In my investigation into meats laws I tried to learn why it was that the WCG taught what it did. If the laws were in effect, and it was so plain, the believers should be able to explain their reasoning. I started at HWA's beginning, with the Church of God (Seventh Day). They kept the food laws. However, some influential ministers’ understanding of those laws was different than what Herbert Armstrong taught. How can it be so universal and plain if he thought his own superiors in the church were wrong?
Unfortunately, the investigation didn’t get any easier. It would appear that after certain years in his own church, Herbert Armstrong returned to the interpretation held by the Church of God (Seventh Day). And not only that, but I wound up seeing that many of the splinters that came from the Worldwide Church of God disagree again with Herbert Armstrong. (And I apologize in advance for the length of this post.)
In his autobiography, volume 1, chapter 30, Herbert Armstrong speaks of his own beliefs and experiences as a young minister regarding the dietary laws. Here is an excerpt:
The "Pork" Obsession
"The opposition through the spring and summer of 1933 had come through the two ministers who had moved up to Oregon from California, Elders Sven (Sam) A. Oberg, and A. J. Ray. Mr. Ray was developing, through the summer, a sort of obsession against the eating of "unclean" meats -- pork, ham, bacon, seafoods, and those labelled "unclean" in Leviticus 11. The emphasis he continually put on this doctrine, almost with vehemence, rather gave the impression that, in his eyes, the eating of pork, which came in for his greatest condemnation, was the greatest of sins.
"About the time the Firbutte school meeting started, July 9, 1933, Mr. Ray began aiming his "anti-pork" guns directly at me. He demanded that I state definitely my stand on this question. I had written him a Biblical exposition of the subject, showing that it was a physical FOOD question, rather than a spiritual or Gospel subject. Unless a man broke the tenth commandment by lusting after it, the eating of pork did not violate the Ten Commandments, which constitute a SPIRITUAL law.
"I quoted Mark 7:15-23, where Jesus explained that sin is a spiritual principle -- that which is coming out of the heart of a man -- evil thoughts leading to actions of adultery, murder, theft, deceit, blasphemy, pride -- violations of the Ten Commandments; but that nothing from without, entering in his mouth, defiles the man spiritually. Jesus was speaking of SPIRITUAL principles, and SIN as a spiritual offense."
-Herbert Armstrong, Autobiography, volume 1, chapter 30
These are very important points. Mr. Armstrong, in contrast to his own church, did not teach the clean and unclean meats laws as a spiritual sin. He clearly says that eating the meats is not a sin. Instead, he taught the foods were unfit for the digestive process. As Herbert Armstrong said in His booklet
“God did not give poisonous herbs as food. He gave man the healthful herbs. Man can determine which herbs are healthful, but man cannot by himself determine which flesh foods are harmful. That is why God had to determine for us in His Word which meats are clean. Since the Flood every moving clean, healthful, nonpoisonous type of animal life is good for food—just as God gave us the healthful, nonpoisonous herbs.”
-Herbert Armstrong, “Is All Animal Flesh Good For Food”, p. 3
Actually, Genesis 9: 3 does not specify "clean", but rather it says "every moving thing that lives", the root word of 'moving thing' includes reptiles, and again it says "all things".
I utterly disagree when HWA says, "man cannot by himself determine which flesh foods are harmful." Let’s think about that for a moment. If this is not a sin issue, but a health issue, then we have a physical law of nature that can be proven with observation. What do we observe? That certain regions in Japan, certain regions in Germany, and certain regions in Italy have much higher life expectancy rates than the rest of the world. Why mention that? They eat unclean meats regularly, some of them almost exclusively, and they will probably outlive you. How can that food be bad for your digestion if people who eat it regularly can expect to outlive the rest of the world? Look in the United States. The life expectancy rate climbs upwardly. Most people in this nation eat unclean meats regularly. Look at what is called the “Mediterranean diet”. It includes meals with seafood and lean pork, but is considered one of the healthiest diets on earth. There is simply no truth to the claim that pork is bad for your health. Obviously, after thousands of years of eating "unclean" meats, it would be widely known if it were physically unhealthy to eat pork. High fructose corn syrup was discovered in the 1970's; not 30 years later many people are aware that it isn't the best idea to ingest it. Same with hydrogenated oils, or saccharine. But we are to believe that after thousands of years and trillions of people eating pork and shellfish, the majority consensus is that there are no physical ill effects, yet it isn't healthy to eat? That's just ridiculous.
So the claim evolved to emphasize improperly cooked pork. “God was protecting His people from trichinosis,” was oft heard. OK. Trichinosis is terrible. I wouldn’t wish it on an enemy. But what then do we say about mad cow, tape worms, ring worm, lice, salmonella, liver flukes and other parasites, avian flu, and not the least of all anthrax? All of these things can easily be contracted from clean meats. All of these are centuries old diseases that have plagued man. Why single out trichinosis and not these?
