Letters from our Readers - Part 3 of 4
Too late for Jon
I've been thinking back to early '95 when the WCG was in free fall, but the Indy conference had not yet happened. Here in Phoenix the three WCG congregations separated from WCG before Indy, keeping the three hall locations and making the WCG have to find a place to meet and regather people still interested in continuing to be led by the Tkaches from the three congregations into 1 new congregation.
We operated as the Church of God Phoenix for about six weeks before Indy, with one bank account for all three congregations. Tithes and offerings were receipted locally.
At that time, before Indy, I had already come to appreciate the concept of a YMCA-like structure for the new WCG exiles and their congregations throughout the world. To me this meant that whatever was in the center of all the congregations wouldn't be exercising any powers of enforcement over the affiliated gatherings.
Much was batted about on the Internet about a central "service-provider" location that would give everyone the benefits of economies of scale and function as a clearing house for ideas, such as Sabbath-school materials, so that anyone's good idea, or combinations of good ideas from various sources, could be made available to the scattered whole.
On the other hand, many of us felt a great sense of loss, and there was a strong pull to put the broken church back together again as quickly as possible and as similar to the WCG as possible. For me it was to take many months to come to firm conclusions about what would be the best way to reconcile these two apparently desirable, yet opposing, philosophies.
After those many months went by, and keeping the Feast with the United Church of God in 1995 (and, very importantly, testing the conclusions of Norm Edward's "How Does the Eternal Govern Through Humans?" article), I came to see a real ugliness in the more-partisan sentiments that I had encountered--more from the nonordained individuals than from those ordained.
I had heard people try to reason how UCG would be the "one true church" that received the invitation to the place of safety and other such unseemly speculations.
So, by the time I came to realize that there was little to be gained from trying to recreate the WCG and much to be gained from encouraging every individual to exercise the freedom to learn how to follow the lead of God's Spirit without having to consult a reporting structure, it was too late. With great speed a central entity was set up, and everyone was encouraged to esteem it in accordance with the dictates of our collective experience.
This precluded the reflective, considered pursuit of the answer to the "What do we do now?" question, and those of us who weren't through contemplating the ramifications until after things were established came to be viewed with suspicion.
So, you who are working to reform the UCG, is it too late to see the home office shrink its role into the mere unglamorous service provider described above? This would make each congregation the focus of every attending individual and make it difficult for the field ministers to transparently say "I'll have to run that by Arcadia" every time they are presented with an unfamiliar-sounding suggestion.
It would mean more responsibility for nearly everyone. It would mean that there would be some disorder as things were worked through. But what is our focus? Are we in love with the form of our religion, or are we in hot pursuit of the Spirit-led life?
It could also mean that "Christianity is a way of life, not church attendance" (a neglected truth in recent years) would be harder to ignore. I'll give Herbert W. Armstrong a lot of credit for making that concept clear. Yet the various splinter groups have really gotten away from that type of emphasis.
As the nose count at Sabbath services and competition with each other over members and money came to dominate the thoughts of those whose living in a given area depended on having enough people show up to hear them each week, Sabbath-service attendance came to be viewed as increasingly virtuous.
Another casualty of the fear of defections has been "prove all things." Some matters of the Scriptures are subject to more than one possible understanding thereof. I don't have our core distinctive doctrines in mind here, rather more technical matters.
In today's UCG, if someone comes to an honest conclusion that differs from the party line, this person's Bible study is viewed by the professionals as an unfortunate development. From their perspective, which often seems to value uniformity and agreement (under the guise of "unity") above spiritual growth, it would have been better had they not studied at all because such a conclusion, if met with contempt (which is the default reaction, having been practiced to perfection over the years), can encourage such a one to evaluate the many fellowship options available in today's scattered COG.
Is it too late for the UCG to learn to live with some diverse convictions among the brethren, instead of dismissing any deviation from the standard as "divisive and confusing"? (I have in mind honestly arguable points here, not whatever heresy is being carried on the winds of the moment.)
