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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.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Meats - Conclusion

This is the last post (that I had planned) on the topic of meats. I had planned one last investigation into the subject, but instead I'm just going to review some highlights of what I've learned on this subject over the last 3/4 year.

I'd like to start at the very beginning. I theorize the problem with meats begins like this: 
It starts innocently enough with a growing desire to be closer to God. Somehow one becomes confused over some point of the Bible - usually the use of the English word "commandments" in the N.T. (for example in I John). Down whatever path, one comes to the eventual conclusion that the 10 Commandments survived unchanged into the New Covenant (most especially the 4th). I actually hear that a lot. When asked, "What led you to [Armstrongism]?" people have most often responded, "I knew the true church would be keeping the Sabbath." Compounding problems then arise with verses like (MATT. 5: 17-18) or (MATT. 23: 23), which lead people to search for more answers and this leads to meeting up with one religious group or the other. Depending on which religious  group one finds, such things as tithing and holy days will be taught until eventually a person is so hopelessly deep into legalism that accepting the meats laws becomes almost logical. Afterwards, anything that is described in the O.T. as "forever" or "perpetual" is fair game. The border between the Old and New Covenants is destroyed, but group-think prevents people from realizing the truth that they are now a part of neither Covenant. Unfortunately, at the very start, the grace of the New Covenant was set aside and reliance on one's own righteousness set in. That is a perfect recipe for going astray. Hence Paul uses terms like "ministry of death". And ultimately, while a person claims to be "the elect", Jesus' sacrifice is lessened to the point where Paul describes it as being "of no effect". The unsatisfiable chase after personal perfection, along with the obligatory fear and doubt that comes from it, betrays this to be horribly true.

Many things are said to be for a ‘perpetual covenant’ between God and Israel, like for example the avoidance of fat. Whenever I mention that food law to any Armstrongist, they dismiss it. The law! Just not THAT law! I actually had a person tell me "No one can do that!" As if that makes any difference in the world. The law is the law is the law. If you start to keep food laws, then keep the food laws. The law has no middle ground (JAS. 2: 10). Just because something says it is a ‘perpetual covenant’, it does not follow that it is valid for the New Covenant.
The challenge is to realize these two items: 
(MATT. 5: 17-18) "17 Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. 18 For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.” 
(2 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.” 
both declare the the amazing work Christ finished (JOHN 19: 30) when He fulfilled all the law and the prophets. It is a grave error to believe these verses say "keep the Old Covenant" because that is contrary to the salvation of Christ. It is the very error Paul fought so hard against. In fact, to keep a cherry-picked version of the Old Covenant, like the one taught by HWA, will without question cost you everything you think to save.

(GAL 5: 1-4) 1 Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. 2 Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised [in other words, set out to keep the law - circumcision is Torah not Talmud], Christ will profit you nothing. 3 And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised [in other words, set out to keep the Torah law] that he is a debtor to keep the whole law [not a cherry-picked version of it]. 4 You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.

I argue that meats laws are not a weightier matter of the law whatsoever but were wholly ceremonial and wholly abolished by the New Covenant. Look, it's really quite simple. Jesus was party to the Old Covenant. He died. No amount of scriptural misinterpretation should confuse people about this one all-important point.
Once I simply accepted that fact, I came to believe Jesus Christ when He said “What goes into a man cannot defile him”, and “What God has cleansed you must not call common”, which blends with Paul who said “I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself”, and “For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving”.
To preach anything else is to say Christ's sacrifice is insufficient. So answer, in what way was Christ's sacrifice insufficient?

Contrary to what may appear overtly obvious, I did not write the posts on meats to get people to eat pork. 
If one believes the meats are a sin, then to them it is a sin -- but not because of law. If one eats and defiles their conscience, God forbid. I do not in any way promote that! The real issue I address here is condemnation and judgment. I exhort all who keep the food laws (to whatever degree) to stop judging and condemning people who do not keep the food laws. If someone loves God by having faith in Christ and keeping a high standard of moral excellence, then where is the excuse for breaking the clear commandments against judging another? We have One Judge. Do not call His brothers and sisters for whom He died “self-willed”, “disobedient”, “uncalled”, “condemned”, nor any other such thing, for, as Paul said, "Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died" (ROM. 14: 15).  My number one, primary, el numero uno complaint about the COGs is the judgment and condemnation. Meats or no, that has got to stop.

I have also come to see that even if the food laws are no longer in effect, they are a wonderful lesson for us. They hold meaning. They are not without value. Jesus did not destroy any of the laws; He fulfilled them. He fulfilled all things. “Clean” and “unclean” are spiritual now, as opposed to symbolic/physical. Circumcision is of the heart. A good study into the physical symbolism of the spiritual reality will be fulfilling whether you eat or not.

I was surprised to learn that no animal was shown to be given to man to eat until Noah left the Ark. The distinction of the clean from the unclean animals that he took on that Ark were for sacrificial purposes, not for food. 
Sacrifice was there from the days of Adam, circumcision from the days of Abraham – both are now gone. Therefore, just because we see something before Sinai it does not follow that such thing is still valid today. The COGs would do well to answer, in what way are they valid today? Then perhaps they would see that all things are fulfilled. The sacrifices, Levitical priesthood, washings, and temple (among other things) some say will return in the future. But they are not here now. Therefore, just because we think we see something in prophecy for the Millennium (all prophetic interpretation is speculation) it does not follow that it is valid today. "For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed" (MAL. 3: 6). It is the Lord's nature that 'changes not', but clearly His requirements for us do. 

I was surprised to learn that my Armstrongist beliefs caused me to unknowingly hold that all Christians had to become Jews in order to be Christians. I didn't realize that I believed that way. Recognizing it helped me to understand. And immediately God said "Every moving thing that lives shall be food for you" (GEN. 9: 3). That is everything. All. Total. "...Every bird of the air, on all that move on the earth, and on all the fish of the sea" (GEN. 9: 2). No exceptions.
And still people use reasoning to nullify the clear an inescapable words of the Bible. This is not because of any Biblical evidence (as their argument is designed to nullify the words of the Bible) but by an emotional attachment to ideology alone. And this is idolatry - a violation of the very Commandments they claim to uphold.

