Sunday, February 25, 2018

If Herbert W. Armstrong, As a Young Man, Came into the Church of God Today, Would We Accept Him?

Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong came into contact with the Church of God Seventh Day around 1927 when he was first converted. His autobiography records his experiences with that Church. The Church of God Seventh Day, though it had faults, was the true Church of God and was spiritually descended from the first century Church of God. Mr. Armstrong later regarded it as representing the fifth era of the Church of God - Sardis - according the messages of Christ to the seven Churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3.

Mr. Armstrong began to fellowship with the Church of God Seventh Day, and for a time he worked within that organization. But eventually he went independent, not independent from God and Christ, but independent from the Church of God Seventh Day. He refused further salary from them - in effect, he resigned his employment with them. That is when he started the radio broadcast and magazine. The work that he started grew into the Worldwide Church of God. Most of us in the Church of God came from that background or the background of numerous groups that came out of Worldwide.

The Church of God Seventh Day never really accepted Mr. Armstrong and his teachings and his approach. He recorded in his autobiography the hostility most COG7D leaders showed towards him.

Today, most Church of God groups profess to honor the memory of Mr. Armstrong.

But how would the various Church of God groups react today if Mr. Armstrong, or someone like him, with a different name and appearance, but with the same spiritual values, came into the Church of God now?

If a man came into the Church with the same mind, attitude, and approach to the Bible that Mr. Armstrong had when he came into the Church of God Seventh Day, would we accept him or would we reject him as the Church of God Seventh Day leadership rejected him?

In other words, would the Church of God accept someone like Mr. Armstrong but with a different name and face?

I think not.

Mr. Armstrong put the Bible first. Most groups today put their leadership, ministry, and traditions first.

Mr. Armstrong sent in papers to COG7D headquarters. Most groups today belittle those who send in papers and reject papers without serious examination. COG7D rejected Mr. Armstrong's study on the identity of the lost tribes of Israel, and they rejected another paper correcting them on an error, probably the error of not keeping the holy days and the Feast of Tabernacles.

Mr. Armstrong had a zeal for preaching the gospel to the public, but most groups today do not have that zeal.

Mr. Armstrong taught the things he believed to COG7D members in sermons he preached and articles he wrote, and some of these contained new knowledge. But today's groups tend to condemn anyone with "new ideas", not because those ideas are wrong, necessarily.

In one of today's groups, I heard one minister say that in a class for sermonette speakers he told his class: I am not interested in your ideas. I heard another minister say, if God were to reveal knowledge to the Church of God today, he would not reveal it "through me" (the speaker) because that would be destructive of hierarchical government (implying, God would not reveal new truth to anyone but the top leadership).

So how would such men react if Herbert W. Armstrong came in the door and said, I have discovered something new in the Bible? Not Mr. Armstrong as the well-known and respected apostle, but as a lay member (as Mr. Armstrong was a lay member when he came to COG7D) with a different name and a different face, but the same spiritual gifts and the same spiritual attitude and approach to God and the Bible.

I think they would reject him just as the Church of God Seventh Day rejected Mr. Armstrong, only more quickly. They would not seriously and open-mindedly consider his ideas and research in the Bible. They would not allow him to teach. They would demand that his first allegiance be to their group, their leadership, and their ministry - not to the Bible itself.

Obviously, it is not wrong for the leadership and ministry of a Church of God fellowship to require new ideas and new doctrines to be cleared through the ministry before being taught to the brethren. And in examining new teachings, the leadership and ministry should compare them with the Bible with an open mind. That is the only way to protect the congregations from false teaching and heresy. Yet, the leadership and ministry should be responsive to new ideas and teaching that are really true according to the Bible.

But many Church of God groups have become completely unbalanced in this. They speak as if it is wrong for members to think they have discovered new knowledge in the Bible and to submit study papers to the ministry. They speak as if God would never reveal new knowledge to a member or a lower-ranked minister or local elder before revealing it to the top leadership. That is wrong, for that is exactly what God did with Mr. Armstrong.

Would most of the Church of God fellowships accept a younger Herbert W. Armstrong, with a different face and name but the same spiritual knowledge, character, and values, if he came among us today?

I think they would not accept him, but reject him. I think that is something to think about.

Mr. Armstrong had a Philadelphia spirit and attitude. And the Church of God today, in most of its groups and fellowships, is hostile to the Philadelphia spirit and attitude. And that is expected, since we are no longer in the Philadelphia era, but the Laodicean era. The predominant attitude of the Laodicean era is lukewarmness towards God, His word the Bible, and the message of the gospel.

And that Laodicean spirit and attitude will always be hostile to the Philadelphian spirit and attitude.

That is why most Church of God groups would not accept Herbert W. Armstrong if he came among us today.

Read Mr. Armstrong's autobiography.

Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Principle of Knowing God's Revelation - How Can One Know the Truth? / How to Preach the Gospel More Effectively

How can a man or woman know the truth of God? God must reveal His truth, but how is a man or woman to think and act to be open to that truth, and how does God reveal it?

What is the process? What is God's part and what is our part, and how do they work together to reveal truth to a person's mind? And how can a person know that what he or she believes is really the truth?

I am not asking this question just about Church of God members or prospective members, and I am not even limiting it to those God is calling. I am including members of this world's traditional churches, such as the Catholic Church and the Protestant churches.

You might say, well, it is impossible for one not called by God to fully understand the truth. That is true, but why is it impossible?

It is impossible because Satan deceives those who are not called. They either cannot understand the truth or cannot respond to it if they did understand much of the truth.

"So the great dragon was cast out, that serpent of old, called the Devil and Satan, who deceives the whole world; he was cast to the earth, and his angels were cast out with him" (Revelation 12:9).

"But even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing, whose minds the god of this age has blinded, who do not believe, lest the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine on them" (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

Satan blinds and deceives the whole world. Yet, those God calls to salvation in this life are able to know the truth if they respond to that calling. Why? Because God works with those people in a special way, by the Spirit of God working in their minds, to understand and be able to respond.

There is a process involved. Those God calls must respond to that calling. They have the power to choose. They can reject that calling. God does not force them to accept His truth.

What is that process, in detail?

There are steps one must take to learn, understand, and know the truth of God. Those Satan deceives, the majority of mankind, are not able or not willing to take those steps. God works with those He calls so that they are able to take those steps when they are exposed to the truth.

One part of the response to God's calling involves repentance - the decision to turn from our sins and sinful nature and give our lives one hundred percent to God.

The other part of our response involves faith and coming to know and understand the truth of God. Both faith and repentance are required for conversion.

In this post, I am going to address the process of coming to know the truth and coming to have faith in that truth.

The process is fairly simple, and it is the same for everyone. One is first exposed to the truth through God's word. One is able to know that it is God's word. One then chooses to believe what God says. One step at a time, a person is able to learn God's truth that way. It is also important that the person strive to obey God's truth as it is revealed to him by God's word, if that process is to continue.

This is the process for those who are called in this age. God helps them to be able to understand and believe the message of the gospel.

What about those who are not called in this age - those who remain deceived? Are they able to follow this process?

No. Why do they fail?

Because Satan deceives them, and without God's calling and intervention in their minds, they are not able to understand and believe God's word when they hear it or read it.

What happens when they hear the truth?

They don't understand and believe it.

There is not a clear distinction here between understanding and believing. They can merge together. They may understand partially and simply refuse to believe it, and this may be the case with many atheists. But often the unwillingness to believe causes the misunderstanding.

The person deceived might not be aware of this. But if a person is part of a traditional church of this world and wants to think he follows the Bible, when he reads something in the Bible he does not want to believe, he twists its meaning in his mind without realizing it. He won't believe the plain text of the Bible because he doesn't want to believe it. But neither does he want to believe that he is not obeying the Bible. So he twists the meaning of what he reads to fit his own beliefs, beliefs he does not want to give up.

This can happen unconsciously. But the person deceives himself, or rather Satan deceives him or helps him to deceive himself. He might read God's plain words about the Sabbath, but twist them to mean Sunday. The person doesn't want to give up the Bible. He wants to be able to say, "I believe and follow the Bible". That is important for his self-image as one who is good. But he doesn't want to acknowledge the seventh-day Sabbath with all the consequences of that (giving up his church, his family, his friends, risking his job, and admitting he has been wrong). So he reasons in his mind that the Sabbath was changed to Sunday. That way he still feels he is a Bible-following Christian and can still keep his Sunday-keeping traditions.

But, in fact, he has chosen to disbelieve God.

It is not just a matter of innocent misunderstanding. Simple misunderstandings alone can be cleared up with the right scriptures, putting all the scriptures together in the right context for a subject.

Many people can have simple misunderstandings about the Sabbath or any other point of God's truth because no one has shown them the scriptures that would clarify the matter.

But once you show them the scriptures that prove God's truth on some point, then they must make a choice to believe God or not. Without God's calling, Satan influences them to refuse to believe and to twist the scriptures to justify their disbelief.

You can consider Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong as examples of those who were willing to believe. Loma Armstrong kept Sunday all her life until someone showed her the scriptures that proved that the seventh day is the Sabbath. She believed right away. Mr. Armstrong did not believe right away, but after doing in-depth research in the Bible he also accepted the truth of the Sabbath.

Because God worked with Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong, they were able to believe God. The majority of mankind, deceived by Satan, are not able to make that choice and come to repentance and conversion.

The process of learning and understanding the truth of God involves:
a) Being exposed to the truth through God's word.
b) Knowing or being able to know it is God's word.
c) Choosing to believe what God says without twisting God's word to fit what one wants to believe.

Satan can deceive someone by blocking any step above. By manipulating the world's religions and entire civilization, Satan prevents billions from ever being exposed to the truth at all. They never hear the truth gospel (point a).

Satan can deceive millions who may or may not hear it from knowing that God's word is God's word or even that God exists. Atheists and agnostics would fall into that category. You could perhaps persuade an atheist that the Bible teaches the Sabbath and not Sunday, and he might agree, "Yes, I see that the Bible teaches the Sabbath", but then he would say, "But it doesn't matter because the Bible is only a collection of man-made myths and fables - the Bible is not inspired by God because there is no God" (point b).

Finally, among members of this world's traditional churches - those who claim allegience to the Bible - Satan deceives people into misunderstanding or twisting the Bible so that they do not believe the truth that God tells them (point c).

