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 they conflict with the Bible.
In chapter 6, the COGIW article makes a point about the passage where Paul says, "Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1, KJV). According to the COGIW article, some have used this passage as an excuse to not follow an apostle sent to them by interpreting this verse to mean that we only follow the apostle to the degree that this apostle follows Christ. The article says that this cannot be the right interpretation because the Corinthians only knew of Christ through the apostle sent to them, Paul.
But let's examine this passage and related passages in more detail, letting the Bible interpret the Bible.
1 Corinthians 4:16 says, "Therefore I urge you, imitate me". The NIV also uses the word "imitate". The King James Version says, "be ye followers of me". There is no qualification in this verse.
But 1 Corinthians 11:1 may add a qualification. "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ". I say may add a qualification, because it is unclear in the English whether Paul meant, imitate me because I imitate Christ, or, imitate me to the extent and degree I imitate Christ. If he meant the second, that we are to imitate him only to the extent that he imitates Christ, then that is a qualification and a limitation on how we imitate Paul.
The Greek word translated "imitate" or "be followers" is the same in both passages, mimetes, Strong's number 3402, meaning imitator.
The COGIW article says that this cannot mean that the Corinthians were to imitate Paul only to the extent they saw him imitate Christ because they only knew about Christ from Paul. I do not agree. Yes, Paul brought them into contact with and knowledge of Christ. But their whole knowledge of Christ did not just come from Paul. They had access to the Old Testament prophecies about Christ. Even though not every person has the whole Old Testament, or even parts of it, they did have some access, just as the Bereans did, checking up in the scriptures to see if the things Paul said were true (Acts 17:10-11). They also no doubt had travelers from other congregations supervised by other apostles, such as Peter and the others. There was interaction and communication and fellowship between the various parts of the Church of God.
Paul was not their only contact. Peter refers to the writings of Paul in 2 Peter 3:15, saying, "and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation - as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you". Notice that Peter is writing this epistle, but he is addressing those who read Paul's epistles also, because he says, "Paul...has written to you". And many believe that Paul wrote Hebrews, which was clearly written to the Jews, not the congregations Paul was an apostle to.
So the Church of God as a whole was reading epistles from more than one apostle, in addition to having some access to the Old Testament prophecies and teaching about Christ.
Besides all that, the gospel accounts by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were being written, and as they were written, they were reproduced and distributed to the whole Church of God.
So the Corinthians had plenty of opportunity to learn about Christ other than what Paul told them. And Paul was not requiring them to follow him in doctrine if he did not follow Christ.
This is even more true for the time after Paul was dead. The distribution of the gospel accounts and the epistles of Peter, James, John, and Jude increased over time, and would have reached maximum distribution after Paul was dead. Then those who read about Christ from the Old Testament and the New Testament being distributed to them could compare that with what they remembered of Paul's spoken word and his epistles that were not canonized, and if Paul erred in following Christ in doctrine, the members were to NOT follow Paul in those instances since he was not following Christ.
Why do I mention the time when Paul was dead? Because the COGIW article is comparing Paul with Mr. Armstrong, and Mr. Armstrong is dead. In other words, if you want to make Mr. Armstrong like Paul, we are in that period that compares with the period for the early Church in the first few decades after Paul had died. And during that time, the New Testament was made complete, and the members had opportunity to learn about Christ and Christ's doctrine from many other apostles and writers other than Paul.
But there is another more important reason why the COGIW argument is wrong, that Paul could not mean that the Corinthians were to follow him only to the extent he followed Christ because they only knew about Christ through Paul.
Paul was not just writing to the Corinthians. He was writing to us, whether he realized it or not. For it is God who is the real author of the Bible and every book that has been canonized and made part of the Bible.
It is God who speaks to us today through the writings of Paul, and it is God who inspired the words that Paul penned, "as I also imitate Christ".
Local context can be important, but there is always a universal context, the context of God speaking to us today. Paul was not just writing to the Corinthians. He was writing to us, because God made this letter a part of His word, the Bible, and God speaks to us directly through the Bible. The Bible is God speaking. It reveals the mind of God.
Paul's writings that were canonized as part of the Bible were not just for the Corinthians. Nor were they just for the congregations Paul had raised up. They were for the whole Church of God, past, present, and future. That means they are for us today. And today, Paul says to us, be followers of me as I follow Christ. And that sets the pattern of how we should view Mr. Armstrong. We are to follow him as he followed Christ! And that means, to the extent and degree he followed Christ. We do not follow him in instances of doctrine or behavior where he might not have followed Christ. And being human, he made mistakes.
