Essay: How does Y2K fit with prophecy and the future of the churches?
The writer, a longtime member of the Churches of God, can be reached at Box 1111, Parksley, Va. 23421, U.S.A., or email@example.com.
By Gary Fakhoury
ACCOMACK COUNTY, Va.--I have been a Christian for nearly 18 years now. In that time I have heard roughly 2,600 sermons and sermonettes and attended hundreds of Bible studies.
Not one of them was about the book of Lamentations.
For Americans, who have enjoyed such remarkable prosperity over the past 20 years--indeed, for most of the past 50--it's been difficult to make a connection between the desperate condition of God's people after the fall of Jerusalem and our own supremely blessed material circumstances.
Kings of past ages would envy the creature comforts and gadgets that are commonplace among even our poorest citizens. We're richer than we've ever been before because we're better at extracting wealth from the earth, and better at extracting labor from people, than we've ever been before.
Technology, we're told, has made these ever-increasing efficiencies possible.
Over the past 35 years--more or less since the introduction of IBM's System/360 business computer--it's been high technology, with the microprocessor as its beating heart, that has combined with free-market capitalism to fuel our amazing growth in productivity and wealth.
Achilles' heel, in digits
There is, however, a fly in this fragrant ointment: a little problem that everyone involved in constructing our brave new computerized world knew about but hoped others would solve at the appropriate time.
They didn't solve it. They still haven't solved it. And, unlike every other software project in the history of computing, this one has a deadline that cannot be pushed. Not even for one minute.
I'm speaking of, everyone now knows, the year-2000 computer crisis, or Y2K.
It's sometimes called the millennium bug. But it has little to do with the millennium; any century change would do. Nor is it a bug.
It is often said that Y2K will cause "glitches." But this too is misleading.
A complete systems shutdown is not a glitch, and Y2K has the potential to shut down major, critical systems all over the world. It all depends whether the functions of the computer in question are date-dependent or not.
The problem is, most computers are. This is because people in business and government buy computers to track and control their organization's activity.
When is usually as important a piece of information as what or who. So computer programs usually attach dates to the various functions of the enterprise it is tracking or directing.
Until recently, almost all computer programs throughout the industrialized world used six digits to mark their dates: two for the year, two for the month and two for the day--usually in that order.
I'm writing this sentence on Sept. 15, 1999. In a typical computer program, that would appear as 990915.
So there's no problem. We all understand each other.
But, for most computers in the world, a year from today will be marked 000915, which the computer will understand to mean Sept. 15, 1900.
Now we've got a problem. Now we don't understand each other at all. Now we're operating in different centuries.
When mathematical computations are based on these wrong numbers, as they often are, the result can range from the amusing to the catastrophic.
Here's the thing to remember about computers: They can't think. It's easy to forget this. Computers aren't "smart." That term was dreamed up by marketing people.
Computers are stupid. They can do only what they have been instructed to do, even if the conclusions they reach make no sense.
Any reasonable person knows I didn't make that phone call or receive that loan or originate that invoice or ship that widget in 1900. But a computer is not a reasonable person. A computer can't reason at all. It does what it is instructed to do and only what it is instructed to do.
For the past 50 years or so, since computers were introduced, we've been pounding into their tiny silicon brains a single central "fact": There is no 21st century. There is no century possible other than one that begins with "19."
The computers have believed us and will keep believing this until we instruct them otherwise.
This is why it is wrong to think of Y2K as a bug. A bug is something that sneaks into a piece of software that wasn't intended to be there: an aberration.
Y2K is no aberration. It was purposely and repeatedly placed there by the people who designed the world's computer systems and by all the others who followed them.
Y2K is no bug. It's a worldwide systems-design flaw.
Over the past 50 years the industrialized world has happily handed over nearly every important function in commerce, government and public works (utilities) to idiot savants and told them over and over again, in effect, that there is no 21st century.
Now the 21st century is upon us, and we still desperately need them to do our work for us. But they're in no mood to play by these new rules and won't play by them until they are formally addressed and instructed otherwise.
Example from real life
Can a simple date discrepancy--even a 100-year one--really shut down an entire computer system? It seems so trivial, so far-fetched, like a bad B-movie plot.
When you think about it, we unthinkingly experience a similar phenomenon nearly every day. When you dial a telephone in the United States, as often as not these days you will dial 10 numbers: an area code and your party's seven-digit local number.
You may have never thought about it, but what you're doing at that moment is programming a computer to perform a task: in this case to reach across the (computerized) telephone system to ring someone else's telephone.
When you enter an incorrect digit into this "computer"--just one incorrect number--what happens? You get the wrong result.
The computer--the telephone, in this case--doesn't reason things out and say to itself, "Well, Mary obviously wouldn't know anyone in East Bumbleflop, so she must be meaning to dial West Cupcake."
No, the machine sends your call exactly where you told it to go, and nowhere else. Of your 10 digits, you got nine correct. Only one was wrong. Yet the entire enterprise fails.
In school we were taught that 90 percent correct was excellent. You get an A. In programming 90 percent gets you an F. You fail. This fact lies at the heart of Y2K.
$50 billion nonproblem
This explains why Chase Manhattan Bank is spending $160 million to fix its Y2K problem and why the people at General Motors are spending $600 million to fix theirs and why AT&T is spending $650 million for the same reason.
Alan Greenspan, chairman of the U.S. Federal Reserve, estimates that nationwide spending on Y2K will reach somewhere in the neighborhood of $50 billion.
The CEOs and chief financial officers of these esteemed blue-chip institutions are not in the habit of spending hundreds of millions of dollars for no reason or even for weak reasons. They employ some of the most sought-after computer experts in the world. These programmers and systems designers know how computers work, and, more important, why they don't.
They know unresolved year-2000 conflicts within systems are one of those reasons. They've seen it happen in testing over and over again.
Their experience has been that in nearly every instance noncompliant systems in a 2000 environment do one of two things: They shut down completely, or they start spitting out completely erroneous information.
No, major corporations are not spending $50 billion on a software fix because they don't know what else to do with their money. They're spending it so they can stay in business next year. No one with any professional background in Y2K issues disputes this fact.
The only dispute is whether enough businesses and government agencies have fixed their computers for our society to continue to function a couple of months from now.
At the time of this writing, no man or woman alive knows the answer to this question. President Clinton does not know or claim to know. Microsoft chairman Bill Gates does not know or claim to know. IBM's CEO, Lou Gerstner, does not know or claim to know. They surely hope. But they do not know.
Please understand what this means. This means there is a serious question as to whether the industrial world as we now know it will survive the next 14 months.
No predictions, please
The good news is that in this article you will find not a single prediction on Y2K.
