Letters from our readers

Yea, Alan!

Concerning your article on Alan Ruth, March 2001, I have this to say: Right on, Alan Ruth!

I have read few articles in The Journal that I agree with more completely. For a 38-year-old, he has depth of wisdom and spiritual maturity.

Mr. Ruth holds that the brethren have replaced the Holy Spirit with the ministry. They allow the ministry to do their thinking for them and rely on it instead of on God's Spirit to lead them into all truth.

I believe it would be more correct to say that church government has been substituted for the Spirit of God. However, I would put it even more strongly: Church government is all too often a counterfeit of the Holy Spirit.

The plethora of splits is indeed testimony to the misuse of church government. But, more important, we need to look beyond splits and organizations, recognizing that God's church is a spiritual organism. Though divided organizationally, we should recognize that all with God's Spirit living in them are one in Christ.

Robert Macdonald

Pasadena, Calif.

Edifying the Body

Alan Ruth's recent interview in The Journal ("King of the Church of God Web Publishers Says COGs Accomplishing More Than Ever," March 30) brought to mind some of my own experiences within the COG.

There comes a time in every member's growth process when he has to move beyond being a babe continually dependent upon a man telling him how to make every decision. We are not to quench the Spirit and remain babes.

It was frustrating meeting on the Sabbath when brethren were not allowed to study the Word of God together without having a minister right there guiding everything.

When I look back on my own situation, I recall how a few members who had been studying the Word of God for 25 or 30 years saw what was happening [at Worldwide Church of God headquarters] in Pasadena long before the local ministry had a clue.

Being independent does carry a lot of responsibility to hold to the truth because some among us have come up with some pretty crazy doctrines. There are certain salvational doctrines that we are all required to speak the same thing about, and a member within or without an organization should quickly learn what those doctrines are.

I enjoy being nonaligned because we have the freedom to make our own decisions and choices. As independents we become directly responsible to God, and that is as it should be. My husband and I have our own private family Bible study every Sabbath, listen to tapes or live speakers of our own choosing and support those we choose to support.

Besides the gift of teaching, members receive other spiritual gifts to edify the Body. I have observed that when a man who has obviously been called to be a teacher finally recognizes that there are other spiritual gifts within the Body, and he begins to acknowledge them, a greater amount of voluntary cooperation and unity is evident than where there is a harsh, overly strict, dictatorial leadership.

Marj Coulson

Edgewood, Md.

Tweak attack

In the March 30 issue of The Journal appears an article by Dixon Cartwright titled "King of the Church of God Web Publishers Says COGs Accomplishing More Than Ever."

Within this article Alan Ruth admits that "God is selective. There needs to be a tweak here and there, but to do more could take away from our free moral agency . . ."

Just a tweak? To tweak is to pinch and pull with a jerk and twist, to make a minor adjustment. Is that all God does in our lives? Do we humans take more glory to ourselves in God's salvation process (Psalm 74:12) than we really should? Are we free moral agents who must qualify, choose and have our own works to get into God's Kingdom?

God's Word tells us we are only clay (Isaiah 45:9). What can clay really do? Nothing! Remember, clay doesn't even have hands to do anything with. Clay has no free moral agency, no choice, in what it will become. Clay cannot even tweak itself.

There isn't a single firstfruit alive who has demonstrated to God such great repentance that he has chosen to stop sinning now and chosen to make his resolve not to sin last for the rest of his life.

Why not? Firstfruits are at times pawns or servants of Satan to one degree or another. This captivity is not necessarily caused by a "Texas independent spirit" (mentioned in the article) but by another spirit, which James 4:5 (also 2 Timothy 2:26 and Ephesians 2:2) tells us about: "the spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy."

God the Father and Jesus Christ (John 5:17) are the real workers in God's plan of salvation; They will do more than tweak us.

Here, in conclusion, are three verses (some words emphasized) that show God does more than tweak His firstfruits:

  • Romans 8:30: "Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified."
  • Ephesians 1:6: "To the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved."
  • Philippians 1:6: "Being confident of this very thing, that he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ."

Need only a tweak? God does it all! (1 Thessalonians 5:24).

John Gordon

Nashua, N.H.

Study the Scriptures

We would like to express our opinion concerning the article in the April 30 issue of The Journal in which Don Ward addressed his idea of the nature of Christ as well as how others view the nature of Christ.

