Thursday, August 10, 2017

Mr. Armstrong's Role Part 7 - 2 Peter 1:20-21 and "Private Interpretation"

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.

Chapter 5 of the COGIW article starts by asking if God has given us anything to promote unity. It is leading up to the conclusion that adherence and loyalty to Mr. Armstrong and his teachings, even above loyalty to the Bible, is the solution.

But the author of this article seems to forget that God Himself scattered the Church, and He did it by causing Mr. Armstrong to appoint Mr. Tkatch as the next pastor general. Moreover, God allowed Mr. Armstrong to tell us that we need to follow that next pastor general if we want to be in the kingdom of God, which was clearly wrong. It was a serious mistake in doctrine and teaching that Mr. Armstrong made, one that he never corrected to the end of his life, perhaps the most serious mistake he made, and God let him make that mistake.

At the time the tribulation begins, there will be two main categories of the Churches of God. At least one group will be Philadelphian in character and spirit, and Philadelphians will go to a place of safety after having used the open door Christ gives them to finish the preaching of the gospel to the world. The other category is Laodicean and any other non-Philadelphian groups. They will go through the tribulation, having failed to preach the gospel (because they did not have an open door because of their lukewarmness) - see Revelation chapters 2 and 3.

We know that Laodicea will exist because it is the last era of the Church of God. We know Philadelphia will exist because they will finish the work and go to a place of safety.

And there will not be unity between Laodiceans and Philadelphians before the tribulation. The era is predominantly Laodicean, so they will be large, Philadelphia will be small.

When Christ returns, there will be perfect unity among all those in the first resurrection. Laodiceans will have repented in the tribulation, probably most or all being martyred. They will have repented of their lukewarm attitude and will no longer be Laodicean (or else, if they haven't repented, they will not be in the first resurrection).

The COGIW article then states that the Church of God is to be subject to the word of God (the Bible), but that word is not revealed to us individually with each person interpreting the Bible as he chooses.

This is a misleading statement. It is true that we should not interpret the Bible as we please, according to our own opinions. But neither are we to let Mr. Armstrong or any man interpret the Bible for us. Rather, we are to do as Mr. Armstrong taught us by word and example: let the Bible interpret the Bible.

And the statement that the truth of the Bible is not revealed to us individually is absolutely wrong. God must open our minds, each one of us individually, to help us understand the Bible as we prove all things (1 Thessalonians 5:21) and check the scriptures to see if the things taught to us are true (Acts 17:11).

But we are NOT to let a man interpret the Bible for us, any man, even Mr. Armstrong. That is what the Catholics do, and we are not to be like them, as Mr. Armstrong stated himself in an article I believe titled, "Should We Listen to Others?". We must not treat Mr. Armstrong like a pope. He himself would not want that, and the Bible teaches against that.

The article then quotes 2 Peter 1:20-21 to support its position that we are not to privately interpret the Bible.

Let's look at this passage closely.

Here it is, first, in the New King James Version: "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of Scripture is of any private interpretation, for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:20-21).

Now in the King James Version: "Knowing this first, that no prophecy of the scripture is of any private interpretation. For the prophecy came not in old time by the will of man: but holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost" (2 Peter 1:20-21).

That is basically the same.

Now look at how the New International Version translates it: "Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet’s own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2 Peter 1:20-21).

This is different. The NKJV and the KJV use the term "private interpretation" without reference to whether the private interpretation applies to the reader of the Bible or the prophet who wrote the prophecy. But the NIV applies it, not to the reader of the Bible, but to the men who wrote the Bible. In other words, the prophecies of the Bible did not come from the private understanding of the prophets, but God inspired them to write what they wrote by the Holy Spirit.

Which is correct?

I believe the NIV in this case has it right. Why? Look again at verse 21 in the NKJV: "for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit".

The context is how the prophets made their prophecies. They did not write according to their own opinions, rather, the Holy Spirit moved them to write their prophecies. The origin of the prophecies of the Bible is God, not man or man's opinions, understandings, or interpretation of events. That is the whole point of this passage.

