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**Do you have history in the Worldwide Church of God? Are you still attending one of its offshoots? Do you see cracks in the doctrine and want more information, or do you not know why you're still there anymore? Is there a hole in your heart and just don't know why God isn't granting you the happiness you were promised would come through tithing and following a man? Do you find that no matter how hard you try you cannot live up to your own standards, and you feel like a failure? Do you find your pursuit of God to be based on fear?
Investigate with me the answers to these questions and more!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Goodnight, Gracie

Well, it's been a fun couple of months. I certainly have enjoyed our little fireside chats. But, as they say, "Even the word cliche is a cliche." But before they say that, they usually say something like, "All good things must come to an end."

I left Armstrongism in August of 2008. Since then I have learned so much.
First of all, I have met the enemy, and he is us. I have seen the many things that HWA hid from us. The man truly needs prayers for his soul. I have seen the many inconsistencies in doctrine and how understanding must be twisted to an unrecognizable degree for Armstrongism to work. I have seen how HWA often flat-out contradicts what Paul clearly taught. I saw how HWA's legalism can put a person in real danger of completely negating Christ's sacrifice for them. I saw how a small fraction of the law is actually kept while the rest is not even explained away. I was told "Mr. Armstrong changed the law out of necessity." And that, dear reader, is blasphemy. Sheer and utter blasphemy. No man can change the law!

I have met the "so-called" Christians, insisting on meeting these people as equals this time (it was always drilled into my head to pity them for their lack of God's calling and hopeless state of deception - ie. "we" were better than "they" are), and I have seen the most loving and caring people on earth. I was utterly unprepared for the kindness I would experience from some people who decided to reach out to me. I was always told how the world was Godless and deceived. I honestly didn't know what to expect. But from certain ones I received genuine concern, patience, help, and an offer for friendship.
One couple, and I will never forget this, were in my state visiting family and chose to drive a hundred miles out of their way in inclement weather to meet me in person for dinner. We talked. We laughed. We enjoyed good food together. When diner was done, they left. They wanted nothing. They asked for nothing. They just desired to meet my wife and me and share a meal together like genuine Christians should do. God bless you, my real friends, you know who you are.

I knew when I started this blog that one outcome was fated to me, one thing was as sure as the rising of the sun, as certain as death and taxes: I was going to be abandoned by everyone in the COGs who swore their friendship to me and called me their family in Christ. I have indeed been shunned by most everyone.

I packed the family and travelled hundreds of miles for weekend visits and stayed in people's homes. I hear nothing from them now. I called cross-country and spoke at length every other Sabbath. I get no answer and no call back now. You'd think they would at least call me and say "Hey, we care." Or at the very, very least they would send a text message. Nope.
Only the ones on the fringe of the faith, or who somehow remain ignorant that I've left still speak to me. It is just the way of things.
This is the fate of all who leave the system.

I'll tell you what they've busied themselves doing - reassuring themselves.
They are patting themselves on their backs for their resolve, comforting themselves by praying for my family not to be thrown into Gehenna, and shoring up whatever weakened pylons that were shaken when I left. I've experienced the same thing several times when other people left. Oh, some will miss my family... for a little while. But all in all, I am now the enemy in their view.
Did anyone leave the 99 and go after the lost sheep? No. What strikes most people is the ease in which their group lets them go. One minute you're vested. The next minute, everyone retreats and you are the enemy. They are perfectly willing to leave old friends on the field. At the drop of a hat. This tells me the relationships were never ever genuine. The love was a feint. The kind words always had strings attached. The disclaimer: "Relationships subject to change without notice; conditional upon continued participation in the group-think." That isn't friendship. No, not at all. It's co-dependence. And it's a shame.

But I knew what I was getting in to from the start. I know their patterns. I lived it for 30 years. I knew that I was absolutely no exception. And that knowledge made my transition much easier.

