Thursday, December 2, 2010

What Does Philadelphia Hold Fast To?

Philadelphia is told in Revelation 3:11 to hold fast to what they have. "Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown."

In the context of Christ's message to Philadelphia, Bob Thiel has posted in his COGwriter blog that Living Church of God holds fast to the eighteen truths Mr. Armstrong restored to the Church. But I ask the question, are the 18 truths what Christ was referring to when He tells Philadelphia to hold fast to "what you have"? Or might it rather be a deep-seated commitment to believe the Bible more than Church of God tradition, which is the very principle that enabled Mr. Armstrong to restore those eighteen truths.

What is it that Philadelphia Christians have that members of the Church of God in the spiritual conditions of the other messages to the seven churches of Revelation 2 and 3 do not have? What is it that really defines the difference between true Philadelphians and others in the Church of God?

Part of it I think is a zeal for preaching the gospel to the world, as Dr. Thiel says in his blog, and I think he is right about that. "I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name" (Revelation 3:8).

But is it also a commitment to a list of doctrines?

As I point out in my book, Preaching the Gospel, Herbert W. Armstrong was not holding fast to those eighteen truths during much of the Philadelphia era when the Church of God was growing by leaps and bounds in fifties and sixties, and especially earlier when the work was growing in the late thirties and forties. But it was definitely the Philadelphia era! Mr. Armstrong himself was in the Philadelphian condition and Christ had given him an open door. But he was not holding fast to the eighteen truths because he was still learning them at that time! They were BEING RESTORED, but not YET RESTORED. So the message Christ gives to the Philadelphian era to "hold fast" to "what you have" cannot be referring to a list of doctrines that were in the process of being restored, because the Church didn't have all of them yet.

What did Mr. Armstrong have that the Church of God (Seventh Day) did not have? What was it that he held fast to till the end of his life? It was not a list of doctrines. Quite the opposite. It was a commitment to believe the Bible, to CHANGE doctrine in order to learn new knowledge from the Bible, to accept doctrinal correction from the Bible. It was his willingness to put new knowledge from the Bible over and above Church of God tradition. That is what he had from the beginning, from the time he learned about the Sabbath, from the time he came into the Church. That is what he held fast to. Had he held fast to a list of traditional Church of God doctrines, he would not have been Philadelphian and he never would have restored the eighteen truths!

It was the Church of God (Seventh Day) that held fast to their traditional doctrines and would not accept doctrinal change and new knowledge from the Bible.

It was Mr. Armstrong's willingness to CHANGE doctrine that allowed Christ to teach him the eighteen truths.

Look at the context in which Mr. Armstrong named those eighteen truths in a sermon he gave. The very reason he mentioned them in that sermon was to show how Christ had taught the Church NEW KNOWLEDGE during the Philadelphia era. It is that attitude of being submissive to the Bible, which Mr. Armstrong said was the word of God in print just as Christ is the word of God in person, which enabled Mr. Armstrong and the Church of God during the Philadelphia era to learn new knowledge which later became a list of "eighteen truths". And I believe it is that attitude of submission to the Bible to the point of being willing to change our traditional doctrines if necessary to follow Christ and the Bible that we are to hold fast to.

Do we have no need to learn new knowledge? Are we to say, "we have all the true doctrines we need and we do not need to make any changes"? If so, we need to be careful that we do not have the Laodicean attitude: "Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing'—and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked—" (Revelation 3:17). Or do we have the Sardis attitude of forgetting HOW we learned the doctrines we have, to the point that Christ tells Sardis to "Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent..." (Revelation 3:3). HOW did we receive and hear? We received and heard by being willing to learn new knowledge from the Bible, for those who came out of traditional churches, and for those who grew up in the Church, they received and heard those true doctrines because their parents and grandparents were willing to "blow the dust off your Bible, don't believe any man, believe God", as Mr. Armstrong taught. And they received and heard because Mr. Armstrong and the entire Church of God who supported him and financed the work in the thirties, forties, fifties, and sixties were willing to change doctrine in order to learn new knowledge from the Bible, giving up their traditions when necessary. We did NOT receive and hear by committing to a list of traditional Church of God doctrines.

It is possible that no new major doctrinal changes are needed. Probably all our major doctrines are correct. I personally know of none that needs to be changed, including any of the "eighteen truths". But it is the attitude of mind that counts. I believe those doctrines not because I am committed to holding fast to those doctrines, but because I find them in the Bible, and I try to always be willing to be corrected by the Bible. If I found something in the Bible I had not understood before, something that showed that one or more of those eighteen truths are in error, I would have to believe the Bible, not the list of eighteen truths. That is my commitment to God. I would then be tested by God, and if I found compelling evidence in the Bible that one of the eighteen truths was wrong, but still held fast to the list of eighteen truths, I would fail the test because I would be breaking my commitment to believe God's word, the Bible.

Here is a link to the post I mentioned in COGwriter blog. In that post, Robert Thiel talks about options for UCG members, LCG, International Ambassador Outreach Mission, and preaching the gospel, as well as Laodicea and Philadelphia:

Here are links to related sections in Preaching the Gospel:

Our Attitude and Approach Towards God's Word, Chapter 1

How to Understand the Bible, Chapter 1

Focusing on the Bible, Chapter 5

Practicing What We Preach, Chapter 6

Changing Doctrine, Chapter 6

A Lesson from the Autobiography, Chapter 6

The Source of Our Beliefs, Chapter 6

Faith, Chapter 6

The Message to the Sardis Church, Chapter 6

The Inconsistencies of Saying We Can't Change Herbert W. Armstrong's Doctrine, Chapter 6

Does the Bible Teach Us to Follow Tradition?, Chapter 6

God Speaks Through the Bible, Chapter 6

Should Each Member Promote His Own Opinion?, Chapter 6

Did Mr. Armstrong Point to Himself as the Authority for Belief?, Chapter 6

The Eighteen Truths, Chapter 6

A Possible Problem in the Church, Chapter 6

Can We Make an Idol out of a Man or Church?, Chapter 6

A Summary -- the Nineteenth Truth, Chapter 6

How Is the Church Organized?, Chapter 7

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