Saturday, August 22, 2020

How To Move Forward

I left Armstrongism in August of 2008. I remember that day like it was yesterday. What I've learned in these twelve years I cannot even begin to describe. Many of the things I learned I put here in this blog, but even more are not here. Let me tell you, there is a lot to learn. I want to share a couple summary ideas with you.

The thing I want to emphasize most is something that should be obvious and go without saying, but so help me I see people making mistakes here all the time. That is:

Un-learn everything you have learned in the COGs.

Yes, un-learn everything you have learned in the COGs. To explain why, let's do a brief re-cap of the history of the COGs. 

In 1843, the false prophet William Miller started preaching the return of Christ. It didn't happen, and is called "The Great Disappointment." He doubled down and failed again. Some of his many followers refused to un-learn what they had learned. Instead they tripled-down. They adopted the Sabbath doctrine from the Seventh Day Baptists and eventually named themselves the Seventh Day Adventists. Thus began one of the most ridiculous episodes in modern history - the life and times of Ellen G White. If you are not emotionally invested in her, and approach her writings with honesty, you will see how this woman must have been demon influenced. Many of the most outrageous cults in the last 150 years are directly descended from this Adventist movement. Some Adventists refused her leadership and split off to form the Church of God - 7th Day (COG7). This is the group who hired Herbert W (the W doesn't stand for anything) Armstrong, a down on his luck detergent salesman, as a Minister. HWA saw dollar signs and used his sales experience to reach more people over the radio. His new angle was a deep reliance on end-time prophecy. HWA split off and formed his own church, the Radio Church of God, which later renamed as the Worldwide Church of God. In 1933, HWA began to repeat the mistakes of William Miller from exactly a century earlier.

"...19 years after the first seige, or 585 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar made his final siege, drove out all the Jews, took complete possession of the land, and the Times of the Gentiles came fully in. And 2520 years later, or 1936 A.D., the Times of the Gentiles will have completely ENDED. As nearly as we can calculate from the dates of ancient history, the year 1936 will see the END of the Times of the Gentiles. Those "Times" have not been completely fulfilled until that year."
-Herbert Armstrong, Plain Truth, June/July 1934, pp.4-5

The date came and went. And exactly like William Miller, HWA doubled down. No, he more than doubled down. HWA spent the rest of his life preaching the immediate return of Christ. Over and over and over his prophecies failed. The grandest of all was in 1972. We have articles detailing all of this. Did his followers un-learn what they had learned? No. They did exactly as the Adventists before them.

When HWA died in 1986, his lieutenants peeled away to start their own church groups and promoted themselves to the rank of leader. So you get what you have here today. Did they learn anything from the past 150 years? No. Here we are, with one tiny little splinter group after another competing for the spotlight, and the tithe dollar of the remaining members. Still teaching the same end time scenarios that false prophet William Miller invented, still preaching the same Sabbath message that false prophet Ellen G White borrowed from the Seventh Day Baptists, still holding to the doctrines and practices of false prophet Herbert W Armstrong. What are the results? False prophecy after false prophecy after false prophecy. Confusion upon confusion. Can you expect fresh water from this well?

It's not just the prophecy that you must un-learn, it's everything. Un-learn it all. "But, xHWA," you may exclaim to me, "certainly not everything! I would have to un-learn Jesus Himself." Yes, everything. "Blasphemy!" No. I tell you that God is on His throne and Jesus is His only begotten Son. But what you have learned about both the Father and the Son is both flawed as well as nowhere near the whole story.  

There is a great deal more to learn about the Father and the Son that I cannot even begin to scratch the surface here. Un-learn the overly-simplified version of God that you have in your mind or else when you hear the rest of the story you will certainly be so confounded that you might even turn away from God. Think I'm crazy? There is a reason we say, "Armstrongism is an atheist-making machine."

