Letters from our Readers
In with Thnu
I've enjoyed Wes White's editorials, though I was somewhat confused about his "friends." It wasn't until after reading his last editorial ["Why Shouldn't We Rethink Evangeli$m?," Feb. 29] that I finally got it. "Moore Wright" typifies one who is "more right"! Duh. And I almost missed "Thnu." Moore Wright Thnu is more right than you. I may be a little slow, but I now have a new appreciation for Wes's editorials.
Just read the latest article in The Journal by Wes White ("Why Shouldn't We Rethink Evangeli$m?," Feb. 29). Well done. My only complaint is that, as fast as he pricks the orgs' balloons, the faster they replenish the supply of hot air.
Victoria, B.C., Canada
The Gibson flick
Understandably, Mel Gibson's graphic depiction of the cruelties that culminated in the death of Christ on Golgotha has been greeted with an abundance of comment from practically every direction. [See five reviews of Mr. Gibson's The Passion of the Christ in The Journal, Feb. 29.]
Among the detractors was James Tabor, who expresses disappointment that the film failed to show that the Romans had a case of their own against Jesus. [See "The Passion of Limited Value in the Quest for the Historical Jesus," by Dr. Tabor.]
It was clear that the Gibson film affronted Dr. Tabor's own cherished memory of the events that led to the crucifixion:
"We are left with the impression that it was the Jews who really wanted this, and the noble Roman leaders would have tolerated a messianic claimant to operate fully at Passover."
Scripture leaves us with the very same "impression": It was the scribes, elders and chief priests who wanted Christ eliminated. It is Christ Himself who indicts the Jewish elite:
"If I had not come to them and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; now, however, their sin cannot be excused. Had I not performed such works among them, as no one had ever done before, they would not be guilty of sin; but, as it is, they have seen and they go on hating me and my Father" (John 15: 22-24).
As seen in the dialogue of John 3, they knew that Christ had come from God. Like the disciples of Christ, they assumed that Christ had intended to establish the Kingdom of God during their own lifetimes. Thus they fancied they could abort the plan of God by having Him killed before it ever happened.
It has historically long been accepted, and verified by Scripture, that Roman policy tolerated local laws and religious customs that did not impinge upon Roman hegemony. An incident described in Acts 18:12-17 attests to this attitude.
Yet Dr. Tabor gratuitously asserts that "Roman policy in Palestine in that period" led to "dozens of 'messiahs' . . . regularly hunted down and slaughtered by Roman officials."
Citing no Scripture whatever, Dr. Tabor wrote in his Feb. 29 piece:
"According to the Gospels, it was only when the Jewish leaders brought up the political threat that releasing Jesus would raise the charge that Pilate was no friend of Caesar that he bows to their wishes."
The Gospels, however, show that Pilate put no faith in what the assembled mob spoke about Jesus. (See Mark 15:8-10.)
The pivotal event that persuades Pilate to yield to their demand for Christ's death is their insistence on the release of Barabbas, not the dubious "political threat" that Pilate was "no friend of Caesar."
The involvement of the various participants in Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ is an accurate reflection of what we have long known from the Gospel accounts, in terms of both manner and extent. It is definitely worth the price of admission.
In his review of The Passion of the Christ, James D. Tabor wrote that he thought "the inclusion of Aramaic and Latin was truly a wonderful move. It gave the whole thing a feel of authenticity that few films on Jesus have approached in that regard."
For me, on the other hand, the authenticity was greatly marred by the failure to ensure that Jesus and His disciples spoke Aramaic with a distinctive Galilean accent. (It was as disconcerting as hearing, say, a true-blue Kiwi--or even George Bush--pronouncing English with a Pommy accent!)
Further, Pilate's pronunciation of Latin followed the modern Italian (or ecclesiastical) pronunciation, albeit with the actor's involuntary Slavic inflection, rather than a historically accurate one (the two c's in ecce, for instance, should be hard, to rhyme--more or less--with kay, not with che).
Just ruined the whole thing for me.
Big Sandy, Texas
Volunteers needed to help Boy Scouts
The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) recognizes religious-emblem programs developed by churches and organizations for use with the scouting program. For awards to be recognized by the Boy Scouts of America and the emblem to be worn on the uniform, programs must meet the criteria, mission and standards of the BSA.
It has been requested by many members within the Churches of God to have a religious-emblem program reflecting the basic doctrines of the Church of God including the Sabbath, holy days and clean and unclean meats.
Because Churches of God vary in size, it is difficult for most to meet the establishing guidelines by the BSA. For this reason, a not-for-profit organization called the National Sabbatarian Association on Scouting (NSAS) has been created and was scheduled to be registered in December.
