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The Journal: Letters from our readers - Issue 109
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Letters from our readers

'Jesus of history' and 'Christ of faith'

I want to thank Ken Westby for his balanced and fair treatment of my new book, The Jesus Dynasty ["Jesus Dynasty Writer Former AC Student," The Journal, March 31]. I just want to correct a few biographical points and then make a couple of more general observations about the substantive points in the review itself.

My brief time at Ambassador College (1968-70), where I taught Hebrew and Greek and took all the theology courses offered, was one of the most positive in my life, and I treasure those experiences to this day, including the dear lifelong friends I made.

My departure had more to do with a sense that the atmosphere had shifted by the late 1960s from the exciting kind of open exploration of biblical truths to one of a more rigid orthodoxy and even a fear of searching and questioning.

I had come there under the spell of Mr. Meredith's wonderful description of things when he first arrived there in the 1950s, when everyone gathered together in a search for truth.

I did not leave AC for Pepperdine but actually got my degree there during the two years I spent at Ambassador. I taught first at Notre Dame for six years, then William and Mary for four, and since 1989 I have been at UNC Charlotte.

I do indeed agree with Ken Westby that readers can benefit from reading this book whether they share my historical-critical approach to the texts or not. I am not a secularist and I continue to believe strongly in the mission and message of Jesus of Nazareth as I think we can authentically recover it.

I would also maintain that what appears to Mr. Westby as "cherry picking" is actually a careful application of the methods of historical and analytical reading of ancient sources.

All texts and traditions are not equal, and scholars have developed methods that attempt to get to the earliest or more reliable materials. The careful reader will see at every turn that I explain why this or that "choice" is considered more authentic than an alternative.

Obviously one who reads the New Testament documents as a fundamentalist will come out quite differently, but I still think being tutored in the ways critical scholars evaluate materials can yield valuable insights for understanding the "Jesus of history," whom many of us have found to be quite different from the theological portrait one might call the "Christ of faith."

James D. Tabor
Charlotte, N.C.

Apostasy requires separation

Can people who deliberately and systematically violate major laws of God as not applying to them still be saved?

My three critics in the letters section of the Feb. 28, 2006, issue of The Journal [Immanuel Koks, Myron Martin and Mark A. Kellner] wouldn't want to draw the tight line I did in my December 2005 viewpoint ["Honor Baptism of Non-Sabbath-Keepers?]

I will continue to maintain that professing Christians who reject the Sabbath and holy days can't be saved, regardless of how well they obey other laws of God or the quantity of their good works.

Ernest Pickering's book Biblical Separation: The Struggle for a Pure Church makes a powerful case that true believers should not knowingly fellowship in the same (corporate) organizations with people who deny fundamental truths of the gospel.

As Pickering notes (p. 158), "apostasy requires separation."

Three of the main texts he cites for conservative Christians leaving large partially theologically liberal churches (like the Methodist and Presbyterian churches) are 1 Corinthians 6:14-18, Revelation 18:4-5 and 2 John 10-11.

These same texts ban a false ecumenical "fellowship" between Sunday-keepers and holy-day-observing Sabbatarians on doctrinal grounds.

Incidentally, should we unite with professing Christians who believe in the same doctrines that drove us out of the WCG in the early to mid-1990s? Do these Sunday-keepers think we're saved because we "go back to Moses"?

We should turn the tables and ask these questions of them also and see how tolerant they are.

Immanuel Koks mistakenly reasons that neither knowledge nor obedience has anything to do with salvation, but only whether one has received salvation by grace.

I could spend a lot of time here saying that, although justification requires only knowing faith, sanctification requires some literal obedience for a person to be saved (James 2:8-26).

This, naturally enough, opens up the whole issue of salvation theology and the interrelationships of grace, salvation, obedience, sanctification, justification, law, faith, etc. (see my "Grace vs. Works?" at

But how does one know whether one has received anything by grace but by believing in Jesus, which is a matter of knowledge and understanding?

Basic minimal criteria have to be set up concerning the understanding necessary to be saved or otherwise (for example) a Muslim, Hindu or New Ager could claim his understanding is enough to save him also.

Didn't Jesus say some level of knowledge or understanding is necessary to salvation? As He told the Samaritan woman: ". . . The hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him" (John 4:22-24).

Mr. Koks, presumably, has set his minimal level of knowledge-understanding required for a Christian to be saved merely lower than mine, which is a difference of degree, not kind. Perhaps he then believes that (say) John 3:16's contents must be understood by anyone who becomes a Christian.

Mr. Koks clearly mistakenly confuses whether salvation is free (unearned?) or not with whether conditions are attached to receiving it.

Herbert W. Armstrong once explained the difference this way (United States and Britain in Prophecy, 1980, p. 33):

If a rich man offers $1,000 to each man stepping forward to receive it, that act of stepping forward doesn't earn it, but it's a condition required to receive the free gift.