If someone is exposed to the truth of God from His word (point a), how can they know that God's word is really from God (point b)? How do they know it is God's word?

God gives proof for those with a mind open and willing to receive it.

In the days of the first century Church of God, the word of God came by scriptures (Old Testament scriptures primarily) and by the words of the apostles. The apostles performed miracles, and those miracles were a sign that their message was from God. They were the proof that the apostles were speaking the word of God.

"For I will not dare to speak of any of those things which Christ has not accomplished through me, in word and deed, to make the Gentiles obedient—in mighty signs and wonders, by the power of the Spirit of God, so that from Jerusalem and round about to Illyricum I have fully preached the gospel of Christ" (Romans 15:18-19).

"Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds" (2 Corinthians 12:12).

"For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by those who heard Him, God also bearing witness both with signs and wonders, with various miracles, and gifts of the Holy Spirit, according to His own will?" (Hebrews 2:2-4).

What about today?

Today we do not have men of God performing great signs and wonders - miracles - to prove they are speaking God's word. But we have something else. We have the Bible in a way first century Church of God members did not have.

They had the Old Testament scriptures, yes. But they were not widespread, they were not the complete Bible, and they did not have the proof from history that the Bible is God's word.

Today, because of the printing press, the Bible is wide spread. Just about anyone can afford to own their own copy of the Bible. It has been translated into the main languages of the world. It is also complete, with all the books of the old and new testaments.

And today we have proof that the Bible is God's word, because the fulfillment of prophecy in the last couple of centuries proves that God inspired those prophecies.

So today, any sincere, open-minded, and objective person can study, learn, and know that the Bible is God speaking. There are also some, never having proved that, who believe that the Bible is God's word because of the faith of their upbringing.

But believing that the Bible is God's word is one thing. Actually believing the Bible is something else. That is where most members of traditional, mainstream churches go astray. They acknowledge the Bible as God's word. But they don't believe what it says.

And some who claim to be members of the Church of God fall short on this point too.

The process of what one must do to learn the truth from the Bible is the same for everyone. There is not one process for Catholics, a different process for Protestants, and a different process for Church of God members and prospective members.

One must believe what God says in the Bible without twisting the scriptures to make them say what one wants them to say. And then, as one learns what God says, strive to obey God.

It is a process, and it takes time, even after conversion. We do not stop learning when we are baptized. It is a step-by-step process before conversion to bring one to enough understanding to be ready for repentance and baptism. And after baptism, it is a step-by-step process to continue learning and growing spiritually.

It has been more than 30 years since I was baptized, and I am still learning new things from the Bible.

"...but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18).

This is the process of faith. We are to believe in God but also believe what God says.

I said before, the process is the same for everyone. God requires that we believe what He says. He requires that of anyone if they are to learn truth from God - Catholics, Protestants, and Church of God members. God does not have different standards - different requirements - for different persons and different religions.

God requires the same thing from Church of God members and prospective members as He does from those of other religions coming into the truth.

"One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you" (Exodus 12:49).

"And if a stranger dwells among you, and would keep the Lord’s Passover, he must do so according to the rite of the Passover and according to its ceremony; you shall have one ordinance, both for the stranger and the native of the land" (Numbers 9:14).

"One ordinance shall be for you of the assembly and for the stranger who dwells with you, an ordinance forever throughout your generations; as you are, so shall the stranger be before the Lord. One law and one custom shall be for you and for the stranger who dwells with you" (Numbers 15:15-16).

"You shall have one law for him who sins unintentionally, for him who is native-born among the children of Israel and for the stranger who dwells among them" (Numbers 15:29).

God hates a double standard, just like he hates unjust and differing weights some have used to cheat others.

"You shall not have in your bag differing weights, a heavy and a light. You shall not have in your house differing measures, a large and a small. You shall have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure, that your days may be lengthened in the land which the Lord your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who behave unrighteously, are an abomination to the Lord your God" (Deuteronomy 25:13-16).

There is no partiality with God. He requires the same thing of us in the Church of God as He requires of those from other religions coming into the Church of God. We have no right to require a higher standard from Catholics and Protestants coming into the truth than we require of ourselves.

"Then Peter opened his mouth and said: 'In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him' " (Acts 10:34-35).

"For there is no partiality with God. For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law" (Romans 2:11-12).

"And you, masters, do the same things to them, giving up threatening, knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him" (Ephesians 6:9).

"But he who does wrong will be repaid for what he has done, and there is no partiality" (Colossians 3:25).

"And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear" (1 Peter 1:17).

"But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy" (James 3:17).

God hates partiality and hypocrisy. The scribes, Pharisees, and lawyers were guilty of that in Jesus's day, requiring of others what they did not practice themselves.

"Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples, saying: 'The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. Therefore whatever they tell you to observe, that observe and do, but do not do according to their works; for they say, and do not do. For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers" (Matthew 23:1-4).

"And He said, 'Woe to you also, lawyers! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers" (Luke 11:46).

We should know these things. Yet in one point, we may be requiring something different - more difficult - of those from other religions who come into the Church of God than we are willing to teach and practice among ourselves. We have a double standard - like unjust weights and measures - for we require a different standard of faith of others than we require of ourselves. We are inconsistent - hypocrites like the Pharisees - requiring more of others than we are willing to practice ourselves.

Here is what I am talking about.

Anytime you have a church - Catholic, Protestant, or Church of God - there are times when a member reads the Bible and has a question about doctrine. They found something in the Bible that seems different from what the ministry in their church teaches. So they take it to the minister, or in the case of the Catholic Church, the priest. The minister or priest gives an answer, but it still seems different from what the church member reads in the Bible. To the member, it seems that God is saying one thing and his church is saying something different. Who is he to believe?

What do we tell Catholics and Protestants?

Do we not say, "Don't believe your minister, believe God, believe the Bible"?

Isn't that what we say to others outside the Church of God when explaining the doctrines of the Bible, in other words, true doctrine?

Mr. Armstrong said that on the radio, and that helped lay the foundation for the Church of God today. It was because he said that when the Church was growing that we are here today - many listeners did exactly what he said: checked to see what the Bible said, believed God, that is, the Bible, and came into the Church of God.

When Mr. Armstrong said that, he was asking his listeners to do exactly what he had done and continued to do himself. There was no double standard between what Mr. Armstrong practiced and what he asked his listeners to do. Mr. Armstrong believed the Bible more than he believed any minister in the Church of God Seventh Day before Mr. Armstrong was ever ordained as a minister. He put the Bible first, the Church of God second.

Do we still say that to the public today when we preach the gospel?

Whether we say it in those exact words or not, we still say it, for by teaching doctrines contrary to Catholic and Protestant traditions and proving what we teach by the Bible, we are certainly saying by implication that our listeners and readers should believe the Bible more than their own churches.

And apart from the official preaching of the gospel to the public by any particular fellowship, all fellowships have members who from time to time have doctrinal conversations with Catholic or Protestant family members, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and the like. These non-COG people ask our members questions, and our members have to explain our doctrines. No doubt many such members have to explain that we are to believe what God says in the Bible more than any minister, church, man, or tradition.

And we have to say that, either explicitly or by implication, to effectively preach the gospel to the world. We have to say, believe God more than your traditions and ministers. If we don't say that, or if our listeners and readers do not do that, how can they come out of their false traditions? If Protestants believe their ministers more than the Bible, how can they come into the Church of God? If Catholics believe their priests and the Pope more than the Bible, how can they come into the Church of God? How can they turn from their sins and turn to God? They can't. To do that, they have to believe the Bible first.

To effectively preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the public, we have to ask them, one way or another, to believe God - believe the Bible - more than their own traditions, churches, and ministers. We have to teach them to believe God more than man.

But what do we practice ourselves and what do we teach our own members?

If we tell our members, believe Church of God traditions, leadership, and ministry more than what you see in your own Bible, we are practicing a double standard.

There are various ways ministers might say this. If they say that the ministry is to interpret the Bible and we are to believe their interpretation, then we are teaching the same thing the Catholic Church teaches its members, that the Pope, the Catholic priesthood, and Catholic traditions interpret the Bible for their members.

But Mr. Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God taught that no man should interpret the Bible, but we should let the Bible interpret the Bible. We should put all the passages on a subject together and let clear passages interpret difficult ones.

Some may say that Christ is the head of the Church and He guides the teaching and the establishes true doctrine through the leadership and ministry. That is certainly true, but by itself is misleading because it leaves something important out.

What that statement leaves out is the fact that ministers do NOT teach the truth exactly, because ministers make mistakes. They teach the truth overall, if they are true ministers of Christ. But Christ does not keep them from making mistakes. They follow Christ imperfectly - we all do. Mr. Armstrong made mistakes in his teaching. He made a small mistake, for years, about Pentecost being on a Monday. He made a great big mistake, near the end of his life, telling us to follow Mr. Tkach, not qualifying that with, "as he follows Christ" or "as he follows the Bible".

We are not to trust ministers with the same kind of unconditional trust we should have towards God and His word, the Bible. In fact, God specifically tells us not to trust other people, and I see no exceptions for ministers.

"Thus says the Lord:
'Cursed is the man who trusts in man
And makes flesh his strength,
Whose heart departs from the Lord.
For he shall be like a shrub in the desert,
And shall not see when good comes,
But shall inhabit the parched places in the wilderness,
In a salt land which is not inhabited.
Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord,
And whose hope is the Lord.
For he shall be like a tree planted by the waters,
Which spreads out its roots by the river,
And will not fear when heat comes;
But its leaf will be green,
And will not be anxious in the year of drought,
Nor will cease from yielding fruit' "
(Jeremiah 17:5-8).

"It is better to trust in the Lord
Than to put confidence in man.
It is better to trust in the Lord
Than to put confidence in princes"
(Psalm 118:8-9).

"Do not put your trust in princes,
Nor in a son of man, in whom there is no help"
(Psalm 146:3).

"The fear of man brings a snare,
But whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe"
(Proverbs 29:25).

"Every word of God is pure;
He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him"
(Proverbs 30:5).

"The entirety of Your word is truth,
And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever"
(Psalm 119:160).

"Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth"
(John 17:17).

So what should a Church of God member do when he sees something in the Bible that seems to him to contradict the teachings of his minister and the Church?

First reaction should always be: believe God, believe the Bible. If that's what a Catholic or Protestant should do, that is what we should do. We must put God first over our traditions, our church leadership, and our ministers.