Look at the word "for" at the beginning of the verse. That indicates a cause and effect relationship between what follows the word "for" and what precedes it. There is a connection. What follows the word "for" (prophecy came from God) explains or gives a reason for what precedes it (no prophecy is private). In other words, the reason no prophecy is of private interpretation or understanding is that prophecy came from God and not by the will of man. This is speaking of the prophet and the source of his prophecy. No prophecy is of private interpretation or understanding of the prophet BECAUSE prophecy came as the prophet was moved by the Holy Spirit, not from his own opinions, not from his private interpretation of events.

This makes more sense than to say that verse 20 is talking about the private interpretation of the reader while verse 21 is talking about the how the prophet received the prophecy.

But even in terms of the private interpretation of the reader, as I pointed out, neither the reader of the Bible nor Mr. Armstrong should privately interpret the Bible but rather let the Bible interpret the Bible.

This passage does not say that God does not reveal His truth to us today by opening our minds individually to understand the Bible as we let the Bible interpret the Bible, believe what God says, and strive to obey what God says. God certainly does reveal His truth to us today. Mr. Armstrong was a link in that process. He pointed us to the Bible and helped us understand it. But we have our part to play - to prove the truth from the Bible so our faith is in God and not man - and as we do so God opens our minds to understand the Bible. That is how God reveals His truth to us individually.

We must let the Bible interpret the Bible, and we must believe and strive to obey what God says in the Bible. That is what Mr. Armstrong did and that what we must do also.

There is another passage to consider.

Did Mr. Armstrong have authority over our beliefs? Did he have authority to command us to believe something, to have faith in some point of doctrine? He did not claim that authority in his article, "Should We Listen to Others?". And Paul did not claim that authority over the faith and beliefs of the Corinthians.

"Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand" (2 Corinthians 1:24).

Paul clearly states to the Corinthians that he did not have "dominion" over their faith. "Dominion" means rule, and "faith" is what we believe. He did not claim authority over what the Corinthians believed. He taught them, yes. But part of their beliefs came from the Old Testament scriptures, the Bible that was available at that time, and Paul had no authority to command them to believe him more than the scriptures. Their faith had to be towards God and not man.

That is even more true today when we have the Bible complete and widely available and can use fulfilled prophecy to prove that the Bible is the inspired word of God.

The COGIW article states that if each person interpreted the Bible privately, it would lead to confusion.

But as I pointed out, we are not to interpret the Bible according to our opinions, but we are to let the Bible interpret the Bible and we are to believe what God says.

Still, there are times when sincere members of the Church of God may understand a passage in the Bible differently than the ministry and leadership of the Church. This is because understanding does not come all at once. It is a learning process, and we know things only in part right now (1 Corinthians 13:9). We must also grow in knowledge (2 Peter 3:18), and that growth takes time. God tests us and gives more understanding to those who believe and obey him (Psalm 111:10), and that testing takes time. Mr. Armstrong did not learn everything at one time, and neither do any of us.

So does that create confusion and division?

It can, but it doesn't have to. It depends on how the member handles his disagreement.

If he brings the matter to a minister with a humble and teachable mind and discusses the matter respectfully, and does not discuss the matter with other members, it need not lead to confusion or division. It is when a member takes his disagreement to others in the congregation that confusion and division occur.

The ministry has authority over the official doctrines that are taught to the members (Ephesians 4:11-16, Matthew 16:18-19). That is their job, and the members have to respect that. No member should undermine the authority the ministry has to teach the membership by contradicting the teaching of the ministry.

But our faith must be towards God, not the ministry. The Bible is God speaking to us directly. If we see something in the Bible that contradicts what a minister teaches us, we must believe God rather than man.

If we talk to a minister about our disagreement with a doctrine, we should let the minister explain, and we should listen with an open mind. Perhaps we have made an error and the issue can be resolved.

But if not, wait for God to make the correction. Wait for God to open your mind to understand your mistake, or to open the minister's mind to understand his mistake. If necessary, wait till Christ's return. God is testing all of us. But in the meantime, don't create division by discussing your disagreement and promoting your idea with the membership. Teaching other members is the job of the ministry, not yours. If you teach members, teach within the established doctrines of the ministry. God will open the minds of the ministry and leadership when it is His time, and if they will not listen to God, God will judge them.

