Thursday, January 7, 2016

Beyond Today magazine, the United Church of God and Herbert W Armstrong

We at As Bereans Did got wind of a new religious magazine - "Beyond Today" - that came off the presses last week. Who is publishing this new magazine? Do they have a church? One you'd like to attend? Are they a new group? What is their history?

Actually, we knew this magazine was coming for a while. And it's not new. Back in 2014, the United Church of God - the church that publishes "Beyond Today" - announced its plans to consolidate its media efforts under this name. UCG already produced a "Beyond Today" television program and featured Internet resources under the same banner. So it's now publishing its magazine, formerly known as the "Good News," under the "Beyond Today" name as well. During the initial announcement, UCG's Darris McNeely stated that UCG hoped that consolidating its different media outlets under one name would give it a greater brand and media recognition.

Our usual aim at ABD is to help questioning members of groups like UCG, the Living Church of God and other splinters of Herbert W Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God. But today, we want to talk to those of you who might be searching for information about Beyond Today.

Perhaps Beyond Today is your first exposure to the doctrines of Herbert W Armstrong.   If so, let us help get you up to speed. Armstrong founded the Worldwide Church of God, from which UCG and other groups splintered. Armstrong claimed to be an apostle who received direct revelation from Jesus Christ, despite the fact that hundreds of prophecies he made in God's name failed. Armstrong died in 1986; and in the years that followed, the cult's new leadership slowly changed WCG's doctrines in efforts to purge Armstrong's doomsday prophecies, false teachings and adopt more orthodox Christian teachings.

But Armstrong's doctrinal legacy legacy lives on in UCG and other WCG splinters, made up of WCG members who disagreed with the "church's" new direction. A group of former WCG ministers created the United Church of God, rather than joining with established splinter groups, in hopes of gathering together the disaffected members. Ironically, this "United" group has only continued to splinter over the past two decades along with other remnant groups from the Worldwide Church of God.

Maybe you've never heard of Armstrong, also known as HWA, or have only heard the COG version of his biography. If so, please consider the other side of HWA's  story.

In the past, UCG has been accused by more hard-core Armstrong devotees of distancing itself from "the apostle" whom God used to restore "the truth." Cynics might wonder whether abandoning the "Good News" title, which it carried over from Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God, is intended to increase that distance.

UCG may try to publicly distance itself from Herbert Armstrong, but they still embrace HWA's debunked theory of British Israelism, which teaches that the United States, Britain and Western Europe are descended from the "lost 10 tribes of Israel." They reject many traditional Christian doctrines and celebrations based on the misguided 1800s-era "research" and conspiracy theories written by Alexander Hislop. Misunderstanding or misleading about traditional Christianity is standard practice among the COG ministers. Perhaps worst of all, UCG diminishes Jesus' sacrifice through the unbiblical doctrine of justification by works, or more accurately, maintenance of grace through their works. And once you accept these doctrines, this group teaches that you that you risk damnation if you ever question or depart from them.

UCG will probably try to position Beyond Today as a resource for Biblical truth and godly living. We at ABD are fans of godly living. There's little doubt that the folks at UCG have good intentions and want to turn people toward God and away from sin. We agree that sin is a bad thing, although we might disagree with them on the definition. And when you take the next step and actually attend a UCG church service, you'll find that UCG largely defines biblical righteousness as how well you follow their checklist - and that often boils down to how well you observe the seventh-day Sabbath and the Holy Days listed in Leviticus 23. Much of the time, instructions on Christian living takes a back seat to prophecy, church government, clean and unclean meats and other cherry-picked tenets of the Sinai Covenant. The veil is thick over their eyes (2 Corinthians 3:14-15). These things are the marks of God's "true church" - in fact, the COGs splinter and divide with ever-increasing frequency as they jostle for bragging rights to this title, based on different interpretations of the "proper" keeping of these doctrines. Apparently the division, slander and selfish ambition Jesus Christ forbade are acceptable as long as they facilitate proper Sabbath-keeping. Or a home office in the "proper" location. Or a righteously-funded media budget. If you still don't get the picture, might I suggest you Google topics like "UCG COGWA split," "Global Living Church of God split" or "Church of God AIC split."

If that wasn't enough, consider that Jesus Christ supposedly revealed these "truths" to Herbert Armstrong - the ones that UCG champions even today - during the same decade that HWA is alleged to have been committing incest with his daughter. That allegation cannot be simply waved away slander or an attack from Satan. That allegation was reported as a fact during Herbert Armstrong's divorce proceedings with with Ramona Martin. UCG's own Gary Antion is reported to have to admitted he knew the incest claim was true. Antion retired in 2015 after serving as a member of the UCG Council of Elders, as a church pastor and a teacher at UCG's Ambassador Bible Center, among other positions.

As recently as November 2014, UCG still featured this HWA-apologist gem of a post: "Be Ready to Give an Answer: Didn't You Follow a False Prophet?" on its web site. After ABD quoted it, the article disappeared from the search results on UCG's site. If you're interested, you can still read the original article by scrolling to page 18 of this PDF copy of the November 2005 United News. The article makes the truth is clear: Until only a year ago, UCG preferred to cast mild aspersions on the Apostle Peter, The Apostle Paul, and even Jesus Himself for fostering a sense of urgency, rather than admit the man who started their religious movement set prophetic dates that failed. Is it likely that decades of devotion have disappeared in the past 14 months?

