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 is a link to their website.
Mr. Armstrong believed himself to be an apostle, and I agree. But the Bible is God speaking to us directly, and we must believe and obey what God says in the Bible over Mr. Armstrong's teachings. If we see a difference between what Mr. Armstrong said and what the Bible says, we must study the issue thoroughly, as Mr. Armstrong did when he corrected his own errors and set an example for us, and if Mr. Armstrong was wrong, we need to correct the error. Also, if God teaches us new things in the Bible that Mr. Armstrong did not know, we need to add those things to the doctrines of the Church.
The COGIW article teaches that we should never change the teachings of an apostle and therefore we should never change or question Mr. Armstrong's teachings.
The COGIW article, in chapter 4, quotes Romans 15:18-20, which says, "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. And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man’s foundation".
The COGIW article quotes this passage to try to make the point that Paul was required to preach the gospel and lay the foundation in virgin territory, not where another apostle has laid a foundation.
Before I comment on that, I want to briefly focus on something else in this passage, something that the COGIW article did not immediately address. Paul mentions that his work was accompanied by mighty signs and wonders. Paul here is referring to the public miracles God used to back up Paul's message. Paul talks about this elsewhere, in 2 Corinthians 12:12, saying "Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds".
Notice that in this passage in 2 Corinthians 12:12, Paul not only repeats what was said in Romans, that his teaching was accompanied by and backed up by God with miracles ("signs and wonders"), but that these were "signs of an apostle".
So, public miracles were a sign from God that Paul was an apostle. It proved that he was an apostle.
Keep that in mind, for I will talk about that more later in this series.
Now, back to the point that the COGIW article tries to make with Romans 15:18-20.
The COGIW article is trying to say that Paul was required to preach where no other apostle had preached before.
But that is not what the scripture says. It says, Paul made it his aim not to preach where others have preached before. Notice again: "And so I have made it my aim to preach the gospel, not where Christ was named, lest I should build on another man’s foundation" (Romans 15:20). This is a goal Paul set for himself. The scripture does not say that God forbade him to preach where another had preached.
There is another matter where Paul set goals for himself beyond what God required.
"My defense to those who examine me is this: Do we have no right to eat and drink?....Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working? Who ever goes to war at his own expense?....If we have sown spiritual things for you, is it a great thing if we reap your material things? If others are partakers of this right over you, are we not even more? Nevertheless we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ....the Lord has commanded that those who preach the gospel should live from the gospel. But I have used none of these things, nor have I written these things that it should be done so to me; for it would be better for me to die than that anyone should make my boasting void....What is my reward then? That when I preach the gospel, I may present the gospel of Christ without charge....Now this I do for the gospel’s sake, that I may be partaker of it with you" (1 Corinthians 9:3-23).
Paul had the right to live from the tithes and offerings of the members, but he did not use this right, rather, he supported himself by working. God did not require this of him, but he did it voluntarily.
Likewise, Romans 15:18-20 does not prove that God required Paul to only preach where no other apostle had preached, or that no apostle build where another apostle has laid a foundation. This may simply be a voluntary decision and judgment call on Paul's part. Perhaps he felt he was better qualified than other apostles to endure the hardship of preaching where no one had preached before, raising up congregations from scratch without a local group to support him.
But I think the COGIW article is trying to plant the idea that each apostle has a domain that other apostles must stay clear of, as if each apostle's message might be slightly different for the territory or people that apostle has authority over. But that is false.
There is one message, one truth, one gospel, and one foundation. The message one apostle preaches is (or should be) identical to the message another apostle preaches. Christ is the head of the whole Church of God, and He inspires and leads all His apostles to teach the same truth, not different "truths". Perhaps not every servant of God fully submits to Christ, and thus different servants may have different mistakes in their teaching. That is not true for the canonized writings of the apostles, for God made sure that everything in the Bible is free from error (that is why the Bible says, scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35) and God cannot lie (Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18) ).
There is only one foundation. Different apostles may lay that foundation, but there are not different foundations - the foundation is the same regardless of the name of the laborer who lays it.
That foundation is the word of God: Christ, who is the Word of God in person, and the Bible, which is the word of God in print.
Paul said, "According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:10-11).
Paul said, no other foundation can anyone lay than Christ.
There is only one foundation, and any apostle who labors to lay a foundation must lay that same foundation - Christ - the same foundation any other apostle must lay.
The Bible was not complete and widely available in Paul's day as it is today. In Paul's day, the foundation was the truth he and the other apostles received from Christ, the Word of God in person (John 1:1, 14, Revelation 19:13). Today the foundation is the truth we receive from the word of God in print, the Bible, the same word and the same truth. Christ did not give a different truth in person to the apostles than God gives us in the Bible today.
That is why Mr. Armstrong had a sign at Ambassador College that said, "THE WORD OF GOD IS THE FOUNDATION OF KNOWLEDGE".
There is a unity in God's work. It is all one work, one truth, one message, not different messages.