Hundreds and hundreds of people who have left the COGs have gotten so confused and so frustrated that they gave it all up and abandoned their faith. Why? There are many reasons. No one can say it's this one or maybe two things. But I can tell you that in my experience the theme underlying it all is that people leave Armsrtongism but take half of it with them. It was that half that was incompatible with their way forward and unable to handle the challenges.

You have to un-learn even the simple things that you take for granted. Let me give you just a hint of a list here:

The COG's teachings are not unique to the COGs. COG doctrine is a lot like Catholic doctrine. The Catholic Church is not the Whore of Babylon. Protestantism is not the Daughters of the Whore. The Trinity is not an un-Biblical and unfathomable contradiction. Christmas and Easter are not pagan.There is no dark period after the first century where Christianity was completely changed. Apocalyptic literature is highly symbolic and never meant to be taken literally. The United States is not modern day Israel. The Bible does have a few issues (no, that isn't a deal breaker!). Moses didn't write every word of the Pentateuch. The Bible sometimes does contain elements found in other cultures that are older than the Bible. The understanding, world view, and context of ancient Israel is VERY different from yours today. Israel was not the first people to worship Yahweh (not even close) (yes, this is absolutely compatible with our faith). Many elements in Jewish worship are borrowed from paganism. "Once pagan always pagan" is a lie.

None of those things above, and there are a whole lot more than these I promise you, are deal breakers. God is on His throne. It all fits into the Biblical narrative. It's not the Biblical narrative that is flawed, it's your approach to it. I tell you, if you approach mainstream Christianity from a COG perspective, you will be hard pressed to accept them and will be more likely to give up your faith. How then can you handle the things that are even more difficult truths than the ones I've said above? I'll bet some of those things are a shock to you, yet they are demonstrably true. If you leave the COG and hold on to half of what they taught you, you are in danger. You need to be flexible. Bend, or you will break.

It's not just the factual aspects, but even the very approach itself that you should leave behind. 

No, you don't have to have every I dotted and T crossed. No, you don't need to have all the answers. You don't need to fit everything into a tidy little box. Humanity is messy, and God has chosen to work through us, so faith is by necessity a messy thing. The Bible is messy because God inspired humans to write it. Not just that but humans then edited it and translated it. If you leave the COGs yet maintain this trait of having to have everything figured out, you will break yourself. I am not saying give up study, just to change your approach.

Un-learn what you have learned in the COGs and bring yourself back to the one, simple, and foundational idea of faith. Faith. It's a simple, one-syllable word. Yet it is as profound as the universe itself.

If you can wipe the slate clean, clear your mind, let go, and possess nothing whatsoever in this life but belief that Jesus Christ is your Lord and Savior, then you have everything else already. He possesses all things. In Him you possess all things. Faith is literally all you need and all He demands of you. Contemplate this. Revel in this. Revel in Him. It's all about Him! Because Jesus accomplished His goals, and you are one with Him in faith, then in Him all your goals are already accomplished. He did it. Accept His gift. Accept it, and never let go.

Soon the wheel will turn and you will start looking more deeply into things again. This is how it goes. We start with a basic faith, we get interested in a detail, which leads to other details, which eventually complicates the entire business and makes amok of everything, then we do a reset and come back to the simplicity of a basic faith again. The wheel forever turns.

Eventually you will want to investigate some matter more deeply. Do it! Only do it without the COG baggage. You may be tempted to say, "I need no man to teach me; I am not going to trust in anything other people say or write." I say to you, this is a clear indicator that you have not left behind your COG indoctrination. You are still caught up in black and white thinking. You thought that to leave the COGs behind you must now do the opposite? No! Doing the opposite is just falling into the other ditch. It's not black and white. The world is not just filled with shades of grey, but a 16 milliion colors besides. If you step out to take on the world like a teenager out of school, you will soon learn the world is far more ready for you than you are for it. When you have this kind of approach, you will fall into the same old ditches that millions before you have fallen into. Don't reject what people have written, just don't be naive about it. Some of it should be rejected because it's garbage, but don't reject it all - and especially not just to spite your past. There is an ocean of information out there which you haven't even been exposed to yet. It's not all false! There are also 2,000 years of lessons and debates in the Christian experience you probably haven't read. "In the multitude of counselors there is safety." You don't need to make the same mistakes. You don't need to reject it all, or reinvent the wheel, or become a scholar so you can review every little thing for yourself. There are some excellent resources out there already. Use the excellent ones and reject the rest. This requires a certain flexibility.
Want to know a secret? You will eventually find that not everything the COGs teach is false!