We know that the "Word" (logos, spokesman) existed with God forever and that the Word was also God (John 1:1). These were two separate divine beings.

All things visible and invisible were created by the Word (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16-17). This divine being was the one who became Jesus the Christ (Matthew 1:6, 21, 25; Luke 1:31), the Savior. He was also called Immanuel (Matthew 1:23).

Was this divine being always Jesus the Christ? Was this divine being always the Son of God? Or did this divine being become Jesus and the Son?

Think about it. Pray about it. Study the Scriptures. Give us your inspired comments.

Name and location withheld

Take John 1 literally

In regards to Dixon Cartwright's article reporting Don Ward's sermon, "Elder Talks of Satan's Greatest Deception," in the April issue, I agree that the study of the nature of God is important, for I believe that God is pleased with our desire to know Him to the greatest extent possible.

The question is how to obtain such knowledge. After all, the God we try to understand is a spirit being who exists in a different dimension that human beings are not privy to, except to the degree as revealed by God through His Word.

So do we get our understanding of the nature of God from a "sufficient review of seasoned Bible students" and an "orderly doctrinal-review process," as advocated in the article, or do we get our understanding by believing the Word of God and accept it without human interpretation?

After all, the Word of God, the Bible, is primarily a book of faith and belief and not a book of understanding of spiritual concepts that have not been revealed.

Take for example the Fourth Commandment, which says to "remember the Sabbath day" and "keep it holy." We have two options. We can take the statement literally and believe and do it, or we can give it to a doctrinal committee and become Sunday-keepers.

This brings us back to the nature-of-God issue. Considering John 1:1, we again have two options: Interpret it, or believe it. If we interpret the verse, we end up with the various human definitions of the word Word, such as "the second person of the Trinity," "the Son of God," "Jesus Christ," "the Spokesman," "a member of the God family."

Why was it necessary for Herbert W. Armstrong to translate Word into the Greek word logos? Is there a problem understanding the English word Word? Or was this translation necessary to arrive at the word Spokesman, which could at least imply a second God being, whereas word or revelatory thought does not?

But, if we take John 1:1 literally and simply believe it, then John 1:1 says: "In the beginning was the Word [not the Son] and the Word was with God [not the Father] and the Word was God [not was a God, but was the God].

Look at yourself in the mirror. In the beginning is "your word." It is the first thing you see and hear as it comes from your mouth and mind. It is your word that emanates from you and reaches others through the magic of sound and hearing.

Everything you want to communicate and accomplish you do with your word. That's how God does it. The Word of God is God's personal expression of Himself; that is, there was only one God being, Yahweh Elohim.

However, that is not the whole story. Consider the butterfly. Did the butterfly always exist? No. The butterfly came into existence when it changed from a caterpillar to a butterfly. Did the butterfly exist before it was a butterfly? Yes, the butterfly existed, but not as a butterfly.

From this we learn the simple lesson. Did Jesus Christ always exist? No, Jesus Christ came into existence 2,000 years ago when He was born of God and of Mary. Did He exist before He became the Son of God? Yes, Jesus Christ existed, but not as Jesus Christ. He existed as the Word of God.

Did God create all things by Jesus Christ? Yes, He did! But Jesus Christ was not yet Jesus Christ. He was not yet the Son of God. How did God create in the beginning? God spoke (through and by His Word), and it was. It's a matter of belief, not of interpretation and (human) understanding.

At issue is if we really believe that God is reproducing Himself, not only through man, as Mr. Armstrong taught, but that He first of all reproduced Himself through His Word, which became His firstborn Son, Jesus, our example and forerunner in all things.

The question is whether God reproduced Himself through someone from without, a second God being, His Spokesman who was beside Him, or through something from within, Himself, His Word. Procreation is from within, not from without.

The reason Jesus Christ is literally the Son of God is that He was literally born of God. The reason man, literally, "must be born again" of God is to become literal children of God and thereby become what God is: God, sinless and divine.

That is the gospel. God gave (some part) of Himself, His Word, His mind, and sent it from heaven as His Son to die for the sins of the world. Thank God He was willing to share Himself with His creation.

Robert Schmid

Westminster, Calif.

Closet heretic?

Wow! It's hard being a closet unitarian in the corporate Churches of God. Why am I still in the closet? I'll explain that another day.