I have studied this problem almost daily since late 1997, yet my guess about exactly what will happen, and how bad it will be, would be no more likely to be correct than someone who's just hearing about it for the first time. There are five reasons for this.
First and foremost, Y2K is maddeningly complex. We're talking about millions of systems from mainframes to minicomputers to PC networks running hundreds of thousands of proprietary and nonproprietary software systems for businesses of all sizes, utilities and government agencies all around the world.
With the exception of a few enterprises that run exclusively on Apple computers--which were originally designed with four-digit-year coding--nearly every IBM-based system in the world needs to be assessed, tested, remediated and tested again.
It's a long, tedious, difficult process. How long? Well, the 500 full-time programmers at the U.S. Social Security Administration began their Y2K project in 1989. They finally finished this year.
Most American businesses and government agencies, however, were unconvinced Y2K was a threat to their enterprise until around 1996. So most didn't begin code remediation until 1997 or 1998.
In spite of the happy fact that special programs have been developed in recent years to help speed up the 2000 remediation process, most large companies and government agencies are still working on their systems.
Fewer than half of those companies will have time to test the new remediated systems to make sure they found all the problems and work out the new bugs they introduced in the remediation.
As a result, most will be working on Y2K well into the next decade--if they survive that long.
Here's the laugh line: America's farther ahead than any other country. Even U.S.-government officials, eager as they are to quell panic and downplay every aspect of Y2K, know and admit that major trading partners like Germany (yes, Germany), Japan and the Arab oil-producing nations have just begun their Y2K work.
In this the proverb proves true that in the land of the blind the one-eyed man is king.
True Y2K expert
So we have millions of enormously complex systems around the world in a state of flux. For the most part these systems consist of private information, and in many cases only a few top managers are allowed to view the puzzle pieces and understand the condition of the whole information system.
What one human being can possibly know the true status of these millions of proprietary systems controlled by hundreds of thousands of corporations and government agencies?
None. God alone knows.
Of course, almost everyone in positions of responsibility for these organizations assures us they'll be fully functional in 2000. But, considering what's at stake, can they possibly say anything else?
Can the government of, say, France really tell its citizens it won't be able to provide critical services next January?
Can GM realistically be expected to announce it probably won't be making cars the first quarter of 2000?
Can a bank president actually write his depositors and tell them their life savings are at risk so they might want to transfer their money to another, tested-compliant, institution?
When was the last time you witnessed someone actually cutting his own throat? You've got your answer.
This is why noncompliant companies and government agencies have worked hard to develop language that will maintain public and investor confidence while avoiding making promises or hard claims of year-2000 compliance. They almost always say things like: "We're confident our mission-critical systems will be ready for the millennium change."
Be critical of mission-critical
The operant terms here are mission-critical and ready.
What is and is not mission-critical is always determined by management, not by an objective third party. There is no agency to regulate what "mission-critical" can mean, no laws to define it, no one to enforce it.
Thus, adopting the mission-critical approach allows companies and government agencies to define down their year-2000 compliance to whatever systems they have fixed or hope they can fix in the time remaining.
Indeed, there are credible, first-hand reports of major government agencies simply slashing hundreds of noncompliant systems from their mission-critical list with the stroke of a pen so they can avoid congressional scrutiny.
This is one reason, in the space of a few months, that many government Y2K progress reports have gone from alarming to glowing. Anyone who has actually performed Y2K remediation will tell you it's simply not possible, even with today's remediation-assistance programs, to thoroughly fix--and certainly not to test and fix again--so many systems in such a short time.
Keep in mind that Y2K-progress reports are based upon self-disclosure from the corporations or government agencies themselves. None of those disclosures is verified by anyone.
Needless to say, noncompliant corporations and government agencies have an enormous incentive to massage the facts and--dare I say it?--lie about the true state of their systems. If they expect problems, they have no incentive to tell the truth.
The other word noncompliant organizations like to use is ready. Lawyers understand, even if regular folks don't, that ready doesn't mean compliant. In the computing world, only compliant means compliant. Like pregnant and dead, compliant is a scientifically verifiable term with a single unmistakable meaning.
By contrast, the elasticity of ready, like mission-critical, is convenient for noncompliant organizations because it can mean just about anything management later wants to say it was intended to mean.
So, if you're expecting to get the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth from the powers that be in the hopes of getting Y2K figured out, you may find yourself sorely disappointed.
Our interdependent world
The second reason no one knows what will happen is the multifaceted economic interdependencies that have so greatly refined our production processes in this century.
Have you got a No. 2 pencil nearby? If so, pick it up for a moment. There's not much to it, is there? It's made up of some wood, some lead, a bit of rubber for the eraser and brass to hold it in place, a little paint.
A tiny plant of a few employees somewhere could probably produce those few elements and assemble them easily. Or so it would seem.
The facts are somewhat different. The wood for your pencil is likely a straight-grain cedar that grows almost exclusively in Northern California and Oregon.
The logs are then shipped to a mill in San Leandro, Calif., for processing, where they are cut into pencil-sized pieces and leaded.
The "lead" itself, though, isn't really lead. Its principal ingredient is graphite, mined in Sri Lanka and shipped to the United States.
The graphite is mixed with clay from Mississippi and ammonium hydroxide, to which animal fats and sulfuric acid are added.
To increase its strength and smoothness, the leads are treated with a hot mixture of candelilla wax from Mexico and several other ingredients shipped in from around the United States.
The cedar receives six coats of lacquer made of castor beans from various points around the globe.
The brass is made of zinc and copper, imported from Africa and various points in America.
The eraser isn't rubber, exactly, but factice, which is manufactured by reacting rapeseed oil from the Dutch East Indies with sulfur chloride.
Pumice from Italy is then added, and the red pigment is the result of its treatment with cadmium sulfide.
When one considers the operations required to bring your unpretentious little No. 2 pencil into being, from the production of raw materials to their transport over long distances to their final manufacture and assembly, it's not unfair to say that hundreds of companies, and thousands of workers around the world, had a hand in giving that pencil life.
We're talking about a No. 2 pencil now. Let's talk about a car. How many parts suppliers do you suppose General Motors needs to build its cars? Two thousand? Ten thousand?
One hundred thousand companies all over the world supply some critical element in one of GM's production vehicles.
Each one of these suppliers needs to have its systems compliant in concert with GM's system (that is, if GM were tested compliant, which it is not) to coordinate the ordering, production, payment and shipment of those essential car parts.
The same is true of Ford, Daimler-Chrysler and all the rest. Can you sell a car without a gas pedal? Without a gearshift lever? Without a rearview mirror? Just one missing part can render an entire line of vehicles unsalable and shut an assembly plant down indefinitely.