And if it is a health issue, proper digestion being the focus, how on earth can we continue to eat hydrogenated oils? They are the plague of modern man, raising levels of homocysteine and other bad chemicals in the blood, punching holes in our arteries and causing the liver to produce cholesterol to patch the holes which then blocks up our arteries and causes heart attacks, strokes, and death. Yet neither God nor Armstrong has said, “Thou shalt not eat Crisco!”
Now, I am not arguing that we should put things that are bad for our health into our bodies. We are the temple of the Living God, and we must respect and care for that temple as we are able. But to claim pork and seafood is somehow unhealthy, or more a risk than what we normally eat and call “clean”, is simply not accurate, nor is that found anywhere in the Bible!!
Let’s continue on in the Autobiography and see how that isn’t exactly what HWA believed:
"I told him I refused to make this food question a subject for sermons to the unconverted, unless he could show me Scriptural grounds for so doing."
-Herbert Armstrong, Autobiography, volume 1, chapter 30
HWA plainly shows that in his opinion the laws were not for the newly converted, but for the experienced Christian only. I cannot fault that logic. We cannot expect all people to understand all things from the start of our journey. However, on one hand he says it is not a sin, but then on the other hand he says the law is still in effect. If the law is still in effect, and it is violated knowingly, that makes it a sin. It cannot be a sin, and not a sin. His teaching was inconsistent.
"Point number one: I read in Scripture that sin is the transgression of the Law. In Romans 7 Paul says the law it is sin to transgress is spiritual -- a spiritual, not a physical law.
"Point two: Jesus Christ, speaking of spiritual defilement in Mark 7, says that physical food entering a man's stomach from without cannot defile him spiritually, but that which comes from within, out of the heart -- adulteries, murders, thefts, covetousness -- transgressions of the Ten Commandments -- defile the man spiritually.
"Point three: The 'clean and unclean' laws of Leviticus 11 are physical, not spiritual laws.
"Point four: Christ preached the Gospel of the Kingdom of God. He commanded the Apostles, and us today, to preach the KINGDOM of God. That is the GOSPEL I am commanded to preach.
"Point five: Paul says plainly in Romans 14 that the Kingdom of God is not meat and drink, but righteousness, which is obedience to God's Law.
"Point six: Therefore I do not preach to the unconverted meat and drink because it is not the Gospel. But, on the other hand, the physical body is the 'temple of the Holy Spirit,' and we are taught not to defile it, even physically.
"Finally, point seven: I realize fully that there were both the clean and unclean animals long before Mosaic Law -- even prior to the Flood -- and therefore from creation. God did not create the unclean animals for food. Just as many plants and weeds are poison and not food, so unclean animals were not made to digest properly or nourish the human body. They are not "creatures of God" intended for food. They are not sanctified -- or set apart -- by the Word of God. Peter's vision of the unclean animals in the sheet was given, it is distinctly stated in Acts 10, to show him that he should not call any man unclean -- not to make unclean animals clean. Therefore I do teach every convert and every church member that they should not eat the unclean meats. We do not eat them in our home. Not one of our church members -- not one of my converts -- is eating unclean meats. But I teach it as a physical matter of health, not as a spiritual matter of the true Gospel."
-Herbert Armstrong, Autobiography, volume 1, chapter 30
And that, my friends, was the opinion of the Church of God (seventh Day) and Mr. Armstrong in his early ministry. The clean and unclean meats laws were a physical matter of health, not a spiritual matter of sin.
A massive problem in the Worldwide Church of God was assumption. Even though we commonly claimed to be Berean, we always believed our leaders over the Bible. In fact, to believe unquestioningly was commanded and harshly enforced. No one could question anything. God only worked through the ministry, and not through the congregation. In other words, the members at large were leaves attached to the ministry, and the ministers were small branches that were attached to Mr. Armstrong, and Mr. Armstrong was a large branch attached directly to the Vine. We commonly said to reassure ourselves, “God inspired Mr. Armstrong to teach his converts exactly as Paul and James taught,” when that is often demonstrably false in many areas. The proof comes when we review the scattered COGs – very few believe exactly what Mr. Armstrong taught but at the same time few truly agree with each other. How is this teaching universal and plain, then?
For example, the CGG teaches the matter as one of the spirit, and of health, as well as a random and rather meaningless “test commandment” given by God just because He can. They have all the bases covered. This partly contradicts Herbert Armstrong, whom they quote.
“Even though people throughout the world eat unclean food and live, and even though we could probably do the same – and many of us once did – for Christians, it is more than a health matter. In the Bible, God never directly connects keeping the laws of Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 with health. In reality, it is a test commandment to see if we will obey God.”
-John O. Reid “Did God Change the Law of Clean and Unclean Meats”
If God never associates the food laws with health, why do the COGs? Incredibly, when the need arises to explain away Genesis 9: 1-5, they resort to calling the foods laws a matter of health again, preferring to compare pork to deadly nightshade:
“Does God allow us to eat poisonous plants like poison ivy, hemlock, deadly nightshade, etc.? Of course not!”
