Saturday, June 25, 2016

Brexit - Were the COG Prophets Right?

One day after the Brexit vote, various Armstrongist leaders, prophets, and talking heads are publishing mostly pre-written statements about the future implications of Britain leaving the EU. For a good idea on what they're already saying, read Banned by HWA article "Was He Right?" Years ago, it was foretold that Britain would leave the EU, then Germany would rise and enslave us all. All of Armstrongism watched the Brexit with great anticipation, hoping after decades of worrisome prophetic failure that finally they can hold their heads high and say with confidence, "We were right!" It's a much needed boost of confidence for an ailing system.

But we have to ask - were they right?

Let's briefly review some of the details that are being left out in all this rush to proclaim victory over the mapping out of the end times.

Don't forget for one moment that Armstrongism comes out of Ellen G. White's Seventh Day Adventist movement, and that was born in the prophetic failures of William Miller. A long and storied past of false prophecy is in the DNA of Armstongism.

Herbert Armstrong, “the founder, Pastor General, and spiritual and temporal leader” of the Church of God on earth had barely just incorporated the Radio Church of God (later the Worldwide Church of God) when he began publishing his false prophecies that Christ would return in 1936. He did it again in World War II. And again in the early 1970s. Then Christ was to return in the 1980's. Then by the end of the 20th century. But he never once even hinted that he might be wrong. Instead, he claimed no association with being a prophet at all. Those exceedingly detailed claims spoken under the authority of God were all just educated guesses, in effect. Then he tried to bury the past. People were told to burn the old material which contained the errors. All then proceeded as normal with new predictions. "All Systems Go!"

This pattern of false prophecy and cover-up continues to this very day under the guidance of Herbert Armstrong's many "one true" successors. A fabulous example is Ron Weinland's spectacular failure with "2008: God's Final Witness." In summary, we were all supposed to begin dying in 2008. "But wait," you say, "It's 2016." Correct. I don't want to ruin the end of the book for you, but [SPOILER ALERT] Ron got the predictions right from God and transmitted them to us all accurately, but God was lying in order to fool Satan. [END SPOILER] Well, if you can't blame God who can you blame?
He's still at it even now. For a great deal more, I highly recommend you read our friend Mike's blog about the False Prophet Ron Weinland.

Don't be so surprised by this. Armstrongism has a very long history of prophesying something that never comes to pass, moving the goal posts, then proceeding forward as if they were right all along. We've written about it more than once before (eg. Herbert W Armstrong's Doctrine and FruitAn Inconvenient Plain TruthAll Systems Are Go, or read our Categories page for many more). The story ends the same every time with wait and see. And tithe.

Why dredge up this ugly past? Because in order to properly understand the current clucking about Brexit, you absolutely must know there's a lot more to it - decades more - than just Britain leaving the EU. If you don't know your history, you won't know that Britain leaving the EU isn't even what was supposed to happen in the first place.

If we all recall, in the original version of prophecy there was no EU. It was the early 1930s and no one ever dreamed that an EU was even possible. In the original version, a ten nation group from somewhere in the old Holy Roman Empire was simply going to run amok then Jesus would return. Next, Mussolini was going to become the Beast. Then Hitler was to be the Beast. Then Hitler supposedly went into hiding and would re-emerge as the Beast. There was no EU. There was no Brentrance let alone a Brexit.

In the 1960s it began to become clear that the new European trade agreements were more than just a series of trade agreements. It didn't take a prophet to see that the point was political unity to prevent World War III. What was the reliable prophecy from that time? Britain was never supposed to join in the first place. They might float around the edges, but since this political union was to be the Beast we couldn't have "Ephriam" join in. (For those of you who are somehow unaware, Herbert Armstrong was deeply involved in British Israelism aka. Anglo Israelism. In Armstrongism, England is the modern identity of the ancient Israelite tribe of Ephraim.)

But by the mid-1970's Britain did join. Emergency! It was now necessary that the only people on earth who knew what the future would be like should change their story yet again. In the new version, Britain was going to leave the EU and then the end would come.

This is where we find ourselves today. This is what all the crowing is about. So "We were right!" ...after several attempts. One thing right, out of Lord knows how many wrong things. But are the COG prophets right? We at ABD are not impressed.

The issue isn't just in the past. Going forward is an issue as well. A few additional details come to mind and they are rather important.

