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


Anonymous said...

It just seems to me that there is another sort of superstition present in Armstrongism: The belief that physical rituals and talismans are necessary for salvation.

For example, United has just released Feast information online for 2017. They believe that not only if you refuse to go to the Feast, you are disobeying God, but that you must rejoice in going there or... you may lose your salvation. Furthermore, you must save an additional 10% of your income to attend the Feast. And more than that, you can't spend this money for anything but the Feast (fortunately it includes travel to and from).

If you don't do this, you are not only doomed for being rebellious, you will be stripped of all blessings by a vengeful God who is highly interested in your keeping this personally, faithfully, and with few exceptions, inexorably.

This seems more like superstition -- an idol of sorts -- dedicated to elevating the social group headed by elite ministry (for whom the members pay, so they can have a great time with the best rooms and food, as 'spiritual' Levites).

So... am I wrong? Is this too an extreme a view.

Or is it part of the same problem of superstition?

xHWA said...

You're touching on something close to my heart, Mikey!!

What you describe is true in Armstrongism. I've seen it in many ways. You mention that additional 10%, what they call the "second tithe", and that's a perfect example.

For anyone reading this who is not familiar - that's second tithe out of three. Yes, 30%!! pre-tax is demanded.

They say these three tithes are mandatory, non-negotialble law. But then they say you have to give it cheerfully. "The Lord loves a cheerful giver." :-D
Ummmmmm..... It's not giving when it's mandatory. I don't "give" the government taxes. They exact them from me, or I go to jail. Armstrongists don't "give" tithes. They are exacted, or (so they believe) they lose their salvation. That's not giving, that's obligation. The money is coerced.

~~Smile while I pick your pocket!!~~

That's not to say that Armstrongists never give. They do. But by the time 20-30% of their income is exacted they tend not to have a whole lot left over. (The ministry do tend to have a lot left over, but that's because they are exempt from a lot of the tithing and giving and etc that others are required to do.)

Anywho -- what I really wanted to say is that all of this doublespeak that you point out is contrary to the very core, the very heart of what I understand about God and His reason for having us here in the first place.

God could have made us robots. He didn't. I believe He didn't make us robots because He wants us to genuinely love, and genuine love cannot be coerced. As they say, God can only woo, He may never ravish. Genuine love involves a free-will choice. It cannot be coerced or obligated. This, I believe, is the reason we are here, and this, I believe, is one of the core differences between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant (neither of which are fully kept by Armstrongism). The Old Covenant has a lot of obligation and law and demands, but in the New Covenant we are expected to be mature enough to see that our motivation should not be law but a genuine love. We avoid evil because evil is not love. We give (and not just money), not because of law, but because charity is love. This is the heart of the difference between tithing and giving. They are NOT the same thing.

And Armstrongism as a system just doesn't understand that.

Anonymous said...

xHWA, there's nothing like Olde Testament Christianity.

Anonymous said...

some object or practice is more powerful than God

This is an excellent blog posting and worthy of much more attention than it seems to be getting. You've brought up some excellent points for thought that are really important. One of them is the concept that superstition is "some object or practice is more powerful than God". Within Armstrongism, this is so much pervasive than any of us may have thought up to this time.

Here's yet another example that occurred to me while taking a third look at this blog entry:

The Armstrongist 1%ers are fond of blaming the people of their little cult that, yes, Christ would have returned at the prophesied time, but (darn it all!) the CHURCH WAS NOT READY! God had to put His Plan on hold because of the deficiency of the members of the ACoG cult sect! This means that the members of ACoGs actually have MORE POWER THAN GOD! They have the power to stop Jesus Christ from returning to this earth!

Isn't that about the most insulting thing anyone could claim about God? Downright insulting!

By your definition, that's superstition. I think that's about right.

Moreover, by extension, I would also consider this to be idolatry of the worst sort to insult God as being powerless over a situation created by His very followers.

Just who is in charge here?

Jesus, you'd better step in here and do your job! Your followers aren't ready for your return! You're not doing your job!

What nonsense.

xHWA said...

"This means that the members of ACoGs actually have MORE POWER THAN GOD! They have the power to stop Jesus Christ from returning to this earth!"

Wow. Excellent point. I never thought of it like that.

Anonymous said...

Good points here xHWA! I hadn't thought of it in those terms before, and it helped me greatly to do so. Thanks again for another helpful post!

nck said...


Of course!

In Genesis God seems to imply people have free will.

If one assumes people with free will fit in some cosmic plan, then there is of course the power to thwart such plan (temperorarily).


xHWA said...


I agree that anything with free will can defy God's will.

The thing about this situation is that Armstrongism attributes this power to an inanimate object or an intangible (like a day). It's not just the people that defy God's will through paganism, now the inanimate object itself also somehow defies God's will.

Once pagan always pagan says to me that a human has put an inanimate object or an intangible out of God's reach. And from what I can tell God appears helpless to do anything about it. So the inanimate object or intangible is now beyond God's power.

Makes me wonder if someone did all sorts of pagan things to the Feast of Tabernacles if that would also be forever pagan. o_O

nck said...

I have to ponder this more.
Just of the sleeve, philosophying, (not preaching).

Perhaps one has to apply system thinking to this issue.

It's not that the absence of "isolated" items like a "barret", a helmet, a knife a gun, or a unit for that matter and all the rituals that go with it prohibit one from being or becoming a marine.

What I am saying is that the eating of pork may even be considered healthy at times. It is not the pork.

It seems however if one does not embrace the philosophy and purpose of a marine, avows the use of weapons, refuses to wear a helmet etc etc people or gods controlling the spectrum and definitions of marinehood will have a hard time making a marine out of such person.

So. The breadcrums in your car at unleavened bread might not condemn one to eternal hellfire. But perhaps the deliberate refusal to even try to understand the meaning of trying to get rid of "bad habits" might just condemn one as "not trying, willing, being worthy."

In the same manner. Extremely good people might just decorate their christmas trees. But by that habit they might signify to be content in their current understanding of what is good.

The bible says very clearly "there are some among you", meaning that there are good people among the pagans, egyptians, or so called "remnant" church era's. The COG bible left plenty of room for good people by any definition or creed, (as exemplified by wcg relations with muslims, hindu, taosists and buddhists.)

Unfortunately the teachers and a lot of members in "exclusive" parts of the world never really understood the inclusiveness of the creed.