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Wednesday, September 3, 2008

An Encounter With A Legalist

My wife owns her own business. A small number of the of the people in our former xCOG congregation frequented her business. One of them stopped in last night. This person was unaware that we have discontinued attendance with our former affiliation. A long conversation ensued.

My wife is smart. She knows what she was taught, she knows what she believes now, and she knows how I feel. She just doesn't have the Bible verses in her head like some people do. That doesn't make her argument any less valid; only less effective in the short term. I'm not the kind of person who can hold book/chapter/verse in my head either.

Well, this person kept referring to Herbert Armstrong's booklets. My wife kept trying to tell her that we must prove things from the Bible without referring to HWA's material. It didn't sink in. This person knew about the charges of plagiarism, and gave HWA a pass because "he's just a man and makes mistakes". My wife believes that a mistake is one thing, but repeatedly plagiarizing someone else's material and calling it your own, in addition to falsifying information, is not just a "mistake". Nothing phased her. My wife noted to me how, twice now, from two different people, she has gotten the same words, the same arguments, the same responses. This is directly in line with what I got.

The same words: "I fear...", "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater...", "no one has the whole truth", etc. The same arguments: "Did the truth/Spirit come through HWA or not?", "We should immitate Christ and the Apostles", "The Holy Days are God's plan." Everyone we speak to appear to be programmed with what to believe and programmed with how to respond. Is this surprising to me? Yes! Why? I don't know; it shouldn't be. I know what brain washing is. I know how it works. One way is to sit a captive audience before a repetitive message and eventually they will believe it. The old addage "A lie told often enough becomes the truth" applies here. I'm just surprised that I was brainwashed and it's hard to believe my old friends were too. Now I see. And because I see, I am surprised at what I see.

Well, it eventually came down to how this person couldn't answer my wife's questions without referring to HWA, and my wife couldn't get this person to realize their dependance on HWA. This is what I see from everyone I talk to - circular reasoning and partial facts.

For instance, here is a highly abbreviated conversation I usually have:
[COG] "We have to keep the law."
[me] "Then why don't you keep the whole law?"
[COG] "Without the law, how will we know what is sin?"
[me] "By reading the New Testament and having the Spirit work from within us, rather than trying to keep a law that can't change our hearts."
[COG] "Jesus said the law will not pass away."
[me] "Then why are circumcision, sacrifice, the Levitical Priesthood, legal distinctions between Jew and Gentile, Passover, etc, etc. all magnified, but not those things you hold to?"
[COG] "How can the Holy Days be done away with; those are God's plan?"
[me] "I believe the whole Old Covenant was revoked at Christ's death and a New Covenant made in His blood."
[COG] "But then you believe the 10 Commandments were done away with! And those were written in stone."
[me] "So do you, as Deuteronomy 4: 13 says the 10 Commandments were the Old Covenant, stone or no stone, and everything else was added later. According to the law, when Jesus died, the whole agreement was rendered obsolete."
[COG] "But the Apostles were zealous for the law."
[me] "James also regarded the Talmud, do you? The Apostles were Jews, and they preferred the Jewish converts to be zealous for the law; there was no such requirement for the Gentile converts. Those Jewish converts who falsely taught the Gentiles to be Jews were the ones Paul wished would emasculate themselves.
[COG] "But there will be Sabbaths and Holy Days in the Millennium."
[me] "Yes. There will also be animal sacrifices, a temple, the Levitical priesthood complete with required garb and rituals, and probably circumcision too. That doesn't mean I need those things now."
[COG] "You should read the booklet about..."
[me] "I'm not going to refer to any booklet when I have the Bible. I don't follow HWA."
[COG] "Neither do I. I disagree with him on some things."
[me] "Then why do you always refer to him and his teachings?"
[COG] "Well, we need to keep the law."
... and round it goes.

This person referred my wife to her spouse who was better versed in the law. (Second verse, same as the first.) My wife did the right thing. She said "Listen, I can't go discussing this with everyone. Either they will ignore me or they will leave the congregation. Neither option is good for me." My wife and I agreed at the outset that we are not going to spread dissent, we are not going to try and convert anyone, we are not going to cause division, etc. We just left quietly out the back one day. That places a burden on the shoulder of the Minister, not that I want him burdened, but better he who will handle it as he wants it handled than we who will certainly cause even bigger problems. Even if everyone has to believe my wife and I are confused, so be it. We didn't cause division.