Does that mean the member is right in his understanding and the Church of God wrong? No, not necessarily. The member can make a mistake just as the ministry can make a mistake, even more so.

So, if the matter is important, the second reaction, if it is practical, is to take the matter to his pastor or write to his Church headquarters. I say, "if practical" because some Church of God fellowships may not be open to this kind of questioning. This is a judgment the member must make. But if he chooses to discuss it with the ministry, he should do so respectfully, putting it in terms of questions if possible, and he should do it with an open mind willing to be corrected by the Bible. The minister may be able to explain it to him by the scriptures and the member may learn his mistake. Or, more rarely, the ministry may see its mistake and make the correction for the whole Church.

But often, the member and ministry will still not come to agreement. Then what?

First of all, can two sincere Church members, even one a minister and one a lay member, have a disagreement even after discussing it with the Bible? Yes. How?

God opens our minds to the truth and helps us understand the Bible. But He doesn't give us perfect understanding in all points all at once - if that were true, we would not have to grow in knowledge (2 Peter 3:18). Right now, we know only in part (1 Corinthians 13:9).

Does God open every member's mind to every point of truth at the same time? No, not necessarily. Some in the Church of God understood that Pentecost was on a Sunday before Mr. Armstrong did.

God is able to open one person's mind to understand a truth before another person, minister or not. Why? To test us. To see where our loyalty is, to God or to man.

So a member might understand a point of truth that the Church of God as a whole does not yet understand. Why? So God can test the member to see if he will put his faith in God more than man, but also to test him to see if he will be respectful towards the ministry in spite of his difference of opinion. Likewise, God can test the ministry to see if they will examine the matter sincerely, humbly, and with an open mind - looking to God, not their traditions, for truth and being willing to be corrected, even by a member.

By the way, some have said that correction is always from the top down. That is false, according to the Bible. Read the account of Naaman the Syrian in 2 Kings 5:1-14. Naaman's servants lovingly and respectfully corrected him. He accepted the correction, and God performed a miracle to heal him. This is entirely different from Aaron and Miriam talking against Moses, behind his back in Numbers 12:1-10. The difference was that Naaman's servants were respectful and probably spoke to him face-to-face, privately. They never challenged or undermined Naaman's authority.

So what should a member do if he cannot agree with the ministry on a point of scripture? He must believe God, but quietly, respecting the authority of the ministry over official teaching in the Church. And if it is a point of God's law, something the member must do, then he must obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29), but again, quietly, not making it an issue with other members more than is necessary.

In this manner, some who knew that Pentecost was on Sunday were able to obey God, resting on Sunday Pentecost, but also attending services with the Church of God when Mr. Armstrong taught Monday Pentecost observance. And they didn't have to talk about it with other members. I have no doubt some did exactly that. And it was the right thing for them to do.

A member in such a situation can trust Christ to correct the error in the Church in His time, even if that time is when He returns.

Some Church of God ministers say that letting each member decide for himself what a scripture means results in confusion and division. That is nonsense, and it is an excuse for the ministry to compete with God for the faith of the members. A member should strive to let the Bible interpret the Bible (not the ministry), getting all the passages on a subject and letting clear scriptures interpret difficult ones. And he should be open-minded and humble enough to carefully consider what the ministry has to say.

But if he still does not agree, he should not create division. He should believe, trust, and obey God and His word the Bible, but quietly, not making an issue out of it with other members. He should not create division, and that means he should not contradict the ministry in conversation with other members (because that always creates division). Contradicting the ministry weakens the authority God gave the ministry. They have the job of teaching, not the lay members (Ephesians 4:11-16).

And the ministry should teach this process to the membership.

If the ministry does not teach the members to keep quiet about their disagreements over doctrine, that is a pretty good sign that the ministry is teaching the members to not disagree at all, even quietly in their own minds, with the ministry on matters of Bible doctrine. In other words, that ministry is teaching the members to believe and trust their interpretation of the Bible, not what the members see for themselves in the Bible. That is exactly what Catholics do.

Church of God ministers can say that in various ways. For example, they can over-emphasize that Christ is the head of the Church, as if that means that what the ministers say must be true. They can say that members need to have faith that Christ is the head of the Church (but I never heard anyone say that Christ is not the head of the Church, so why the unbalanced emphasis?).

Of course Christ is the head of the Church. But He is not just the head of the ministry. He is also the head of every member individually.

I go into this in more detail in my book, but I will here simply state that Christ directs the Church through the leadership and ministry only in matters pertaining to the organized work of the Church, such as official doctrine that is taught to the brethren, preaching the gospel, resolving disputes between brethren, caring for the poor in the Church, discipline, etc. But in matters of faith, prayer, and personal obedience to the law of God, every member is personally responsible to Christ, and not through the ministry. And in family matters, Christ is the head of the husband and the husband is the head of the family.

And even in matters of the organized work of the Church, the ministry makes mistakes, not following Christ perfectly in doctrine or anything else, just as husbands and fathers in the Church make mistakes and just as all of us make mistakes in our personal faith and obedience to God.

Yet, Christ is head of us all.

For more detail, and three organization charts, see my section "Organization of the Church and Limitations on the Authority of the Ministry" in chapter 8, "GOVERNMENT IN THE CHURCH OF GOD", link:

Sometimes, when a member wants to submit a question or a doctrinal paper he has written that challenges the Church's understanding on some doctrine, the ministry may want to brush it aside and belittle it by saying, "We have studied all this before".

But so what? Does the fact that they have studied it mean that they are right, that they made no mistake in their study? Mr. Armstrong must have studied the Pentecost issue and concluded that Pentecost was on a Monday, but he made a mistake. God may allow a lay member to see the importance of a particular passage relating to a doctrine that the ministry missed when they did their study. God can do that to test us, both the lay member and the ministry.

And are those studies made available to the lay members so the members can see for themselves how the doctrine is based on God's word, not human tradition? If a proper study was made, there should be documentation. No one would do a serious study of doctrine for the Church just in his head. There would be documentation that could be circulated and reviewed by the top ministers in the organization. That document, if the study was honest, would show scriptures and arguments on both sides of an issue, and it would show which side is right and why.

Where is that documentation? Is it made available to the members of the Church who have an issue with the doctrine so they can see how it was studied and so they can see the scriptural reasons for the Church's doctrine - so they can put their faith in God, not man, not the Church ministry? Or is it locked up in a file cabinet, not available to the membership? And is the member just told, "We have studied this before", and left to trust the ministry, not God?

Ministers sometimes justify teaching the members to believe the ministry's interpretation of the Bible by repeating that the Church is the "pillar and ground" of the truth, quoting 1 Timothy 3:15.

"but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15).

Yes, the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth, and should be, for that is its function. But what does that mean, especially in the context of other passages?

First of all, this is an analogy or metaphor. The Church is not literally a pillar, nor is it literally the ground. These things represent something. The Church is to uphold the truth as a pillar upholds a building. The Church is the ground from which the truth is to be taught and spread. It is the source of the gospel message that is to be preached to all the world, in the sense that the Church is to do the preaching. But the message comes from God, and today that means, from the Bible.

This is an example of where we must let clear scriptures interpret difficult ones. Both the Bible and history show us that the Church and its ministry make mistakes, so being the "pillar and ground" of the truth does not mean that everything the Church teaches is true. The Church, if it is the true Church, will overall teach the truth, but there can be mistakes.

I have already quotes Bible passages showing that we are to trust God more than man.

And while the Bible makes a symbolic statement that the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth, the Bible clearly states, without analogy, symbolism, or metaphor, that God's word IS truth. Moreover, the Bible is error-free, for scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35).

Therefore, the teachings of God's word, the Bible, are higher and to believed more than the teachings of the Church.

The Bible also clearly states, without analogy, symbolism, or metaphor, that the ministry does not have dominion (rule or authority) over the faith of the members, that is, what members believe. The Church does not have authority to command members to believe certain doctrines, except that we all should be taught to believe what the Bible says.

"Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand" (2 Corinthians 1:24).

Faith towards God, His promises, and His truth is an act of worship. It should be directed towards God and His direct word to us, the Bible, not towards the ministry.

Members who believe their ministers more than what they see in the Bible, or who let the ministers interpret the Bible for them rather than letting the Bible interpret the Bible, are making idols out of their ministers, and ministers who teach them to do that are making idols of themselves.

I don't say that a member has to meticulously prove in the Bible every tiny doctrine the Church teaches. Most members do not have time for that, and it is not necessary with the smaller doctrines. But when a member, in his regular Bible study, reads something in the Bible, he better believe it.

Faith - which includes believing what God says - is one of the three weightier matters of the law (Matthew 23:23). It is part of loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We love God when we trust and believe what He says - unconditionally. That unconditional trust and belief in God's word is something we must never share with fallible human beings, even faithful ministers in the Church of God.

Some ministers may say we should look to the Church and the ministry to hear what God is saying. That can be true to the degree the ministers prove what they say by the Bible. It is never true in an absolute sense. God was not speaking through Mr. Armstrong when Mr. Armstrong told us to follow Mr. Tkach.

Imagine someone who sees a conflict between what his minister teaches and what he sees in the Bible. Who should he believe more, his minister, or God?

Before reading further, stop and think. How would you answer?

I didn't mention it before, but in the above question, the member belongs to a Protestant church. Does that change your answer? It shouldn't. If a Catholic or Protestant should believe the Bible more than they believe their church, so should a Church of God member.

Jesus Christ severely rebuked the Pharisees and lawyers for applying a double standard. He said they bound heavy burdens on the people that they would not lift with their finger.

"For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers" (Matthew 23:4).

"And He said, 'Woe to you also, lawyers! For you load men with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers' " (Luke 11:46).

Is that what we do in the Church of God? If we demand more of the people we preach the gospel to in the general public - Catholics and Protestants - than we demand of ourselves, yes. We do that when we require that they give up the beliefs of their churches, ministers, religious leaders, and traditions in order to believe what God says in the Bible, but we do not practice that ourselves.

It is hard for outsiders to choose to believe the Bible more than their churches. It is hard for Catholics and Protestants to give up their traditions, their friends, their families, and sometimes their jobs to follow the Bible. Harder than for us whose traditions are mostly according to the Bible already.

