Monday, July 1, 2024

Can You Be Red-hot Zealous for God and Still Be Denied the Place of Safety?

Can you be red-hot on fire for God, very zealous for Him, not lukewarm at all, and still not be able to go to the place of safety, still have to go through the tribulation?

Many members of the whole Church of God think, no.  It is only the lukewarm Laodiceans who have to go through the tribulation.  If you are zealous for God and are not a Laodicean, you must be a Philadelphian and are promised protection during the tribulation - you can go to the place of safety.  So if you want protection, don't be lukewarm.  Don't be Laodicean.  Be on fire for God.  Be zealous.

Are they right?  Is being zealous for God the way to escape the tribulation and be counted worthy to go to a place of safety?

Being zealous is part of it, I think.  But the real test is something else.

Before getting into that, I would like to ask you, the reader, to stop and do an exercise.  I will use the results of this exercise later in this post.

Take a pen or pencil and piece of paper and make a short list of the Church of God fellowships you are familiar with, at least the major ones.  Include the fellowship you tithe to and attend with.  You might include United Church of God (UCG), Living Church of God (LCG), Church of God Assembly (CGA), and several others groups, small or large, that you have some familiarity with.

Next to each fellowship, write a number from 1 to 10 of how effective they are in preaching the gospel and the warning message about the tribulation to come to all the nations that come from the tribes of Israel.  This will be your personal rating, and it will be an estimate.  You probably can't know all the facts, but estimate the best you can based on what you know or have read or heard.  Take into consideration things like literature distributed, magazine circulation, radio or TV programs or advertisements, public meetings, number of people baptized that came into the fellowship through the work (not counting children of existing members), etc.

Now set it aside and keep reading.  We will use it later.

Back to the question, is being on fire for God, not lukewarm, the key to having God's protection in a place of safety during the tribulation?

That may be part of it.  But zeal alone is not key.  Remember, Paul, when he was Saul persecuting the Church, was zealous for God, but not according to knowledge.  He had zeal all right.  But not in the right direction, though he was sure it was.  He was like other Jews who persecuted Christians.  Paul had persecuted the Church of God, even when he had zeal for God.

"For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge (Romans 10:2).

"For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God" (1 Corinthians 15:9).

"For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers" (Galatians 1:13-14).  Note that Saul was zealous for the traditions he grew up with.

"As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison" (Acts 8:3).

"I am indeed a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, taught according to the strictness of our fathers’ law, and was zealous toward God as you all are today. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women, as also the high priest bears me witness, and all the council of the elders, from whom I also received letters to the brethren, and went to Damascus to bring in chains even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished" (Acts 22:3-5).

Let's look next at Christ's message to Laodicea.  Here is the whole message.  "And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, 'These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God: "I know your works, that you are neither cold nor hot. I could wish you were cold or hot. So then, because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth. Because you say, 'I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing' - and do not know that you are wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked - I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten. Therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. To him who overcomes I will grant to sit with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" ' " (Revelation 3:14-22).

There is much here, but let's focus on the need to be zealous.  Christ says one of Laodicea's problems is, they are lukewarm, and He tells them to be zealous and repent.

Now, many reason, if I can be zealous and not lukewarm, I am not a Laodicean.

Now let's look at the message to Philadelphia.  "And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, 'These things says He who is holy, He who is true. "He who has the key of David, He who opens and no one shuts, and shuts and no one opens": "I know your works. See, I have set before you an open door, and no one can shut it; for you have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name. Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie—indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you. Because you have kept My command to persevere, I also will keep you from the hour of trial which shall come upon the whole world, to test those who dwell on the earth. Behold, I am coming quickly! Hold fast what you have, that no one may take your crown.  He who overcomes, I will make him a pillar in the temple of My God, and he shall go out no more. I will write on him the name of My God and the name of the city of My God, the New Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from My God. And I will write on him My new name.  He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" ' " (Revelation 3:7-13).

To Philadelphia, Christ says that He will keep them from the hour of trial that will come on all the earth.  This means the place of safety and protection during the tribulation.

So some will reason, if I am zealous, I am not lukewarm.  And if I am not lukewarm, I am not Laodicean.  So if I am not lukewarm, I am Philadelphian and I am promised the place of safety.

