophetess, John the Baptist, Zecharias and Elizabeth the parents of John the Baptist, and Mary and Joseph all rejoiced to see His first coming. All of the angels and heroes of old eagerly awaited that time. Abraham rejoiced and was glad to know He was coming. There is nothing wrong with being overjoyed that the Lord was born. It remains the second-greatest miracle in the history of mankind. He couldn't die if He wasn't born.

Continuing with Armstrong's citation where we left off from above:
“'… The first evidence of the feast is from Egypt.'”
-Herbert Armstrong, Plain Truth Magazine, “The Plain Truth about Christmas”, December 1957, p.6
That’s Christians in Egypt, particularly. Christians! Not pagans in Egypt.

Armstrong only quotes a small snippet in order to lead his readers to conclude Egyptian pagans were being spoken about. The very next word he quotes is "Pagan," just to make sure you get the point, but that is completely misleading. It is manipulative and bordering on outright dishonesty. Let’s look at the whole sentence. I will again bold the parts the left out.
“The first evidence of the feast is from Egypt. About A.D. 200, Clement of Alexandria (Stromata I.21) says that certain Egyptian theologians "over curiously" assign, not the year alone, but the day of Christ's birth, placing it on 25 Pachon (20 May) in the twenty-eighth year of Augustus.
-Martindale, C.C. (1908). Christmas. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. [Bold mine] Retrieved November 25, 2014 from New Advent: http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03724b.htm
Where Armstrong attempts to leave us with the impression that Christmas comes from Egyptian pagans, the quote is clear that it came from theologians in Egypt. Don't be surprised regarding Egypt. Alexandria was one of the largest Christian centers in those days.

Clement of Alexandria (Egypt), mentioned in the quote above, wrote in the 190's AD. Since Clement was referring to theologians before himself, we can be confident that the attempt to locate Jesus' birth goes back to the mid-second century.

So, you see, this pattern of 'strategic quote-mining' is something that is done quite often. A source will be strategically quoted as authoritative, so long as it appears to say what they want to hear. If it doesn't say what they like, they just leave out the parts they don't like, then conclude the opposite anyhow. This includes the Bible. Does "the truth" need to be supported by such incredible amounts of acrobatics and misdirection?

For more examples, please see our article "A Pattern of Dishonest Documentation."

THE COGs STILL USE THIS MATERIAL

Speaking of documentation, I went searching on the COG websites to see if they still at this late date use the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia as a reference as Herbert Armstrong did. (Not that I'm against the entire book, mind you. I was just curious.) Here is what I found.

Philadelphia Church of God

The PCG does use the New Schaff-Herzog as a reference.
The New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia of Religious Knowledge says that the pagan celebrations of Saturnalia and Brumalia were popularly held on that date. Further into antiquity, the Egyptians marked December 25 to celebrate the birth of the son of Isis.
-Joel Hilliker, “Two Views of Jesus Christ Reflections on the Christmas Season”, Philadelphia Church of God, on PCOG.org, accessed 11-25-14, https://www.pcog.org/article/348/two-views-of-jesus-christ
I don't know about you, but I didn't see anything saying Saturnalia celebrations were held on December 25. The Brumalia part we have already addressed. Seeing how poorly they read their already poor source material, everything in their Christmas article has suddenly become suspect to me.
One questionable reference can't ruin the study though. Perhaps I'm being overly cautious. Perhaps it is best that I check out some other detail just to make sure. How about we check out the claim about the birthday of Isis.

December 25th was absolutely not the ancient birthday of Isis. This is an absolutely unfounded claim. The Egyptians didn't use the Roman Calendar. They didn't have a December. They would not ever tie anything to a calendar that they did not use. Nor did the Roman and Egyptian calendars match up so that we could say "such and such a date on the Egyptian calendar equated to such and such a date on the Roman calendar." The Egyptian calendar had to be corrected annually. Meanwhile, the Roman calendar fared little better. Rome was founded in the 700's BC. For the first few centuries they had no winter months at all. In the 500's BC, February was in the place of December. Around 450 BC they moved December to the end of the year. After that, the calendar was regularly manipulated for political purposes. In 46 BC, Julius Caesar completely revamped the calendar. In 8 BC Augustus corrected the calendar. Attempts to match the calendar in Alexandria to that of Rome were still problematic. Then in 1582 the Gregorian calendar was introduced. So the claim about Isis' birthday being on December 25th is farcical. Laughable! In reality, and depending on which version of Isis you look at, the birthday of Isis was in the summer.

For more on this, please see our article "On Nimrod and Christmas Trees - part 2."

If the PCG can't figure this out, perhaps they need to try using better source material. Perhaps, just perhaps, they might want to get that beam out of their own eye before they go falsely accusing billions of faithful Christians of not knowing history.

Church of the Great God

The CGG does not seem to cite the New Shaff-Herzog as a source in their articles. Good for them! But they do host the 1974 version of “The Plain Truth about Christmas” on their website.

United Church of God

The UCG does use the New Schaff-Herzog as a reference, but apparently not in any Christmas article. Even so, they continue the tradition of making incorrect claims about Saturnalia and Brumalia. For example,
"On the heels of the Saturnalia, the Romans marked December 25 with a celebration called the Brumalia. Bruma is thought to have been contracted from the Latin brevum or brevis, meaning brief or short, denoting the shortest day of the year."
-"Holidays or Holy Days: Does It Matter Which Days We Observe?", United Church of God, 2008, p.7
http://www.ucg.org/booklet/holidays-or-holy-days-does-it-matter-which-days-we-observe/christmas-untold-story/
Or how about this one:
"The church adopted Dec. 25—the date of the ending of the Roman Brumalia, immediately after Saturnalia—as the date of Christ's birth"
-Gary Petty, "4,000 Years of Christmas", United Church of God,
http://www.ucg.org/mans-holidays/4000-years-christmas-origin/

Now which do you suppose it was? A) Did the Romans mark December 25 with a celebration called the Brumalia? -OR- B) Was Dec. 25 the date of the ending of the Roman Brumalia?
Let's ask a friend.