For me it really is too late. Under the best of circumstances, reverting back to spectator mode week after week can't hold a candle to the home-fellowship meetings we have come to love so much. Although it would be great to have healthy congregations to visit from time to time (most in our group really wanted to just go visit and spectate on the Day of Atonement last year).
For our brethren who are determined to stay in the UCG, I hope something comes of the recent upheaval that will be more productive in preparing them for rulership in the Kingdom than what the last three years have provided, even if it is unpleasant for some of them.
Vote for the lot
The democratic action of the council of elders of the United Church of God--in voting out of office its president, David Hulme, reminds us that he was not appointed according to the Bible procedure outlined in the book of Acts.
This author has previously pointed out to Mr. Hulme on more than one occasion that, until the biblical lot is used to ascertain whom God wants as leader, there will always be doubt about whether the chief officer of the United Church of God was chosen by men or God. Acting president Robert Dick recently stated in print: "I have never been able to find an alternative to some form of balloting, no matter how rudimentary, as the means for accomplishing these assignments," such as selecting a president.
There is no way that the appointment of David Hulme--honorable man as he may be--conformed with the procedure outlined in Acts 1. Unless the process of selecting a leader follows the New Testament model, further turmoil can be expected. God is not the author of confusion.
When Judas died and had to be replaced, the following process was followed, as recorded in Acts 1:
This could be said to be a process of balloting and constituted the ministry's and the congregation's choice in the matter. In today's context this choice would have to, at the least, be from men of longstanding service who had worked closely with the modern founding father of the end-time church, Herbert W. Armstrong. Men who could witness with authority and experience what God's work in this day was, and is, all about.
The praying was to ask God to influence the lot so that it indicated His choice of the two candidates. The view that the casting of lots to choose Matthias was a form of voting, simply cannot be true.
Implementing the Bible procedure would bring greater unity as the converted in the church would rally behind the man God elected. Let it not be forgotten that Dugger and Dodd point out in their book on the history of the true church that Herbert Armstrong was chosen by divine lot in a Church of God (Seventh Day) procedure. If Mr. Dick cannot ascertain how to implement the biblical lot, let him seek counsel from the Church of God (Seventh Day) on the procedure followed in appointing Mr. Armstrong and others by this method.
Hedgehog comments prompt response
My brief letter in The Journal (Nov. 21, "Squashed Hedgehog" [about being bored and frustrated]) provoked comment. Perhaps a brief amplification of it may help.
Hebrews 5:12: "In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers . . ." (NIV). This is addressed to the whole congregation, not a couple of yes men who give sermonettes. But do we get any training?
1 Peter 3:15: ". . . Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asks you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear." Do we get any practice or training to do this?
The how and the why of God's laws
The following information is basic, but I think there are many who would benefit from a clearer picture of the purpose of God's laws: why they were formulated and of their continuing importance in our lives.
I am 78, a retired mechanical engineer and teacher of that discipline. I am not associated with any Bible education college; I am simply a searcher for God's truth.
While I have made no firm commitment to the UCG, I do attend their meetings here in Sydney to worship God and fellowship with others God has called.
Reams have been written concerning obedience to God's commandments: arguments for, arguments against. Here in a nutshell is why God's laws were formulated, what God's purpose was in giving man his laws and how He has helped us by providing the New Covenant.
Lucifer was given authority over the earth, was apparently given the task of beautifying the earth. He was given complete freedom of thought, freedom of choice, great beauty, perhaps as an example of the beauty God expected on earth.
But Lucifer used this freedom of thought in a way God had not intended. Lucifer allowed pride to influence his attitude: the authority, the abilities, the beauty he had been given went to his head; iniquity was found in him. He wanted equality with, or even superiority to, the Most High God.
Result: He and his angels were cast out of heaven, were cast to earth, where they became Satan and his demons.
God formulated a plan whereby Satan and his demons would be replaced. He envisaged the generation of a group of beings who would be given the same freedom of choice, freedom of thought, that had been extended to Lucifer, but who would (initially) be given physical life only. In that physical life they would be given guidelines by which they were to live, if they were to avoid the errors that had been made by Lucifer-Satan. In that physical life they would be tested as to their obedience to those guidelines; tested as to their character, their reliability, their suitability to God's purpose; and if found suitable would then be given spirit life.