They probably don't realize it at all. I never did.
A genuine, deep Armstrongist will probably never (or never again) know truly deep human-to-human relationships, so long as they remain in that mode. And this is no shocking revelation as that kind of relationship simply cannot exist under those conditions. It is my opinion that they do not understand true relationships.
Everything is conditional. Perhaps this would be the single most insidious evil of legalism. A legalist would stone their own children if commanded. How can one learn to love one another with Godly love when everything is conditional upon legalistic obedience. A father is to be a sheriff first, a role model next, a disciplinarian often, and free time is to be spent in pursuit of church functions. There is a type of fatherhood there, a kind of spouse, but the man who would abandon his children to fate if they do not pursue Armstrongism, or even divorce his wife if given the order, is neither father nor husband but an actor in that role. The same goes for the wife. She is expected to expend her life's energy controlling the children, making her husband look good, and freeing his time to pursue church functions. She is a subordinate to the husband, not a partner. No matter how many sermons parrot Ephesians 5, the expectation was that the husband rule over the family and the wife be utterly submissive.

I will tell you plainly, the ideal is the relationship between Jesus and the Father.
Jesus submitted, but the Father trusted Him with everything He has. The Father God did not attempt to dominate Jesus, or hide Him away in the wings somewhere. Who is called "Christ"? With whom did God consult when He said "Let Us make man in Our image"? Who is the "Emmanuel", "Prince of Peace", "Savior" of all mankind, "the Rock", "the Way", "Truth", "the Life", "Wonderful", "Counsellor", "Alpha and Omega", etc, etc?? When Christ prayed "Nevertheless not My will, but Yours, be done", He submitted willingly, not by force or coercion. He told us straight out that more than twelve legions of angels were at His disposal. Again, He said "I lay down My life", and "No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down Myself." This is not the talk of a servant, but of a partner who was in full agreement with what was planned.
And even so, Jesus was full of love and respect for the Father. He said "I can of Myself do nothing", and "I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father".

Is this the relationship model that I saw in the COGs? I tell you the honest truth as I witnessed things, it was not.
I heard stories of husbands dominating their wives. And the converse was also true, I heard many tales of wives undermining their husbands. It was not widely known that many ministers would have loosened up if it weren't for the unbending pressure placed on them by their wives. In many instances it is the ministers' wife who enforces the merciless legalist standard and prevents reform in the COGs.

We are humans, and imperfect. The goal is too high for mankind, I readily admit (hence the need for a Savior and God's Spirit to be involved). Yes, you may find exceptions to the rule (I challenge anyone to locate such an exception due to more perfect legalism as opposed to greater faith in Christ - which thing is opposite to Armstrongism). But something is dead rotten in the COGs as far as interpersonal relationships go.

What truth my eyes were opened to see when the veil of Armstrongism was lifted, what peace I have received (undeservedly) with my Savior, is a danger to the cult. All who are like me must be shunned and the eyes and ears clamped shut or else the light may shine in and they will know the truth.

What's the danger in that? Well, as I have come to learn, Armstrongism doesn't match the Bible. The process breaks down when the mind is allowed to genuinely let the Bible interpret the Bible.
Once I saw the evidence without looking at it through HWA's eyes, I saw what I was fully convinced was not there. And I saw that the earliest Christian writers all agree that what HWA taught was wrong. Those earliest writers are demonized as plants set there by Satan to steer us off course. When I read Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho and saw that his arguments for his position were all Bible-based, it was as if I were kicked in the chest by a mule. The entire Armstrongist process broke down and was laid out in front of me for the deception that it is.
You see, "facts" are a matter of perception, "truth" is not (even though we misinterpret it all the same). For those who want to be in the light, the light is a blessing. It show the flaws, it shows reality, it affords an opportunity to become aware of personal ugliness and ignorance. The point in that is to change... to mature.. to grow! But for those who want to remain in the dark, the light is an enemy.. a destroying force. It destroys the dark. It destroys the sleep. It rips off the covering and hurts the eyes. All that was comfortable and familiar because the flaws were unperceived is now foreign and strange because there the flaws are for all to see. They have eyes to see, but they will not see. But if a person insists on darkness, then there is no forward progress. The blind will inevitably lead the blind into a ditch.

