Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Jesus: He's Kind of a Big Deal

Much like xHWA, writing at this time of year has become a tradition of mine. It's taken me so long, in part, because I was having a hard time deciding what to write. After all, the time we have available for blogging is getting to be so infrequent that it's hard to know whether anyone is reading As Bereans Did anymore.

Actually, that's not entirely true. I can make a decent guess about some of our web traffic. We noticed that, ahead of this Christmas season, COGWA has added an article explaining that the American and Canadian Thanksgiving holidays are acceptable to the Lord, possibly in response to our tongue-in-cheek efforts to connect them to paganism. Apparently COGWA has decided that, though many modern customs associated with Thanksgiving "may not be pleasing to God, they are not rooted in paganism" and don't subvert the truth presented in the holy days.

Additionally, COGWA notes that Purim and Hanukkah are not commanded festivals, but that they are mentioned in the Bible. Presumably, they are acceptable because they commemorate important events, even miracles, in Hebrew national history.

Hmmmm. I'm debating whether it's even worth my time to dignify that assertion by stating the obvious about the birth of our Savior, whenever it actually happened...

Nope. It's not. Moving on...

We also noticed that UCG added a few paragraphs to its annual reheated article about when Jesus was born dismissing the traditional ancient Jewish belief that many prophets were either conceived or born on the same day of the year that they died. Rather than addressing or discrediting our sources, or considering whether this may have been a factor when the original date was set, they brush it off by saying that it "shows how far people are willing to go to justify the Christmas date."

In addition to the false claims about the Saturnalia, we noticed that UCG is still perpetuating the myth that colonial America banned Christmas because of its pagan origins. COG organizations tend to romanticize these "brighter moments" in history, completely ignoring the fact that the early Puritans rejected Christmas because it was viewed as Catholic, not because they believed it was pagan. And, much like the Waldensians, the Puritans neither kept the Levitical holy days; nor did most worship on Saturday.

Many of the COGS desperately try hitch their wagons to the Puritans, and especially the handful of Baptist Sabbatarian sects of New England. This link is absolutely not true - the COGs stumbled into their brand of Sabbatarianism, prophecy and rejection of mainstream Christian holidays through William Miller, the Great Disappointment, Ellen G. White and others in the Seventh Day Adventist movement, which spawned the Church of God-Seventh Day, which spawned the Worldwide Church of God. If the COGs truly wanted to get back to their Puritan "roots," they would also distance themselves from the evils of dice, card playing and wearing colorful clothing; then also place strict limitations on the consumption of alcohol. I won't be holding my breath.

As xHWA explained, those who perpetuate these myths in the COGs seem not to be interested in exploring the truth. We've given logical, reasoned alternatives to their narrative. Heck, we've even given them our sources. They're pretty obviously reading what we have to say. Rather than doing any serious research, they dismiss it with a sentence or two, then copy and paste the same arguments they've been making every December since the 1940s.

Honestly, in a way, I can understand. We at ABD absolutely understand what it means to consider that what you've been taught might not be the whole truth. It can cost you your family, your friends, your social support system and your identity. And though these were hard enough, it didn't also cost us our livelihood or our retirement. The COG leadership is fully invested in this narrative, in every sense of the word. If what they teach about the paganism in mainstream Christianity is a lie, then they have no reason to exist.  

Since they're not listening, I'd like to talk to you.

I'm not interested in convincing you to celebrate Christmas. Sure, it would be nice not to be sighed over and whispered about behind our backs. It would be nice to share this meaningful time with family. But I'm sure they feel that way about the Feast, too, so I'm not going to throw stones. And I'd have to be pretty foolish to try to tell you that you don't need to celebrate the holy days of the Sinai Covenant - but do need to celebrate Christmas - to be right with God.  

In fact, that's exactly what I want you to understand - there's nothing you can do to make yourself right with God. Keeping the Days of Unleavened Bread doesn't make or keep you right with God. Celebrating Easter doesn't make or keep you right with God. Keeping a seventh-day Sabbath doesn't make or keep you right with God. Going to church every Sunday doesn't make or keep you right with God. There is no obedience checklist that secures your salvation.  Yes, the Bible makes it abundantly clear that obedience to the teachings of the New Covenant, its Testator and His apostles are part of Christianity. We were bought with a price, we obey our Lord as best we can, following Him and growing more like Him. But our obedience is the result of our faith and the Holy Spirit in our lives; it is not the cause.

There is only one thing that secures your salvation: God's promise to forgive your sins and gift you with eternal life. That promise comes by grace when you place your faith in that covenantal promise, sealed in the blood of His Son Jesus. It was Jesus that made it possible. He is wasn't a step in the holy day plan - He WAS the plan, from the foundation of the world. The holy days, the sabbath, the Sinai Covenant, the law and the prophets were all shadows of the Light of the world, the only Way. As Paul said in 1 Corinthians 15:17-20, if Christ is not raised, our faith is futile and we are still in our sins. And that is why Jesus is, in layman's terms, a Big Deal.

We will all stand before God one day, giving account for the way we lived our lives, for every idle word that we spoke. The Bible tells us that faith in Jesus is the Way, the Truth, the Life, the path to God. It tells us that if we are ashamed of Him, He will be ashamed of us. In that day, you will not be able to point your finger at your minister for relegating Him to a minimal role in your religious system. You will stand on your own.

It was a Big Deal when Jesus Christ was born, because that birth set our freedom in motion. Jesus Christ's teachings and ministry were a Big Deal, because He preached the forgiveness of sins and our new birth. Jesus' death was a Big Deal, because our lives can be saved through the blood He shed. And His resurrection was a Big Deal, because it meant that He was Who He said He was, and that we could have faith in His promises of forgiveness, being born again and receiving eternal life. Your ministers might not make a big deal of those things, but your Bible does.

There's no law that said you had to read the biblical accounts of Christ's birth yesterday or today, just like there's no law that says you must read accounts of His resurrection on the anniversary of its occurrence. But read them - without criticizing the arrival of the wise men or the timeline of when Jesus rose from the dead. Recognize these accounts for the miracles that they were, regardless of when they took place, and what they mean for your life. They were given to you by a God who loves you in order to instruct you, to encourage you, and to give you hope - not coincidentally, the same God who established Jesus as the the plan, the way, the solution for your sin and mine from the foundation of the world.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities - all things were created through Him and for Him. And He is before all things, and in Him all things hold together. And He is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be pre-eminent.

For in Him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross. And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, He has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him... (Colossians 1:15-22)

Now THAT's kind of a big deal.

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

Sunday, December 23, 2018

3 Reasons Why I Stopped Keeping Christmas Part 2

Hi there honored guests! It’s the Christmas Season now and I seem to have made writing a blog post about Christmas to be a tradition and after so many years of doing this I just can’t seem to go without it.

I feel today’s post is worth writing because it illustrates so well what we have been saying for so many years – people refuse to research. Is it that they don’t know how? I don’t think so. I’ve been at this long enough to say that people are plenty capable of research they just refuse to. If someone genuinely doesn't know how to research then they shouldn't be writing articles for a church, or maybe at all. And so, here we are to test and to try, to prove through the fire if I may, the things that they have said. At the end, will they have gold and precious jewels or stubble and ash?

You might be curious where Part 1 of this post has gotten off to. I enjoy irony and clever little turns, and making this post into Part 2 is all this is. You will find Part 1 on the Church of God - A Worldwide Association (COGWA) Life Hope & Truth website under the title “3 Reasons Why I Stopped Keeping Christmas” by one Mr. Eddie Johnson (2016). My post for you today is a rebuttal. If only Mr. Johnson had known in 2016 what we are going to review now, perhaps he would have changed his outlook.

