Some questions sure do make you think

The writer is a church pastor and a regular columnist for The Journal.

By Dave Havir

BIG SANDY, Texas--Do you make a conscious effort to influence people to develop their thinking skills? Do you encourage people to analyze, evaluate, question and reason?

One method to help people think is to ask challenging questions. In this article I pose eight questions about the Church of God movement. Caution: If you spend time thinking about these questions, your perspective may expand.

Preparing to help

1. Why are many Roman Catholics unwilling to hear constructive criticism about teachings of the pope?

Many people view questioning the pope's teachings the same as questioning God.

Many people view speaking constructive criticism about the pope's teachings the same as blaspheming God.

In the future you will have the opportunity to help sincere people who overemphasize the role of the pope.

Do you know what is preparing people today to help sincere Catholics?

  • Many of you no longer treat the memory of Herbert Armstrong like millions of Catholics treat the pope.
  • Many of you can evaluate Mr. Armstrong's teachings without harping on his alleged personal sins.
  • Many of you can appreciate some of Mr. Armstrong's teachings and at the same time disagree with other of his teachings.
  • Are you ready to help people look to the Father, His Son and the Bible? Millions of people will need your help.

They change his teachings

2.Why do people dogmatically advertise their identity as following Mr. Armstrong's teachings and then proceed to change his teachings?

Many identify themselves as Philadelphians (Revelation 3:7-13) because they claim to follow Mr. Armstrong's teachings better than anyone else.

Many expect to have physical protection (verse 10) because they claim to follow Mr. Armstrong's teachings more faithfully than do other people.

There are two problems with this approach.

First, following Mr. Armstrong's teachings is not the key to pleasing God. The key to pleasing God is keeping Jesus' word and not denying Jesus' name (verse 8).

Second, the people making those statements do the very thing for which they criticize other people: They change Mr. Armstrong's teachings.

After some people publicly criticize those who dare even to question Mr. Armstrong's teachings, they proceed to change some themselves.

Sometimes the rhetoric is so loud that people become distracted from the facts.

He was an independent

3. Since history shows that Mr. Armstrong was an independent, why are people unwilling to identify themselves as independents?

Here is a recommendation: View the last 150 years of the Church of God movement as a historian. In that way you will probably have a better perspective about the role of A.N. Dugger, C.O. Dodd, Herbert Armstrong and others.

Recently I perused the Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong and reviewed how for decades he led a small independent group that ultimately grew into an empire.

One aspect of history was especially striking to me: Whether Mr. Armstrong was leading a small group or the empire, he was fiercely independent.

Not only was Mr. Armstrong separate from other denominations, he was independent in his dealings with other Sabbath-keepers.

  • Mr. Armstrong emphasized he was never a member of the Seventh-day Adventists, although he studied SDA literature (pages 353-354).
  • When he began fellowshipping with the Church of God whose headquarters was at Stanberry, Mo. (page 354), scattered members fellowshipped in congregations of fewer than 100 people (page 357). He stated he was never a member of that church (pages 358, 409).
  • He gave his first public prayer and first sermon in the summer of 1928 (page 363-364).
  • He described his second sermon as the beginning of continual opposition from ministers (page 365).
  • He began giving regular sermons to eight to 12 people at Oregon City (page 367).
  • In November 1930 he acted as secretary at a meeting of the Stanberry group. The purpose of this meeting was to form the Oregon Conference (pages 409-411).
  • When Mr. Armstrong agreed to do an evangelistic campaign with R.L. Taylor, the Oregon Conference ordained him (pages 425-426).

All the brethren laid hands on him (page 427).

He also stated: "Let it be plain here: I was ordained by, and under the authority of, the Oregon Conference of the Church of God, separately incorporated; not by the Stanberry, Missouri, headquarters."

  • The Oregon Conference hired him (page 426), laid him off (pages 446-448) and hired him again (page 484-485).
  • When Mr. and Mrs. Elmer Fisher asked him to hold meetings in a country schoolhouse, he was an employee of the Oregon Conference of the Church of God (pages 505-506).
  • Because Mr. Armstrong baptized new converts before preaching to them against the eating of pork, two men apparently tried to get him ousted from the payroll (page 520). Because of a resolution at a board meeting, he refused his salary. As he said, "I did not resign from the Conference. But I refused further salary" (page 524).
  • At the biennial general-conference meeting of the church at Stanberry, Mo., in August 1933, Andrew Dugger left the Stanberry group.

Mr. Armstrong wrote: "Elder Andrew N. Dugger had lost his previous iron control of the church by one vote. Thereupon Mr. Dugger promptly bolted the Conference and organized a competing 'Church of God' under what he termed 'the Bible form of organization'" (page 556).

This included a board of 12, a board of 70 and a board of seven. Because the United States headquarters was in Salem, W.Va., this conference became known as the Salem church.