  • After Brexit there will still be 27 EU nations. One down, 17 left to go to hit that correct ten-nation Beast power. Technically speaking it's really eleven nations, because ten nations are supposed to ally themselves under Germany. 10 + 1 = 11. 16 nations left to go.
  • The Beast power can't just include Germany, it has to be formed by Germany and dominated by Germany. In other words the whole EU needs to be dissolved and a new ten-nation combine needs to be formed. To put it another way: Britain left the EU -- so what?
  • These ten nations can't just be ten random nations surrounding Germany. They have to be mainly nations that are not on the list of British Isreal nations of western and northern Europe (the Beast isn't Israelite). For example France can't be a partner with Germany as France is the modern identity of the ancient Israelite tribe of Reuben. Or Denmark can't be a partner because Demnark is the modern identity of the ancient Israelite tribe of Dan. (Something we're not even supposed to be able to find out until the very end.) To put it another way: the entire EU -- so what?
  • The Beast power can't just be Germany in the lead, either. It has to be a singular ultra-charismatic human being who leads Germany who leads the ten other nations.
  • This Beast king must be closely partnered with the Pope and at least pretend to be Catholic himself and convert the majority of the world to Catholicism. In an increasingly secular post-Protestant Europe where Catholicism in particular is not very popular and waves of Muslim immigrants arrive daily, this point is going to be particularly difficult to pull off.
  • This whole mess is supposed to happen quickly and it's only supposed to happen at the end. It's supposed to take the world by surprise, not drag out over several decades (or centuries as the case is). And then the end shall come.
  • The ten nations under Germany in association with Vatican City are supposed to enslave Britain, Australia, and the entire North American continent - and then still have enough military wherewithal to turn and attack Russia while a 200 million strong Chinese army marauds its way across the Middle East. I'm no military tactician myself, but as it stands the entire EU doesn't seem capable to conquer even one of these things let alone all of them.

We could go on and on this way. The point is Britain leaving the EU isn't the whole story, and getting lucky on a small fraction of the story (after several iterations) isn't the same as being prophetically accurate.

If this were a math problem, would the teacher grade them correct? No. If a prophet from another religion got only this much right, would we say they were sent by God? No. In what other area of life would anyone with this track record still hold any credibility at all? The only place that comes to my mind is in the U.S. Federal Government. <--- FAR cry from God there. This reminds me of a movie quote that goes like this, "60% of the time, it works every time." Only instead of 60% it's somewhere closer to 2%. And I'm being generous. Does "2% of the time, we're right every time," make sense to you? Because it doesn't to me. One certainly cannot claim "we were right therefore we're God's one true church" and at the same time expect us all to ignore all the overwhelming majority of the time when they weren't. And we are supposed to base our current and future plans, hopes, and dreams on this??

Will Brexit have powerful and far-reaching implications for the world? Yes. That much is inevitable. And I'm not saying that as any form of prophecy. I'm saying that because history proves it's unavoidable. Could it lead to war? It might; it might not. Lots of lesser things have. Lots of greater things have not. Should you worry about it? No. All of this entire mess regarding false prophecy is born in fear and worry. Armstrongists tend to dislike the world and they would rather it finally just go away. They obsess over bad news because it feeds their desperate hope that the end is nigh, even at the door.

But don't be like that. Love your neighbor as yourself. And don't fear. Just trust! Not in COG false prophets, nor us here, but in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Believe in Jesus and love your neighbor. That's your work as a Christian.

There is much more we here at ABD have said and could yet say on this topic. But does what we have seen make Herbert Armstrong or any of the other COG prophets right? When you consider the context and the changes and the details, the answer is a resounding NO!

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

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Honor Thy Father

Within the mindset of Armstrongism, from its heritage in Adventism and even to the COG splinter groups of this day, there is a pervasive belief that in order to honor Jesus one must withhold honor from the Father. This is a clumsy way to put it, but the spirit of what I am trying to convey is true. Armstrongism sees honor as zero sum. In other words, there is only so much of it to go around. It is the overall view that all honor should rightfully go to the Father, and since all honor should rightfully go to the Father in order to honor something other than the Father – like Jesus - one almost borrows against the Father to give to the Son. It is a “Rob Peter to pay Paul” situation. I am not going to dive into the background on what builds up to this conclusion, suffice it for now to simply say that it is. This is one idea shown in Martha's post "COGWA On The Resurrection: That's Nice, Now What?".

As a result, we often hear from Armstrongists that mainstream Christians pay far too much attention to Jesus and not nearly enough attention to the Father. Mainstream Christians might say that the COGs take Jesus out of His box once a year at Passover. If there is almost a guilty sensation in honoring the Son because it somehow diminishes the Father, how much less then could an Armstrongist agree that honoring a person can honor bring honor to the Son? Sadly, the view that mainstream Christianity has of Jesus and even our calling as Christians cannot be fully understood while laboring under the COG view of honoring God.

Is this “rob the Father to pay the Son” view Biblical? Can you honor the Father without directly honoring the Father? Can we honor the Son by honoring pitiful, lowly humans? Let’s look and see.

(I JON. 2: 23) Whoever denies the Son does not have the Father either; he who acknowledges the Son has the Father also.

Whatever you do to one, you do to the other. This is how God views things. Thus is the relationship between Father and Son. There is no such thing as having more of the Father or of the Son. It’s a package deal. There are many other verses to demonstrate this. The main thing to glean from this is that to honor the Father it is required of us to honor the Son. This is how we honor the Father. This is the method.

(JON. 5: 18-23) 18 Therefore the Jews sought all the more to kill Him, because He not only broke the Sabbath, but also said that God was His Father, making Himself equal with God. 19 Then Jesus answered and said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, but what He sees the Father do; for whatever He does, the Son also does in like manner. 20 For the Father loves the Son, and shows Him all things that He Himself does; and He will show Him greater works than these, that you may marvel. 21 For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will. 22 For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, 23 that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.