Moreover, top leaders and ministers are applying a double standard when they teach their members to believe them more than what they see in the Bible, because they don't do that themselves. When they study the Bible, perhaps considering whether a doctrinal change is needed, they allow themselves to study the Bible with an open mind. They allow themselves to read the Bible as it is, letting the Bible interpret the Bible, and they do not consider themselves bound by past human interpretation in the Church. If they think the Church's past understanding is wrong, they change it (they often call it "clarifying", but it is changing).

But they don't allow the members to do the same thing when they read the Bible. They preach against "wrong ideas" and "pet theories". They preach against each person deciding for himself what is true doctrine. In effect, they want the members to make idols of the ministers.

And many members are pleased to do just that. It is much easier to simply believe what a flesh and blood minister tells you. He is visibly present, and you can ask him questions. That is easier than doing the hard work of Bible study.

This reminds me of the story of Gideon. Gideon was a righteous man, a man of God, and God worked a great victory for Israel through Gideon (Judges 6:11-Judges 8:21). Gideon is also listed in the faith chapter of Hebrews as one of those who obtained a good testimony through faith (Hebrews 11:32-40).

Yet, after Gideon led Israel to victory in battle, the men of Israel asked Gideon to be their ruler. But Gideon said that God would be their ruler.

"Then the men of Israel said to Gideon, 'Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian.' But Gideon said to them, 'I will not rule over you, nor shall my son rule over you; the Lord shall rule over you.' " (Judges 8:22-23).

So far, so good. Gideon seemed to realize that God was ruler over Israel, and he himself seemed willing to submit to God's rule. He seemed to be humble. He said the right words. But then he fell into a trap.

"Then Gideon said to them, 'I would like to make a request of you, that each of you would give me the earrings from his plunder.' For they had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites. So they answered, 'We will gladly give them.' And they spread out a garment, and each man threw into it the earrings from his plunder. Now the weight of the gold earrings that he requested was one thousand seven hundred shekels of gold, besides the crescent ornaments, pendants, and purple robes which were on the kings of Midian, and besides the chains that were around their camels’ necks. Then Gideon made it into an ephod and set it up in his city, Ophrah. And all Israel played the harlot with it there. It became a snare to Gideon and to his house" (Judges 8:24-27).

Gideon made an idol that became a snare to Gideon and his house.

Even this righteous man, through whom God gave to Israel a great victory, fell into the trap of idolatry.

Likewise, many ministers in the Church of God, and many members too, fall into the trap of making idols of their ministers and Church of God leaders.

In fact, if the ministry does not even warn members not to make idols out of the ministry and the Church of God, that itself should set off alarm bells. Members can make idols out of their ministers, is that not so? There are certain prerogatives that are reserved for God alone. So ministers in their sermons and articles ought to warn against that just as they warn against other sins. But do they?

If they don't, why not? Do they think it is impossible for members to make idols of their ministers? If they don't see the danger, that is bad. It indicates that they themselves don't understand that there are prerogatives that belong only to God, not men. One of those is faith. Our faith must be towards God alone, not towards men.

In order to effectively preach the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning of the punishment of the great tribulation to come upon Israel, we need God's blessing and help. But God is unlikely to very much bless such efforts if we do not practice what we preach. If we follow a double standard, asking others to believe God more than man, but are not willing to do that ourselves, we are practicing a double standard and may be counted as hypocrites in God's sight. And thus, our preaching of the gospel will be weak.

And that is the case. We do not have the 30% growth rate Mr. Armstrong had during many years in the Radio/Worldwide Church of God. No Church of God group has a magazine circulation in the millions as Mr. Armstrong had. We do not have the TV coverage we had.

No doubt there are many Philadelphians in the whole Church of God, but they are a minority. The door is open for them, but not open wide. Laodiceans are the majority. And the whole Church of God has not been blessed with a wide-open door for preaching the gospel to the public.

It may be that God has not blessed us because of our hypocrisy.

In my opinion, no group that teaches this kind of hypocrisy - the hypocrisy of telling the world to believe God more than man while we teach our members to believe the ministry more than the Bible - will have much success reaching all of Israel with the true gospel and the warning of the tribulation.

I have been teaching this - that members should be taught to believe the Bible first more than they believe the ministry - in my blog and book for years. I know that many ministers in the whole Church of God do not practice teaching their members to put the Bible first. Yet, none of them has challenged me, in the comments in this blog or in email correspondence with me. None wants to discuss this according to the Bible. None wants to correct me by the scriptures. They don't want to try to show me I am wrong. I think they know they can't.

The solution?

Believe what you see in the Bible more than what your minister, Church leader, or Church of God tradition tells you. Have an open mind, and be willing to be corrected by the ministry if you are wrong. But don't discuss disagreements with other members in the Church. Keep quiet about it. Don't create division. But believe the Bible first, the Church of God second.

And ministers should teach the membership to do these things, and they should warn the members not to make idols of the ministry and Church.

Then God can bless us with a wide-open door and greater growth and success in preaching the truth to the public (Revelation 3:7-8).

Sunday, December 17, 2017

LCG Is Closing LU

Living Church of God will be closing Living University.

This is not exactly breaking news. I am sure that most LCG members have heard about this. But I have some comments to make about it. I also want to collect links to several official LCG announcements about this in one place for those who want to look closely at what has been said by LCG.

Mr. Gerald Weston, Presiding Evangelist for Living Church of God, first announced that Living Church of God will no longer seek accreditation for Living University.

This was followed by other announcements indicating that Living University will close operations (as a university) at the end of the spring semester, May 2018, and that a new educational program is planned to be set up offering online classes to LCG members free of charge starting in August. Much of the class material that has been used in LU will be used in the new educational program, so the effort put into building those courses in LU will not be entirely wasted.

A reason given for this decision is the legal restrictions in about 20 states to not allow residents of those states to take online courses from a college or university that is not accredited and is not registered in that state. Registering in all states would be expensive and time-consuming, as is becoming accredited. And the trend indicates that the number of states with this kind of restriction is growing. Thus LU as presently structured cannot be used by the Church to educate its youth and members through online classes in all states.

Here are links to announcements from LCG where you can get more details and the exact wording of the announcements:





LCG will now try to develop a more flexible program to educate its youth and members and prepare some of them for the ministry.

I think, under the circumstances, this is a wise decision.

There have always been tough issues regarding the education of a future ministry in the Church of God. Mr. Armstrong faced these issues and made certain decisions in his day, but the legal and economic circumstances have changed since then. Technology has changed too.

How do you train members and youth in the Church for the job of minister?

Training of ministers is necessary if the Church of God is to continue for any length of time. Many COG groups have recognized this and tried, in one form or another, to provide a training program. In many groups, the collective ministry is aging. There is a need for new, young ministers. But how are they to be trained?

Mr. Armstrong saw the need for a college-educated ministry. When the work was young, he tried to pastor congregations in the Radio Church of God (later named Worldwide Church of God) without a ministry trained under his direction. It didn't work. Mr. Armstrong was busy traveling to manage the radio and magazine work, and while he was not present in congregations to manage things, local ministers or members assumed leadership and led the congregations away into error and false doctrine.

He saw the need for a ministry trained under his direction, and he felt that he needed a college-educated ministry.

But he did not want to start just a Bible college.

In the religions of this world, men choose to be ministers and pursue that as a career as one might choose to be an architect, a chemist, a dentist, an engineer, or a lawyer. But Mr. Armstrong knew that in God's Church, only God can call someone to the ministry.

To set up a Bible college and allow students to choose to enroll would be an implied admission that those students were being trained for the ministry. But only God can call men into the ministry, and God makes His calling known by the fruits shown by those He is calling into the ministry.

So Mr. Armstrong started Ambassador College, not a Bible college, but a liberal arts college. It would teach Bible courses and true doctrines from the Bible, yes, but it would also teach general courses that other colleges teach: English, science, mathematics, etc. That way, students would not be educated only for the ministry, but would receive a general college education suitable for many careers. It would not only educate a future ministry, but would prepare the youth of the Church, and others who might be coming into the Church, to live godly lives according to the standards of the Bible. It would teach true values. And whether or not Mr. Armstrong had this in mind, by having men and women enrolled in approximately equal numbers at the college campuses (one campus to start with, three later on), the college environment provided a near ideal opportunity for men and women in the Church to meet and get to know each other and find mates. Many of the older ministers in the Church of God who attended Ambassador College found their wives there.

Then, with men enrolled and active for about four years in the various programs and activities in the college, Mr. Armstrong could observe them and discern, by the fruits, who were being called by God into the ministry. Those were the ones who were ordained. The education they received at AC prepared them for the ministry. But those God was not calling could use their AC education to pursue other careers.

Ambassador College was not accredited. Mr. Armstrong did not pursue accreditation because he felt it would require compromise with the standards of this world.

He was also able to build Ambassador College because of rapidly growing income at that time. Nevertheless, things were very tight financially in the early years.

Ambassador College could not have started smaller. The first year there were about eight teachers and four students. But from that small start it grew, and it became a major factor in the growth of the Church of God.

Today, the legal and economic environment is different. The Church does not have the income to build a campus-based college that all can attend, not like Ambassador College at any rate, and laws about distance learning are restrictive, no doubt to prevent fraud by those who would misrepresent what they are selling to the public.

LU, as it is now, is expensive for LCG to support. Achieving accreditation is expensive because of the labor involved. There may also be pressures to compromise with God's truth involved in seeking accreditation in areas such as evolution, political correctness, and other matters. I don't say that the Church has to give in to those pressures to achieve accreditation, but the effort to maneuver that mine field can be time-consuming, inconvenient, and expensive. It may be that continuing LU as it is now, with the effort to achieve accreditation, would cut into funds needed for preaching the gospel.

Distance learning through online classes was not an option Mr. Armstrong had in his day. Also, when he started Ambassador College, there was not a large, spread-out Church of God to take such online classes.

So the situation is different, and different solutions are required.

I think Mr. Weston and the leading ministers will probably move quickly to restructure the educational program for members and future ministers in Living Church of God.

I think what is needed is a collection of courses that can be taken online that will teach the Bible and the Bible-based doctrines of Living Church of God. There should also be courses that teach certain ministerial skills, such as counseling, speaking, etc. These courses can be taken, partially online, but some may have to be taken face-to-face with instructors. Some of this can be at headquarters, but some with a local pastor. Spokesman Club and Graduate Club have served the purpose of teaching speaking skills in the past, and is an example of what can be taught locally.