So Mr. Johnson starts by telling us how he was once an observer of Christmas and had since converted. Why would anyone make such a switch? He tells us in his 3 points. In a nutshell his three points are: 1. We don’t know when Jesus was born, 2.Christmas was celebrated in pagan Rome, and 3. Jesus warned about human traditions.
Standard fare in Armstrongism. Nothing new. Nothing exciting. He could have taken those from any Plain Truth magazine from the 1950’s. Here is where I begin to wonder if these are his three extra most bestest points, or just three points chosen at random. Keep in mind that he is explaining why he stopped observing Christmas. I would really think that a person would give their best for this. Also, keep in mind that I write this is 2018 and Mr. Johnson wrote his article in 2016, so what I read online is a re-post. COGWA thought so highly of this article that it warranted a re-post. If roles were switched, I would think my three points to be really something if I were going to re-post it. Yet I can't help but find these points to be so standard and vanilla. No offense meant. That's just my opinion.

Enough chit chat. Let’s get this ball rolling.

We Don’t Know When Jesus Was Born

I will start off with this – Mr. Johnson is correct in this statement. By now it is extremely close to exactly 1,900 years of trying, yet no one has been able to prove when Jesus was born. We in fact do not know exactly when Jesus was born.

This is becoming the primary argument from the anti-Christmas group these days. Yet, I find it so insignificant a point. I wouldn’t even consider this one worth mentioning. If it stood by itself, I wouldn’t waste my time with it. Think about it. The incarnation of God is arguably the second most amazing miracle in the history of creation. Nothing, not even the creation of the universe and mankind, can compare to it – except for the death and resurrection, which is the single most important and glorious thing to ever occur in the physical universe. Ponder it. From time immemorial, God planned and waited for the "fullness of time" to make a move so unexpected it catches even the most wise beings that exist off guard. Infinite God laid down His glory and took on the flesh of a lowly human baby. How does that even work? Why should that even be? Born in a barn and laid where the sheep eat so that He could die for us. This is ALMIGHTY GOD we’re talking about here. My mind can’t even grasp it all. Yet there the COGWA is, ignoring it and telling us to ignore it simply because we don’t know on what day it occurred. Seriously? Could there be an argument more weak and beggarly than this? So devoid of substance. So vacuous. So desperate. It takes the least important thing (the date) and makes it the most important thing (don't honor because of the date). There could be no death and resurrection without the birth. The birth is secondary, no doubt, but nevertheless mandatory. So they tell us it’s a sin to honor it because we don’t know the date? "If God wanted you to honor it, He would have told you when it was," they say. Heavenly hosts honored it! But the date is not important to the glory of what happened. We say if God didn't want us to honor it, He wouldn't have told us so very much about it. He spent a great deal of time and prophecy and ink and genetics and foreshadowing to coordinate something that COGWA wants us to ignore. God really worked on this. He lined up the stars just so the Magi would head to Bethlehem for crying out loud. One gets the sense that God purposefully arranged it so the Magi would have a traditional knowledge of stellar signs in order that they would some day make this journey. That had to be hundreds of years in preparation. You think that's nothing just because we don't know on what exact day these things happened? I couldn't disagree more. So I might honor it on the wrong day (or I might honor it on the right day - as you can't prove it's the wrong one any more than I can prove it's the right one). You know what? I'll take my chances.

About this dating point, I remind you dear reader that the COGWA and other splinter groups in Armstrongism can’t agree on the date of Passover. In the years when Passover happens on a Saturday, they have competing ways to handle it. Two splinters will observe their Passover on different days. If they can’t agree on the date of Passover then they can’t agree on the date of Pentecost. They don’t know when to keep Passover and Pentecost yet they do it. They don’t know when Passover and Pentecost are, but they never once say “we shouldn’t be keeping these things simply because we don’t really know the right date.” No, they pick a date and go with that. Oh, but that very same thing is argued against where honoring the birth of Christ is involved.

Mr. Johnson goes beyond just the simplicity of not knowing the date and provides us with a quote from Philip Schaff’s History of the Christian Church, where Schaff argues that winter is eliminated as an option due to the sheep in the fields.

I will give Mr. Johnson credit here where it is due - he quoted a source. He picked a scholarly resource and that is to be commended. I won’t begrudge him this. He could have also quoted Adam Clarke who pretty much says the same thing. However, I don’t call this “research” since anyone with an ounce of determination will have dug down and not given up so easily until the truth, God’s truth, was tightly in hand. Just picking a resource that agrees with you and going with that is not research. It just isn’t. Research involves looking at sources that disagree with your position and carefully weighing why one side has a better argument than the other. You shouldn’t just pretend the other side doesn’t exist and ignore it. I’m not ignoring the other side here. In this day and time, it has been demonstrated so frequently that there absolutely could have been and likely were shepherds in the fields in winter, and especially in the area of Bethlehem, that to claim winter is eliminated is wholly premature.

I want to quote from an exceedingly well-written study written by J. Hampton Keathley, III on Bible.org, titled “Should Christians Celebrate Christmas?” In the section “Argument Number 5: Uncertainty of the Date of Christ’s Birth“, Mr. Keathley writes about the shepherds:
“One of the main objections has been that sheep were usually taken into enclosures from November through March and were not out in the fields at night. However, this is not as conclusive as it sounds for the following reasons: (a) It could have been a mild winter. (b) It is not at all certain that sheep were always brought into enclosures during the winter months. (c) It is true that during the winter months sheep were brought in from the wilderness, but remember, Luke tells us the shepherds were near Bethlehem rather than in the wilderness. This indicates, if anything, the nativity was in the winter months. (d) The Mishnah tells us the shepherds around Bethlehem were outside all year and those worthy of the Passover were nearby in the fields at least 30 days before the feast which could be as early as February (one of the coldest, rainiest months of the year). So December is a very reasonable date."
James Kelso, an archaeologist who spent a number of years living in Palestine and who has done extensive research there says this:
“The best season for the shepherds of Bethlehem is the winter when heavy rains bring up a luscious crop of new grass. After the rains the once-barren, brown desert earth is suddenly a field of brilliant green. One year when excavating at New Testament Jericho, I lived in Jerusalem and drove through this area twice every day. At one single point along the road, I could see at times as many as five shepherds with their flocks on one hillside. One shepherd stayed with his flock at the same point for three weeks, so lush was the grass. But as soon as the rains stopped in the spring, the land quickly took on its normal desert look once again.
Since there seem to have been a number of shepherds who came to see the Christ child, December or January would be the most likely months."
-James Kelso, An Archaeologist Looks At The Gospels, p. 23-24
Well, well. This argument isn’t rock-solid after all. It could have been either way. There are solid, valid reasons to believe December 25th is not ruled out because of shepherds in the fields. We have several articles about this and links to other articles besides.

I repeat - winter is not ruled out because of shepherds in the fields. These resources existed in 2016. We had them. But you won’t hear that from COGWA. It’s not part of the narrative.

Now what do we have? Three, presumably top notch, reasons why this person upended his life, and here the first one is seriously in doubt.