The Son should be honored just as the Father is honored. It is commanded it is right and it is just. Perhaps the COGWA could remember this in their next talk about being "Father-Centered."

There is no such thing as having too much emphasis on the Son. To emphasize the Son is to emphasize the Father. To honor the Son is to honor the Father. This is how the Father is honored. Why do we honor the Son? Because of the Father. It is in order to glorify the Father that the Son came. It is in order to glorify the Father that we glorify the Son. No one goes to the Father except through the Son (JON. 14: 6). The Son does not steal from the Father. There is no taking from the Father to give to the Son. All that is, be it tangible or intangible, is the Fathers – and the Father has given all to the Son. That includes glory and honor. Why? Why does this not take away from the Father? Because the Son then turns right around and returns all to the Father, so that the Father may be all in all.

So, the common saying that mainstream Christianity honors the Son too much is not correct. It is untrue. It is a misunderstanding of the Father and the Son, it is a misunderstanding of honoring the Father and the Son, and it is a misunderstanding of what we are called to do as the spiritual Body of Christ.

So, if we honor the Father by honoring the Son, we must ask how do we best honor the Son?

We honor the Son by following the Holy Spirit whom the Son sends. We honor the Son in spirit and in truth, with sincere hearts. We honor the Son with our intentions and thoughts and words which flow into our deeds. What deeds? The Old Covenant law? No. With acts of charity towards those whom He has created. We honor the Son by loving those whom the Son loves.

This is what James speaks of, that faith alone is dead faith. We need to do for those whom Jesus loves. We need to actively love those whom Jesus loves. We need acts of charity. Armstrongism teaches that James is merely speaking of an attempt to observe the Old Covenant law, but that is not what James speaks of. James comes right out and tells us what he is speaking of:

(JAS. 1: 27) Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world.

James speaks of our true religion; our service to Jesus. What is that service to Jesus? Serving others.

When Jesus restored Peter, what did Jesus say? If you love Me, tend My flock (JON. 21: 15-17). He didn't say "If you love Me, ignore Me and concentrate on the Father." Nor did He say, "If you love Me, tithe and we'll call it even." No. If we love Jesus, we should do well for those whom He loves. The prescribed method of returning love to Jesus is acts of love to other humans. We honor our Lord by honoring others.

For years, as I attended the WCG and later my COG splinter group, I heard about how James talks of the law, and how everything else had to be seen in the light of this interpretation of James. But James isn’t speaking of the Old Covenant law. James is speaking of letting faith and the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit have its expression in our lives. James is speaking of charitable actions to others. James is speaking of our reasonable acts of worship. James is talking about how to love Jesus by loving those around us. James is talking about our religion.

Several times in this article I have compared and contrasted Armstrongism to mainstream Christianity. Does that mean mainstream Christianity always get this right? HA! No!! Anyone misleads you who says to you that all we need is faith in Jesus Christ. There is more to it than that simple phrase. This is precisely what James speaks about. Faith must have its expression in our lives. Good thing that most people who say this know there is a lot more to it, and both their lives and their fruit bear this out.

I am not speaking of law but of love. Old Covenant law does not equal love. To love is to fulfill the law. In fact to love is to fulfill the spirit of the entire law. All of it. It’s the only way to do this. The only way to exceed the righteousness of the Pharisees is to love. But to keep the law is not to love. The Pharisees had the law, but they did not have this kind of love. They honored God with their mouths and their law-keeping, but not with their hearts. Love fulfills the law, but the law does not fulfill love.

The point is that in order to express your love to Jesus you must pass on to others this love that He has given you. His gifts to us – none of us merit them in the slightest, and none of us are able to repay them. So how do you respond to the love of God? Simple. You believe in Jesus and love one another.

When I search the New Testament in the NKJV for “love one another” I get quite a few great hits from all over. I’ll give you one:

(I JON. 4: 11) Beloved, if God so loved us, we ought also to love one another.

If God so loved us, we ought to love one another. Sums it up.

This is what it means to live as a Christian. Bear in mind that the church is the Body of Christ. What we do to one another that we also do to Him.

(MAT. 20: 37-40) 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’

(Mat. 20: 44-45) 44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’

Here is the summary of all that I am saying - you honor the Father by honoring Jesus, and honor Jesus by honoring those whom Jesus loves.

To honor the Son is not to diminish from the Father, and to honor a human is not necessarily to diminish from the Son. I affirm that it is not possible for an Armstrongist to fully understand mainstream Christianity without accepting this Biblical truth.

Is this charity and love to go to the people in your COG splinter only? We were taught as much within Armstrongism many, many times in the past. I know it is still taught today. I personally sat through more than just one sermon instructing us to actively withhold charity from “the world” for one reason or the other. We were instructed that to be charitable to “the world” is to defy God. (Do all COG groups teach this? No. But most do. Kudos to those who do not.)

Are those big-named and many-titled men that lead large splinter groups really correct when they say to shun everyone that doesn’t go to their group? Are they right that they are Philidelphia and everyone else is Laodicea? Are they justified in splitting up families and indirectly causing suicides? Does that teaching really mesh with what you read in the Bible?


(MAT. 5: 43-47) 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so?

