Some Church of God members have a willingness to change Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong's doctrines, if necessary, to follow the Bible, and some are not. But those who are not willing to change doctrine, any doctrine if necessary, small or large, will not be given the open door to preach the gospel to the world powerfully that Christ promises Philadelphia.
Not that ministers and members who are willing to change doctrine will actually change Mr. Armstrong's doctrines. That may not be necessary. Probably, all the major doctrines Mr. Armstrong taught are correct and have no need for change.
But this is a matter of attitude, and attitude counts. We must be willing because we must put what God says, the Bible, higher than what man teaches, Mr. Armstrong. You cannot be loyal to both. You are loyal to the Bible or you are loyal to a man and to Church of God traditions. One must take precedence over the other.
Mr. Armstrong set the example, and it was a good example. Before he thought of himself as an apostle, before he was ordained even as a minister, he believed the Bible more than any man or tradition, more than the Protestant traditions and more than even the leadership and traditions of the true Church of God at that time, the Church of God (Seventh Day). He let the Bible correct his own doctrines, and he taught the public to believe the Bible more than him when he said, "Don't believe me, believe God, believe your Bible."
That principle applies no matter how long we are in the Church of God because it is an eternal principle. We are to believe God unconditionally. That is not true about any man, even Mr. Armstrong, even if he is the Elijah to come and an apostle.
Some say that we must know that Mr. Armstrong is the Elijah to come, but that is not what Christ taught. Nowhere does the Bible teach, that I have found anyway, that it is important to know who the Elijah to come is. Even when Christ or John the Baptist taught about the Elijah to come, they only did this in response to questions from others, especially questions originating with the scribes, Pharisees, and priests. Christ and John the Baptist never raised the issue or taught its importance.
Probably, Mr. Armstrong was the Elijah to come and an apostle, but he and his supporters and members of the Church of God were blessed with the Philadelphia open door to preach the gospel long before Mr. Armstrong or anyone else thought of him as an apostle and as the Elijah. They were not blessed because they knew who Elijah was. They were blessed because they believed and obeyed the Bible more than any man. They were blessed because Mr. Armstrong did not say on radio, "Believe me, because I am God's apostle and the Elijah to restore all things." They were blessed because Mr. Armstrong said, "Don't believe me, believe your Bible, believe God". Mr. Armstrong had to say that because it was fresh in his memory that believing the Bible more than any man was how he came to the truth, and he was teaching his listeners to do the same thing. And they were blessed because many listeners did exactly that - they looked up the scriptures and believed, not Mr. Armstrong, but their Bibles.
Why cannot God give us the open door if we want to "hold fast" to what a man, Mr. Armstrong, taught? What is wrong with holding fast to our Church of God traditions, since those traditions are right and true? Are we not told to hold fast to the traditions as we have been taught? Are we not told in the Bible to contend for the faith once delivered (2 Thessalonians 2:15, Jude 3)?
The traditions we are to hold fast to, the faith once delivered, are the traditions and the faith delivered to the first century Christians who were taught by the apostles. We study and believe the Bible in order to know what those traditions and what that faith, that body of beliefs, are. We can only learn from the Bible what they are. Mr. Armstrong could only know what those traditions are FROM THE BIBLE. Yet, Mr. Armstrong, like all human leaders and ministers in the Church of God, even apostles, was human and could make mistakes. He DID makes mistakes, as God has proven to us by letting him tell us that if we want to make it into God's kingdom, we should follow the next pastor general after Mr. Armstrong died, who was Mr. Tkach. So we, like Mr. Armstrong, must study the traditions taught by the Bible to know what our traditions should be, and Mr. Armstrong, being human as we are human, could make mistakes when he studied the Bible and tried to understand it.
So we must let the Bible correct us. We trust and believe God and the Bible. We study it, believe it, practice it, and base our traditions on it. But we should never become more attached to our traditions we get from the Bible than the Bible itself, for we still make mistakes in understanding the Bible and we must let the Bible continuously correct us and correct our traditions. That process, of letting the Bible correct and change our Church of God traditions and letting the Bible teach us new knowledge, is a process Mr. Armstrong taught and practiced, but it doesn't end with his death.