A number of ministers in the Church have started with Spokesman Club, then Graduate Club, then giving sermonettes, then, if the fruits show they are being called by God to the ministry, being ordained as a local elder. Some local elders, after they have gained experience, have been hired as full-time pastors.

But strong doctrinal training is also required, and much of that can be provided through online courses.

The effort put into LU to develop doctrinal course content has not been wasted. These programs can easily be converted to online courses not part of a licensed university or college.

Then, when a man has studied and mastered the Bible-based doctrines of the Church, and if he has proved himself locally in service and speaking, if he has been ordained as a local elder, if the ministry sees by the fruits that God is calling him into the full-time ministry, he can train with a local pastor for six months and then be hired as a full-time associate pastor or a full pastor.

I do not think that the Church can afford the luxury of teaching courses that are readily available in regular colleges and universities across the country and in community colleges, such as courses in English, chemistry, algebra, business, accounting, engineering, computer programming, etc. Members of the Church can take those courses as they need them from established colleges.

What the Church needs to focus on is the training that only the Church can provide - training in the doctrinal subjects members should know and ministers must know.

I saw a quote that said something like: Say no to the good to say yes to the best.

That is as good an explanation of the need to focus our priorities as any I have heard or read.

We cannot do everything. There are many worthwhile things we may like to do, good things, but we cannot do them all. To focus our priorities on the best things, we may have to say no to many projects that are good, but not the most important.

The important things for the Church are to provide doctrinal and skills training for members and ministers without sacrificing the finances we need for preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to our Israelite nations and to the world. That is the best. But to do this we have to say no to other projects that are good and worthwhile when considered in isolation, but for which we do not have the resources in time and money to do them without sacrificing the best projects.

Doctrinal training is not only needed for future ministers in the Church of God, but it is needed for members as well.

I think the Church of God needs a better trained membership and more ministers. More members need to be able to step up into a ministerial capacity in the future. There may be a need.

What might trigger that need?

We know that most of the people of the United States, and other countries too, have not heard the true gospel and the Ezekiel warning of the tribulation to come. Yet, the Bible is clear, it is God's way to warn. Our nations need to hear the message of the gospel and the warning to prepare them for the tribulation ahead. It is likely, therefore, that before the tribulation comes, which may be soon, God will provide a way for the nations to be warned. Somehow, He may empower the Church to get a strong message out that will reach tens of millions, maybe hundreds of millions. This may happen through a dramatic event or other means.

But when that happens, how will it affect the Church of God? It might happen suddenly. If God somehow empowers a message to go out to a hundred million people, and if only one out of a thousand respond and want to make contact with the Church (it would probably be more than that), how would the Church handle 100,000 "go to's" in just a few weeks? How will the Church handle a million letters asking questions?

It is not just ministers that need training. It is members too so they can fill the shoes of ministers if needed. Everyone in LCG needs to know the doctrines of the Bible. Precision training is what is needed. It needs to be of the highest quality and thoroughness. It needs to be economical.

One of my hobbies is the study of the history of World War II. There are many lessons about life in that history.

It is commonly recognized that the German army in both world wars was a superior force compared with armies of other nations, and some have tried to analyze why that was so. There were a number of reasons, but a couple come to mind.

One, the German army had more officers in proportion to their common soldiers than the French army and many other armies. If that lesson is applied to the Church, it might indicate we need more ministers. Even if the Church cannot afford to hire many more, there may need for more local elders, but they must first be trained.

Two, the German army trained its officers to be able to handle the duties two ranks above their current rank! They were trained two ranks above their own level. They not only knew how to handle their commanding officer's duties, they knew how to handle his commanding officer's duties, two full ranks above their own duties.

In the Church of God, that would be as if every member was trained to be a local elder, every deacon was trained to be an associate pastor, every local elder trained to be a pastor, every associate pastor trained to be an evangelist, etc.

I am not necessarily advocating that, exactly. But I am making a point that the Church of God needs more training. It may be needed if God does something dramatic to suddenly bring our message to the public and we are swamped with responses. If that happens, many members who are not ministers may be called upon to step up and do what ministers do to handle those responses.

And if the Church is to provide more precision training to its members and ministers, and do so economically, it probably does not have the resources to build a whole, accredited college or university that teaches all the subjects that other colleges teach.

I pray for the success of Mr. Weston and the leading ministers in Living Church of God in restructuring their educational program for their members and future ministers.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

What I Am Thankful For

This Thursday is Thanksgiving Day in the United States, a day for giving thanks to God for the blessings He gives us. Not everyone in the United States celebrates Thanksgiving, and some who do celebrate it observe it in a wrong way, not giving thanks to God but just using the day as a day to enjoy the pleasures of this life: food, family, friends, and football.

But some in the United States observe Thanksgiving in a right attitude, giving thanks to God.

Probably most Church of God members in the United States observe Thanksgiving Day. It is optional for us, not commanded by God.

On this day I try to spend extra time in giving God thanks.

Here are some of the things I am thankful to God for.

I am thankful to God for His goodness. Mr. Armstrong talked about this. He said he was grateful that the greatest power in the universe, God, was a power for good, not evil. God is perfect in wisdom, power, righteousness, and love. All other benefits come from that. I am grateful for God's perfect, holy, righteous character.

I thank God for His creation, all of it: the angels, the physical universe with all the galaxies, stars, planets, and wonderful laws of nature, and of course, mankind. God's creative works are perfect.

I thank God for his plan to reproduce Himself in mankind. God offers us the wonderful gift of the opportunity to become members of His family forever, sharing rulership of this universe with Christ, and enjoying the happiness of eternal life in power and glory with God forever.

I give God thanks for Jesus Christ, for His sacrifice, suffering, and death to pay the penalty for the sins of mankind so we can be forgiven and saved, and for His saving work as savior, high priest, intercessor, advocate, teacher, head of the Church, and soon coming King over the earth. I thank God for the perfect example of Jesus Christ to teach us lessons of how we should love one another.

I thank God that He has provided a way, in the white throne judgment, for every human who has ever lived to have an opportunity to hear and understand the true gospel and be saved. No one will be left out of God's kingdom due to circumstances of birth in time and place. No one will be left out because Satan deceived them and they had no opportunity to understand and believe the truth. This shows God's love, justice, and mercy, and it is a great gift.

I am thankful to God that He has included in His plan for the salvation of mankind that there be a first fruits, a select group of called Christians in this age to be with Christ in the first resurrection, to rule the earth with Christ and help bring the rest of mankind to salvation.

I thank God for His word, the Bible, which instructs us in so many things. God's word is perfect. It is written by men, but inspired by God to be God's direct communication with every Christian. God's word cannot be broken and cannot fail. In the Bible, God gives us many promises. He gives us answers to the important questions of life. He guides us in detail to know His mind and how we should live. He teaches us the right way of life, the way that produces happiness in the long term. He shows us how to identify and embrace true doctrine and how to identify and reject false doctrine, even in detail. The Bible teaches us the true gospel from beginning to end.

I am thankful to God for the Church of God, that we may have fellowship with like-minded Christians, that we may be encouraged and instructed. I am thankful for God's ministry to instruct us and help us understand the Bible and for all their service and work.

I am thankful to God for the gift of His Holy Spirit to the Church to help us understand His word, the Bible, to help us understand spiritual knowledge, and to help us overcome and make progress in living God's way of life in spite of our evil, carnal nature.

I am grateful for the work God has done through Herbert W. Armstrong to build the Church of God in our time, to preach the true gospel and the Ezekiel warning to millions, and to restore many lost truths and doctrines through the Bible, including the plan of God as illustrated by the weekly Sabbath and the annual holy days and festivals of God.

These are general things I thank God for.

But I also thank God for His many blessings for me personally.

I thank God for calling me personally to be part of the Church and the first fruits, opening my mind to understand His truth and the Bible. All of us in the Church have been given the precious gift of the truth in this age, perhaps each of us being only one out of about 100,000 people on the earth to know the truth at this time. That is an awesome gift and calling.

I thank God for allowing me to support His work at this time with my tithes and offerings, my prayers, and my service.

I am thankful to God for His patience and mercy towards me, to forgive my sins and keep working with me to develop His righteous character in me, to correct me and teach me lessons in spite of my faults and weaknesses and my carnal human nature.

I thank God for the health I still have. Although I have health problems common to old age, I can still see, hear, think, and move around, and I can still use my hands for work.

I thank God for a roof over my head and food to eat.

I am thankful to God for the family members I have, though they are not in the Church: sisters, nephews, and nieces.

Then there are many detailed, personal blessings I enjoy that I give God thanks for, too numerous and detailed to list here.

Some of us set goals to put in a certain amount of time in prayer. One way to fill that time is by giving God thanks for his many blessings and to praise God for His goodness and works.

The Psalms are full of praise and thanks to God, and if anyone in the Church feels it is hard for them to think of things to pray about, I suggest mixing prayer with the reading of the Psalms. Rid a bit in the book of Psalms, then pray a bit, then read a bit more, then pray a bit more.

Thanksgiving Day can be a blessing in our relationship with God, if we use it properly. We should give God thanks every day, but on this day, for those who observe Thanksgiving, we can make an extra effort to give God thanks for His many blessings.

Here are links to other Thanksgiving Day messages from past years in this blog:

"Thanksgiving", dated November 25, 2011, link:

"The Greatest Gift", dated November 21, 2012, link:

"Give God Thanks", dated November 27, 2013, link:

"Should We Attend Thanksgiving Dinner with our Unconverted Families?", dated November 11, 2014, link:

"Giving Praise and Thanks to God", dated November 25, 2015, link:

"The Habit of Thanksgiving", dated November 22, 2016, link:

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Mr. Armstrong's Role Part 14 - What Philadelphia Is to Hold Fast To

This post is a continuation of the last post in this series. This series of posts is a refutation of some points made in an article, "Just What is an APOSTLE?", published by Church of God in Wales (COGIW). In the first post in this series is a link to their website.

The COGIW article teaches that we should never question, correct, or change Mr. Armstrong's teachings, even if we think they conflict with the Bible.

In chapter 8, the COGIW article again compares the office of John the Baptist to the office of apostle because Christ said that John was "more than a prophet" (Matthew 11:7-10), and the only office greater than prophet is apostle (1 Corinthians 12:27-28). But being an apostle is not the only way a prophet can be "more than a prophet". John was more than a prophet because he had a special role to play.