John Raymond Crawford, who we quoted earlier, wrote on the Brumalia. Let us look to him again.
"From the beginning of the sixth century A. D. to the middle of the tenth, a festival, known as the Brumalia, flourished at Constantinople. It began on November 24 and continued until December 17; each of the twenty-four days thus included was designated by a letter of the Greek alphabet."
-Roger Pearse, "A Review of Crawford on the Bruma and Brumalia", on Roger-Pearse.com, 12-2009.
http://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/2009/12/19/a-review-of-crawford-on-the-bruma-and-brumalia
The correct answer is C) None Of The Above. Brumalia was not after Saturnalia at all, it was before. It was two centuries after the start of Christmas. Plus it was primarily a Byzantine Roman celebration. Not something the UCG seems to be swift to have corrected on their website, though.

Let's look at another quote. This time from John the Lydian, a Byzantine Roman Christian, who wrote in Greek a work called De Mensibus (or, “On the Months”) in the early 500’s AD.
"...and in November and December, until the “Waxing of the Light,” they bring [these] things to the priests. For the [custom] of greeting [people] by name at the Brumalia is rather recent; and, the truth [is], they call them “Cronian festivals” —and because of this the Church turns away from them."
-Roger Pearse, “A translation of John the Lydian, “De Mensibus” 4.158 (on December)”, 2009, Roger-Pearse.com
http://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/?p=3178
So the Brumalia was from November until the Saturnalia, and the church turned away from such practices. Well, isn't that odd. In every way the opposite of what we were told.
You won't see these among the COG quotes before Christmas!

And what does our friend Philocalus have to say? Well take a look at the Philocalian Calendar for yourself, in the month of November, on the 24th day (the eighth day before the calends of December) and you will see Bruma listed. So, what does that mean? It means that anyone who tells you that the Bruma/Brumalia festival was on December 25 is mistaken.

Read the rest of Roger Pearse's articles. They are superb. Also, please see our article "The Plain Truth About December 25" especially the section Bruma/Brumalia.

Church of God - A Worldwide Association, Inc.

I was unable to find any reference to Schaff-Herzog on the COGWA, Inc. "Life, Hope, & Truth" website. Don't count them out, though. Their articles claim to draw on past information which is not directly quoted, so there is a high degree of probability that they indirectly pull information from this source. From what they do write they were nevertheless able to open mouth and insert foot.
"It is a well-known historical fact that Dec. 25 had nothing to do with the actual birthday of Jesus Christ. Instead, it was chosen to coincide with a popular festival season in ancient Rome. Three popular pagan festivals were celebrated in late December in the pagan Roman Empire:
• Saturnalia was an annual seven-day festival to the god Saturn, celebrated from Dec. 17-23.
• Dies Natalis Solis Invicti (the birthday of the unconquered sun god) was celebrated on Dec. 25.
• The birthday of Mithra, a Persian god who was primarily worshipped by Roman soldiers throughout the Roman Empire, was also celebrated Dec. 25."
-Erik Jones, "Jesus Christ vs. Christmas", Church of God - A Worldwide Association, Lifehopenadtruth.com, http://lifehopeandtruth.com/discern/nov-dec-2014/jesus-christ-vs-christmas
It is not a "well-known historical fact" that December 25 had nothing to do with the actual birthday of Jesus Christ. Even Garner Ted Armstrong, as opposed to Christmas as he was, counted nine months backwards from the Feast of Tabernacles and admitted that December 25th was either the date of birth or the date of conception of our Lord.

• Saturnalia at its longest ended on December 23rd. It was never on the 25th. Ergo it had nothing to do with December 25 as the date of Christmas.
• Deis Natalis is not actually named "Deis Natalis Solis Invicti" as they claim. Why is it every time I see a claim like this, the name is slightly different? Because that wasn't the name. It was named Deis Natalis. And there is no proof it was celebrated at all before some uncertain point between 274-336 AD.
• The Persian Mithra and the Roman Mithras bear little resemblance one to the other. The Roman cult of Mithras was a secret society; a mystery cult. The soldiery did honor Mithras, but Mithras was not a god honored by the general populace. The cult of Sol Invictus was the more cosmopolitan cult. Sol Invictus was a separate god from Mithras, but Sol Invictus often appeared in Mithras imagery. The evidence appears to say that December 25th was made a festival somewhere between 274-336 AD, long after December 25th became associated with Jesus. Mithras worship died out in the mid-fourth century.

With excellent modern scholarship and primary source documents available to them, the COGWA is content to read the World Book Encyclopedia. This tells us that the COGWA desperately needs to update their source material and research techniques. An attempt to be fair and balanced on the topic wouldn't hurt either.

For more detail on Mithras, we recommend you read the material on KingDavid8.com. We also recommend you read "The Roman Cult of Mithras" on Tertullian.org.

Living Church of God

The LCG manages not to use Schaff-Herzog as a reference, but somehow manages none the less to snatch failure from the jaws of victory by making claims with startling factual inaccuracy.
“But why do people celebrate Christ's birth on December 25? Late December is the time of the winter solstice, one of the major festival periods in the ancient world.”
-Douglas S. Winnail, “What Is Hidden by the Holidays?”, Living Church of God, on Tomorrowsworld.org, accessed 11-25-14, http://www.tomorrowsworld.org/magazines/2000/november-december/what-is-hidden-by-the-holidays#sthash.cwcekP2V.dpuf
As we stated earlier, there is no evidence whatsoever that the solstice was celebrated by Romans. There was no festival on that day at all when Christmas was being calculated, let alone a "major festival."

The first evidence we have that Romans did anything festive on December 25th comes from a document written in 336 AD. That occasion couldn't have started more than 62 years prior. The same document also lists the date as Jesus' birthday. That can be traced back 130 years prior. Which came first? Hippolytus came first. So who borrowed from whom?

Restored Church of God

The RCG actually quotes Schaff-Herzog precisely as Armstrong did, starting where he started and stopping where he stopped. Could it be that they simply cut and paste Armstrong's material into their own?

