Thursday, March 23, 2017

Superstitions, Be Gone!

As Bereans Did (ABD) is a blog about the flaws of Armstrongism. “Armstrongism” is shorthand for all of the churches that splintered off from the WorldWide Church of God, whose founder was Herbert W Armstrong. It’s easier to say “Armstrongism” than spell out a litany of various splinter groups and try to explain the whole situation every single time. We deal mainly in doctrine and that leads us necessarily into issues of their epicly flawed interpretations of history which they use to support their doctrine. Our readers are generally people who have had some contact with the doctrines or the flawed history of Armstrongism, or groups who share such things along with Armstrongism. Over the years ABD has had many questions come in either in comments or by email. As you can imagine, these questions tend to run along common themes. Some of our most common questions have to do with the grossly misrepresented history surrounding Christmas and Easter. We get those a lot. I want to talk about something that I see in these questions. A common thread runs throughout. I am going to call this “superstition.”

Superstition? Like throwing salt over your shoulder to avoid bad luck? Sort of. I mean superstition as in – some object or practice is more powerful than God.

Still too vague? Let me elaborate. There is an idea out there, and not just within Armstrongism, which can be summed up as “once pagan always pagan.” This claim, as popular as it may be, is simply not true. It puts an object or an act completely out of God’s reach, making it superior to the infinite power of the Living God who owns it. All things are God’s after all. Just as it is silly to believe broken mirrors have power over your destiny, it is equally as silly to believe possessing a holiday decoration has power over your faith and your relationship with God and ultimately your destiny. “Once pagan always pagan” is a superstition.

Anyone who still believes what Alexander Hislop wrote about Nimrod will be taken aback with what I’ve just said. Aren’t holiday decorations pagan?? Well, that’s where the fatally flawed doctrines and history comes in. Turns out, no, most of them absolutely are not. I myself once fully believed they were. I thought I looked into the situation and had proved it for myself. Turns out all I really did was read Armstrong-approved material and accepted what that said (this is called “confirmation bias”). While still believing that holidays were pagan, we at ABD set out to see what all of the best available evidence had to say. What we found was that we were taught things that are just plain wrong, and in some cases we found that we were purposefully lied to. ABD has many articles on this!

Perhaps the biggest surprise of all, at least for me, came after the research and the article writing. Even with all of the references and the evidence, people still refused to consider what was said. They still go on as if nothing ever happened. Alexander Hislop's book was dead wrong, it’s easily demonstrated, but rather than face that, people have preferred to attack the messengers. I say messengers because ABD isn’t the only group with this message. Go ask poor Ralph Woodrow how he feels. I never expected that people would want to be willfully ignorant! Behold the frightening power of superstition.

For example –- ABD has demonstrated over and over that the ancient Hebrews did not count days the way modern Americans do. We have shown that “three days and three nights” is not literal, and that this can be seen in the pages of the very Bible itself. We’ve established how ancient Hebrews counted inclusively. We have explained over and over how you can easily fit Friday-Sunday in the timeline if you view it as an ancient Hebrew would. We have shown that Cleopas and Armstrong cannot be reconciled together. We have elaborately investigated why there are not two sabbaths in Matthew 28. We have illustrated how the events prior to the crucifixion make a Wednesday crucifixion all but impossible. In every last way, a Wednesday crucifixion is contraindicated. Yet we still get comments and email about how three days and three nights is literal therefore Easter is pagan.     ????

For another example – one question that I get a lot is, “If anything has pagan connections doesn't that mean I'm worshiping pagan gods?” The answer to that is absolutely not! Let’s say there is an object that at one time in the distant past was used in pagan worship ceremonies. Doesn’t matter what that object is. For sake of argument let’s just say that it just exists. How can this object possibly have more power than God does? Even after centuries of having been used almost exclusively in the worship of Jesus Christ, people are still laboring under the error of “once pagan always pagan” and therefore we must fear and reject and condemn powerless inanimate objects for fear that these objects can overpower Jesus and strip us of our salvation.     ????

At this point, this goes beyond reason. This is emotional. No, it’s more than emotion. It’s superstition.

This behavior is no different than that of any number of superstitious pagan religions. Sticking a pin in a doll does not affect a living being. Breaking a mirror does not wreak havoc on you for the next 7 years. Putting your thumb and forefinger together and having someone else break those connections while saying “evil be gone” does nothing whatsoever besides offering momentary amusement. And nothing has the power to take you from Jesus’ hand, except you. (And some don’t even believe you can do that either.)