Mr. Armstrong and the little group were not sure if they should associate with the Salem Conference. As he wrote: "I talked it over with Mr. and Mrs. Fisher, Mr. Claude Ellis, and others of our Church at Jeans [Ore.]. Mr. Fisher was not 'sold' on it, either. He advised going slow" (page 558).

Mr. Armstrong and his group decided that, if he were selected as one of the 70 leaders, his little group would cooperate. "Otherwise we would remain independent," he said (page 558).

  • A short time later, Mr. Armstrong learned that the conference did consider him as one of the 70. He wrote: "Thus we of the Church of God meeting at the Jeans school-house, along with our brethren of the Oregon Conference, decided to go along with it in co-operation, but we . . . did not 'join' in the sense of becoming an integral part of it . . .

"We co-operated fully as brethren in Christ. But I did not accept salary or expense money from them. None in our local church put himself under their authority. We kept ourselves free to obey God as set forth in the Scriptures, should any differences come up. And they did later come up! . . .

"After the experience of being ordered to baptize contrary to the Scriptures [without counseling new converts about unclean meats] and the renouncing of the $3 weekly 'salary,' we were firm never again to be placed in a position where we might have to obey men rather than God" (page 561).

  • Have you noticed that Mr. Armstrong was more independent toward the end of his ministry than he was at the beginning?

Early in his ministry, Mr. Armstrong did not seek permission and credentials before preaching. Later he was the leader of a group whose headquarters emphasized permission and credentials.

Early in his ministry Mr. Armstrong associated with various groups that had headquarters. Later he was the leader of a group whose headquarters did not cooperate with other headquarters.

  • Mr. Armstrong became so independent in his thinking that he believed he was personally identified in the Bible to fulfill specific prophecies. Following are quotes from his book Mystery of the Ages:

"From the year 1931, exactly 1,900 years (a century of time cycles) from the foundation of the Church, this small remnant of the original true Church of God began to take on a new life as the Philadelphia era" (page 289).

The word angel in Revelation 3:7 "may also apply to the human messenger or agent God has raised up to lead this era of his Church. At the same time another principle of duality may apply to verses 7-13. It may apply to the Church of this era as a whole, and also it could apply to the human leader God has raised up to this era of his Church" (page 290).

"The human leader to be raised up somewhat shortly prior to Christ's Second Coming was to prepare the way--prepare the Church--for Christ's coming, and restore the truth that had been lost through the preceding eras of the Church" (pages 290-291).

  • It is amazing that people who claim Mr. Armstrong as part of their heritage will not recognize themselves as independents.
  • It is amazing that people who prove their independence by being territorial and exclusive will derogatorily label people who are nonterritorial and inclusive as independents.

Look at the roots

4. Did you know that the large centralized form of church government does not have deep roots in the Church of God movement?

You are probably aware that Mr. Armstrong wrote an article in 1939 supporting the church-government model of the 1930s, and later in his autobiography he clearly criticized the same model (pages 411-412 and 555-558).

As his view of church government evolved, he imitated--consciously or unconsciously--the Roman Catholic model.

Although large centralized church governance has deep roots in the Roman Catholic Church, that concept is relatively new to the Church of God movement.

Why did you leave?

5. If you believe the Worldwide Church of God was God's government on earth, why did you leave?

Some people say: I left because I disagreed with the doctrinal changes; I didn't leave because of government.

In other words, you saw doctrinal changes as a sufficient reason to leave the WCG even though it had a desirable form of church government.

But the government issue is deeper than that; it is what the WCG supposedly was and is. Being God's government on earth is different from merely having a desirable form of church government.

If the WCG were truly God's government on earth, how could you leave?

Is a new version binding?

6. If you believe that the WCG version of God's government on earth was not binding, what makes you believe that any of these other new versions is binding?

Some people say: God's government on earth moved.

In other words, they believe a new group somewhere does not merely have a desirable form of church government; it is actually God's government on earth.

For the record: It is an unproven theory that the WCG was ever God's actual government on earth. Now there are numerous theories about where the actual government supposedly moved.

Will you bind yourself to a theory? Or will you focus your attention on the throne of the Father and the throne of the Son? (Ephesians 1:17-23; Colossians 3:1-2; Hebrews 3:1; 8:1; 12:9; Revelation 3:21).

Maybe not your version

7. If people who have stayed in the WCG because of their concept of God's government on earth choose to leave at some point, will you be happy for them if they don't choose your version of God's government on earth?

Or would those leaving the WCG be acceptable only if they join your physical group?

Maybe no version

8. If people who have stayed in the WCG because of their concept of God's government on earth choose to leave at some point, will you be happy for them if they choose a group that realizes that no congregation is God's government on earth?

Or would those leaving the WCG be acceptable only if they join one of the ever-increasing options of God's government on earth?

Some questions sure make you think!

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