So you've read the COG literature and you're certain Christmas is pagan?

OTHER EXCUSES

The COGs will be unimpressed by any of this. As we have demonstrated, if the material doesn't fit the narrative, simply massage the quote until it appears to. But if even that fails, deflect and move the goal posts. In other words, rationalize.

Perhaps the most popular deflection claim is that Christmas isn't in the Bible. Well, that's just asinine. If the birth of Jesus isn't in the Bible then there is no reason to go to church, or be a Christian. What this claim really means to say is there is no explicit command in the Bible to celebrate "Christmas." It's true, there isn't. And there's no law that says you shouldn't either. Jesus celebrated Hanukkah without a command, and that's a festival marking a religious event which doesn't even appear in the canonized Bible. No doubt He celebrated Purim, also without a command. People are more than willing to celebrate their own birthday, without a command - just not their Savior's. Certain people celebrate Thanksgiving without a command. Paul could not have said, "he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it" in reference to the holy days if the holy days are mandatory. Either they are not mandatory or Paul is talking about some other, non-commanded day. Therefore we are free to celebrate or not celebrate additional days. But there is no command in the New Covenant to celebrate any day. Every day that the COGs observe is either made up or brought forward from the Old Covenant, and is done so through indirect circumstantial evidence. Assumption upon assumption. The Church of God (Seventh Day), who keeps the weekly Sabbath, teaches strongly against the holy days. This was one of the reasons why they fired Herbert Armstrong and revoked his ministerial credentials.

Another claim is if God wanted us to celebrate the birth of Jesus, then He wouldn't have hidden the date. To that we reply that it is an assumption that God "hid" the date. We disagree that God "hid" the date at all. Matthew and Luke gave us several clues as to the timing. They tell us who was involved, who the political leaders were, who was serving at the Temple, what the conditions were like, and so forth. All of these were dating markers in their time. We simply have lost the ability to properly interpret the information. Not only that but Daniel left us the Seventy Weeks Prophecy. Since there are date cues we can affirm that God did not "hide" the date.

The same can be said for Jesus' death. What year does the Bible say He died in? It doesn't say. We may know the day of the week or even the date itself, but if we don't know the year then we cannot tie it to our calendar. Using the Jewish calendar will not work. The modern calendar has changed so much over the centuries that it cannot help us. The ancient system fares no better. We have no idea when the Sanhedrin declared the New Moon which started the month of Abib/Nisan, so we cannot know exactly how the Passover falls. So God must have "hid" it and therefore doesn't want us to observe His death? Hardly! So this is a line of reasoning that really doesn't hold up. We need to try and figure these things out for ourselves, just as Daniel tried to figure out the 70 years mentioned in Jeremiah. We have no choice. Yet this is precisely what the early Christians were doing. They arrived at Jesus' birth by first arriving at His death.

The next claim will be that if we can't know the exact correct date, then it's not worth the effort. So, if you don't know the exact date then you're not going to rejoice in the coming of the long-awaited Messiah? Your choice. The December 25th date might not be right. It has a 1/365 chance of being correct; same as any other day. Many claim Jesus was born at the Feast of Tabernacles. Based on what? Pure speculation. This is precisely the reason why Garner Ted Armstrong concluded Jesus was conceived on Christmas. This Tabernacles idea isn't backed by any more evidence than any other day. Even as the COGs say this, they argue among each other on when Passover and Pentecost should fall. They are beginning to wonder if the Last Great Day is a proper Feast day. Seems they can't even agree on the name. UCG has even changed its name to "The Eighth Day". Not only that but the Night to be Much Observed/Remembered, another day whose name was changed, is completely made up from whole cloth. That doesn't stop the COGs from observing it. Strangest of all is that some of them will have Winter Family Weekend events during Christmas, which wasn't instituted by the Apostles either. They say they are just offering an alternative to Christmas ...while they condemn the early Christians for offering any alternative to genuinely pagan celebrations of their day. Those goal posts sure do move! If Armstrongists held themselves to their own standard, they wouldn't observe half of what they do. But most ominous of all things is, if the Lunar Sabbath theory is correct, the COGs aren't even keeping the Sabbath itself on the right dates.

CONCLUSION

Today we have looked into a few of the COG's favorite quotes before Christmas, especially the New Schaff-Herzog article on Christmas, and we have found them wanting. If the COGs want to make a case against Christmas, fine. Be our guest. Please at least be intellectually honest about it, though. To cite unreliable source material, to insist on things that are blatantly incorrect, and to alter the evidence presented to make it fit the narrative is not "the plain truth." It is dishonest and it is supremely disappointing.

We can only conclude that the theory stated in the New Schaff-Herzog Encyclopedia, that “The pagan Saturnalia and Brumalia were too deeply entrenched in popular custom to be set aside by Christian influence,” should be dismissed, seeing as it depends on three specious things:
1) That there was a popular festival on December 25th in Hippolytus' day. There wasn't.
2) That Christmas depends on the dating of the Brumalia festival. It doesn't. They get the Brumalia date wrong. Nor does it depend on the dating of Saturnalia, as that was never on the 25th either.
and
3) The assumption that the Christians could not set aside a festival that clearly they had set aside. They set it aside even farther than the UCG set aside Christmas to hold the Winter Family Weekend. Christmas isn't on the dates of Brumalia or Saturnalia. If it isn't on those dates, then it is inescapable that it isn't from those dates.

And therefore, we can respond to the conjecture, "How much the calculation of Hippolytus had to do with the festival on Dec. 25, and how much the date of the festival depended upon the pagan Brumalia (Dec. 25), following the Saturnalia (Dec. 17-24) and celebrating the shortest day in the year and the 'new sun' or the beginning of the lengthening of days, cannot accurately be determined” with confidence that it can in fact be determined. Another article of the same encyclopedia say this scenario is "unlikely" but we say it is more than just that. It would appear that it is nigh impossible for these things to have affected Hippolytus and the theologians of his time, such as Clement of Alexandria and Julius Africanus. If by some odd chance there was any influence at all, it was indeed minimal at best. At worst it is an astronomical stretch of the imagination that Hippolytus was influenced by Saturnalia or Brumalia to choose March 25th as the date of Jesus' death. But no COG quotes the Catholic Encylopedia when it says, "The origin of Christmas should not be sought in the Saturnalia" [ibid].