God, through His Son, the Word, created man and woman, the descendants of whom God hoped would fulfill His requirements.
But Satan, recognizing this challenge to his authority, repeatedly, continually, tempted man to overstep God's guidelines, causing man to sin. Being this unsuitable to God's purposes, they would not be given spirit left; they would simply die.
God, seeing that the man was not capable of resisting Satan's influence, realized that He, God, would have to further help man to avoid overstepping the guidelines, the laws, He had given.
God planned to put a little of His Spirit in man, to write His laws on man's heart, thereby giving him the desire to live according to His will.
But before this plan was put into operation, it was decided that the Word Himself should experience the conditions that such a man would be subject to as a safeguard against Satan's continuing efforts.
The Word relinquished His Spirit life and came to earth as a mortal human being, Yeshua. He was subject in extreme to the temptations of Satan, overcame Satan and lived a perfect, sin-free life, thus proving that God's plan was indeed workable.
He demonstrated qualities that were probably not present in Lucifer; He demonstrated love. He was to lay down His life for His friends. He was humble; He had no desire to challenge God's authority. He said, "The Father is greater than I." He came, as God's representative, to do God's will, to carry out His wishes. Hew as to be subjected to further humility, the humility of death, even death on the cross.
This is what Yeshua did, did for us: Without offering the resistance that He could have called upon, He allowed Himself to be beaten, to be crucified, His blood was shed, He died. God has accepted that sacrifice as sufficient for the forgiveness of our past sins, for the remission of our sins back to Satan, their originator.
Yeshua has now been resurrected, restored to His original spirit glory, and sits at God's right hand as a mediator between God and man, as an advocate, an intercessor, for us, as a high priest, through whom we may approach God's throne in worship, in thanksgiving, in prayer.
God has now put into operation the second stage of His plan: He has chosen a number of us ordinary human beings. He has placed a little of His Spirit in us. He has written His laws on our hearts, thereby giving us the desire to live according to His will. We are now being tested as to our suitability to God's purposes. If we prove suitable, we too may be resurrected to spirit life, to be part of God's eternal Kingdom.
This is a prelude to the time when God will put His Spirit into a vast multitude of mankind, giving them the same desire to live within the guidelines He has given us.
God's purpose for mankind is for us to be part of His eternal Kingdom: He wants us to succeed. He has given us these guidelines to protect us from failing as did Lucifer. The guidelines in the New Covenant are still the same as before (they were even more clearly defined by Yeshua when He was here on earth).
The difference between the Old Covenant and the New is not that the guidelines have been relaxed, but that God has given us additional help to live within those guidelines: He has placed His Spirit within us. Israel had no such help.
Let us not turn our backs on this help God has provided for us.
Christ wasn't an angel
Wade Cox and others have somehow gotten into their heads that Christ was an angel, a created being. I find this curious. Oh, they have their "proof texts" and they play them for all they're worth, meanwhile ignoring other plain and simple scriptures that indicate the opposite of their doctrine (John 1, for example). What is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Here's my little "proof text."
Mr. Armstrong used to explain that the word God in Genesis (Elohim) was a word like church or family, meaning more than one member of a group of beings. Oh, how painful it is for some to admit that Mr. Armstrong, with his quaint little analogies, actually got it right sometimes!
Now, when we turn to Genesis we find that God said, "Let us make man in our image, and after our likeness." Who was He talking to?
According to some, there was only one God being, the Father. All the rest were angels of various stripes. But haven't we a problem? God said "us" and "our." Did God create man in the image and likeness of angels or in His image?
James 3:9 tells us we are made in God's image, not in the image of angels. Having settled that question, we now must deal with the fact that God clearly used plural nouns. "Let us make" means more than one being making. "Our image" and "our likeness" means the image of more than one being. Since we know that man is in the image of God (James 3:9) and not angels, this leads logically, inescapably to the conclusion that there existed more than one God-being.