Is my response to point #1 a slam dunk? No. But I don’t claim that we know for a fact that Jesus was born on December 25th. Other people make that claim, but not me. Not ABD. We claim that December 25th is possible, and sometimes we even sound as if it is likely, but we never say that it absolutely is correct. We agree with Mr. Johnson that no human knows the right day. What I do have as a slam dunk is that December is not eliminated as a possibility. Mr. Johnson's primary support is that December is eliminated, yet we know for a fact that it is not. Implied in his first point is that since we don't know the day therefore we shouldn't honor Jesus' birth. In response we have given you a reason why we should honor the incarnation regardless of whether or not it’s the right day.

Point number one as given by COGWA is simply not able to hold water. How about point number two?

It Was Celebrated In Pagan Rome

Here is where Mr. Johnson takes the train right off the bridge.

He says, “Dec. 25 was part of Saturnalia celebrations held in pre-Christian Rome.” Why is that taking the train off the track? Because it’s literally, factually, genuinely false. Saturnalia was never on December 25th at any point.

I invite Mr. Johnson and everyone else besides to read our post The Plain truth About December 25 where we prove this. I don’t say “prove” lightly. We prove it!

Anciently, Saturnalia was on December 17th. When Julius Caesar revamped the calendar he added two days to the end of December, this puts Saturnalia on December 19th. We can demonstrate these dates from the Philocalian Calendar. Now that Saturnalia was moved some people kept it on the original date and some on the new. It unofficially grew to 7 days but Augustus Caesar declared it to be a three day festival so that it wouldn't interrupt the courts. Later, Caligula set it to five days. Some time after this the fifth day was abolished, but it was restored again by Emperor Claudius because he knew the Romans were superstitious (see Claudius Dio's Rome, Volume 4).
What can we see from this? At its longest point, and only very briefly, Saturnalia was from the 17th to the 23rd of December. Saturnalia was never on December 24th or 25th. Not once. Most ancient Romans in the Christian era would have known the actual date of the Saturnalia as the 17th, but their celebration would have been from the 17th to the 21st.

Bear in mind here, when I show you that Saturnalia was a multiple-day festival, that only means the celebration lasted on for a while - it does not mean Saturnalia was on all of those days. Saturnalia was on the 17th originally and the 19th after Julius Caesar reformed the calendar. The official date was the 17th. How do we know this? We check calendars. They say when Saturnalia was. The Catholics have 12 days of Christmas, yet Christmas is only on the 25th of December. Protestants celebrate Christmas practically for an entire month, yet Christmas is only on the 25th of December. I say again, Saturnalia was on the 17th. Period. Saturnalia was never on December 24th or 25th.

Where does Mr. Johnson get his claim then? Where does he get his blatantly false claim? Once again he cites a source. He links us to an article titled “The History of Christmas” by Lawrence Kelemen (written at some point around 2004) on Judaism Online (aka SimpleToRemember). I can appreciate a person who honestly cites a source, even if I don’t agree with that source’s material. At the very least I can see how they came to their conclusions.

I know Mr. Johnson actually read that article. How do I know? Because point #2 is basically him quoting that article. He found an article that said what he liked, he assumed they did the homework, and he just lets them talk for him. Unfortunately this is a prime example of why simply picking a source that agrees with what you already want to find is neither wise nor "doing research." Mr. Johnson quoted a source, a tertiary source, who got it completely wrong. The SimpleToRemember article cites sources for some of their other claims, but not for this particular selection. I am only interested in this particular section because this is what Mr. Johnson stands on, so I’ll leave the rest of their article alone. But it's not hard to see why there was no source cited …because there wasn’t a good source to cite. Because it’s wrong!

Allow me to point out one more thing here. Mr. Johnson’s claim is that Christmas was celebrated in pagan Rome, but all he gave us is a factually erroneous message about Saturnalia. He hasn’t proven his point in any way. Not even slightly. He played switcheroo on us is all. Saturnalia is not Christmas any more than Saturnalia is COGWA's Family Fun Weekend. We here at ABD have investigated, deeply investigated, for years now whether or not Christmas is pagan. Read our articles, we beg you!

As a side note, Judaism Online mentions that an unwilling human victim was regularly sacrificed as part of Saturnalia festivities. This is ridiculous on its face since human sacrifice was illegal in Rome. I have never read anything from a trustworthy source that proves this. What they are relaying to you are hypotheticals from the most ancient Roman times, not from the period of the Roman Republic or the Empire. In the period of the Roman kings, several cultures in the region did practice human sacrifice, but it was never very popular in Rome, and no document I have ever seen specifically associated with Saturnalia. To paint Saturnalia as a time of ritual human sacrifice is disingenuous.

So now two legs of this chair are not sturdy. On to the last.

Jesus Warned About Human Traditions

Yes, He did! Didn’t He??

Mr. Johnson quotes Matthew here for support. Let’s do that too:

(MAT. 15: 6b-9) 6[b] Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition. 7 Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 8 ‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. 9 and in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

See? He did say it!
Or did He?

Before we get too far ahead of ourselves, what is one of the most important lessons we’ve learned here at ABD? It is: context, context, context! Never proof text.

To whom was Jesus speaking? To all Jews? No, to the Pharisees specifically. About what was Jesus citing Isaiah? To protest only holiday traditions? No. Martha wrote a spectacular article on this point titled Established and Imposed. Was what Jesus doing then? Jesus was speaking about the Pharisees taking the clear commandment to be charitable and to honor your father and mother, and negating it entirely with their own commandments. Jesus is very specific here.

Notice that Mr. Johnson, following many before him, breaks into verse 6 and absconds with 3 ½ verses completely out of their context, then veneers an entirely new meaning onto the verses that simply is not there on its own.

I put "6[b]" in my quote of Matthew on purpose, to emphasize that Mr. Johnson didn’t quote all of verse 6. He left half of it out. Let’s investigate the context here by quoting the previous verses and leaving nothing out.

(MAT. 15: 3-6) 3 He answered and said to them, “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition? 4 For God commanded, saying, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who curses father or mother, let him be put to death.’ 5 But you say, ‘Whoever says to his father or mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is a gift to God”— 6 then he need not honor his father or mother.’ Thus you have made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.

That first half of verse 6 is quite telling. Jesus is very specifically talking about the traditions of the Pharisees that have destroyed charity.

Jesus didn’t pick this fight; the Pharisees did. They came to Him asking Him why He abandoned their traditions. So, He tore into them for abandoning His. This has nothing to do with all human traditions. This has nothing to do with all Pharisaical traditions. This has nothing to do with holidays. It doesn’t even have anything to do with hand washing – which is a tradition. Did Jesus ever say that hand washing was bad? No. Was He angry at hand washing? No. He couldn’t care less about hand washing. He continues on, all the way to verse 20, giving a lesson about how hand washing and food and etc neither here nor there, but what proceeds out of the heart is what matters. He wanted the hand washing to be in its proper perspective. Did He command them to stop washing their hands? No! He just put things into their proper priority.

I want to repeat this for emphasis: WHAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE HEART IS WHAT MATTERS.

As Jesus cuts like a sword to the marrow of the matter, Armstrongism tries to distract the discussion back to a superficial point about holiday traditions that isn't even there in the context. Jesus never mentioned holidays. No one there did. He warned about their uncharitable, selfish, greedy hearts.

So, did Jesus warn us about all traditions as Mr. Johnson claims? No.
Does Mr. Johnson really believe this is about traditions? No. How can I say this so boldly? Because if he did, his article would condemn the COGWA Winter Family Weekend, too. <<<Human tradition!