“Once pagan always pagan” is a superstition. But what might be even more odd than that is that the very same people who say “once pagan always pagan” is true don’t really believe it themselves. Allow me to demonstrate.

If people who preach “once pagan always pagan” understood how many things they do which have "pagan" connections, they would be unable to function. (I am putting “pagan” in quotes because these things aren’t actually pagan. They are just falsely accused of being pagan.) There is nothing that you do that does not have a "pagan" connection except actually having faith in the Living God. You name it, it has "pagan" connections. Priesthoods, ministers, elders, sermons, temples, sacrifices, prayer, circumcision, sabbaths, holidays, religious rituals like baptisms, instructions on morality, special decorations, sacrifices, incense, hymns, psalms, choruses, ritual meals, religious texts, religious schools, religious heroes, marriage, honeymoons, wedding rings ... I could go on and on. All of these things and more have "pagan" connections. All of these can be found in pagan religions first. All of them. Yet they were all adopted in worship of God. God adopted "pagan" things into His worship??  YES! You might think I'm referring to the Catholic Church. I am not. I am referring to the Old Testament church - the ancient Jews. Almost every aspect of what God commanded Israel to do, right down to the Ark of the Covenant, had some counterpart in pagan religion. Many of these are things the “once pagan always pagan” crowd do regularly. Therefore I conclude that the “once pagan always pagan” people don’t even believe it themselves.

Undeterred, people will simply turn to making different excuses for their superstitions. “God never commanded me to do this or that thing,” they say. Perhaps He did or perhaps He didn’t, but either way if you avoided doing anything that isn’t directly commanded by God you would be unable to live. God never commands us to do most things. He never commands us to go to church (Paul never said 'do not forsake going to church'). The excuse falls completely apart for what it is – a simple excuse to justify superstitions.

But it’s not just about things that aren’t commanded. People condemn things that are unambiguously allowed in the scriptures. In addition to novel holidays (EST. 9: 20-28; JON. 10: 22-23), and gift-giving (EST. 9: 22), the Bible also lists the use of statues in God’s worship (EXO. 25: 17-19), garland, bells and fruit (EXO. 28: 33-34; 39: 25-26; II COR. 3: 16), lights, flowers and ornamentation (EXO. 25: 31-37), greenery (LEV. 23: 40; NEH. 8: 13-15) including evergreens, and etc. All of these are used in God’s worship in the Bible, and all of these things are condemned by superstitious people. 

Armstrongism goes out of its way to avoid talking about the birth of our Savior, and even more caution is taken to avoid talking about His mother Mary, because they have whipped themselves up into such a superstitious fervor. Can you imagine being so superstitious that you would avoid great people and events in the very Bible itself?

But it’s not just those things that are ignored. Paul is ignored as well! In I Corinthians 10, Paul is clear -- we should flee from idolatry. However, he when he describes idolatry he describes people sacrificing. What does that mean? It means they were actually participating in worship practices. They didn't simply possess a thing with long-lost pagan connections, they were participating. Paul goes on to mention things with pagan connections starting in verse 25. What does he say? He says don't worry about it! The meal described had "pagan" connections. Paul said eat it. This is precisely what he went over in chapter 8 of I Corinthians. He says not to worry about things with pagan connections! If "once pagan always pagan" was true, this is the exact opposite of what Paul should have said. Yet, there he is saying it. He is trying to get us to see that there is a gulf of difference between real idolatry and imagined superstition. However not all people understand not to worry about such things because their lives had been so steeped in superstition up to that point. For those people we should be cautious not to ruin their faith with our liberty. But clearly Paul is against “once pagan always pagan.”

Do you know what this image is:

This image is the seal of righteous King Hezekiah. Anyone who knows their kings of Israel/Judea will know that Hezekiah was an imperfect man, but had a close relationship with God. He might even be able to be called the third most righteous king of Israel/Judea. Yet in his seal there is an ankh and a winged sun. If "once pagan always pagan" was such a terror as we are to believe it is, then Hezekiah was a terrible man and an idolatrous pagan worshiper of Nimrod. Yet he wasn't. This is a clear example of where "once pagan always pagan" can be shown as the utter superstition it is.

To recap:
  • People who preach “once pagan always pagan” are steeped in “paganism” and don’t believe their own rhetoric.
  • People who preach that God didn’t command them to do something regularly do things God didn’t command.
  • These same people still condemn things God clearly allows.
  • Paul is against “once pagan always pagan” but people ignore him or reinterpret him into uselessness.
  • Superstition is its own excuse!

