Church-era filter blurs brethren's vision
The writer is a church pastor and a regular columnist for The Journal.
By Dave Havir
BIG SANDY, Texas--One of the most damaging mental filters among the Churches of God has been the church-eras concept.
Here's a reminder of how a mental filter works: As we gather information throughout our lives, we evaluate and process it through a mental lens. This lens, or frame of reference, determines how we interpret what happens around us and to us.
The first problem
In this article I address two major problems created by various church-eras theories.
The first is that many people put personal theories and private interpretations about church eras ahead of Scripture.
Let me give you some examples that have dramatically affected the Churches of God.
1975 in prophecy
Beginning in the 1960s many people in the Worldwide Church of God identified 1972 as the time they believed they would go to a "place of safety" and 1975 as the year of Jesus' return. Many made bad health and financial decisions based on those theories.
Why did intelligent people overlook scriptures such as Matthew 24:36 and Acts 1:7?
One contributing factor was a private interpretation of Revelation 3:10 that distracted people from other parts of the Bible.
On a pedestal
Beginning in the 1950s many people in the Worldwide Church of God came to believe that Pastor General Herbert Armstrong was a popelike figure (in effect, the vicar of Christ or God's anointed) overseeing God's government on earth.
Why did intelligent people overlook scriptures such as Matthew 20:25-28; 1 Corinthians 3:1-5, 21; and 1 Corinthians 11:3 and place Mr. Armstrong on an extrabiblical pedestal?
One contributing factor was that Mr. Armstrong viewed himself as the angel (or messenger) of Revelation 3:7. When people saw him read himself into Scripture, many overlooked Revelation 22:18-19 and Luke 14:7-11 and accepted the theory.
(For the record, some leaders today learned from Mr. Armstrong's mistake of identifying himself and therefore use a different method of promoting themselves. They influence their lieutenants to advertise their prominent role. Then they can deny doing it themselves. This method involves the use of plausible deniability.)
Through the years many people came to believe that Mr. Armstrong was the end-time Elijah.
Why did intelligent people ignore scriptures such as Matthew 11:10-14, Matthew 17:10-13 and Revelation 11:5-6?
Once people are predisposed to believe private interpretations about church eras, they are easily swayed by new theories that support the old theories.
Not for 1,900 years
Through the years many people came to believe the theory that the gospel had not been preached for 1,900 years until Mr. Armstrong came on the scene and that during his life he was the only one preaching it.
How did intelligent people ignore the evidence of history that refutes such theories?
Once people are predisposed to believe private interpretations about church eras, they often suffer from tunnel vision concerning their leaders and will reflect their leaders' version of history.
The second problem
The second problem created by church-eras theories is that many people use such theories and interpretations as an excuse to treat other people badly.
Here's how the theory about church eras oftentimes crystallizes: People identify themselves as Philadelphia and then evaluate others as Sardis and Laodicea.
Claiming the starring role
Jesus said a lot of good things about the Philadelphia congregation (Revelation 3:7-13). Therefore people are tempted to identify themselves as the Philadelphians.
When people hear a respected churchman call himself the leader of the Philadelphia era, is it any wonder when they look through the same mental filter?
Notice some comments by people who have a self-promoting mental filter:
Identifying the dead
Once people identify themselves as the Philadelphians, they often turn their attention toward labeling and condemning other people.
Jesus made a statement to the Sardis congregation: "You have a name that you live and are dead" (Revelation 3:1).
Self-proclaimed Philadelphians label and condemn others:
For the record, every saint does dead works at times. Do you realize that self-proclaimed Philadelphians are just as unrighteous (Romans 3:10), carnal (Romans 7:14) and weak (Matthew 26:41) as the rest of us? It is important for every saint to focus on our leader, Jesus Christ, who will help us overcome.
Identifying the lukewarm
Self-proclaimed Philadelphians seem to take great delight in labeling and condemning people as "Laodiceans" (Revelation 3:14).
Jesus made a statement to the Laodicean congregation: "Because you are lukewarm . . . I will spew you out of my mouth" (verse 16).
Self-proclaimed Philadelphians label and condemn others:
For the record, every saint does lukewarm deeds at times. Do you realize that self-proclaimed Philadelphians often exhibit traits of Laodiceans? (Revelation 3:17). It is important for every saint to focus on our leader, Jesus Christ, who will help us overcome.
The label stifles Bible study
One of the tragic results of the church-eras theory is that people use the Laodicean label to stifle Bible study.
For some people the Laodicean label discourages them from seeing what the Bible says about a teaching.
For the record, people should ignore the self-proclaimed Philadelphians and compare to the Bible the teachings of Mr. Armstrong, of the long correspondence course, of the STP and of their church.
Time to change the filter
Self-proclaimed Philadelphians need to change their mental filter. Unfortunately, changing a mental filter is not as easy as changing an air filter in a car or furnace.
Usually the most effective way for a mental filter to change is through tough life experiences. Review the stories of Job (Job 38-42), Saul (Acts 9:1-5) and the Laodicean congregation (Revelation 3:17-19).
However, we can become teachable and learn the lessons more quickly if we will remember two lessons from Revelation 2 and 3:
Focus on Jesus Christ
For the record, although I reject the numerous theories and interpretations about church eras, I acknowledge a progressive pattern in Revelation 2 and 3.
Instead of allowing this progressive pattern to influence you to label and condemn people, why not focus on the coming return of Jesus Christ?
The purpose of prophecy is not to give glory to church leaders who are reportedly identified in Scripture and not to give glory to supposed master teachers who espouse their theories as absolute truth.
Rather, the purpose of prophecy is to motivate saints to rekindle a relationship with the Father and the Son and to "keep" the words of the Bible (Revelation 1:3).
Be an overcomer
Recognizing the progressive nature and pattern of prophecy should motivate saints to concentrate on overcoming, which is a main theme of Revelation 2 and 3.
All saints, including self-proclaimed Philadelphians, would do well to internalize the following lessons:
In conclusion: Keep your eyes on the words of our leader, Jesus Christ, because God blesses those who overcome.
© The Journal: News of the Churches of God