Jesus Christ did not say that John was more than a prophet because he was an apostle, and Christ never calls John the Baptist an apostle. John was more than a prophet because he is the prophesied messenger to come to prepare the way for the Lord. In other words, he is more than an ordinary prophet because he had a specially important role.

As far as comparing John to Mr. Armstrong, the similarities are not exact. John was specifically called a prophet, and Mr. Armstrong specifically said that he was not a prophet. John the Baptist received direct revelation from God, not through the writings of other men, but direct by divine revelation (John 1:29-34). This never happened to Mr. Armstrong. He only received revelation through the pages of the Bible, through the writings of other men as they were inspired by God, the same way we can prove the truth from our own Bibles.

So there is no scriptural proof that John the Baptist was accounted as an apostle or equal to an apostle by God, and there is no proof that whoever comes after John as the Elijah to come will be like John in every respect.

Later in chapter eight, the COGIW article says that that which Philadelphia is to hold fast to (Revelation 3:11) must have come from the individual who was to restore all things (Mr. Armstrong).

That can be true provided we know what Philadelphia is to hold fast to. It is not a list of restored doctrines, A-Z. During much of the Philadelphia era of the Church, all those doctrines had not yet been restored, so how could the church at that time "hold fast" to what was a work in progress? In fact, the attitude of holding fast, that is, "no changes", when applied to a list of doctrines, can actually prevent new doctrines from being restored.

Nor is that which we are to hold fast to a loyalty to and following of Mr. Armstrong personally as the source of truth, because Mr. Armstrong said, don't believe me, believe your Bible. Mr. Armstrong did not set himself up as a source of truth but pointed people to the Bible as the source of truth.

So what are Philadelphians to hold fast to? Is it something that we received from God through Mr. Armstrong? Yes.

What we are to hold fast to is the understanding that we must put the Bible first as a source of truth and doctrine, not Church authority, not Mr. Armstrong, not any man, but the Bible - God speaking. That is the tradition we received from Mr. Armstrong and the source of all other restored doctrines.

What we are to hold fast to is simply what Mr. Armstrong said from the beginning. "Don't believe me, believe your Bible." That statement sums it up. It outweighs everything else.

In other words, part of what we are to hold fast to is NOT believing Mr. Armstrong.

If the COGIW article says, don't believe your Bible, believe Mr. Armstrong, believe Mystery of the Ages - that itself is an abandonment of the most important thing we are to hold fast to.

Another thing we received from Mr. Armstrong that we are to hold fast to is zeal for preaching the gospel to the world. Those who make no effort, or minimal effort, to preach to the general public the true gospel and the Ezekiel warning about the tribulation to come have not held fast to the zeal that was a tradition of the Church of God while Mr. Armstrong was alive.

Those two things must go together. You can't have one without the other. Why?

If you really get your teachings from the Bible, you will have zeal for the gospel, because the Bible very clearly teaches that the Church of God is to preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning message.

And if you have zeal for the gospel, the only way you can convincingly preach the true gospel is to say to the public, as Mr. Armstrong did, don't believe us, believe God, believe your Bible.

What if you don't say that to the public? What if you say, "Believe us, because we have the truth. Believe us, because we are the servants of God. Believe Mr. Armstrong, because he was a true servant of God and the end-time Elijah"?

The public will say, "Why should we believe you? We have our own leaders, our own servants of God, our own traditions."

We can't even prove we are the servants of God or that Mr. Armstrong was a servant of God without using the Bible. In the minds of the public, only the Bible can have the authority to overturn what they have learned from their own ministers. We have to tell them to believe the Bible more than any man, church, or tradition, or our message will have no credibility.

But if we say, "Don't believe us, don't believe any man, believe God, believe what you see in your own Bible", then we better practice what we preach or we are hypocrites.

If we say that to the public, we have to practice what we preach, and we are not doing that if we believe Mr. Armstrong more than the Bible.

And if we say to our own members, believe Mr. Armstrong's teachings and do not make any changes or corrections, even from the Bible, then we are elevating Mr. Armstrong's teachings and authority above that of God Himself and His word, the Bible.

That makes us hypocrites, because we say one thing but practice something else. We have a double standard, one for ourselves and one for outsiders. But that is not God's way.

"One law shall be for the native-born and for the stranger who dwells among you" (Exodus 12:49).

"You shall have the same law for the stranger and for one from your own country; for I am the Lord your God" (Leviticus 24:22).

"One law and one custom shall be for you and for the stranger who dwells with you" (Numbers 15:16).

"You shall not have in your bag differing weights, a heavy and a light. You shall not have in your house differing measures, a large and a small. You shall have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure, that your days may be lengthened in the land which the Lord your God is giving you. For all who do such things, all who behave unrighteously, are an abomination to the Lord your God" (Deuteronomy 25:13-16).

Speaking of the scribes and Pharisees, Jesus said, "For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers" (Matthew 23:4). He also called them, "hypocrites" (Matthew 23:13-33). Seven times Christ called them hypocrites, and he also called them serpents and brood of vipers, and asked how they can escape the condemnation of hell.

We must not be like them, setting a double standard, an easy standard for ourselves (just believe your human leaders), and a hard standard for outsiders (Believe the Bible and reject the teachings of your leaders that do not agree. Give up your church, your friends, and even your family if necessary).

To follow the Bible, we have to preach the gospel to the world. To preach the gospel to the world effectively, we have to ask people to believe the Bible more than any man or tradition. But to say that without becoming hypocrites we have to practice the same thing and say the same thing to our members - believe the Bible first, more than Mr. Armstrong, more than our doctrinal traditions, more than any man, and more than the Church itself.

Mr. Armstrong said that to the public over the radio, and Mr. Armstrong practiced what he preached, believing the Bible over Church of God Seventh Day doctrines and traditions. Many of those who heard Mr. Armstrong and did what he said, proving everything in the Bible and believing what they saw in the Bible more than their traditions, became members of the Church of God, and the Church saw outstanding growth during that time in radio stations, in magazine circulation, in income, and in membership.

God blessed the Church with growth and effectiveness in preaching the gospel because He saw that many in the Church practiced the way of life that the Church was teaching the world - the way of believing the Bible more than man, any man, and more than the church, any church.

In other words, the Church of God was practicing what it preached. That is a recipe for success in preaching the gospel to the world.

That is what Philadelphia is to hold fast to!

If we believe Mr. Armstrong more than the Bible, that belief in Mr. Armstrong's teachings disqualifies us from preaching the true gospel to the world effectively. Mr. Armstrong said to his radio audience, don't believe me, believe your Bible. We must do the same.

God will surely test us on this, just as he tested Mr. Armstrong.

But if we pass the tests God gives us and choose to believe the Bible more than Mr. Armstrong's teachings, to believe and trust God rather than man, and are willing to make corrections and additions to Mr. Armstrong's doctrines as God, through the Bible, directs us, then God can bless our efforts to preach the gospel to the world as He blessed Mr. Armstrong's efforts, and the work will grow as it did before.

And the work has to grow, for there are hundreds of millions of people who need a warning about the tribulation to come and who need the encouragement of the true gospel to prepare them for the trials they will face ahead.


Thursday, October 19, 2017

Mr. Armstrong's Role Part 13 - Can the Elijah-work Be Done by a Collective Church Group?

This post is a continuation of the last post in this series. This series of posts is a refutation of some points made in an article, "Just What is an APOSTLE?", published by Church of God in Wales (COGIW). In the first post in this series is a link to their website.

The COGIW article teaches that we should never question, correct, or change Mr. Armstrong's teachings, even if we think they conflict with the Bible.

There is one point in chapter 8 of the COGIW article I want to address. I covered some of this in my post in this series titled, "Mr. Armstrong's Role Part 8 - How Can We Know if a Man Is an Apostle?", dated August 17, 2017, link:

The COGIW article, in chapter 8, says that the Elijah to come to prepare the way for Christ's second coming is only an individual, not linked to any other individual and not a collective Church of God group. The article says that there is no indication that this Elijah would be linked to anyone else, and that prophecy is not talking about a collective group to do the work of Elijah.

But that is not correct. When we look at the Bible and let the Bible interpret the Bible, we are to look at all relevant passages concerning the subject we are researching.

Since the death of Mr. Armstrong, there have been some that have de-emphasized his role as the Elijah to come and have said that the work of restoring all things is an Elijah-type work that can be done by the entire Church of God, not just an individual.

I do not agree with everything these people have said, and I strongly feel that Mr. Armstrong, as an individual, was the Elijah to come to restore all things and prepare the way for Christ's second coming, and his role in that should not be de-emphasized.

Nevertheless, contrary to the COGIW article, there is Bible evidence that the work of Elijah can include more than one individual - in fact, an entire supporting group - and that an Elijah-type work can continue after the original Elijah has completed his part of that work.

There is a principle of delegation in the Bible. When a leader delegates or authorizes his followers to do certain work, that work is attributed to both the leader and the ones under the leader who do the actual work.

Here are a couple of examples.

God the Father judges no one directly, but has committed all judgment to Christ. "For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgment to the Son, that all should honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him." (John 5:22-23).

Yet, another Bible passage indicates that God the Father does judge us. "And if you call on the Father, who without partiality judges according to each one’s work, conduct yourselves throughout the time of your stay here in fear" (1 Peter 1:17).

This is not a contradiction. God the Father judges. But He does it through Jesus Christ. The Father has delegated judgment to Christ, and Christ does the actual judging under the Father's authority. In the same way, the Father created all things through Jesus Christ.

The principle of delegation is made clear in this passage: "Therefore, when the Lord knew that the Pharisees had heard that Jesus made and baptized more disciples than John (though Jesus Himself did not baptize, but His disciples), He left Judea and departed again to Galilee" (John 4:1-3).

Jesus did not do the physical work of baptizing. It was His disciples that did the actual baptizing. But the act of baptizing was attributed to Jesus because the disciples did it by His authority and direction. So it could be rightly said that Jesus baptized. He baptized by delegating the work of baptizing to his disciples.

How does this apply to Elijah?

The COGIW article says that there is no indication that the Elijah work is done by a group. But there is such an indication, if you look at what the Bible says about the first Elijah.

Anyone doing a Bible study about the Elijah to come should not just read the passages in the New Testament about John the Baptist and the prophecies in Malachi, but should also study the life of Elijah, the first Elijah.

