Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Different Gospel

"Should you believe a movie or what the Bible says? So much hype about the movie and not much talked about opening up the pages of the Bible and reading His entire story."
The statement stood out like a sore thumb between pictures of kittens and weather-related complaints in my Facebook news feed. A friend of mine, who works in a Church of God media department, posted this comment the day the Son of God movie came out. I sighed, then mentally steeled myself for the barrage of negative comments about the movie I was sure to read in the coming days. I was surprised to see almost nothing posted that weekend, but figured the pace would pick up when people were back at work on Monday. I was mystified when, almost a week later, I had seen next to nothing said about the movie from either official COG sites or individual members.

Incidentally, my pastor shared his thoughts on the movie that weekend. Like any dramatization, the depiction was not 100 percent accurate, he admitted. Complete accuracy would be almost impossible, considering even the synoptic gospels vary a bit in some of their accounts. There's nothing wrong with watching a movie about Jesus, but it doesn't replace reading the Bible, he reminded us. Over all, he concluded that it was a great tool for sparking interest in the Bible and spreading the gospel.

Finally, it hit me. Why would the COGs draw any attention to the movie, let alone try to capitalize on it? They are preaching a different gospel.

Of course they are, you're probably thinking. The people promoting that movie teach a FALSE gospel. The TRUE gospel Jesus and His disciples taught is about the coming Kingdom of God.

That's what I thought, too. For years. The problem is that the COGs set up a false dilemma for us  - that they are the only ones who believe the true gospel. They narrowly define the gospel as being only about Jesus' second coming and establishing a literal Kingdom on earth. Then they tell us virtually no one else believes this will happen. Deceived Protestants blatantly ignore all those scriptures and only teach about going to heaven, they claim. So conscientious Christians have only two choices - attend a COG or ignore the Bible and go to the Baptist church down the street.

My friends, we have been misled about what mainstream Christianity teaches. Millions of your Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian and Catholic neighbors believe Jesus will literally return to this earth; that He will establish a literal Kingdom on earth. Granted, there are some differences based on teachings about when one is born again, when one enters the Kingdom of God and whether soul sleep is biblical, as well as several other doctrines. But to assert that most so-called Christians don't understand that the Kingdom of of God is literal - as LCG, UCG, COGWA and all the other alphabet soup of COG abbreviations do - is a total fabrication. Some might even call it a lie.

To be fair, Jesus Christ had a lot to say about the Kingdom of God during His 3-1/2 year ministry. His focus is understandable - He could hardly teach his disciples about His own death and resurrection when they had yet to occur. They barely understood his parables, let alone His foreshadowed comments about His death. It was only after seeing Jesus' resurrection and receiving the Holy Spirit that His disciples fully grasped the significance of what He had done. So it's intellectually dishonest to claim the true gospel focuses solely on the Kingdom of God, and that any gospel focusing on His life, death and resurrection is inherently false. Jesus' return, establishment of His Kingdom and the resurrection of believers to glory certainly is part of the gospel -  in fact, it's the consummation of the gospel - but it's not the full story. One can only see the complete picture from the other side of the cross, so we must also consider the teachings of those Jesus Himself sent into the world.

When it comes to reliable preachers of the gospel, few would debate the apostle Peter's credentials. He was taught by Jesus, both during His 3-1/2 year earthly ministry and after His resurrection. Let's turn to Acts 10, where Peter shares the gospel with Cornelius, a God-fearer and a gentile centurion of the Italian regiment. In verse 36, the Apostle to the Jews notes he is relating the same good news sent to the people of Israel. What was that message?

In short, Peter told Cornelius and his household that Jesus died on the cross (verse 39), that He rose on the third day (verse 40) and that all who believe in Him will be forgiven of their sins (verse 43). Apparently Peter's version was close enough to what Jesus taught for Cornelius and his household to receive the Holy Spirit. This message and result is similar to that of Acts 2, although Peter's Pentecost message also included an element of repentance.

The Apostle Paul might not be the COG's favorite Biblical author, but he does seem to corroborate Peter's gospel summary in 1 Corinthians 15. Paul relates the gospel by which we are saved (verse 2) - that Jesus died for our sins (verse 3) and that He rose on the third day (verse 4). Later on in the chapter, Paul details the consummation of the gospel we discussed earlier - believers' resurrection to glory.

