Generalization is always wrong
~ A T-shirt slogan
While some are reflecting upon the Church this week, it might be a good idea to review some history.
When a person looks back upon their past, it is easy to either: 1. Look at everything through rose colored glasses, as though everything was sweet and wonderful and full of good things. Or, 2. Look at everything through dark shades, as though everything was dark, cold and full of evil things. In either case, events of the past are often viewed through layers of sweeping generalizations.
In either case, the person engaging in this type of reminiscing will miss out on important opportunities to learn from the past. In the worst case, where it is all negative, the person might throw the baby out with the bath water. When all is viewed as positive, though, the person will undoubtedly live to recreate some of the same mistakes.
Well, today I need to post something positive. There’s too many things that are negative that could be posted about, and I feel that some of the recent articles (more than usual) have been negative, so it’s time to balance it out a little bit. In addition, there are still those who claim that nothing good ever came from the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) or the legacy of Herbert W Armstrong (HWA). So, this article in many respects is a counterbalance to some of the recent negativity. We can visit some of the negative things again as required in the future.
I am constantly reminded about the time in which I was confronted with a truth by a pagan. This person did not know “the truth”, nor did they care to. However, the truth they did wield cut to the marrow.
From then on, I realized that truth is truth. While the source can make something suspect, even the most suspect can speak the truth occasionally. Even with the suspicion of motive behind the speaking of a truth, it will stand or fall on its own.
Before I begin, though, some might ask about “The 18 Truths” that HWA restored. Well, like many “doctrines” that some COGs espouse, I’d like to remind everyone of a few facts:
1. “The 18 Truths” list differs depending upon whom you ask. It seems that the list may have changed over time and sloppiness in the handling of it took over. So, that begs the question: Which 18 truths?
2. It is a list made up by men. It is not Scripture. Some of the items may not even be Scriptural or provable by Scripture.
3. It was made up under Joseph Tkach. We know what wonderful doctrines he introduced into the Church, now don’t we? Any list made up under his direction is suspect to begin with.
No, I’ll make my own not necessarily exhaustive list, thank you very much. Besides, I want to list them more or less in order of importance and put them into neat categories.
So, here we go:
1. The preaching of the true Gospel on a worldwide basis.
Many mainstream Christian denominations believe in preaching a gospel. The importance of doing so is not ignored by many of them. However, the story they tell is skewed at best and a lie at worst.
Yes, Jesus came and died on a cross or a stake (the actual shape isn’t important, is it?). He came to die for our sins. Oftentimes, though, that’s about where their message ends. In reality, though, that is just the beginning. It is only about 1/3rd of the message.
Sometimes, people couch it in terms of whether or not you are going to Heaven when you die. The Bible is amazingly silent about men and women going to Heaven. The reasons are obvious: a. You do not go to Heaven when you die. b. Christ is returning to the earth.
Christ came to preach a Gospel, a good message or the good news, about the coming Kingdom of God.
HWA was doing this at a time when most mainstream Christians were denying that there even is a Millennial rule of Christ on the earth, and many were denying even Jesus’ return to the earth.
However, he went beyond the fact that Jesus would return. He identified why Jesus must return. Even today, many have a notion that Jesus will return secretly to whisk away believers into Heaven while allowing the “end of the world”. However, HWA identified that Jesus will return to restore order and remove evil from the world. Jesus will set up His Millennial rule over the earth, and the saints will be granted power and authority as spirit beings to rule with Him!
Furthermore, beyond that is even better news! The dead will all be resurrected and given an opportunity to learn God’s ways without the deceit of Satan to get in their way. Most have not now been given that opportunity. However, God, Who is love and wants all to have a chance for repentance, will ensure that all do have the chance to choose to be in His family.
Lastly, the entire earth will be purified and recreated. Then, God the Father Himself will dwell on earth in the New Jerusalem.
