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Friday, December 5, 2008

Not All That Glitters

I have been thinking about my time in Armstrongism. It was fear and intimidation, ultimately, that held me there. I was deceived by the half-truths and outright lies. But I have to admit that among all the hypocrisy, pride, guilt, fear, rivalry, envy, deception, and all that, I heard some VERY high quality preaching about some fundamental Biblical issues. 

I wonder to this day if there is another group who has the nerve to preach to their people what the authoritarian structure of the COGs allows them to get away with (not that I'm praising their structure, I'm just making an observation). There are many problems in certain Christian denominations which I feel ultimately stem from fear of preaching a solid message for fear of losing bodies from the seats. No COG fears losing bodies, that's for sure! It has its upside in that they can preach a prickly subject at will. But the downside is, in all honesty and bluntly, far worse than the upside.

(DEU. 8: 3) "So He humbled you, allowed you to hunger, and fed you with manna which you did not know nor did your fathers know, that He might make you know that man shall not live by bread alone; but man lives by every word that proceeds from the mouth of the LORD." 
(II TIM. 3: 16-17) "16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work." 

I love the way they emphasize actually living by the words of the Bible rather than just knowing the words academically. No, seriously! Practice what you preach! Not a bad message at all. I love that. You can't go wrong pointing people towards the Bible. You can't go wrong recommending people concentrate on Godliness and the truly important things in life like love and charity and humility -- which are manifested in such things like actually living peaceably, putting away self-centeredness, seeking approval of Christ rather than men, etc.
Paul absolutely, positively did not say "put away the law, take up hedonism, don't do a dawgone thing except call on God in times of stress, and go live in any way you see fit... to Christ". Paul holds us up to a clearly defined standard of living! I define a Christian as a person who follows Christ. Even though that leaves a lot of room for leeway, I would have a very hard time applying my definition to someone like Homer Simpson, or someone who arrives at church on Christmas and Easter only, or someone who launches a 'holy war', or even someone who can academically argue nuances of the Bible and Bible history but does not actually put in to practice the tenants of the faith.
The COGs do a pretty good job at preaching against that sort of thing. And I commend that portion of their messages.

I know from experience that they generally put on a great show but fall flat in practice. A great number of those same people who preach Christ are placing themselves on pedestals and in some cases praying for people to die. Have a nice day! I don't want to harp on that right now, though.

But even though they at times have good content, they always ruin the message by pressing this modified Old Covenant legalism!!

They become hypocritical in that they say "live by every word" when they most certainly do not live by every word! You cannot preach the keeping of the law and then turn right around and only keep the parts you feel like keeping. Look, it's really quite simple:
Armstrong says "tithe or die". OK. But before I send in my tithe, I want to make sure they have storehouses fit to keep it. I would be told it's none of my business, of course, but a storehouse is needed because God never said tithing came from money - Armstrong said that - God clearly stated tithes come from the garden, field, and orchard. Period. Now, I also need to verify that they have some Levites there to receive the tithe, because God clearly gives the tithe to the Levites since their livelihood was taken from it. Period. Yet ministers are not in fact Levites. Paul says the Levitical priesthood is gone and replaced by Christ Himself and not men (ministers are not priests); in his argument, Paul used tithing to show how Christ excelled Abraham - Armstrong said that means tithes go to ministers... again, NOT what the Bible says. So then I would have to ask how on earth is it that they teach that we should follow every word of the Bible while they clearly and blatantly do not. 

And I don't want to give anyone the impression that tithing is the only area where this can be demonstrated. What about minister = servant? What about how we are all family and all equal in God's eyes? What about the fact that there is no clearly defined office of minister in the first place, but only elder and deacon! (The word for 'deacon' and the word for 'minister' are the same word in Greek.) What about the one-on-one relationship every one of us has as a God-given opportunity? God's Spirit is in the hearts of all of His people, and that means without any man in between us and God. What about how all of God's people are called to become a kingdom of priests - and not the ministry only? 

Should I even go in to the structure of the COGs? The trained and ordained ministry is elevated to a position where, in their private theology, God works through the ministry alone. Why, of course! That's needed to keep control! Just as the Catholic Church refused to allow the Bible to be printed in common tongues to prevent people from reading it and learning what it really says, so the ministry places themselves between men and God so the common person cannot believe he or she could actually have a close enough relationship to God (that gave up all that is and died to ransom them) that they might possibly be able to read the Bible for themselves and know what it really says!! We need the ministry as a buffer to keep the people in fear and ignorance and keep tithes rolling in. Live by every word indeed!

They will press that anything aside from what they teach is "doctrinally perverted" and a sin. Of course! They need to keep control! They need to propagate the lie that Herbert Armstrong was an Apostle - since it is that which gives them their authority. Is there such a thing as being "doctrinally perverted"? In other words, are there wolves in sheep's clothing preaching falsely? YES! But are those people in the COGs or outside of them? Well, to be entirely correct, it's both. However, I have never heard of a COG minister who understands the New Covenant. Nor could I imagine there could be such a person, since that person would leave that church and no longer be a minister therein. 
The Didache, a Christian document written during the lives of the Apostles, clearly empasizes the dangerous people are the ones who preach for money!