Mr. Cox will undoubtedly produce (if he hasn't already) a verbose and pedantic explanation of how this clear language indicating more than one God being actually means only one God being. I shall not engage in endless strivings about words. I invite people merely to read the text and see if the plain reading does not make perfect sense. I think we outsmart ourselves too many times in Bible interpretation. There are a few genuinely difficult scriptures, but most of the time God actually meant what He plainly said.
P.S.: I am sending my renewal this month for your great newspaper. I can't wait to read the coming interviews with the new head of Church of God (Seventh Day) (I hope you asked him if he's going to succumb to Joseph Tkach's goading to give up the Sabbath as a point of law) and the interview with Ken Westby.
I hope your other subscribers can see the value in your work and will keep this enterprise going. We must have a forum in which people can speak freely. Even though it may not always be to my taste, it's good to know what is on everyone's mind.
Your newspaper is really a ministry that helps scattered brethren remember that their little corporation or group is only part of the great Body of Christ. While there is much disagreement within the pages of The Journal, we do see a common faith, and I hope that is the foundation for a regathering of people into greater love and cooperation with one another, in spite of organizational boundaries.
Even more on the nature of Christ
I was pleasantly surprised to see three letters printed in The Journal Dec. 18 in response to mine about the nature of God and preexistence of Jesus Christ. I'm glad to see the interest in this all-important subject.
In brief reply to some of the questions and explanations put forth, I make the following comments:
One more thing: There is no hint in the New Testament of Jesus coming from anyone other than the one true God Most High. Every time the apostles refer to "God," they mean the Father. Jesus says, "The Lord our God is one Lord" (Mark 12:29). His God and Father is also ours. To a Christian, there is but one God, the Father.
Call for summit conference
What makes a Christian a Christian? What makes a Philadelphian a Philadelphian? What makes a Laodicean a Laodicean? Is it the physical organization we belong to, or is it our thoughts, our attitudes, what we believe, the way we live and the way we treat others?
I believe it is ridiculous for the scattered groups meeting in all the different rented halls for just a few people to attend just so they can say that "I'm a member of xCG"! I wonder how much money could be saved to be used to get the warning out to the house of Israel of the terrible things that are about to strike and also to proclaim the gospel message if Christians would combine with others for Sabbath services.
The same inspirational messages are given, the same songs are sung, the same fellowship and love are shown in whichever organization you choose to attend.
I would like to call upon the challenge the leaders of the UCG, GCG, PCG, CGI and any and all others of other groups to set up a summit conference for the purpose of discussing ways and means of using their resources in the best way possible to get the work done that we have been given to do. The combining of services--reducing hall rental and making travel closer for the various brethren--would be a major step in the right direction.
I intend to send a copy of this letter to each of the heads of those organizations and perhaps, with the support of the brethren, much can be accomplished. Remember the ram that kept butting the dam?
Warning to Laodiceans
If Mr. Armstrong were alive today he would be very upset with the Church of God. He always said that Christ would build His church (singular), one church, not all kinds of denominations. Two cannot walk together unless they are in agreement.
Mr. Armstrong said before his death that "the gospel of the Kingdom has been preached to all nations. It is now time to get the church ready for Christ's second coming."
Look! Satan has ripped the Church of God apart. God is not the author of confusion. He is not divided! You leading men who walked with Mr. Armstrong should search out God's truth, not yours! God is still working with His church, and He is warning His Laodicean children.
Who is doing the work of God? You had better find out, you leading men. Mr. Armstrong was and is the end-time Elijah, and there is no other. You fight against this and you fight God, whether you believe that or not. God does not lie; we are in the Laodicean era of God's church. Who is doing God's work? You had better know!
May we become united, under one standard.
The Day of Atonement
As we neared the end of the sober time of afflicting our souls [on the Day of Atonement], of being miserably hungry, we should have instead rejoiced in our misery, remembering a number of truths, perhaps the most important the shutting up of our adversary and freeing us of his grasp and influence.