No, upon closer examination we find that Jesus did not warn us about traditions at all, except to say that we must not let our traditions excuse us from our responsibilities to the the weightier matters of faith and love. Mr. Johnson, as he was taught, tries to get us to think that Jesus is prohibiting "man-made traditions." But that's not what's going on here. Not at all. Jesus warned about what comes out of our hearts, not superficial acts of celebration and decoration. If Christmas really taught us to abandon Jesus, or told us to be uncharitable, then certainly it would apply, because in that case those things from our traditions would be evil. But that is the opposite of Christmas’ lessons. Jesus and charity are primary in the proper and Christian (and I stress Christian as opposed to secular) observance of Christmas. Giving - it’s what Christmas genuinely is all about.

What does COGWA do? They turn this right around and say, no, defilement comes from the outside, from external and superficial things. Should we not be the ones encouraging them to heed Matthew 15?

Time after time after tedious time, what do we see going on? Proof texting! Mr. Johnson as he was taught to do (because this is nothing new) takes a verse completely out of context and uses it to an end for which it was never intended. He didn't get a warning about holidays from Matthew 15, he put it in there himself.

I can hear someone out there saying that God never commanded us to keep Christmas. We do recommend to you that you read Martha’s post “Established and Imposed”. It answers this concern from a Biblical perspective.

So now we have three prime reasons why Mr. Johnson changed his entire life. We have his top three reasons out of no doubt many more that he didn’t mention. The third one is hollow.

Please, most patient and understanding reader, permit me a brief sidebar. God bless you for your kindness!

I can completely understand that in the doctrinal tradition of Armstrongism (COGWA is an Armstrongist church, a splinter from Herbert W Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God) this third point is much bigger than just Matthew 15. Armstrongism is against Christmas. Armstrongism teaches that the New Covenant is practically identical to the Old Covenant, and thus the Old Covenant holy days are the appropriate holidays, and Christmas is not among them, and so Christmas has no place. l recognize and fully concede that this debate over point #3 is much bigger than what either Mr. Johnson or I have discussed in either article. But this is a review of Mr. Johnson’s article, and this is what Mr. Johnson put in his article, so this is all that I am addressing here.  I invite you to read every article we have because they are collectively our responses to the larger debate. I personally feel that we have answered the larger debate and can give a strong argument why it is also off course. So I leave you with this sidebar.

Moving on to my conclusion.


Mr. Johnson’s three points were that Jesus wasn’t born on December 25th, that December 25th is pagan, and that Jesus warned against Christmas.

He said Jesus couldn’t be born in the winter because sheep wouldn’t have been in the fields. What did we see? Yes, they most certainly could have been in the fields in the winter, most especially near Bethlehem.

He said Saturnalia was on December 25th. What did we see? No it absolutely was not. Not at any time. Saturnalia wasn’t even on the 24th. Sarurnalia was originally on the 17th and later the 19th. And if you read our material you will see much more evidence than just this.

He said Jesus warned against Christmas. What did we see? Jesus wasn’t talking about holidays, or even traditions for traditions’ sake; He was talking about things that violate the law of love. He was talking about what flows out of the heart. Matthew 15 isn’t about holidays. Matthew 15 isn’t a blanket condemnation of man-made traditions. It is not. Mr. Johnson proof texted material, extracted it from its proper context, and implanted into it a new and wholly inappropriate meaning.

Three legs of a chair that are all about to come off. Excuse me if I choose not to sit in it with him.
And this was considered such a good article that COGWA re-posted it. You can't see it, but I am cringing.

Probably the saddest thing about this article is that Mr. Johnson, who I can only assume is a fine person and means well and is doing the best he can with what he believes to be true, changed the entire course of his life upon evidences such as these. I can relate because I did this same thing for these same reasons.
The final twist in my clever title is these three reasons were my three reasons, too. I stopped keeping Christmas for these same things, and others. But then I double-checked my work. This is my part 2! The part 2 of my life.

I would love to let Mr. Johnson know that there is still time to reconsider. We here at ABD did. Ask the tough questions once more. The truth can handle itself. Perhaps this can be his part 2. I pray it can be yours.

Thank you for hearing us out. What say you? Ash and stubble, or gold and gems? Whether you side with us or Mr. Johnson, God's blessings to you! At this time of the year and beyond.

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

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

The Feast: Celebrating the Coming Kingdom of Law

Last time I wrote, I said that I would talk about the biggest reason I believe that many who are struggling in Armstrongism might not feel like rejoicing at the Feast of Tabernacles. In that post, I poked fun at a handful of smaller annoyances that many experience. But I believe there is a bigger problem with the Feast - an underlying cause for the feelings of emptiness.

The Kingdom of Law

I noticed that, this year, COGWA created a shareable “Feast of Tabernacles” social media guide that the group encouraged its members to share with their friends.

It explains what the Feast is, includes references from Leviticus and Deuteronomy, tells how to choose a site, talks about meeting friends and celebrating a foretaste of God's Kingdom, and concludes by encouraging readers to go home, plan for next year and learn more about the holy days.

Anybody notice something missing? Something kinda important? Um, maybe something, ANYTHING, about the king who returns to rule this kingdom?

On this explicitly sharable, social-media ready statement to the world, we have little indication that this document came from a Christian organization. The only oblique reference to Jesus Christ comes in point 3 of 5:

“We look forward to the time when all who have not had an opportunity for salvation will be resurrected to physical life and have a chance to live life according to God's plan in the world created by Christ during His millennial rule. God will then judge all people by their actions.”

Sure, it's not exactly vintage Herbert W Armstrong:

“Then I stated with all the power God gave me that I was the representative of the Great God, and that I was there to warn them that the 6,000 years are just about up, and that God would very soon supernaturally INTERVENE, and send the Messiah, Christ, in supreme power and
glory to SET UP THAT WORLD-RULING GOVERNMENT, to rule with GOD'S GOVERNMENT – and His Laws that will CAUSE peace, happiness, and universal well-being, for the next thousand years on earth. That the nations would FIGHT against Him, but that God will FORCE a rebellious humanity to have PEACE, prosperity, and happiness. This, I said, is the Message of the Kingdom of God.” (HWA Co-worker letter, 11/26/73, courtesy of Banned by HWA). 

Rather, it's a kinder, gentler translation of HWA's words. COGWA's message may be carefully cloaked in millennial language and allusions to “Christ,” but the underlying message is the same. The Feast of Tabernacles - as celebrated by the COGWA and the other Armstrongist Churches of God – has the same basic theme as its other observances and messages - living by the Sinai Covent law of Israel; and being judged for salvation on how good of a job you do.

Thank I'm exaggerating? I took some time to listen to the featured Feast sermon on the United Church of God's member web site. Now, UCG is often criticized by more hardline Armstrongist groups for being the most evangelical splinter group to come out of the Worldwide Church of God. Can you guess upon which book the speaker, longtime pastor Jerold Aust, based this keynote Feast of Tabernacles sermon?

Nehemiah. Yup, some of the classic millennial, gospel-centered, forwarding-looking chapters of the Old Testament right there. (imagine sarcasm font here).

So, according to Aust, God sent Israel into captivity because they didn't celebrate His feasts. To be fair, that may have been a part of it. But Jeremiah 25 tells us specifically that God sent Judah into captivity because of their idolatry. Verses 5 and 6 tell us that the Jeremiah warned Judah: “saying, turn now, every one of you, from his evil way and evil deeds, and dwell upon the land that the Lord has given to you and your fathers from of old and forever. Do not go after other gods to serve and worship them, or provoke me to anger with the work of your hands. Then I will do you no harm.”