Keep in mind that salvation is by undeserved grace from God through faith in God. I went through in two separate posts where I sent letters to the COGs and not a single one said plainly "salvation is by grace through faith in Jesus Christ" without adding to it "and following Armstrong's doctrines" (I paraphrase, but that's how it boils down). 
Now, I've heard one minister say clearly, "God will not give grace to somebody who hears the words and does not do them." Then there is no salvation for these ministers! Because there are words that they twist, words that they ignore, and words that they add outright. I submit for evidence that a close friend of mine said bald faced to me "Mr. Armstrong changed the law out of necessity." And this was by no means the first time I'd heard that from people.

So what am I on about? What is my complaint summarized? That these men, these ministers of Armstrong, that inject themselves between people and Christ and enslave people to a cherry-picked legalism that cannot save, sometimes sound wonderful, but they are dangerous!

They give messages that have invaluable bits of truth hidden therein. I totally agree with much of what they say and I whole heartedly back the idea that we should actively live as followers of Christ. But without fail they go back on their own instructions. They say, "Live by every word of the Bible." But they practice, "Live by every word of Armstrong." And to keep people from simply reading such things as Galatians and having their eyes opened to its clear and wonderful meaning, they press fear and control! They preach that you will die if you disagree with them. That they are the true shepherds and all others are wolves. They say it is "Spiritual disorientation" and a sin (to disagree with them). Well then Paul must have been incredibly disoriented! Jesus Christ must have been incredibly disoriented! The Bible itself must be disoriented, because in many places it disagrees with them.
I'm not holding these ministers to a standard they can't hope to reach. I completely admit that no man understands all the truth, or understands all prophecy, or has all knowledge. There are wrong ways outside of the COGs just as in. But what they have that they call "truth" is cherry-picked, added to, and distorted. Nor either am I bashing them personally. I'm not bashing anyone. It's a matter of calling a spade a spade. 

You who are in the COGs - desperately and deeply loved by God - listen not to what I have to say, but to your own Bibles. Listen to Christ! Step into His New Covenant! I want you to actually have all of those things that those ministers say you can have, but they can never seem to bring you to that point. I want you to reach out to Christ! He is the only way.


Raccoon said...

Good thoughts.

One thing I've always wondered about is the concept of "truth" as people use it. The way I've always heard it used is as a word that means "correctness of doctrine" as in if you are doctrinally correct you have truth. But from a logical perspective "Truth" simply means "that which is".

God, His word, His message to us, Christ....these are all things which I would term "that which is".

People like to make it sound like truth is something you possess, but it's not. You can possess an understanding of it, but if it is truth it shall be so whether you understand it or not.

I harp on this because I commonly hear the following scripture used to back up some doctrine they want you to follow: John 4:24 "God is a Spirit and they that worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth" Their understanding of this passage? You worship in spirit and in doctrinally correct ways (more notably, THEIR specific doctrinally correct ways). Mine: your worship is spiritual and it's real (it exists - not fake).


xHWA said...

Well... Raccoon... first off, I try not to think. It stings.

But I believe you're on to something there. Perhaps this is a lot like what Pilot was asking when he asked Jesus "What is truth?" Jesus already gave us His definition of truth, "Your word is truth."

It's true whether we understand it or not. It was true before we were created. And we have to understand that it is the Spirit of God that searches the deep things of God, so what understanding we have is directly tied to what understanding God allows us to have.

I try not to come down too hard on the COG ministers for that very reason. They understand what God has allowed them to understand.

But, I feel, those COG ministers should know so much more than they do. Kinda like I Timothy 1: 6-7 speaks about, or maybe the second half of Romans 2.

xHWA said...

I guess another thing that irks me is how they claim that if you don't understand, then you're sinning.

I could pick apart that statement as well.

xHWA said...

I just realized, in my soul searching, that I could be very much bitter and condemnatory towards these COG ministers. They've done some harm to my ability to accept and mesh with any church now. That takes something from me that I very much value. And it will take a long time to grow that back.

But I choose not to be angry. It's a high price, but the lessons I've learned from my COG experience are also valuable.
I forgive them.

Byker Bob said...

xHWA, I share your misgivings regarding participation in a church group. I would love to be part of a community, and to be able to serve, help, and interact with other Christians. Unfortunately, I have trust issues.

There are some activities for which one really needs a church, too. Like taking communion. There is evidence that some of the very early Christians did this daily, and others weekly.

I've got the freewill offering problem mostly solved. It's easy to find people who are providing spiritual nourishment to others, and who make themselves accountable for good stewardship by following certain guidelines and by providing accounting information to independent watchdog type agencies.

I've learned that finding 100% truth in a church group is about as elusive as getting rid of sin or leaven. Impossible if you are still a human being. There is no such thing as a 100% true church. But, you can find groups of Christians who are in the process of having their hearts transformed, and who try to live by Jesus' teachings. That's what it's all about, anyway. It never was about making an idol of the law, or legalism.


xHWA said...

I appreciate your sentiment, Bob. I might never understand why misery loves company. It's oddly comforting having someone else out there experience this same thing.

Well, you've always been helpful and I for one am glad to have you around. Perhaps you're right where God can make the best use of your talents and skills.

xHWA said...

I made a couple changes to this post, and I figured I would let everyone know. I commented that only the Levites were to receive tithes, knowing that the poor and fatherless and widow were supposed to take from it as well, but I meant that the Levites were the religious group that received the tithe. Poorly worded. I can't find a better way to word that, so I just removed the phraseology.
Also, I commented that the ministry didn't take their livelihood from it nor can they claim to be Levites and also take inheritances, meaning that in all of Israel the tribe of Levi got no inheritance like the other tribes... well. that came out pretty mangled too, so that was also removed.