But the problem only begins with those 100,000 suppliers, because each of those suppliers depends upon many suppliers who themselves depend upon suppliers and so on and so on--scores if not hundreds of layers deep until you get back to the source of raw material itself, buried in the earth somewhere.
This hypercomplex web of international interrelationships and interdependencies that forms our modern global economy makes it impossible to ascertain who exactly will be able to do business next year--and thus determine how bad things will be.
The Y2K X-factor
The third reason we can't know exactly what will happen is the hidden factor of embedded systems. Until now we've been speaking of Y2K as a software problem. That is what most people think of when they think of Y2K.
But Y2K is also a hardware problem, and a large one. Most of us don't know that today's manufacturing and other heavy machinery have microchips embedded in them that help regulate their operation.
Unlike conventional microprocessors, these chips have software instructions physically burned right into them. The hardware and software are one. That's what makes them embedded systems. They are complete computer systems unto themselves.
The good news is that systems designers and chip manufacturers tell us that only a small fraction of these embedded systems have date-dependent instructions burned into them.
The bad news is there are at least 25 billion of these chips in operation. If even 1 percent of these chips fail next year, we can expect 250 million failures from this problem alone.
The latest estimates, however, are far more grim. Datamation magazine recently reported that the total embedded-system population probably stands closer to 70 billion, with approximately 7 percent of them 2000 noncompliant. If true, that would result in five billion machine failures next year.
Many of these problem chips are no larger than the nail on your pinky finger. Some are nearly microscopic. No one knows where they all are.
We're told embedded systems are helping run things like North Sea oil rigs--at the bottom of the rig, hundreds of feet below the waterline. And they run traffic lights and ATMs and telephone switches and auto-assembly robots and oil refineries.
Want an example of the ultimate logistical nightmare? Try isolating the millions or billions of tiny date-sensitive embedded systems from the billions of tiny nondate-sensitive embedded systems in the machines around the world.
Who could possibly afford to do all this work? Almost no one. That's why many companies gave up on their embedded systems before they ever started. Most have quietly adopted a "fix-on-failure" policy. "We'll know which machines have a problem when they stop working," they figure.
In all practicality, it's probably all they can do. But that means the embedded-systems factor ratchets up the potential for mayhem next year a full order of magnitude.
AIDS for computers
The fourth reason Y2K is entirely unpredictable is the reinfection problem.
By now most people understand and accept that a non-2000-compliant computer can experience major processing difficulties next year. What most of us haven't been told is that a compliant computer can be made noncompliant again through electronic-data exchange with a noncompliant computer.
The noncompliant data, programmers tell us, can corrupt the compliant system, and a shutdown can occur just as it would have if the remediation hadn't been performed in the first place.
Y2K: It's like AIDS for computers. Any computer that couples with another runs the risk of getting it--even the healthiest ones.
So firewalls will have to be built between systems until it can be determined who, exactly, is safe to interface with and who is not.
Under the best of circumstances, this would take weeks. Or months. Meanwhile, those industries that depend upon regular data and funds transmission as a necessary, daily means of doing business--banking, finance and health care come to mind--will find their ability to function next year significantly impaired or worse.
No one can predict how much reinfection will occur and which now-compliant systems will be inadvertently rendered noncompliant.
But, if even compliant systems aren't entirely safe in 2000, you know there's little cause for the breezy confidence about Y2K we see reflected in the major media and the public at large.
Don't call Las Vegas on this one
The fifth and final reason that knowing what will happen next year is impossible is that Y2K is a unique event in the history of mankind, and one cannot attach probabilities to unique events.
This is often not recognized by analytical folks who need to know the answer about everything (like me).
If you happen to be, say, a Boston Red Sox fan, on any day from April to October you can call someone in Las Vegas and obtain the odds that your beloved Sox will win that day's ball game.
How can oddsmakers calculate the odds? Because they have a history to refer to. There is a recorded experience with these teams. They are known entities.
They know the records of the opposing teams. They know who is pitching and their won-loss records and how they fared against the opposing team before, and so on.
But there is no prior history of a Y2K. With the lone exception of Noah's flood, never before in human history has the entire world been threatened by a single disruptive event at the same time.
There certainly has never been a time since computers were introduced when the entire world's commercial, government and public-works systems were threatened simultaneously.
No one knows, or can know, how all the world's computerized systems will react to the new century date, how the masses will react to the computers' reaction and how governments will react to the masses' reaction. There simply is no frame of reference for Y2K. Nothing even remotely like it has ever happened.
There were no computers in 1899 or any other year 99. Y2K is one thing we can say is truly new under the sun.
It may turn out much better than some imagine. It may turn out much worse than many imagine. Thus, about Y2K only two things are certain:
What CAN we say about Y2K?
You might ask, If no one knows what will happen, and no one can accurately calculate probabilities on what will happen, is there anything we can say for sure about Y2K?
Yes, there is one thing we can know. We can know the risks involved in Y2K, and that is critically important to every one of us and to those we love.
To understand what's really at stake in Y2K, we first must recognize what underpins our present system and makes life as we know it possible.
The four cornerstones
What are the rock-bottom essentials of modern life? They are chiefly these: electricity, banking, petroleum production and telecommunications.
Think of them as the four cornerstones that support the superstructure of our modern system. They must remain intact for society as we know it to continue.
All four are threatened in a major way by Y2K. Why?
This last point is critical to understand. When it comes to the four cornerstones, we must bat a thousand: 4-for-4.
This is because a shutdown in any one of these four industries--bad as that would be--will make it difficult to impossible for the others to function.
We moderns have come to depend entirely on the work of these industries for our most basic needs. For instance, nearly all food production and transport in the United States and elsewhere is dependent on ready access to petroleum: gasoline and diesel.
Most furnaces and home heating systems require electricity to run, and in many cases heating oil or natural gas as well. In many parts of the northern hemisphere, the ability to heat one's home in January can be a matter of life and death.
Most municipal water systems and most private wells require electricity to pump freshwater into our homes and wastewater out of them.
This is where the nightmare scenarios of hungry, cold, thirsty, dirty, desperate people come from. What we're addressing here is the first and primary level of risk: what I call systemic risk.
Economic risk galore
The second level of risk we face with Y2K is economic risk. By this I mean purely economic activity and the production of wealth, apart from any immediate threat to human survival.
Your furnace may stay on, the water may keep flowing; food may still be harvested, processed and trucked to your local supermarket. But will you have any income to pay for it?