But there is a false assumption hidden in the above reasoning that nullifies the whole line of reasoning.  That assumption is that, if you are not Laodicean, you are Philadelphian.  In other words, people who reason that if they are zealous and not lukewarm they will go to a place of safety may be making the assumption that there are only two possibilities - they are Laodicean or they are Philadelphian.  But that is not what the Bible says and that is not what Mr. Armstrong taught.

There are seven messages to seven churches, not just two.  We are in the Laodicean era, but that does not mean that every individual in that era is Laodicean, otherwise none of us could be Philadelphian.  This is the Laodicean era because that spiritual condition is dominant, not universal, otherwise no one could be Philadelphian.  But we know there must be some Philadelphians in the Laodicean era, if only a few, so they can go through an open door to finish the work and then go to a place of safety.

Laodicea is the last era of the Church, so it goes right up to the time we flee.  So there must be Philadelphians in the Laodicea era to flee.

But if there can be Philadelphians in an era dominated by the Laodicean condition, then likewise there can be members in any of the other five conditions described in the messages to the other five churches.

As I recall, this is what Mr. Armstrong taught.  And this is what the Bible teaches, for every messages ends with Christ's instruction to those who have an ear to hear to hear what the Spirit says to the churches, plural, implying all of them.

So you figure you are not Laodicean because you are hot for the truths Mr. Armstrong taught - you are red-hot on fire, very zealous.  But does that mean you are Philadelphian?

There are five other spiritual conditions described.  Are you one of those?

Are you in the spiritual condition of Ephesus?  Have you lost your first love?

Are you in the spiritual condition of Smyrna?  Christ has nothing bad to say about Smyrna (but they are not promised protection).

How about Pergamos?  How about Thyatira?  How about Sardis?

Just because one is not Laodicean does not make that member a Philadelphian.

And only Philadelphians are promised protection.

And if you are very zealous, don't be so sure you are not Laodicean.  Lukewarmness is not their only characteristic.  Also, one can be zealous for some things and lukewarm about other things and not realize it.  Remember, Laodiceans are blind as well as lukewarm - perhaps so blinded by their zeal for certain things that they cannot see that they are lukewarm about other things.

For example, a man can be so blinded by his zeal for the detailed teachings of Mr. Armstrong in Mystery of the Ages and other books and articles he wrote that he can't see that he is lukewarm about the overall pattern of Mr. Armstrong's way of life, who said, don't believe me, believe your Bible.

Mr. Armstrong always lived a way of life of believing the Bible more than Church tradition or the teaching of men, even men in the Church of God, and even his own teachings and writings.  And it is that way of life that produced the doctrinal truths he taught the Church of God.  And he practiced this way of life long before he thought of himself as an apostle and before he was even ordained as a minister.

It is not enough to be zealous.  You have to be zealous for the right thing.  Your zeal has to be pointed in the right direction.  Paul is a perfect example of zeal in the wrong direction before he was converted.  But at the time, he was too blind to see it.

Our zeal should be pointed towards the Bible and living by every word of God, not towards Mr. Armstrong and his writings or Church of God tradition or Church of God authority.  God and the Bible must come first, the Church and its leadership and ministry second.

Like Peter, we must obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29).

There may be a way to know if God counts a member or a fellowship as Philadelphian.  A litmus test you can call it.

Look for the open door for doing God's work.  Look for the open door for preaching the gospel and the warning message to the nations.  Is it there?   

Why is the open door a test, a sign or indicator?  Because the open door is only promised to Philadelphia. It is not promised to any of the other six spiritual conditions described.

In other words, the only message that promises a place of safety also promises an open door for doing the work.  They go together.  And the open door comes first.

So do you have an open door for doing the work?  Are you going through that open door?  Do you have an open door that is more than just a tiny token effort to preach the gospel that does not really bear good fruit and get good results?

If you do not have such a door, why think about a place of safety?  Why think that the place of safety is for you?  The place of safety is only promised to those with the open door.

Now go back to the exercise you did with the list of Church of God fellowships.  You rated each according to how they are doing with preaching the gospel and the warning message.

Probably, you attend with and pay tithes to one of those fellowships.  How is it doing with preaching the gospel compared to the others?

Perhaps none of the fellowships you listed rates very high, especially compared to the work done in the days of Mr. Armstrong.  That may simply mean that there is no fellowship that has a majority of its members in the Philadelphian condition.  Philadelphians may be a small minority in every fellowship you listed.  Still, some fellowships do more of a work than others.  Are you supporting a group that has an open door?

