Thursday, January 19, 2017

Thoughts on the Allwine Tragedy

Stephen Allwine

Many in the Church of God community were shocked to learn that UCG elder Stephen Carl Allwine of Minnesota, was recently charged with the murder of his wife, Amy Allwine.

Allwine, 43, is alleged to have shot his wife and staged it as a suicide after failed attempts to hire a hitman to kill her. The alleged murder followed Stephen Allwine's extramarital affairs arranged on the well-known cheater's web site, Ashley Madison.

The finger-pointing has begun in the COG blogosphere. How could someone in "God's true church" do something so terrible? UCG must be a sham. Or maybe it's proof the Allwines should have gone with COGWA in the 2010 split. No, wait, it's all because of Herbert Armstrong's doctrines.

Let's all stop for a moment. And forgive me if this post is less smooth and edited as usual. I wanted to join the discussion quickly, before the finger-pointing starts in earnest. Though I'm no fan of COG doctrines, UCG and the COGs are not responsible for this tragic situation. Here's what is responsible:

(Jeremiah 17:9) The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?

People who profess to be Christians - whether Protestant, Catholic or even cultic - share the basic goal of becoming more like Jesus Christ. We also share the basic problem of being human. There is a reason that the Bible instructs us to focus on what is good, what is noble and what is of good report. There is a reason that the Bible tells us to strive against sin, to resist the devil. That reason is that many of us do not naturally focus on the good, do not naturally strive against sin, do not naturally resist the devil.

(James 1:13-15) When tempted, no one should say, 'God is tempting me." For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each person is tempted when they are dragged away by their own evil desire and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death.

James is not writing to unconverted sinners. James is writing to brothers and sisters in Christ. James is warning true believers not to give in to sin and temptation. James wasn't known for wasting words or hypothesizing about impossibilities.

(Romans 7:18-25)  For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do - this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it. So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. What a wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!

Paul describes the very real struggle that he himself faced. Paul is no casual Christian. Paul endured beatings, shipwrecks, imprisonment and intense persecution for the cause of Christ. If he wasn't immune, no one is immune.

I do think that some of the peculiarities of the COG community make its members more vulnerable to succumbing to temptation. But no one is immune. Recently, a pastor in my church was forced to resign because of an extramarital affair. Granted, he didn't attempt a hit on his wife. Thankfully, it never got that far. Here are some reasons I believe the COGs make members more vulnerable than the average Christian:

  • Less community support
You are tragically scattered, which makes you vulnerable in many ways. Split after split has left many of you relationally separated from those to whom you were close and geographically separated from your "brethren." This leaves you disconnected, isolated and vulnerable to Satan, that prowling lion, just waiting to pick you off like a wounded gazelle. There is often no one to turn to when you're hurting, when you're tempted. And there's also no one to catch you or notice something's off when you give in to temptation. 
  • Misconceptions about sin
All sincere Christians struggle with sin. But in COG theology, it's different. Historically, the COGs have taught that humans are born with a morally neutral nature and have been influenced by the Prince of the Power of the Air. "True Christians" are responsible for changing their "tuning" away from Satan's "frequency." Today's COGs may each variations on this theme, but the basic message, especially among old-timers (and aren't the majority of them old-timers) focus on man's responsibility to change himself. Further, they must overcome enough sin to achieve some nebulous "righteousness quotient" by the end of their lives or else they won't "make it." Rather than spurring members to encourage one another to live holy lives, this teaching ends up leading members to believe they aren't "good enough" and less likely to admit their temptations to one another. 

  • Misunderstandings about the Holy Spirit
The COGs teach that the Holy Spirit is a tool that Christians are to "use" in their quest to overcome sin. I was in the COGs for decades, but no one has ever been able to explain just how to harness the Holy Spirit. This isn't meant to be a dissertation on the Trinity. Suffice it to say that the Bible teaches the God is in the driver's seat and He changes us through the Holy Spirit, not vice versa. By trying to lead the process, we set ourselves up for discouragement and failure.

Heinous, grievous sins such as those alleged in the Allwine case are discouraging to say the least. When our spiritual leaders fail, we have choices to make. We can speculate whether such a person was ever called. We can cast stones, ignoring our own sins. Or we can recognize the depth of the wickedness in each of our hearts, realize that we are powerless to change and fully rely on God for our salvation, our redemption and our sanctification. 

We pray for the Allwine's family, including their son, and all individuals affected by this tragedy. 

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

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Bible Reading Plan You REALLY Need

Well, the New Year is officially here, and with it comes that traditional zeal for personal growth that many people demonstrate every January. Even some in the Churches of God - who usually mock New Year's resolutions and the January New Year in general - seem to be jumping on the bandwagon.

Some COGs have begun circulating daily scripture reading and writing challenges for their members. So far, we've seen lots of Psalms and Proverbs, a fair amount of "stay the course," a handful of law and a sprinkle of grace. And, of course, the trademark COG scripture flipping that circumvents any contextual understanding.

We at As Bereans Did applaud anything that gets people reading the Bible. But, if we may be so bold, here are some passages that we'd like to see our COG friends dig into - in context - during the rest of January. Or really, any time this year. Read them, write them, whatever. You know us, we're not going to get all legalistic about it. Obviously. 😏

January 3: John 3:1-21
January 4: Numbers 21:1-9
January 5: John 13:1-14:31
January 6: John 15:1-16:33
January 7: John 17:1-26
January 8: Ephesians 2:1-22
January 9: James 2
January 10: Colossians 1:1-2:23
January 11: Luke 2
January 12: Mark 9:33-50
January 13: Genesis 15
January 14: Romans 3:19-4:25
January 15: Romans 5-6
January 16: Romans 7-8
January 17: Deuteronomy 18:15-22
January 18: 2 Timothy 1:1-14
January 19: Philippians 4:6-8
January 20: Galatians 3
January 21: Galatians 4-5
January 22: Acts 15:1-31
January 23: Titus 3
January 24: Romans 14:1-15:13
January 25: Hebrews 8-10
January 26: Matthew 28:1-15
January 27: Acts 13:1-2
January 28: 2 Corinthians 5
January 29: Luke 24:13-35
January 30: Jeremiah 31:31-34
January 31: Matthew 26:27-29

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