No, not just to those in your splinter group. Not just to other Armstrongists. Everyone! Everywhere. Every human being bears the image of God, and we are called to love them all.

How can you love the people with whom you disagree if you can’t even love those with whom you do agree? Oh, how the COG groups fight! How they strive against one another! What do you really disagree on? I mean really. Your current glorious leader? The importance of Herbert Armstrong? The timing of the Wave Sheaf offering? The date on which Jesus will return? Seriously. If we had to quantify what the COG groups truly disagree on, it wouldn’t be more than 2% of the overall body of doctrine. Yet you can’t seem to love one another. Not just failing to love, but actively tearing down.

Since your COG splinter teaches you to observe the law (some of it anyway) I want to challenge you. I want to challenge you to implement this honor of the Father into your life. While you go about intending to observe the law, be mindful of the law in its New Covenant, spiritual, royal fulfillment – by that I mean faith and love. Don’t just go to church services on Saturday. Go out of your way to be kind to someone each and every time. Not the same person and not in the same way each time. Go out of your way. At the same time, accept the help and generosity of others. At the time I write this, Pentecost is coming up. More people means more opportunity to love and serve.

Then go out and do the same for people who aren't in your church.

Pray to God that He grant you His love. Then pray to God that He grant you the will and opportunity to give it all away. You cannot just take this up on your own. It has to be granted. Then be a living sacrifice. Do as James exhorted us to do. Live pure and undefiled religion. Be a Christian. Love one another.

In honoring others you honor the Son and through the Son you honor the Father.

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

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Paul and Pentecost

Well, Pentecost is almost here. Have you finalized your travel plans to keep the festival in Jerusalem?

You haven't? Well, you'd better get cracking, if you want to be like Paul. I mean, we're supposed to imitate Paul as he imitated Christ, right? Both of those guys celebrated Pentecost in Jerusalem.

Speaking of which, COGWA recently quoted Paul in its Daily Bible Verse blog, titled “I Must By All Means Keep This Coming Feast.” In this blog entry, COGWA writer Mike Bennett cites Acts 18:21 as evidence that Christians should keep the Hebrew holy days listed in Leviticus 23.
“As we saw in Acts 20:16, the apostle Paul planned his journeys around the biblical festivals,” Bennett writes. “Here he also explains his need to get to Jerusalem for one of the festivals.
Is this true? Did Paul plan his travels around biblical festivals? Further, did he need to go to Jerusalem to keep Pentecost? Or is this just another COGWA proof-text?

Let's take a look at one of the passages in question, Acts 18:19-23:

And he came to Ephesus, and left them (Priscilla and Aquila) there; but he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. When they asked him to stay a longer time with them, he did not consent. But took leave of them, saying, 'I must by all means keep this coming feast in Jerusalem, but I will return again to you, God willing.” And he sailed from Ephesus. And when he had landed at Caesarea, and gone up and greeted the church, he went down to Antioch.

It's probably safe to assume that Paul made it to Jerusalem for Pentecost in this particular case. Caesarea was the port nearest to Jerusalem – it was only about 75 miles away. But an assumption is the best we can do, because scripture doesn't even mention what Paul did there, other than greeting the church.

Now let's read COGWA's other slam-dunk passage, Acts 20:15-16:

We sailed from there, and the next day came opposite Chios. The following day we arrived at Samos and stayed at Trogyllium. The next day we came to Miletus. For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost.

IF POSSIBLE? If Paul planned his travels around the Holy Days; if it was imperative for him to be there, shouldn't he do a little better than “if possible?” Once again, we never learn whether or not Paul actually made it to Jerusalem for Pentecost. Acts 21:17 tells us that he finally arrived, and the rest of the chapter details his meeting with the apostles and subsequent arrest.

So, does the Bible give us evidence that Paul always plan his travels around the Holy Days? Did he always feel compelled to be at Jerusalem for Pentecost? The answer to both questions is NO.

A few verses before the first Pentecost mentioned, we learn in Acts 18:11 that Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and six months. There is no indication he left the city for any Holy Day. Could he have celebrated them with Crispus; the converted ruler of the Corinthian synagogue? It's possible. But he certainly didn't make any trips to Jerusalem. The Expositor's Bible Commentary tells us this 18-month stay at Corinth most likely began in the fall of 50 AD and ended in the spring of 52 AD.

Furthermore, Paul's desire to travel to Jerusalem may have been compounded both times by external factors. Prior to the first Pentecost we're discussing, we learn in Acts 18:18 that Paul had taken a vow (possibly Nazirite)  that he needed to fulfill in Jerusalem. Some scholars believe that Paul came to Corinth dejected from his opposition in Macedonia, and took this vow to ask for God's intervention in both his emotional state and his ministry. Once the period of his vow ended, he needed to return to Jerusalem to fulfill his vow.
“Such a vow had to be fulfilled at Jerusalem, where the hair would be presented to God and sacrifices offered. Some have proposed that Paul cut off his hair at the beginning of his vow. But there is no evidence for this, and much in the literature about Nazirite vows speaks directly against it,” according to the Expositor's Bible Commentary. 
“Evidently at some time during his residence at Corinth—perhaps at its beginning when he was depressed—Paul had taken a Nazirite vow to God as he asked for his intervention," according to the Expositor's Bible Commentary. "And now having seen God's hand at work in Corinth and a thriving church established there, Paul was determined to return to Jerusalem to fulfill his vow by presenting his hair as a burnt offering and offering sacrifices in the temple. The vow could only be fulfilled after a thirty-day period of purification in the Holy City."
Prior to the second Pentecost in question, Paul had been gathering offerings from gentile congregations to bring to the impoverished brethren at Jerusalem. Though COG readers are familiar with this passage for other reasons, we see in 1 Corinthians 16:1-4 that Paul asked the Macedonian brethren to set aside gifts for the saints in need. In verse 4, he specifically states that, if possible, he could take them to Jerusalem personally. In Romans 15:25-26 Paul writes:

“But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem.”

In Acts 24:17, we see Paul recounting his testimony to Felix and detailing that after many years he brought “alms and offerings” to his nation. This undoubtedly refers to the offerings mentioned in 1 Corinthians, which he delivered to the Jerusalem brethren at Pentecost. Some scholars believe the offering was the main reason Paul wished to get to Jerusalem. I wouldn't go that far, but don't doubt their assertions that Paul was eager to get the offering to Jerusalem to build solidarity between himself and his gentile congregations and the ethnically Jewish Christians at Jerusalem, whom the Jews were trying to turn against him.

Next, let's look at Acts 19, which details Paul's travels between these two Pentecosts in question. Acts 19:9-10 tells us that, while in Ephesus, Paul taught daily in the school of Tyrannus. Scripture doesn't tell us much about this school, but it DOES tell us that Paul taught there daily for two years. There is no biblical evidence that Paul left Ephesus to keep Pentecost either year.

In fact, 1 Corinthians 16:9 tells us Paul planned to stay in Ephesus for one of the intervening Pentecosts. We know that Paul wrote 1 Corinthians while in Ephesus (1 Corinthians 16:19 sends the Corinthian brethren greetings from Priscilla and Aquila, who hosted the Ephesian church in their home). We don't know whether Paul may have changed his mind after devotees of the goddess Diana stirred up in a riot in Acts 19 (Paul references his conflict with these men in 1 Corinthians 15:32). 1 Corinthians 16:5 discloses Paul's intention to travel through Macedonia,  and Acts 20:1 tells us Paul departed for Macedonia shortly after the riot. Some sources tells us that a festival to Diana/Artemis occurred in early May, which would fit the understood timing that the book of 1 Corinthians was written shortly after the Days of Unleavened Bread.

At any rate, these scriptures indicate that Paul's travel to Jerusalem for Pentecost was inconsistent. And they cast reasonable doubt that his travel plans were set in stone and revolved around the Holy Days.

What does all this mean? In case you're more of a big-picture person, here is a rough outline of Paul's post-conversion timeline:
  • Paul was converted around 36 AD
  • He subsequently preached in places like Tarsus and Antioch and met with the apostles at Jerusalem 
  • His first missionary journey started around 48 AD
  • He was imprisoned for the first time in Jerusalem around 58 AD and spent the next 10 years in various states of confinement and release
  • He died around 68 AD 
And here's what we know based on scripture:
  • Paul mentions going to Jerusalem for Pentecost twice during this estimated 32-year time span
  • Both times, Paul had additional compelling reasons to travel to Jerusalem
  • On one occasion, Paul stated his intention to stay in Ephesus until after Pentecost 
That's it.

Here's what we else we learn from reading these scriptures in context, without COG eisegesis:
  • Not once, not even once, did Paul tell any converts to go to Jerusalem for Pentecost, with or without him. When he went, he was presumably accompanied by his traveling companions, but that's it. It's no shock that Paul kept the holy days. We know that even late in his ministry, he still considered himself a Jewish Christian, as we see in 2 Corinthians 11:22, Acts 23:6 and Acts 26:5. Peter similarly abstained from food the Sinai Covenant declared unclean. But they never forced these practices on gentiles who were not party to the Sinai Covenant in the first place. 
  • Not once did he TELL any converts to celebrate Pentecost. It's safe to assume that some did, since he references it in his letters. We know that many early Christians kept the Hebrew holy days because they were coming into a community largely made of ethnic Jews who still held to their traditions. Most notably, we see Paul referencing leavening with the Corinthian brethren, whom we know met in the home of the synagogue leader at Corinth and therefore had exposure to the Hebrew holy days. Although the context of 1 Corinthians 5 indicates that Paul was admonishing the Corinthian brethren to break fellowship with a brother who was sinning, not giving them direction in how to keep a holy day. Most COG and non-COG sources agree that the Days of Unleavened Bread had just passed when Paul wrote 1 Corinthians. He was hardly instructing them how to celebrate the festival. Further, he states that they are "already unleavened."
  • Not once did Paul teach that keeping Pentecost nor understanding its part in a “holy day plan” was necessary for salvation. He taught just the opposite – that salvation was not something that could be earned or maintained through actions. And that the works – or evidence – of that salvation manifested itself in the works of the Spirit, not in understanding and keeping a Gnostic-like code of mysterious observances. And if it did, what does that portend for those listed in Hebrews 11 – the “faith” chapter – men like Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph; who died before the holy days were ever delivered at Mount Sinai?
In a way, the Hebrew holy days do point to God's plan for salvation. Because that plan was salvation by faith in Jesus. The holy days, as well as the other tenets of the Sinai Covenant, made plain the inadequacy of law to change men's hearts as well as the need for a Savior.