With regard to the article reporting on Don Ward's sermon in The Journal, April 30, 2001 ["Elder Talks of 'Satan's Greatest Deception'"], Dr. Ward spoke of three views among Church of God "unitarians." There is a fourth view among Christians: that Jesus is literally the Son of God and was His representative during Old Testament times. Then, at the appointed time, Jesus came to die for us, to reconcile us to His Father and His God, also now our Father and our God.

How, you might ask, could we be reconciled by the blood of Jesus if He were not The God (this having been taught to me years earlier by the WCG)? I'll let you think about this yourselves.

I am most offended that Dr. Ward referred to this as heresy!

Name withheld


Measure of divinity

We have seen in letters to the editor that a sort of argument, a difference of opinion, continues to exist among some about who or what humans will become when the Kingdom arrives. Though I'm not an expert, I would like to offer some thoughts on the subject.

In some organizations or groups, the speculation continues that man will become God as God is God. There are others who resist such an idea, apparently that man will be far, far below such a status.

Most of us surely realize that, whatever God makes of us in the Kingdom, the Father and Jesus Christ will always be in charge of the store. Common sense and the Scriptures tell us that nothing is greater than the one who created it, whether a clay pot or a clay human being.

Perhaps those who claim that we will attain God status as God is God are a little presumptuous, expecting more from God than He is prepared to give. But perhaps those who declare that we will be far less are not giving God the credit He deserves for the reasons He created us. Sorting this out is a problem.

As we look back in Scripture, we see amazing powers already placed in the hands of ordinary flesh-and-blood men. They did all sorts of things: healing many, even raising the dead. These we term great men of God. Is there any reason to believe they will be less in the resurrection?

Perhaps there is reason to believe that not all who will enter the Kingdom will have such power. These did not become who they were by their own request but were chosen as recorded in John 15:16, 19.

In fact, most of the great men of God were going their merry way until God tapped them for assignment. Even then some, like Moses, tried to back out until God put the hammer down.

Anyway, God has done much by projecting His power through chosen vessels as He did with many in Old Testament times as well as New. These examples alone should provide ample reason to consider that those who are being chosen through a calling will be assigned to roles far beyond those of this physical life.

The argument goes further: to whether the Christ was both God and man. The Scriptures say He divested Himself of His glory to become flesh and blood, a certain indication that He had a preexistence with God.

However, if He had, as we think, a full measure of the Spirit, He had to be as close to being divine as one can become in human form.

In fact, the evidence of the transfiguration and other incidents demonstrates that He could be either and both at any time. We see the same evidence in the Old Testament when either He or angels came to Abraham's tent on the way to investigate Sodom and Gomorrah.

Isaiah writes of teachers in chapter 30, saying in effect that they will be either visible or invisible as the case demands. This is the same thing we read about the Christ and others.

We know some will be kings and priests of the Christ for 1,000 years. Is there any reason these will be less in the eternity beyond?

All these indicate a measure of divinity. Though we may not have all the details, I wonder if we could have more if we did not limit God. It is certain that we cannot do so in reality, for He is bigger and better than our feeble attempts to make of Him something He is not or limit what He can do with anyone He pleases anytime He pleases.

Any way we may think, it seems sure that God is not looking for a universe full of yellow pencils. Though it is sure that we do not know all that we will become, I believe it is sure that God has great things in store and we will be allowed to use our God-given minds to do things much greater than we can imagine.

Sam Metz

Barton, Md.

Tangled mess of worms

I've attended the WCG for 36 years in Pasadena and England. Someone gave me a subscription to this paper. I've been observing it for six months. I've noticed some things that don't make sense.

All of your various churches have your own interpretation (opinion), your own beliefs. One says it is right, and the other says it is right.

So why do all of you differ? Can't you see what you are doing?

You're all in different groups now, so wouldn't you be recognizing that if others are wrong where does that leave you?

I've interviewed many of your ministers. I've had them over, listened to them, asked them questions. And all of them--all--have their own opinions or thoughts.

To one the Bible says one thing; another believes another way.

Is that what God taught you in your Bible?

Two churches are fighting in court, and they are still brothers, like it or not.

Looks to me like God came down and threw a big rock into the WCG and scattered it for its sins, for partying, for living like stars on Orange Grove Boulevard while little old ladies were living in poverty.

I knew it had to come to this.

Now it appears God has left you to yourselves to fight and bicker.

It's the very opposite of what Jesus taught in the Bible. Obviously you can't be still and hear a word from God. The Holy Spirit would lead you. But you can't wait. It would probably lead you all together in love, mercy and judgment.

