Friday, May 6, 2016

The Letter Kills: PCG Claims Another Life

Here at As Bereans Did, we are frequently asked the question: what's wrong with keeping the law? What's the danger in teaching your children that they must keep the Sabbath and Holy Days? Weren't these things given to man for good? What's the big deal?

We see a very basic warning on this matter in Titus 3:9:

“But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless.”

Why would debates about the law and genealogies be useless? Isn't this what God wants us to follow; what He expects from us? The Churches of God largely differentiate themselves from “deceived” Christianity by two of these things listed in Titus 3 - that Christians should “keep” the law, and that modern Israel populates the United States and Western Europe. What's the harm in this?

Unfortunately, we recently learned about a heart-breaking situation that demonstrates why strivings over the law can be so destructive. We take no joy in reporting this situation. Rather, we hope that bringing to light issues and consequences like these can  help prevent future tragedies in the Armstrongist community.

Once upon a time, a kind, loving couple who desired to serve God raised their children diligently in the Worldwide Church of God. In 1995, they left for one of the larger, more moderate splinter groups, and the whole family stayed there for years. Their children grew up. One child stayed in the same group as the parents.  Another decided that the lukewarm splinter they attended was not zealous enough for God's law. He and his wife took their young children with them to the Philadelphia Church of God and cut off all contact with their COG family.

Fast forward several years. It is reported that, in their desire to obey their church leaders, the younger PCG couple kicked one of their children out of the house because he had a girlfriend and wasn't spending enough time reading his Bible. Disfellowshipped from PCG, that child moved in with his COG grandparents, whom he hadn't seen in years. He took his own life during the Days of Unleavened Bread, at the age of 21. Not surprisingly, PCG is telling its membership that the young man was mentally ill. Later reports included details that muddy the picture of whether mental illness or PCG's no-contact policy is to blame for his suicide. Some who knew him say they doubt PCG's story. At the very least, the no-contact policy no doubt exacerbated the pain for someone with few emotional and spiritual supports.

Since the young man was cut off from most friends and family, we'll never get a 100 percent accurate picture of what happened. But we've seen enough similarly tragic stories in COG groups to connect the dots fairly well. In 2014, 30-year-old Janet Privratsky committed suicide after PCG's no-contact policy cut her off from her family. Last year, 27-year-old David Ekama – a member of the United Church of God – took his own life. We have personal knowledge of another UCG teen who ran away and left his parents a suicide note after being pressured by tent-mates at UCG summer camp around the time of the UCG-COGWA split. What were they pressuring him to do? Leave UCG for a more conservative splinter that kept the law and Sabbath closer to the way WCG founder Herbert W Armstrong taught. Thankfully, his story had a happier ending. But the pattern is clear.

What's the danger in teaching that keeping the law, or aspects of it, is a condition for salvation? Well, when you teach your children that they are responsible for maintaining their right standing with God, they will believe you. Don't tell me your church doesn't teach this. I've documented that UCG does, and if the supposedly lukewarm UCG does it, the rest do, too. And when they hear from the pulpit, week after week, that being in the wrong church means they are not a true Christian, chances are good that they will believe that, too.

So anyway, some kids are fine with pat answers to questions about moderate COGs' cherry-picked way of keeping the law. Some are satisfied with a simple: “because the minister says it's ok.”  But others will see through the cognitive dissonance and wonder:
  • Why is it wrong for Dad to work on the Sabbath but not wrong to pay a waitress to work for me on Saturday? 
  • If keeping the Holy Days matters, then don't we have to keep them on the right day? Don't we determine Holy Days the way God told us in the Bible – according to the visual confirmation of the New Moon? 
  • If pig meat is unclean, then why is it all right roast marshmallows made from pig bones at the church campout? 
Let me make one thing clear: I don't blame anyone in this family for the disastrous turn of events. The grandparents, the parents, anyone. All of them walked the same road that many of us have traveled. All of them wanted to obey their Creator. All of them were doing their best to please God. None of us can fully predict the consequences of our actions, the reactions of others or know what's in the minds and hearts of those around us. These people are simply the latest victims of the treacherous leadership of the Philadelphia Church of God; and ultimately of Herbert W Armstrong, the late founder of the Church of God movement. Perhaps this is why the Bible tells us to test prophets – so that if they are found to be false, we should not heed what they tell us. Sadly, ignoring this instruction can have a ripple effect on one's children and grandchildren. Perhaps this is how a father's actions affect the third and fourth generations.