How does Pentecost do this? Well, COG and non-COG sources agree that the Sinai Covenant was given on Pentecost.
“By the time of the first Christian century, however (Pentecost), it was considered the anniversary of the giving of the law at Mount Sinai (as deduced from the chronological note at Exodus 19:1) and as a time for the annual renewal of the Mosaic covenant; and it was therefore looked upon as one of the three great pilgrim festivals of Judaism,” according to The Expositor's Bible Commentary.
 This covenant spelled out in minute detail exactly how God's chosen people were to live in God's chosen land. If they followed it, they would be blessed beyond measure. If not, well, not so much.

As we all know, they failed miserably. The lesson from Israel is clear. If God's chosen people in his chosen land couldn't maintain their standing with Him, what hope do we have? The Sinai Covenant – which New Testament writers refer to as “the law” - was incomplete. It could not make man follow God. But the indwelling Holy Spirit could, and this was made possible at Pentecost.
“Now no one who had been a companion of the apostle Paul (or, for that matter, even a distant admirer, should Lukan authorship of Acts be denied) could have failed to have been impressed by the fact that it was on the Jewish festival of Pentecost that the Spirit came so dramatically upon the early believers in Jerusalem," according to The Expositor's Bible Commentary. "It is this significance that Luke emphasizes as he begins his Pentecost narrative; viz., that whereas Pentecost was for Judaism the day of the giving of the law, for Christians it is the day of the coming of the Holy Spirit.” (Expositor's Bible Commentary)
“By his stress on Pentecost as the day when the miracle took place, he is also suggesting (1) that the Spirit's coming is in continuity with God's purposes in giving the law and yet (2) that the Spirit's coming signals the essential difference between the Jewish faith and commitment to Jesus, for whereas the former is Torah centered and Torah directed, the latter is Christ centered and Spirit directed," according to The Expositor's Bible Commentary.
So what's wrong with keeping Pentecost? Nothing, in a vacuum. Paul did it, The early church did it. Who on earth would argue that keeping the Hebrew holy days jeopardized their salvation? No one.

But celebrating Pentecost keeps us mired in a physical system that was not meant to last. In order to keep it as the Sinai Covenant mandated, we must look for new moons, focus on an obsolete observance and then meticulously count the proper number of days past that point. And, of course, travel to Jerusalem. In all of this watching and counting, we overlook the very thing we are counting from - the day of our Savior's resurrection! In some ways, Pentecost is the very picture of the problem with the Sinai Covenant - why the New Covenant was needed. The Holy Spirit promised under the New Covenant does not enable us to properly keep the Sinai Covenant. It something new. The very fact that the priesthood established by the Sinai Covenant has changed is evidence that these were not the unchanging laws that God promised to write in our hearts.

(Hebrews 8:7-9) For if the first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: "Behold, the days are coming when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah - not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in my covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord. 

(Hebrews 8:9-11) For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their mind and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people."

(Hebrews 8:13) In that He says, "A new covenant, He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away."

Physical observances can never make us right or keep us right with God. We cannot add to Jesus. Rather than counting days and focusing on the shadows of Sinai, we should give thanks for the coming of the Holy Spirit and live each day walking in the the Light of the World.

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

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

UCG - The Law is Our Key to Life

Hello valued and astute reader! xHWA here.

Usually Martha would be writing today's post, but since she's a woman and apparently completely unqualified to write about anything but Christian living pieces, we have a guest post instead.

By, umm... Martin.

^^^^^^^^Definitely not a woman. :-)

If you're angry at me for that insensitive and misogynistic statement above, please let me explain.

Robert Dick, head of the UCG Council, presented a highly pro-Herbert Armstrong sermon at a recent Council meeting. Afterwards, a discussion ensued among the Council. At one point in the discussion, several of the Council members discussed what role women should have in writing articles for UCG publications. Seems the ladies aren't writing in sufficiently legal forms, preferring dangerously "Christian living" tones in their articles. In a boldly mediocre move, the Council decided not to decide anything for now.

We at ABD think this to be a very Worldwide Church of God tone from a group that is reputed to be distancing themselves from Herbert Armstrong. And Martin has a few things to say about that.

So, Martin, take it away!

I have really good news for the Armstrong loyalists in the United Church of God and really bad news for the progressives. Or maybe it's the other way around. I'm really not sure.

UCG recently held its annual General Conference of Elders, which featured the theme “Live the Word.” During the conference, Council Chairman Robert Dick gave a sermon by the same title that focused on learning and living sound doctrine. Now, according to UCG, if I were a woman, I would be totally unqualified to analyze this sermon. Especially in writing. It's a good thing that my chromosomes are in alphabetical order; and thus I can safely tell you that the rumors that UCG is jettisoning the teachings of Herbert W Armstrong are unfounded. Either that, or UCG leaders are trying to pull off one of the greatest bait-and-switch schemes in history.