The corporation was organized for the specific purpose of establishing, operating and promoting a resource, service and information network for counseling, religious achievement, organized activities, training and communication opportunities for all Sabbatarian scouting participants, parents, guardians, counselors, ministers and scouting leaders.
The National Sabbatarian Association on Scouting is composed of a board of directors who are members of Sabbatarian churches whose beliefs agree with the basic tenants of the Church of God established by Jesus Christ.
The NSAS currently has a need for five to nine directors. Those interested in volunteering for one of these positions should E-mail a request for a copy of the "Recruitment for Board of Directors."
The following information is requested to help the NSAS in its discussions with the BSA to represent a fair and accurate assessment of the needs of Sabbatarians within the scouting program:
o Any Church of God organization that charters a scouting unit.
o A list of scouters and adults interested in earning a religious emblem.
o Sponsors willing to help fund the NSAS for literature, emblems and programs.
o Volunteers to help with the functions within the NSAS but unwilling to be a board member.
o Volunteers to help create a Web site.
An emblem program has been created and should be available soon. For more information please write firstname.lastname@example.org.
Pilgrimage to Sequim
We heard the sad news that David Jon Hill had died [The Journal, Nov. 28, 2003]. We were so happy to read his story in The Journal [see the October and December issues]. Our church is getting old.
One early morning in May 1983 my wife, Dorothy, and I drove to Woodland, Wash., where we had an idea to fly over Mount St. Helens but changed our mind and traveled to Sequim, Wash., with a stopover in Olympia, Washington's capital.
At last we arrived in Sequim, about 4:30 p.m. We rented a room. After a brief rest and shower we tried to phone Mr. Hill but, alas, the phone had been disconnected because he was moving.
We planned for a big day in the morning locating David Jon Hill.
After a good night's rest we made many phone calls. Then we met a salesman who knew Mr. Hill and told us where his home was.
This all happened after his beloved wife, Audrey, had passed away.
A next-door neighbor, Ida, told us Mr. Hill was at the Lamplighter Bar. So we drove there.
We had never met him in person, but we had heard him preach.
After a handshake, we, Mr. Hill, Dorothy and I, sat down and had drinks and talked for hours until dark. During this time his son Jonathan came by for a chat.
We made plans to meet the next day for Mothers' Day dinner. So on the Sunday of Mothers' Day 1983 we arrived back at the Lamplighter at 11:30 a.m. and did not leave until 4 p.m. to begin our trip home to Salem, Ore.
As we learned in the Lamplighter, he was a drinker; we tried to keep up with him. The conversation was simply awesome. Mr. Hill was a top evangelist in the WCG and a buddy of Garner Ted Armstrong. How sweet it was.
Mr. Hill asked me: "Did you purchase a Mothers' Day flower for your wife, Dorothy"?
I said no.
He arose, went outside and picked a flower, put it on Dorothy and kissed her. He was a real gentleman.
Oh, yes! We talked about religion, the old days in the WCG and what our future might be.
At last the day came to an end. Mr. Hill advised me not to drive because we had had more than a little booze. So I promised him not to drive too far.
The bar was full, and we were the center of attention, because everyone there knew Mr. Hill.
Dorothy and I drove to Shelton, Wash., where we spent the night.
Mr. Hill took the cure the next day: No more booze. He promised to come see us in Salem, but we never met him again.
He wrote a wonderful article for the Church of God International's Twentieth Century Watch called "Live Now and Forever!," an article we like a lot.
We will never forget those two days in Sequim, Wash., with a wonderful man named David Jon Hill.
Let's be respectful
From time to time I will read something printed in The Journal that angers me. One of the things that will elicit this response in me is when people are purposely disrespectful.
While reading Tom Mahon's letter in the Jan. 31 edition, I came across this little diatribe: "So, unlike Mr. Buzzard, who was armed with only a Strong's, God's elect, armed with a spirit of truth, have been led to the right understanding of the nature and status of Jesus."
This is wrong on so many levels. First, when we enter into a debate we should not descend into mud fields of personal attacks. Just argue the issue at hand.
Mr. Mahon was basically saying that Mr. Buzzard is not one of the "elect," does not have the "spirit of truth" and does not have a right understanding. Ouch!
For the record, I do not share Anthony Buzzard's view that Jesus came into existence at Mary's conception. I do, however, feel that Mr. Buzzard deserves our simple courtesy, even if we disagree with his premise.
By the way, where in the Bible does it say that the elect would be known by their perfect understanding of this or any other topic? When I read my Bible, it seems to say that they would be known by their love and mercy. Yes, even to those who lack their "right understanding."
The Spirit has spoken
Tom Mahon ("Doesn't God Realize He Preexisted?," The Journal, Jan. 31) maintains that the notion that the Son of God came into existence first in the womb of his mother "is nowhere to be found in the Scriptures."