The first century Church of God had the right traditions, the traditions we are to hold fast to. We study the Bible and base our own traditions on the traditions we see in the Bible, trying to make our traditions the same as the true traditions of the first century Church of God, which learned directly from Christ and the original apostles face-to-face. But because we are human, and because God allows us to make mistakes, our effort to make our traditions the same as the traditions of original Christianity is not perfect. We try to copy the first century Church of God as described in the Bible, but we make mistakes. But as we believe God and allow ourselves to be corrected by the Bible, our mistakes are corrected and we come closer and closer to what we should be. That process continues to our death or to the return of Christ. As long as we are human, in the flesh, we have to be willing to receive correction. We must never stop growing in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18).
Mr. Armstrong deeply understood this. He learned that lesson through his experience of night and day study of the Bible for six months, trying to prove that his wife was wrong to keep the Sabbath, and eventually having the honesty to admit that he, and the traditions of mainstream Christianity, were wrong, and he let the Bible correct his traditional beliefs. You can read this in his autobiography. And if you read what happened with him in his early years with Church of God (Seventh Day), you will see that he never FOR ONE INSTANT submitted to that fellowship's traditions or ministry more than the Bible, even when Mr. Armstrong was just a lay member of the Church of God, not ordained yet as an elder. And he retained that lesson, and practiced it, all the years God was opening his mind to understand the Bible and opening the door for him to preach the truth he was learning from the Bible to the world.
That is HOW we came to have the doctrines we have.
The "faith that was once delivered" was not the faith delivered to us by Mr. Armstrong. It was the faith once delivered by Christ to the first century Church of God. It is not called the faith "twice delivered", once by Christ and the original apostles in the first century, and a second time by Mr. Armstrong in the twentieth century.
Mr. Armstrong understood the process of being continuously corrected in our doctrines by the Bible and continuously learning new knowledge from the Bible. We also must understand and accept that process if we are to have the open door as he did.
Here is why.
We cannot go to Catholics and say, "Don't believe the pope, believe Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong". They would say, why? We could tell them, because Mr. Armstrong was the Elijah to come, but why should they believe us if we say that? Not only will they not believe us, they SHOULD not believe us, if we say that. We also cannot say, believe us, believe the Church of God, because we are the true Church. They won't believe that either. They think they are the true church.
We cannot say, believe Mr. Armstrong because he was so accurate in predicting we would lose our sea gates and the Berlin wall would come down and Europe would unite. They would say, but he also predicted the end would come in 1972, or 1975, or "in twenty years", or whatever.
God isn't testing Israel and the world about their faith in us. It is about faith in God. It is not about us. It is about God. We have no credibility apart from the Bible. Nor should we. All we can do is point people to God, not ourselves. We have to point them to what God says in the Bible. If they accept what the Bible really says, they are accepting God. If they reject the Bible, they reject God. That is the way God wants it. We are just the go-betweens. We just show people where they can find the answers in the Bible.
Just as John the Baptist pointed the people to Christ, the Word of God in person (John 1:1, 6-8, 14-35, Revelation 19:13, Matthew 3:11-12, Mark 1:6-8, Luke 3:15-17), so we must point people to the word of God in print.
We have to say what Mr. Armstrong said, don't believe us, don't believe any man or any church traditions, believe God, believe the Bible. Then we show them what the Bible says.
In God's way of life, those who teach must strive to practice what they preach (John 13:12-17, Luke 6:40). We cannot, without being hypocrites, say to the world, don't believe us, believe the Bible, while we say to ourselves and our members, believe God's apostle, Mr. Armstrong, believe our Church of God leaders and trust Christ to guide them into true doctrine, and hold fast to our traditions we received from Mr. Armstrong. If we do that, we are practicing a double standard. We teach one kind of faith to the world, but practice something else. We teach one thing to the public, and something different to our own members and children. How can God bless that (Deuteronomy 25:13-16, Proverbs 20:10, Exodus 12:49, Numbers 15:15-16)?
Catholics believe the pope and their church traditions. In their minds, they think they trust Christ to lead the pope. Protestants believe their traditions. They likewise think Christ leads those traditions. They think they are trusting Christ by believing their traditions. Most of them cannot conceive that Christ would have allowed the mainstream churches to have the wrong traditions. Like Mr. Armstrong before his wife confronted him with the Bible, they think "all these churches can't be wrong".
Before Mr. Armstrong was converted, his wife learned about the Sabbath before he did, according to his autobiography. When a woman taught the Sabbath truth to Mrs. Loma Armstrong, she didn't say, believe me, believe our Church traditions. She said, read this in your own Bible. Then when Loma went to her husband, she did not say, believe me, she said, well what does the Bible say? When Mr. Armstrong spoke to thousands, then millions, on radio, he did not say, believe me, believe the Church of God, he said, believe your Bible.