There are two groups of Christians in the early church: the Jewish converts that were zealous for the law, and the Gentile converts that were instructed to keep no such thing. This was obviously for their conscience’s sake. Exactly as the Pharisees who troubled Paul, Herbert Armstrong commanded the Gentiles to be Jews in order to be Christians. This is contrary to the decree of the Apostles, even while HWA quite plainly did not keep the whole law. A great many things had to be erased from Jewish law for God to cleanse the gentiles; not just the food laws. If it were not so then no Jew could effectively preach to a Gentile or vice versa. The unclean meats were a shadow. Jesus Christ who casts the shadow is clean; the shadow is therefore cleansed. 
Peter didn’t understand this at first. It was not something Jesus taught Him while He was alive because they simply could not handle it then. Jesus taught Peter through the Holy Spirit when the time had come, after the calling of Cornelius. These things were confirmed through Paul and Barnabas through miracles. Peter and a few other Apostles just seemed to have a problem accepting it. We can see that the Apostles did mind the Talmud traditions, and that became a stumbling block for them. Old habits are hard to break. HWA's clever comment "Why didn't Peter understand a change in meats laws 10 years later?" drew me in. It wasn't 10 years, for one thing. And Peter was the very first Apostle sent to a Gentile. By that same logic, if he didn't understand that Gentiles were cleansed x years later, then they must not be! Ergo, none of us are Christians anyhow.

I also came to disagree that the basis of this debate should be health, seeing as properly cooked pork is much more healthful than fresh scallions (or jalapenos or peanuts or blueberries, etc) with salmonella. If meats are health laws it should say so somewhere in the Bible, but it does not. Nowhere in the Bible are food laws explained to be health laws. They are symbolically unclean in relation to sacrifice, and that's it. Oh, how very many times do I hear "God didn't give us poison ivy to eat." Perhaps not. But He didn't designate clean/unclean plants either. Trying to force meats into a health issue via cleverly worded arguments does not Biblical truth make. The fact remains - meats are not a health issue.
I was at first confused by the meanings of some verses. They seemed to be plain and without need of interpretation. Peter was right to say some of Paul’s writings are hard to understand (2 PET. 3: 15-16). But if it’s health we’re so worried about, then we must begin to treat fast food, hydrogenated oils, food allergies, and laziness with much greater seriousness.
I was also surprised to learn what little agreement there is among the COGs about any of this. Armstrong taught one thing at one time, another thing at another time, and yet another thing at a third time. One group says this, another group says that, another group says the other thing. I even recall hearing one minister describe the issue in terms of "lobsters are gross." (And that's entirely a matter of personal preference. I used to think potatoes were gross.) If it were all so plain, why the confusion?

Whether you believe clean and unclean meats to be a physical law of health, a spiritual sin, a ceremonial sacrifice ritual, or just something you arbitrarily do, I hope you can agree with me that our understanding of the Bible is not open to personal interpretation. The Bible should interpret the Bible. Nor either can any man change the law as I often found HWA had done (what disturbs me most is people are fully aware of that yet go along none the less). I did this study because I thought if my Armstrongist preconceptions were true then they could stand up to scrutiny. I will leave it up to the reader to decide the outcome. Our relationship with God is on an individual basis. Much of how I was taught seemed to be an attempt to make me too afraid to read the Bible for myself. I never realized that I accepted much of what I did because Herbert W. Armstrong claimed he taught the truth and said I would go to the second resurrection (or worse) if I didn’t agree. Simply taking the word of a person because they claim to be some end-time celebrity is most definitely NOT Biblical. The old fallback “that’s not how I was taught” is probably the most dangerous position of all. Only after much study and prayer can we come to have a deep and mature understanding of God’s Word. Sometimes what the Bible is saying is not immediately obvious. A Christian walk is a growth process. It is dangerous to read into the Bible without a humble and teachable attitude. It is dangerous to use phrases like "non-negotiable". If something is true, it will be true every time you revisit the subject. And revisit you should. One must be ready to prove what is good or disprove even long standing beliefs.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Christians Tithe?

This is the final post (that I had planned) in my study of tithing in the New Covenant. How can I possibly sum this topic up? I feel no matter what I say it will be insufficient in so many ways.

In past posts we have seen that the best minister is an unpaid minister. Paul exhorted elders to imitate him (I COR. 11: 1), and he was unpaid. Unpaid ministers will attest to the manifold benefits of such a practice. The Didache shows:
"Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain more than one day; or two days, if there's a need. But if he remains three days, he is a false prophet. And when the apostle goes away, let him take nothing but bread until he lodges. If he asks for money, he is a false prophet."

We have also firmly established the abolition of tithes - and not only tithes, but the entire the Old Covenant as well, taking the Levitical priesthood with it. What should the New Covenant congregation do? The thought of a Church without tithes is unfamiliar to some and naturally uncomfortable. What is commanded if not tithes?

In short, one word: giving! We can see clearly, both in the Old Testament and the new, that helping the poor and needy is a salvation issue. 
So, what is the correct method for the New Testament Church? Instead of a multi-tiered tithe system, Christ installed a newer (and in my opinion more difficult) system, in which the Christian is to share all that he has with his fellows. Ten percent seems an insufficient baseline to start with.... but there is much more! 

(LUKE 6: 38) Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over will be put into your bosom. For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you.
(MATT. 10: 8) Freely you have received, freely give.
(LUKE 12: 32-34) 32 “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell what you have and give alms; provide yourselves money bags which do not grow old, a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches nor moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
(ROM 12: 1) I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. 
(EPH. 4: 28) Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need.

The Earliest Example
What I read in the New Covenant bore very little resemblance to Armstrongism. Once again we see the idea of 100% as opposed to 10%, 20%, 30%, 30% + offerings, etc....

(ACTS 2: 44-45) 44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need. 
(ACTS 4: 32) 32 Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common.
(ROM. 15: 25-27) 25 But now I am going to Jerusalem to minister to the saints. 26 For it pleased those from Macedonia and Achaia to make a certain contribution for the poor among the saints who are in Jerusalem. 27 It pleased them indeed, and they are their debtors. For if the Gentiles have been partakers of their spiritual things, their duty is also to minister to them in material things.