The fact is that Hippolytus et al were basing the date of the birth from the date of the conception and death. An old Jewish tradition stated that great men died on the day of their conception. Hippolytus concluded that March 25th was the conception and death of Jesus. He then counted up nine months to December 25th as the birth of Jesus. Accurate or not, that's how it went. The March date had nothing to do with the winter solstice. It is improper to stand on the claim that Hippolytus worked in the opposite manner from how he actually worked.

This is the sum of the entire matter --

(ROM. 14: 5-6) 5 One person esteems one day above another; another esteems every day alike. Let each be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 He who observes the day, observes it to the Lord; and he who does not observe the day, to the Lord he does not observe it. He who eats, eats to the Lord, for he gives God thanks; and he who does not eat, to the Lord he does not eat, and gives God thanks.

If Christmas disturbs you so much, then don't observe it, but don't judge those who do observe it. And if Christmas is fine with you, then do observe it, but don't judge those who don't observe it. Stop the judgment and condemnation and start loving each other as Jesus said to do. Either way, observe or no, do that in honor of the Lord in the peace and unity of the Holy Spirit.


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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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Monday, December 1, 2014

Armstrong the Merciful

"Whereas, if MAN, composed of matter, sinned and refused to repent and turn from sin, he will die the second death - he shall utterly perish (John 3: 16) - he will be as though he had not been (OBE. 16). This reflects God's mercy."
-Herbert W Armstrong, "Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p. 84
Some years ago I sat talking with a close friend of mine and trying to explain what Armstrongism believed about the afterlife. This was back when I was a believing member of the church. I was explaining to my friend who didn’t know the doctrines, and in my heart of hearts I was trying to defend the doctrine to myself. I thought I was right in what I believed, but at the same time I sensed the weakness of the argument.
It seems to be universal that when you are defending a weak position, you bluff and don't give away too much information. Even animals do it. Well, I knew my position was weak, so I reached for a fairly standard claim to reinforce my position: Armstrongism’s view of eternity is far more merciful than mainstream Christianity’s, vis a vis:
Why would a merciful God send people to Hell? In our version, most everyone will find salvation.

Well, I was quite happy at the time to see that it worked. My friend hadn’t ever heard anyone say anything like that before, was therefore unprepared, and didn’t know how to respond. Quite frankly, if it didn't work, I was unprepared to take it much further. Sometimes bluffing pays off.

I wondered to myself, what if my friend had challenged me? So, to answer that question, I have decided to argue against my earlier position. I will take the position of my friend and explore what they did not. I have to say, I learned a lot going through this! I write about it today so that you can see what I saw.

Bear in mind that my goal is not to insult, disparage, castigate, or in any wise belittle anyone in Armstrongism or God or anyone else. God loves you, and I'm not here to mistreat those He died for. No doubt some people are going to feel that way as they read this, but that's only because I'm not affirming your beliefs in this post. If I affirmed your beliefs, you would love me ...and be bored reading this. I'm not going to be unfair. Fairness is one of my motivations here, but I am also not going to affirm the COG view. I spent 30 years on one side, and now I'm going to explore the other side. I don't know of a way that I can do this and offend no one in the process. I have to do this so that we can ask "Is the COG view as merciful as it claims to be?" I have to accept that someone will take this the wrong way. I am just going to admit this up front and state that it's not my intent to be insulting to anyone, and leave it at that.
Also, bear in mind that my goal is not to defend or argue for Hell. If at any point you misinterpret what I'm saying as a defense of or argument for the doctrine of Hell, then you've missed my point. The entire post is about mercy, not Hell. As I said, we are asking, "Is the COG view as merciful as it claims to be?"

Are you brave enough to challenge your own views in an ABD deep inspection with me today? Come and let’s take a critical look at the entire flow of the history of mankind as seen by the Church of God (COG) splinter churches ...starting at the start.

IN THE BEGINNING

"God is reproducing Himself", say the Armstrongist Church of God (COG) groups. According to the founder of the COG movement, Herbert W Armstrong, perhaps billions of years before Adam, God's first "children" where the angels.
"This earth, originally, was intended to be the abode of a third of all the angels."
-HWA, "Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p. 54
Did it work? No. After countless ages, Satan rebels, he deceives one third of all of the angels, all creation decays, horrific wars ensue in the heavens where the angels prove themselves unworthy to rule over what God has made. This apparently catches God off guard.
"As God surveyed this cataclysm, He must have realized it left Himself as the ONLY BEING who will not and CANNOT SIN! The only possible ASSURANCE of accomplishing His great PURPOSE was for Him now to reproduce Himself!"
-Herbert Armstrong, "Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p. 59 [emphasis mine]
Must have realized?? So, he didn't realize this before?
As a plan B, the Godhead creates mankind with the intent of transforming them into God-beings like Himself so we can rule creation in place of the angels.
"God saw that no being less than God, in the God Family, could be certainly relied on to never sin - to be like God - who cannot sin. To fulfill His purpose for the entire vast universe, God saw that nothing less than Himself (as the God Family) could be absolutely relied upon to carry out that supreme purpose in the entire universe.
God then purposed to reproduce Himself, through the humans, made in His image and likeness, but made first from material flesh and blood, subject to death if there is in unrepented of - yet with the possibility of being born into the Divine Family begotten by God the Father.
And that is why God put man on earth!"
-Herbert Armstrong, "Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p. 51
God does this, knowing that humans can and will sin and go astray without His direct participation, just like some of the angels did. God must infuse the Holy Spirit with our spirits or there is no hope.
"The spirit of man was in him [Adam] - but not the Spirit of God. God offered him freely the fruit of the TREE OF LIFE - which symbolized the HOLY SPIRIT. Taking of the tree of LIFE would have done two things: (1) opened his MIND to comprehend spiritual knowledge, and (2) imparted within him the GIFT of God's Holy SPirit, leading to ETERNAL LIFE."
-Herbert Armstrong, "Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p.76
Does God work closely with mankind as is necessary? Yes!
Did it work? No. Adam and Eve soon sin anyway. The solution? Cut mankind off from the only thing that could have helped them.
"God made the needed second spirit - the HOLY SPIRIT - available to Adam. But on Adam's rebellion and taking the forbidden fruit, God had driven Adam out and closed all access to the tree of LIFE - symbolic of His Holy Spirit."
p.78
Rather than His direct involvement, which is the only possible way to achieve the goal of avoiding sin, God establishes a set of laws to give mankind direction.
Does it work? No.
To the COG groups, the law as defined in the Old Covenant is what God expects of mankind. Not just the Jews, but all mankind. They do not accept that the law was first given at Sinai; they believe it to have been there since creation (DEU. 5: 3). To the COG's it is mankind's means of growing in Godly character (ROM. 3: 21; 4: 13; GAL. 2: 21; PHP. 3: 9). They teach that Godly character is the result of law-keeping. Not the whole law, just some of it (it varies from church to church).
But there's the rub. The Holy Spirit is necessary before people can even so much as recognize that they so much as ought to keep the law in the first place, and is mandatory in order to have the ability to actually put the law into practice once it is known. The knowledge itself is spiritual knowledge, you see. Spiritual knowledge cannot be received without the Holy Spirit to complete our minds and make this possible (I COR. 2: 13-14). All Christians believe this to be true to some degree, but the COGs believe it in the most extreme sense.
So what do we see here? The COGs believe God put a law in place that mankind cannot hope to realize, thus God condemns mankind to a futile system of unguided "trial and error" as they hopelessly try and figure out on their own what is good and evil.
Mercifully hopeless and futile, that is.