Armstrong's failed predictions often centered around end-time Bible prophecy. Whether he was a true believer in his doomsday predictions or simply trying to scare people into joining or staying in his "church" is a point of debate. But UCG's Beyond Today magazine clearly continues HWA's tradition. In the first issue alone, we see articles about Babylon and the breakdown of today's society; the Bible's prophetic puzzle; rumors of war in the Middle East; Terrorism; Muslim forays into Europe; attacks on American police officers; speculation about living in the time of the end; and a plug for UCG's Booklet about the United States in Prophecy, which propagates HWA's scientifically-debunked theory about the "lost" 10 tribes of Israel.  There's no doubt Jesus told His followers to watch the signs of the times. But is this a 40-page Christian magazine that is also watching the times, or a 40-page prophecy magazine sprinkled with a few biblical nuggets?

Prophetic bent aside, UCG leaders seem to understand they must distance themselves from HWA if the group is to have any kind of shelf life, as we explained in 2014. But the Bible doesn't tell us simply to distance ourselves from false prophets, or parse the writings of sex offenders for their good points. Scripture makes it clear that we must carefully consider the conduct of our leaders:

(Deuteronomy 18:20-22) But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. And if you say in your heart, "How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?" when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him." Regardless of whether a man officially calls himself a prophet, if he makes predictions in God's name, as Herbert Armstrong did countless times, and they do not come to pass when he says they will, then he is a false prophet.

(Matthew 7:15-20) Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them." Was the fruit of HWA's personal lifestyle positive or negative? Was he known for imitating Christ and displaying the fruits of the spirit, or for his famous temper, outrageous lifestyle, and for occasionally comparing members of his church to human waste? What is the fruit of the religious movement he started? Joy, peace and patience or fractious squabbling? By their fruits you will know them.

(1 Corinthians 5:1-2, NIV, section titled "Dealing with a Case of Incest") It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father's wife. And you are proud! Shouldn't you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? This speaks for itself, assuming the allegation is true.

(Hebrews 13:7) Remember those who rule over you, who have spoken the word of God to you, whose faith follow, considering the outcome of their conduct. What was the outcome of HWA's conduct? What is the outcome of today's Church of God leaders? Consider the conduct of your leaders. If you like the fruit of their lives and their faith, follow in their footsteps. If not, perhaps you should consider why you do not.

Bottom line -  if "Beyond Today" convicts someone that it's morally wrong to have an affair and keeps him from cheating on his spouse, we applaud that. If it encourages someone to turn to God for help with failing finances or a troubling medical prognosis, that's great. Beyond Today's well-meaning proof-texts are still based in scripture, so it's certainly possible. And if you're committed to attending an Armstrongist group, then UCG is probably one of your better choices. Usually, it allows you more personal freedom than the other WCG-descended groups. As well as a much better chance that your minister will "allow" you to maintain somewhat normal relationships with family and friends outside the organization. (If you're into more ministerial control of your life, perhaps you would prefer some of UCG's sister splinters, like the Philadelphia Church of God (also see this on the PCG) or the Living Church of God).  Newer UCG leaders don't seem to be allergic to the words "Jesus" and "grace," which are huge steps of departure from the Worldwide Church of God. We pray that they properly understand both one day.

In the end, "Beyond Today" and all other COG media efforts can't help but mix New Covenant wine with Sinai Covenant wineskins. It will lead sincere people seeking to obey God and live a righteous lifestyle into a performance trap mentality that robs them of the peace, joy and abundant life Jesus came to offer them. Beyond Today is not a new, cutting-edge Christian magazine. It is repackaged material from Armstrongist apologists who are trying to stir up the ashes of a religious movement founded by a false apostle/prophet - one who slandered mainstream Christianity as immoral while he is alleged to have forced an incestuous relationship on his own daughter for more than 10 years, if court records and one of UCG's own long-time, upper-eschelon leaders can be trusted. Make no mistake. Beyond Today, like its publisher, the United Church of God, is Armstrongist at its core.

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


alkie said...

I read this article and realise you are mixing truth with lies. That is called misleading.

Please go and study your Bible. Not what other prople think. Ask God what is the Way and the Truth. Search His Word.

xHWA said...

Well, alkie, perhaps you could point out one or two of the places where there are lies.


Martha said...

Yes, please Alkie, I am very willing to make a change when a mistake is brought to my attention. A couple of weeks ago I changed a statement I originally made in this post regarding UCG displaying a framed portrait of Herbert W Armstrong in its home office. I read elsewhere from a rather reliable source that it was taken down and promptly removed the statement.

Aside from my tongue-in-cheek claim that I learned of Beyond Today magazine's existence recently when, in fact, I heard UCG's announcement many months earlier, please point out the lies. I have sourced this article relatively well; including tracking down documents that UCG removed when I sourced them the first time around.

I can assure you that I have asked God to show me the truth and studied the Bible much more thoroughly since I left the COGs. I invite you to do the same. Thorough, contextual, unbiased study is not encouraged in the COGs. Prooftexts from booklets and individual scriptures in isolation is not the same thing as studying the Bible.

Show me a lie, show me your source of truth and I will happily change it.

K J said...

Apparently , no response from Alkie . . . . .