I used to keep the Feast of Tabernacles with the scattered Armstrong churches. I would have been in Panama City, Florida right now having an incredible vacation. I seriously miss the people and the fellowship and the 'spirit' that was certainly there. It wasn't just a vacation for me, though in effect that is what it is.
Who can fault people who seriously want to be godly people? Who can say anything against people who pray to be Christlike and led by God, and be good examples of Christianity? In listening in to services this morning I heard deeply, honestly believing people who believe what they do because they feel they see it in the Bible. They genuinely believe they follow Christ and refer to Him as the Head over all things to His Church. They concern themselves with a close relationship from the heart with God. It's beautiful!
Let me tell you a little about the people I used to fellowship with. These are people who do not elevate Herbert Armstrong. They do not play his recordings nor quote him nor refer to him often. They see themselves as being a group who owes much to the Worldwide Church of God, but they see many flaws and shortcomings in the old teachings. They seek to correct those errors. Everyone who still speaks to me only has good and kind words to say to me; filled with hope that my family and I will work out whatever we are going through and return to their family. Is this condemnation? No! They do not condemn at all in the way most certainly anyone doing what I am doing would be ensured of in the old days. I have NO condemnation in return for these people and I am not bitter against them. I cannot help but love them deeply and rarely a moment goes by when I do not miss them.
Why separate myself then? Because it's not so simple as to say "circumcision is of the heart". Circumcision must actually be of the heart. I hope you understand what I mean by that. As much as I firmly believe that these people are not far from the Kingdom of God [I know that you sneak in here from time to time to read - I do not say this to flatter you.. I mean it], there are some points which simply cannot be ignored or paid lip service to. I do have deep, fundamental disagreements with Armstrong's basic theories; and to those theories it is undeniable that all COGs cling. It is the base and foundation of all they believe. One can say they follow Christ and not a man, but what one says is inconsequential compared to what really is. There is an old saying, "perception is reality". I think a change in perception is desperately needed.
What are some differences? See any post here at my blog discussing 'law vs. grace' or 'cherry-picking', or 'legalism'. I recommend reading Three Times in the Year parts 1 and 2. A good summation is my post on Old Covenant vs New Covenant.
You see, I believe that the Old Covenant was not just expanded but completely superseded by the New Covenant. This is contrary to Armstrongism. For decades I could not grasp the concept of the removal of the Sabbath and Holy Days. "Sin is the transgression of the law;" I would say, "without those things how can I know what sin is so that I can avoid it?" I didn't want to be the one left behind while the other was taken. I didn't want weeping and gnashing of teeth. Since these are the verses often read to keep the minds in line through fear. They talk a wonderful game about Christ and salvation and peace and being part of God's Family. I really wanted those things. I still want those things! Then one day it became inescapable that within Armstrong's attempt to reconcile the Old Covenant with the New, there were irreconcilable errors. When Paul says in Galatians 3: 10 and again in Galatians 5: 2 also James says in James 2: 10 that anyone who attempts to keep the law but does not keep the whole law, that one has fallen from grace and is under a curse. Even the COGs read these verses. However, they say "Look! You have to keep the Old Covenant law!" To which I often have asked "Then why on God's green earth don't you keep the whole law??"
Christ, whom they say is the Head over all things to them, becomes NOTHING in that case. "...for if righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain" (GAL. 2: 21)! How much LESS then does righteousness come through a partial keeping of the law? Even so, to compensate for this short falling I was often told "Herbert Armstrong changed the law by necessity". No man can change the law!!
(GAL. 3: 1-5) 1 O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? 2 This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? 4 Have you suffered so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?
5 Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?
Is this "using liberty as an opportunity for the flesh" (GAL. 5: 13)? Not at all! There is still law - an even better, greater, magnified law! Only not the Old Covenant shadowy, burdensome, temporary law. There is reality. There is salvation. There is justification. There is true righteousness. NONE of those things came or could come through the Old Covenant law, and most especially not from a cherry-picked and incomplete keeping of that law. Paul says that FALSE brethren taught such a keeping of the law (GAL. 2: 4). And why? To keep people in bondage and to prevent them from achieving the freedom of the New Covenant!
I heard a message that said such and such are the rewards Christ will bring to you. Then this disclaimer was added: IF you are among those who are being spoken about. What do you mean IF?? How can one know? Haven't you ever asked yourself why you can never be sure if you've 'qualified'? The clear and certain answer is that no one can "qualify"! But you know that it is a gift. No one receives the reward because they've earned it. But then, why do you try to earn it? You say it is a gift, and you are right. But then you say the gift will only be given to those who keep the law. So you then you immediately turn right around and make it no longer a gift.
Here is the logic:
It's a gift that no one deserves; but to get it you need to keep the law; so you must qualify for it; but no man keeps the law fully so no one qualifies; so the law isn't the qualifier since Jesus' grace is needed; then it must be by faith; but if so, then it is a gift apart from the law; but you need to keep the law in order to qualify; but no man keeps the law fully so no one qualifies; so the law isn't the qualifier; then..... and round and round it goes.
Or do you see that as the old way? The new way goes like this:
It is a gift that no one deserves - you just get it. However, if you don't keep the law you will LOSE that gift.