Many COG youth are becoming more lax about defining God's true church, but this isn't taught from the pulpit. Most COGs still hint, if not state, that you must attend God's favored splinter group to make it into the Kingdom. Chances are good your kids have absorbed this harmful teaching, whether or not you reinforce it at home. And if you have, don't be surprised when they eventually choose another splinter and turn from you. After all, didn't Jesus come to set son against father, mother against daughter, and mother-in-law against daughter in law? Whoever gives up family for His sake will be rewarded in the Kingdom. (Please read here to learn more about PCG's twisted interpretation of these scriptures.)

This destructive “One True Church” teaching is especially dangerous in the most oppressive cults like PCG, which tend to reject members when they are no longer able to control them. This is when our children find themselves in the true depths of despair. We've taught them that their salvation is dependent upon their record of obedience. We've taught them their salvation depends upon being in the right church. Many have cut themselves off from family and friends outside the cult to be obedient to their ministers. Now, this church chews them up, spits them out and tells them they can't come back. Cut off, they are now unable to obey what they believe they must do in order to “make it.”

Life is volatile enough for teens and young adults. Let's not force them into corners from which they see no escape. Let's not isolate them so that are easy pickings for the prowling devil. I'm not saying all COG children are at risk for suicide, or that mainstream Christian families never experience this kind of tragedy. But let's not set children up for failure. We don't know whether disfellowshipment, the no-contact policy or mental illness was the straw that broke the camel's back for this young man. But fellowship and support in a healthy church or regular contact with friends and family could have short-circuited whatever caused his feedback loop of darkness and might have prevented this tragedy.

When we teach our children that salvation is dependent upon their works, especially works from the Sinai Covenant, we shouldn't be surprised when they see the problem with watered-down keeping of the law. We shouldn't be surprised when they go to greater lengths than we ever expected, and that their decisions affect future generations. If we teach them that these are matters of sin and righteousness, of salvation, then many may see “because the Church says so” as an irresponsible answer with eternal consequences. Those kids are smart. And they are right.

If “not one jot or tittle” means what the COGs teach it means, then it really means not ONE jot or tittle. There is no sliding scale for righteousness; no bell curve; no, “at least I keep the Sabbath unlike these deceived Protestants.” Either EVERY jot and tittle matters for salvation, or salvation is by grace through faith. Either we maintain our salvation through our track record of obedience, repentance and change, or there is a different standard.  If our grace is maintained through our human works, then we are as good as dead now. This is a burden man simply can't bear. Over the years, a number of COG youth have recognized this fact and, tragically, turned the theoretical into a reality.

Thankfully, Scripture tells us that at least some of those “jots and tittles” have changed. Which ones? Well for starters, the laws regarding both circumcision and the tribal requirement for priesthood. Those have changed, indisputably. indisputable. So it stands to reason that others may have, too. And Scripture also tells us we are not as good as dead, but that we have already passed from death to life (1 John 3:14).

If you have serious doubts about your Church of God group but are putting off dealing with them, don't. I know, it's inconvenient, it's awkward, and it can get messy. Besides, you might say, I know the difference between the truth and error coming from the pulpit. Do you? And does the rest of your family there, beside you? You've taught them to listen to the minister, to respect him. What happens when he chooses the radical opinion of a minister instead of yours? Just because you and the rest of your family are in a sane, moderate group right now doesn't mean that they always will be. If God has been telling you to get out, and you've been hanging out on the fence, be obedient. Get out!

And despite what your minister as told you, “getting out” doesn't mean leaving God. Teach your children about God. It's the most important thing you can do. Teach them Scripture. Teach them to take God's word seriously. Teach them to obey His commands – not the ones Jesus gave to Israel in the Sinai Covenant, but the ones He and His apostles gave to participants in the New Covenant. Teach them about grace. Teach them about God's love. Teach them that Jesus died for them; teach them to live for Him. Teach them about their responsibility to obey, to live as bondservants of the one who purchased them with His blood. Teach them to listen for God's prompting, to cooperate with Him, to let Him work with and through them. Teach them to live a life that brings honor and glory to His name. But also teach them the parable of the prodigal son – of a God whose arms are always open to us. And then follow that parable yourself.

What's the danger in teaching obedience to the law as a condition for salvation? This is the danger. Our hearts, our sympathies and our prayers go out to the friends and family of this young man. There are more people praying for you than you will ever know, and we are here to listen if you need us.

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