What can it hurt avoiding things that affect our conscience? To be sure, under normal circumstances we should avoid things that affect our conscience. However, the judgmental and condemnatory attitude that usually accompanies these superstitions can have a very real and very negative affect on some people.

To those people who suffer under the anxiety of these superstitions unfairly burdened upon them, I say: you cannot accidentally worship.

Is Jesus your Savior or not? Does a shape or an object have more power than God? God is interested in actual idolatrous worship, not silly superstitions. In order to worship pagan gods you have to actually worship pagan gods -- adore them, trust them, expect help from them, replace God with them. That's what worship means. In every single instance of idolatry in the Bible, God was upset with people doing what I just described. God didn't want people to bow down to or worship idols in place of Him. It wasn't arbitrary. When Naaman the Syrian went to Elisha, he asked for God to excuse him for when he would have to go into the pagan temple and bow down with his master. Elisha told him to go in peace (II Kings 5: 17-19). Naaman is going to a pagan temple to bow down before an idol that he knew was nothing, and Elisha told him to go in peace. God knows the difference! God knows your heart!

Jesus is bigger than your flaws. He's bigger than your failures. He's greater than all of your fears. He's greater by far than any shape or object or word or tradition or superstition could ever be. Let go of your fears! Do not be afraid, just trust.

So, where do we go from here? I don’t know. Onward. This sort of superstitious nonsense will always exist so long as humans have imperfect knowledge and a fallen condition. Armstrongism will continue to pump out the same old claims that in this late day and age they have no excuse for (because they want money), and ABD will continue to call them out on it (for free), and people will continue to ignore us. It’s our lot in life. We praise the Lord our God for granting us some part in His great plan. If we can help even one person I personally feel it was all worth it.

But I would love it if all I had to say was, “SUPERSTITIONS, BE GONE!”

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

Friday, March 3, 2017

Who Then Can Be Saved?

Rod Meredith's terminal cancer diagnosis has been one of the biggest Church of God news items this year. Meredith, 86, long headed the Living Church of God and has declined extensive treatment due to his age and stage of cancer.

Terminal diagnoses are nothing to celebrate, no matter who the patient is. Our prayers go out to the Meredith family as well as those who have been impacted by Meredith's life, both positively and negatively.

End-of-life discussions are often a cause for introspection among the living (no pun intended). Lately, many current and former Church of God members have been engaged in discussions of Meredith's accomplishments and conduct. The main question seems to be, has Rod Meredith qualified for God's Kingdom?

I'd like to know, how is this question even possible among "true Christians" in the LCG and other COG groups? Rod Meredith worked directly with Herbert Armstrong. He was an early evangelist for the Worldwide Church of God and frequent writer for the Plain Truth magazine. He has headed two(!) Church of God groups. He has advocated for the Sabbath and Holy Days - major marks that set "true Christians" apart from the deceived - for years! I mean, Meredith has stated multiple times, before thousands of LCG brethren, that he has not committed a "major sin" since his baptism.

Oh right. Now I remember. THAT'S the problem.

Now, I don't know about you, but I know I made a huge blunder before I even had my first cup of coffee this morning. That's not me trying to make a sardonic point. That's the ugly truth. So I have a hard time believing Meredith hasn't committed a "major sin" since the 1950s. Plus, the last time I checked, the Bible really didn't differentiate between "minor" and "major" sins.

(James 2:10) For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all.

Actually, now that I think about it, there ARE some sins that God describes as detestable:

(Proverbs 6:16) Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked schemes, feet that are quick to rush into evil, a false witness who pours out lies and a person who stirs up conflict in the community.

Haughty eyes. Maybe windows to a soul proud enough to claim not to have committed any major sins since the 1950s? So, the reasons why Herbert Armstrong removed him from his ministerial responsibilities and "banished" him to Hawaii weren't sins? How about a $750,000 civil libel payout against Meredith in favor of Leona McNair?  The power struggles and tearing apart of the Global Church of God over large sum of cash, and refusing to pay back those who loaned him money wasn't a sin? No heart devising wicked schemes there? No stirring up conflict? Perpetuating division among the COGs isn't sin?