None of us has all the truth. We have to humble ourselves and leave some things on the shelf until God reveals it to us.

You all have your own books, your own pamphlets. What's a person to do?

It's too much. So we--some of us--just pray and wait on God. We will trust Him, and that's what God really wants anyway.

Looks like all of you are a tangled mess of worms.

So live what you brought upon yourselves. Shame on you. You're a bad example to the rest of us and new people and The Wall Street Journal [see "WSJ Reporter Says Suit Story One of a Kind," The Journal, Feb. 28, 2001].

Until you wake up and read that Bible, good luck.

Virginia Hill

Sacramento, Calif.

Many biblical titles

Regarding Gerald Flurry's prophesying, as reported in "U.S. Supreme Court Denies Philadelphia Church of God's Petition for Hearing," The Journal, April 30:

I was a PCG member for almost five years and would like you to ask Mr. Flurry how he can claim to be "that Prophet" in light of the clear Scriptures that prove that no one but Jesus Christ is "that Prophet."

On page 30 of the July-August 2000 issue of the PCG's Royal Vision magazine, Mr. Flurry makes the astounding statement that "God's ministers" must "lead God's people to magnify my [Mr. Flurry's] office."

On the front cover of the same issue the following titles are illustrated: Malachi, the knocker, Joel, the watchman, the teacher of righteousness, Elisha, the lawgiver, the king, that Prophet, the ambassador, a voice, Zechariah, the counselor, Micah, the breaker and Habakkuk. In the magazine Mr. Flurry attempts to link himself to all these titles.

In the January-February 2001 issue of The Royal Vision, Mr. Flurry teaches his followers that "when someone is called into God's family, he or she moves from the 'love toward neighbor' category into the 'love toward God' category. That person moves into the God category--into the realm of the first great commandment."

How can he teach that converted people move into the realm of the first great commandment when the first great commandment teaches us how to love and worship God and not any man?

I was a PCG member from December 1995 until September 2000. I know that no one moves into the God category in this life.

If Gerald Flurry is the kind of minister God is using, then nobody will have to throw me in the lake of fire. I think I would jump in voluntarily.

When we were still in the PCG, Mr. Flurry was claiming he was "that Prophet" mentioned in Acts 3:23. Anyone with basic biblical knowledge knows that only Jesus Christ is "that Prophet."

Mr. Flurry claims at least 16 biblical titles. The man is deluded.

Jim Casey

Oxford, Miss.

Up for the Pentecost count

I was disturbed by my friend Bernie Monsalvo's improper characterization of the Pentecost question in the April 30, 2001, issue of The Journal ["Pentecost Options Add Up to More Than Just Counting," page 6].

Since 1974 I have seen no published literature using an "exclusive" Pentecost counting method. The vast majority of those of us who observe a Monday Pentecost count inclusively.

Beginning in 1974 I have written several articles in support of a Monday Pentecost, and all of them are based on inclusive counting. (See our Giving & Sharing Web site, I believe Mr. Monsalvo has not read any of this extensive literature in support of a Monday Pentecost or he would not have misrepresented our position.

Exclusive refers to excluding the wave-sheaf day--the first day--in the count. Inclusive refers to counting wave-sheaf day as day No. 1 of the count.

Inclusive counting includes the first day of the count, terminus a quo, as well as the last day of the count, terminus ad quem.

I don't necessarily fault Bernie. When someone in the church discovers that I observe a Monday Pentecost, he almost invariably says, "You count exclusively, don't you?"

I tell him, "No, I count 50 days inclusively beginning with the Sunday that follows the weekly Sabbath during the Feast of Unleavened Bread, then observe Pentecost."

He usually drops the subject.

Over the last 27 years I have found few people (ministers included) who have seriously studied the Pentecost issue. Few know that most Monday-Pentecost observers utilize inclusive counting.

The issue is not whether to count inclusively or exclusively. The issue is how many days to count.

There is much more to say about the subject of Pentecost, covered in our papers on the subject (available on the Internet or in print). Even though Herbert W. Armstrong counted exclusively in the old days, I am grateful that God led Mr. Armstrong to come out on the correct day for Pentecost: Monday [before 1974].

Even after reading this short response, some will still falsely accuse us of counting exclusively for Pentecost. Worse, many will wrongly claim that their Sunday Pentecost, or Sivan 6 Pentecost, is the result of counting 50 days inclusively.