If not, how are you a Philadelphian more than others?  If you are a Philadelphian, why would you not want your tithe money to go to where it will get the gospel out to more people?

If you don't care about that, forget the place of safety.  It isn't for you.  Start thinking about how you will draw close to God and have the spiritual strength to endure the tortures of the great tribulation, because, if you remain lukewarm about the work, that is likely what will happen to you if you live to that time.

And remember, God does not bless hypocrisy.  The only way to preach the gospel and the warning is to tell people to believe the Bible more than their churches and ministry, and if we tell that to the public we better be doing the same.

Mr. Armstrong taught us.  He has been our teacher and is still our teacher today.  But we better follow the good example he set by believing the Bible more than the Church, and we better hold fast to that way of life he practiced.  Christ said, one is perfectly trained when he is like his teacher (Luke 6:40).

Let us hold fast to the positive example of Mr. Armstrong and the way of life he lived which produced so much good fruit.  Let us believe God more than man, as he did.

Friday, June 28, 2024

Does God Call Every COG Leader to Discover New Knowledge on His Own?

Suppose a Church of God leader or pastor of a fellowship says, God did not call me to come up with new doctrinal ideas, and I am not smarter than Mr. Armstrong.  Is that wrong?

No, that is not necessarily wrong.  God does not open the mind of every COG leader to discover and learn new knowledge from the Bible as God did with Mr. Armstrong.  Likewise, God does not open the mind of every local minister, elder, or lay member to discover and learn new knowledge from the Bible apart from established Church teaching.

But it can happen, as it did with Mr. Armstrong.  God opened his mind to discover new knowledge from the Bible and from history in the matter of the identity of the lost tribes of Israel and the need to observe the annual holy days, but God did not open the minds of the leadership and ministry of Church of God Seventh Day on their own (Mr. Armstrong was attending with that Church fellowship as a lay member when he discovered these truths).  But Mr. Armstrong offered the knowledge of those things to Church of God Seventh Day leadership, and it could have been accepted, but was not.

In other words, God revealed to Mr. Armstrong, apart from the Church of God he was attending, new knowledge from the Bible, and then God used Mr. Armstrong to show it to the leadership of the Church, but the Church did not accept it.

Likewise, today, a lay member or local elder may discover new knowledge in the Bible, write up a study paper on it, and submit the study paper to the leadership of the Church.  God could be using that member to reveal new truth, always from the Bible, to the leadership.  And the leadership can accept it and teach it to the whole Church.  But God doesn't force him.  The leadership can choose to reject it even if it is true.

Why would God do such a thing as to reveal new knowledge to a lay member or local minister before revealing it to the top leadership?  I suppose there can be many reasons, but one reason comes to mind - to test both the leadership and the one submitting the study paper.

The one who has discovered new knowledge and submits a study paper on it is being tested to see if he respects and submits to government and authority in the Church by not promoting his idea among members, but peacefully and respectfully only submitting it to the leadership without causing division and not discussing it with others.  He is also being tested to see if he will believe God more than man, if he is willing to live by every word of God, and if he is willing to be truthful in what he says.  This last point is important for speakers who may be pressured to teach things they do not agree with, things they find disproved in the Bible.

The leadership is being tested to see if he has the humility to be corrected and to learn from a subordinate and is really willing to live by every word of God.

But if God has not opened the mind of the leadership to discover new knowledge on his own, will he be able to see it when someone submits it to him?

It is possible.

Loma Armstrong did not discover the truth of the Sabbath on her own, but when a Church of God member pointed it out to her from the Bible, she saw and accepted it immediately.

When Loma showed it to her husband, he had a real struggle with it - it was an emotionally painful test for him - but after long study he passed the test and accepted it.

Sometimes we have to help each other.  God made it that way.  That is why God says, in a multitude of counselors there is safety (Proverbs 11:14, Proverbs 24:6), and, iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17).  But it takes love and humility for it to work the way God intended.

A top leader of a Church of God fellowship may not be able to discover new knowledge in the Bible on his own.  But he can examine a doctrinal premise and prove it from the Bible.  How can I know this?

Because he says he has done it and teaches the membership to do it - to prove truth from the Bible.

This may be in the context of Church of God teaching - our traditions which may be referred to as sound doctrine.  The leader claims to have proven the truths taught by Mr. Armstrong and he tells other members to do the same - prove the truth from the Bible.  How many times have we heard that?