They didn't divide away 10%, they distributed to whomever had need. I should point out that this was in no way a hippie commune. People still retained ownership of their own goods. It was a simple matter of generosity. Whomever had extra generously supplied the lack of whomever had need.
(II COR. 8: 13-15) 13 For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened; 14 but by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may supply their lack, that their abundance also may supply your lack—that there may be equality. 15 As it is written, “He who gathered much had nothing left over, and he who gathered little had no lack.”

Is this what Armstrong taught? Is that what we see reflected in his followers? Is there any doubt that within the COGs the majority withheld from each other, even towards their poor brethren? The idea of a tithe prevented the very mindset that God wanted to foster within us. We had already given at the office, so to speak, and our obligation was finished. It is a fact that we did not live according to this example as a whole. While some in the church had a superabundance (HWA chief among them), some went bankrupt trying to follow an abolished system of compulsory tithing. And yet, as is often the case, those who had the least were usually the most willing to give while those who had the most were usually the most willing to withhold.

Money Only?
Now, I feel it should be stressed that giving need not be monetary. How many times are we shown that God gives us Spiritual gifts, and we are to share those gifts. Perhaps a person is destitute and cannot give money. To a tithing system, that person is a liability. Their ability to contribute is cut short. However, in the New Covenant, we are free to give what God has graced us with. Should that be a spiritual gift, great; labor, wonderful; comfort in time of need, excellent; a good example, much needed. If a Christian has anything to give or share, it all counts in God's eyes.

(LUKE 11: 41) But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you.
(ACTS 3: 2-6) 2 And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms from those who entered the temple; 3 who, seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple, asked for alms. 4 And fixing his eyes on him, with John, Peter said, “Look at us.” 5 So he gave them his attention, expecting to receive something from them. 6 Then Peter said, “Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”
(I TIM. 5: 9-10) 9 Do not let a widow under sixty years old be taken into the number, and not unless she has been the wife of one man, 10 well reported for good works: if she has brought up children, if she has lodged strangers, if she has washed the saints’ feet, if she has relieved the afflicted, if she has diligently followed every good work.
(JAS 2: 14-16) 14 What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? 15 If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, 16 and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?

Give To Whom?
The COGs have a tradition of not helping anyone outside their own organization. Anyone not in the immediate organization is brushed of as a lost cause, usually with a prideful comment like "let the dead bury the dead" or "God is not calling everyone at this time". Is this correct? To whom should a Christian give?

(MATT. 5: 42) Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away.
(LUKE 6: 29-31) And from him who takes away your cloak, do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who asks of you. And from him who takes away your goods do not ask them back. 31 And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise. 
(ROM. 12: 20) Therefore “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; If he is thirsty, give him a drink; For in so doing you will heap coals of fire on his head.”
(ACTS 10: 1-4) 1 There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of what was called the Italian Regiment, 2 a devout man and one who feared God with all his household, who gave alms generously to the people, and prayed to God always. 3 About the ninth hour of the day he saw clearly in a vision an angel of God coming in and saying to him, “Cornelius!” 4 And when he observed him, he was afraid, and said, “What is it, lord?” So he said to him, “Your prayers and your alms have come up for a memorial before God.”
Cornelius was an Italian.
The Thought Counts!
No, we didn't care for the rest of the world, least of all our 'enemies'. We viewed them as useless; counting the hours until they would be swept away in the Tribulation for their disregard of the Old Covenant. This is a horrible attitude! It is judgmental, it is contrary to the Gospel, and it demeans those Christ died to save. 
We should have learned from the example of Zacchaeus. He wasn't perfect, but he gave generously and he made right his wrongs. When Jesus visited him, the crowd gossiped against Jesus because Zacchaeus was a sinner; in their eyes unworthy of God's love.

(LUKE 19: 8) Then Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor; and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” 

Did Christ judge him and dismiss him until the second resurrection?

(LUKE 19: 9) And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he also is a son of Abraham; 10 for the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost.”

Not only did we teach and live contrary to what Christ taught, but we were commanded to withhold any generosity. The tithes were not ours! Only Headquarters was close enough to God to know how to waste the tithe money. After tithes were sent in, if any was left, that too was begged of us, "Send in your widow's mites!" In the face of it all, we were told that God loves a cheerful giver. Well, it's a minor point, but one cannot "give" tithes as they are a requirement not belonging to us, like taxes. That being the case, then we cannot be a cheerful giver in relation to tithes. No... tithes are abolished in the New Covenant, but the attitude in giving still counts!

(MATT. 20: 25-28) “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. 26 Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. 27 And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave— 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
(I COR. 13: 3) And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing.
(II COR. 9: 6-15) 6 But this I say: He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. 7 So let each one give as he purposes in his heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver. 8 And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. 9 As it is written: “He has dispersed abroad, He has given to the poor; His righteousness endures forever.” 10 Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness, 11 while you are enriched in everything for all liberality, which causes thanksgiving through us to God. 12 For the administration of this service not only supplies the needs of the saints, but also is abounding through many thanksgivings to God, 13 while, through the proof of this ministry, they glorify God for the obedience of your confession to the gospel of Christ, and for your liberal sharing with them and all men, 14 and by their prayer for you, who long for you because of the exceeding grace of God in you. 15 Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift! 
(I JOHN 3: 16-18) 16 By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren. 17 But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? 18 My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. 

Especially, do not be deceptive in your giving. Do not lie to God in making a promise on giving that you won't keep, nor should you make inflated claims about your giving (it is far better to hide your giving). Remember Ananias and Sapphira!

(ACTS 5: 1-11) 1 But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. 2 And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? 4 While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”
5 Then Ananias, hearing these words, fell down and breathed his last. So great fear came upon all those who heard these things. 6 And the young men arose and wrapped him up, carried him out, and buried him.
7 Now it was about three hours later when his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter answered her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much?” 
She said, “Yes, for so much.” 
9 Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Then immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. And the young men came in and found her dead, and carrying her out, buried her by her husband.

I would mention briefly that both (II THS. 3: 10) and (I TIM. 5: 8) talk very sternly about laziness and an unwillingness to work to earn one's own way. Paul is no fan of people who make a career out of receiving charity when they are perfectly capable of work. Charity is one thing. The poor will always be with us (MATT. 26: 11). Abusing the system to take unfair advantage of the generosity of others is something else entirely.

