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Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Rationalizing Armstrongism

Had a conversation last night with a good friend of mine in one of the COGs. He called to ask my opinion on the prophecies relating to the Feast of Trumpets since he was preparing for a sermonette. My short answer was, "You can say whatever you want. If it isn't what people already have convinced themselves of, whether it's true or not, they will not listen to you no matter what you say or do." He agreed.
We got into talking about other things. He said what most everyone has been saying to me lately: Herbert Armstrong is nothing to a person's salvation. I agree that he should be nothing to anyone's salvation! However, I disagree in the meaning of what my friend was really saying to me.

HWA is dead, but his ideas are very much alive. So long as his ideas are alive, he has meaning to someones faith. I cannot tell you how very many times I have been asked since learning the truth about HWA, "Do you believe the Spirit came through Herbert Armstrong?" The answer is an unequivocal "NO!" I absolutely do not believe that. Why would anyone ask that? The Spirit comes from God the Father through Jesus Christ directly to us. Is it because they believe the laying on of qualified hands is necessary to receive the Spirit? Partly. Cornelius, however, received the Spirit before Peter even baptized him (ACTS 10: 44-47), so that's not necessarily the case. The real question that was being asked is this: "Do you believe I, as a believer in Armstrong, have God's Spirit?"

Listen, I can no more tell you if you have God's Spirit than I can tell you that you will be burned up in Gehenna fire. I am simply not the Judge. I have no keys to lock you up or set you free. I would like to believe certain people in the COGs have God's Spirit working inside them. Yet I see an odd thing in most of them - rationalization of their beliefs. By that I mean, the people I have spoken with rationalize away all error and contradiction in what they believe.

Take for instance my friend's statement "Herbert Armstrong is nothing to a person's salvation." OK. On the surface it is something most people will agree upon. Now, take into account another statement by the same friend, "Herbert Armstrong changed the law out of necessity." What do those two statements have to do with each other? I'll try to explain. If HWA is nothing, if he is something we need to move past and let go of, then how on earth is he so important to what people believe that he can change the laws of God and they go along with it? If he is truly nothing to salvation and faith, then what he did to the immutable laws of God is also nothing - and MUST BE REJECTED! But those changes are not rejected; they are promoted. On whose authority are they changed? HWA's and HWA's alone. Is he then important to a person's faith? Without question!
Now let's take yet another statement from this same friend: "I have never placed Herbert Armstrong into such a high position in my faith. If I see something that is in error, then it has to be fixed." Great! Now, if only people would actually do that!! What can we find that is in error, then? I have several posts from which you may choose. I would specifically refer you to the Three Times In A Year parts 1 and 2. Other blogs have several; see my links for more info. But let's go with something simple for now - the Feast of Tabernacles. What does the law say about it?

(LEV. 23: 40, 42-43) "40 And you shall take for yourselves on the first day the fruit of beautiful trees, branches of palm trees, the boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the LORD your God for seven days." "42 You shall dwell in booths for seven days. All who are native Israelites shall dwell in booths, 43 that your generations may know that I made the children of Israel dwell in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God."

It doesn't say "hotel", it says "booth". The participants are required to dwell in one (NEH. 8: 13-15). It even instructs you on how to manufacture said booth. During the Feast of Booths, no one makes a booth! Now, what do people actually do? They go to a hotel and call it a temporary dwelling. Why? Do you even know why? In the olden days, most people camped out at the Feast; packed their own meals, had services under a tent, and the whole 9 yards. When the ministers saw the higher-ups getting hotel rooms, they wanted that too. After a bit, the people who could afford it wanted hotel rooms, that made the upper echelons need fancier hotel rooms, and everyone else roughed it. Then, when everyone wanted hotel rooms, a reservation system started, and ministers were getting first pick to ensure they got theirs. Everyone else got a discount, and all were happy -- except perhaps God, whose laws were being ignored.
Do you know that never once in all of my keeping of the Feast of Tabernacles did I even so much as see a bough of a tree displayed even for show? Let alone to dwell in. Now, this dilemma isn't something people are unaware of. It is an error which people are unwilling to fix. This directly contradicts what my friend said when he told me what he believes is not dependant upon what Armstrong taught and if he finds a problem he needs to fix it. Upon whose authority was the law 'changed out of necessity'? Armstrong's. Are the beliefs in line with the law? No. So there's a problem; people are following Armstrong while claiming they are not and no one is keeping their word to fix it. This is what I mean by rationalization.