Judah did not listen to the prophets and continued to worship false gods, so the Lord used Nebuchadnezzar to defeat them and put them in captivity. But I digress.

Anyway, Aust noted that Ezra and Nehemiah read the book of the law to the Israelites, and then reminded them not to weep, because it was a feast day to the Lord and they were commanded to rejoice. And so instead, the people made booths and feasted, and the heads of the households came together to study the law. Happy Feast!

But rejoicing isn't just for the Old Testament! Aust then scripture-flips forward to Philippians 4:4, which reminds us to always rejoice in the Lord. Now, Philippians doesn't mention the Feast of Tabernacles or any millennial reign. In fact, it appears that Paul is writing from prison and spends his letter recounting many of his trials, exhorting his brothers in Christian living and talk about the fact that he has learned to rejoice and be content in any situation, including his current imprisonment. But...he says to REJOICE! So it must jive with Nehemiah and the Feast of Booths!

If that isn't enough evidence, Aust then turns to Romans 5:2, which breaks in mid-thought: “Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.”  

Now that MUST be millennial! Paul is rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God!

Yes and no. Mostly no, but a little bit yes. Paul has just finished a treatise on justification by grace through faith, and is talking about our standing before God in Jesus. We can have hope of being glorified because God promises it to those who place their faith in Jesus, according to the verse that immediately precedes it. Immediately after, Paul talks about rejoicing in our suffering because it builds character, and that character produces hope – a hope that is bolstered by God's love and the Holy Spirit.

But wait, Mr. Aust mentions the Holy Spirit, too! It is, after all, the down payment we receive on our eternal life. And if we are able to try hard enough to foot the rest of the bill, well, then, God will make good on His promise!

In fact, Aust says, it is our responsibility to do so, including keeping the Feast! After all, the Bible says God will shorten the tribulation for the sake of the elect. Then, once we have fulfilled our responsibility by qualifying through keeping the law, we can get back to rebuilding the earth and teaching the generations who are still alive and are resurrected how to keep the law. Which brings us full circle back to COGWA's social media campaign.

In summary: we keep the Feast of Tabernacles in order to obey the law. If we do a good enough job keeping the law, we will qualify to be in God's Kingdom, where we will teach others how to keep the law, so that they can also eventually be judged on their ability to keep the law.

But this isn't earning our salvation, the COGs tell us.

Veiled Hearts and Minds

This whole discussion reminds me of the spiritual blindness that mixing the covenants seems to promote in the COGs.  Specifically,  2 Corinthians 3. Here, I'll throw in a few for free.

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? (v. 7-8).

Indeed this is the case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that has surpassed it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory. (v. 10-11). 

But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away. Yes, to this day
 whenever Moses is read a veil lies over their hearts. But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. (verses 14-16). 

In fact, many COG articles I've read spend so much ink demonstrating to us that Jesus kept the Feast that they barely have time or space to explain why Jesus really matters.

Let's get this straight. Yes, Mr. Aust is correct. The New Testament writers discuss topics like hope and joy quite a bit. And their hope and joy came from the fact that they stood justified before God through Jesus Christ's sacrifice, not in their keeping of the law. They were grateful that they no longer had to fear eternal punishment when they fell short of this law, the law which they themselves stated they were unable to keep:

“Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee, as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith...” Philippians 3:4-9.

Let's be clear, because I know many claim Paul is just talking about circumcision, just like they claim he is talking about circumcision alone in Acts 15. Not true. The use of the Greek conjunction “te” in Acts 15:5 indicates the Judaizers were stating Gentiles must both be circumcised AND keep the law of Moses, not be circumcised in keeping with the law of Moses. This same law which, as Peter states in verse 10, neither he nor his fathers could bear? Circumcision wasn't the yoke of bondage. The Law of Moses was the yoke of bondage.

Here are some other statements the New Testament writers - those guys whom Aust seems to think are all about rejoicing over the law - made about the law:

Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by Him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses (Acts 13:38-39). 

For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. For it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law, there is no transgression. That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring – not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the  father of us all.” (Romans 4:13-16). 

For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress. Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions around by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:2-6). 

For if the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. Hebrews 8:7

In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Hebrews 8:13). 

We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law, but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and now by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified. (Galatians 2:15-16). 

In Galatians 3:2-3, Paul could just as easily be asking Jerold Aust, or Jim Franks, or Gerald Weston, or Stephen Flurry: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

Mixing Wineskins

The Feast of Tabernacles, as taught and observed by the COGs, try to do just that: they celebrate a theology in which the “down payment” of the Holy Spirit is gained by repentance and confession of faith, then grasped onto for dear life by observing cherry-picked tenets of the law. If you hit an unquantifiable, unmeasurable threshold of obedience to that “law,” you qualify for eternal life in God's Kingdom, where you will teach survivors of Armageddon, and eventually the whole world, how to keep the law well enough to qualify for eternal life.

(I am not getting into an argument about the Great White Throne judgment in what is already a ridiculously long post. Suffice it to say that most Christians believe the book of Hebrews when it says that it is appointed for all men to die once and then be judged, and the book of Romans when it says that there is no condemnation in the judgment for those who are found in Christ).

However, the Bible describes things a little differently for those who accept grace through faith, but return to law-keeping to maintain their right standing with God.

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you have fallen away from grace. (Galatians 5:2-4). 

Again, I remind you, this is not just circumcision we are talking about. Acts 15 clearly tells us, unequivocally in the Greek, that Gentiles were being pressured to be circumcised AND keep the law. So, if you are keeping components of law in order to have right standing with God, then Galatians states that Christ's sacrifice does nothing for you.

You are probably asking, how do I know whether I am keeping the festivals in order to maintain my standing with God? Well, let me ask YOU a question: what do you think would happen to you if you stopped?

Do you believe you would be forfeiting your eternal life? If so, there's your answer.

So, that's why the Feast begins to feel hollow to those who see the cracks in Armstrongism. You are mixing wineskins. You are seeking the joy, fulfillment and peace of the New Covenant as described by Paul, Peter and John, but trying to grasp it - told you it is possible to obtain it – told you MUST qualify for it or else - through the practices of Israel. You are searching for light among the shadows.

If you are part of the bride of Christ, you can only be party to one covenant at a time – the Sinai Covenant or the New Covenant.  The Sinai Covenant can't help but leave you feeling empty. It was specifically designed to do so, in order to point to future fulfillment in Christ. Feeling that hollowness isn't an indication that there's something wrong with you. It's an indication that there's something right, and that God is calling you into that better covenant with better promises. You've learned the lesson. Maybe it's time to leave the tutor behind.

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, September 18, 2018

More than just Hunger Pangs

Happy Day of Atonement, reader! So, how are you feeling?

Not great? Why am I not surprised?

It's because I know about your secret. No, it's not the one about the raisins you snuck into the bathroom and ate. That, in fact, was me, one Day of Atonement when I was pregnant.

No, your secret is this: when everyone else is feeling better after they break their fast, you'll still have a gnawing pain in your stomach. While they are chattering gleefully, counting down until they leave town for the Feast of Tabernacles, you're wondering how on earth you're going to make it through the next 10 days.

On this Day of Atonement, we could review what Azazel literally meant. We could discuss why Herbert Armstrong's tortured explanation of the English term “at-one-ment” to describe a concept written in a different language more than 1500 years ago is nonsensical. We could talk about what the term "atonement" really means.