God Will Reward!
Not that I am saying that Christians should give in order to receive a reward from God, but at times giving is difficult and our carnal natures can work against us. Knowing that God will reward the faithful can go a long way to overcoming your own limitations.

(MATT. 10: 40-42) 40 “He who receives you receives Me, and he who receives Me receives Him who sent Me. 41 He who receives a prophet in the name of a prophet shall receive a prophet’s reward. And he who receives a righteous man in the name of a righteous man shall receive a righteous man’s reward. 42 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.”
(EPH. 6: 8) knowing that whatever good anyone does, he will receive the same from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free.

If Christ taught tithing, what place would the righteous have in asking “when did we see you and clothe you and feed you?” Clothing and food would not have been tithed, but rather food items only, since that is the focus of the Old Covenant tithe system. And tithing, being called mandatory as well as the sole responsibility of the layman in the church, even the source of their righteousness (which is a grave error), if it were taught by the Apostles it would have been immediately recognizable to all who read the Bible. In all of the early Christian documents we find absolutely no mention of tithing. In fact, the Didache is clear that the teachings of the Apostles were contrary to any demand for money. Instead, what do we see? I think these next two selections summarize our Christian duty nicely!

(MATT. 25: 31-46) 31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. 33 And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: 35 for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; 36 I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? 38 When did we see You a stranger and take You in, or naked and clothe You? 39 Or when did we see You sick, or in prison, and come to You?’ 40 And the King will answer and say to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me.’ 41 “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels: 42 for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink; 43 I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.’ 44 “Then they also will answer Him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?’ 45 Then He will answer them, saying, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.’ 46 And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” 
(ACTS 20: 32-35) 32 So now, brethren, I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I have coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. 35 I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’

With all honesty, beloved by God and treasured, you who are still in Armstrongism, consider these verses. Consider this entire study (not that it is anything, or the only such study), and consider carefully all that our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us [which is entirely nullified by a partial keeping of the law]. If you allow yourself to read the New Covenant without the fear of Armstrongism, seeing the truth with the spiritual eyes Christ gives you rather than the eyes of Herbert Armstrong, then you cannot help but see that it is true -- tithes are abolished. In its place is a system of generous giving. What would you say to Christ if you stood before Him, if He asks why you should not be with the goats? Will you say "I was afraid and hid your talents with the ministry"? I would hope not. All you need do is step into the New Covenant.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Church Financing - part 2

In my last post, we looked at a brief introduction to Herbert Armstrong's perspective on church finance. This time, I would like to contrast that with what I find in my Bible.

Many people say “Christ commanded tithing to the Pharisees, therefore it is commanded for us.” Let's start by reviewing that point. 
What was Christ's attitude towards the many monetary demands of the Sadducees and various other religious officials?

(MATT. 17: 24-26) 24 When they had come to Capernaum, those who received the temple tax came to Peter and said, “Does your Teacher not pay the temple tax?” 25 He said, “Yes.” And when he had come into the house, Jesus anticipated him, saying, “What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth take customs or taxes, from their sons or from strangers?” 26 Peter said to Him, “From strangers.” Jesus said to him, “Then the sons are free."

Some would immediately point out that a temple tax and a tithe are different. I'll give you that. But my point goes deeper than that. The people of the Old Covenant nation were in effect strangers from God (PSA. 39: 12; DEU. 31: 17; MATT. 23: 37) and hence the need for travel three times a year TO the place where God appointed a meeting. The New Covenant Church constitute His temple - even His very body. He is in us. We are the sons. The sons are free! Indeed this applies for there is a great distinction between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant relationship between men and God.

Jesus corrected the Scribes and Pharisees in Matthew 23: 23, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.” By this verse, every study about tithing proclaims “Jesus has commanded tithing for us.” Or something to that effect. Is that what was being said here? Let's think about that. 
To whom was Jesus speaking - people of the Old Covenant or New Covenant? To the Old, and therefore He speaks to them in terms of the Old. And to whom specifically does He speak - to everyone or just the Pharisees? He addresses only the Pharisees. I will illustrate further. Read verses 1-3 of the same chapter:

(MATT. 23: 1-3) 1 Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples [it says to whom He speaks], 2 saying: 'The scribes and the Pharisees [it says about whom He speaks] sit in Moses’ seat. 3 Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do.

Now, how many of you keep Hanukkah? Or avoid Gentiles? Or wash your hands before you put anything in your mouth? Or tithe on what you earn, AND on what you purchase, AND on what you sell? Or keep the traditions of the elders by following the Talmud? Or pay the temple tax? Or keep any of the various other observances commanded by the Pharisaical leadership, JUST AS CHRIST SAID TO DO? I suspect the answer is something along the lines of “None.” So, the command Christ gave directly to the multitudes to obey the Pharisees in verse 2 is not binding on us, but the command Christ gave directly to the Pharisees to tithe in verse 23 of the same chapter and book IS binding on us? That makes absolutely no sense whatsoever!

Of course the New Covenant Church is not commanded to obey the Pharisees. Jesus worked very hard to distinguish between the eternal spiritual traits of God that we are to emulate and the corruption of the traditions of men that prevented a proper relationship with God. Of course Jesus wasn't speaking to us, but the Pharisees only -- unless you are willing to accept that He called you a hypocrite as well?
Additionally, Jesus specifically took “Moses' seat” (which was a seat of judgment) away from the Pharisees, and took it upon Himself (JOHN 5: 22). Probably more importantly, Jesus abolished the Levitical Priesthood entirely, establishing the order of Melchizedek with Himself as High Priest (HEB. 5: 4-6, 10). As the transfer of Moses' seat removed the authority of the Pharisees to judge, so the appointment of Christ as High Priest removed Levi's authority to collect tithes. Levi is the only entity permitted to collect tithes.
Interestingly enough, no new command was ever issued to tithe to a ministry. Yet Armstrong taught this one rule, given to Levi only, has moved - without Christ's saying so - from the old priesthood into the new. This is a mingling of the two Covenants... a changing of the law.