If the matter is of major importance, you may have to leave the fellowship you are in. It depends on the situation.

Believing the Bible individually, letting the Bible interpret the Bible and believing and obeying what God says, does not create confusion and division. Criticizing and contradicting the ministry does create division.

And if the leadership and ministry is so far off base in major doctrines and it is obvious they do not believe the Bible, it may be necessary for members to take a stand and leave the group. In that case, it is the leadership and ministry that is creating the confusion and division, not the members.

Members should not be afraid to take a stand and be willing to say, "If Mr. Armstrong says one thing and the Bible something else, I will believe the Bible, I will believe God". Members should not be afraid to openly say, "We need to preach the gospel to the world". These are absolutely foundational issues, and ministers who teach loyalty to Mr. Armstrong and his teachings more than to God and the Bible are themselves creating confusion and division. Likewise with ministers who say, "This is not the time to preach the gospel to the world, only an apostle can do that".

To say that if we find differences between Mr. Armstrong's teachings and the Bible we should believe the word of Hebert W. Armstrong more than the word of God, or that we should lie and continue to teach things we know are wrong, is heresy, according to everything the Church of God stands for. If we do that, we are making an idol out of Mr. Armstrong. We are breaking faith with God. That is a sin serious enough to cost us our salvation, if not repented of.

And if we delay repenting, God can take away from us the knowledge we have. We only know what we know because Mr. Armstrong was committed to believing the Bible more than man. God used a man who put the Bible first to point us to the Bible and help us understand it. He also taught that process when he said, don't believe me, believe your bible. But if we do not agree with that process, why should we have the knowledge that is the good fruit of that process?

We will reap what we sow. If we disbelieve God, He is likely to take from us the knowledge we have. He can remove His protection and let Satan deceive us.

"Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (Galatians 6:7).

The sin of not preaching the gospel to the world is also serious. It is a direct rejection of God's law of love that says we are to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is direct disobedience to the command to hold back those stumbling to the slaughter (Proverbs 24:11-12). It is a violation of Jesus's command, "Freely you have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:8).

Again, if we refuse to share with others the precious truth God has given us, why should we have the truth? Will not God take it away from us? We have that truth because others sacrificed so we could have it. Now that we have benefited from the sacrifices of others, if we refuse to do our part and also sacrifice so others can hear the truth, then we prove ourselves to be unworthy of the truth. We say to God, "I don't agree with the process of sacrificing to pass the truth on to others in the world". God can say, "Ok, then why should you benefit from a process you don't agree with? You only have the truth because others sacrificed for you. Why should I protect you from Satan's deceptions any longer?"

Some might say, only an apostle can preach the gospel.

That is total nonsense, according to the Bible and according to Church history.

"At that time a great persecution arose against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles....Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word" (Acts 8:1-4).

The Church was scattered. But the apostles remained in Jerusalem. But those who were scattered, not the apostles, preached the "word" - the gospel - everywhere.

So you do not have to be an apostle to preach the gospel.

Moreover, while Mr. Armstrong was alive he used various evangelists and ministers to preach the gospel to the world, and he intended the preaching of the gospel to continue after his death, as his letters show. At no time did Mr. Armstrong say, after my death, the preaching of the gospel is over, because only an apostle can preach the gospel. Rather, he made provision for the preaching of the gospel to continue on television with new TV presenters.

Read his autobiography. He was on fire to preach the gospel even before he was ordained as a minister, long before he thought of himself as an apostle.

Read chapters four and five in my book where I explain why the gospel still needs to be preached to the world and why the Church of God needs to be doing it.

Those who say we must not change or re-examine Mr. Armstrong's teachings are inconsistent if they left Worldwide while Mr. Tkach was pastor general. Why did they not stay with Mr. Tkach and follow him? Mr. Armstrong said they should. By leaving Worldwide, they directly disobeyed Mr. Armstrong's teaching. But now they say, we must not re-examine or question or change any of his other teachings, even if they are wrong, even if they contradict the Bible. That's lunacy.

They have succumbed to the temptation of idolatry, not to a physical image made of wood or stone, but to the memory and teachings of a physical man. They have put that man in place of God, and that is wrong.


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