After Elijah confronted the prophets of Baal and proved by a great miracle that the LORD was God (1 Kings 18:16-40), God commissioned Elijah to do three things: anoint Hazael as king over Syria, anoint Jehu as king over Israel, and anoint Elisha as prophet in Elijah's place (1 Kings 19:15-16).

Did Elijah do all three of these things directly, as an individual, while he was present and active as prophet? Or was some of this done by others after Elijah was taken away? Those who say that the Elijah work started by Mr. Armstrong cannot be continued as a group activity after his death need to ask this question.

The Bible gives the answer. After Elijah was taken up by a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:9-15), Elisha, not Elijah, anointed Jehu king of Israel, and not even Elisha did it directly but delegated the actual anointing to an unnamed son of the prophets (2 Kings 9:1-10).

How did Elijah fulfill the commission God gave him of anointing Jehu king of Israel? By delegating the task to Elisha who succeeded Elijah

This illustrates both the principle of delegating the continuation of a work to a successor (as Elijah delegated the anointing of Jehu to Elisha, which Elisha did after Elijah was gone) and the principle of delegating a work to others in a group (Elijah delegated the actual work of anointing to a son of the prophets - remember there was a whole group of the sons of the prophets, like a Church of God fellowship today - see 1 Kings 18:3-13 and 2 Kings 2:1-18).

So, while Mr. Armstrong as an individual was the Elijah to come and restore all things and prepare the way for Christ's second coming, there is also a continuation of that work in the Church of God today. The Church of God is to do an Elijah-type work even while recognizing Mr. Armstrong's role as the individual Elijah to come who started the process of restoring all things and preparing the way for Christ. We continue his work as Elisha and the sons of the prophets continued the work of the first Elijah.


Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Fall Holy Days and Feast, and Principles of Philadelphians

Is there a connection between the fall holy days and Feast of Tabernacles and the Church of God brethren that God describes in Revelation as Philadelphian in spirit, attitude, and character?

I think there is.

I will summarize the meaning of the fall holy days and Feast in the second half of this post, but first I want to explore a connection between the holy days and Feast and Philadelphians.

I have said before, that of all Mr. Armstrong's books and other writings, the most important for Church of God members is his autobiography. His book, Mystery of the Ages, is the best one-volume summary of all his major teachings, and his book, The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy, may be the single best book for those outside the Church of God to read and be introduced to the truth of the Bible and the true gospel.

But Mr. Armstrong's autobiography reveals the thinking and background of Mr. Armstrong. It shows the basic principles by which he lived, which made it possible for God to use Mr. Armstrong to help reveal lost truth to the Church of God in our time. Mr. Armstrong was a Philadelphian in the way he lived. In his autobiography, he gets personal in the way he thinks and why he did what he did.

The autobiography is important for Church members because it shows how he dealt with problems in the Church, even as a lay member.

Mr. Armstrong was a Philadelphian. He was blessed with an open door, and he went through that door. His autobiography helps us identify the characteristics of a Philadelphian.

It is important for Philadelphians and those in the Church who are striving to be Philadelphians and develop the character that Christ praises in Revelation 3:7-13, to be able to identify some principles that Philadelphians must have.

I have read Mr. Armstrong's autobiography, and I think I can identify three characteristics Philadelphians will have. These may not be the only three, but they can serve as visible yardsticks for measuring and examining ourselves. And while these principles are visible in Mr. Armstrong's life, they are also easily proven in the Bible to be right principles we should follow.

Two of these characteristics tie in with the holy days, principally how we know about the need to observe the holy days and feasts and how we know the meaning of these days.

First of all, Mr. Armstrong put the Bible first. He never let any man, even a minister in the true Church, interpret the Bible for him, but he learned to let the Bible interpret the Bible. This was his way of life from the beginning of his conversion.

He even tried to correct and teach new knowledge from the Bible to the Church of God Seventh Day while he was only a lay member.

He submitted a paper to COG7D on the identity of the lost tribes of Israel, showing from the Bible and from history that the English speaking people are descendents of Joseph and thus part of Israel. This was new knowledge, yet COG7D rejected it, not by contradicting it, but by mostly ignoring it. He also submitted a correction to their existing doctrines. Mr. Armstrong does not name this in his autobiography, but it is likely this correction was regarding the Church's obligation to observe the annual holy days and feasts of God. The reason I say this is that Mr. Armstrong later made clear in his writings and speaking that he and his family observed the holy days from the beginning, and that he learned of the need to keep the holy days at the same time he learned about the Sabbath, and this was before he was baptized. But COG7D rejected this also.

My point is that Mr. Armstrong did not submit to any authority of man, even to the leadership and ministry of the Church of God Seventh Day while Mr. Armstrong was only a lay member, newly baptized, when it came to reading and understanding the Bible. He never let any man tell him what the Bible meant. He believed what he saw in his own Bible and let the Bible interpret the Bible.

In other words, while still a lay member, not yet ordained as a minister, he believed what he saw for himself in the Bible more than he believed the ministers of the Church of God fellowship he was attending.

He believed the Bible more than the Church.

Later, when he did a work over the radio, he said to his listeners, don't believe me, don't believe any man, believe God, believe what you see in your own Bible. He preached that and he practiced that, and God blessed him with an open door.

It is important to God that we put our faith in Him, not in man, not in any man, not even a Church of God leader or minister.

Some today may say that this approach can lead to confusion in the Church of God, with every man deciding for himself what the Bible means and spreading his ideas to others. But that does not have to happen if the Church leadership simply teaches the members not to discuss their disagreements over doctrine with other members and not contradict the ministry in matters of doctrine. Members should be taught this principle, and if anyone violates this even after a warning, that person can be disfellowshipped, and if necessary, marked (Romans 16:17).

Instead, some ministers compete with God for the faith of the membership, telling the members to believe the Church, its leadership, and its ministry in matters of doctrine, even if the members see something different in the Bible. Thus, when a member sees something different in the Bible, he must choose to believe God or the Church, and some ministers teach him to believe the Church rather than God. That is wrong. It is idolatry. It is the making of a man, a minister, into an idol in the place of God. It is what many of the churches of this world do. And it is a reason why those churches have lost the truth.

Church of God leaders and ministers do have binding authority over the doctrines that the Church teaches (Ephesians 4:11-16). But they do not have authority to command the members to believe them more than what they see in their own Bibles, to believe the Church more than God (2 Corinthians 1:24). Ministers do not have dominion or rule over the faith of the members. How are these principles - the Church having authority over what is taught in the Church, but not having authority over what is believed by the members - reconciled?

Simply this, that if a member sees something in the Bible that seems to contradict what the Church teaches, he should refrain from discussing it with other members and contradicting the ministry, but meanwhile he should believe what he sees in the Bible. If appropriate and if there is opportunity, he may, if he feels it is important, discuss it privately and respectfully with the ministry. And it may be resolved there. But if not, he should continue to quietly believe God more than man, not spreading his ideas and causing division in the Church.

Mr. Armstrong, whom God blessed, always put the Bible first.

And it is because of this principle that Mr. Armstrong was able to see the need for keeping the holy days and feasts of God. If he had believed Church of God authority, he would not have kept the holy days. If he had not kept them, he would not have learned their meaning and through their meaning learned many truths about the plan of God and the true doctrines of the Bible.

Mr. Armstrong kept the holy days and feasts for years before he understood their meaning. He only believed and obeyed the God of the Bible. But when God saw his faith and obedience, faith and obedience towards God more than towards the Church, God blessed him and helped him understand, from the Bible, the meaning of the holy days and feasts. And through the understanding of the meaning of these days, Mr. Armstrong understood the true gospel with a depth he had not known before.

If you have ever read chapter 2 of my book, Preaching the Gospel, where I explain most of the doctrines of the Church of God, you will see how many of the basic doctrines of the Church can be organized according to the holy days and feasts. The doctrines of the Church are revealed in the holy days.

And it is because Mr. Armstrong believed the Bible more than the Church that we have this knowledge today.

Believing the Bible more than the Church ministry and leadership is a characteristic, I believe, of true Philadelphians.

A second characteristic of true Philadelphians is zeal for preaching the gospel to the world as a witness and a warning of the great tribulation to come as punishment upon Israel, including the English speaking people, if our nations do not repent of their sins. This also is illustrated in the life of Mr. Armstrong.

If you read Mr. Armstrong's autobiography, you will see the zeal he had for preaching the gospel. I think that is evident. Doing God's work was his life.

It is necessary for Philadelphians to have zeal for the gospel, because it is the Philadelphians who have an open door for that purpose, and they must have the courage and zeal to go through it. In fact, their zeal is part of the open door. It is one of the things that separates Philadelphians from Laodiceans. Nearly all the COG groups have access to the same resources - freedom and prosperity - to preach the gospel to the public. But what causes one fellowship to be successful and another not is not resources, but zeal. Those ministers and members who have Philadelphian zeal for the gospel will find a way.

Preaching the gospel to the world and the warning of the tribulation to come is an act of love towards our neighbors. There is no substitute for it. Opening doors for strangers, giving aid to flood victims, and praying for Christ to come is no substitute for doing the hard work and making the financial sacrifices to get the warning message out to a world that desperately needs it. Setting a good example is not enough.

Our people need to hear the warning now while there is time for them to repent and escape the death and suffering to come. Even if they do not repent, they will remember the warning we give them, and they will know that God was merciful and fair to at least give them a warning. That will make their repentance in the tribulation easier and more likely. It will prepare them for the millennium, which is what the Feast of Tabernacles is about.

What are the fruits of Mr. Armstrong's zeal for the gospel? We have the truth. We would not have it if it were not for Mr. Armstrong's zeal to preach the gospel.

So the second characteristic of a Philadelphian is zeal and willingness to sacrifice for the preaching of the gospel and the warning to the public.

This second characteristic ties in with the first, for it is those who believe what God says in the Bible who have zeal for the gospel. Some who refuse to support the preaching of the gospel make various excuses: our example is sufficient, only Mr. Armstrong could preach the gospel, we must grow spiritually and get close to God before we can preach the gospel, etc. But those who believe God know that God commands the preaching of the gospel and the warning message to the world. The Bible shows the falseness of all these excuses, for those who are willing to believe what God says.

There is a third characteristic of Philadelphian Christians, and that is respect for and obedience to the principle of top-down governance in the Church of God, rather than voting.