But really, today, I'd rather just give you a little validation. I know how you're feeling. It wasn't so long ago that I was in your shoes, which is why I try to eke out a little time to write at this point in the year. We at As Bereans Did know the spring and fall holy days are often when questioning members of today's Armstrongist Churches of God often come face-to-face with their doubts. It's not a fun place to be.

So today, I'd like to get just one point across to you. And it's this:

You are not crazy.

Yes. That's it. You are not crazy. Followed by, you are not alone. But right now, I'll settle for, you are not crazy. The Feast is extremely stressful and often discouraging. Here are some of the top reasons why:

Travel: Driving yourself nuts.

Rising air fares means that more and more people are driving to the Feast each year. This year's Sunday-to-Sunday span gives you a little more flexibility at the beginning. But departing on a Sunday night after the eighth day is over means you'll drive through the night or start the work/school week in the hole.

And most feast-goers are driving further than ever. When I was a child, there were about three feast sites within a six-hour drive from my home. Splintering, however, has left you with fewer Feast sites that are farther between.

For example, if you started at the United Church of God's headquarters site near Cincinnati, Ohio, but wanted not to keep the Feast in Cincinnati, it would take you almost 350 miles and nearly 7 hours to drive to the closest site in Snowshoe, West Virginia. If you want to avoid driving through mountains, you could always choose the Wisconsin Dells, which is the next closest. It's only about 500 miles away and about 8 hours of driving.

And I'm not just picking on UCG. If you were leaving from the Living Church of God's headquarters congregation in Charlotte, North Carolina, you'd have to travel 250 miles to Hilton Head – which thankfully is still on the map after Hurricane Florence. Had Florence taken a different path, the Charlatans (whoops, stupid autocorrect!) would have to put in 470 miles of driving to the next closest site - located in exotic, millennial Earlanger, Kentucky.

Mentioning Florence reminded me of my next point:

Holy Day Season or Hurricane Season, which?

God gave the Feast of Tabernacles to the Hebrews, who lived in the Middle East. He didn't give it to the Americans, or to the Filipino, or even to the Philippians. They celebrated the Feast in Jerusalem. But instead of learning from the missteps of King Jeroboam, who moved his Feast to a new date and city for political reasons, or believing the book of Hebrews says about the Sinai Covenant being obsolete,  church leaders have decided God is placing his name in hurricane-prone locations like Panama City and Myrtle Beach.

I recently read comments from older WCG members who recall "heroically" riding out storm bands during services in the meeting tent at God's True Feast in Jeykll Island, Georgia. This kind of hubris shows a complete lack of Philadelphian love and concern for the rescue workers who no doubt would have been called in to work, even on a high holy day, and endangered had tragedy struck. Today's feast-goers seem to to have a little more sense, although I recall some subtle bravado from COGWA members at Orange Beach last year when Hurricane Nate approached.

Several east coast Feast sites seemed to have dodged the bullet with Florence, although some forecasters say the storm's remnants could circle back around to the Carolinas. So good for them! However, COGWA's Feast site in Baguio City, Philippines was not so lucky. The city was recently battered by Super Typhoon Mangkhut. Does this mean that God is more pleased with LCG than with COGWA? Or are COGWA's Orange Beach feast-goers more righteous than their Filipino counterparts? Scoffing at less fortunate and speculating about their righteousness from outside the storm's path doesn't mean God is happier with you or your organization. It means you're a jerk.

Not getting the message

I would be remiss if I didn't mention the daily messages at the Feast of Tabernacles. It's not enough that you had to sit through the message. Now you have to listen to everyone talk about how great it was.

Sure, you might get one or two inspiring messages, but the rest sound like the speaker forgot he had a message and just punted. Now, I understand everyone punts sometimes. I mean, I obviously am right now. But the ministerial teams for most Feast sites start assigning days and teleconferencing about them in JUNE. If you started in June, come September, it should not sound like you punted: And yet, predictably, we still end up with:

The classic opening night message:
We made it! It is such a privilege to be here! After all, there are many who were here last year who are not today. Some of them are passed on and awaiting the first resurrection (we hope). Some infidels have left since the last split. (The infidels were our best friends until last year. Now they're keeping the Feast with another organization in the next tourist trap town over, and we're secretly hoping to run into them at Denny's). And still others have fallen away from God's truth and forgotten the great meaning of these days (although they're not in the path of this oncoming hurricane, so they may have more time to repent). 

It's the First Day:
We're celebrating the Feast! This time pictures when we will rule the earth with Jesus Christ for a thousand years. (Why is he talking about Jesus? What does he think this is, the Feast of Trumpets?) Don't forget that you are literally commanded to spend a tenth of your income on food, fine wine and whatever your heart desires! After all, this week pictures the Kingdom of God! (you become vaguely uncomfortable as you realize that the Bible directly states that the Kingdom of God is more than eating and drinking. What's worse, the description the guy at the lectern gave is sounding more and more like something Solomon disparaged in the book of Ecclesiastes). 

The Acrostic Sermon: 
In this mid-Feast sermon, someone either forgot he was speaking or lost his notes earlier in the week. So he goes ahead and writes a cringe-worthy message where the main points spell out words like “STAR,” “FEAST,” or, if you're really unlucky, “KINGDOM” (now we're NEVER making it to Disney World after church gets out). 

As usual, I don't fault anyone for worshiping God the best way they know how. This is a tongue-in-cheek post intended to give a little comic relief.  If this is truly what God expects, of us, then it's all worth it and more. After all, an eight-hour ride in a car is certainly shorter than any of Paul's missionary journeys. Being in the path of a hurricane is no comparison to being shipwrecked IN a storm. And being stuck in a tourist trap is certainly much better than in Nebuchadnezzar's fiery furnace.

If it feels like you're the only one at the Feast who doesn't seem to be rejoicing, take heart. No, you're not crazy. Rather, God is slowly removing the veil (2 Corinthians 3:15) and drawing you to His truth. So, if you're still not feeling very joyful, well, I think I know why. Let me tell you...

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

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Overcoming and the Feast of Trumpets

As the Churches of God are celebrating the Feast of Trumpets, I'm sure there will be plenty of COG critics who make a big deal about the fact that this day is never even mentioned in the New Testament.

I won't be one of them.

Sure, if you want to get technical, it isn't. The epistles do make passing references to the Days of Unleavened Bread, Pentecost and the Day of Atonement. But, despite NT references to trumpets and resurrections and Jesus' return, poor old Rosh Hashanah itself doesn't even get a mention.

But that's ok. I don't really care. Because today, I don't want to argue about whether the COGs are correct about what the Feast of Trumpets pictures, or how it will play out. I don't plan to debate Heaven versus soul sleep. For the purposes of this discussion, let's just assume you're right. Because, at the end of the day – or really, the End of Days – you and I basically share the same hope: that Jesus Christ will return, that the dead in Christ will rise, and that we will be numbered among the saints in God's family. 

Paul gives us the basis for this hope in 1 Corinthians 15:51-52:

Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.