-John O. Reid, “Did God Change the Law of Clean and Unclean Meats”
But if clean/unclean is a matter of poison, as with the plants, then why are there no unclean plants? [Answer: clean/unclean is ceremonial and relates to sacrifice.]
In this next quote from the founder of the CGG, notice a few things. Note how it is now both a health and a spiritual issue. Carefully note how this is also a sign of keeping the Old Covenant. None of us should be keeping the Old Covenant!
“…in refraining eating the forbidden flesh meats listed in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 is a sign of keeping the Covenant. Do you understand the spiritual issue that is involved in this? Do you understand that your and my health is secondary? The issue is HOLINESS—spiritual holiness; not physical health. [Directly contrary to HWA!] Why did God do this? I don't know. Maybe it was only arbitrary. [Nothing God does is simply arbitrary. JR just doesn't understand why his desire to partially follow HWA doesn't match the gospel of the New Covenant.] He wanted to see whether we would restrain ourselves. [Because the 612 other laws wouldn't do that well enough?] That's a possibility. Restrain ourselves, refraining from eating those things that everybody else in the world seems to be enjoying and finds tasting so good."
"Now please don't be misled by what I said, because I think there is a physical health issue involved here. But God wants above all that we be holy, and that is the real issue, and so the first place that the "clean and unclean" appears is in what book? Leviticus — the book of holiness.” [Or, if you ask HWA, it first appears in Genesis 4.]
-John Ritenbaugh, “Maintaining Good Health (part 3)”
As a second example, most people who came out of Worldwide only keep the meats laws because they were taught to. They don’t know why. They don’t generally care why. They say, “God said ‘do it’, so I do it.” Noble indeed! Except they have not proven whether or not God says for them to do it. The majority of what Paul taught must be ignored or explained away in order to return to the “yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear”. They read in the abolished Old Covenant some verses that say to Israel that they should not eat pork, so they also avoid pork. Meanwhile, they don’t realize they are keeping the sacrificial law that they themselves teach was abolished. Nor do they realize that avoiding unclean meats was only a small portion of the various washings and sprinklings and meats and drinks laws – most of which they do not keep. They say “I keep the law”, but as I have already demonstrated time and time again, they most certainly do not!
The COGs would love everyone to believe they keep all the food laws. Anyone who does not keep all the food laws is disqualified from sainthood in this age, by their theology. But let's just see if they keep all of the food laws.
(LEV. 3: 17) 17 ‘This shall be a perpetual statute throughout your generations in all your dwellings: you shall eat neither fat nor blood.’
(LEV. 7: 25-27) “22 And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, 23 “Speak to the children of Israel, saying: ‘You shall not eat any fat, of ox or sheep or goat. 24 And the fat of an animal that dies naturally, and the fat of what is torn by wild beasts, may be used in any other way; but you shall by no means eat it. 25 For whoever eats the fat of the animal of which men offer an offering made by fire to the LORD, the person who eats it shall be cut off from his people. 26 Moreover you shall not eat any blood in any of your dwellings, whether of bird or beast. 27 Whoever eats any blood, that person shall be cut off from his people.’”
In Armstrong's zeal for the law, did we ever eat beef fat? Answer: yes! Every time we ate McDonald’s french-fries, or any beef broth, or a juicy steak (if one could be afforded), etc.
All discussions on clean and unclean meats would be incomplete without someone mentioning Isaiah 52: 11 (even though the context of this chapter has nothing at all to do with food laws)
(ISA 52: 11) Touch no unclean thing
I ask you, do you own a pet? Have you ever touched a dog? A cat? Hamster? Gerbil? Iguana? Horse? Donkey? Been to an exotic petting zoo and perhaps touched a stingray or a shark or a sturgeon? Ever kill a spider? Guess what, you’ve touched an unclean thing! No self-respecting Armstrongist in all their legalism ever mentions that, though.
Did anyone ever, while asking question for conscience’ sake about pork, ask their generous host if there was any beef fat in their food? Then they didn’t keep all of the food laws, did they? Only the ones that suited them.
In conclusion, while this meats issue may appear very simple it most certainly is not. Just look at the many posts I've made on the subject of meats, and I'm not done yet! While the COGs may appear to be keeping the law they most certainly are not. We were clearly cherry-picking and keeping only the laws we felt like keeping! While the COGs claim it is universal and plain it most certainly is not. There is little agreement among the COGs. I suspect the main issue here is not the law, but that we were attempting to force the Bible to conform to our flawed assumptions. Unwittingly we followed a man rather than God. The confusion that surrounds this topic is not from God! And there is certainly plenty of confusion to go around. Even I don't claim to fully understand the whole scope. I am still, months into my study, trying to separate what flawed teaching was placed into my head from what the simplicity of Christ's gospel for the New Covenant actually teaches.