No, nothing to see here, folks. Definitely not any major sins since the 1950s. It doesn't remind me of this parable at all:

Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself - 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men - extortioners, unjust adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.' And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.                                
(Luke 18:10-14)

The Pharisee checked all the boxes. He clearly wasn't an extortioner or an adulterer. He tithed meticulously. He probably kept the Sabbath better than anyone alive today. And yet these things did not win him favor in God's sight. Only one of these men left the temple right with God, and it wasn't the one who boasted about his personal righteousness or wore a bunch of legalistic acts on his sleeve.

Yet, some leaders in other COG splinters are probably preparing tributes to Meredith - on the basis of his religious works - at this very moment. They'll state that they had their differences with him, but they'll still proclaim him a good and faithful servant because he, like them, kept the Sabbath and Holy Days. I'll allow this indulgence to Jim Franks, since COGWA is reported to be making peace with LCG, but the rest of you need to stop now. You parted ways with Meredith decades ago, ripping apart churches, families and friends. You decided these issues were important enough to divide fellowship. You've made cold, judgmental pronouncements against him. You've pronounced that he's not a leader and his church should be following you instead. It's incredibly hypocritical to wax sentimental now. Either these issues were worth dividing over and you are the one true church; or you were wrong and Meredith headed God's true church. Or, alternatively, you both were mistaken, perpetuating known falsehoods and dividing up congregations and families for your own personal gain.

But most of these issues happened years ago, Martha! What's the matter? Don't you think people can change? Why would you attack a dying man?

Of course I think people can change! But we can't change without realizing that we have made a mistake. One who claims not to have committed a "major sin" since baptism does not sound like someone who has recognized and repented of his mistakes. This isn't an attack on a dying man, it's an appeal!

You see, repentance is a major factor in qualifying for salvation, according to Meredith and other COG teachers. Sure, the Bible clearly requires Christians to repent. Mainstream Christianity, however, teaches this repentance flows from the in-dwelling of the Holy Spirit through a supernaturally-changed heart. The result of which is the fruit of our salvation. But in the COGs, repentance and change is a fearful and legalistic affair, from the law and to the law, and mostly by our own effort. Our own effort is what ensures our salvation after accepting Christ's sacrifice. And if there is not enough repentance and change, well,  then... in the words of COG founder Herbert W Armstrong, God aborts you. That is the COG viewpoint. The COGs accept Biblical teaching that man cannot save himself. But they also teach a murky, un-quantifiable tipping point of unrighteousness where one fails to qualify for God's Kingdom.

Maybe that's precisely what's wrong here. Meredith doesn't see himself as needing to repent anymore because the bulk of COG repentance is observing days and tithing. He's done that, in his own eyes. Jesus' death, in the COG view, only forgives for sins up to baptism. It's each man for himself from there. Well, he's Sabbathed and not-Christmassed since then, so he's golden.

And that's the problem. The COG plan of salvation recognizes that Jesus died to forgive our sins, but only those up until baptism. And then, after that, we must keep the law in order to maintain that salvation. But no, not the whole law, just cherry-picked portions our leaders endorse. This circumvents the whole point of the law - to show us our human weakness and continual need for a Savior - and simultaneously reduces what we must "do" to a checklist that seems almost attainable, especially when we're young. Our foolish pride leads us to believe we can "make it." But as we grow older, we can see that salvation is always just out of reach. There's always some sin that comes back, some sin we haven't fully overcome, always one more thing to do. We never outrun the knowledge that we've sinned, again, and fallen short, again, and now we wonder whether God has finally had enough of us.

So, I wonder, how many Sabbaths kept by the letter of the law make up for slandering a brother's wife? How many Holy Days offset a prideful heart? How much leaven must we avoid to sponge away our sins? What does the balance sheet look like, according to Meredith? How about according to God?

This, my friends, is how we get to the point where members of a religious movement can question the eternal destiny of its long-time leaders.

(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.

I don't make these points to kick Rod Meredith while he's down. I make these points because Rod is no different from me, or from you. I make these points because I hope that he will see the depth of his pride and repent. That he will understand that it is the blood of Christ alone and placing full faith in His sacrifice that makes him righteous. As long as Rod Meredith has breath, the Lord may still be found. Rod may not believe in deathbed confessions, but luckily for him, it's not his opinion that matters.

And not just Rod, but this appeal is for us all.

Rod Meredith is the poster child for the COG way of life. If the COGs are right about salvation, then Meredith has nothing to fear. And neither do you. Maybe. But if you're concerned for him right now, perhaps you should consider another path.

(Matthew 7:15-18) 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.

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