Even federal-government officials have admitted what all Y2K consultants know: that the vast majority of small and medium-sized businesses have taken a wait-and-see approach to Y2K. They're too busy just getting by day to day to worry about manana. They don't have the time, money or, frankly, the inclination to start digging around for potential computer problems. They'll fix it, they say, when it fails.
Small to medium-sized businesses employ most of America. The Fortune 1,000 employ most of the rest, and not a single corporation with more than 100 million lines of software code claims to be tested compliant.
That being the case, what will happen to your industry, your company, your job next year if many industries and government agencies go on indefinite hiatus to try to fix their unanticipated Y2K problems?
Even if your company happens to be compliant or otherwise unaffected by Y2K issues, what about your company's customers? Can your company survive long without regular paying customers?
For nearly three decades we've been told again and again by economists and government officials that we live in a "global economy." Yet everyone recognizes that our largest trading partners are nowhere near compliant.
Most of the largest banks in the world are Japanese, and they hold billions in U.S. securities and assets. They are notoriously behind in their Y2K remediation. Germany, central Europe, most of South America, Russia and the oil-producing Arab states are recognized to be seriously behind, not just in banking but in nearly all industries.
What about the so-called third world, where most of our raw materials are procured? As they say in Brooklyn, fuggedaboudit. They're just starting to look into their systems. 
One more thing: Remember those mission-critical systems we talked about earlier? You may want to ask your employer if he has included payroll in his list of mission-critical systems. If yours is like most corporations, he has not.
Next year your company's customers may get served, but you may get paid, as they used to say, on down the line. This is the economic risk we face with Y2K. The first level of risk threatens our lives. The second level threatens our livelihood.
Both are real. Either, if realized, will involve pain.
Of course, individual circumstances will play a big part in the particular outcome for any given person. There may well be significant regional and local differences in various services.
But there is no question that what we have scratched (actually, buffed) the surface of here is a global and national threat to human well-being that is simply unprecedented in this generation or any other generation.
Jesus in 2000?
This being the case, we as Bible-believing Christians naturally ask: Are the effects of Y2K foreseen in Bible prophecy?
Before we explore that question, we should confront the Big One, the mother of all prophecy questions: Will Jesus return in the year 2000?
Actually, this one is easy. The answer is, Perhaps. Just as it was in year 65, year 1000, year 1844 and year 1999.
The reason A.D. 2000 has no particular significance to Jesus' return is that the date is a completely arbitrary, man-devised one that has no accurate connection to anything biblical.
It happened like this. About 1,400 years ago a Catholic monk named Dyonysius Exiguus (roughly translated "Dennis the Short") was deeply troubled by the many ways men were reckoning time back then.
Some were figuring it by the beginning of the reign of the current pope, others by the founding of Rome.
So Dennis persuaded the papacy that henceforth men should reckon all time from the birth of Jesus. This yielded our current B.C.-and-A.D. system.
But Dennis got a couple of things wrong. First, he was incorrect about when Jesus was born. The Gospels are clear that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod (the First), and Herod died in the year that would correspond to 4 B.C. in Dennis's system.
So Jesus had to have been born at least four years before Dennis calculated--maybe more.
His second error was not including year 0 in his B.C.-A.D. system; Jesus could hardly have been born as a 1-year-old.
But, whatever the correct date of Jesus' advent, how did we get the notion that He would return 2,000 years after His birth? Why are we even talking about this? Where did the whole idea come from?
It came to us principally through an influential book published by Archbishop James Ussher, the Anglican primate of all Ireland, in 1650.
Archbishop Ussher was convinced, as were most religionists of his day, that the six days of creation corresponded to 6,000 years of human rule and that the seventh corresponded to the millennial earthly reign of Christ.
So Mr. Ussher researched the Hebrew chronologies and "begats," incomplete as they are. Knowing that Dennis the Short was off by four years (but not considering that he could have been off by more), Archbishop Ussher finally and officially proclaimed that creation commenced at (drum roll, please) Oct. 23, 4004 B.C., at noon.
Let no one accuse the good archbishop of waffling!
Of course, this date neatly fit Ussher's millennial convictions insofar as it was as close as possible to an even triple-aught figure.
But 4004 B.C. plus 6,000 equals not A.D. 2000, exactly, but 1996. If we add a year to make up for the lack of a year zero in Dennis's scheme, according to Ussher we would have actually reached the 6,000 mark in 1997.
So, even if the length of man's rule is 6,000 years, since no one knows what year creation occurred, we cannot know the year this age will end.
This is why Jesus is no more likely to return next year than He was this year or will be the year after.
We obviously do not serve a God who is constrained by fallible human chronologies, even from pious monks and archbishops.
Y2K in Bible prophecy?
Fortunately there are more serious--that is to say, explicitly biblical--issues we can explore relative to Y2K. The most relevant seems to be this: What sort of world order does Bible prophecy describe upon the return of our Lord? Can we envision a situation whereby Y2K might contribute to the establishment of that world?
I believe we can.
Listed below are passages from the risen Christ's revelation to John the apostle that seem to speak directly to this question:
"And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains . . ." (Revelation 6:15, New King James Version throughout).
"Now the number of the army of the horsemen was two hundred million, and I heard the number of them . . ." (Revelation 9:16).
"All the world marveled and followed the beast. So they worshiped the dragon who gave authority to the beast; and they worshiped the beast . . . and authority was given him over every tribe, tongue, and nation . . . He [the beast] causes all, both small and great, rich and poor, free and slave, to receive a mark on their right hand or on their foreheads, that no one may buy or sell except one who has the mark or the name of the beast, or the number of his name" (Revelation 13:3-4, 7, 16-17).
"For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury" (Revelation 18:3).
"And the merchants of the earth will weep and mourn over her [Babylon], for no one buys their merchandise anymore; merchandise of gold and silver, precious stones and pearls, fine linen and purple, silk and scarlet, every kind of citron wood, every kind of object of ivory, every kind of object of most precious wood, bronze, iron, and marble; and cinnamon and incense, fragrant oil and frankincense, wine and oil, fine flour and wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and bodies and souls of men" (Revelation 18:11-13).
Other details are given, of course, but for now let's pause and consider what kind of world is being described here:
Is this the world of today? Yes and no.
We do see, of course, a relatively orderly world in which great wealth is produced and where great armies can be mustered.
But do we observe a single world government controlling every tribe, nation and tongue and directing all commerce?
No. If anything, throughout the past decade we've seen the world move in precisely the opposite direction: away from central economic control and toward greater economic freedom, away from totalitarianism and toward democracy.
Chattel slavery, with the possible exception of some remote parts of Africa, is virtually unheard of and has been for many decades. Yet this book's frequent references to widespread human bondage is chilling in its matter-of-factness.
What are we to make of this?