This is delusion or dishonesty, because the facts are that they count only 49 days inclusively, then keep the next day as Pentecost. We count 50 days inclusively, then keep the next day as Pentecost.

I repeat: The Pentecost issue concerns how many days to count, yet this point rarely comes up in the discussion of when to observe Pentecost. Only God can open hearts and minds.

Richard C. Nickels

Gillette, Wyo.

On Pentecost: a moot point

From a layman's point of view it probably makes no difference which of the two, May 27 or June 3, is kept as Pentecost [see "Should You Observe Pentecost 2001 on May 27 or June 3?," by Dave Havir, The Journal, April 30]. In fact, either could be right, or both could be wrong.

I realized long ago that, when Leviticus 23 says to count from the morrow after a Sabbath, not one word is said about counting 50 days from within the Days of Unleavened bread. (Ron Dart in a sermon several years ago reaffirmed this.)

The time to count is from when you begin to harvest the spring crop.

It is clear from the resurrection of Jesus Christ that in the particular year of His death the counting for Judea was from within the Days of Unleavened Bread. In another year or another place or another country, those rules might not work insofar as the harvest is concerned.

In Ohio in the good old U.S.A., the wheat crop is not harvested until about the last week of June, which is always after Pentecost. (I do not know when the barley crop is ripe.) In Chile or Argentina the harvest might begin six months later.

Going by the harvest alone, it would probably be just as right to start counting from a Sabbath outside of Unleavened Bread. This would make the question of counting from which of the sabbaths (annual or weekly) within Unleavened Bread moot. For sake of uniformity, we have chosen to count from within Unleavened Bread.

Dean Hickman

Via the Internet

New counting consideration

I'm writing to express my thanks for the evenhanded and nonjudgmental approach taken by Dave Havir and Bernie Monsalvo in their articles about the methods used to count to Pentecost in the April 30 issue of The Journal. It was surprising to see how many paths are being taken to arrive at the date and how many dates have been selected, all by serious students of the Scriptures and seekers of truth.

I appreciated the friendly tone in the articles, with the mature perspective of stepping back and seeing everyone's point of view. Articles like these continue to demonstrate to me that, if God is allowing us to try so many means to an end without His reaching down out of the clouds and telling us which way is correct, it's probably more important to Him that we observe Pentecost with a pure heart and less important on which precise day we observe it.

We will apparently not reach doctrinal purity or complete agreement with each other in this life.

I believe, rather, that God is watching us to see how we treat each other during times like these. I believe how we behave is more important to Him than if we get all the little doctrinal details worked out.

It was this uncertainty of timing, in reference to calendar matters, that helped me to rid myself of the notion that there is one 24-hour period of "holy time" for the holy days and that we'd better show up on the right day or we're in trouble with God.

I believe to a large extent that God's holy days are as much internal as external. It's not as much a matter of us "going to" them, in a certain time or place, but rather asking Him to come to us and be in our fellowship when two or more are gathered in Christ's name--even if there are six or seven different Pentecosts dotting the calendar landscape.

I want to add one more item to the mix. There is an important point the articles by Mr. Havir and Mr. Monsalvo did not make: Contrary to our ingrained training, the scripture in Leviticus 23:11 does not say, "And the priest shall wave the sheaf before the Lord on the day after the sabbath during the Days of Unleavened Bread."

The words "During the Days of Unleavened Bread" do not appear. That's not the date stamp. It says, in verse 10, "Speak to the sons of Israel, and say to them, 'When you enter the land which I am going to give to you and reap its harvest, then you shall bring in the sheaf of the first fruits of your harvest to the priest.'"

The waving of the sheaf takes place as the opening ceremony of the harvest, whenever the harvest was ready to begin. It might have occurred outside the Days of Unleavened Bread.

We ran an article about this in The WAY some years back titled "The Wave Sheaf Offering: What We Found." Internetters can find it on our Web site,, or anyone can write me at P.O. Box 1976, Placerville, Calif. 95667, U.S.A., for a copy.

Our guess is that the waving of the sheaf was standardized to the Days of Unleavened Bread, not because of precise scriptural instruction but because the harvest would almost always be ready around Passover if the first month, Abib or Aviv, was set correctly.

Aviv was determined according to the proper state of the grain (which is what the name of the month refers to). If Aviv was declared at the right time, the crops would ripen predictably, and the time of the wave offering would have fallen during the Days of Unleavened Bread.