A host of scholars would agree that Matthew, Luke and Peter show no knowledge at all of a preexisting Son of God, and they would agree, often, that the Old Testament has nothing to say about the Messiah being already alive.
The whole point of the Old Testament dealings of God with Israel was that God did not speak through a Son at that time (Hebrews 1:1-2 says it plainly). That is because the Son of God had not yet come into existence. He could not possibly have created the heavens and the earth, and to say that He did robs the Father of His unique position as unaccompanied Creator (Isaiah 44:24).
Colossians 1:15 and following verses speak of Jesus and the new creation introduced through Him. It was by means of His resurrection that He achieved supremacy (verse 18). This means that He was not installed in that creative position before.
It may not be known to some readers of The Journal that quoting the King James at 1 Timothy 3:16, "God was manifested in the flesh," is risky, since that text is corrupt. Modern versions have corrected the sentence to "He who was manifested in the flesh."
The King James represents a forged Greek manuscript here, designed to promote the postbiblical doctrine of the Incarnation and Trinity. Modern versions and commentaries should be consulted on this point.
Mr. Mahon produces the argument that is really not answerable. He says that, unlike myself, he and those who agree with him had much more than the King James and Strong's. They had the Holy Spirit.
That position reminds us of the Mormons, who know that they are right because the Spirit has spoken to them.
Study of the Bible is for all of us a task demanding as wide as possible knowledge of the various issues. I think that we who have been through the Armstrong experience attached ourselves to one mentor, and an inadequate one, and thought that the Holy Spirit would make up for any defects. Thus we did our theology on an island and disregarded what others had said, especially scholars of all sorts.
But a scholar may be able to point out that "having glory before the foundation of the world" (John 17:5) does not have to mean that one was alive at that time. In the very context (John 17:22, 24) Jesus defined that glory as glory promised by God and not glory already enjoyed.
But if one is not impressed with that sort of explanation a simpler consideration is available. God is only one person. This is demonstrated about 15,000 times in the Bible when God speaks of Himself and is addressed by the use of singular personal pronouns. It requires only a little learning to know that singular personal pronouns describe a single person, not two or three.
That is why God is one Lord God and one Lord only (Deuteronomy 6:4). Jesus is the Lord Messiah, not the Lord God.
If singular personal pronouns do not tell us that God is one person, then biblical language is wiped out as a testimony to anything.
Atlanta (Ga.) Bible College
Consult an abundance of helps
In the October issue of The Journal ["Socinianism Isn't New," page 2] Anthony Buzzard takes issue with 1 Corinthians 10:3, stating that Paul did not really mean to say that the Rock was Christ but rather a type of Christ and that verse 11 is verification of that, directly from Paul.
But a closer look at verse 11 reveals that the typology was in the things that happened to them. The Rock was not a happening but rather the source of what was happening.
Verse 3 says that the Rock was spiritual. Paul was not referring to a physical type but to the spirit being that followed them.
The primary reason I have gotten involved in this at all is that I believe brethren should not be schooled into thinking that we must depend on scholarly types to tell us how to understand clearly stated Scripture.
There is an ongoing attack on the reliability of both the Old Testament and the New Testament texts of which this (though I believe not intentional) is no exception. I thank God there are an abundance of helps at our disposal so the shadows being cast on the validity of Scripture can quickly be dealt with. But it takes work.
It was Matthew's tic talking
This is in response to Orval Strong's recent letter in The Journal wherein he states that Jesus "had" to have been in the grave three full days and three full nights ["Three Days, Three Nights," Nov. 28, page 2]. Well, no, He didn't.
Jesus explained out of His own mouth in Luke 13:32 what the "third day" meant. Jesus said: "Go you and tell that fox. I do cures today and tomorrow and the third day I shall be perfected."
Vine's Complete Expository Dictionary, pages 628-629, has this explanation of a third day: "the next day but one." This agrees completely with Jesus' definition in Luke.
The plain fact is that Matthew had sort of a tic. He had a tendency to tack on "and nights" whenever he mentioned periods of days.
In referring to Jesus' temptation in the wilderness immediately after His baptism by John the Baptist, Matthew says "forty days and forty nights," although no other passages about this event in the other Gospels mention nights, only days.
One can only conjecture that this was some sort of an expression of which Matthew (or someone translating) was fond.
For a fuller explanation of how days are counted, refer to Acts 10, the story of Cornelius sending for Simon Peter. This explains in great detail how to count to the fourth day.
To confirm that days are counted the same way in the Old Testament, refer to Esther 4-5 and to Leviticus where the count for Pentecost is set forth.
The devil, the beast, the false prophet and a problem
How many times have you heard or read that the coming beast and false prophet are men who will die in the lake of fire? The Church of God teaches that men will not be tormented forever.