Thus we have an enigma. The result of which is that now man can't even plead ignorance in their ignorance (ROM. 7: 7) because they had the law there ...which they couldn't understand to begin with without the Holy Spirit.

It gets worse! God leaves Satan here to broadcast sin into our heads against our will!
You read that right. The COGs teach that Satan doesn't just tempt us, he actually radiates harmful sinfulness like uranium radiates harmful energy. Satan can affect us without our knowledge just by being there.

So, mankind cannot know that we should keep the law, we can’t keep the law even if we did know, we are influenced by Satan to break the law even if we don't want to, and we can’t even plead ignorance because the law witnesses against us.
How's that for mercy?

I want you to notice something here. It is very subtle, but very important. First, a summary then I’ll get to what I want you to notice.

According to the COGs, Adam and Eve chose the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. God had been helping them, but they chose poorly. Now God refuses to give us the Holy Spirit as punishment. This teaching is necessary! Without this teaching, how can anyone in the COG churches be “called" and "elect” by God? The “calling” and “election” is the giving of the Holy Spirit so that they can know and attempt to keep the law. The mystery revealed to them which makes them "God’s Church" is law-keeping (with the help of the Holy Spirit). Not all of the law, not all 613, but a cherry-picked and highly modified subset  – especially the weekly Sabbath and annual holy days. And not perfect law-keeping, because they fail too, just like Adam and Eve and Lucifer, so it's just the attempt at law-keeping that they receive. Otherwise, if mankind *can* know that they should keep the law all on their own without the Holy Spirit, then there is nothing at all different between the members of the COG churches and anyone else and no reason for a special calling. There is no calling; there is no election. So you see the teaching that God revoked His Holy Spirit, even though it was absolutely critical for the success of the goal, is necessary to establish identity for the COG group.

But! Here comes two things that I wanted you to notice.

Baptism is where one receives the Holy Spirit. The COG initiate must know and keep the law before they are baptized and receive the Holy Spirit. One must prove one's worthiness and loyalty. But how? One must be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit in order to attempt to keep the law, but one must already be attempting to keep the law in order to be baptized and receive the Holy Spirit. A contradiction?
Next, regardless of the law, without the Holy Spirit how can mankind be held accountable and punished terribly for something they could not possibly have understood? Why give a law if we are incapable of understanding it? Indeed we are prevented from understanding! But then how can God make any exception for ignorance (LUK. 23: 34, ACT. 17: 30)? Another contradiction?
Something is seriously flawed here!

And not just this, but there is another related issue to discuss: angelic beings.

ANGELS AND DEMONS

The COG narrative both says that God blinds the hearts of mankind and that Satan blinds the hearts of mankind. God gives mankind over to blindness by withholding the Holy Spirit because of our wickedness, but we cannot know our wickedness unless the Holy Spirit works in us in the first place. So it is God’s doing. At the same time, Satan broadcasts evil like a radio station broadcasts music, and God gives mankind over to Satan who deceives us and darkens our understanding. So it is Satan’s doing.
As much as it pains me to even consider such a thing, there very much appears to be a tag-team in the COG doctrines of God and Satan against mankind.

Continuing on.

God, knowing the potential for our failure ahead of time, was prepared with a plan to save us. ...but not save the angels.
You see, the COGs do believe in a Hell. Oh, they most certainly do! They just prefer to believe the only ones that will be there are Satan and his demons. Here are some proof-texts often used to demonstrate this eternal fate:

(II PET. 2: 4) For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment
(JUD 6) And the angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own abode, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day
(II PET. 2: 17) These are wells without water, clouds carried by a tempest, for whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.
(REV. 20: 10) The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
"Angels, being spirit, are immortal. Those who sinned shall go on bearing their punishment forever. Their punishment is NOT death. Their punishment is loss of the glorious opportunity God gave them to accomplish His purpose on earth, and to live forever in the resentment, bitterness, attitude of rebellion, and utter hopelessness and frustration of mind their own sins brought upon them. Once they perverted their own minds, they can never regain balance. Happiness and joy has left them forever."
-Herbert Armstrong, "Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p. 84
So this far more merciful Armstrongism isn't really more merciful at all. There is a Hell. There is an eternal, conscious punishment for created beings. Just not for humans. That's not mercy; that sounds a lot more like opportunism to me.