It is not just Mr. Armstrong who has been our apostle. Paul is our apostle too. So is Peter, so is James, so is John. We know of their teaching from the things they wrote in the Bible. They are dead, but so is Mr. Armstrong.
It seems to me that the COGIW article tries to elevate the teachings of Mr. Armstrong above that of Paul, Peter, James, John, and all the writers of the Bible. But why? They are all dead, equally dead. In fact, the writings of the early apostles must be elevated above the writings of Mr. Armstrong because the only writings we have of those apostles are part of the Bible, and the Bible is free from error but Mr. Armstrong's teachings are not free from error.
Do you want to follow Mr. Armstrong, not just to the extent and degree he followed Christ, but follow Mr. Armstrong's teachings unconditionally because he followed Christ?
Then go back to Grace Communion International, or whatever Worldwide under the Tkaches changed the name of that organization to. Mr. Armstrong told us to follow Mr. Tkach. Then do it, if you want to follow Mr. Armstrong's every teaching unconditionally. Don't call yourself Church of God. You are doing away with the most important thing Mr. Armstrong taught, and rightly taught: Don't believe me, believe God, believe your Bible. He taught that by word, and he taught that by his example, an example he began to practice before he was ordained as a minister much less thought of himself as an apostle. But you want to throw that away.
There are some who claim to follow Mr. Armstrong, but do not do what he says. That reminds me of Christ's statement, "But why do you call Me 'Lord, Lord,' and not do the things which I say?" (Luke 6:46). Many in traditional churches of this world call Jesus Christ, "Lord". They praise His person. They use His name and profess to worship Him. But they don't do what He says. Isn't that how we are towards Mr. Armstrong if we praise his person and claim to follow him, but don't do what he says?
He said, don't believe me, believe the Bible. He said this many times, over and over. He also personally lived by this saying. He believed the Bible more than any man, even when he was an unordained lay member of the Church of God.
We should do what he said in this case because it is also what the Bible teaches.
He also said, shortly before his death, that if he died God would provide a new pastor general (who was Mr. Tkach though Mr. Armstrong had not named him yet), and we should follow that man if we want to be in the Kingdom of God. He said that one time, near the end of his life. He never qualified that, "as that pastor general follows Christ", or, "as that pastor general follows the Bible". He should have qualified his statement that way, but he didn't.
We should not do what Mr. Armstrong said in this case because it is contrary to the Bible. We were right to leave Mr. Tkach and not follow him when we saw that he was not following Christ and the Bible.
But any man who left Mr. Tkach at that time and today says we must not change Mr. Armstrong's teachings is being inconsistent, is he not? For if we have no right to change Mr. Armstrong's teaching in Mystery of the Ages, what right do we have to change his teaching about following Mr. Tkach unconditionally?
In the verses I quoted about "imitate me" or "be followers of me", there are two ways we can follow someone. We can follow their teachings, or we can follow their example, or both. The word, "follow", in the English, can mean either or both. The word, "imitate" seems to imply following the example of someone, imitating their example, their actions, their way of life, more than teachings and doctrine. Paul may not have been primarily talking about doctrine. He may have been primarily talking about his personal example and his way of life - his love, his service, his work, his diligence, his zeal, and his willingness to sacrifice and suffer for the sake of the gospel.
The context immediately surrounding 1 Corinthians 4:16, where Paul says, "imitate me", suggests that Paul might not be talking primarily about doctrine but a way of life, for the whole passage speaks of Paul's suffering, service, and way of life.
"For I think that God has displayed us, the apostles, last, as men condemned to death; for we have been made a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are distinguished, but we are dishonored! To the present hour we both hunger and thirst, and we are poorly clothed, and beaten, and homeless. And we labor, working with our own hands. Being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we endure; being defamed, we entreat. We have been made as the filth of the world, the offscouring of all things until now.
"I do not write these things to shame you, but as my beloved children I warn you. For though you might have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet you do not have many fathers; for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Therefore I urge you, imitate me. For this reason I have sent Timothy to you, who is my beloved and faithful son in the Lord, who will remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach everywhere in every church" (1 Corinthians 4:9-17).
I do not say that Paul definitely was not including doctrine in how he wanted to be followed or imitated, only that the passage suggests emphasis on the example part, what we would call, "Christian living".