I was told that outside of Armstrongism all I would find is deception because God is not there. I was told my faith and Biblical understanding would be revoked from me by God. I was told calamities would ensue because God's protection was lifted and Satan could concentrate his full anger against me. I say truly that these were all false tales told to keep me in darkness by fear.
My life has been better. Challenging! But better. The joy I have felt, the unprecedented closeness with my Savior, the freedom, the brightness of the future... I haven't words to express my gratitude to God. Every week I am blown away at the love and grace of Christ.
Yes, there are dangers in freedom. There are many pits to fall into. But I am convinced that Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, left His 99 and went to gather me. No Armstrongist minister has done similarly. And now, what do I see? I see the anger not coming from Satan's "world" but from Armstrongists. I have been judged and condemned. I have been shunned. I have been utterly chewed out. By "the world"? No. By Armstrongists.
A friend of mine once asked me (and I paraphrase), "How can I see people in this world who go from a life of complete godless sinfulness to what appears to be a genuinely repentant, Bible-based, happy life? How can other churches do that again and again, but I never see that in the COGs? That cannot happen apart from God. How can He be at work in those churches?" At the time I was a good Armstrongist, and I blew the question off not knowing what to say. Now I see the answer as being clear. It was in front of me all along. I was on the wrong team, and I was holding my eyes shut hoping beyond hope that the light would just go away and leave me alone.

Why? What motivates a person to act that way? Hey, if you figure it out, let me know. I've taken some advice from a valued friend and started reading Lifton. So far I'm just terrified that 1984 could be true. Other than that, all I can do is speculate. Let me speculate for a moment, if you would be so generous, and I will tell you what held me.
In a word, fear.

I started as a second generation Armstrongist. Most of my time in the church was an attempt to please my father. He told me about all of the terrible things to come in the Tribulation, how the Catholic Church which I was a part of was the greatest tool of evil in Satan's arsenal, and for fear's sake I wanted to avoid that. It was my father's church but eventually, after some decades, I found I had made the church my own. (That was a step many second gens never get to. Unfortunately, the majority of them fall into a proverbial pit once they left for one reason or the other.)
At first it was fear of the Tribulation. In time it was fear of the terrible things I listed above. Either way it was fear that snared me, fear that reeled me in, and fear that held me there. All the while I prayed for the light of truth to shine but whenever the light would start to shine in my heart, I shoved it back down again for fear that it was Satan deceiving me. I would bury my face in HWA's booklets and online sermons of my favorite ministers until the shadow grew longer and then I would fall comfortably back asleep again for a time.
One time the light grew simply inescapable. I was forced to face facts. Either the inconsistencies in my beliefs were real and HWA was a fraud, or they were not and HWA really could change the law and flip-flop and be a false prophet (and a whole host of other things I've already written about in several other posts).
Well, this time I chose the light. So many things immediately fell into place for both my wife and me. A wash of joy came over me so strong I could physically feel it like a ball in my chest. Inexplicable! That could only be the indescribably joy of I Peter 1: 8. For the very first time - joy, not fear!
My wife thought it would be disingenuous to stay in Armstrongism if I no longer believed it. She was right. I knew that if I stayed, that joy would be killed and I would go right back to sleep again. No, the end of this story wouldn't be, "I love Big Brother". I decided that I had to share the opportunity for that joy with everyone, and I started this blog. Even though I knew I hadn't a hope in hades that anyone in the COGs would listen to me, even though I knew what shunning I would receive from the people who held my newborn children, I had to go ahead. But what I soon realized was a complete surprise to me.

I was meditating on my past, and how I treated people who now were embracing me. I recall writing an official apology to the "so-called" Christians whom I had mistreated, and I set out to write an apology to the COG7 whom I had called "dead" for so long. Then it dawned on me. It wasn't only fear, but pride that held me.