The idea that when it comes to doctrine, there is a special loyalty between one apostle and his congregations that is not shared by other apostles - that a congregation should somehow believe and follow one apostle more than another - is wrong. There is division of labor to make the work of God more efficient - to make sure all territories were covered and so Paul was not bumping into Peter and James and John in their work - and the apostles had different groups over which they had authority. But the truth of God, the doctrines, had to be the same.
"Now I say this, that each of you says, 'I am of Paul,' or 'I am of Apollos,' or 'I am of Cephas,' or 'I am of Christ.' Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?" (1 Corinthians 1:12-13).
"For when one says, 'I am of Paul,' and another, 'I am of Apollos,' are you not carnal? Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building" (1 Corinthians 3:4-9).
There is a oneness, a unity in God's work, in spite of our scattered condition. Some are more submissive to God than others, and some work more effectively than others, but from Christ's point of view, it is all God's work. There are not to be different apostles preaching different messages.
"For in this the saying is true: 'One sows and another reaps.' I sent you to reap that for which you have not labored; others have labored, and you have entered into their labors" (John 4:37-38).
"Now John answered Him, saying, 'Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.' But Jesus said, 'Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. For he who is not against us is on our side' " (Mark 9:38-40).
I quoted Paul in two passages speaking of those who say, "I am of Apollos", and "I am of Paul". If you read the surrounding context, which I did not quote, you will see that this was a source of division because of the carnality of those who professed personal loyalty towards one apostle or minister over another.
Likewise, those who say, "I am of Mr. Armstrong", meaning they are more loyal to the teachings of Mr. Armstrong in Mystery of the Ages and other of his writings and sermons than they are to what apostles Peter, Paul, James, and John wrote in the Bible, cause division.
If I see something in the Bible that contradicts what Mr. Armstrong taught, I must believe the Bible. Why? The Bible is God speaking, and my faith must be towards God, not man. Also, the Bible is perfectly accurate and free from error, but Mr. Armstrong's writings can contain errors. So if Peter wrote one thing in the Bible and Mr. Armstrong wrote something contrary to Peter in Mystery of the Ages, who am I to believe, Mr. Armstrong or Peter?
I will believe Peter.
Why should I believe Peter over Mr. Armstrong? Am I giving preference, loyalty, to one apostle over another, as Paul condemns?
No, not at all. The only writings I know from Peter are his epistles in the Bible, and because they are part of the Bible, they are free from error and perfectly true. Not so with Mystery of the Ages. Mr. Armstrong himself acknowledged that Mystery of the Ages is not scripture.
I have to believe the Bible. To disbelieve the Bible is to disbelieve God, and I must not break faith with God. My faith is in God, not a man. I do not want to end up in the lake of fire because of an attitude of unbelief towards God and what He says in the Bible.
But that puts me at odds with Church of God in Wales. Because, apparently they would choose to believe what Mr. Armstrong wrote in Mystery of the Ages over what Peter wrote in the Bible, over the actual infallibly true word of God, God Himself speaking.
So right there you have the kind of division Paul talked about, and condemned, with COGIW saying, we are of Mr. Armstrong, and I saying, I am of Peter, Paul, James, John, and all the prophets and apostles who wrote the Bible, because the Bible is the foundation for all the truth I have.
So I am divided from COGIW, and COGIW is divided from me, because I am committed to believing God and they apparently are not. Their commitment to believe, their faith, seems to be towards Mr. Armstrong more than God.
When they use the analogy of the foundation of a building, they misapply it.
Mr. Armstrong is not the foundation. Nor did he lay the foundation. The foundation is the Bible, and it was laid by the prophets and apostles who wrote the Bible and by God who inspired them.
The Bible is the foundation that has already been laid. Mr. Armstrong pointed us to that foundation in a special way, and he helped us understand it.
So in the analogy of a building, Mr. Armstrong's writings are like the walls that are built upon the foundation. The Bible is the foundation, and Mystery of the Ages is one of the walls built upon that foundation. Mr. Armstrong pointed us to the foundation, then he built upon it. He did not lay the foundation.
But as Paul says, "According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it" (1 Corinthians 3:10).
We have to take heed how we build doctrinally upon the foundation of the Bible. If the walls are out of alignment with the foundation, we have to correct the walls. Mr. Armstrong corrected his own mistakes as time permitted and as God gave him the wisdom to see his mistakes, and in doing this he set an example for us. But it seems COGIW does not want to continue in his example. Why? Because they confuse the foundation with the walls of the building.
Mr. Armstrong's teachings are walls, not the foundation. The Bible is the foundation. That is the word of God Mr. Armstrong was referring to when he had a sign at Ambassador College, "THE WORD OF GOD IS THE FOUNDATION OF KNOWLEDGE". That sign does not refer to Mr. Armstrong's writings, but to the Bible.
There is also a misconception that apostles only lay foundations, not walls.
Look at this passage: "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one? I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase. Now he who plants and he who waters are one, and each one will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, you are God’s building. According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it" (1 Corinthians 3:5-10).