Even though it was theoretically possible for the day of the wave offering to fall outside of the Days of Unleavened Bread, it seems certain that Messiah's resurrection and His appearance to Mary early on "the first day of the week" (when the count to Pentecost began), and His reference to how He needed to go to the Father right away, all point to the idea that (1) the wave offering represents Him and (2) the wave offering took place within the Days of Unleavened Bread.

Because of this, it seems evident the count should begin during the Days of Unleavened Bread.

With all this in mind, let's look again at the situation where the Days of Unleavened Bread run from Sunday to the following Saturday. Much anguish has gone into the decision of which weekly Sabbath to use as the starting point, because something is going to fall outside Days of Unleavened: either the Sabbath or the morrow after the Sabbath.

But, from what we've just seen, it doesn't matter!

There is one consideration we had not seen before that I believe should be considered. We recently received a special report from John Ritenbaugh in which he brings to light things he had not known earlier. Of importance to me is this concept:

The wave offering signals the beginning of the harvest. After the wave ceremony, the harvest begins in earnest, to be completed before Pentecost 50 days later. If Passover, the day before the holy day, is on the weekly Sabbath, and the morrow after this Sabbath is used to begin the count, that would mean the wave offering and the beginning of the harvest would be on the holy day.

This would not be allowed. If the following weekly Sabbath, in this case the last day of Unleavened Bread, were used, and the count began on the morrow after that day, the wave offering and the beginning of the harvest would be on a regular workday.

This is apparently how the ancient Jews decided which Sabbath to use when this situation arose. I believe this approach has merit and should at least be considered in Pentecost calculations under these circumstances. I also believe we won't receive final answers to our many questions until Messiah comes. Let that be soon!

Jack Lane

Placerville, Calf.

The relative unimportance of the Sudan

In response to the article in the March 30 Journal titled "Americans Ignore Persecuted Christians" [by Richard Griffiths], I'd like to make several observations regarding the persecuted "Christians" in the Sudan.

No one likes the persecution going on in the world against anyone for whatever reason. This isn't to condone people killing others for their religious beliefs. That is God's job.

Yet, if we look in our own Bibles, we can see a similar "persecution" by Israelites against the false pagan religions and practices of their time. We see them go as far as exterminating the people of the land because of their false religion.

Yes, God instructed this, and it was false religious practices. No one argues with this.

We know Christ is coming back to fight and destroy a false "Christian" system, including all of its icons. This system calls itself Christian, but in God's eyes it isn't.

The point is that just because something or someone is labeled Christian doesn't make it so. The Bible has much to say about what a true Christian is and how you will know whether he really is called of God and has the Holy Spirit.

There are, possibly, some few people in the Sudan who may be a product of God's calling and molding, but most are not. Most "Christian" religions and denominations have little truth of the true God or the plan of God. To classify any "Christian" as a true Christian is to go beyond what the Bible tells us.

Jesus Christ isn't building the church to save this world. The Church of God doesn't exist to prevent worldwide persecution. Are we to simply focus on "Christian"-confessing people who are being persecuted? What of the millions of others who are being persecuted for a dozen other reasons? Is the Church of God responsible for them too?

Are we to believe that everyone who died for his "Christian" belief did so in spirit and truth as a called, converted member of the true Church of God?

How many people have died for their beliefs who weren't wearing the "Christian" label? Is their death any less moving? Does dying for a false belief make someone a genuine Christian? If the thousands of martyrs who died were real Christians, yet they held, to their death, the many false doctrinal and biblical beliefs held by the false church in those days, where do we draw the line for "Christian" belief today?

A noble "Christian's" death is moving, such as Joan of Arc's, yet do we conclude that she was called of God and converted when she saw visions of Mary?

Being used by God isn't the same as being called of God.

There's not a person reading this who wouldn't help someone in true need if it were in his power to do so. If we could change things, we would. But we don't have that kind of power now. We can have influence in our neck of the woods, but to take on the problems of the world now just isn't in the cards or in the Bible.

We are not here to change this world. We interact with it as representatives of God, as God gives us power to do so. If God has no intention of saving this world or its systems, then how can we seek to try just that?

"Sighing and crying for all the abominations" is part of our cross to carry.

I think the writer hit the nail on the head when he stated that "something is horribly wrong with the church and its leaders." That is what God is doing on this earth: working with His church. If we have a multitude of problems, how can we seek to help others in any meaningful way?

