Friday, March 28, 2014

False Repentance Movement in the Church of God

There is a small but growing movement in the Church of God among various groups and leaders. It is a movement that calls for repentance, but the repentance it teaches is a false, misguided repentance. It teaches a zeal, but not for the real truth of the Bible or God's way of life. Those who lead this movement may be in greater need of repentance than most of the rest of the Church of God.

I am not talking about just one group or leader, because there are more than one. As time goes on, there may be more than there are now, for this movement has the potential to grow. In the groups and teachings of this movement is a mixture of truth and error. And in that mixture is spiritual poison.

The truth is, there is a need in the whole Church of God for repentance, a seeking of God, a greater surrender to the truth of the Bible and God's way of life. We need to turn to God more than we ever have before.

Many brethren recognize this need. Some recognize it in themselves, realizing they need a deeper repentance and need to be closer to God. Others, while they may be blind to their own need, see the wrong behavior or the fruits of wrong behavior in others in the Church of God and are thus able to see the need for repentance in the whole Church of God.

That is why this movement can seem attractive to many in the Church. They see a need for repentance and become attracted to any teacher or group that calls for "repentance" in the Church of God. This attraction may be reinforced by members' frustration with the scattered state of the Church. They hope that a Church-wide repentance will lead to Church unity.

But many of these groups and leaders miss the mark on the repentance issue.

I certainly do not imply that all calls for repentance are wrong. There is a need for a true Church-wide repentance, and it is right to call for such a repentance.

There is certainly a need for repentance. We all need to seek a deeper repentance. We are in the Laodicean era, and Christ commands us to repent (Revelation 3:19). Even Philadelphians and all others should seek a deeper repentance, because repentance is a process that should be part of our lives till the end. None of us are perfect yet, and until we are in the Kingdom of God we should always maintain a repentant attitude.

But Satan is the great counterfeiter. He knows that Christ tells us to repent in Revelation 3:19, and he knows some of the brethren recognize the need for repentance in the Church. And Satan would love to lead some well-meaning brethren away from a true repentance and turning towards God and into a movement or teaching that uses the words "repentance" or "spiritual revival" or "healing" or "reconciliation", but neglects teaching and practicing the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith (Matthew 23:23-24).

False repentance movements can come in different forms and they can have different errors, but there are a couple of errors they tend to have in common.

One blogger emphasizes new moons, the calendar, and eating in restaurants on the Sabbath. He calls for repentance, but his definition of repentance seems to include agreeing with him on these small issues - if you don't agree with him on these small issues, you need to repent. He is hyper-critical and very accusatory towards various organized fellowships, taking small things and blowing them up to seem big and spreading rumors that paint groups and their leaders in a negative light.

He seems to take advantage of the fact that many brethren are frustrated by the behavior of some ministers who have helped to scatter the Church of God or have abused the brethren. So he speaks of loyalty to God and His word and contrasts that with loyalty to "organizations" and corporations. This sounds good to some brethren, and there is certainly an element of truth here - we should be more loyal to God and to the Bible than to organizations. But he doesn't seem to understand that God in the Bible commands respect for the ordained ministry and leaders in the Church of God (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13). He ignores the fact that God teaches government and organization in the Bible (1 Corinthians 12:28, Matthew 16:18-19, Hebrews 13:17). And he seems to show open disrespect for Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong in his blog.

He does not understand government in the Church of God. He rails against organization. And he neglects one of the weightier matters of the law: mercy towards the world and the nations that need to hear the gospel and the Ezekiel warning while there is still time to repent before the tribulation and the Day of the Lord come.

And this brings up two things that most false repentance groups have in common: a distain or disrespect for strong government and organization in the Church and neglect of preaching the gospel to the world as a witness and the Ezekiel warning to Israel.

These two issues are connected. Since Mr. Armstrong began to preach the gospel over radio in the early 1930s until our time today, preaching the gospel to the public has always been accomplished by strong government. Individuals or groups with weak government may be able to preach the gospel to a small extent, but the most effective programs of preaching the gospel have always been done by highly organized groups with strong government.

But most false repentance movements neglect or are against both.

Yet, zeal for the gospel must be at the heart and core of true repentance towards God.

When we repent, we must repent of the sins we have done and our sinful nature. We must turn from sin in our thoughts, words, and deeds. We must realize we have done wrong and that we are wrong. We must seek God and His righteousness, and we must acknowledge and trust in God's righteousness.

But to understand repentance, we must understand what sin is.

Sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). When we repent and turn from sin, we turn towards obedience to God's spiritual law. With the help of God's Holy Spirit, we seek to make God's spiritual law our very nature, to replace our human, carnal nature. We make obedience to the spiritual law of God so much a habit and practice in our lives that it comes to define what we are. It is God's righteousness in us that makes that possible as we choose, on a daily basis, to believe and obey God. We must believe what God says in the Bible and strive to obey Him and do His will in everything.

How can we sum up the spiritual law of God?

You can sum it up in one word, or in two great commandments, or in three weightier matters of the law, or into ten commandments or "points" of God's law. And the whole Bible fills in details on how to obey the law of God.

The one word is "love" (1 John 4:7, 16, Romans 13:10). The two great commandments are to love God with all our being and to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:35-40). The three weightier matters of the law are justice, mercy, and faith (Matthew 23:23-24). The ten commandments are listed in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. The whole Bible is an instruction book that helps us understand how to apply God's law of love to the decisions we make in our lives, therefore to obey God's law we have to live by every word of God (Matthew 4:1-4). One of the most important passages that teach God's law and way of life is the sermon on the mount (Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7).

Yet, love is more than a word. It is more than a commandment or a pair of commandments. Faith is also more than a word. Tell a Church of God member we should have love and faith, and he will agree with you. But love and faith are attitudes of mind, ways of thinking, orientations of the mind, and the attitude, orientation, and way of thinking of love and faith will result in concrete action. The action itself is not the love or the faith, but it will come from the love and the faith. Righteous action is the evidence that love and faith are present.

Faith is a willingness to believe in God and to believe what God says. It will result in a man or woman following what the Bible really says. Love is an outgoing concern for others and a desire to please God and do His will. Love towards our neighbor results in a desire to do what is for the long-term good for our neighbors. Love towards God leads us to desire to do His work, to accomplish His will, to exalt His name, and to advance His plan for mankind.

These actions will separate those who have love and faith from those who do not, in the Church of God, over time. Those for whom love and faith are only words will choose differently from those who really want to do God's work and God's will and do what is best for their neighbors' long term good.

There is a need for repentance in the Church of God because the actions of the majority of those who call themselves members of the Church of God do not reflect a desire to exalt God's name and reputation, to do His work, to do His will, and to advance and accomplish His plan for mankind. Our actions do not reflect and express a desire to do what is best for the good of our neighbors. They also do not demonstrate a trust and belief in what God teaches in the Bible. Partly yes, but not 100%, not with most of the Church.

This shows we have a need to repent.

But while repentance is of the heart, it also involves actions. It is not just that actions reflect the heart. Actions also influence the heart. In other words, we learn by doing. If you want a deeper repentance, take action. Do what is right.

Do you want to love your neighbors more? Study God's word to learn what you can do to help your neighbor long term, then do it. Do you want to believe and trust God more? Study God's word to learn what He says, believe Him, and do it. Your actions as an expression of your love and faith will reinforce that love and faith. Love and faith will grow as you exercise them, but diminish if you neglect them and take no action.

There is no more loving act towards your next-door neighbor and all your neighbors who are not next door than to support the preaching of the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel with all your might. That is the kindest, most loving thing you can do for their long-term good. And in modern times, preaching the gospel has always required strong government and organization in the Church. Strong government and organization is taught by the Bible, and believing in what the Bible teaches is an act of faith and trust in God.

Church wide repentance is a genuine need. And we can encourage each other in this. But ultimately, repentance is an individual matter. You can give encouragement to others to repent, you can receive encouragement to repent from others, but you can only repent for you, not for someone else.

We can help each other see our faults. We can help each other see the need for repentance. We can help each other see how to take the most effective action to love our neighbors for their long term good, to love God and do His will, and to put into practice our faith and trust in God's word, the Bible. In that sense, there can be a "call to repentance" or a "repentance movement" in the Church. But then, each individual must choose to repent or not.

But some who seek to lead the Church of God to a deeper repentance, or to "healing", or to "reconciliation", or to a "spiritual renewal", like the Pharisees in Jesus's day, miss the mark on the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith (Matthew 23:23-24). They strain out a gnat and swallow a camel. They focus on something minor, like eating in a restaurant on the Sabbath, or on new moons which God does not command, but they neglect justice, they neglect mercy, and they neglect faith. They neglect justice, because justice requires that we share with the world the warning God has given us, not for us to selfishly heed the warning ourselves only, as if we are someone special worth saving more than the rest of the world. Likewise, they neglect mercy towards 500 million Israelites who are about to go through the worst time of suffering and death the world has every seen and need a warning before it is too late. They neglect faith in God's word because they do not believe the Bible's teaching about strong government and respect for the ordained ministry in the Church. Rather than teach that respect, some lead members into sin by teaching them open disrespect for Mr. Armstrong or the ordained ministry. They teach a righteous-sounding substitute for real Church wide repentance. It can attract brethren who see the need for repentance, but seduces them away from real repentance.