First, we have to decide whether we are to try to interpret John's vision literally, where possible, or not.
For instance, about the slavery passages, one speaker at the Feast of Tabernacles I attended last year offered the suggestion that this might be a prophecy concerning the high salaries of today's sports stars and their corresponding obligation to their "owners."
Well, if this is all these things have to mean, the book can mean just about anything and is of little value to us.
One way we can get there
If, on the other hand, we are to take these passages for exactly what they seem to say, then we are left with only one conclusion: Sometime before Jesus returns, this world will be ordered radically differently from how it is ordered today.
This is why, back in the days when we in the Worldwide Church of God were running the perpetual gun lap and we would ask each other whether Jesus would return next year, I would always reply: "Not if the book of Revelation is going to be literally fulfilled."
In years past I could not fathom how we could possibly get from this present world order to the one described in John's vision within a decade, much less a year. What sort of crisis could possibly precipitate such a radical transformation?
It was not until I was months into my Y2K research that it struck me. Y2K has the potential, unlike any real-world threat that has gone before it--save World War II and the Cuban missile crisis--to flatten the present world order and dismantle today's system of worldwide free-market capitalism.
Y2K has the power to raze the present governmental landscape and pave the way for a new political and economic superstructure that could fulfill these prophecies.
Whether it will or not is anyone's guess. But it is not a guess that Y2K can. The potential is clearly evident to those who know the facts.
All we have to do now--indeed, all we can do--is wait and see. When I say wait and see, by no means do I suggest that we not make personal preparations (see "Should I Prepare for Y2K?," page 21). Rather, I suggest we remain "mindful of the seasons" (Luke 21:29-31), soberly watching for conditions that will usher in the establishment of Jesus' earthly reign.
The church in the new millennium
By now it must have occurred to most of us that, if Y2K has the potential to radically transform the present world order, it holds the power to radically transform the present church order as well.
But how? How are our fellowships likely to weather this possible catastrophe?
Will we even make it through at all?
This depends to some degree on how we are doing now. Our condition in the new century will be significantly impacted by our condition going into the new century.
In the closing months of this decade of turmoil, perhaps this is an opportune time to stop, take a deep breath, look around and ask: How are our churches doing? Are we accomplishing everything we'd hoped we'd accomplish for Christ when we left the WCG?
If not, what's holding us back?
Let's begin our decade-end review by checking in with each of the larger corporate fellowships one by one.
Whither the WCG?
If we go in chronological order, our first stop would have to be the mother church, the Worldwide Church of God.
Although the church has lost most of its membership, by all accounts there are a sizable number of members there whose knees have not bowed to Baal, to borrow a phrase.
There are thousands remaining in the WCG who still believe in the Ten Commandments (all 10), reject pagan holidays, do not worship a Trinity, and so on.
No one knows for sure, but if you add them all together they might outnumber the membership of any one of the offshoot churches.
But their corporate affiliation appears to be experiencing a slow, excruciating death. They lose people for not going Protestant fast enough. They lose people for going too Protestant too fast.
The leadership can scarcely bear the thought of having Armstrongites in their midst but can't afford to lose them because they're still tithing, and the church is desperate for money.
Proof of this is Pastor General Joseph Tkach Jr.'s announcement that, since the sale of the former Ambassador University campus at Big Sandy has fallen through, significant cutbacks will have to be made to balance the budget: one that is already shaved to the marrow.
Fact: Thriving organizations accumulate assets. Faltering organizations sell off assets. Dying organizations sell off assets to meet current obligations.
It's the corporate equivalent of you and me hoping to sell our homes for enough money to pay our credit-card bills: a last-ditch battle for solvency.
Naturally the leaders and supporters of the church would tell you the money problems are irrelevant; it's their spiritual growth that matters.
But the Bible speaks differently. It teaches us that those who are truly growing spiritually will give of their increase. Spiritually thriving Christians do not spend everything they have on themselves, but scatter their bread upon the waters, giving generously to perform God's work in the world. In a phrase, they honor God with their substance.
Yet WCG members give far less money per capita to their church today than when this decade began. This is a more telling indicator of what's going on in the hearts and minds of members of this group than all their carefully crafted press releases and all the gushing praise they've solicited from their fellow religionists.
The irony here is that the followers of the present WCG leadership have behaved only according to the tenor of the teaching that has been delivered to them.
They were told they were abused when they gave so much money to their church. So they bought a new sofa.
They were told they need not dedicate a full day every week to God and their spiritual development. So they arranged a Saturday-morning tee time.
They were told they were free of restrictive laws and the cramped, joyless life legalism creates. So they divorced their wives.
When the history of the decline and fall of the WCG is recorded, I don't believe it will be due entirely to its making an exegetical mistake on this or that doctrinal point. Rather, I believe the autopsy report will reveal the death blow was delivered by the mind-set the leadership promoted: a mind-set that holds that the Christian life is principally about what God can do for you rather than what we can do for God.
Obviously, both are involved in true Christianity, but, when one or the other gets too far out of balance, a church can wobble so badly it topples right over. We're witnessing one of those times now. It's happening to the church organization we helped build.
It is a church run by souls so damaged by the excesses of the past that they've made the destruction of a dead man's work and reputation both their recreation and their therapy.
It's a church struggling mightily in a grand, heroic effort to become as redundant and pointless by mimicking as the evangelical Protestantism preached on corner churches throughout America.
It's a church attended principally by members who are afraid to lose their friends and ministers who are afraid to lose their jobs.
This isn't the way it was supposed to end. As I recall the story, the WCG was supposed to grow and grow in numbers and media influence until all the world heard the message of the Kingdom of God, then Jesus would return.
Which brings us, I suppose in some strange way, back to the year 2000. What prospects could today's WCG--now on life support--possibly have in the face of such a potential disaster?
To answer that, we have to start with some suppositions about how damaging Y2K might be.
Let's make some assumptions
We earlier saw why making predictions about Y2K is neither wise nor profitable. But we have to start the discussion somewhere, so, just for the sake of argument, let's begin with an assumed Y2K scenario and see where that takes us.
In our family we've been talking about Y2K for so long we've resorted to shorthand to refer to the various possible Y2K outcomes, borrowed from the Richter Scale earthquake measurement.
A one is minor inconveniences: the occasional glitch here and there but largely a nonevent.
A ten is the Big One, The End Of The World As We Know It, where almost nothing works and there is worldwide lawlessness, misery and death.
For the purposes of this discussion, let's contemplate something between the two extremes, say, a five.
In a five scenario, the four cornerstones we spoke of earlier get battered a bit but do not collapse, and most of the systemic risk we face is not realized.
On the other hand, a five produces significant economic hardship, and many are thrown out of work. How many?