You might say, "But the demons deserve it!". OK. You'll get no argument from me. But so do any humans who sin! In all fairness, any mainstream Christian should be able to tell you that God didn't create Hell for humans; some humans simply insist on going there and God refuses to force them to remain in His presence against their will. Yet consider this - it's not just the fallen angels who are punished. No! If you want to talk about something being unmerciful, consider the poor holy angels!

Two thirds of the angels have never sinned, yet they are punished eternally too, only because Lucifer sinned. According to COG documents, Lucifer was such a magnificent creation that when he sinned it was proof to God that no angel was capable.
"As God surveyed this cataclysmic tragedy, He must have realized that since the highest, most perfect being within His almighty power to create, had turned to rebellion, it left God Himself as the only being who would not and cannot sin."
-Herbert Armstrong, "Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p. 51
In other words, Michael and Gabriel might be superb holy angelic beings now, but some day they'll fall too. It's inevitable. This is the logical conclusion of what the COGs believe.
And what was the punishment for angels? The COGs believe that angels are immortal and cannot die. So what punishment can you give an eternal being?
 "Their penalty (they are still awaiting final judgment up to now) was disqualification - forfeiture of their grand opportunity, perversion of minds, and a colossal earthwide CATACLYSM of destruction wreaked upon this earth."
-Herbert Armstrong, "Incredible Human Potential", 1978, p. 57
Stop and consider, though, that this "disqualification - forfeiture of their grand opportunity" is also born by the holy angels! The holy angels have to live forever, rejected by God because of what Lucifer did, and ruled over by the humans who replaced them - yet they didn't ever do anything to deserve it.
Consider further, the angels who never sinned are not to be redeemed even though they are eternal while mankind who sins continually is to be redeemed even though he is temporary. If anyone should have been redeemed it should be the immortal beings. But no.

THE HIDDEN GOSPEL

How is mankind redeemed? The Word of God becomes a man in order to die so that with His own blood the sins of man can be forgiven. Now, if you can live a life of attempted law-keeping until death, you might qualify for a promotion to godhood when Jesus returns. You would think "in two millennia I'll return and I might even call on you" would be at least mildly encouraging news to people. But then God does something unexpected - He hides the Gospel …for 1,900 years!

Herbert Armstrong’s primary claim to authority was that he was an Apostle as great as Paul...
"And I can say now, with the apostle Paul, 'that the gospel which [is] preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ. . . . But when it pleased God . . . to reveal his Son in me . . . immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: neither went I [to a theological seminary, but I was taught by Jesus Christ, the Word of God (in writing)]' (Gal. 1:11-12, 15-17)."
-Herbert Armstrong, "Mystery of the Ages", p. 29
...who was chosen in the sunset days of mankind to bring us a final warning. The gist of the warning he supposedly was tasked to deliver was that we need to attempt to keep the law.

But wait. Wasn't this the same message given to Israel? Yes. So for 4,000 years the same warning supposedly went out? Yes. Hold on here! Wasn't this the same message that was supposedly given to Adam? Yes. So it's really 6,000 years the same warning supposedly went out? Yes.
Does it work? No. Did it ever work? No.

Recall you cannot keep the law, or even accept that you should keep it, without the Holy Spirit. What good is a warning to attempt to obey the law going to do people who cannot understand? It does no good. Why send a warning without sending the ability to heed it? It does no good. And why warn people at all if they aren't really "called" at this time anyway? None of this makes any sense!

Herbert Armstrong said over and over and over again that one of the proofs of his authority was that he was the first person in 1,900 years to teach the Gospel.
--If one rejects this critical claim, then one rejects all of the COGs and everything about them - because one rejects what the COGs are founded upon. You've rejected the Apostle and the Gospel he taught. If you reject Herbert Armstrong (as some say they do), then why follow someone who does not reject him? If you reject Herbert Armstrong, then why not attend at the COG7 church instead? Or become an SDA? Or a Seventh-Day Baptist? Or --

Consequently, this claim means that for 1,900 years the “Church of God” had no solid knowledge of the Gospel, ergo the Gospel is absolutely unnecessary for “calling” and “election” and salvation.

What is necessary? No one ever really defined that. In one place Herbert Armstrong says the entire duty of a lay Christian is to pay money and pray in support of the ministry of the Church of God.
“But this giving of their prayers, encouragement and financial support was God's assignment as the very means of developing in them God's holy, righteous character.”
-Herbert Armstrong, “The Incredible Human Potential”, p. 111 
“...as the very means for the general body of lay members to develop God's own holy, righteous character – by means of giving – giving their continuous prayers for the apostle, giving their encouragement, tithes and offerings.”
-Herbert Armstrong, “The Incredible Human Potential”, p. 112
But in other publications we see that the qualifications for being the “Church of God” included such things as Sabbath observance, or having the right name [Church of God], or full-immersion baptism, and etc. (See our study "True History of the True Church" for details.) Oh, not that you needed all of them at once! No. You really only needed one from this list in order to be identifiable as a Church of God. If you have more, great! But you only need one.

God kept His church technically alive for 2,000 years so long as they observed at least one thing from a list. So... one would think God could have just taught all mankind to keep that one thing and it would have sufficed. But He apparently didn't do that either.

Just so you know, when other non-COG churches keep at least one thing from the same list (like Baptists and full-immersion baptism or the SDA church and Sabbath-keeping) it doesn't count.

We touched on something a few paragraphs back that I want to dive more deeply into for a minute. The “true Gospel” is hidden for 1,900 years. Not accidentally lost. No. Hidden! Purposefully.
First God revokes the Holy Spirit, then God hides the Gospel.

What this implies is that mankind didn't "turn from the truth" on their own, they were driven there! We would often say "God has blinded the minds of the world." We would say that God did this because of the sins of the world. But if you define sin as breaking the law, and God revoked the Holy Spirit and then hid the Gospel, what possible chance did the world have against sin? No chance! So in response God piles on a third layer of guaranteed failure - the blinding of their minds?