What about the second passage, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" (1 Corinthians 11:1)? The two verses just prior to this say, "Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved" (1 Corinthians 10:32-33). That again suggests to me that the context of "imitate me" is Paul's example of love and Christian living, that is, obedience to God's holy law of love, not what some may call doctrine. It is doctrine, yes, but it is the kind of doctrine one can teach by example. Paul seems to be saying, follow my example of pleasing all men, not seeking personal profit, but the profit of many that they may be saved. It is an example of an unselfish life, of loving our neighbors as ourselves, and Christ also taught this by His example. These things are not in dispute.
There is one more passage I want to quote that uses that same word, "imitate", and is translated from the same Greek word used in the other passages.
"And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises" (Hebrews 6:11-12).
I quote this verse, which may have been written by Paul, but is inspired by God in any case, to show that it is not just Paul, or Mr. Armstrong, that we are to imitate, but a whole category of people who through faith and patience inherit the promises. We are to look to the good examples of others, in other words. And the Bible is full of such good examples.
Paul's statement to the Corinthians to imitate him is not a proof text that we should follow Mr. Armstrong's teachings because he is our apostle as Paul was the Corinthian's apostle. In fact, God, through Paul, is speaking to us today, that we should follow the good example of Paul as he followed the good example of Christ. And God, in the book of Hebrews, tells us to follow all the good examples of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises. That can include Mr. Armstrong, but it is not limited to him.
How is Mr. Armstrong, now that he is dead, our apostle more than Paul is our apostle, Peter is our apostle, James and John are our apostles? They are dead too.
One might say, Mr. Armstrong is our apostle because it was through him that we learned the truth. But there is a whole generation of Church of God members that have not learned the truth from Mr. Armstrong because they came into the Church of God after his death. They learned the truth from other men who have been preaching the gospel on TV and in print since Mr. Armstrong died, Dr. Roderick C. Meredith being one example. Some of these members may learn the truth from TV broadcasts and booklets, comparing our teachings with the Bible, and finding out that the Church of God has the truth, then come into the Church without ever hearing of Mr. Armstrong or reading what he has written. Is Mr. Armstrong "their" apostle in some special sense? In what way? And how can Mr. Armstrong be "their" apostle more than Paul, Peter, James, and John?
And if Mr. Armstrong is not their apostle, because they did not learn the truth from him, yet they sit next to older members who did learn from Mr. Armstrong, does that mean that in one congregation you have two categories of members, those who must believe what Mr. Armstrong taught because they learned the truth from him and he is therefore their apostle, and those who do not have to believe Mr. Armstrong because they did not learn the truth from him but learned from others and therefore he is not their apostle?
That would be ridiculous. You do not have two categories of members sitting in one congregation, each category obligated to believe a different set of teachings.
God does not teach loyalty to a man, even an apostle, more than to the God of the Bible. God, through Paul, condemns that sort of thinking: "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).
Today, one might say, "I am of Mr. Armstrong". But that would be wrong.
"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" (1 Corinthians 3:4-7).
Mr. Armstrong was a worker in God's service, as the first century apostles were, and each of the first century apostles ministered to the churches of God at that time and minister to us today through their writings in the Bible, and each, along with Mr. Armstrong, will receive his own reward in the Kingdom of God.
Mr. Armstrong labored in God's service as the first century apostles did who wrote parts of the Bible, and I do not count Mr. Armstrong's work, diligence, sacrifice, and faith as less than the other apostles. Only God can judge that. Nor is the importance of the work God did through him in any way less than the importance of the work God did through the first century apostles.
But there is this difference, and we must be aware of it and keep it in mind as Mr. Armstrong did. The only writings we have from the first century apostles are their writings in the Bible. The Bible is the direct word of God to us, infallibly correct and free from error. None of Mr. Armstrong's writings are part of the Bible, and none of them are infallibly correct. Any of Mr. Armstrong's teachings can contain error. Therefore, to know if they are true, we must compare them with the Bible.
The Bible is God speaking to us personally and directly. The Bible is the word of God. Mr. Armstrong's writings are not the direct word of God. That puts the Bible above Mr. Armstrong's teachings. We know from the history of the Church while Mr. Armstrong was alive and shortly after his death, that he made mistakes in teaching and doctrine, not all of which he corrected. Therefore, the only way to know if Mr. Armstrong was correct in a particular doctrine is to check in the Bible, to "prove all things", and believe those things we can prove in the Bible. And if any doctrine or teaching of Mr. Armstrong is contrary to the Bible, that doctrine should be corrected in the Church of God.
We must always let the Bible correct our doctrines. That is the way of life Mr. Armstrong taught and practiced, and that is God's teaching in His word, the Bible.
TO BE CONTINUED