Yes! When I was an Armstrongist I was in on secrets only the Holy Spirit could reveal. I understood prophesies hidden from the foundation of the world. I was an elect saint. I was the Bride of Christ. The rest of the world was headed for a terrible end while hopefully (if I was good enough) I was headed for the place of safety [doubt]. In just 3-4 more years the world would soon come to worship at Jesus' feet and see me standing there. Anyone who wronged me would have no choice but to apologize. All of these very exclusive, very desirous, (VERY carnal) things that a person could never come to on their own and they were mine. In short, I was better than 99.9% of all men who ever lived.

As Cypher said, "What a mind job!"

I speculate that many Armstrongists come for the fear, but stay for the pride.
I never realized it before that time. I have only come to see the scope of it gradually since then. It was nothing I could have hoped to understand while I was still in. No, there you are taught what an honor it is and that we don't appreciate it enough. Meanwhile, we appreciated each other to the exclusion of the rest of the world. They were expendable. They were only ever going to be second-best anyway. After the Tribulation, then Christ would open their eyes. I never saw the inconsistencies in why Christ would punish one last generation so very severely for the sins of all time. I didn't care. Hopefully I wouldn't be on the receiving end [a legalist can never be free of doubt because his trust is in his own righteousness]. "We" were better than "they" were, and "we" liked the idea.
It was pure, sickly, poisonous pride and it was so very dangerous I couldn't stay silent about it. That would be a sin of omission I could not forgive myself for. Even though now some may hate me, God still dearly loves His children who are trapped in Armstrongism. I am not afforded the easy way out of hating them in return.

Well, I've done it. This is the blog. All of what you read here is my story.
I've studied for you, dear reader, the topic of meats, tithes, a brief look into the Sabbath, and a couple other topics I thought would be useful in casting off and trampling under the unbearable yoke of Armstrongist legalism. I have tried not to attack Herbert Armstrong too much or be unfair to him, since my goal was never to attack but to reveal, but I have written a few posts proving he is not at all qualified for the positions he claimed to have held. He failed Paul's qualifications for an elder in more than 11 categories. Since so many people said to me that they do not follow a man, I wrote several posts explaining how that is simply untrue. I have done what I can to show how people like Gerald Flurry, Ron Weinland, Harold Smith, etc, are all clones of HWA. If Ron Weinland is a false prophet (and he is), then so is HWA, and so area all who prophesy in his name. I have done all of these things for the love of God that was passed to me without my deserving it, and so I pass it on to you, whomever you are.

May the love of God go with you and guide you into His New Covenant. As for me, I am done here. I have been gifted with the healing of heart that many people do not find for decades or more. I have done what I can. I have peace. I have lost the urge to blog. I am humbled. When it's time to go it's time to go.
From here on in I will only be writing from time to time, and as a guest on the blog of my new friend Seeker of Truth. From even before I left Armstrongismism, his blog, As Bereans Did, has upheld the Christian standards I have tried to achieve here. ABD blog Bible-based, Christ-focused, and never promotes any man. The vision for the blog is a Christian blog, with several authors, catering to former Armstrongists, all under one roof. I like the idea. It is an honor to be invited on board. I may not write nearly as much, mostly because I have peace, but when the Spirit moves me I'll speak my piece.

Finally - thanks to everyone who has helped me, supported me, commented, corrected me on something, prayed for me, lurked, or spread the word. "And whoever gives one of these little ones only a cup of cold water in the name of a disciple, assuredly, I say to you, he shall by no means lose his reward" (MATT. 10: 42). Thank you. If I have been of any help to anyone, thanks go to God for that. There is hope in the New Covenant, all you need to do is invite Christ in.

15 comments:

Byker Bob said...

Sorry to see you go. I'm thinking that it would be nice if someone could do what the guys at Painful Truth have done, only make it Christian-centered. That would be to create an anthology of resources so that articles such as the ones you have written here, and those written by J and others could be available for anyone brave enough to consider them in their quest for truth.

Hope you keep this site up and running for a while so that I can print out your very insightful articles for my special notebook. I've already done this with some of them.

May God guide your continued search for truth!

BB

xHWA said...