You might not understand why I tell you to let go of the COG now and you will eventually circle back to some few parts of it later. When you get to where I am now, at that time you will understand. But I digress.

Challenges to your faith will come. Meet them head on! The truth will take care of itself. I can give you this advice - draw on your past experiences of the presence of God in your life. 

When the "dark night of the soul" comes upon you - as it will (and not just one time only) - recall those times in your past when you felt the presence of God and saw His hand at work in your life. Don't discount your past experiences. Don't discount the experiences of others either. The Bible is the past experiences of people who dealt with God. You will come to a crossroads. I tell you now, when you stand there it isn't going to be as simple as you might think. You will have a choice to make. In fact there are three paths at any crossroad, not just two! The three roads are these: 1) you can remain in faith, 2) you can go into faithlessness, or 3) you can sit on a fence and waffle back and forth. Set your mind to believe that God is real and His only Son is Jesus Christ and this decision will make the rest of your life a whole lot simpler.

To those who went down road #2, what I just said sounds like a cop out. No, it isn't. I promise you that faith isn't just a blind thing. God has given and still yet gives evidence. Evidence is a rational thing. Therefore, faith is a rational thing. So is the decision to remain in faith. 

The entire book of Revelation is far less about some future events and more about how you approach life RIGHT NOW. We've had the book for nearly 2,000 years. Everyone who has read it has waited for the fulfillment but had to apply its lessons to their lives in their time. What does it say to us?

(REV 1: 3) Blessed is the one who reads aloud the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near. [Even today! Every day!]

Hear it and take it to heart. Look past the apocalyptic imagery, stop trying to figure out the who and the when, and see the big picture of what it is really saying. Learn the lessons and make the conscious decision to incorporate the lessons into your life. What lessons? Does I Peter 4: 17 not tell us to "obey the Gospel of God"? What do you mean "obey the Gospel"? If the Gospel is the good news, what is there to obey? Faith! Faith is the lesson!

We obey by maintaining faith in the truth of it. Jesus is Lord. He did die on the cross and on the third day rose again and ascend into Heaven. He is who He says He is and will do what He says He will do. He will come again to judge the living and the dead. His Kingdom will have no end. All else are wolves and imposters. There are imposters but there is the true. There are upheavals but there is a reward. And this very faith, which we choose and upon which we insist, will guide our lives ...if we let it. This is the understanding of the Book of Revelation. Faith. In our regular and every day lives.

Is it not obvious, even axiomatic, that this is a conscious, rational decision for us to make? Then why wonder when I say to consciously make the decision? When you stand at that crossroads, recall your experiences and the experiences of others and make the conscious decision to be a Christian. That decision is the very purpose of the crossroads metaphor in the first place.  

"I have experienced God in my life. I have seen God at work in my life and the lives of many others. I will not discount these experiences. I am having doubts and am very confused, but I know this is for a purpose that I will eventually come to understand. I will not throw it all away. I will not sit on a fence. Lord Jesus, you are my Lord, and I choose to side with you. Help my unbelief!"

So to sum up, the best advice I can give you today, when you leave your COG and step out into a wider world, are these two things:

1) Un-learn what you have learned.
2) Insist on faith.

That said, I advise you to take this with you - God allowed you to have the COG experience you did for a reason. What is that reason? Find the good, and be thankful to God for it. You can be miserable, or bitter, or fearful, or thankful. Be thankful! God has never abandoned you and it wasn't all for naught.

God bless you and keep you and may the Spirit of Holiness go with you and guide you always. Thank you for having visited this blog.

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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

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