Most certainly we should be able to see more clearly how great the Creator is as He put it all together in a way that has provided for our sustenance. In accord with that, the blessings that have come from Abraham's obedience should be even more evident, and our humble and fervent thanks should rise to our Father. Then, as we think about the state of the world, the war, disease and hunger, physically and spiritually that grips the billions on this planet, we should , in our own midst of hunger, be encouraged and impelled to cry out for the Kingdom and the redemption of mankind.
On this Day of Atonement we should be even more thankful for our lives, our blessings and that this day represents the time when God will place the blame for sin squarely on him who is responsible, who brought it into the world.
The at-one-ment that is represented should make us think, should pull us together as one in the Christ. The realization of this day should shame us into letting go of ourselves and the self-righteousness of keeping different days, times or whatever else prevents us from gathering to worship together. As the literal importance of this day penetrates and envelopes us, may we allow our righteousness to fade into obscurity as we grasp and hang onto the righteousness of the Father and the Son.
More on Mr. Armstrong
Concerning the article in which Bruce Lyon critiques Herbert W. Armstrong's book The Incredible Human Potential [The Journal, Sept. 25, page 28]: Many do not realize that Mr. Armstrong was not infallible. In fact, too many see him as some sort of Elijah or Moses. Actually, what made Elijah and Moses great was Christ in them. It is not what we do that counts, anyway. It is what Christ does in us.
Moses and Elijah would not have had a part in the "work of God" at Ambassador with their unshaven and unkempt appearances after days in the wilderness and their leathern girdles and whatever sweaty mantles they wore. Mr. Armstrong could not deal with any physical flaws in appearance. God's work had to go first class.
Mr. Armstrong could, however, change doctrine and did so (that is, back and forth on such doctrines as divorce and remarriage, makeup and Pentecost), and his followers went back and forth with him, professing all the while that God does not change (James 1:17).
If we say the angelic rebellion of pre-Adamic times was not part of God's plan, then we have to believe that somehow God was not in control and we have to reject Isaiah 45:7. Do we want to think that Satan can at times sneak behind God's back and do things that God is not aware of? If he could, I am sure he would, and where would we be who are the least and few in number?
Mr. Lyon asks, "Could not God have known, in advance, what Lucifer would do?" The obvious answer, if God truly does know the end from the beginnings, as He says He does, is yes. Not only did He know, but he purposely created His own adversary (the word evil in Isaiah 45:7 is taken from a Hebrew word meaning "adversity" or "calamity"). This is understood in comparing scriptures (for example, Christ knew who would betray Him from the beginning; John 13:11; John 6:64).
I am a wounded Christian, and I feel I speak for many because my family and friends are also feeling battle fatigue. Here are a few thoughts developed through the last two and a half to three years. Please bear with me as I try to share them.
As Chuck Colson says in his book The Body, "Christianity is corporate," Christianity points "to the Kingdom to come." But "only by belonging to a visible community of faith can individuals truly make visible the reality of the church."
I feel Mr. Colson's book clearly defines the WCG's dilemma. "The distinction is critical: uniformity within the church particular but unity with diversity in the Body or church universal."
I think we've been trying to blend both churches! "Respecting and appreciating different traditions not only teaches us more about our faith but encourages a measure of theological humility." Amen. It's okay to be different!
I could quote many more pages, but the bottom line is that God's Holy Spirit brought about a reawakening and renewal to what and who we represent as a church. God didn't awaken us to change our church particulars, but to change our focus on why we had them. God, our Almighty Maker, wanted all of our attention, for "He is a jealous God."
It is not a sin to be a Christian Jew. It is not a sin to keep holy days. It is not a sin to observe Saturday as rest day. Our sin was in forgetting God our Father, who made each clay pot and in not acknowledging Jesus Christ's fulfillment in our stead.
The "light" has definitely shown us the darkness in which we lived. As Jesus told the Pharisees, "the weightier matters are judgment, mercy and faithfulness." We have not let the "light" fulfill these in us as a church.