So a leader must know how to take a doctrine - any doctrine - and prove from the Bible whether or not it is true.  He claims to have done this with Mr. Armstrong's doctrines and he teaches the members to do the same.

But if he can prove if Mr. Armstrong's doctrines are correct, he can do the same with any study paper submitted by a member.

It is the same process.  You prove the truth of any matter by getting all the facts, all the scriptures on the matter, putting them together, and letting the Bible interpret the Bible.  You prove the truth by believing what God says more than any man or tradition and more than your own opinion.  Mr. Armstrong did this.  It was hard for him, but he passed the test, and after that, God could use him.

This is what any leader should do when a member submits a doctrinal idea.

Of course, I understand that Church of God leaders have a heavy workload and may not have time to look at every paper, especially about minor matters.  But time permitting, the willingness should be there.

Speakers are taught to stick to "sound doctrine" when they speak, meaning doctrine that is consistant with the official teachings of the fellowship they are in.  This is correct.  New knowledge should not be introduced to a fellowship in a sermon, split-sermon, or sermonette without approval of the leadership.  That would cause division.  Let the leadership decide.  If he does not accept the new doctrine, keep quiet about it.  Speak on another subject.  Wait for Christ.  But continue to believe the truth as you can prove it in the Bible.  That is God's way.

Believing new knowledge we find in the Bible, even speaking to a pastor in private or sending in a study paper, does NOT cause division if we do it quietly without discussing or promoting it with the brethren.

Thursday, June 20, 2024

Did Mr. Armstrong Shift the Focus of His Work Before He Died?

A few years before Mr. Armstrong died he had a life-threatening heart attack.  But God revived him.

After that, did Mr. Armstrong change the main focus of his work from preaching the gospel to the world to getting the Church back on track - to getting the bride ready as stated in Revelation (Revelation 19:7)?

Yes, apparently he did.

This is something I recently learned from a sermon I heard.  I did not realize this before.  I find it interesting.  I think I heard or read this before, perhaps many times, but it never registered much in my mind.  Now it has.

Of course, Mr. Armstrong never stopped preaching the gospel, and the gospel work increased greatly during those years between Mr. Armstrong's heart attack and his eventual death in 1986.

But Mr. Armstrong felt God had revived him from his heart attack specifically so he could get the Church back on track.  And that became the primary focus of his attention and effort for the remaining years of his life - not the gospel.  For Mr. Armstrong at that time, getting the Church ready for the return of Christ was priority number one, the preaching of the gospel was priority two. I could be wrong, but that is my estimate.

I think Mr. Armstrong was right to make that his priority, and I think Christ led him to that priority at that time.

Should that continue to be our priority today?  Should getting the Church ready be our number one priority over preaching the gospel and getting the Ezekiel warning out to the public, to Israel and to the world?


Let me explain why.

Mr. Armstrong did shift his priorities.  Actually, this did not hurt or diminish the preaching of the gospel at that time because the work was expanding and continued to expand to the day of Mr. Armstrong's death.  He had a staff in place, and God continued to bless the work with income, and the work moved forward, like a machine on autopilot.  Mr. Armstrong had already set up a winning program for preaching the gospel, and it continued to work even while Mr. Armstrong focused more of his mental energy, concern, sermons, and prayers on getting the Church back on track.  Actually, getting the Church on track helped the gospel work anyway.  And the Church did get back on track, at least outwardly.  Not every individual.  Mr. Armstrong could not convert a tare into a real Christian.  Only God can call, only God can grant repentance.  And perhaps even most Christians had become lukewarm.  But both the work of getting the Church ready and preaching the gospel went on together.

What was the purpose of the preaching of the gospel during Mr. Armstrong's lifetime?  Was it only as a witness?  No, it was to build the numbers of the Church of God.  It was to bring in new members, as God would and did call.  It was also to develop character in the members who would sacrifice for the gospel in tithes, offerings, prayers, and volunteer effort.  And it was to establish a tradition and pattern in the Church for preaching the gospel and the ways of doing it, a pattern that continues today though to a lesser degree (because the Church is Laodicean predominantly).

But it was not Christ's primary purpose to use the gospel-preaching at that time to warn the world.  Why?  Because the tribulation did not come in that time.

The Church of God began to jump the rails about 40 years ago, and the gospel soon stopped (though it was later revived to a smaller degree).  The people who heard the teachings of Mr. Armstrong while he was alive are mostly gone today.

