Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Gary Klar RIP

ABD has learned of the passing of a true anomaly within Armstrongism - a genuine, kind, caring, giving, decent leader of a splinter group - Mr. Gary Klar.

Gary was attending the Feast of Tabernacles when he began experiencing respiratory issues. The next day he passed away. Next month he would have celebrated his 51st wedding anniversary.

Gary was given the rank of Elder in the old Worldwide Church of God. After the breakup of Worldwide, he attended the United Church of God with his family. The Toledo congregation was deceived by the lying false prophet Ron Weinland into splitting from United and forming the Church of God - Toledo. When the despicable false prophet attempted to take sole control of the Toledo church and steal its entire bank account for himself, Gary was a key element working against Ron. The Toledo church split, with Ron going his way with the money and Terry Wrozek, and Gary remaining to head the large group of people who refused to leave with a petty dictator. Gary tried his best to make a genuinely better church. It's quite remarkable, really, what he was able to accomplish with what he was given.

In ten years of blogging, we have only come across two church leaders like this. Two. And Mr. Gary Klar was one of them.

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

What the "Holy Day Plan of Salvation" Means for You

Last time, we looked at the someone tenuous origins of the traditional Church of God doctrine that the Hebrew holy days represent God's ongoing, progressive plan of salvation for humanity. I also threatened, or rather, promised to explain why I find this doctrine so troubling.

So what's my problem with the holy day “plan”? Besides that it's just a theory passed off as rock-solid, salvific Bible truth? A theory used by many in the COGs to self-righteously disparage what they call "counterfeit Christianity". Those are issues, for sure. But they're not the biggest one.

The COG's teachings on plan of progressive salvation diminishes the significance of Christ's sacrifice and lures believers back into salvation by works, a fact which groups like the United Church of God and others vehemently deny, yet consistently reinforce in their literature.

“The sacrifice of Christ constitutes that important first basic step in God's majestic plan of salvation,” wrote the late John Ross Schroeder in a July 2010 article on the Holy Day plan. “Nonetheless, an subsequent passage in Ephesians shows other essential steps.”

I turned to the passage Schroeder referenced – Ephesians 1:9-10. I don't see any other “essential steps” Christians must take. Let's look at the whole passage, in context. This time, I'm turning to the ESV, because this passage is convoluted, even to me, in the NKJV. I'll emphasize verses 9 and 10 for you.

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose, which He set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in Him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Hmmm. I don't really see any evidence of Christ's sacrifice being the first step in a progressive salvation plan here. The only thing I really see that rings a bell is the word “plan.” Basically, in this passage, we have God revealing His Son at the appointed time in history, opening our minds to the fact that Jesus was God's Son, redeeming us and forgiving our sins through the shedding of His blood, and eventually setting right the fallen world.

This passage bears almost no resemblance to the COG narrative of this plan, which goes something like this:

1. Jesus died for your sins on Passover. (so far so good).
2. We then put sin out of our lives, which is pictured by the Days of Unleavened Bread. (hmmm.)
3. We receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost (Wait. How did we put sin out of our lives without the Holy Spirit?)
4. Jesus Christ returns at the Feast of Trumpets. (debatable, but it's a possibility)
5. Those who have successfully completed these “essential steps” celebrate their millenial reign during the Feast of Tabernacles (where they have achieved divinity, despite what Isaiah 43:10 says).
6. Satan is put away on the Day of Atonement (wasn't Jesus our Atonement? 1 John 2:2)
7. Humans who never had a chance to learn about God's plan will receive another chance to accept God's way at the Great White Throne Judgement on the Last Great Day (despite 2 Thessalonians 1:8, which tells us Jesus will judge both those who don't know God and didn't follow the gospel at His return).

But I'll admit, UCG leaves the salvific significance component of our works vague. But competing sister splinter COGWA does not. Consider what Jeremy Lallier, a full-time writer for COGWA's Discern magazine, recently wrote on his private Sabbath Thoughts blog for the Feast of Trumpets:
“As Christians, that trumpet will be the moment that defines us for eternity. As our Lord and Savior descends through the skies and voices from the heaven proclaim Him King of kings and Lord of lords, we'll either rise up to meet Him... or we won't. Those are the possibilities. There isn't a third option.”
Wow! You have my attention! That paragraph alone made me sit up two inches straighter in my chair.
“What kind of life did you live? What kind of choices did you have to make along the way? What did you value, and what did you let go of? What did you have to overcome? What aspects of your character changed – and what stayed the same?”
“How did those changes happen? What habits did you develop or break that helped lead to them? Who influenced you – and who did you have to step away from so they'd stop influencing you? What sacrifices did you have to get used to making, and what things were so important you vowed to never let go of them?"'
I'm starting to notice a trend here - a whole lot of "you, you, you" and not a whole lot of "God, God, God." But let's hear him out.
“Keep stepping backward from your future until you get to the present, then connect the dots.
Well, at least he isn't pulling out a sticker chart. Yet.
“Using the tools we've been given, we chart our way to the finish line, plotting out a life that leads to hearing, 'Well done, good and faithful servant.”
Woops. I spoke too soon. I stand corrected.
“This isn't just a thought exercise. Your destiny hangs in the balance. If you want to make sure it's a good one, now's the time to reverse engineer it.”
All right. I've had enough. It's intellectually dishonest, at best, to claim to teach that salvation is a free gift, but then state that we are responsible for plotting our own destiny to a heavenly crown. If we make our own destiny, then we have reason to boast, which directly contradicts scripture:

What then shall we say that Abraham our father has found according to the flesh. For if Abraham was justified by works, he has something to boast about, but not before God. For what does the Scripture say? “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace, but as debt.  - Romans 4:1-4

I'm glad you brought up Abraham, our COGWA friend would probably say, at this point, in our imaginary debate. Doesn't the Bible tell us that Abraham was justified by his works when he offered Isaac in James 2:21.

Why yes, it does. But is that the whole story? Let's look at the passage rather than a single verse.

Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see, then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. -  James 2:21-24

Abraham's true faith was confirmed when he attempted to sacrifice Isaac upon the altar in Genesis 22. But his faith was accounted to him for righteousness – God justified him – much earlier, in Genesis 15, even according to James. His decision in Genesis 22 was evidence of what happened in Genesis 15.

And what kind of life did Abraham live? What kind of choices did he make along the way? What aspects of his character changed, and what stayed the same? Let's see. Abraham made some good choices. He left Ur. He rescued Lot, and then let him have his pick of the land. He attempted to sacrifice his son when God told him to do so. He also lied about his wife to try to save his skin. Twice. Once was even after God “counted him righteous.” He doubted God. He fathered a child with Hagar.

If we plotted and charted Abraham's life, what kind of picture would we see? Someone who secured his own destiny through grit and determination? Or a sinner who, like Paul, warred against his nature throughout his life and relied upon the grace and mercy of his Creator? What about YOUR life?

There are many reasons that Christians should live godly lives:

1. We are bondservants of the Lord purchased with His blood.

For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's. - 1 Corinthians 6:20

2. Since we have died to sin and have been raised  with Christ, we are living sacrifices.

I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is good and acceptable and the perfect will of God. - Romans 12:1

3. We are representatives of God's kingdom.

Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given s the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed us to the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ's behalf, be reconciled to God. - 2 Corinthians 5:18-20

4. To witness against those who mock us.

But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. 
- 1 Peter 3:15-16

5. To turn others to God

You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.
- Matthew 5:14-16

There are these reasons, and many more. But noticeably absent is the goal of securing our entrance into God's Kingdom through an elaborate, metaphysical game of connect-the-dots. We can neither obtain nor maintain that destiny.

This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?   - Galatians 3:2-3

We can't reverse engineer, connect the dots or force out enough fruit to sell for a ticket into God's kingdom. Thankfully, the ticket is free and the fruit is a by-product, or evidence that we are connected to the True Vine. With that assurance, we can rest in Christ, knowing that He is the author and finisher of our faith.

A holy day plan that reveals an ongoing “plan of salvation” sounds tidy, inspiring, even desirable. On paper. But in real life, a checklist of “essential steps” means that you must achieve in order to progress to the next step. And if you don't achieve enough by the time the last step comes, then you fail.

Whether it's a progressive holy day plan, Lallier's subtle “we'll either rise up and meet Him... or we won't” or Herbert Armstrong's deity, who aborts Christians who don't grow enough, the message and theology are the same. Thankfully, they're not true. Thanks be God for His indescribable gift!

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. Ephesians 2:8-10.

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

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Do the Holy Days Reveal "God's Plan for Mankind"?

If there's any phrase that brings to mind my years of holy day observance, it's “plan of God.”

God has a plan. Not the overused, Jeremiah 29:11 kind. The Leviticus 23 kind. The capital "P" Plan kind. One that reveals God's framework for redemption of mankind through the holy days. The one we must rehearse each year "throughout your generations forever" to keep it in the forefront of our minds. Or so the Church of God narrative goes.

So how exactly did the COGs arrive at their understanding of this Plan? Most splinters of the Worldwide Church of God explain it similarly. The United Church of God concisely explains it like this:
“God's overall plan can be discerned in the voluminous pages of the Bible. Yet it may be compared to a jigsaw puzzle in the sense that vital bits and pieces of that plan are discovered in different books.” wrote the late John Ross Schroeder
in a July 2010 article on the Holy Day plan. “It is the Church's sacred task to preach it to this world – crafting it together correctly, 'rightly dividing the word of truth' as the Bible puts it." 
Wait just a minute. This "Plan of God" thing is a theory? Like evolution and Pangea? Like relativity or cigarettes causing cancer? Like fluoride? No, I didn't say all theories were inherently wrong. But they are often controversial and must be explored with caution. So anyway, the holy day “Plan of God” appears to be a theory that someone pieced together from many different books of the Bible, at least from the admission of some COG's.

UCG's sister splinter, COGWA, simply sidesteps this detail and presents it as fact.

"We need God's festivals for what they picture," writes Eddie Johnson on COGWA's Life, Hope and Truth web site.