Thanks, Bob. I appreciate all your comments and support. You were always a huge help to me.

As it is I have no plans of taking the blog down. I hope future people find some use in it.
I'll talk to Seeker about your anthology idea and see if there's anything we can do.

God bless you and keep you!

Steve said...

Thank you, xHWA. I've never commented here, but I've read almost all of your material. You have done the best job of revealing truth that I have seen. I hate to see you leave.

Stan said...

xHWA,

Your "Goodnight, Gracie" post will live on to be one of the great classics.

Byker Bob's anthology idea is great and one which certainly should be implemented.

Stan Gardner

Seeker Of Truth said...

That was a great post, and what a truly great story you have in your escape from darkness into the light.

I know there are those to come who will be strengthened and encouraged by it, to take that brave journey for themselves.

I am delighted to have you on board! Welcome.

xHWA said...

Thanks Steve. Your words mean a lot to me.

xHWA said...

Stan, I am unworthy of such high praise. But thank you. I pass any credit on to the One who deserves it.

I agree with you about Bob's idea.

xHWA said...

Seeker, I feel we are on the first steps of an incredible journey. I would like many others to come with us.

"You step into the Road, and if you don't keep your feet, there is no knowing where you might be swept off to."

Who can know what the future holds? But the sun rises! And thank God.

"The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say."

Mary Lane said...

I just have to say thanks to you xHWA. You have given us a refreshing look into the truth about the past system, without blaming God for what men did.
I think that in searching for the truth, I find that when I have the Scriptures in front of me, I am face to Face with Jesus Christ(the Word)and He is my Anchor within the vail of that true Body of Rest.
Hope you find that peace with Him that we all look for and need.

James Pate said...

Then I'll have to add "As Bereans Did" to my blogroll.

xHWA said...

I appreciate the support, Mary! I hope you keep hold of your peace. :)

redfox712 said...

Well done, xHWA! May the Lord bless you. What a marvelous testimony of hope you have given to those looking for hope. Your blogs are quite insightful and informative. Thank you for having the courage to stand up against Armstrongism and to share your inspiring testimony of God's love.

This was a good blog you had. I especially enjoyed your historical blogs. That one about the Receivership is very informative of what sort of priorities the leadership had then. The blog about the Great Falling Away was very fascinating to me. That blog will help people see that the Tkach Changes do not prove that Armstrongism is special. This last blog of yours is so revealing about the spirit of Armstrongism and so beautiful in showing all the readers out there that there is hope after Armstrongism. I hope that all goes well with you and your family. May the Lord bless you and your loved ones. God bless.

xHWA said...

Thanks, redfox! I mean that!
I don't deserve it, but thanks.

I am so glad that what I wrote could be of some help or inspiration to you. It's a funny thing to think that God can be a blessing through my blog. I just don't know what to make of it. I'm certainly glad about it, though.

I certainly am blessed. I wish you the same success and then some! May God bless you in your life and in your blog that you will be as much of a help and more to others than I was.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting your story. Mine is much like yours, with a few exceptions. I have children who still attend a COG with their father (Him and I are divorced). I am viewed as completely lost, especially since I began attending a community Christian church on Sundays. On a weekly basis, I am being questioned by my daughters as to how could just throw my beliefs (salvation) away. It's been a tough year, I'm constantly feeling doubt, fear, sadness.... But, I also have feelings of hope, love, and joy now that I have removed myself from the grips of legalism.
Again, thank you so much for posting this - I have just begun looking at "As Bereans Did." I was a bit disheartened when I first found "The Painful Truth" because they seem to have gone in the complete opposite direction (atheist). "As Bereans Did" is refreshing and insightful.

-Amy

xHWA said...

After all this time I feel kinda bad that I hadn't mentioned my deep thanks to WeinlandTranscripted for a comment made to me in July 2008 that helped me come to grace.

Truth is, I didn't know until today that it was WeinlandTranscripted who made the comment. At the time I paid no attention to who it was, and it took me this long to find the comment again. The Internet's a very big place!

Anywho... THANKS WT!