Today, few people in our nations remember Mr. Armstrong and his warnings, and their number decreases year by year.  A whole new generation has arisen, and they need to be warned.

It is our generation that really will go through the tribulation, and they need the gospel as a witness and a warning in a way that the generations in Mr. Armstrong's day never did.  

What about getting the Church ready?  That is happening through the trial and testing of being scattered.  True Philadelphians today are already ready.  Laodiceans, perhaps the majority of converted Church members, are not ready but will become ready during the trials of the tribulation, if not sooner.

Church leaders and members should focus on warning the nations of Israel about the coming tribulation that will come upon them if they do not repent.  They need to be told what they need to repent of.  Most do not know.

It is through that work and the sacrifices that are needed that the Church, those who become Philadelphians, will become ready. We won't get ready for Christ by focusing inwardly, on ourselves and our own organizations.

Why is a warning necessary?  It is necessary for the good and salvation of Israelites, for the people of America, Canada, Great Britain, France, etc. who will go through the tribulation.  It is necessary for the glory of God.

The Bible shows that it is God's way to warn before punishing.  From Genesis to Revelation, God, in His mercy, gives warnings.  He warned Cain before Cain murdered Able.  He gives a warning in Revelation to those who add or take from God's words (Revelation 22:18-19).  He warned Adam about the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

Are God's warnings always in vain?  No.  God forced Jonah to warn Nineveh. And guess what?  Nineveh, though unconverted and uncalled, repented.  No doubt they did not repent with the kind and depth of repentance required for conversion - they were probably just afraid of the punishment - but their repentance was sufficient to escape the punishment.  God spared them.  Jonah's work bore fruit.

Our peoples need a warning because many of them, the religious people who keep Sunday, Christmas, Easter, and use images in worship, do not know they are doing wrong!  They really need a warning to be able to make a choice.  They need to be told to believe the Bible and they need to be told where the answers are in the Bible.

Why does that matter with people who are mostly not called?  Unless they are called, they can't repent anyway, right?

But they still need a warning to know that God was fair to warn them.  They will think about that in the tribulation.  And what will they think?  Will they think, God is not fair, no one told me it was wrong to observe Christmas, or will they think, God warned me, I heard it through the Church of God, but I ignored the warning, so this is my own fault - I have to accept responsibility - God is fair?

Which response will increase their chances of true repentance and trust in God?

It is up to us to get the warning message out to about 500 million people who need to hear it before the tribulation begins.

I talk about this in my book, Preaching the Gospel, which you can access with the link in the upper right of this blog.  In fact, it was this very point that was the motivation and the start for that book and this blog.

I read a book called, The Faith and Doubt of Holocaust Survivors, and I document what I found in that book in Preaching the Gospel.

There is a saying, there is no atheist in a foxhole.  That is not always true.  In times of stress, suffering, and fear, some people can turn away from God. That is what the book showed.  Many Jews who suffered in the Nazi concentration camps became atheists.  That was the finding of research in that book.  Jews who believed and trusted God often lost whatever faith they had.  They never had a warning.  They thought they were right with God.

We must not let that happen to our peoples. We must not let God's reputation for fairness to warn fall to the ground because we fail to do our part.  We pray that God's name be hallowed.  This is how we do it.  If we love God we should glorify His name by giving a warning as God commands.  If we love our neighbors we should warn them for their good so they know God was fair to send us and empower us to warn them.  And  to do that we have to practice what we preach - we have to believe God more than man and believe the Bible - and not make an idol out of Mr. Armstrong and Mystery of the Ages as the religious people of the world make idols of their churches and wrong traditions.

Mr. Armstrong did indeed shift his personal focus and attention towards getting the Church ready - he thought the gospel warning might be near completion.  He didn't know that almost 40 years would pass after his death without the return of Christ.  The generation of Mr. Armstrong's time is mostly gone, and they never faced the tribulation.  The warning was not really for them, and Christ knew that, though Mr. Armstrong did not. But it is today's generation that really needs that warning because they WILL go through the tribulation, and we better deliver that warning if we hope to escape the tribulation ourselves.

The Church must not be like a social club.  We have a tremendous work to do, and we better have a sense of urgency to do it.


Friday, June 7, 2024

Pentecost - A Day of Many Lessons

God's festivals and holy days can teach many lessons - each one of them - and give us many reminders of principles we should be aware of.  Each day or feast can have multiple purposes in terms of lessons to learn and things to be reminded of.