While trying desperately to remove the plank from our own eyes, because we saw our sins to God, to other believers and in ourselves, we lost sight of God's vision in this operation. His vision is bigger than the WCG or any other church particular. I sense we all feel that all Churches of God, all peoples, all over the world, are a church universal.
Yet we remain divided and discouraged. We are looking for any continuity or uniformity in our WCG fellowships that gives us the strength and courage to be participants in God's vision for mankind. "No man is an island," but the fact is there are many islands!
Paul chastised the Corinthians for their allowances of sin in their fellowship. He continually pointed them to overcome the sinful nature. God, in like manner, has chastised the WCG, and it has been unutterably painful for many, but the end result need not be death.
As a church particular, I feel we are dying. Such confusion, such division, historically have caused death. People in pain flee. Many have! People of passion fight. Many have! Neither is a choice of God.
"God disciplines us for our good that we may share in His holiness," and a trial "produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it."
We have not used this trial for training because we have not yet come to peace! Paul warns us all, not just the Corinthians, "to be holy and to see to it that no bitter roots grow up to cause trouble." The roots have grown up.
Our church, with all its newfound factions, has done exactly what God warned of: "Indulged the sinful nature, by biting and devouring each other, ending in destruction and death."
Are we dying? God's discipline was to bring us from that very sinful nature to a safe place residing in God's Spirit. As is human nature's proclivity, we sway from one ditch to the very farthest opposite side, seeking truth with all the best intentions.
I believe many realize that our Old Covenant worship was quenching God's Spirit in us as individuals and as a church. We realize we have been made holy and are to live holy and pure lives reflected by the Spirit of God leading us. We realize we have sinned gravely against many in and out of the church. We realize the Holy Spirit has moved us to reconcile, to rejoice in our new birth, to worship wholly, completely, spiritually. Our "good works" no longer need to be a sacrifice for sins committed, but, more to the point, our good works reflect our love and devotion to following Christ.
My family and I do not want to go to another church to show love and devotion to God or to others. We don't want to leave the fellowship we were "born again" into.
I believe Father knows best, and when He says "we should remain in the situation which we were in when He called us," perhaps we should reflect on that! God called me, my family, my friends, through the organization of the WCG. I want to stay in it, not some other evangelical church.
But we also want the church particulars to be left alone. They were not the problem God wanted us to fix. As we have been told repeatedly, He doesn't care about those days. He cares who we glorify in celebrating those or any holiday. We all say the words, but the divisions remain. Who is winning this battle?
Many of us who are not attending services or even allowed to attend still feel strongly about our place there. We fasted and prayed earnestly as Mr. Tkach requested. We prayed for insight, for healings, for peace, for reconciliations, for a purpose-driven church. Much happened that week in my family personally. It was an exciting spiritual high.
As far as the WCG goes, I feel God has already given us answers and the tools to fix ourselves. Are we hoping for more signs, more answers, or are we dying?
Tell me, am I hoping for too much? Have we gone too far to the other ditch?
One more quote by Chuck Colson: "The Holy Spirit, which empowers the church, can never lead believers into disunity." Who is leading us?
I'm tired of this battle. I don't want to forsake the fellowship. Many with similar war wounds feel the same.
Is there reason to hope for a fellowship we once enjoyed but with God glorified, Jesus Christ up front and center and the Holy Spirit renewing us at every gathering to become a holy people?
The mind of God
In response to "History of the Trinity: Who Developed the Trinity Doctrine?," by Gary Fakhoury, July 31, John 14:16 should be examined: "I will ask the Father, and He will send [or give] another advocate [or counselor or comforter]," the key word being another, which shows Christ calling Himself the same thing (Greek paracletos) as He called the Holy Spirit.
Note that 2 Timothy 1:7 says the Holy Spirit has a "sound mind" or "self-discipline." The argument that this sound mind is that of the Father must consider that Christ also has this same sound mind of the Father, but is a separate person.
Mr. Fakhoury omitted 2 Corinthians 13:13, which states the principal roles and attributes of each: Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit and God.
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God