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


Anonymous said...

Excellent article my friends. Very Good.

Anonymous said...

The UCG theme for this year is " Live The Word". I think living John 1:1 would be appropriate. LIVE LIKE JESUS! .... not hwa.