No matter what our differences, this victory over death is our common hope. So how can we be sure we will "make it"? How can we make sure we have overcome? That we'll be there? This is the real question, the real important point of discussion. Many Feast of Trumpets sermons - and really, a good number of messages - come back to in the COGs. They seem to be pretty certain we must DO something, although they tell us in different ways:

The United Church of God, for example, soberly calls us to action:
"Think about this in regard to this festival, this holy day, and this assemblage. Every day in our life, there should be the sounding of a symbolic trumpet of urgency for us to live for God, developing a relationship with God, preparing for that time when we will be changed at the sounding of a trumpet, and our bodies changed from mortal to immortality, as Paul talks about in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, the resurrection chapter". (Beyond Today: Feast of Trumpets: An Urgency to Live for God Everyday, Darris McNeely, September 11, 2015)

The Church of God, a Worldwide Association, reminds us that failure is not an option - but not quite how the Bible teaches it (and I'm still waiting for them to explain me how to "use" the Holy Spirit like a pressure washer or something):  
"God did not call us to fail. When we repent and die with Christ through baptism, we begin a new life—a life fueled by the Holy Spirit, the power of God. There’s a lifetime of work ahead of us as we strive to put out sin and grow in righteousness, but thanks to the Holy Spirit and the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, it’s work we can accomplish." (Lifehopeandtruth.com, The Plan of God, Day 3: The Power to Overcome.)

The Living Church of God invokes Herbert W Armstrong, founder of the COG movement, in their current literature to deliver subtle, thought-provoking ultimatums: 
"Repeatedly Jesus warned us to watch, regarding His second coming! Could it be possible that, unless we are observing the Feast of Trumpets, as the first-century Church of God was observing Pentecost, that we shall not be ready, or caught up to meet Him? We do not—we cannot, of course, say; but we do ask the question. Is it not possible? Let us humbly and willingly yield to walk obediently in all the light.” (Herbert W Armstrong, Pagan Holidays or God’s Holy Days—Which? , p. 34.)

And the Philadelphia Church of God hands us not-so-subtle ultimatums: 
“We can’t carelessly relegate the Feast of Trumpets to just another day to give an offering and then get on with the fast to sort of punish ourselves before the “fun” starts at the Feast of Tabernacles. If we allow ourselves to drift into that contemptuous attitude, then we will not be accounted worthy to escape His wrath at His coming! (Luke 21:35-36). He won’t count us worthy to be born into His Family.” (Remember the Feast of Trumpets, and God Will Remember You! John Amos, Philadelphia Church of God, 1992). 

Regardless of which COG flavor you choose, the same underlying message comes through loud and clear: you must be doing something, the right something, and keep doing it correctly until you're done. Granted, they never tell you exactly WHAT that something is, or how well you must do it, or how long you must do it. 

Thankfully, the Bible DOES tell us how this victory over death comes, though it isn't through what WE do. Not surprisingly, it comes just a few verses after Paul's description of the resurrection:

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. - 1 Corinthians 15:57. 

Wait, what? 

Let me rephrase that without the complicating commas and clauses. 

God gives us the victory. 

We do not secure it ourselves, through works:

But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to His own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior.  - Titus 3:4-6

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.  - Ephesians 2:8-9

This victory comes through Jesus, not through maintaining a state of grace through ongoing justification

Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through Him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God. - Romans 5:1-2

We do NOT begin our Christian life with an act of faith, but reach its final objective through physical works. 

Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works on the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? - Galatians 3:2-3

In fact, our works would secure a much different outcome

Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. Romans 4:4.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23. 

This victory - over sin in this life and over death at the end - is the eventual fruit of our faith, not of our works

For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world except the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? -  1 John 5:4

We overcome by professing our faith in the blood of the lamb, not in what we do. 

"And I heard a loud voice saying in heaven, Now is come salvation, and strength, and the kingdom of our God, and the power of his Christ: for the accuser of our brethren is cast down, which accused them before our God day and night. And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death. - Revelation 12:10-12. 

So what can we do to make sure that we "make it?"

Not a whole lot. Not keep the Sabbath. Not count the new moons correctly from Jerusalem, to make sure we are spot-on about when to keep the holy days. Not adopt a vegetarian diet to avoid eating any unclean ingredients. Not take a vow of silence so that we can never lie again.

Really, all we can do is choose to believe the One who promises to forgive our sins and grant us eternal life through the shed blood of His Son. And then take it on faith.

Good thing that was what He really wanted anyway.

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

Saturday, June 23, 2018

British Israelism: A Royal Mess

Apparently, I was a traitor to my country and my gender when I slept in a few Saturdays ago instead of getting up to watch the royal wedding between Prince Harry and Yankee Meghan Markle. I later saw that I had missed hours of chatter between my girlfriends - the dress, the flowers, the royal lip bite... I guess I shouldn't be surprised. No matter how old we girls get, deep down, we still want to be a princess...

What did surprise me, however, was the number of Church of God members who got up at 6:00 on a Saturday morning to watch the event.

Let me repeat that, in case you missed it.


Given that, growing up, I was expected to turn off my favorite TV show mid-skit at sunset Friday, I was more than a little shocked to see people openly broadcasting their decision to watch.

So how was it that these proud, faithful Sabbatarians were not seeking their own pleasure on the Sabbath? Because, of course, it was an important event in the timeline of The Church!

Wait, what?

According to Herbert W Armstrong, the founder of the organization that has splintered into today's Churches of God, the British people are descended from the "lost" Hebrew tribe of Ephriam. This theory, known as British-Israelism, also claims that Americans are descended from Manasseh and many European nations descended from the other "lost" tribes. Most of the COG splinters still believe and promote British Israelism today.

Coronation chair with the Stone of Destiny.
Further, Armstrong taught that the British throne is the fulfillment of God's promise that David would never fail to have a descendant on the throne of Israel. As COG legend had it, David's "true" throne departed Israel when the prophet Jeremiah and his daughter, Tea-Tephi, took Jacob's pillar stone to Ireland and buried it in Hill Tara. The stone later traveled to Scotland,
and then down to England, where it is known as the Stone of Scone/Stone of Destiny, and the royals still use it as part of their coronations. So, as heirs, Prince Charles and Prince William must be descendants of David. And if his father and brother are, well, Henry must be, too.

(Wait a minute. Descendants of David would be from the tribe of Judah, not the tribe of Ephriam. So is the British royal family descended from Judah or Ephriam? I'm so confused!) 

Don't overthink this, Martha! The British monarchs are descended from Hebrew tribes and sit on the throne of David. Who could be more Jewish, er, Ephriam-ish (?) than the British royals? And we, as Americans, are their brothers, also descended from the Hebrew tribes. It's our DUTY to watch this wedding! It would be like missing a major moment in family history, or a family wedding. We CAN'T have that! (Warning: Don't EVEN get me started on the way Sabbath weddings have played out in my family).

No. I maintain that we NEED to overthink this. If neither one jot nor tittle claims what the COGs claim it means, then it's our DUTY to analyze this point. So, is there any way to find out whether princes William and Henry, AKA Harry, are really descended from any of the tribes of Israel? It's an important question, since we're flirting with Sabbath-breaking at the very least. Is there any way to test Armstrong's theory?

Well, there is, thanks - unfortunately - to the turbulent relationship and well-publicized extramarital exploits of Prince Charles and the late Princess Diana. The royals, tabloids and British DNA testing companies have been rehashing that topic for more than a decade. After all, if William and Harry were not sired by Charles, Prince of Wales, then they are not heirs to the throne. And if they were, then they share his royal blood and his DNA. And, if they and Charles are descended from the tribe of Ephraim, they should share genetic markers with those who have Jewish DNA.

After all, didn't God Himself tell David that his descendants would never lack a man " to sit on the throne of Israel? (1 Kings 2:4 and 9:5). Those who believe in British Israelism say that the throne of David still exists in the form of the British monarchy, so if anyone should have DNA evidence that they're related to other Hebrews, it's the royal family, right?