Well, if a one resumes our present 5 percent unemployment rate, and a ten produces nearly 100 percent, it stands to reason that even a medium-level five scenario would produce somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 percent unemployment.
But this has never happened in modern America; it is simply unthinkable to most of us (though it is everyday reality to some of our third-world brethren).
So, again, just for the sake of discussion, let's chop that unemployment figure in half. Let's say that only 25 percent of the working population of the industrialized West enters the ranks of the unemployed next year.
Only 25 percent? Those of you 65 and older probably recall that the unemployment rate in the Great Depression of the 1930s, at its depth, was "only" 25 percent. So we're speaking now of an economic contraction roughly equivalent to the Great Depression.
Let's say further that God allows us to experience economic hardship similar to that of our brothers in the world so that our own unemployment rate approaches 25 percent. How do we look now?
In the case of the WCG, if it's teetering on the brink of insolvency in these best of economic times, what chance of survival would it have during a depression?
None. The WCG's leaders' real-estate schemes will evaporate in the hothouse of financial panic. All pending and prospective deals would be immediately called off. Short of a miracle, the WCG would be gone in a matter of months. Or a month.
What about the rest of us? Let's look at each group one by one.
CGI, PCG in 2000
The earliest larger WCG offshoot we'll consider is the Church of God International, founded by Garner Ted Armstrong, the son of WCG founder Herbert Armstrong.
After yet another sexual scandal, Garner Ted Armstrong was finally forced out of this group and today runs an evangelistic association and the Intercontinental Church of God.
Leading CGI evangelists like Ron Dart have left as well, and so have most of the members. Those few hardy souls who have stayed wonder how they'll carry on.
Even without Y2K, the Church of God International's future is doubtful. Certainly its best days are behind it. With Y2K, and without divine intervention, we should not expect it to continue.
The next significant group to form out of the WCG was the Philadelphia Church of God, led by Gerald Flurry.
The PCG is known for its faithful adherence to the writings of Mr. Armstrong. PCG members have even fought long court battles to earn the right to reprint them.
Their message is prophecy-based and Armstrong-based, with Mr. Flurry as their public spokesman and evangelist.
Mr. Flurry evidences no obvious gifts in this area, and the group has not grown significantly in its nearly 10 years of operation. It is also not clear how many members of the public can be expected to care about a man, now a decade and a half dead, and his beliefs.
Those relatively few today who are genuinely concerned about spiritual matters and are searching for God's truth are little concerned with the legacy of a church leader, no matter how esteemed he is by some. They want to know about the Bible, and they want to know if God is speaking to them through that book. That's all.
The PCG's focus on the person of Herbert Armstrong not only risks breaking the First Commandment--which demands that God be our only focus of attention--it also appears to be a losing strategy for reaching the world with His truth.
Thus the PCG under its present administration seems to have no prospects to speak of, Y2K or no.
The state of its finances is not widely available, but without divine assistance it is hard to see how such a small group could continue to finance a television show and magazine in the midst of a depression.
The most likely prospect might be that this group would break up into small home-based fellowships that talk a lot about Herbert Armstrong.
Next on the scene was the Global Church of God, founded by ex-WCG evangelist Roderick C. Meredith.
This group has been in the news a lot this year because of its ouster of Dr. Meredith and Dr. Meredith's subsequent formation of a new group, the Living Church of God. The majority of GCG members and ministers followed Dr. Meredith.
The ugly, public spat that followed Dr. Meredith's ouster by the Global council of elders was disillusioning to many members and has resulted in the withdrawal of a significant number of them from any organized church group.
Only members of the Global council know all the reasons they voted Dr. Meredith out or exactly how they imagined Global could continue without the only leader they've ever had. If they were ever under any illusions about why people came to Global in the first place, they have been sorely disabused of them now.
People came to follow Roderick Meredith, not Larry Salyer, Raymond McNair or any of the other council members. Even at the time, Dr. Meredith's forced removal appeared to be--however justified--stunningly ill advised.
It can be fairly said that the Global council's attempt to oust Dr. Meredith amounted to destroying the village in order to save it.
As a result, Global is a shell of its former self and seeking relief from its creditors. It has virtually ceased to exist as a functioning body of believers.
Now, instead of one vital group with a well-established television program and magazine, there is the LCG and a new, smaller group (in the process of loosely reorganizing under the name Church of God, a Christian Fellowship) that has to start all over again--with a lot of baggage from the past to contend with.
Norman Edwards, editor and publisher of Servants' News and former Global official, reported recently that after the better part of a decade in operation, and after expending many millions of dollars, Global's media efforts resulted in fewer than 50 baptisms.
These certainly rank as among the most expensive conversions in history and do not bode well for the smaller Living Church of God's prospects.
As a fledgling group, it isn't clear how Living could prosper under Depression-like conditions. Without divine intervention, the LCG would do well to celebrate its second birthday.
The beginning of the end for the Worldwide Church of God began in late 1994, when thenpastor general Joseph Tkach (Sr.) announced, in so many words, that the church would adopt the salvation theology of evangelical Protestantism.
Though the WCG had been bleeding members throughout the first half of the decade to the PCG, GCG and other, smaller, groups, this announcement touched off a veritable exodus of ministers and other members from which the WCG has never recovered.
Could be more united
The largest group to form out of this tumultuous time was the United Church of God. United differed from its offshoot predecessors in two important respects:
But, almost from the beginning, there were differences of opinion about how the daily business of the church should be conducted, especially between its first president, David Hulme, and the UCG council of elders.
This rift was kept under wraps early on, and most members were unaware of it.
But within a couple of years the conflict became widely known in and out of the church, and in 1998 (just before the spring feast days, when members can be counted on to offer large contributions) Mr. Hulme left and founded his own church, named the Church of God, an International Community (COG-AIC).
More than 1,000 UCG members followed Mr. Hulme, who promptly rediscovered the wisdom of Mr. Armstrong's top-down-government policies and adopted them to control his new group.
The split lacked the vitriol of the later Global-Meredith split but was nonetheless unseemly for men who claimed to follow Jesus Christ and His teachings. Little Christian charity, humility or wisdom was in evidence on either side throughout the months-long ordeal.
It appeared to most members that the whole conflict amounted to nothing more than a wrestling match over power, and little good seems to have come of it.
As should be expected, a significant number of UCG members, disillusioned over the dismal proceedings, have sworn off organized Christianity altogether.
Mr. Hulme's church has accomplished little in its 18 months of operation. His principal criticism of the UCG was that it was not moving quickly enough into major media (TV), yet his group has made few significant strides in this area.