Another friend of mine, when confronted with the holes in his theology, told me "I keep the law as best as I can." No. He most certainly does not. He keeps the law as best as he CARES TO. There's a big difference. They are breaking the law and they know it and they do nothing about it.

(HEB. 10: 26-28) 26 For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 27 but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. 28 Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses.

And, therefore, in stark disagreement with my old friends, I maintain that Herbert Armstrong is without a doubt (and so very unfortunately) key to a person's faith and salvation. Yet, somehow my friends continue to rationalize and disagree with me. Have I given my own logic? Have I not shown specifically where the Bible law is being ignored? Have I not shown that people will not fix that? Have I not shown that they do this upon HWA's authority alone? But if they will not see the error in the plain things to correct it, how on earth can they possibly see the general error in attempting to keep the Old Covenant and then move into the keeping of the New?

So my friend says, "I have never met Herbert Armstrong. When I came into the church, I was taught by a minister, not HWA." That's a fact. Now, of what value is that fact? Let me ask - from whom did said minister get his credentials to preach? The Worldwide Church of God. And who started and ran that church as its Apostle and undisputed leader on earth? Herbert Armstrong. So all roads lead back to Herbert Armstrong. So the representative of HWA was the literal person who did the teaching and baptising, but they only did that because of HWA. To put it into another light, one using that very same logic would say 'I get the Spirit from Jesus Christ, not God the Father; so who is God the Father to me?' Of course we know that's a ridiculous statement! The logic is totally rotten. So also is the rationalization that since HWA was not the direct teacher he is nothing to the teachings.

I attempted to move my example to another realm. I used Ron Weinland as an example. I asked him, "If HWA is nothing, then why don't I just go to Ron Weinland's church right now?" "Well," my friend replies, "we now know that Ron Weinland is false. So to go there would not be a good thing." Aha! Exactly what I knew he would say. "So," I replied, "how then can you justify staying in Armstrong's church when I can demonstrate to you that everything Weinland does was done by Armstrong as well?" He was not willing to accept the truth that Ron Weinland is a Xerox copy of Armstrong. So I showed him some examples.
Take the prophecies for instance. HWA proclaimed Jesus would return in 1936 (read the Plain Truth, June/July 1934, especially page 3). Did that happen? Look around you. Now, to top that off, HWA again said Jesus would return by 1975 (remember "1975 In Prophecy"? Of course you do! Download it here [right-click the link, choose "save as"]). So these two times HWA was wrong. Then there were the never ending streams of "In three to four years..." predictions which all fell flat. (Try this "5 to 10 years, on the authority of Christ" failure from the Plain Truth, February 1967, see p. 47 under heading "End Viet Nam War Now", 4th paragraph.) Now we have a bona fide false prophet on our hands, speaking "very soberly, ON AUTHORITY of the living CHRIST!" (sic).
How is that different than Weinland? It isn't! My friend could only say, "Armstrong never claimed to be a prophet." It doesn't matter as much what one claims; it's what one does that really counts. I can rob a liquor store and claim not to be a thief - does that make me not a thief? No! So claiming not to be a prophet is hot air while you simultaneously claim God has revealed truths of prophecy to you and you alone and you then proceed to predict all sorts and forms of things (which all utterly fail)!

But, is it true that there was no claim to being a prophet?

"Scripture is full of warnings about false ministers and false prophets. The world is filled with such men and organizations today. Out of this Babylon of confusion God must somewhere have His work TODAY. How do you recognize it? Here is the test Jeremiah was inspired to give: 'The prophet that prophesieth of peace, when the word of that prophet shall come to pass, THEN SHALL THE PROPHET BE KNOWN THAT THE LORD HATH TRULY SENT HIM' (Jer. 28: 9). That is how you can know who is preaching the truth today - when what he says comes to pass."
-Plain Truth Dec. 1956, p.3

"But who today understands what the prophets foretold? Why, only the ministers today whose word comes to pass! - those who are appointed and guided by God to preach the truth! Those whose utterances do not come to pass have not spoken the prophecies truly. We give you here the record of what we have been proclaiming for the past 2 years - a message which no other voices, to our knowledge, have been proclaiming.... But what we have been warning you about is happening! - precisely as we have stated.... This is how you can know that our work is not of men but of God!"
-Plain Truth Dec. 1956, p.3

"WHERE ARE God’s true prophets today! In this age of world chaos and sudden death, you had better rid your mind of preconceived ideas and prejudice and honestly seek to find out! Listen! This work has been warning America of definite and tremendous events to come for many years! ... They use the words “may," “could,” or “might.” They are afraid to be definite and specific! The truth of the matter is that they DARE NOT be specific about the future because they just DO NOT KNOW what the Bible says is going to happen! But on “The World Tomorrow” broadcast and in this magazine we have dared to unlock the Bible prophecies and apply them to specific nations and events that are NOW being affected. Do you grasp the SIGNIFICANCE of this?"
-Plain Truth Aug. 1957, p.3 (bold mine)

Somebody sure claimed to be a prophet! And they did it in HWA's magazine.