Let's look into I Corinthians 9: 1-18 now.
What is Paul saying here? He is saying with clarity that only he and Barnabas supported their ministry from their own labor. According to Paul, none of the other apostles or elders and their wives in his time worked to support themselves. He is saying with clarity that those who preach the gospel are entitled to some support from those who are preached to in order to live. He is using an analogy between the ministry and the Levitical priests to show how both are entitled to live from the offerings of the people. BUT he also makes it clear that “I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me” (v 15). He says with great faith and humility that his goal was not to receive material things (v 18). Paul is not denying a right to receive a wage from the church, but he is doing what only a very precious few have ever done: putting receiving the glory of God much higher than receiving material wealth. Here is why I emphasize that point: If tithing were commanded in the New Covenant, both Paul and those he preached to for free were in violation of the law. Keep that in mind, and let's go on a bit.

Let's circumspectly search these verses for a command to tithe. Disappointingly for many ministers, it is not in there. When people who demand tithes look at these verses they see a command to tithe because the line between the Covenants has been blurred in their minds (not in reality). In their defense, even Peter admitted that sometimes what Paul wrote is hard to understand (II PET. 3: 16) also read (II TIM. 3: 1-11). But it is of utmost importance to understand that just like God's covenant with Abraham is completely separate from His covenant with Israel, so is His covenant with Israel completely different than His New Covenant with all who believe. This is perfectly in line with Hebrews 8: 7-13. "In that He says, 'A new covenant,' He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away" (v. 13). They are different and completely so. To mix them muddies up the distinction between shadow and reality. Sure there are vague similarities, but they are not the same. 
When the New Testament makes it clear the Levitical priesthood is done away, along with it the right to collect tithes of field, flock, and orchard (never money), and then institutes a new sacrificial system of faith in God through being “living sacrifices”, it thus raises the bar from 10% to 100%. Can one be a 10% living sacrifice? We cannot simply say, “There is a problem here that I must solve. I want tithes... I know, I will change tithe laws!” as Herbert Armstrong appears to have done.

I liked this comment that Bob left on my last post so much, I'd like to copy it here for you:
"One of my favourites is 2 Cor.2:17, which talks about those who are peddling the word of God for a profit. In the KJV it says 'corrupting', which is why the cogs will always quote this verse from the KJ and not any of the more modern translations. In the Greek/English lexicon that I refer to, it actually says the meaning of this word is 'peddling, like a cheap carnival huckster'."
Well said, Bob.
I suspect the root issue we continually face is in desire for money. The Parable of the Unjust Steward in Luke 16 should scare any minister away from the love of money. The grave will welcome the lovers of money when their cash runs out! You cannot serve God and mammon (an unhealthy pursuit of money). Armstrong's ministers have no problem claiming to be Levites when tithes are involved. To whom I ask, “If you're a Levite, where is your me'il, ephod, breastplate, and headdress?” Oh, the law! the law! ...just not THAT law!

Enough background. Are there examples of how the ministry was to be supported? 
To start, we have to ask, "how did Christ get His support?"

(LUKE 8: 1-2) 1 Now it came to pass, afterward, that He went through every city and village, preaching and bringing the glad tidings of the kingdom of God. And the twelve were with Him, 2 and certain women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities — Mary called Magdalene, out of whom had come seven demons, 3 and Joanna the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others who provided for Him from their substance.

Could this have been a fourth tithe? Or perhaps a tithe on women only? Of course it wasn't! Although, I'm surprised no one has thought of this as a way to extract even more funds. (I should be careful lest I put ideas in their heads.) Jesus was supported by free-will donations while tithes were yet going to the priests. In no way was this a tithe system!

Now, what example did Jesus set for His ministry to be provided for in their duties?

(MARK 6: 7-9) 7 And He called the twelve to Himself, and began to send them out two by two, and gave them power over unclean spirits. 8 He commanded them to take nothing for the journey except a staff —no bag, no bread, no copper in their money belts— 9 but to wear sandals, and not to put on two tunics.
(LUKE 10: 1-8) 1 After these things the Lord appointed seventy others also, and sent them two by two before His face into every city and place where He Himself was about to go. 2 Then He said to them, “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. 3 Go your way; behold, I send you out as lambs among wolves. 4 Carry neither money bag, knapsack, nor sandals; and greet no one along the road. 5 But whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house.’ 6 And if a son of peace is there, your peace will rest on it; if not, it will return to you. 7 And remain in the same house, eating and drinking such things as they give, for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not go from house to house. 8 Whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat such things as are set before you. 

Definitely not a tithing system! Where are those ministers who say "we must all do exactly as Christ did," now? Dodging this issue, I'd suspect.

I Timothy 5: 18 has been used to promote tithing, arguing that since a minister is worth his wages then a tithe system is still in effect. This conclusion is logically non-sequitur (it does not follow that because a minister is worthy of wages therefore there is still a tithe). But Paul was quoting Jesus from Luke 10: 7, and Jesus WAS NOT referring to tithes! A minister is worth his wages, but as we clearly see from our Example, those wages do not come from tithes.

(LUKE 22: 6) 35 And He said to them, “When I sent you without money bag, knapsack, and sandals, did you lack anything?” So they said, “Nothing.” 

I think the idea of relying on donations frightens a lot of ministers. Tithes are secure and dependable. People don't want to live with uncertainty, like the humble farmer who depends on God's generosity for his livelihood. It especially terrifies a lot of Christ-peddling ministers who are used to disproportionately large salaries, being served instead of serving, promoting a multi-million dollar global work of impersonal magazines and media rather than feeding the flock and preaching in person, and so forth -- in short following an example other than the one Christ left. The unjust minister shouts “The law! The law!”, but when it comes to following this example as Christ set, it is explained away quickly. “The law! Just not THAT law.”
Realize that God's Church has always been poor. These abundantly wealthy past few decades are by far and away abnormal. In the more distant past, ministers often literally sold or forfeited all they had to preach the gospel truth that God opened their minds to see. A great number gave their very lives in service to Christ and His church. Look at Paul's own words. How did he live his life every single day (I COR. 11: 26-28)? He was weary. He was sleepless. He was cold and naked. Do ministers who make high-5 to 6 figures annually have any understanding of that at all?