This is a principle Mr. Armstrong always followed. And if you look closely at the history of the Church while Mr. Armstrong was alive, I think you will see that there were times when, if Mr. Armstrong relied on the voting of men, those men would have elected to cut back on the preaching of the gospel. Mr. Armstrong was able to move forward and deal with severe problems because he made the decisions, under Christ. And it was Mr. Armstrong, not a voting board, who had the faith and zeal to go through open doors to preach the gospel when it may have seemed, in human terms, to be impossible.

This also ties in with the first principle, putting the Bible first. Those who prefer voting have their reasons and excuses, but they do not hold up to the truth of the Bible. The Bible shows very clearly that God's government in the Church is governance from the top down, not by voting. I show, in chapter 8 of my book, the many scriptures that prove that godly government is from the top down.

In my opinion, those ministers who participate in a system of voting to elect leaders in the Church, or who submit to such leaders, have rejected the administrative leadership of Jesus Christ over the Church. They are making their own decisions, choosing their own leaders, not submitting to Jesus Christ.

Those are three main principles Philadelphian members of the Church of God live by:

1. Put the Bible first and believe the Bible more than the Church. By this we show God that our love, faith, and trust are towards Him more than towards man. But don't cause division by openly disagreeing with the Church in conversation with brethren.

2. Practice zeal and sacrifice for the gospel and the warning message about the coming tribulation. By this we show God that we love our neighbors as ourselves.

3. Believe, understand, and practice top-down governance in the Church as taught in the Bible. By this we show God that we trust Jesus Christ to appoint our leaders and make His choices known by their fruits.

Christ says to the Philadelphians: "Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown" (Revelation 3:11).

Much has been said in the Church about "holding fast". Many who use this verse apply it to the individual doctrines and details of doctrines that Mr. Armstrong taught us: the holy days, the plan of God, God reproducing himself in mankind, the identity of the lost tribes of Israel, the three resurrections, etc. But I think that misses the point.

Certainly these doctrines are important. But Mr. Armstrong practiced Philadelphian leadership before he knew all these doctrines. Learning these things was a process over time, and the Church was Philadelphian during the time it was learning these doctrines. Mr. Armstrong had some of these doctrines, but not all of them when he started a Philadelphia work in late 1933 and early 1934.

So in 1934, 1935, 1936, etc., how could Mr. Armstrong and the Philadelphian members of the Church supporting him have heeded this message and held fast to doctrines they did not yet have? In fact, if they had held fast to the body of doctrine they had at that time, they would have made no changes and probably no additions. They would not have learned new knowledge about the truth of God. They would not have learned that God is reproducing Himself in mankind. They would not have corrected the error about keeping Pentecost on Monday.

Then what are Philadelphians to hold fast to?

They are to hold fast to the principles they had from the beginning, the principles they had from the time God showed, by the good fruits of growth, that they are Philadelphians, that they have an open door. And it is those principles, the three I listed (Bible first, gospel, and top-down governance), that have helped to reveal all the other doctrines that came later. THAT is what we are to hold fast to. Not a list of doctrines.

For if we put the Bible first, the doctrinal correction and growth will come. God will see and reward our faith in Him and His word, the Bible, and will reveal knowledge to us. If we show zeal for the gospel, as the Bible teaches, God will see our willingness to love our neighbors as ourselves - our willingness to live the give way of life by sharing the truth God has given us - and God will bless us with more truth. And if we believe and practice what the Bible teaches about top-down governance, we will trust Jesus Christ to show us by the fruits (not the voting of men) those whom He has chosen to be our leaders, and we will submit to those leaders in the administrative decisions for the Church of God. And God can bless the leader or leaders He has chosen by helping those leaders understand truth from the Bible.

Understanding and holding fast to these principles that Mr. Armstrong practiced and that the Bible teaches will help Philadelphian members of the Church of God (and those who are striving to become Philadelphians in character and spirit) to be useful tools in God's hands and really finish the work of God.

So as we keep the coming holy days and Feast of Tabernacles, as we hear sermons and conversations about the meaning of these days, let's remember how the Church of God received this knowledge. We received this knowledge because Mr. Armstrong and his supporters and new members that came in from the radio broadcast believed the Bible first, practiced zeal for the preaching of the gospel to the world, and practiced and supported government in the Church from the top down. Let's think about these things in the coming holy days and Feast, and let's practice these principles as a way of life, because without them there would be no holy days or Feast of Tabernacles for us, and we would not have the knowledge that comes from observing and understanding these days.

Soon, we will be observing the fall holy days and the Feast of Tabernacles. It is a blessing to understand the meaning of these days, and we should reflect on that and give thanks to God for these days as we observe them. We should also spend some time reflecting on how we came to know about these days and their meaning, and that ties in with the three Philadelphian principles I described. Our knowledge of these days is a fruit, a direct result, of the principles I described.

This might also be a good time to read Mr. Armstrong's autobiography.

The first of the fall holy days and feast days is the Day of Trumpets. It is an annual sabbath, a day of rest and assembly. It pictures a number of events prophesied to occur in the near future. It pictures the Day of the Lord, a tremendous time when God directly intervenes to punish the world for its sins. At the seventh trumpet, Christ will return to the earth to set up His kingdom, the Kingdom of God, and the saints of God, the faithful members of the Church of God, will be resurrected to immortal life if dead or changed to immortality if alive, and they will rise to meet Christ in the air.

Before the Day of the Lord will be the heavenly signs. The heavenly signs and the Day of the Lord are described in Isaiah 2:12-21, Isaiah 13:6-16, Ezekiel 30:1-3, Joel 1:15-18, Joel 2:1-11, Joel 2:30-32, Joel 3:14-16, Joel 3:18-20, Obadiah 15-16, Zephaniah 1:7-18, Zephaniah 2:1-3, Zechariah 14:1-5, Matthew 24:29-30, 1 Thessalonians 5:1-10, Revelation 6:12-17, Revelation chapter 8, Revelation 11:15-19, Revelation chapters 15 and 16, and Revelation 19:11-21.

The resurrection of the Church is described in Matthew 24:31, 1 Corinthians 15:50-56, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17, and Revelation 20:4-6.

The meaning of the Day of Trumpets helps us understand that man does not have an immortal soul, for we need the resurrection from the dead. The scriptures that describe that resurrection show that we will be made immortal at that time, not that we have immortality already.

The next of the fall holy days is Atonement. Members of the Church of God rest and assemble for services on Atonement and fast on that day, refraining from food and water from sunset to sunset (Leviticus 23:26-32). Atonement represents the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Christ paid the penalty for our share of guilt for our sins so we can be forgiven and saved. But Satan also has a responsibility for our sins because he deceives us and tempts us into sin. He will bear his own guilt for that.

After Christ returns, Satan will be bound and put away in a condition of restraint, so he will no longer be able to deceive and tempt mankind into sin. He will be released for a little while after the 1,000 year millennial reign of Christ and the saints, but during the millennium he will not be able to influence mankind. Atonement represents these events.

Here are some passages that describe these events: Leviticus chapter 16 and Revelation 20:1-3. Passages that describe Satan's character and role include Isaiah 14:12-15, Ezekiel 28:11-19, John 8:44, Luke 4:5-8, 2 Corinthians 4:3-4, Ephesians 2:1-3, and Revelation 12:7-9.

The next holy day is the first day of the Feast of Tabernacles, a feast that lasts seven days. The first day is an annual holy day, a sabbath of rest and assembly. The entire seven day feast pictures the happiness and joy that will exist all over the earth during the 1,000 years that Christ and the resurrected saints rule the earth and Satan is put away.

Members of the Church of God save a second tithe all year to spend at the Feast. We travel to various locations where the Church has set up Feast sites and stay in temporary dwellings - hotels and motels - for the duration of the Feast. We attend services every day, but in the afternoons that are not sabbath days, we enjoy good food and drink and fellowship and enjoy the recreational opportunities the area has to offer. The sermons in services rehearse the scriptures that describe the joy of the millennium, and the speakers help the membership understand what the millennium will be like and what lessons the Feast has to teach us. All this helps us to picture the happiness of the millennium and the Kingdom of God and the richness of the reward that awaits us.

The Feast of Tabernacles pictures something else also. Because we stay in temporary dwellings, in hotels and motels, as the ancient Israelites stayed in booths made of leafy branches, we picture the temporariness of this life, of this journey towards the Kingdom of God. We are travelers in this age, and this age, this physical life, is not our permanent home - the Kingdom of God will be our permanent home.

There are many scriptures that describe the Feast of Tabernacles and what it represents. Here are some: Leviticus 23:33-43, Psalm 98:4-9, Isaiah 2:2-4, Isaiah 11:1-9, Isaiah 19:23-25, Isaiah 25:6-8, Isaiah 35:5-10, Jeremiah 30:8-10, Jeremiah 31:31-34, Ezekiel 36:24-30, Daniel 2:27-45, Daniel 7:13-14, Amos 9:13, Zechariah 2:10-11, Zechariah 8:20-22, Matthew 19:27-29, Luke 19:11-26, Revelation 20:4-6.

Immediately after the seven-day Feast of Tabernacles comes the Last Great Day (John 7:37-38), also called the eighth day of the feast. This is a holy day, an annual sabbath, a day of rest and assembly (Leviticus 23:33-36).

This day represents a time, immediately following the millennium, when all who have lived and died without having an opportunity to be called by God and drawn to Christ (John 6:44), including all who have never heard the true gospel because of circumstances of their birth and life, will be resurrected back to physical life and will have their first real opportunity to be saved. They will be judged for their sins, but will also learn about Christ's sacrifice, and they will have the opportunity to believe and repent and be saved. Here are some scriptures that describe that time: Ezekiel 37:1-14, Matthew 11:20-24, Revelation 20:11-15.

God has been very merciful to reveal His wonderful truth to us, for the vast majority of mankind is not able to know these things because Satan deceives them and God has not yet called them. We should be very thankful for our calling and the truth God has revealed to us. And we should be very thankful for Mr. Armstrong and the early members of the Church of God who supported Mr. Armstrong. We should be grateful that they lived by the principles that allowed God to use them to further the gospel and all of God's truth: loyalty to God's word the Bible, sacrificial zeal for spreading the message to those who need it, and submission to and support of God's government in the Church from the top down.

Let's think about these things and imitate those who have helped to make God's truth available to us by practicing these three principles that they lived by.