The necessary corollaries are the teaching that humans do not have an immortal soul, do not go to Heaven or Hell upon death but wait “asleep” in the grave until resurrected, that there is more than one resurrection and that God is building a family.
2. The necessity of keeping the entire moral Law.
While many Protestant churches will not come out and flatly state so, some will actually tell you “The Law has been nailed to the cross!” There still are those who preach that today. It was even more common during HWA’s beginning ministry. Today, though, it is most often more subtle.
The core of the Law, of course, is the Ten Commandments. Most mainstream Christians will agree that one should not murder, commit adultery or steal from their neighbor. In fact, many civil laws are based upon these categories. Many Christians will also tell you that either God or Jesus should be first in a Christian’s life. However, many will criticize you and call you names when you point out that the seventh-day Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments. They will call you “Judaizer” or “legalist”. Then, they will cry out that it is a spiritual law.
Tell me, though, how do you not murder spiritually? I mean, it would be an interesting defense if I physically shoot my neighbor but claim, “Well, you see, Your Honor, the law is spiritual. I did not hate my neighbor. In fact, I love my neighbor everyday of the week. Therefore, I should not be tried for murder.”
HWA initially resisted when he was introduced to the seventh-day Sabbath through his wife who had been studying with a member from the local Church of God (headquartered in Stanberry, MO). However, fervent study led him to see that it indeed was the correct day to worship and was not abolished at the cross.
Over time, he began to become convinced that the annual holy days as outlined in Lev 23 were also necessary. At that time, some in the COG did keep some of the holy days (COG7 at least kept Passover). In fact, an interesting tidbit that I uncovered in my studies of the history of the Church that HWA was introduced to the necessity of keeping all the holy days by a convert from the Seventh Day Adventist Church.
Rather than picking and choosing as so many denominations do, HWA began to understand that everything not directly attached to the Tabernacle/Temple (the “ceremonial law” including sacrifices) or to civil law was to be obeyed. Some things, such as third tithe for the widows and orphans, overlapped the current civil law in many countries and so they were modified accordingly.
As a result, the COG teaches that keeping the Sabbath and holy days, clean and unclean food laws, tithing and the avoidance of religious practices with pagan origins are necessary.
3. The identity of Israel and Judah in prophecy.
If the Bible is supposed to foretell the future, and if the Bible was written especially for the time of the end, then it stands to reason that great powers that hold sway over the Holy Land must be represented somehow in Scripture.
If it is true that 25 – 30% of the Bible is prophecy and much of it yet to be fulfilled, then where are the US and the UK in its pages. Great Britain is responsible for some of the mess in the Middle East because of their arbitrary map drawings and making the same promises to opposing sides of the debate over who owns what. Without the support of the US, the nation of Israel today would not exist. The question as to where are these powers in the pages of the Bible and just why do they care anyhow loom over the entire question of prophecy.
Furthermore, the constant delineation of Ephraim and/or Israel from Judah is quite confusing until you realize that all Jews are Israelites but not all Israelites are Jews. “Jew” comes from “Judah” or, more precisely, the “House of Judah”, and is a reference to the southern kingdom after the empire split into two nations after the death of King Solomon.
God makes several remarkable promises to Jacob’s descendants throughout the Bible. Yet, without an understanding that God has not abandoned them, it all seems like a moot point. What it really boils down to is whether or not God is dependable and keeps His promises. Whether or not He keeps them the way we would expect or the way we would do it is rather beside the point. The question still is does God keep His promises?
I have to admit that when I was young, this was the doctrine that had the most impact upon me. It really was the doctrine that glued all the others together. That’s probably why it was one of the first ones that Tkach downplayed. By attacking this one single doctrine, it was lowering the resistance to attacking all the others.
In very simplistic terms, this doctrine proves: God keeps His promises, God has a plan for everyone on the planet (He will not drop even one “seed” that He is sifting through the nations), God is faithful in all things, God works in ways we don’t see immediately (or won’t in this lifetime in some cases), our general understanding of the timeline of prophecy is correct and that prophecy is not a dead subject but alive and unfolding right before our very eyes.