(II COR. 11: 7-9) 7 Did I commit sin in humbling myself that you might be exalted, because I preached the gospel of God to you free of charge? 8 I robbed other churches, taking wages from them to minister to you. 9 And when I was present with you, and in need, I was a burden to no one, for what I lacked the brethren who came from Macedonia supplied. And in everything I kept myself from being burdensome to you, and so I will keep myself. 

Paul preached to the Corinthians free of charge! Paul's ministry in one area was funded by the generous free-will offerings of other areas until this new church could be raised up and support itself with a functioning structure and an elder to watch over it. And even though Paul had every opportunity, especially as a former Pharisee, to use the word “tithe”, he does not, and instead uses the word “wages”. Very telling.

(ACTS 20: 34-35) 34 Yes, you yourselves know that these hands have provided for my necessities, and for those who were with me. 35 I have shown you in every way, by laboring like this, that you must support the weak. And remember the words of the Lord Jesus, that He said, "It is more blessed to give than to receive.”

Again, Paul is seen as providing for his own ministry by his own labors. This would be abhorrent, scandalous, shocking to a Levite! He supported the weak and taught us to do the same. He saw the gift of what He was blessed to give as being infinitely more important than receiving any material thing whatsoever from those he preached to. How refreshing! And what was his trade? Paul was an Apostle and a tent maker. Yet he found time to minister and preach. What a man! Who among the Armstrongist ministry in these late years has the "total resolve" to be like Paul? Certainly not Ron Weinland, who rests from wearying travel with even more travel.

In summary of this post, the flock is served by the ministry, and the ministry is provided for by Christ. How Christ provided did include free-will donations from the flock, but not one word about tithes - even when ample opportunity was given a former Pharisee to use this word. Instead we see a clear-cut system of giving. The ministers had faith in Christ to provide. They didn't worry about "How will we pay for x, y, z?" They were so excited to share what Christ graced them with that they didn't seek material income. Anyone who did, as Bob pointed out, was a "peddler of Christ". [Again, I urge you to read my post on "The Didache" for more on this.]

I agree completely with this quote from Richard Nickels [a tithe-believer]: 
“I have refused to live off the tithes, in spite of urging from some that I quit my job and live off the tithes. If I did this, it would likely change the nature of my service. I would need to say and do things to please men rather than please God. I might become a hireling. Is it wrong for a Church pastor to receive a salary? No. I Corinthians 9:9. But, the nature and terms of this salary must not compromise him. His work ethic must be impeccable. He must be free to preach the Truth as he understands it. He must truly be a workman.”

An unpaid minister is generally superior in service because he is following the titheless example he has from the New Testament. If HWA was right, and God loves quality, why not insist on the very best -- an unpaid minister?

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Church Financing - part 1

What examples do we have of payment to the ministry in the early church? Were they supported by tithes? I would like to look in to that. But, for time and space's sake, let's start by looking at Armstrongism for a bit.

There exists the kind of 'minister' who says “Give! Give!” But what he mean is “Give to me so I may have for myself!” James 4: 3 tells us why: “...that you may spend it on your pleasures.“ Unfortunately, one tithe is soon not enough and new tithing and offering laws need to be found to finance an ever more extravagant hierarchy. Calls invariably begin to "send in the widow's mites!"

"And yet, many of us seem to LET DOWN, and grow slack in supporting this great and glorious work. ONCE AGAIN THE RECEIPT OF MONEY IS FALLING OFF! Once again, the situation seems ALARMING! I need your immediate and MOST GENEROUS RESPONSE! Do you know WHY it is such a difficult financial struggle to conduct God's work? It is because THOUSANDS of you Co-Workers who may be poor financially, and have but a little, get to thinking that your little -- perhaps only a dollar or two -- would not be big enough to help. It is BECAUSE so many of you who can't send more are failing to send in your widow's mites that this glorious work of God often faces a crisis. Of course that makes it all the more necessary for those of you who CAN to send in large offerings -- $50, or $100, or $1,000 or more. It is the FAITHFUL TITHE-payers among you, and those who send in generous amounts when you are able, that keeps tiding this work over."
-Herbert Armstrong, "Co-Worker Letter", March-April 1972

Such a one, of course, diverts blame to the law, preaching about how "in force" and "non-negotiable" the Old Covenant laws are. His hands are practically tied! Except, when it becomes necessary to follow those laws he begins to cherry pick. How good are the laws God gives to the Levites? Good enough to demand tithes ...but ignore everything else! Good enough to demand they be paid in, but then ignore the laws about how they are to be distributed out to the poor and elderly. How good are the laws of traveling for the Holy Days? Good enough to keep 1/3 of them but certainly the full price should be collected none the less. So, preach about how good the Old Covenant laws are if you are willing to keep all 630 of them, but do not cherry pick.

"How can any institution function without money?", they ask. Some churches have performed better under a tithing system as compared to a system of voluntary giving, but certainly in large part because they don't teach giving. Many consider the end of the tithing system to be synonymous with the end of the organization itself, but this only betrays a lack of faith in God's ability to run the show and provide for His Church. Perhaps it also betrays the real, avaricious motive behind the call for money. “How will we afford x, y, and z?”, they plead. If your aims were truly in line with God's, is God not able to make all grace abound that we are always sufficient in all things and have abundance to do every good work (II COR. 9: 8)? Many, after decades of indoctrination, would say “...and God provides through tithing!” Yet search the New Testament for a command to tithe and you will only find laws of 100% giving, or search for an excuse to transfer the Levitcal system over to the ministry, and you will only find the Levitical system abolished and replaced. The focus of demanding tithes is entirely backwards!

Herbert Armstrong actually taught it was the whole duty of a Christian to provide for the needs of the ministry.

