As a member of the COGs, I believed that God had revealed certain knowledge to me. This is pretty much the case for all religions. But I felt God had specifically opened my mind to receive certain hidden and encoded knowledge which no man can naturally accept because God is not opening their minds to accept it at this time. It was this knowledge (gnosis) that we believed set us apart. The understanding of this special, secret knowledge is what made us unique and proved God is in us. I felt that I had won the universe's greatest lotto!
An unusual thing occurred to me one day while listening to a message about exactly what it is that God had revealed to the COGs which He had not revealed to anyone else. So many people have been trying to pin it down. It had never occurred to me that rarely would two people agree, nor would those things mentioned be unique to the COGs. So I asked, how on earth could special knowledge set us apart if we didn't even know exactly what that knowledge was? And how on earth could anything be specially revealed and make make us unique if other churches also knew?
In one of my last conversations with my former minister (who I love and respect even now), he mentioned to me that what we were right - meaning other religions had missed the mark. I replied, "That's not proof. EVERYONE thinks they're right. Or else they wouldn't be doing what they do." Can everyone be right? Of course not. Not when so many people believe so many things that are completely at odds. Who is right? I think all Christians would agree God is right. So the question becomes 'what does the God of the Bible have to say about this?' I would like to investigate what the Bible says that sets a person apart and what is real proof of the in-dwelling of the Spirit.
Let's look in to what the situation is.
Truths had been hidden by God since the fall of Adam that needed to be revealed to mankind (I COR. 2: 7; EPH. 3: 9; COL. 1: 26). Jesus came with the task of doing that (MATT. 13: 10-17) This privilege was given mainly to the 12 Apostles, and they were commanded to go into all the world and spread this message (MARK 16: 15). They did not fail at that.
God gives us now what He gave them then, and He did not give to either of us what He did not give to the other. The faith was delivered once, and for all time (JUDE 1: 3). All of those who claim God is giving them special knowledge that He did not give to the Apostles are certainly greatly suspect of being false prophets, hungry wolves, roaring lions, and deceivers. God has revealed these same truths continually from the time of the Apostles to those who reciprocate to His calling. If the gates of death will not prevail over His Church, then there was no time when that truth was not being made continually available to men. Specifically it says that those who believe Jesus is coming [continually coming; present tense] in the flesh, are of God (I JOHN 4: 2-3).
No man can find word one in the Bible of a predicted 1,900 year gap in God's work as Herbert Armstrong has claimed in his book 'Mystery of the Ages' (and indeed in many other places). Even so, there is certainly predicted by God to be those who do not receive the message. Take for example the prophecies of deceivers existing at the return of Christ. When Christ returns, He will call the Jews to Himself, so there will yet be Jews. And there is certainly predicted to be a time where there is a famine of the word. When that is, how long, who is involved, and other such questions cannot be answered with confidence because the details are not there. It could already be past for all we know.
I find it an odd thing that the Churches of God claim mankind lost God's truth in a 1,900 year famine and this is the time when God is re-revealing His truth in full again to a select group of mankind before the return of Christ. We know what is believed and taught in the COGs, and we know nothing in 1,900 years exactly matches it, so it is indeed unique (although not nearly as unique as people would like to believe), therefore it is reasoned God must have specially re-revealed it to HWA at this time. It's the only thing that makes sense to a faithful member. The alternative is to see the uniqueness as evidence of error. But if the vast majority of those things were not kept by what the COGs claim are their ancestor churches, then how can those things be that important to salvation?
As far as errors go, they are not unique to any group. No one has the whole truth. Is the whole of what Christ gave not made available to us? Sure it is. However, we are human and have our own weaknesses to deal with. We have pride, prejudice, tradition, laziness, assumptions, conformity, complacency, stubbornness, respect of persons, fear, etc that distracts us from the whole of what Christ gave. Not to mention the revealed secrets were only partially revealed. (I COR. 13: 9-10) "For we know in part and we prophesy in part." It would appear that many groups have varying degrees of the revealed message. Is it then the possession of the 'whole truth' that sets a person apart? How can it be? The whole truth is not given. Nor would I believe a human being can accept the whole truth were it given. OK then, is what sets a person apart the acceptance of the whole of what Christ did reveal? How can it be? Even the COGs commonly say 'no one has the whole truth'. Who among the COGs would be so bold as to say you understand entirely what Christ was given to reveal? *chirping crickets* That settles that.
We've looked in to what it isn't. Any idea on what it is?
**I am going to post a LOT of Bible verses here, so please either follow along with a Bible, or follow along with Bible Gateway. Actually, I highly recommend downloading e-sword, the add-ons are fantastic.
Short answer: sanctification is by the Spirit and belief in the truth (2 THS. 2: 13). Even some in the Churches of God readily admit that "the truth" consists of who Jesus Christ is and what He is doing. So what is this truth?