If you're still not sure, we can check out the slightly more poetic version Paul included in Romans 3:21-26. In this passage, Paul tells us that righteousness does not come from keeping the law (verse 21), but through faith in Jesus (verse 22). That all men are sinners and are justified by grace through faith in the shed blood of Jesus (verses 23-26). Bonus points for style in this passage, but the basic message is the same.

Paul warns us not to be led astray by those teaching a gospel that was different from his, both in Galatians 1:6-9 and 2 Corinthians 11:4. Let's turn to the message several major COG groups call the gospel and see how they compare to what both Paul and Peter taught.

The Living Church of God describes it this way:
"Open your Bible and turn to Mark 1:14-15. Read what God inspired Mark to write: "Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel. This is the Gospel. There is only one - and it is about the Kingdom of God."
The United Church of God asserts that Jesus defined His mission as preaching the gospel, or good news, of the Kingdom of God. And when Jesus taught about the Kingdom of God,
"He was simply continuing the messages of the Hebrew prophets whose words are recorded in the Old Testament. Centuries earlier God had inspired such faithful men as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and Zechariah to look beyond the difficulties and destruction of the kingdoms of Israel and Judah to a magnificent future when God would establish His world-ruling kingdom on earth under the reign of the Messiah."
The gospel of the Kingdom of God is the message that Jesus urges us to believe today, according to COGWA. Since He is the only Being through whom we may receive salvation, we must heed his instruction to repent, and believe in the gospel.
"Old Testament prophets had spoken of the Kingdom of God while under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Many of them had described the universal peace and abundant prosperity that would accompany this Kingdom. When Jesus came to earth, He gave this teaching even greater prominence. Indeed, it was the central core of His instruction."
Hmmmm. Sounds like a different message to me, or an incomplete one at the very least. I'm sorry, I'm not trying to be flippant. I know these are hard things to hear. I've been in your seat all too recently. But warnings about curses against those who teach a false gospel (Galatians 1:8-9), admonitions about being led astray by false apostles (2 Corinthians 11:3) and false prophets (Matthew 7:15) should lead us to carefully examine the predictions of Herbert W. Armstrong (for starters, see our article An Inconvenient Plain Truth). If we believe the Bible is God's word, then we need to heed Deuteronomy 18:18-22, which shows HWA did not speak for God. Neither do those who still advance many of his teachings today.

The gospel is not a witness against the world. Neither is it a Terminator gospel simply warning humanity that "I'll be back." The gospel does not speculate about the lineup of God's future executive ruling team, nor does it repackage Mormon doctrines about a pantheon of divine beings ruling over planets, as COG booklets have for decades.  

The gospel the apostles taught does the same thing as the Law and the Prophets - it points sinners to Jesus Christ for salvation. In contrast, the incomplete COG gospel teaches sinners to focus on their future as glorious deities, largely looking past their Savior and the work His Father asks of us - to believe in the One He sent (John 6:29). I can see how this "gospel" led me to lose sight of who Jesus really was and who I really am - a sinner deserving death. That I can be saved from that fate is the best news I could ever hear.

--If you would like more detail on the Gospel, please see the Gospel section in our FAQ page.--

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


xHWA said...

"He was simply continuing the messages of the Hebrew prophets whose words are recorded in the Old Testament."

Yeah, I'm going to have to call BS on this.

First off, the word Gospel comes from the words "good" and "news". That's news, as in something new, not something old.

Yes, there was most certainly a continuation of an earlier message. But to claim it was simply a continuation and nothing besides is false on its face.

There is no way the "Good News" is a simple continuation of what was heard before. Paul said in Romans that in his gospel things were revealed that were kept secret from the beginning.

(ROM. 16: 25) Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began...

The next verse proves there was some continuation of an earlier message, however this verse proves the gospel is no simple continuation.

Even the COGs will admit (in other places) that none of the Jews understood there would be a first and then a second coming. Therefore by their own doctrine His preaching could not possibly be a simple continuation of an earlier message. So their claims are contradictory.

There is no sense in claiming that Jesus came to proclaim the "good news" of what had been being proclaimed for fourteen hundred years.

There is no sense in claiming that Jesus came to proclaim nothing besides the "good news" of His eventual return some two thousand plus years in the future.

xHWA said...

Turn to Mark 1: 14-15 for your entire lesson on the Gospel, eh?