“But this giving of their prayers, encouragement and financial support was God's assignment as the very means of developing in them God's holy, righteous character.” 
-Herbert Armstrong, “The Incredible Human Potential”, p. 111

“ the very means for the general body of lay members to develop God's own holy, righteous character – by means of giving – giving their continuous prayers for the apostle, giving their encouragement, tithes and offerings.”
-Herbert Armstrong, “The Incredible Human Potential”, p. 112

In fact, it was taught the first specific reason for the existence of the church is:

“To provide a unified body of Spirit-led believers to back up the apostles (and evangelists)” 
-Herbert Armstrong, “The Incredible Human Potential”, p. 114

Can there be a more clear and textbook definition of 'fleecing the flock'?? No wonder there were so many humility issues in the ministry! 
But Paul, an Apostle of Christ, under inspiration of Christ Himself, says “the administration of this service... supplies the needs of the saints” (II COR. 9: 12). Christ's position is the diametric opposite of Armstrong's position. Even the very definition of the word "minister" is "servant", yet who do we see being taught to serve whom? Armstrong: flock provides for the ministry. Christ: ministry provides for the flock. Give vs. get indeed! [I urge you to read my post on the Didache for more on this.]
Was Christ's focus really the focus to Armstrong? Was this verse in mind when people were advised to sell their houses to pay third tithes? And not only that, but Paul specifically identifies who supports the administration: “Now may He who supplies seed to the sower, and bread for food, supply and multiply the seed you have sown and increase the fruits of your righteousness” (II COR. 9: 10). 
Did you catch that? “He” who supplies seed of the Spirit to sew and bread to sustain is none other than Christ! We had our purpose backwards!

And again, we were taught:

“Jesus had not come on a soul-saving crusade”
-Herbert Armstrong, “The Incredible Human Potential”, p. 113

He didn't? "He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him" (HEB. 5: 9). Sounds like He did to me! And He said "It is finished" (JOHN 19: 30).
We said He wasn't, but immediately we committed all efforts to send out a dragnet to scour the earth for as many tithe-paying souls we could bring in! Success in “the work” was measured in numbers and dollars. No one cared who was dredged up so long as they “pay, pray, and stay”. We were in error!

I wrote this introduction post to highlight where I feel Herbert Armstrong went regrettably awry (regrettable not only for the tens of thousands of lives he affected but for his own life which had value to God - Christ died for HWA too). What we need is a Biblical solution. In my next post, let's look at how financing a ministry was actually done in the New Testament.

Monday, February 23, 2009

New Covenant Sabbath

Since I discontinued association with my former COG on August 23rd, 2008, I have heard much ado about the Sabbath. It is THE sacred cow of Armstrongism. Well, I need to talk frankly about the Sabbath.

I see that "Sabbath" means "do nothing" to some groups... in exact opposition of what God wants.

(MATT. 11: 28-29) 28 Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

'Rest', as you can see here, is for the soul in the NT, not the rear-end. Working or not working is not what the Christian concentrates on. Being laden isn't with a physical burden.

(HEB. 3: 18-19) 18 And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who did not obey? 19 So we see that they could not enter in because of unbelief.

People who had the Sabbath were not entering into rest. They were resting physically one day a week but still not resting. The rest is not physical rest, but something to be 'entered into' by those who follow Christ. It requires faith! Almost no faith whatsoever is required to rest from physical work. It is plain to see, physical work and obedience through physical rest are not being spoken of here.

(HEB. 4: 1) Therefore, since a promise remains of entering His rest, let us fear lest any of you seem to have come short of it.

The rest is a promise from God. Do we need a promise from God to sit? (Some do. But I mean in general?) The answer is no.
For instance, and of great importance, the rest being spoken of can be fallen short of. How do you 'fall short' of physical rest? By not resting restfully enough? Hardly! I once "rested" from physical work in a pool on the weekly Sabbath at the Feast of Tabernacles in Tucson Arizona. The heat was unbearable. My friends and I decided we would sit in the cool water and rest. Everyone else sat in the heat with all their fine clothes on because they were too afraid it might be too close to "work", and by extension, a sin. (The looks I got must have been similar to those Jesus got when He and his disciples went through the fields.) My friends and I weren't swimming, or even horse playing, we were sitting and talking. We were doing the same thing hundreds of other people were doing, only we were in a pool in the heat of the day. When the sun went down, everyone else got in too. Now, what Spiritual benefit do you suppose those people had by exposing themselves to the hot desert sun and sweating for hours? Not one bit!

We are talking about physical matters when we talk about physical rest. Sin is spiritual. Some would say, "It is because people aren't keeping the Sabbath in their heart. They secretly desire to break it and only keep it grudgingly." So let me get this straight. It's not only warming a chair on the 7th day of the week that counts, but HOW you warm that chair? I disagree. Although, this answer does start down the road to understanding! (It just fails to continue thereon. It falls short.)

The problem IS with the heart! That much is absolutely correct. Only, the fork in the road presented is physical rest from work vs. spiritual rest from sin, and the COGs take the path of physical rest. With the physically-oriented mind, that is the logical path, I'll admit. But it neglects to take into account the verses I've just presented which clearly and plainly show the rest is not physical after all. Therefore the true path is not to physical rest, but spiritual rest. It begins in the heart, and it ends in the heart, not with the rump.

How very often did I hear, and parrot, "Have a relaxing Sabbath!" Think about this for a moment. Of what benefit to the world is inactivity? Whom have you benefited? Have you not several hours of rest each day? Does not the Biblical day begin at evening, and therefore is not physical rest one of the very first things you do each day? Whom, besides yourself, does this truly benefit? Can you share Christ while you lie still and silent? Can you inspire others through your relaxing? Can you preach the gospel in snoring? What good comes of it?

(PRO. 6: 6-11) 6 Go to the ant, you sluggard! Consider her ways and be wise, 7 Which, having no captain, overseer or ruler, 8 provides her supplies in the summer, and gathers her food in the harvest. 9 How long will you slumber, O sluggard? When will you rise from your sleep? 10 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to sleep— 11 so shall your poverty come on you like a prowler, and your need like an armed man.

Consider the ant, you sluggard! While you rest on your laurels in slothful inactivity every 7th day, what good have you done? Whom have you fed? Whom have you lifted up? When Christ asks you why you didn't do as He asked but chose to spend every 7th day holding still, will you tell Him, "I was afraid, and went and hid your talent in the ground" (MATT. 25: 25)?

(PRO. 24: 30-34) 30 I went by the field of the lazy man, and by the vineyard of the man devoid of understanding; 31 and there it was, all overgrown with thorns; its surface was covered with nettles; its stone wall was broken down. 32 When I saw it, I considered it well; I looked on it and received instruction: 33 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest; 34 so shall your poverty come like a prowler, and your need like an armed man.