It is Jesus who saves, and everyone that faithfully believes in the Son and acknowledges their belief to others will be saved (JOHN 6: 47; ROM. 10: 9-13; JOHN 3: 16-17; JOHN 10: 9, ACTS 4: 12; ACTS 16: 31; I THS. 5: 9); such faith comes by exposure to the word of God (ROM. 10: 14-16); it involves knowing He died and has risen (I COR. 15: 1-8); it involves God's grace through Christ (ACTS 15: 11; EPH. 2: 5, 8; TIT. 2: 11; 2 PET. 3: 15); along with that comes baptism (MARK 16: 16). Certainly there is more to being a Christian than this, like holding fast to the end, but we have to stop somewhere.
It IS a calling.
(JOHN 6: 44-45) "44 No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Therefore everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me."
It doesn't say "will come to Herbert Armstrong", but to Christ. It doesn't say "will come to the Old Covenant", but to Christ, along with His gospel (ROM. 1: 6; EPH. 1: 13), and the New Covenant (JER. 31: 31; MATT. 26: 28). After hearing the word of truth, and believing in Christ Jesus, then a person is sealed with the Holy Spirit (EPH. 1: 13).
By the very nature of that, it is not in Herbert Armstrong or any man (I COR. 1: 12; I COR. 3: 4), and not in the Old Covenant law. But the COGs counter "I need the law and holy days to understand what Christ is doing." I partly disagree with that. Take for example the sacrifices and offerings that we know pictured Christ. Do we need to do those things in order to understand them? No. But they indeed hold much value if we do look into them.
The difference is in keeping the Old Covenant (more importantly, keeping it partially). Many in the COGs read Romans 8: 14 "For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.", but they skip the next verse "For you did not receive the spirit of bondage again to fear, but you received the Spirit of adoption". Do those who aspire to keep the Old Covenant understand this? Galatians 4: 21-31 clearly represents those who attempt to keep the Old Covenant laws as being in bondage, and those who attempt to keep the New Covenant as being sons. The COGs believe one of the signs of the Spirit working in a person's life is that they will keep the Old Covenant laws. I could not disagree more! I think one of the main failings of Armstrongism is that it gets tripped up with the Old Covenant. (GAL 5: 8) "This persuasion does not come from Him who calls you."
The Old Covenant is profitable only to those who keep it in its entirety (GAL. 5: 3; JAS. 2: 10). Keeping the laws of Moses is NOT necessary in order to be saved (ACTS 15: 1-2; 2 TIM. 1: 9; TIT. 3: 5). To say such a thing means it is no longer by grace. And not just no longer by grace, but to say so means one has fallen from grace (GAL. 5: 4). The Old Covenant is the Ten Commandments (EXO. 34: 28). And the Ten Commandments are NOT Spirit and they are NOT life, they are quite the opposite (2 COR. 3: 6-7). It is not by anything that we do that we are saved. God is not looking for us to have our own righteousness, which is from the law (PHP. 3: 9). It must be His righteousness (JOHN 6: 63). It MUST be by faith, and cannot be by the Old Covenant law (ROM. 3: 21; ROM. 4: 13; ROM. 9: 30-31; GAL. 2: 16).
(GAL. 2: 21) "for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain."
Am I saying the Old Testament is useless? Certainly not (2 TIM. 3: 15; I PET. 1: 10)! They are two parts of one book, and both very good for us to read and know (2 TIM. 3: 16-17; I COR. 10: 11).
We've looked at what it is. Now, is there anything, any indicator, which may help us know who is being saved?
Yes. That indicator is our conduct (PHP. 1: 27-28; PHP 2: 12-13; HEB. 5: 9). I do not say that you must have works of faith and righteousness and therefore you will be saved. I say that if you have heard the truth, believed, and received the Spirit, then by that Spirit in you there will be works of faith and righteousness. It can be no other way. Works do not produce salvation, but they are evidence of it (JAS. 2: 17-18). Do not confuse "works" with "law"; they most certainly are not the same! We've already discussed the works of law. These are the works of faith James is talking about here. James is talking about the result of the faith, hope, and love inside you, through which you fulfill the whole law if you do these things (ROM. 13: 8-10; GAL. 5: 14; JAS 2: 8). Just as you will know a false prophet by his fruits (MATT. 7: 16, 20), those who have God's Spirit will be known by their fruits (MATT. 21: 43; PHP. 1: 11; JAS. 3: 17)
So it is not just in what you know. It is not in what man you follow. It's not in what law you keep, or Sabbath, or Holy Day. It's not in your flesh at all - but it is entirely about God and Christ (I COR. 12: 6; I COR. 15: 28; EPH. 1: 22-23; EPH. 4: 15-16; COL. 1: 18). These things are straight from the Bible and true, and need no speculation.
But if you really want a summation of the entire matter, here it is:
(JOHN 13: 35) By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.