That's merciful?

As for this end-time warning, recall that the last generation has no hope of accepting the warning because they don’t have the Holy Spirit. So why warn them? God hid the Gospel purposefully. So why reveal it now? God blinded their minds purposefully. So why call now? He isn't calling the world now. So why warn if you're not really calling? We were told time and again that God doesn't want these people in His church right now; He wants them in later on. So why punish them? And why wait until the last minute? God does almost everything possible to remove our ability to obey, then punishes us for not obeying. Not just punish, cataclysmically punish, to the verge of cosmocide! We're talking end of the universe here. But not all people are slated to be punished so hideously. He singles out a late generation to punish them unspeakably for the sins of all people throughout time. Sins which they themselves did not commit.



That's MERCIFUL???

A SECRET SECT

According to the COGs, the Word of God puts off being God completely and becomes fully man (this is akin to Kenosis and of it we must ask what happens to the spiritual component of the Word of God when He "puts it off"?). He then dies completely to wipe away our guilt (so the self-existent I AM can cease to be??). He is resurrected again so that He can lead us to the Father.
Does it work? No.
 
The forgiveness is only for past sins. Your guilt for past sins is forgiven but you better not sin again. By the end of the first century, all of Christianity en masse have supposedly gone right back into rank paganism. (This claim is accompanied by some pretty questionable scholarship, but it is what it is.) Only a tiny remnant remained.
   Cross = nullified!
In response, just as He once revoked the Holy Spirit, He now revokes the Gospel and blinds the minds of the world.

Wow! In the Armstrongist narrative, God is really having a hard time. Nothing He has done so far has been very successful.

Hope would be completely lost for us all, they teach, had it not been for the glorified Christ selecting a painfully small group of people to hide out in mountainous and far-away regions through the ages, observing at least one thing from the list of laws, and thus keeping the church technically alive. This secret church progresses through several "eras". Most of the COGs teach that the seven letters to the seven churches in Asia, found in Revelation 3 and 4, are actually Jesus prophesying to these church eras across time. 
So, the church actually ends up failing not just once at the start but over and over and over again.

At last, in the 1930’s, Jesus sends Herbert W Armstrong - a down on his luck detergent sales and advertising man from a Quaker family - to find the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel, preach the Gospel to them for the first time in 1,900 years, establish the Philidelphia Era of the church, and to deliver a warning for the final generation that they should attempt to keep the law before it's too late. A warning God apparently doesn't actually want the world to heed and has prevented them from heeding anyway.

To make it just that much more odd...
Throughout time God had been clandestinely selecting 144,000 people to become His "true church", who will rule with Him for a final 1,000 year period of post-apocalyptic paradise known as “the Millennium”. God “calls” and “elects” what amounts to 24 people each year over 6,000 years, and gives them His Holy Spirit, un-blinds their minds, and works with them so that they can attempt to keep the law (note, the Gospel is still not needed here). Why? The unofficial official answer is because He wants to have these people train others during a 1,000 year period of paradise. These "chosen" and "elect" people who form the "true church" will train anyone lucky enough to survive the Apocalypse.
People who until then were purposefully kept from the "true church".

Now I must ask the obvious questions. 
If He can make this special exemption for 144,000 people, why not just do this for all people? Why not do this from the start with everyone?
During this Millennium, God does give the Holy Spirit to everyone born, and gives them His Gospel, and is literally present with them, and gives them training, and gives them good examples, and gives them a perfect planet with no competition for resources, and even keeps Satan locked away. Thus proving He could have done this all along ...but refused to. Why?

What happens after this 1,00 years is over? After the Millennial period is over, all of the people who have lived and died prior to this Millennial period, who were not part of the secret church, will then be resurrected and given a second chance to get it right.
But... most of them only sinned in the first place because they were all but caused to sin. So why put most people through it twice, some people once, and some people not at all?

The non-official answer to "why" is, "because God wanted to teach everyone what life would be like if we disobey Him". Which, on the surface, sounds like a good idea and everything, but on closer inspection we see it has issues. Not the least of which is ... life cannot ever be without Him.
God is necessary. Nothing exists without Him. Why teach people so harshly what life would be without Him if that is utterly impossible?

Or, did they mean "without Him" in a spiritual sense? In other words, He wanted you to experience what life would be like if He exists, but isn't available to you. To put that another way -- He wanted you to experience Hell.
Being so far removed from God, His love, His forgiveness, His goodness, His mercy, His hope, as to practically exist without Him, IS THE PRIMARY ATTRIBUTE OF HELL!
So, the COG's teach there is no Hell, except the one we've been in these 6,000 years.

What the COG view inadvertently demonstrate here is that if God had only lived with us and given us His Holy Spirit and sent Satan away from the start, everything would have worked perfectly from the start and into eternity. For a 1,000 year Millennial period, God proves this. Thus conclusively demonstrating that there is a far better way to have gone about things this entire time. He just chose not to!

And that's by far more merciful than the mainstream view??

A BRIEF COMPARISON

At this point you might say to me, “Hey! Some of those things are what I read in the Bible. Prophecy talks of a 1,000 year reign and Satan being let out at the end. You are arguing against the Bible here. You go too far!”
Bear with me, dear reader, if you think this of me. As I said at the outset, it’s not at all my point to disparage God or the COG groups. In my defense, I am just doing what I said I would do - arguing against my past self. I am merely explaining things that the COG churches teach, only without the sugar coat. You might misunderstand what I'm doing as speaking out against God, but I do no such thing. I am merely explaining the unintended consequences of a particular worldview held by the COGs. I am looking critically at what I refused to look at critically for most of my life, and what most COG members refuse to look at. These same verses are a completely different story when seen through a different lens. I am not against the verses at all. I am against the COG interpretation of the verses.