So, those who rest their backsides every 7th day in idle uselessness, thinking you keep the law, consider the ant you sluggard, because it clearly states unless you keep every last stitch of the law you have only managed to estrange yourself from Christ. Physical rest won't heal that breach. But those who rest your souls in Christ, enjoy your peace every day, while it is called "today". The Lord will come to His temple, which you are, and your soul will have true rest --- daily.

Why do you keep the Sabbath? 
The number one explanation I've heard is "It's the 4th Commandment." Let's briefly look at that, starting by asking "Is the Old Covenant still in force?" Of course your answer would be "no", or at least I hope it would be. So, let's clarify with, "What was the Old Covenant?"

(DEU. 4: 13) So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone.

The 10 Commandments were the Old Covenant! So when you say "The Old Covenant is gone", you must include the 10 Commandments which framed it! So when Christ says "If you love Me, keep My Commandments" (JOHN 14: 15) it is not speaking of the 10 Commandments at all (not according to the old physical, shadowy keeping of law anyhow). 
Too much for you to bear? Let me also give you this which Paul had given us.
Romans 7: 1-4 and I COR. 7: 39 both spell it out quite clearly through an example of marriage. When a spouse dies, the covenant that bound them is nullified. Christ, being the first party to the Old Covenant, died, thus nullifying that agreement - and the 10 Commandments that framed it! There is no reasoning around this fact. There are but two options: ignore Bible truth to blaze on in your opinion anyhow, or accept this. 
And don't think to haul out yet another saying of Mr. Armstrong's, "The only Commandment anyone has a problem with is the 4th!" Because I guarantee you that very saying, which ensnared me and many others in the past, in fact works completely against you. I would ask you the same question; what problem do you have with the 4th Commandment? What I mean is, why do you see the other 9 have been magnified, but not this one? Murder is in the heart long before the act thus it is spiritual, adultery is in the heart long before the act thus it is spiritual, covetousness is in the heart long before any outward show appears therefore it is spiritual, circumcision is of the heart, sacrifices are of the heart, etc, etc -- but we, in our misunderstanding and legalism, clung to the idea that only the 4th Commandment has made it into the New Covenant absolutely unchanged and unmagnified. We patted ourselves on the back so very often saying the rest of the world does not understand. The joke was on us, because it was we who did not understand. It would appear the only Commandment the COGs have a problem with is the 4th!

(GAL. 4: 21-25) 21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons: the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. 23 But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, 24 which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar— 25 for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children—

And what happened on Mt. Sinai? The giving of the 10 Commandments. This fully applies to the Sabbath!! And the point is of utmost importance. Taking the wrong stance and trusting in your own keeping of the law could very well cost you everything! 
(GAL. 5: 4) You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. 
But closely note the very next thing Paul writes. What does he emphasize?
(GAL. 5: 5) For we through the Spirit eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness by faith

The number two explanation I've heard is, "God rested on the 7th day of creation; the Sabbath was from the beginning." Review the entirety of Hebrews 4. God rested when the works were finished - not just 'on the seventh day', but when the work was finished. This was symbolic. God offered rest to those in the Exodus, who every last one learned to physically rest every 7th day or they were removed, but yet they were not allowed to enter "that rest". Joshua took them into the Promised Land, but even those ones, who were idle every 7th day, still did not enter "the rest". Therefore, as the author of Hebrews rightly concludes, there remains a rest to be entered into. This is not a 7th day sluggishness, or certainly "that rest" would have been attained by those people. God spoke of another day. As in the beginning, Christ said "it is finished" (JOHN 19: 30), and now He rests from that work. He came to save all mankind, and the work of opening salvation is complete. Right now there is a rest, attainable in faith. We can enter this rest when we cease our works... carnal works. It is a spiritual rest --- a rest for the soul.

When was the last time you asked "Why do I keep the Sabbath?" It's not so simple as "It's the 4th Commandment" or "God rested on the 7th day of creation." The Bible tells us specifically why the Sabbath was instituted:

(DEU. 5: 15) And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.

Maybe the correct question is "When was the last time you were enslaved in Egypt and brought out from there?" If you see yourself as being Spiritual Israel, and Christ brought you out from the Egypt of sin, then why do you insist on a physical Sabbath? It is contrary to the very theology you espouse. Our rest is in Christ. Our rest is Christ. "For the Son of Man is Lord even of the Sabbath" (MATT. 12: 8). And what is that rest?

(MATT. 12: 12) Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath

But, do we do good only one day each week? No! There is the carnality of mind coming through again. Not one day a week, but each day! When we enter the rest, through faith, which is to do good and put away evil, we do it at all times. There is no special day of the week when it is better to do good or worse to do evil. The rest of Christ is entered in to. When we enter, we are there! Just as we are the temple of God's Spirit and Christ enters into it. It's not a rest for the body. Consider the ant! No, it is a rest for the soul, just as Matthew 11: 29 says it is!

Therefore Paul says:
(COL. 2: 11-17) 11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. 13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. 
16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.

Don't let anyone judge you that you aren't keeping the Sabbath correctly when you keep it in Spirit and truth, as it was intended. They will come after you with their words and condemn you in that you aren't sitting and being useless like they are. But be bold, knowing the work of salvation is complete, and knowing the rest is open to you.

If you take nothing else away from this, then take this one point: make your keeping of the 4th commandment about spending time following Christ as opposed to wasting time resting the flesh. Work on the Sabbath, work your butt off! But work to do good. Do as much good as you can! Don't sit there uselessly wondering if you've been inactive enough to please God. God is not the God of the dead, who are all inactive, but of the living! Do as much good as you possibly can. 

If you read I John 2: 3-4 and see "[Old Covenant] 10 Commandments", this is a mistake. Do a word study on "commandments", you'll see just what I mean. It does not refer to the 10 Commandments at all, but rather all that Jesus commands. You could say that includes the 10 Commandments... if you conveniently set asside all I've said here. Let me show you from John's hand what commandment John was referring to:

(I JOHN 4: 21) And this commandment we have from Him: that he who loves God must love his brother also.

John spoke a great deal about love. Love! This is the fulfillment of the whole law (ROM. 13: 8).