Is that how you feel? Don't you see that this is no different from the "old way" of viewing it. You still have set up the law as a qualification - only now it's not for the receiving but for keeping the gift. So therefore you wonder if you actually have kept the gift or thrown it away in a moment of weakness.
Let me offer you this what I think I see to answer your dilemma. It is a gift indeed; undeserved indeed. Not by law and not by qualification. It is a gift by PROMISE! There is no qualification to be met save accepting Christ as Lord and proclaiming as much. (I suggest reading my post By This All Will Know.)
(GAL. 3: 16-18) 16 Now to Abraham and his Seed were the promises made. He does not say, “And to seeds,” as of many, but as of one, “And to your Seed,” who is Christ. 17 And this I say, that the law, which was four hundred and thirty years later, cannot annul the covenant that was confirmed before by God in Christ, that it should make the promise of no effect. 18 For if the inheritance is of the law, it is no longer of promise; but God gave it to Abraham by promise.
So Christ is the inheritor and object of the promise. How, then does it come to us?
(GAL. 3: 26-29) 26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. 27 For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
You are heirs NOW! In Christ, by faith - NOW! One with Christ NOW! Will there be things to come? Will there be a reward Christ will bring at His second coming? Certainly! But at that point the guarantee is already past. The inheritance is already sure. It should be no surprise to you whether or not Christ comes for you. So how do you know? By the evidence of the fruits of the Spirit in you. And that Spirit does not come by the law.
Yet many of you would say "I have that now". Do you? Are you so certain? Why, if you have that now, do you look forward to a time years in the future when you will share oneness and peace with God? Have you not read?
(I COR. 10: 16-17) 16 The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? 17 For we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake of that one bread.
(EPH. 5: 23, 30) 23 For the husband is head of the wife, as also Christ is head of the church; and He is the Savior of the body. ... 30 For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.
(GAL. 2: 20) I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.
(REV. 3: 20) Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.
If the Spirit is in you, then you are one with Christ at this moment. Is this not a closeness? I know that one would say the closeness doesn't compare to that promised in the future. But I would respond that you shouldn't discount the closeness we have now. Don't lessen it because it perhaps is less by comparison. Let me show you something even further!
(I COR. 3: 16) Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you
(I COR. 6: 19) Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own?
IF you are the temple and that Spirit is in you, then this verse takes on a whole new meaning:
(JOHN 14: 2) In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.
You no doubt hear that at every Feast. You no doubt are told this will happen at some future point after Christ returns. But in the New Covenant understanding, taking all of the previous verses we have just read above, let's look at this more closely. A "mansion" is a dwelling place, a residence, an abode. It is a place where God lives. In God's house there are many places -not for YOU to live in, but for for HIM to live in. What is "God's house"? Is it not His temple? What's more than that - is it not His Church (EPH. 2: 19; HEB. 3: 6; I PET. 2: 5; I PET. 4: 17)? So we see here that Christ had to leave to prepare a place for God in us. Have we not achieved that now? Certainly we have! When did we receive it? When the Spirit came. "Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you" (JOHN 16: 7). John 16 explains this so well. Jesus had to depart to prepare a place for us in God's household. And He has prepared that place even now. The deposit of the final fulfilment of that is the presence of the Spirit in us - God's presence... in us.. now. We are the place that was prepared in God's household and God has come in and made His abode with us.
Do you see the incredible difference in the way Armstrong views scripture - future, distant, unsure - and the alternative? It is a gift. It is a promise. Am I saying there is no way to lose the gift? Certainly not. Reject it and it will be taken back for sure. How do you reject it, in a moment of weakness? Hardly! One must grow into it over a lifetime. To reject it you have to both accept it to begin with, then willfully turn completely from it without repentance. But for the COGs the real question is have you ever accepted it in the first place? You say you have the Spirit in you, and I pray you do, but with your words you show those things have yet to occur.
While you who are still in the COGs are at the Feast or if you have just come home, or whenever you read this, think of the Feast of Tabernacles. Think of the first resurrection for which you strive to achieve. What amount of risk are you willing to take that you might lose part in this resurrection? For what would you trade a share in the glory of Christ? For a man? For a group of friends? If you do not love Christ MORE than family, friends, and even self, then you are not worthy of Him (MATT. 10: 37). You know this. Then you know why I had to separate myself from Armstrongism. Are you so certain that Galatians is not referring to you? That you can sit on a fence between the Covenants and not offend both? That you can achieve by the Old Covenant law all those many things the New Testament clearly shows you will never receive from the Old Covenant law? Are you certain you should bury your head to these things and cover your ears and cry DECEPTION! DECEPTION! Have you proven? If you will not look or seek or ask, then in what way have you proven??
You don't have to stop keeping the Feast. (Although, it's probably better that you do.) Just stop keeping the Old Covenant law and step boldly into the New Covenant. If you so deeply desire to fellowship with old friends at the Feast, then go. However, go in newness of Spirit rather than in the oldness of the letter. Don't believe that righteousness can come of keeping the law. If you want a happy Feast, certainly this is the only way to truly achieve it.