Now, some of you who heard the sermon are probably thinking, what are you talking about, Martin? Mr. Dick didn't even mention Herbert Armstrong by name in his sermon.

You're right, I'm pretty sure he didn't. He was either too wise to do so, or someone advised him not to do it. But there is no question whose doctrines he endorsed. Throughout the first third of the sermon, Mr. Dick repeatedly commended the conviction and efforts of those who died “in the faith,” as well as living members of this “pioneer” generation.

Now let me think a minute. Just whose teachings did those guys follow?

So anyway, Mr. Dick lauded these pioneers who “lived the word” for badges of honor like losing jobs over the Feast of Tabernacles and being punished by local draft boards. These people, he says, were living for the future. One day the world will recognize the example they set.
“There is a comment made by Peter that I think all of us in this room are familiar with, where Peter talks about living this way and being spoken evil of because you live this way,” Mr. Dick said. “But, and the inference is, when the kingdom comes, and God converts them, they will glorify God for the example they saw.”
When giving a sermon on sound doctrine, one might be better off actually reading scripture rather than citing inferences. But then again, doing so would detract from Mr. Dick's point. Let's look at 1 Peter 2:11-12, which is the verse to which he alludes:

“Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation.”

Is Peter talking about “good works” like observing the Feast of Tabernacles? No! He is exhorting Christians to abstain from “fleshly lusts.” Works of the flesh like adultery, theft, lying and murder. Peter is exhorting Christians to live morally upright lives, not to observe the Holy Days.

Next, Mr. Dick reminds us that it's not just older generations that have made tough choices. Plenty of young people have chosen to “live the word,” in ancient and modern times. For example, remember Daniel? He stood up by refusing to eat the king's food. He refused to compromise.

Point taken, but really? That's the first example you give? Mr. Dick follows up with Joseph, who refused to sin with Potiphar's wife, and Daniel's friends who chose the furnace over bowing to a false god. In a message about living the Christian life, why not mention those guys first? This is a prepared message, not an off-the-cuff conversation. It's broadcast to congregations around the world. If the choice to mention unclean foods ahead of fornication wasn't deliberate, it's certainly could indicate misplaced spiritual priorities.

Still not fully convinced that UCG still endorses HWA's doctrines? Well, its council chairman then directly states that “21 years ago we saw the effect of abandoning sound doctrine.”
“Stop and think about it,” he said. “We (UCG) came into existence at a time where preserving sound doctrine was paramount.”
Now, what happened 21 years ago? Oh right. That was 1995, when the Worldwide Church of God abandoned HWA's teachings and UCG broke off to preserve them. And now those in Mr. Dick's generation have the responsibility to teach them to the next generation, like Paul did with Timothy.

But it's not enough just to know doctrine, Mr. Dick then tells us.
“But as the dust settles and as the air clears, and as you look around, you come to realize that you have to have sound doctrine, but if that's all you have, you are still bankrupt.”
SPOILER ALERT: This is not going where you think it is. It certainly didn't go where I expected, because I mentally jumped to 1 Corinthians 13:2, which tells us:

And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. (ESV).

Instead Mr. Dick told us UCG's “spiritual house is built upon two pillars: having the word, then living the word.”

Wait. I thought. Jesus was the foundation. The Bible tells us He is the chief cornerstone, He is the Rock upon whom we should build our lives.

Nope. Mr. Dick insists that, when Paul stressed sound doctrine to Timothy, he was speaking about the law. Listening to him, one would think that the pastoral epistles can be summed up by 1 Timothy 1:8-11, which begins:

But we know the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate...

According to him, “the law” is the foundation for a righteous life.
"What's the law? It's a guidebook, an instruction book, a how-to. It's life for dummies," he said. "So we all had to read it. And that's what it taught us.”
Let me be clear. Sound doctrine is important. Consistent systematic theology based on biblical exegesis in context - which the COGs do not have - is vital. It is vital because it is the basis for our faith. Without faith, we can neither receive the gift of salvation nor understand our Christian responsibilities. Evangelical teacher John MacArthur explains how Paul masterfully achieves this goal in the book of Romans - establishing an 11-chapter doctrinal foundation before transitioning to practical application in chapter 12.
"Resting on eleven chapters of profound doctrine, Paul calls each believer to a supreme act of spiritual worship — giving oneself as a living sacrifice," MacArthur explains. "Doctrine gives rise to dedication to Christ, the greatest practical act. And the remainder of the book of Romans goes on to explain the many practical outworkings of one's dedication to Christ.
But "the law" is not the same thing as "sound doctrine."  Mr. Dick incorrectly interchanges the concept of sound Christian doctrine with "the law" throughout his message. Though he's hazy in his terminology, this becomes abundantly clear when he links 1 Timothy 1:8-11 and 2 Timothy 4:2-4 in the context of 1995.

When New Testament writers refer to “the law,” they are speaking of the Sinai Covenant, which was delivered to the Hebrew people. The law is not the oral tradition of the Jews, a claim which some in the COGs make to try to twist Paul's statements on law. The law is not the 10 Commandments. The law is not the cherry-picked handbook of regulations that the COGs endorse. The law is the entirety of the Sinai Covenant, all 613-ish laws that God gave to the Israelites at Mount Sinai.