That is the only message God wants to go out powerfully. But for God to open the door wide, we have to practice what we preach. We have to believe the Bible more than Mr. Armstrong, more than our ministers and leaders in the Church of God, and more than our Church of God traditions. We do that by having an attitude of willingness to let the Bible correct our doctrines and teach us new knowledge. Ministers and Church of God leaders can do that by teaching the members to believe the Bible more than themselves, the ministry.
We HAVE to do that, or God will never bless us with an open door, a door open wide as He opened the door wide for Mr. Armstrong.
Most Churches of God are similar in income levels and teaching ability. We all have the same freedom to go on radio, TV, and the Internet and to publish printed literature. We have approximately the same amount of money per member. So what makes the difference between a group that has an open door and one that does not?
To take advantage of the physical opportunities we have because of freedom, money, technology, and teaching ability (speaking and writing) to preach the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel, we need ZEAL. We need to see the need. We need to see the urgency of the message. And God can open or close that door by inspiring us with zeal, or not.
Why is the message urgent?
When the Jews suffered in the Holocaust, many lost faith in God because they could not understand why God allowed them to suffer that way. Suffering did not draw them closer to God. Many lost faith in God. Suffering, without a message of truth, does not bring repentance. Today, the modern state of Israel, the nation of Jews in Palestine that was partly settled by the Jews who survived the Holocaust, has been described as one of the least religious nations on earth.
Those who are about to go through the tribulation need the gospel and a warning so they can understand WHY God is punishing them. It is the combination of a message of truth and the punishment of the tribulation that will help the people come to repentance. Suffering alone won't do it. They need to hear the truth. They can't believe the gospel if they don't hear the gospel. They can't repent if they don't hear and believe. They can't repent if they don't know what they are doing wrong. They can't repent of keeping Christmas and Easter instead of God's holy days if they haven't heard the truth preached to them.
What about during the tribulation when the two witnesses preach the gospel? Can those going through the tribulation, already caught up in it with no way to escape it, learn the truth from the two witnesses? Can the two witnesses show them why they are suffering and what they need to repent of, DURING THE TRIBULATION, even if the Church of God doesn't get that message out now?
Yes, that is possible. But there is a problem.
God is fair to warn. There is a pattern in the Bible. God warned Adam not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and even told him what would happen if he did. God warned Cain before he sinned. He apparently warned the world in the days of Noah, because Noah was a preacher of righteousness, BEFORE the flood came (2 Peter 2:5). He warned ancient Israel and Judah through the prophets before sending them into captivity. He told Ezekiel the blood of the people would be on his head if he did not give a warning, and through Ezekiel, God tells us the same thing today. Christ in His teaching gave warnings about sin and the consequences of sin. Even at the end of the book of Revelation, there is a warning not to add or subtract from "the words of the book of this prophecy", and that warning includes the consequences of what will happen to those who ignore the warning. God warned Nineveh, though Jonah was reluctant to give the warning, and (surprise of surprises) Nineveh actually heeded the warning and escaped the punishment at that time (warnings are not always ignored). God teaches us to warn those headed for disaster (Proverbs 24:11-12).
The Bible is full of warnings from beginning to end, showing that it is God's way of life to warn from a motive of love.
A warning doesn't do much good if it comes when it is too late to escape.
It would have done Nineveh no good for Jonah to warn them after they were destroyed.
What will the people think about God's fairness if they are not warned until after the tribulation has started and they cannot escape? Won't they think God was unfair? Won't they say, "Wait a minute. Nobody told me I needed to keep the holy days. Nobody told me it was wrong to keep Christmas and Easter or to use holy pictures to help me picture God when I pray. I was deceived and didn't know. It is not my fault because I never had a chance even to know that I was wrong. Why is God punishing me now? Why didn't he get a warning to me? If God got a warning to me, I would have listened, I am sure. God isn't fair!"
Should we care about that? Should we care about God's name and reputation? Moses did. "Then Moses pleaded with the Lord his God, and said: 'Lord, why does Your wrath burn hot against Your people whom You have brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians speak, and say, "He brought them out to harm them, to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth"? Turn from Your fierce wrath, and relent from this harm to Your people' " (Exodus 32:11-12). "And Moses said to the Lord: 'Then the Egyptians will hear it, for by Your might You brought these people up from among them, and they will tell it to the inhabitants of this land. They have heard that You, Lord, are among these people; that You, Lord, are seen face to face and Your cloud stands above them, and You go before them in a pillar of cloud by day and in a pillar of fire by night. Now if You kill these people as one man, then the nations which have heard of Your fame will speak, saying, "Because the Lord was not able to bring this people to the land which He swore to give them, therefore He killed them in the wilderness" ' " (Numbers 14:13-16). God heeded Moses's prayer because Moses was zealous for God's name and reputation. Likewise, we should be zealous for God's reputation (if we want answers to our prayers), that all Israel and the world knows that God is fair to warn those He is about to punish BEFORE HE PUNISHES THEM.