That is not the kind of "repentance" God is looking for.

There certainly will be calls for repentance in the Church of God, what may be termed a "repentance movement". But make sure you do not follow a false repentance, a repentance that focuses on minor points, but neglects the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy towards others, and faith in God's word.

Why do I place such emphasis on preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning? Our attitude towards preaching the gospel can be a pretty clear indication of how much we practice love in our lives. So I emphasize this, to encourage Church of God members to support the gospel, not only for their sake, but for the sake of those who will hear the warning. If I can persuade one person to support a group that preaches the gospel, not only will that Church member be helped to practice God's way of love, but those who hear the gospel and the warning through that person's support of the gospel will be helped, and they may number in the hundreds or thousands.

The need for most of the Church of God to repent works together with a need to preach the gospel to the world and to warn the nations about the tribulation to come, because one of the major points of God's law we need to repent of breaking is the commandment to love our neighbors as ourselves, and we obey that law by preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to our neighbors. We break that law when we fail to do so because we are content for our neighbors to go into the tribulation without first hearing a warning to give them a chance to repent and escape the punishment.

That attitude of being "ok" with our neighbors going into the tribulation without a warning, that contentment with the suffering they will go through if that happens, that lack of compassion for those about to suffer, that lack of love towards God and man, is a major sin the Church of God needs to repent of. And any kind of movement or call for repentance in the Church of God that does not include that misses the mark and is a call for a false repentance.

There are about 500 million people that will be punished for their sins in the Great Tribulation. Once the tribulation starts, about 90% or more will die within about a two and a half year period, and the rest will suffer horribly. Yet tens of millions of these people do not know they are doing anything wrong. They think they are serving God by observing Sunday, by keeping Christmas and Easter, by believing the traditional doctrines of the church they were raised in, by believing in the trinity and the immortality of the soul, and similar doctrines. They need to be warned BEFORE the tribulation, while there is time for them to repent.

Where is mercy towards those people in the teachings and practices of those groups that call for "repentance", "healing", and "reconciliation", but do not call for greater zeal and effort for preaching a warning to the nations? If you can find it, let me know.

God says that the blood of the people will be on our heads if we do not give the warning (Ezekiel 3:16-21).

While 500 million people are on a path to doom, while we in the Church know it but they don't, and while we need to go all out to warn them before it is too late, some talk about eating in restaurants on the Sabbath, calendars, new moons, and other minor doctrinal issues and questions, and I do not think they are even right about those issues.

One person corresponded with me about eating in restaurants on the Sabbath, and asked me something like this: What will you say to a waitress in the millennium or white throne judgment when she finds out you were her customer on the Sabbath and you knew she shouldn't be working on the Sabbath, but you let her wait on you anyway? Good question. There are various ways I could answer. But I want to ask a more important question. What will you say to HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of Americans, Britons, Canadians, Australians, and others who suffered and died in the tribulation, people who suffered through the worst time in human history, when they find out that you knew the truth but didn't do everything you could to share it with them so they would have a chance to escape. What will you say to someone who says, "I suffered because you didn't warn me. I saw my wife and children killed in front of my eyes. You knew the truth, but kept it to yourself. You never sacrificed to share it with me and others like me. So we never had a chance." Multiply that person by about 500 million. A lot more than a few waitresses who may have served you on the Sabbath, and a much bigger issue as well.

Besides, what good does it do the waitress if you avoid restaurants on the Sabbath, but never preach the gospel? If you preach the truth on radio, TV, the Internet, and in print, there is a chance the waitress may read or hear it, and then she can make her choice. She has a chance to obey God and stop working on the Sabbath. But if you don't eat in her restaurant on the Sabbath, she won't even notice you are not there.

If you buy into a kind of repentance that does not appreciate the need for organization and government in the Church, a repentance that shows open disrespect towards the office of the ministry and those who hold that office, a repentance that is inward, self-righteous, focused on details of law-keeping but has forgotten the second great commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves, to give them the truth that they need, which others before us have sacrificed to give us - if you buy into that package, I think one day you will wake up to find you never repented at all.

That is a false repentance, a repentance that may give a false sense of drawing closer to God, but it will not bear good fruit in the end.

For a post in this blog related to this subject, see "What Is the Church of God's Greatest Sin?", dated February 27, 2014, link:

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