No mincing words for COGWA. They intuit and state that, "from this short passage" (Revelation 20:4-5) we can tell this chapter "records future events that are also represented in the last two of the festivals listed in Leviticus 23."

Hmmm. Maybe I'm just deceived, but I'm slightly uneasy eliciting the meaning of a celebration that's "required" for salvation from two short verses of scripture. I know, COGWA, it's my inexcusable "absence of biblical understanding in traditional Christianity" that drives my reluctance to label people "false believers" over the selective interpretation of a handful of isolated verses.  No, it couldn't be the years of study that I've done in the process of/years after leaving the COGs.

For example, I somberly take issue with COGWA's statement that every human who has ever lived "will be resurrected and come to understand the implications of all seven biblical holy days. Nobody who has ever lived can come to God, or knowingly turn his back on God, without first knowing and understanding God's offer of eternal life."

Don't get me wrong. I deeply wish this errant doctrine were true. It's about the only tenet of Armstrongism to which I am tempted to cling. Unfortunately, it directly contradicts 2 Thessalonians 1:8 (among other scriptures), which discusses what will happen at Christ's return:

In flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because or testimony among you was believed.                                                                        
                                                                                       - 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10

Those who do not know God are done, according to his passage. They do not pass go. They do not collect $200. They receive the brunt of the "flaming fire" and subsequent "everlasting destruction" at the time of the return of Jesus Christ. Not after some mythical "second chance." It is game over. I get no pleasure from relating this. I wish it weren't true. I only point it out because I want you to understand that this "holy day plan" doctrine is a theory, and further, not a theory without major holes.

So anyway, where did UCG and COGWA get these ideas? Who first put the puzzle together, and what assurance do we have that they got it right?

A man named Herbert Armstrong – who founded today's Church of God movement – taught that man was required to keep the Hebrew holy days. He claimed that the populations of Europe and the United States were descended from ancient Israel and had simply lost their traditions through captivity and migration. These claims, and his attempts to impose them on the Church of God Seventh Day, got HWA disfellowshipped from the organization. The only basis for the authority of his theories were his own claims of divine revelation, putting him on par with individuals like Joseph Smith, founder of the Church of God of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons).

Of course, Armstrong apologists might claim that the Apostle Paul's vision sounded sketchy, too. In which case, we must obey biblical admonition to judge our leaders by their fruit. So let's see. After his encounter, Paul was transformed from a zealous Pharisee intent on murdering Christians to one who was tortured for spreading the faith he persecuted. What of Armstrong? I cannot judge his heart, but I am commanded to judge his fruit.

BUT I absolutely am NOT judging the sincerity of those who have been taught to keep the holy days and believe they honor God by doing so. Many were drawn into Armstrong's theories during vulnerable, turbulent times, both in their personal lives and on the global scene. Others have been raised with these traditions since they were in diapers. I accepted the symbolism I was handed and celebrated these days for decades. They're listed in the Bible. They are given passing reference in the New Testament. Heck, the very first event Israel commemorated foreshadowed the entire basis for the Christian religion. The symbolism behind the other holy days is strong, too. Especially when your leaders make it up.

In a way, many outside the COGs DO believe that the Hebrew holy days revealed God's plan for salvation. And that plan was Jesus. Many, including Messianic Jews raised in Orthodox Jewish communities, believe that the festivals God gave to Israel were intended to demonstrate their own insufficiency to solve the problem of sin, as well as show them their need for a Savior. The Feast of Trumpets, Day of Atonement, Feast of Tabernacles  - they were shadowy symbols that could teach us lessons, but never stand in the place of the real thing. This is what Paul meant when he wrote:

But before faith came, we were 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. - Galatians 3:23-25

So, what's the big deal, Martha? HWA said the holy days revealed God's plan for salvation, you say that the holy days pointed to Jesus, who was God's plan for salvation. Same difference. Besides, it seems like your hero Paul still kept the holy days and even discussed them with the Corinthian brethren. Now what?

Fair point. But it's no surprise that Paul, an ethnic Jew, may have continued to keep the holy days. Although it's unclear whether he treated them as days of worship, or as opportunities to share the gospel with his countrymen. We know that many Jewish believers pressured gentiles to accept Hebrew worship practices, thanks go Acts 15 and pretty much the entire book of Galatians.  So, it's not shocking to see gentiles discussing holy day practices in the older books of the New Testament. I won't even get into the book's context and the Days of Unleavened Bread being a tangential theme.

Seriously, Martha, what don't you accept about not "one jot or tittle"?

Probably the same thing you don't accept about what is meant by "Israel," "forever" (Leviticus 23), "finished" (John 19:13), "covenant" and "obsolete" (Hebrews 8:13). This is Acts 15 all over again, except using binary code and keyboards instead of scrolls and speeches.

Whatever Martha. Peter and Paul kept portions of the Sinai Covenant and I'm pretty sure they “made it" into the Kingdom.  Even experts in your Expositor's Bible Commentary can't agree on what Matthew 5:18 means. Isn't it a safer bet to just continue keeping the holy days? What's the big deal?

I'm so glad that you asked. We'll talk about that next time.

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