Yes, give money to a cause if you want to. Do whatever you can to help others. God won't punish us for that, but is the Sudan, or whatever, more important than God's church and people being ready for Christ's return? Do we, as God's elect, really understand, believe and act on our calling?

If it weren't for God's true elect, the whole world would be destroyed. Are we to apologize for that and be ashamed of what our calling means to others? Think about that!

Jeff Maehr

Pagosa Springs, Colo.

In memory of Mitch

I am sad at the death of Mitchell Smith [whose obituary and essay on Jesus' resurrection ran in the March 30 issue of The Journal].

Mitch picked me up at the bus station in Tulsa and took me to Wagoner, Okla., where the Hebrew-roots conference took place.

Then he took me back to Tulsa. During the Feast of 1999 Mitch helped me and took me to the bus station at Ardmore, Okla.

I talked with Angie Kelley about Mitch's death. She thought he was crushed by the truck part of his crane. She told me both Dave Havir and Joe Good preached the funeral service before Mitchell Smith was put in the grave. Someone blew a shofar.

Larry Graff

House Springs, Mo.

Three days and three nights

Regarding "A Sunday-Morning Resurrection Fits the Facts and the Typology," by Mitchell Smith, March 30, 2001:

I am amazed that the words of Jesus Christ as translated and written in John 2:19 are never considered in discussions about the crucifixion and resurrection. John explains in verse 21 that Jesus is talking in verse 19 about the temple of His body (the holy of holies).

The events of the crucifixion and the resurrection did not occur in private.

Luke 24:13-18: "And, behold, two of them went that same day to a village called Emmaus . . . And the one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answering said unto him, Art thou only a stranger in Jerusalem, and hast not known the things which are come to pass there in these days?"

Only a stranger would not have known about it.

Jesus said He would be resurrected in three days (72 hours), not three days and possibly three more hours (see Matthew 27:39-40, 46, 50; Mark 15:29-30; John 2:18-19, 21).

"And about the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46). "Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost" (verse 50).

He died about "the ninth hour."

There are two time frames to consider. The sign of Jonah, 72 hours in the tomb, and Jesus' own words in John 2:19, that He would be resurrected in "three days."

To fulfill both, Jesus was resurrected 72 hours after His death by God our Father "about the ninth hour." Jesus remained within the tomb after being resurrected until the 72 hours of the sign of Jonah were complete about sunset on the weekly Sabbath.

Why did the women ask (in Mark 16:3): "Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre?" Would the soldiers not roll the stone back for the women to apply the spices to the body? Did they know that the watch of the soldiers would have been up by sunset on the weekly Sabbath?

I ask these questions because of the events recorded in Matthew 27:62 through 28:1:

"Now the next day, that followed the day of the preparation, the chief priests and Pharisees came together unto Pilate, Saying, Sir, we remember that that deceiver said, while he was yet alive, After three days I will rise again. Command therefore that the sepulchre be made sure until the third day, lest his disciples come by night, and steal him away, and say unto the people, He is risen from the dead: so the last error shall be worse than the first."

Pilate allowed them to secure the tomb, sealing the stone and setting a watch at the end of the Sabbath.

This places the soldiers at the tomb at the very time that is believed to be when Jesus was resurrected. They could have been witnesses to the very occurrence. They were witnesses that an earthquake had occurred and the stone was rolled away and a messenger of God was there. There is a high probability that they had valuable information (see Matthew 28:11-15).

The chief priests and elders bribed the soldiers with "large money." That could not keep the rest of the story from being known.

It will not change doctrine for us to consider the very words of Jesus Christ as recorded in John 2:19.

Neal Brantley

Clayton, N.C.

For another critique of Mitchell Smith's essay on the resurrection, see Don Sena's essay on page 10 of this issue.

The definition of Nicolaitanism

Nicolaitanism is often defined as any teaching or doctrine that "destroys the people." It comes from the Greek nike, "to overcome or destroy," and laos, "the people." In general terms, any doctrine, belief or perception that separates people from God, destroying them spiritually, can be labeled as Nicolaitan.

Church of God members easily recognize Nicolaitanism in the religion in which the people confess their sins to a priest, who then petitions God for forgiveness on their behalf. Those people learn to relate to God through their priest. Thus they are separated from God; they are discouraged from establishing a direct relationship between themselves and God.