Not only that, but it is the key that unlocks so many other prophecies. Plus, it contains an inherent warning for those descended from Jacob even for today. Unfortunately, it is a warning that is largely marginalized by some who should understand or ignored completely by the great majority who do not even know.
That last point means the Gospel should also contain a warning message of how the US and UK should be repenting before God instead of actively removing Him from the public eye. In addition, it should be a warning for the rest of the world that once the dominoes of the the US and Great Britain have fallen, terrible times are ahead for the entire rest of the world.
Notice that God provided His grace to a particular family that grew and became “many nations” as was promised to Abraham, “the father of many nations”. It was his righteousness and his faith that we need to be grateful for, because we of ourselves do not deserve these rich blessings. However, with great blessings comes great responsibility, and we have fallen far short in this.
4. The real meaning of the two trees in the Garden of Eden.
Many people got tired of hearing about “the two trees”.
But, you know something? One of HWA’s sermons, I was sitting in the audience listening to the message, and he exclaimed, “Half of you don’t get it!” I remember looking around. There were puzzled faces at this.
I think HWA was an optimist sometimes. Half did not get it. In fact, more like 2/3rds did not get it!
I have heard preachers of the world talk about the trees, but in all reality, they usually fall quite short. Part of the problem comes from their view of creation. Lucifer had no real time to fall and could not have before mankind was created under their view, so the whole notion of how sin entered into the world is skewed. Even those few who understand the general symbolism of deciding for yourself what is right and wrong vs God’s revealed knowledge completely overlook that the first of those was the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. It was not the Tree of Evil or even the Tree of the Knowledge of Evil, but it was a mix. You can pick good fruit off of the tree, but it will still be deficient fruit at best.
Why is this important? The incident with the two trees represents in succinct symbolic form the entire problem with humanity and why such evil exists in the world today. If you don’t know the why, then you cannot properly identify what’s the solution?
The solution, of course, is the Kingdom of God. And so, we complete the circuit.
Why is the story of the two trees so important? It points to the why that salvation through Jesus Christ is needed. It points to what God is doing. It points to why there is such great evil in the world, and it shows us who the true enemy is. It points to the fact that only by the grace of God are we saved and will make it into the Kingdom.
The Entire Package
While I tried to rank them in order of importance, they are closely intertwined. That’s why mainstream Christianity for the most part does not accept them. When you pull out one, you weaken the others. Together, though, these truths reinforce and strengthen one another.
And, perhaps, that really is the importance of HWA’s legacy after all. Some talk about how he “stole” this or that doctrine from another group or a certain person. Some come right out and say how he did not come up with them on his own. The odd thing is, though, if he did come up with them on his own, what would their complaint be? That’s right. They would complain he made them up!
And, if he did make them up, then they would not be true, would they? So, the worst the critics can come up with was that he “stole” this doctrine or that from another. In an odd way, they are actually validating what he taught by this argument.
There is, however, one thing that was unique. It is the entire package. Bob Dick of UCG gave a sermon about a year ago stating this, and it is quite true. There are many SDAs who keep the Sabbath and even some keep the holy days. Some are vegetarian and so in a sense keep the food laws too. There are evangelical organizations now that teach the visible return of Jesus Christ. However, all in all, the entire understanding of what HWA had revealed to him is rather unique to the COG.
So, did anything good come from the WCG under HWA? Yes. It is the completeness of our understanding.
Question: Will we remain worthy to hang onto it?
I think that to remain worthy to hang on to it we have to do the same thing that Mr. Armstrong did that enabled God to give him these truths. We have to have an attitude of believing the Bible. We have to be willing to be corrected in our doctrines by the Bible and be willing to learn new knowledge from the Bible, as he was willing. We have to believe the Bible more than our opinions, our traditions, or the ministry, as Mr. Armstrong did.