God's name represents His reputation. We are instructed to pray, "hallowed be Your name" (Matthew 6:9). Do we mean it or are we just mouthing words?
And we are the ones who have to deliver that warning now, before the two witnesses, before the tribulation. The sequence of events in Revelation indicates God gives power to his two witnesses at the beginning of the tribulation, not before. When the tribulation begins, it is too late to deliver the warning in time to help anyone escape. So we, the Church, have to give that warning now, not the two witnesses.
But if we deliver the warning now, what will Israel say when they go through the tribulation? They can say, "I remember the warning, but I didn't pay attention. I laughed at it, I scorned it, I thought watching TV was more important than looking things up in the Bible. I should have listened when I had the chance. This is my fault I am in this mess. I am sorry." They can accept responsibility, and that will be the first step towards repentance. The message of truth delivered before the tribulation, followed by the tribulation as punishment for ignoring the truth, will accomplish what either alone cannot. It will bring all Israel to a state of repentance and teachability. That will prepare them for the return of Christ. That is how we in the Church now can prepare the way for Christ's return.
The people we warn today will be the first generation we will teach in the millennium. Do you want that generation to be teachable? Do you want to work with people who have a repentant attitude? Or would you rather work with Israelites who can't get it out of their heads that God made them go through the tribulation without warning them first and that God is not fair. We better warn them now while we can. This is our time to do it.
That is why we should have zeal for preaching the gospel and Ezekiel warning to our nations.
But not all understand this. Not all have that zeal. That zeal comes from God. You can't work up that zeal just from logic and words. God has to inspire it.
And I don't think He will inspire that zeal in people who think we should follow the traditions of the Church of God and the teachings of the ministry and leaders more than the Bible. Or, if some seem to have zeal who do not put the Bible first, God will close the door some other way. Because God will not have the only effective way that message can be delivered, "don't believe me, don't believe any man or church, believe the Bible", delivered by a bunch of hypocrites who want to live by a different standard and don't think they should practice themselves what they preach to others.
The door to preaching the gospel is open for some Church of God fellowships, and it is open for some more than others, but for no group today is it open as wide as it was for Mr. Armstrong and the Church of God in his day. And I submit, that in proportion to the number or percentage of members who are Philadelphian in attitude and character, and that attitude and character includes believing the Bible more than the ministry and our traditions, God opens the door to preaching the gospel to each fellowship and Church of God organization. The more members that fellowship has that have the characteristics of Philadelphia, the wider the door will be open for that fellowship, and the fewer Philadelphians are in that fellowship, the narrower the door will be open, and sometimes it is open only a crack. Because when God opens the door to preaching the gospel to the world for an organization, it is to fulfill His promise to the Philadelphians that are in that organization (Revelation 3:8, 1 Corinthians 16:8, Acts 14:27, 2 Corinthians 2:12, Colossians 4:3-4).
The open door to preaching the gospel to the world (how open is it, wide open or just a crack?) is a good clue tell us what percentage or number of true Philadelphians are in each Church of God fellowship, many or few.
The Church of God and all of its leaders, ministers, and members, all of us, have been tested till now, and will continue to be tested. That test is still going on for you and for me.
Let's strive to have the characteristics of Philadelphia, not just to save our necks and be protected in the place of safety, but to have an open door to preach the truth to a public that needs it. Let's be motivated by love, to glorify God and His name and reputation, to demonstrate His fairness to warn, and to help our fellow Americans, Britons, Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, and South Africans, and everyone else who will go through the tribulation come to repentance in the tribulation. Let's make their repentance, conversion, and salvation easier for them, not harder. Let's have zeal to base our doctrines on faith in the Bible more than in the Church, and let's have zeal to preach the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to the public.
Here are links to related chapters or sections in Preaching the Gospel:
CHAPTER 3 - THE EZEKIEL WARNING
CHAPTER 4 - WHY PREACH THE GOSPEL?
CHAPTER 6 - OBTAINING GOD'S HELP -- PRACTICING WHAT WE PREACH