Flawed theories erode teaching credibility

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

By Dave Havir

BIG SANDY, Texas--An article about the Church of God movement appeared on the front page of The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) Wednesday, Feb. 21.

Although the WSJ article focused on a copyright issue concerning Mystery of the Ages, my major observation about the article was how the Church of God is perceived by observers.

It is my perspective that wrong theories among members of the Church of God hinder teaching from the Bible. Many of the erroneous theories involve an overemphasis on Herbert Armstrong.

Wanting to help

For the record, I attract criticism from both ends of the spectrum regarding Mr. Armstrong.

First, some people get mad at me because I express appreciation for him. Let me give you an example.

In the May 31, 1999, issue of The Journal, I wrote an article titled "Mr. Armstrong Was a Helper of My Joy."

In the Sept. 19, 1999, issue a letter from a reader calling me "an idiot" was printed. By the way, I am glad The Journal printed the letter because observant people saw the difference between our approaches.

Second, other people get mad at me because I warn people about placing Mr. Armstrong into the role of Jesus Christ. Let me tell you why I warn.

  • In the past I overemphasized Mr. Armstrong. I have repented of that sin.
  • Let me state something clearly: I do not blame Mr. Armstrong for my sin. Although I recognize ways Mr. Armstrong negatively influenced me, I am responsible for my thoughts and actions.
  • Some people were a positive influence on me to change my perspective, and I want to be a positive influence on others in the same way.

Many groups do it

Dozens of groups place Mr. Armstrong into the role of Jesus Christ. Although the Philadelphia Church of God (PCG) is the group mentioned in the WSJ article, it is certainly not the only group to overemphasize Mr. Armstrong.

Many groups do it just as much as the PCG. In my opinion, some small groups do it more radically than the PCG.

Those of you who overemphasize Mr. Armstrong hurt yourselves, your friends and potential sons of God who could benefit from knowledge that you have.

When you place Mr. Armstrong in the role of Jesus Christ, you are practicing a form of idolatry.

Hurting yourself

One of the common mistakes many make is to claim that the present firstfruits--that is, Christians--have been called through Mr. Armstrong.

Many defend this statement by saying: We know that the Father calls people, and we know that Jesus Christ is our Savior, but we also know that all of us were called through the teachings of Mr. Armstrong.

Think about that.

You base the identity of saints on the words of Mr. Armstrong instead of words from the Bible. You base the identity of saints upon people knowing and honoring Mr. Armstrong instead of knowing and honoring the Father and the Son.

Here are some questions to consider.

  • Was Jesus impressed when people focused their identity on Abraham? (John 8:33-36).
  • What is a major lesson to be taught during the Day of the Lord? (Isaiah 2:10, 17).
  • What type of glorying does God accept? (Jeremiah 9:24).
  • Which name has God highly exalted? (Philippians 2:9-11).
  • What happens when a person confesses or denies Jesus Christ? (Matthew 10:32-33).
  • What happens when a person does not give proper honor to the Stone? (Matthew 21:44).

Hurting friends

Because you place Mr. Armstrong into the role of Jesus Christ, your friends who do not do that are falsely accused of doing the same.

Since we have a mutual history, observers tend to lump all of us together. We are guilty by association.

Hurting teaching opportunities

Because you place Mr. Armstrong into the role of Jesus Christ, observers get repulsed by the Church of God movement.

When they hear flawed theories and interpretations of prophecy about Mr. Armstrong, they are predisposed to ignore accurate teachings from our heritage.

Can you identify theories that look preposterous to historians who may be watching your group?

You may be sobered about how some theories make you appear more like followers of David Koresh than you care to imagine.

Here are some theories that cause you to lose credibility as a teacher of the Bible:

  • Many of you theorize that Mystery of the Ages was the most important book written since the Bible. Whenever you parrot Mr. Armstrong's advertisements about his book, you portray yourself as a person who is easily swayed by his hyperbole.
  • Many of you theorize that the gospel was not preached for 1,900 years until Mr. Armstrong came onto the scene. Whenever you repeat Mr. Armstrong's statement to that effect, you reveal your tendency to overlook history and to accept his bold but erroneous theories.
  • Many of you theorize Mr. Armstrong was a prophet. Have you objectively looked at his prophetic track record? If you identify him as a prophet, you are influencing people to call him a false prophet. If you stress his prophetic interpretations, you influence people to discover his erroneous theories.

Many of us who appreciate him for other reasons recognize that this portion of his ministry produced tragic results in the lives of thousands.

  • ·Many of you theorize Mr. Armstrong was the end-time Elijah. Did this private interpretation of prophecy originate with Mr. Armstrong?

The Bible teaches that John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elijah (Luke 1:17; Matthew 11:10-15; 17:10-13). A prophecy does discuss two witnesses coming in the spirit and power of Elijah (Revelation 11:5-6).

  • Many of you theorize Mr. Armstrong was the head of the supposed Philadelphia era of the church. Who started transferring Mr. Armstrong's name into the Holy Scripture?

Who does the Bible identify as the head of the Philadelphia church? Who is holy and true? (Revelation 3:7).

Saints were commended for keeping Jesus' word and not denying Jesus' name (verse 8). Because of keeping Jesus' word, they were promised protection (verse 10). Saints who overcome will be rewarded by Jesus (verse 12).

Various theories place honor upon different men. However, it is an absolute truth that Jesus Christ should receive praise, honor and glory.

  • Many of you theorize that Mr. Armstrong fulfilled Matthew 24:14. Granted, he accomplished much through writing, broadcasting and travel. But do you really believe he preached a witness to all nations? At the risk of offending you, I must point out how naive such a claim makes you appear.

Circular reasoning

Someone may say: Those of us close to God understand prophecies that you do not comprehend. We have faith in those prophecies.

My response would be: God expects you to have faith in His promises. God does not want you to have faith in the private interpretations of men.

The danger with many theories is that they promote circular reasoning. Here is an example.

Person 1: Since Mr. Armstrong was Christ's end-time apostle, he spoke for God.

Person 2: How do you know Mr. Armstrong was Christ's end-time apostle?

Person 1: Mr. Armstrong explained the prophecy about himself to us.

Person 2: How did he know that the prophecy was about him?

Person 1: God revealed knowledge to the end-time apostle.

Person 2: How do you know God interpreted the prophecy for him?

Person 1: Since Mr. Armstrong was Christ's end-time apostle, he spoke for God.

From the Bible

Those of you in the Church of God movement have learned valuable information from God through the Bible. Yet many of you let erroneous theories hinder your ability to let your light shine.

Can you personally teach Church of God doctrine without the filter of the theories surrounding Mr. Armstrong?

Can you personally teach Church of God doctrine without the crutch of any church government?

Can you personally teach Church of God doctrine from the Bible?

When people ask you questions, you should be prepared to give biblical answers:

  • What is the purpose of life?
  • Is my deceased churchgoing grandmother in heaven?
  • Is my deceased carousing uncle in hell?
  • Is this the only day of salvation?
  • What is the relationship between grace and law?
  • Are the Ten Commandments valid today?
  • What are the signs of Jesus' return?

Friendly advice

Jesus told His disciples that each will be judged by the word He spoke (John 12:48).

Of course, He taught what the Father told Him (John 8:28).

  • I hope you will remember to concentrate on the message instead of any physical messenger.
  • But, if you are going to focus on a messenger, make sure you focus upon Jesus Christ, who spoke for the Father.
  • Avoid erroneous theories that hinder your teaching from the Bible.

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