At the risk of repeating ourselves, please allow me to quote from our FAQ:

The phrase “gospel of the Kingdom of God” appears only once, in Mark 1: 14. But we also see “gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God” (MARK. 1: 1), “gospel of the grace of God” (ACT. 20: 24), “gospel of God” (ROM. 1: 1; 15: 16; II COR. 11: 7; I THS. 2: 8-9; I PET. 4: 17), “gospel of the blessed God” (I TIM. 1: 11), “gospel of His Son” (ROM. 1: 9), “gospel of Christ” (ROM. 1: 16; 15: 19, 29; I COR. 9: 12, 18; II COR. 9: 13; 10: 14; GAL. 1: 7; PHP. 1: 27; I THS. 3: 2; ), “gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II THS. 1: 8), “gospel of the glory of Christ” (II COR. 4: 4), and “gospel of peace” (ROM. 10: 15; EPH. 6: 15). Out of the 101 appearances of the word “gospel”, the phrase “gospel of the Kingdom” only appears 4 times. None of these include any indication that this phrase exclusively means the second coming. This understanding is read into the text because this is what HWA taught. For comparison, “gospel of Christ” appears over twice as often at 10 times. As a matter of fact, the oft-used phrase, “gospel of the coming Kingdom of God” appears nowhere in the Bible.

Martha said...

Great points, thank you! Over the past week I read literature from all the major COG splinters regarding the gospel and the Kingdom of God. All of them, including Living Church of God, maintain one of the problems with mainstream Christianity is that a vast majority of Christians do not understand that Jesus Christ will return and establish His kingdom on earth.

What do I get in the mail today? LCG's "Tomorrow's World" magazine, which includes a pie chart listing percentages of "professing Christians" who believe Jesus will return to earth in the next 40 years.

So apparently 10 percent say He will not return in the next 40 years, 28 percent say probably not and 14 percent say they don't know.

THAT MEANS ALMOST 50 PERCENT OF CHRISTIANS BELIEVE JESUS WILL RETURN TO EARTH IN THE NEXT 40 YEARS, ACCORDING TO THEIR OWN PUBLICATION!!! But I JUST read LCG claims one of the main problems with Christianity is that the vast majority don't understand Jesus will return.

Consistency definitely is not their forte.

Martha said...

Not to beat a dead horse, but my spouse made a good point about the LCG example in my comment yesterday.

LCG's chart says that 47 percent of "professing Christians" believe Jesus will definitely or probably return in the next 40 years. If the 14 percent categorized as "don't know" believe Jesus will return at some point, just not necessarily in the next 40 years, that number rises to 61 percent who believe He will return at some point.

Just for fun, let's say the 28 percent who say Jesus probably won't return in the next 40 years believe He will return at some point. According to LCG's own publication, probably at least 61 percent and possibly as high as 90 percent believe Jesus will literally return to earth.

Whether the number is 61 percent or 90 percent who believe Jesus will eventually return, either is a far cry from the standard COG claim that the vast majority of mainstream Christianity does not believe Jesus will return and establish His Kingdom on earth.

According to their own publication, this claim they have made for years is not true. One must wonder why they would make this argument when they know it's not true. And it begs the question whether there are other claims they make about mainstream Christianity that are untrue? I won't speculate here, but it's not hard to connect the dots.

The original chart can be seen here, if you scroll about halfway down the page:

xHWA said...

It occurs to me that Armstrongism didn't popularize Dispensational Premillennialism (pre-Trib pre-Mil). It was popularized in Protestantism.

Cotton Mather preached it. John Darby (of the Darby Bible) preached it. Cyrus Scofield (of the Scofield Bible) preached it.
The COGs might love to lay claim on it, but they came to the party too late.

And there are several televangelists and big names in Evangelicalism who preach it today. There's no way the COGs can lay claim on pre-Trib pre-Mil as if it came from them or even continues because of them.

Bill said...

This message and result is similar to that of Acts 2, although Peter's Pentecost message also included an element of repentance.

The narrative that follows, when Peter reports back to "Hq" was a declaration by the Jews that God had "granted" repentance unto the gentiles. I'm thinking your definition of repentance may be flawed. It is, primarily, the act of "turning to God" or for a Jew, "turning back to God". Ancillary to this is turning away from a lifestyle of sin. Cornelius, did indeed "repent" in the pure sense of the word. They were indeed turning to God; something the Jews up till then believed to be impossible unless they underwent circumcision and came under the law.