Paul uses two analogies here. He first gives the analogy of a plant when he says that he planted and Apollos watered. Then he uses the analogy of a building, saying he laid the foundation and another builds on it. But if Paul is in both analogies, as one who lays a foundation and as one who plants, that shows that he is the one that starts a work in a particular area. He starts a congregation, and others, such as Apollos, then continue and support what Paul started. In the first analogy, he mentions Apollos by name as one who continues and helps to grow what Paul started, and in the second analogy Paul simply says that "another" builds on the foundation he laid. But he could have said, "Apollos builds", for the two analogies are describing the same thing. Apollos is simply an example.
But notice that he is not making a big difference between him and Apollos, as if Paul were an apostle and Apollos was not.
Paul said, "Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but ministers through whom you believed, as the Lord gave to each one?" He uses the word "minister" to describe him and Apollos. That is correct of course, because "minister" covers a multitude of ranks including apostle. Minister is a very general term, apostle is more specific.
But he talks about Apollos and himself as if they are equal. This implies that Apollos may have been an apostle. In any case, Paul does not speak as if his rank of apostle makes him somehow superior to Apollos. Paul's office of apostleship over Apollos is not treated as a issue. For the point Paul is trying to make, they are two ministers, period.
Also look at these passages: "Now I say this, that each of you says, 'I am of Paul,' or 'I am of Apollos,' or 'I am of Cephas,' or 'I am of Christ' " (1 Corinthians 1:12). Apollos is mentioned with Paul, Cephas (Peter), and Christ. Paul, Peter, and Christ are all apostles (Hebrews 3:1). Does this not imply that Apollos was an apostle too?
"Therefore let no one boast in men. For all things are yours: whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas, or the world or life or death, or things present or things to come—all are yours. And you are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s" (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). Again, Apollos is mentioned with Paul and Peter (Cephas).
If Apollos was an apostle, and these verses imply that he was, then he built on the foundation, or "watered" in one of the analogies Paul used, that Paul had laid. He did not start congregations in new areas - Paul did that - but Apollos helped those congregations to grow. And if Apollos was an apostle, then this shows that an apostle does not just help lay the foundation, but also builds upon a foundation.
Paul did more than start congregations. He laid a foundation by helping to write the Bible. He took the truth God gave him by direct revelation and taught it to his congregations and also wrote epistles containing that truth in the Bible. He laid the foundation, Christ, for the congregations he started and he laid part of the foundation, the Bible, for the Church of God today. And the foundation is one - one message, one gospel - the same truth for all of us.
The idea that each apostle has a territory or group he is sent to, and the people in that group need to have a special loyalty to believe their apostle over the teachings of other apostles, is wrong and divisive in the Church of God.
It is also divisive, and idolatry, and heresy, to say that we are to believe Mr. Armstrong's teachings over that of the apostles in the Bible and all the prophets and men of God who wrote the Bible under God's inspiration.
The COGIW article states that Paul was sent to lay foundations specifically for the Gentiles.
What? Are the Gentiles to follow a different truth, a different foundation (or part of the foundation) than the Jewish Christians? If the Gentiles have a different foundation than the Jews, what need was there for Acts 15?
But Paul did not teach that there are different categories of Christians, Jews and Gentiles, each requiring a different apostle to lay a different foundation. "For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him" (Romans 10:12).
"For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:13).
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:28).
"where there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but Christ is all and in all" (Colossians 3:11).
Yet, Paul was sent to the uncircumcised and Peter to the circumcised. "But on the contrary, when they saw that the gospel for the uncircumcised had been committed to me, as the gospel for the circumcised was to Peter (for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised" (Galatians 2:7-9).
Why was Paul sent to one area and Peter to another? Was it because they preached different messages, different versions of the truth, laying different foundations that were special for each area, and that those two messages should not be mixed? No, there is only one truth. It was a simple division of labor. To use an analogy from a business corporation, it is as if you have a sales staff divided into several regions with a sales manager in charge of each region, but they all sell the same product exactly. Such division of labor makes sure every territory is covered and eliminates duplication of effort.
It is also plain that there was a mixture of teaching from both Peter and Paul. The book of Hebrews, written for the Jews, shows characteristics of Paul's writing, and Peter spoke of the writings of Paul as if his readers were familiar with Paul's writings (2 Peter 3:15-16).
The foundation for the truth we possess is the Bible itself, the word of God in print. It is also Christ, the Word of God in person, the same word. Mr. Armstrong taught this. He often stated that Christ and the Bible are equivalent, saying that Christ is the Word of God in person and the Bible the word of God in print. Some of the members of Church of God in Wales may remember Mr. Armstrong saying this.
Mr. Armstrong also taught that the word of God is the foundation of knowledge. The sign he had at Ambassador College used that exact word, "foundation". He never said that Mystery of the Ages or any of his other writings or teachings or speaking was the foundation or any part of it.
Rather, Mr. Armstrong built UPON the foundation, when it came to doctrine. When he made a mistake in doctrine, he was willing to be corrected by the Bible. In doing this, he set an example. And he gave precedence to the Bible over his own word and teaching when he told his radio listeners, don't believe me, believe God, believe your Bible.
TO BE CONTINUED