But another form of Nicolaitanism is not so easily recognized among the Churches of God. It is not a misperception of how we should relate to God. Rather, it is a misperception of how God and Jesus Christ relate back to--and work through--each of us. It could be thought of as the other edge of the two-edged sword of Nicolaitanism.

Lay members of churches--especially those with a hierarchical organization--commonly have a perception that whenever God works through His church He'll always do it from the top down, using apostles first, then evangelists, then ministers, then elders, then deacons and then, as a last resort, the regular members.

I had this trickle-down perception myself, and I've heard it expressed by numerous others in the Churches of God.

We cop out when we think that God would use someone else--someone higher in the church and closer to God--before He would use us. We forfeit or lose faith that God would, for example, give us one of the gifts of the Spirit without first giving it to someone supposedly higher in the church.

With this perception in place, many have internalized a passive faith, feeling uninvolved and unempowered in the work of the church, except for putting their tithes in the mailbox.

I submit that we must put this perception away and adapt an active, dynamic, living faith--believing God will use each of us personally--if we are to attain true apostolic Christianity. We must put aside hierarchical thinking: Christ is the head of the church, and we are equal brethren in His sight.

Yes, we have different gifts, but we are not of different value to God (Matthew 20:25-28).

I am not saying anyone in any organization intends to install himself between the laity and God; God will be the judge of that. But I believe the insidious perception that God will work down through the hierarchy in a church before working through each member has been debilitating and disenfranchising to many Church of God members. It has disabled the spiritual lives of many.

Here are a few questions that we might ask ourselves:

  • Do I believe God shows partiality?
  • Have I accepted a perception that God would work with someone else before He would work with me?
  • Do I believe God would work with or through me as much as with anyone else?
  • Could God work with me if I did not believe He would?
  • Would I feel comfortable standing before the judgment seat of Christ saying, "I thought You intended for the other guy--the one higher in the church--to do that"?
  • Did the apostle Paul ever say the gifts of the Spirit were handed out according to a pecking order in the church? (1 Corinthians 12).
  • On the first Pentecost did the flames of the Spirit fall only on Peter and John and the other disciples? Or did they fall on everyone assembled?

George Burdick

Sterling, Mass.

For another view of Nicolaitanism, see the five-part series of articles based on Alan Knight's book Primitive Christianity in Crisis that ran in The Journal from February through June 2000.

What's the beef?

This letter is in reference to the commentary in the May 31 issue titled "Beware: Doctrinal Compromise Is in the Air" [by Robert Thiel].

I have a difficult time keeping up with the various WCG splinter groups, and the groups that have subsequently splintered from the splinters (I guess the fragmentation will continue until all that is left is just piles of sawdust).

My assumption is that Mr. Thiel is in the current group following Rod Meredith, which broke from the former Global Church (which is now Larry Salyer's group called the CGCF [Church of God a Christian Fellowship]). My suspicion is that Mr. Thiel has a beef with the CGCF group.

I find the attitude of the author disturbing but not uncommon with some of the splinter groups: the notion that his group has the truth and other groups are compromising the truth.

In the early 1990s this attitude was displayed by some of the WCG ministry with regards to the people leaving the WCG and joining some of the early offshoots. When I was making my decision to leave the WCG I also made a conscious effort to find a group that was not criticizing other groups by name.

I also take issue with someone from the Living Church of God expounding on what the United Church of God teaches and believes. I have attended the UCG from its inception in 1995. Many of the things Mr. Thiel states about UCG teachings are totally inaccurate.

I have heard sermons recently in the UCG that discuss the nature of God, that God is a family, that God is indeed reproducing Himself and that discuss and teach church eras.

Space and time limit me to elaborate on one inaccurate statement he made. In Mr. Thiel's commentary he states that "the UCG does not teach the nature of God or the destiny of man the same as the WCG taught at the time of Mr. Armstrong's death."

I would urge people to read the UCG booklet that I now quote from, titled The Gospel of the Kingdom:

"God will make those who enter His Kingdom fully like Jesus Christ! . . . Those who enter the Kingdom of God will share even God's divine nature for all eternity . . . Yes, human beings who enter the Kingdom of God will be given the glorious honor of being like the resurrected, glorified Jesus Christ . . . Hebrews 2:6-8 indicates that our ultimate destiny is to participate in rulership over the entire universe as glorified, immortal sons of God!"

Helen Casey

Huntsville, Texas

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