Let's not get the cart before the horse, though.

(Again, please don't discount DNA evidence because it is a product of science and scientists, who are frequently atheists. DNA evidence is not speculation about what happened millions of years ago. It's largely performed using tissue like hair, cheek swabs and blood samples from living humans (or tissue left on confirmed, authentic artifacts, mummies, and in some cases frozen human remains) and is considered reliable enough that it's admissible in court.

Princess Diana and Hewitt in 1989
First of all, though he's far from the heir apparent, Prince Harry IS Prince Charles' son, as is his brother William. It was rumored for years that Harry might have been fathered by army officer Major James Hewitt, with whom Diana admitted she had an affair. But that affair started when Harry was three years old - Harry was born in September 1984 and Diana
didn't meet Hewitt until 1986. Charles himself confirmed he was Harry's father before the young prince went away to school at Eton in 1995.

Still, when it comes to the throne, one can't be too careful. Apparently, Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth's husband insisted upon a DNA test, according to the  Agence France-Presse, which proved Harry was Charles' son. As if that wasn't enough, the former News of the World tabloid was reported to have obtained and tested a lock of hair from Harry and determined he was not Hewitt's son.

Prince Harry/James Hewitt
Now, the royals have not released DNA test results - presumably, it would be beneath them. But you'd better believe if something were found to be amiss, we would know about it, and the royal succession would have been changed. This is the kind of stuff over which the War of the Roses and the Hundred Years War were fought. Tabloids and DNA companies have run their own tests, reportedly on samples from the princes, and demonstrably on their cousins, and their findings have never been challenged. While parents, children and siblings do not have identical DNA, they are usually close, so we'll take a look at the results for Prince William, since he the one most discussed as the presumed heir to the throne.

Historical quirks like Hundred Years War and King Henry VIII mean that royal lineage has been documented very well. The late William Addams Reitwiesner, a well-known historian, has calculated Williams' ancestry as about 57 percent British and Irish, 39 percent French and German, 3 percent Eastern European, 1 percent Scandinavian, less than 1 percent South Asian (During the British colonization of India, Diana's great-great-great-great grandfather had a child with an Indian woman), and less than 1 percent... Middle Eastern! But before you get all excited, that Middle Eastern DNA is Armenian and comes from the maternal side, not the paternal side, which, in this case, are the genes that would correspond with the "throne of David" claim.

Now let's get a little more specific. While William's DNA test has never been released to the public, that of his father's patrilineal cousin has. While that may not sound like a big deal, among royals, it is. Here's why: some geneticists actually consider "royal" to be a specific ethnic subset in Europe because of the shared languages, culture and genetics. Until very recently, the only acceptable marriage partner for a royal was another royal. Because of all the intermarrying between cousins to maintain thrones across Europe, the genetics of the "royal" class are both painstakingly documented and relatively stable since the time of Charlemagne. In this case, the cousin who was tested was Nicholas II, the last emperor of Russia.  His body was tested after being found in the mass grave his family was thrown into after the Russian Revolution. The genetic results matched those from his blood-stained shirt kept in a museum in Osaka, Japan following an assassination attempt in the same city.

Basically, when tracing patrilineal ancestry, scientists study the Y-chromosome to determine a person's haplogroup - those with whom they share a common ancestor. This is pretty solid science - Y-chromosomes have been demonstrated to stay relatively stable over thousands of years. And in this case, we not only have DNA samples from the family but also a list of pretty much everyone (of genetic significance) in the family for more than a thousand years.

Nicholas II
Nicholas II's Y-chromosome haplogroup was found to be R1b, which is not a surprise, because it's a pretty common DNA haplogroup in Europe. In case you care, the common patrilineal ancestor between Nicholas II and Prince Charles was Frederik I, King of Norway and Denmark from 1524-1533. Whose line is known from the time of Elimar I, the first count of Oldenberg, a Saxon who ruled in what's now northern Germany from 1101 to 1108 A.D. Anyway, short story long, no one has released William's DNA results, but thanks to the multiple tragedies that befell poor Nicholas, we know that there's roughly a 97.2 percent chance that William's haplogroup is also R1b.

But we know this for sure: even if, somehow, William's DNA falls in that 2.8 percent margin of error, it's still in R haplogroup family. We have the man's genealogy traced practically back to the 700's A.D., and it's pretty much a mix of British, Germanic, French, Scottish, Armenian, Scandanavian and one lady from India.

So why do we care? Because, honestly, apart from what I'm about to say here, I don't. It is difficult to overstate how little I care about the lineage of the British royals. Except for this one point:

Brits and Americans primarily belong to the R1b haplogroup - which, as I already stated, is the most common one in western Europe. You see many variations on that theme - an R1a, an R1b1a2-M (M indicates Eurasian lineage). But you know what you don't see, at least among those who claim to be British, Irish, French and Danish? You don't see a J, at least in most individuals who don't claim Jewish ancestry.

Both Palestinian Jews and Arabs belong to the J haplogroup. This makes sense, since scripture specifically states that Jews and Arabs both descended from Abraham. Genetic research is able to trace a common father between Jews and Arabs even several generations before Jacob, the father of the Twelve Tribes of Israel.

So if Brits descended from related Hebrew tribes, you would expect to see genetic markers for the J haplogroup on their Y chromosomes. You would especially expect to see these genetic markers in the royal gene pool; in those whose lineage is relatively documented,; whose genetics haven't changed all that much over the centuries; in those who are allegedly descendants of David and sit on the throne of David.

But you don't. DNA evidence shows that R and J are two entirely different ethnic groups; groups who do not share a common ancestor. At least not, in all likelihood, until about the time of the Ark, which was at least 750 years before the birth of Abraham.

So why don't you see those genetic markers? Maybe it's because British Israelism was not a divine revelation, but a lie peddled by a false prophet. Or even worse, a lie peddled by a false prophet who plagiarized the theory.

Armstrong taught over and over and over again that the claims made by British-Israelism were divinely revealed to him, and were the key to understanding Bible prophecy. Without this "vital key", he taught, no one could understand where Israel is today, and thus no one could understand how prophecy was going to play out. But British Israelism been debunked, over and over again. Is it any wonder that his prophecies failed, and that those who continue building on this foundation are crumbling?

Simon Abney-Hastings outside his home in Australia.
So, should we be getting out our DNA kits and start looking for the true heir to David's throne? Perhaps it's Simon Abney-Hastings, an Australian textile worker who's the direct descendant of the royal Plantagenet line that lost power during the War of the Roses.

No. We know which ancestor of David's currently reigns, and it's the best one possible. Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, sits on His throne today. Though different translations muddy the meaning, many believe that God told David he would always have descendants to sit on the throne - in distinction to Saul, whose line had been cut off and later died out due to his disobedience. Jesus was physically David's descendant, and we know He ascended to heaven and took His throne. As usual, Armstrong's doctrines distract and detract from Jesus Christ - the Way, the Truth and the Life. The author and finisher of our faith. The only means through which we can approach the Father. Our only hope.  The Bible makes it clear that salvation only comes by grace through faith in the shed blood of Jesus, but Armstrong wove a tangled web of religious practices he claimed we must follow to remain in God's grace. Many in the splinters of the Worldwide Church of God are still caught in that web today.

As for me, I care about as much about royal lineage as I did before I started this post. After all, Titus 3:9 tells us:

But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless.  

Armstrong and those who keep his teachings alive must have missed that one. Makes you wonder what else they might have missed.

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