Mr. Hulme's personal ambition to become a television personality has yet to come to fruition, and, with only 1,000 members and virtually no growth, it isn't clear how his dream could possibly be realized, even without Y2K.
Under our scaled-down "five" scenario, without a miracle it's a virtual certainty Mr. Hulme's evangelistic ambitions will continue to be thwarted.
Since getting David Hulme on television seemed to be the primary reason the group formed in the first place, it isn't clear why he and members of the COG-AIC would carry on corporately if that cause became obviously hopeless.
The UCG, for its part, has recovered from the Hulme debacle as well as could be expected under new president Les McCullough.
The UCG is the only WCG offshoot known to have a large reserve fund (more than $1 million in the bank, we're told), and it is introducing a new education center and new media products.
Members who have stayed generally appear content and seem happy that the turmoil of the past five years has subsided. But this peace has been bought at a high price. It was purchased by two changes many feel was a betrayal of United's founding principles.
First has been the church's growing intolerance toward congregational autonomy. This is understandable, given the leaders' long training and experience under the hierarchical WCG, yet it represents a reversal of earlier statements and intentions.
It is an undeniable fact that many UCG congregations were already legitimate, organized, autonomous local fellowships before they joined the UCG in its first months.
That the UCG would welcome these groups in, promise them their right of self-governance, then retract it all and force them to either yield completely to the UCG governing hierarchy or leave is nothing less than a promise broken.
As a result, several large UCG congregations have split from the group to maintain the autonomy they once enjoyed and were promised in 1995.
This has served only to weaken the church by significantly reducing its presence in key cities and regions and its credibility worldwide.
The second unhappy development has been the church's refusal to conduct the serious, rigorous doctrinal review it promised four years ago.
Those of us who have worked patiently with the many UCG doctrinal committees on doctrinal issues have discovered that the common characterization of the doctrinal-review process as a "black hole" is precisely correct.
Masterful stonewalling by doctrinal-committee chairmen has led to unfortunate situations such as that experienced by Garry Pifer, a former UCG elder, in Bloomington, Ill.
Mr. Pifer shared with his congregation his scriptural findings on the subject in a Bible study last January.
The teaching was indeed different from our traditional teaching, but not contradictory to the UCG constitution's statement on tithing.
His congregation was reportedly not offended, but the UCG administrators were, and Mr. Pifer was summarily dismissed from his duties, which resulted in yet another congregational split, in Bloomington.
By way of explanation and self-defense, UCG leaders have since come forward to inform us that the UCG was always about preserving Mr. Armstrong's teachings and never had any intention of changing any of them.
Some, after hearing this explanation, have asked why, then, did you form doctrinal committees and promise a full doctrinal review? What was the point of all that?
Clearly, either there were from the start secret misgivings about doctrinal review among the UCG's founders that are now just emerging, or someone is dissembling.
It is clear to most that since the Hulme debacle--an unnecessary and embarrassing spectacle largely of their own making--the UCG leaders have had little stomach for any degree of controversy within the corporation. They learned well in Worldwide that one of the best ways to achieve this is to quell all dissent and ignore all divergent points of view on doctrine.
In the short run, this tactic can appear to work wonderfully. But, as we also should have learned from our experience in Worldwide, ignoring scriptural problems and doctrinal difficulties will, in the long run, lead to much greater difficulties.
But we know there is an event in the short run that the UCG, like the others, will have to face first: Y2K.
It isn't as clear how this church will fare under our "five" Y2K scenario, because, unlike the others, it boasts a significant rainy-day fund and could presumably weather an economic downturn of some length.
Exactly how long isn't knowable now. But if the money runs out, as it eventually will under protracted "five" conditions and without God's direct intervention, we can expect the various UCG groups to begin meeting in living rooms also.
It isn't clear what use or purpose a national administration would have in such a case. Without a national operation it isn't apparent how or why the UCG would or could continue to operate as an entity.
The gates of Y2K
Undoubtedly some have grown annoyed that up until now I have discussed the various churches' prospects under the assumption that God would not miraculously intervene to save them.
"Of course He will!" many feel. "We're His church! Didn't Jesus say He would never allow the gates of hell to prevail against us? Where is your faith?"
This is a good question, especially in light of all we have discussed relative to the potential for chaos next year. Where is our faith?
In the space remaining I want to discuss our faith in the face of unexpected difficulties and its relationship to the churches we attend.
You may remember the name Sherwood Schwartz. He was the producer of the hugely successful 1960s television shows Gilligan's Island and The Brady Bunch, among others.
Someone once asked him: Why do all your productions feature an opening song that fully explains the premise of the show, every week?
"Because confused people can't laugh," he replied.
I'd like to translate that wise principle for our times: Confused people can't worship.
Faith no more
We often marvel, even now, how many souls have fallen by the wayside in this decade of difficulty. Where is everybody? The offshoot churches together number only a fraction of the former WCG population, as we know. They can't all be in living-room groups.
It is a sobering truth that the largest group of ex-WCG members consists of those who now attend nowhere.
When you speak to many of these people now, it's as if they'd never had any firsthand involvement in the Christian faith at all. Some are bitter, but most are just completely uninterested in the subject.
We could ask them, Where is your faith? But that would be pointless now.
However, we can ask each other, for the purposes of reflection and understanding, where was their faith?
How is it that the actions of a few self-willed men in Pasadena, Calif., came between these people and God, between them and the precious gift of eternal life?
It just doesn't make any sense.
Oh, but it does. It makes sense in spades: because those few men in Pasadena weren't just any men.
No, those men, in these ex-members' experience, anyway, represented God to them.
These men mediated their relationship with God, so that when they began teaching them things about God that directly contradicted what their former human mediator--Herbert W. Armstrong--taught them about God, their brains simply went tilt.
The disorientation was so great that many didn't know how to react. So they simply shut down spiritually (kind of like a noncompliant computer).
Confused people can't worship.
This is the reason for this article: to give us all fair warning of the potentially difficult times ahead for our world and, quite possibly, for our churches.
This article is meant to bring to light the possibilities now in the hopes of short-circuiting the disorientation that extreme events can create.
My prayer is that you and I may face the coming decade with confidence and faith in our God and the perfect priesthood of His only begotten Son, Jesus the Christ.
Forewarned is forearmed, the saying goes.
But, to be forearmed, we have to be willing to gaze unflinchingly into the abyss of Y2K and admit to ourselves that the good times we've known may not last--and that the churches we've known, which, in their weakened states, now depend almost entirely upon those good times, may not last either.
Jesus will keep His promise
But didn't Jesus say the gates of hell would not prevail against His church? (Matthew 16:18).