My friend agreed eventually that 99% of what Armstrong predicted indeed failed. He followed it up with, "But that is nothing to my faith." Sorry, friend, I completely disagree.

I asked, "Weinland's predictions failed this past summer. They will fail this winter too. Now, what if in 20 years he makes another massive prediction and that fails - what do you say about the people that stay in his church?" His response gave me the impression those people were crazy. "Now, what if Armstrong said Jesus would return in 1936, and that having failed he said Jesus would return by 1975, and not only that but he made countless other predictions that all failed, and people still stayed in that church?" This is the same question, only with HWA instead of Weinland. WE are the people who STAYED! WE are the people who are CRAZY!
Nope. Didn't register with my friend. He tried to rationalize that, too. He backtracked and tried to tell me, "Well, Paul thought Jesus would return in his lifetime. I can't fault Armstrong for being wrong." Then you cannot fault Weinland either!

I am not trying to condemn Armstrong. But oh yes you most certainly MUST make a distinction between Paul and Armstrong. Paul wrote things that we think might have meant he believed Jesus would return in his lifetime. He never once said, "Jesus will return by 36 AD!" In Revelation 22: 20 Jesus says, "Surely I am coming quickly." And we can debate what He meant by that. But He never said, "Surely I am coming in the next three to four years." HWA claimed God spoke through him, that he was an Apostle, that he was revealed things, that the scriptures were clear, that if people didn't heed they were going to die... THAT makes it different!

Here is the crux of the problem:
(DEU. 18: 22) when a prophet speaks in the name of the LORD, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.

Why is THIS problem not being fixed?? Why is this law NOT being followed? Especially when Paul says thus:
(GAL. 5: 3) And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law.

And when James says thus:
(JAS. 2: 9-10) 9 but if you show partiality, you commit sin, and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all

My answer - because the COGs keep the law as Armstrong taught rather than how it really is, and they keep it as best as they care to rather than as best as they can. Thus Armstrong is demonstrably and undeniably important to faith and salvation of those in his church.

I put it on the table. I told my friend that is the mentality of a CULT! And I will be no party to a cult. If I see that Armstrong is wrong, I actually move to fix it, which distances me from him and the others in the COGs. He told me it sounds like I am bitter against Armstrong, and that I had to put Armstrong behind me and move forward. No. I am not bitter. I am joyous and finally understand joy and peace. What I am is free from Armstrong. What I have done is put him behind me. Why I continually harp on the idea is only to show others that they have not put Armstrong behind them, as they claim to have done - as they very much need to do!

I told him at the start, "You can say whatever you want. If it isn't what people already have convinced themselves of, whether it's true or not, they will not listen to you no matter what you say or do." I was right; and I was talking to one of them.


FT said...

As you have said, you are not bitter and I firmly support that. I suggest that it is your friend is the one who is bitter because he is still in the bondage of Armstrongism. He may not tell you this but he is in strong resentment about the new found freedom in Christ that you have recently discovered. To paraphrase the late John Lennon (from Imagine), I hope some day he'll join us and the world will be one! :)

xHWA said...

I will admit that I am impatient. I want the people I love to experience the joy and peace I have been given. Perhaps I am a bit more forward than I should be.

I hope that I have planted the seed of knowledge and it will eventually sprout. Perhaps in a month, perhaps in a decade, but let's hope it sprouts!

Bill said...

When one cannot deal with the facts of Scripture, they will bring accusations against the one that is pointing out those facts such as claiming you are bitter. The one that is the conditioned response is, "He's just a disgruntled ex-member."

I love that one. I tell them I prefer to be known as just a "gruntled ex-member."

You can add one more to the list of when HWA prophesied the return of Jesus. It is in his last book, Mystery (Misery) of the Ages where he claims Jesus would return and set up the kingdom before the end of the 20th century.