UCG and the other COGs get in over their heads when they endorse their cherry-picked method of "law-keeping" as a factor in salvation. The book of James makes it clear that the law is a package deal. If we break one, we break them all. How many of those 613-ish laws do we need to keep, how consistently do we need to do it, and for how long in order to qualify for salvation? And let's not forget about the commands of Jesus and his Apostles. Although, at least as far as this sermon goes, UCG has.

I've never found an Armstrongist minister who can tell me what my spiritual batting average must be at death to escape the Lake of Fire. Mr. Dick, who interchangeably equates the law and the Armstrongist way of life in his sermon, doesn't tell us exactly which 10, 25 or 613 we must master, but at least he gives us a time frame.
“It is sobering in reading that hymn to say that a man who has been righteousness, and in the end abandons that righteousness, all of his righteousness will be forgotten,” he said. “Ninety percent's not good enough. Simply isn't going to cut it.”
Ironically, the doctrines that Paul stressed in his writings – the doctrines he pleaded with Timothy to hold fast – taught the opposite. A pharisee who strived to keep the law rigorously, Paul came to see that he could neither dig himself out of sin debt nor keep himself out once his “debt” was paid off at conversion. Paul recognized that obedience could never change his flawed heart (Romans 7:24). Only the Holy Spirit could do that. He spent the rest of his life after conversion spreading that message – that salvation comes to Christians by grace through faith in Jesus. As an ethnic Jew, Paul continued in some of his Hebrew practices. But he did not try to force them on Gentiles. In fact, most New Testament books mention the early church's struggle to keep Jewish Christians from placing a burden on Gentiles that the Jews themselves could not carry.

Paul stressed salvation by grace through faith in Jesus (Ephesians 2:8-9), not a spiritual scorecard. He stressed that all men fall short (Romans 3:23), that no condemnation remains for those who have accepted Christ's sacrifice (Romans 8:1), that  it is God who sees us through to the end (Philippians 1:6) and that nothing can separate us from His love (Romans 8:38-39). The Christian's moral life; his obedience to the commands of Jesus (and His apostles) are an act of worship and thanksgiving for bearing our sin. These “works” are intended to glorify God and draw others to Christ.

Go through the books of first and second Timothy as Mr. Dick suggests. You will not find Paul instructing Timothy about Holy Days or clean and unclean meats. Actually, you will find one reference to meat, and it does not support UCG's “sound doctrine.” You will find Christian living guidelines, qualifications for leaders and directions for correcting church members. You will find warnings of coming apostasy. You will find exhortations to pursue faith, love, patience and gentleness. Discussion of “law” are limited to its usefulness in showing man his sinfulness and futility in reconciling himself to God. And admonition of teachers unnecessarily clinging to the law and causing division. Hmmm, the COGs wouldn't know anything about that, would they?

The law was intended to teach sinners, for sure. But the lesson was not that sinners needed to keep all 613-ish laws consistently in order to live a righteous life. The lesson was that sinners could not keep all 613-ish laws at any point in time. That they could neither make themselves right with God, nor maintain their right standing after repentance. The law was intended to lead sinners to Christ – to show them that their only hope for salvation, for right standing before God, was to stop placing their faith in themselves and instead place their faith in Jesus.

(Galatians 3:19-25) What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was appointed through angels by the hand of a mediator. Now a mediator does not mediate for one only, but God is one. Is the law then against the promises of God? Certainly not! For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we ere kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.

Once we humble ourselves at the foot of the cross, we no longer need a tutor. We are guided by the Spirit of God living in us. We strive to follow the teachings of Jesus and His apostles. We strive to live moral, upright lives that bring honor and glory to God and turn others to Jesus. But when we fall short, as we undoubtedly will, we can have peace because our hope depends upon God's goodness, not ours.

Unless you are in UCG. In that case, your hope depends upon living sound doctrine, according to Mr. Dick.
“Sound doctrine, the basis for the formation of this body, and then living that sound doctrine, are our keys to life,” he said.
There you have it. There's no “new direction” for UCG, at least not if this message is representative of UCG's position. There's only the sanitized, modernized, shined-up doctrines of Herbert Armstrong. Law and behavior, not faith in Jesus Christ, are the way, the foundation and the keys to life in UCG.

It's so clear, I suspect even a woman could see it.

Well well well. There you have it indeed!

Yet again, we see that it's not just the Ten Commandments, or the holy days, or tithing, or meats, or even just "Spiritual Israel," but a wholesale desire to return to the Old Covenant - with women as silent, invisible, second class citizens and all. Is that really the tone the UCG wants to set? Is that really the same UCG that we've been told is changing the errors of the past? The law is their life. But even so, even in all of this, they still don't want to keep but a fraction of their own cherry-picked selections from the law. So, time after time after time we hear "The law! The law! Just not that law."

Thank you again, Martin, for taking the time to write this insightful piece and thus saving us all from the embarrassment of having a woman critique the UCG's stance on the law.

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