If anyone has any similar stories to share, please do. I'd love to hear what you've gone through and how you've handled it.


Seeker Of Truth said...

"He's just a man and makes mistakes"... this seems to be a favorite among Armstrongists.

Those in Ron Weinland's church have that same dependance on him - they rarely quote the Bible, but constantly parot Ron.

Sabbaths and Holy Days - Millennium:

If you look at Zechariah 14:16, you will see that those who will be keeping the Old Covenant Feast of Tabernacles are the survivors of those who attacked Jerusalem;

16 Then the survivors from all the nations that have attacked Jerusalem will go up year after year to worship the King, the LORD Almighty, and to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles.

It's like, 'If you refuse to have an internal law (law of love), then we'll do this the hard way, you'll be given the external law.
I'm sure you've seen my example of the teenage siblings; one has an internal law and comes home at a decent hour each evening, the other has no internal law and comes home at inapropriate hours and is thus given a curfew (external law), but there's no point in giving a curfew to the teen with the internal law because he's always home at a decent hour.
It seems clear this is the case in Zachariah 14:16.

xHWA said...

"If you look at Zechariah 14:16, you will see that those who will be keeping the Old Covenant Feast of Tabernacles are the survivors of those who attacked Jerusalem;"

I love this thinking. If more people would 'think outside the Armstrong box', I believe many false ideas would be put aside and many actual truths would be uncovered.

Anonymous said...

Hello xHWA,

I was in the WCG, then UCG, and I left the UCG recently. I, like
you, didn't want to cause division
or stir up trouble, so I decided
to exit quietly.

On the other hand, I believed that I had stumbled onto something wonderful (the New Covenant) and so I thought that it would be totally wrong to leave without saying anything. That is, I believed it was my duty as a Christian (before God) to be a "witness" to what I had found. And so I decided to make my case to those I was close to in church from the beginning.

Needless to say, a debate ensued. And being a simple guy, I made a simple argument. I introduced them to the biblical truth in Gal.3:15-17, that a covenant from God cannot be added to or taken away from. They understood. And so I asked them, "Where do you see tithing commanded in the New Covenant?" They didn't. And so I tried to explain that if a command isn't in there, then it's not part of it, because nobody can ADD something that isn't in there, so says Gal.3:15-17. And using tithing as an example, one can go all the way down the list of Old Covenant commands that aren't found in the New, and so are not part of it.

This biblical truth is very perplexing to those who are firm believers in Armstrongism. Even so, they didn't budge, but brought forth all the familiar (and wrong) arguments.

Remembering how traumatic it was for me, to begin to see how Armstrongism didn't square with the Bible, I didn't want to be the source of the same trauma for those in church that I had known for so long. And so I thought that Rom.14:5 would apply to this situation, and I left it at that, letting them be "fully convinced in their own mind" especially because they centered the argument around the Sabbath.

Did I handle this right? I don't know. But I do know this: that I left peacefully, without trying to cause trouble or stir up division,
and I made my little "case" to them as a "witness" in the hope that maybe in the future it will serve to get them thinking.
And that was the best I could do at the time.

xHWA said...

"Did I handle this right? I don't know. But I do know this: that I left peacefully, without trying to cause trouble or stir up division,
and I made my little "case" to them as a "witness" in the hope that maybe in the future it will serve to get them thinking.
And that was the best I could do at the time."

Hi Anon!

Glad to hear from you!

I don't know if you handled it right, but you handled it like I did. Looks like you and me stand or fall together on this one. I think you did as well as anyone can do in our day and age. Blessed are the peace makers, after all.

I don't envy you this period of utter frustration you've entered. Perhaps you'll be blessed to skip it. There's a burning disappointment in not being able to talk sense into people.
But you can't.
Then there's the desire to know why you can't talk sense into them. If only there were a 'magic phrase' or something that would 'wake them up'.
But it's not there.

If there is one thing that I know is exactly right in what you're doing, it's having hope and faith. You said "in the hope that maybe in the future it will serve to get them thinking". That's dead on. You've helped plant a seed. Maybe God will send another to water it. But it's up to Him to give that increase. And you get that. Makes me happy to see.

God bless you and guide you in this time. E-mail me whenever you need.

Seeker Of Truth said...

I could use a "Magic Phrase", so if anyone discovers one, (I wish), please let me know ASAP! ;)

xHWA said...

Ditto, Seeker! :D