If we take for example a Protestant view, we have humanity who is inherently flawed in their relationship with God from birth, their nature is fallen, but they can yet throw themselves at the mercy of Jesus Christ, their Savior and defense attorney, who accomplished what neither Adam nor they could.
In the extreme Protestant view, everyone is going to be saved. Everyone! God will work on them with His love and given enough time they will all choose Him. You want mercy, well you cannot beat that mercy right there.
Even in the Roman Catholic view, the only ones who end up in Hell are the ones who choose it. Look at Michaelangelo's famous "Creation of Adam" on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, for example. God is stretching out, straining to reach a 'ho hum' Adam. All Adam has to do is extend his arm and he has God in his grasp!

In the mainstream view, God runs across the finish line and pleads with us just to believe He's really done it. Jesus constantly reaches down to us here below to help us up.
But in the COG view, God abandons the angels to their fate, all but walks off with the finish line, and only shows it to a handful of people. God has made the target extremely hard to hit and missing the mark is called "sin". The only ones who succeed are the ones He drags across the finish line.

CONCLUSION

So, what have we seen today? According to the COGs:
God creates the earth for the angels but this fails when Lucifer unexpectedly sins. God abandons this plan. All angels are disqualified though most of them are perfect to this day. But if the best of them failed then it proves they all will fail, so abandoning them is the safe bet. Instead, God creates mankind, but this fails when they sin too. In response God withholds His Holy Spirit from man, which is a missing component in mankind's very design without which we can neither know nor perform God's will. Failure is guaranteed. God gives a law but this fails because we cannot keep it or know we should keep it without the Holy Spirit. The result is the law removes our ability to at least plead ignorance. God leaves Satan here on earth with the power to broadcast sin into our minds. The eternally self-existant Word somehow ceases to be eternal or self-existent and becomes a man. He dies for mankind to forgive our sins - not not the angels sins - and is resurrected to lead a new church. This fails when His church soon abandons Him en masse. In response, He hides the Gospel for 1,900 years - even from His own church. God keeps a tiny remnant of the church hidden away but technically alive through the ages by making sure they at least attempt to keep part of a list of laws. The church doesn't have to make many disciples because God isn't calling the world at this time anyway. At the last moment, God sends Herbert Armstrong to preach the Gospel and warn the purposefully blinded world with a warning they can't understand to keep a law they can't keep, right before God unspeakably punishes the last generation for the sins of all time. All of this is to teach the world a lesson of what it would be like if they sin. The next 1,000 years are a veritable paradise completely devoid of this lesson. It goes perfectly ... until Satan is released. After that it all goes wrong again. Finally, the incorrigible among men are annihilated, and Satan and the demons are sent to eternal damnation in conscious torment in a condition exactly matching Hell but care is taken to never referred to as Hell. The holy angels spend eternity as servants to the humans, now made into gods, who replaced them, through no fault of their own.
And this is supposedly far more merciful than the mainstream Christian scenario.
I find "God won't send humans to Hell" to be a candy-coated and grossly oversimplified version of the real Armstrongist position. This isn't nearly the whole story! This is in reality comparing a stylized and abbreviated version of what the COGs teach to a caricaturized and abbreviated version of what mainstream Christianity teaches.

No doubt many are going to dismiss what I say because they "do not worship Herbert Armstrong and never did". A valid point. No one should worship any man. But this article isn't about Herbert Armstrong. Neither is this blog. We aren't confronting Herbert Armstrong; we are investigating his doctrines. We talk a lot about him so that you can know where your beliefs come from. That's the real elephant in the room - you may ignore the man, but which of his doctrines do you reject? You can look in the Bible and see the law for yourself? Good! But you cannot attend a Church of God group and get from "I see the law" to "the law applies to me" without Herbert Armstrong. Reject the man all you like but you can't simply erase him from the church he founded. The fact that you feel defensive when you read our articles is PROOF of this. If we were only about the man, and if you rejected him completely as you say you do, then you'd have nothing to be defensive about, and then you could just walk off and attend any of a number of different churches.

Let's just admit straight out that all scenarios are going to run into issues with mercy eventually, because mercy is a highly subjective word. Mercy is always going to be in the eye of the beholder.

In either scenario, COG or mainstream, no one can succeed without God.
But in the COG version it really seems like God is small and contrary, angry and fickle. It doesn't matter what you do, it doesn't matter how badly you want it, it doesn't matter how much faith you have, it doesn't matter how often you call on Him, and it doesn’t matter what charitable works you spend your life doing. Even if your name is Mother Theresa, it doesn't matter. Unless! Unless you sit idle every 7th day - during the proper hours or it doesn't count (which are nigh impossible to determine on a round earth). He died for you, but if you don’t recall that during the proper hours after sunset on Friday, the deal’s off! Yet, at the same time, it didn’t have to be that way!

In either scenario, COG or mainstream, there is a Hell.
It doesn't matter if you call it "Hell" or not, the ideas are nearly identical in all respects. The complaint that COGs don't want to worship a God that sends His creation to punishment for all eternity is moot as even in the COG view God will send His creation to punishment for all eternity. Only, in the COG version it is just demons who will spend eternity in conscious punishment. Any human will get burned up and that's "merciful". Meanwhile the holy angels bear an eternal burden for Lucifer's failure. But there will be a Hell, so to speak.
As far as the claim that the COG view is more merciful in this point, I have to say in all honesty, I do not believe the COG view is more merciful. If anything it seems like the two views are even.

Now it occurs to me, this isn't really about mercy at all. At the heart of this is the debate about immortal soul versus Annihilationism. In the COG view, God sends anything incorrigible to punishment. If that being is immortal then that punishment is eternal torment, and if not then it's eternal death. There is every reason to believe He would have sent humans to eternal torment too, but the COGs teach that humans don't have an immortal soul. The COG teachings do have eternal conscious torment, so eternal conscious torment is not really the problem. The COG teachings do have a hell, so this isn't about Hell, it's about humans in Hell. So it's not really about mercy after all, but about the nature of the soul. The COGs don't want a God who makes man immortal; they want a God who makes mankind disposable.
Mercifully disposable.

At the end of the matter, I'm not convinced this is a winning strategy after all. This doesn't seem as merciful to me as it is opportunistic. I admit someone has to be right, but I don't see how a bluffing contest of "who is more merciful" is going to decide the point.


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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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