"And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever" (Revelation 20:10, KJV).
Pamphlets that explain this verse focus on are and substitute the word were for a seemingly correct interpretation. Were allows for the interpretation that the beast and false prophet died. The Greek text does not have a verb, as the italic letters in the King James Bible indicate.
The problem is the last phrase, "shall be tormented." If you read only the KJV Bible you could assume that "shall be tormented" implies "he," referring to the devil. The Greek text, with no manuscript disparity, says, they shall be tormented. Please read the New American Standard Bible, or ask anyone who reads Greek.
If the beast and the false prophet are men, then we have a problem. A man or men shall be tormented forever?
What is the solution? The devil is not a man. If one of the two other beings is a nonhuman, then the "they" is solved.
"The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition" (Revelation 17:8). The beast is not human.
If the false prophet were human, the "they" could refer to the devil and the beast. The false prophet could be a nonhuman if Revelation 16:13 depicts the culmination of the evil that has demonized all false prophets.
I read something today that rankled me: a criticism of Herbert W. Armstrong's misunderstandings of prophecies over the years (primarily timing issues; he thought Christ would return in the '40s, then the '50s, etc.).
I normally ignore these things, but in this case I don't want to. I have something I want to say to put things in perspective.
Mr. Armstrong saw the prophecies and was impacted deeply by Scriptures such as Matthew 24:34: "This generation shall not pass till all these things be fulfilled."
So he expected Christ's return in his lifetime.
He was wrong on that. So were the original apostles. They obviously expected Christ's return in their lifetimes, and they had ample reason to think that. After all, they heard what Christ said in Matthew 24:34.
Did that make them liars?
The error the apostles and Mr. Armstrong likewise made in timing does not mean the event won't happen. If that is so, we are of all men most miserable to have faith in a lie.
We humans see only darkly, as through a glass, as Paul said. We make our assumptions.
In fact, my older Bible says quite clearly in the inspired margin that Christ will return in 1993 or so.
But apparently He failed to consult with me, so I was wrong.
Am I am proved a liar?
When I climbed on my soapbox in 1981 and told everyone around me what I was learning, did I lie?
I spoke what I understood; I led some to expect Christ was returning in the next 12 years--but He didn't.
Did Christ lie in Matthew 24:34?
I think not.
Did He explain everything there?
It's to the glory of God to conceal a matter, ours to search it out. Do we understand Scripture fully?
No, only Christ did, and He wasn't born with those answers.
He studied for those answers (why else did He say "It is written" so often?).
Christ asked questions (see Luke 2). He pondered. He even learned by the things He suffered (Hebrews 5:8).
We need to do the same.
Yet it's easy for us to misunderstand, to goof up.
In regards to many of Mr. Armstrong's inaccurate statements, he had to grow, learn lessons, apply them. We must do the same.
Let me throw out a concept I've been thinking about.
When I came into the WCG in 1981 I believed the return of Christ was imminent. Any second now we could leave for a place of safety.
Twenty-two years has passed. Christ isn't back; the Kingdom isn't established. My study, I believe led by God's Spirit, showed me the urgency of my calling, that the time was growing short. Did God lie to me by misleading me? I don't think so.
I am convinced that Christ's return will be for me in the next 40 years or so. Why?
Simple. When I came into the Church of God I was about 24. Now I am almost 46. I am more than halfway through this race. Sometime in the next 40 or so years my race will end, my wait will be over.
In the next split second after that race is done I will rise, and I will then know as I have never known before the mystery of God. I will understand the times.
I was wrong. HWA was wrong. But our misunderstanding didn't negate the prophetic value of the words we understood. My misunderstandings do not make God a liar. Rather, let God be true and every man a liar.
The only decision left to worry about for me is what will Christ decide about me, and what can I do to change that decision if it's not looking good?
That's the real issue, and it must affect everything we do.
Glen Ellyn, Ill.
Vicars of Christ
I would like to comment on a subject that has been an ax to grind with most Churches of God: church government.
The hierarchy form of government didn't come into effect until the Catholic Church started. Anyone who did not agree was put to death.
The Catholic Church chased and killed God's people all over Europe to force everyone to bow down to its teachings.
The pope is the vicar of Christ. Anyone under a hierarchical form of church government is under a "so-called vicar of Christ," which now includes the UCG, the Philadelphia Church of God and the Living Church of God, either having one vicar or 12 (a council of elders).
Christ said He did not appoint one over the other. Church leaders forbid using the power to heal, prophets, etc., and these prohibitions cause the Holy Spirit to be suppressed.
1 John 2:27-27 makes it clear that the Holy Spirit will lead and guide us in all truth.
New Castle, Del.
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