Bill Hohmann

xHWA said...

Thanks for that, Bill! Dually noted.

Oh my, I almost want to read 'Mystery' again. I almost want to make some margin notes. I almost want to see what is in there with my new understanding....

Anonymous said...

Excellent post! It's sad, generations of cult thinking people. Very sad. Ask any of them the purpose with the indwelling of the holy spirit. They cannot convincingly give an answer. They don't know why they need the Holy Spirit when their leaders tell them every move to make. There is much that doesn't make sense to them in what they do. By the way, the reason they "live it up" at the Feast of Tabernacles is because HWA convinced them they are living a "symbol" of the extravagance and prosperity in God's Kingdom as the Feast is picturing. The "law" portion of the observances were superseded by God's revelations to HWA about the Feast and Holy Days picturing God's plan for mankind. Oh Sooooo convenient!

The Third Witness said...

It looks as if Dr. Meredith may have considered Mr. Armstrong to be a prophet in the 1960s—or at least that’s the impression I get from reading statements like this:

“What Mr. Armstrong has been prophesying is now a REALITY.”
(Roderick C. Meredith, “I REMEMBER”, The Plain Truth, January 1961)

[The same wording is also visible in an illustration accompanying Garner Ted Armstrong’s article in the November 1962 PT entitled “WE TOLD You So!”]

“Do you older readers of the PLAIN TRUTH and listeners to the World Tomorrow broadcast remember Mr. Armstrong prophesying the revival of Germany even while it was being blasted to a crushing defeat in the years 1943-1945?”
(Roderick C. Meredith, “I REMEMBER”, The Plain Truth, January 1961)

“ ‘[… ] And when this cometh to pass, (lo, it WILL come), THEN shall they KNOW that a prophet hath been among them’ (Ezek. 33:31-33).
What is it going to take to make you, personally, KNOW that a PROPHET of Almighty God is speaking to you over the WORLD TOMORROW broadcast?”

(Roderick C. Meredith, “Are YOU Willing to CHANGE?”, The Plain Truth, November 1962; the same wording was repeated in a revised version of the article in Tomorrow’s World, September-October 1970.)

(Encouragingly, there is evidence that Dr. Meredith was willing to change: In a much more recent version of the same article in—his own LCG—Tomorrow’s World magazine, March-April 2006, that second sentence reads as follows: “What is it going to take for you to know, personally, that true servants of Almighty God are speaking to you over the Tomorrow’s World telecast?” It’s an interesting exercise to compare all three versions of the article side by side, but that’s another subject altogether—with more relevance to WCG history than anything else. Regardless of any other considerations, it was—and still is—a very effective article.)

“Your Bible says in Amos 3:7, ‘Surely the Eternal God will do nothing, but he REVEALETH his secret unto his servants the prophets.’ This Work stands ALONE in revealing the meaning of what is taking place on the world scene today and what WILL very soon take place in major world events! As our longtime readers well know, we no longer merely say something is ‘going’ to happen, but often that it is happening right now.
As Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong's voice has thundered over the air for more than a third of a century, Britain is swiftly descending in dignity and might as a world power. As we have specifically prophesied ahead of time for decades, the British Empire is virtually GONE! […]”

(Roderick C. Meredith, “A Crusade for SANITY!”, The Plain Truth, July 1968; the same wording was repeated in an updated version of the article in Tomorrow’s World, May 1979)

I mention this just in the context of your discussion of prophets. I once had the opportunity to hear Dr. Meredith speak at a campaign in the UK back in the Seventies, and I have always admired his dedication.

What might also be of particular interest to some of your readers is a statement that Dr. Meredith made in an interview in 1995 that was recently featured on Ambassador Watch:

“Mr. Armstrong always said, follow me as I follow Christ. He said if you should ever find that I am not preaching the truth to you, you should leave me and not follow me. […] People often forget that.”

xHWA said...

THANKS Third Witness! that has got to be one of the most helpful posts anyone has contributed so far. I appreciate the info. bring more like that any time.

The Third Witness said...

Thanks, xHWA. Glad you found that useful. It was your focus on presenting factual issues in a helpful way (and so clearly!) that inspired me to follow up on something I thought I remembered, and I found a little more than I expected in the process. May I just add for completeness that I now see I managed to confuse myself near the end: I put "Tomorrow's World, May 1979" but it say: "The Plain Truth, May 1979". Looking forward to hearing more from you.