Also, merely because someone claims to be a Christian striving to obey God doesn't mean he necessarily is: Such claims need examination when fundamental doctrines are in dispute.

Myron Martin ironically writes: ". . . Maybe we would not be as divided as we are and feel the need to denigrate those who do not see things the way we currently do."

Yet he denigrates me as arrogant and being like the Pharisees.

In the same issue of The Journal, page 10, he denigrates the "shepherds" (corporate COG ministers, presumably) who supposedly starve the flock of God by rejecting his revisionist views of the calendar, the length or starting time of the Sabbath, etc.

Suppose Mr. Martin is correct to say that baptism by immersion with a profession of faith is valid regardless of whatever doctrines may be believed by the one being baptized. Obviously, there's no need then to practice or believe any of his deviant doctrines on other subjects. I and others can be saved, yet reject not just those variant doctrines, but we may discard the Sabbath and holy days completely.

So, then, why bother paying for one-page ads proclaiming that the Sabbath may be on another day of the week than Saturday by the Roman calendar?

A Baptist may respond, "I'm happy and saved where I'm at, so why should I change fellowships and drive 50-plus miles to meet with a small group of cultic strangers?"

Mr. Martin mistakenly confuses the basic knowledge of and acceptance of a minimal or fundamental set of doctrines as criteria for salvation, fellowship or corporate organization with any and all of God's truth.

Hence there's no need for rebaptism after someone learns (say) the purported present locations of the 10 lost tribes in Europe today. Here he has set up and knocked over a straw man.

Although disagreements over doctrines arise among the general COG family, such as the ones Mr. Martin alludes to concerning the timing of Passover, Pentecost and the first month of the year, there's still a broad consensus even on these matters, once a number of the independents and their ministries aren't counted.

The broad outline doctrinally Mr. Armstrong set on these matters towards the last decade of his life still mainly holds. These doctrines remain in place and are sincerely upheld, not merely out of fear of authority or ostracism, but because legitimate biblical and historical evidence supports them.

Further, debates about timing aren't the same as debates about whether these days should be totally ignored as a matter of systematic policy, not sporadic human weakness.

Every Christian, whether true, professing, hypocritical, lackadaisical, false, etc., will sin and violate God's law, including whichever ones he thinks are still in force (Romans 3:23; 1 John 1:8-10).

So the conditions for organized fellowship are set by whatever laws and doctrines a group of Christians formally upholds, even if its members may violate them upon occasion.

For example, the doctrine of obeying the laws concerning tithing, the holy days, the Sabbath and the clean-unclean-meat distinction may be more important than the one(s) for which Paul had Hymenaeus and Alexander "delivered to Satan" for denying.

If people can be thrown out for wrong belief scripturally, to a status of due notice that they aren't saved unless they repent, the same necessity arises when setting minimal organizational doctrinal standards for fellowship that keep some out to begin with.

By contrast with Mr. Martin's, Mark Kellner wrote a gentle piece that encourages me to avoid taking a hard-line must-be-rebaptized stance with converted Sunday-keepers with just a kind "suggestion" to do so.

But here the problem Pickering observes affects us as believers: To uphold holiness or purity, we must also separate ourselves from sin or evil. If Sunday-keepers aren't saved, then they shouldn't be admitted into full fellowship without admitting that their prior general way of life contained fundamental, salvation-denying errors.

In conclusion, much better and more-scriptural arguments will have to be mounted to prove Sunday-keepers are saved than those mounted by my three critics.

Merely name-calling by saying I sin also, just like anybody else in the world (including Muslims, Jews, Hindus, agnostics, atheists, the unchurched), proves nothing. We must set minimal fundamental standards of belief and doctrine before admitting others into full fellowship with us.

We in the COG have to set the same limits Pickering (p. 163) believes traditional Christians have to do among themselves:

"Sometimes objection is raised that to ascertain what constitutes essential doctrine and to determine when a group is actually apostate requires the making of a judgment . . . Because the act of separation requires a judgment does not imply that the judgment is wrong or that the action is wrong. God has given ample spiritual guidelines to help the Spirit-taught believer make those judgments."

Eric Snow
Redford, Mich.

New WCG name contested

I was reading with amusement the headline article in the Feb. 28 issue of The Journal about the WCG dropping "Grace International Communion" (GIC) because of lack of popularity and looking for another name. (Since when did the leadership care about what was popular with the members?)

Anyway, I thought The Journal should help them out by holding a "Rename the WCG" contest. I think there would be a lot of response.

First prize: one week at WCG HQ (or what's left of it).

Second prize: two weeks at WCG HQ.

Yeah, that's an old joke. So, to start it off, here's my entry:

"The Free Will and Grace Church."

Basil Kopey
(With my wife, Liza, in the U.S. Foreign Service, formerly living in Maryland)
Moscow, Russia

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