Yes, He did. Which is entirely my point. If God allows the various visible church corporations to dissolve in the years ahead, the Scripture must be correct when it teaches that His church consists, not of this or that corporate structure, but of Spirit-led persons: you, and me and all believers blessed by His grace and Spirit.
God's spiritual church will prevail! But the corporate structures, which exist for no good reason but to help support and grow the spiritual Body, may, according to God's perfect wisdom, come and go according to His good pleasure.
I believe there was a time when it pleased God to use the corporation of the Radio/Worldwide Church of God to perform His will in preaching Bible truths people never heard in catechism or Sunday school.
I am a product of that effort, and I thank God nearly every day for the work He did through Herbert W. Armstrong to save me and lead me by His perfect Word.
Yet that corporation, for reasons God knows best, has been allowed to deviate from the truths it once taught and proceed down a one-way road to dissolution.
What was the fundamental error of our former brethren whose faith has been shipwrecked by this unexpected development? Chiefly this: Their faith was based on faith, not on fact.
Let me explain.
As we know, Roman Catholics are taught from a young age to believe that the pope is the infallible and only representative of Christ on earth.
Later in life they sometimes discover the shameful history of the debauched state of the papacy over the centuries. When they do, they often lose faith in God and their interest in Christianity altogether.
Why? Either God is, or He isn't. His promises are either true, or they aren't. The way of life taught in the Bible either works, or it doesn't. What does the pope have to do with it?
Everything, because the pope stood in the place of God to them. Their faith was in a human's claim to represent Him, and they believed in that.
Their faith was based on faith, on a human promise--not on fact, on God and His promises.
Their faith was one step removed from the only true and lasting foundation for faith, and that is God Himself. That's all it takes. Just one step removed from the Center.
This phenomenon explains why you have so many fewer people singing with you at Sabbath services than you did when this decade began.
But how about us?
Most of us have rejected the WCG's siren song of (in effect) more time to ourselves, more money for ourselves, freedom to worship how we want, when we want (indeed, if we want), unconditional acceptance from God and complete acceptance by our friends and neighbors in the world.
We're still here, believing, wanting to follow God and His Bible truths, no matter how inconvenient or unpopular they may be. Haven't we passed the test of faith?
Yes and no. We have passed a test of faith this decade--a great test of faith--and we can be sure our Father is profoundly pleased with us for that.
Let's thank Him for the strength He has given us to make it through this difficult time and to remain faithful to His ways. But another test may be coming next decade, and it may probe our spiritual state more deeply than even this decade has.
Letting God be God
So let me respond to the question: Why don't you believe God will intervene to save His churches, no matter how bad Y2K gets?
I don't believe He won't, and I certainly don't believe He can't. He may. It is certainly within His prerogative and power to do so, and it would be a wonder to behold. Indeed, I hope and pray that He does.
But my question for you is, What if He doesn't?
What if God, in His infinite wisdom, allows these groups to dissolve, leaving us to stand alone with Him or, at best, with a small group in a living room somewhere?
Impossible, some would say.
Is it really impossible?
What would you have said to me at the beginning of this decade if I'd told you Herbert Armstrong's hand-picked successor would soon be teaching that God is a Trinity, the Sabbath is merely an option (as long as you don't believe it is necessary), God's annual festivals aren't any better to observe than pagan holidays, and the Ten Commandments no longer need to be kept?
How much money would you have bet--if you were a betting person--that all this would not happen within five years?
If you're like most people--myself included--you'd have lost your shirt. It all happened, every bit of it and more.
None of us wanted it, but God allowed it all the same. When we began to see it happen, we prayed He would intervene to stop it, and He refused.
We knew it would destroy what we used to call "God's church." God, it turns out, wasn't so concerned. He knew what He was doing. Most of us didn't.
Where is our faith?
Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever, the Bible says (Hebrews 13:8). I believe He wants an answer from His disciples today in the midst of our raging storm the same way He wanted an answer from His disciples in the midst of their raging storm. "Where is your faith?" (Luke 8:22-25).
Indeed, where is our faith? In what--or whom--have we put it?
A few weeks ago a man in United recounted to me a conversation he'd had with a Living Church of God member who told him, "Mr. Armstrong would roll over in his grave if he heard about your form of governance."
What is the subject of this sentence? Herbert Armstrong. This man wasn't concerned about what God thought about the matter (if he were, he'd find the New Testament contains no prescription for church governance).
His concern was for Mr. Armstrong and what he would think about what we do.
People who think this way are basing their faith on faith, not on fact. We see this reflected in letters, interviews and essays in The Journal all the time.
Who is following Mr. Armstrong's doctrines most perfectly? Who has assumed Mr. Armstrong's mantle for preaching the gospel? What church would Mr. Armstrong attend if he were brought back to life?
Human beings are naturally uncomfortable with the idea of having an unmediated relationship with Almighty God. This is why nearly every religion in the world has some kind of priesthood that claims to mediate between the faithful and God.
We humans actually like it that way.
When the children of Israel suddenly found themselves in the awesome presence of the Creator of heaven and earth, what did they do?
"They said to Moses, 'You speak with us, and we will hear. But let not God speak with us, lest we die'" (Exodus 20:19).
The only true mediator
People still look for their Moses to stand between them and God. They still look for someone to speak to them with the voice of God.
Yet He is already standing before us: "There is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Jesus Christ" (1 Timothy 2:5).
If we look anywhere else, we, knowingly or not, violate the spirit of the First Commandment, which He gave to us for one simple reason.
God is bedrock. All else is shifting sand. God is entirely reliable. Human beings are entirely unreliable. God is trustworthy. Human beings cannot be trusted. God will never fail us. Human beings will always fail us.
Human beings are made of sin and frailty. God is made of holiness and strength. This is not my idea. It is what the Bible everywhere teaches.
It corresponds perfectly to our collective experience in and out of the Worldwide Church of God--starting with Herbert Armstrong, who conferred all the powers of his office upon an empty suit who would, he assured us, "lead us into God's Kingdom."
The truth of the Bible shows that man's eventual (and, given his lack of personal conviction, probably inevitable) apostasy.
It allows for the sex scandals, power struggles, money plays, broken promises and selfish ambition that, as we saw, have characterized much of the WCG offshoots' leadership in recent years.
Maybe, just maybe, God has allowed these men to have their way with us to begin to teach us this lesson: We can't place our focus on men or on the work of men. Ever.
Maybe, just maybe, He'll use Y2K to teach us this lesson even more perfectly.
Or maybe He won't.
But one thing is certain. One way or the other, by the time this life is over, the living Christ will have the answer to His question: Where is your faith?
1. See www.foxmarketwire.com/wires/0329/f_ap_0329_22.sml.
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God