Take the Feast of Tabernacles.  What lessons does it teach us and what does it represent?  It represents the millennium of course, the thousand-year reign of Christ and the saints on the earth.  In a larger sense, it represents the kingdom of God and the happiness that will exist in it for all eternity.  But also, there is a separate lesson in the Feast of Tabernacles.  We are to dwell in temporary dwellings - "booths" or "tabernacles" - during this time, and this teaches us the lesson that this life is temporary, that we are sojourners or pilgrims in the earth.  The lesson is the temporariness of this physical life we pass through compared with the eternity of our reward in the kingdom of God.

The weekly Sabbath, a feast of God (Leviticus 23:1-3), also has multiple purposes.  It is a necessary day of physical rest.  It gives us the opportunity once a week to draw closer to God and to each other.  We receive instruction from God and enjoy the fellowship of the brethren when we assemble on the Sabbath.  It represents the millennium, a one thousand year period to follow the six thousand years of the history of man ruling man as the Sabbath day follows the six days of the work week.  It represents release from bondage of Egypt and sin (Deuteronomy 5:15).  It points to God as Creator (Genesis 2:1-3, Exodus 20:8-11).  It is also a sign between us and God that identifies us to God, pointing us to God as Creator and showing God that we are His people who obey Him by keeping the Sabbath, and as such it is a separate covenant that sanctifies us (sets us apart) - as indeed keeping the Sabbath sets us apart from the world around us (Exodus 31:12-17).  The fourth commandment, to observe the Sabbath, is also a test commandment (Exodus 16:4-5).

Pentecost also teaches us or reminds us of many lessons.

Pentecost teaches us about the Holy Spirit, for it was on Pentecost that the Holy Spirit was given to the Church (Acts 2:1-4).  I have heard that Jewish tradition indicates that the ten commandments were given to Israel on the day of Pentecost, so Pentecost can remind us of or represent the law of God.  It marks the beginning of the New Testament Church of God, for the Church is defined as those who have God's Spirit (Romans 8:9).

Pentecost teaches us that we are firstfruits to God, that God is not trying to save everyone in this age, that we are the early harvest (Leviticus 23:16-17).

Very significantly, Pentecost shows the importance of the preaching of the gospel, for the first thing Peter and the apostles did after receiving the Holy Spirit was to preach the gospel to the crowds, and three thousand people were added to the Church in that one day (Acts 2:1-41).
Pentecost, through the number 50, can remind us of the blessings of the Jubilee year and can be associated with the many blessings of having God's Spirit.

Pentecost teaches the lesson of waiting - waiting for the promises of God.  The Holy Spirit was a promise of God through Christ to the disciples, and they were specifically told to wait - tarry - for the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4-5).  Often we have to wait for the promises of God.  This lesson of waiting on God is emphasized by counting days - counting to fifty (Leviticus 23:15-16).
"Wait on the Lord;
Be of good courage,
And He shall strengthen your heart;
Wait, I say, on the Lord!"
(Psalm 27:14).  

"Even the youths shall faint and be weary,
And the young men shall utterly fall,
But those who wait on the Lord
Shall renew their strength;
They shall mount up with wings like eagles,
They shall run and not be weary,
They shall walk and not faint"
(Isaiah 40:30-31).  

On the subject of waiting on God, see also Psalm 25:3, Psalm 37:7, Psalm 40:1, Psalm 62:1, Psalm 130:5-6, Proverbs 20:22, Isaiah 8:17, Isaiah 25:9, Isaiah 26:7, Isaiah 33:2, Isaiah 49:23, Isaiah 64:4, Jeremiah 14:22, Hosea 12:6, Luke 12:35-36, 1 Corinthians 1:7, Galatians 5:5, Philippians 3:20, 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, Hebrews 9:27-28, and Hebrews 11:8-10.  Association through the number 50 with the year of Jubilee also emphasizes waiting, for Israelites had to wait for the year of Jubilee to enjoy the blessings of returning to their land.

I recently thought of one more lesson that can be added to the lessons Pentecost can remind us of, but this lesson comes not from the Bible but from Church history and from Mr. Armstrong.  I have written about this before, but not from the perspective of something Pentecost can remind us of.

The lesson is that the Church of God can make errors in its doctrines and traditions, and when those errors are discovered they should be corrected and doctrine should be changed.

Mr. Armstrong and the Church of God used to keep Pentecost on Monday.  That was a tradition and doctrine of the Church.  But it was incorrect.  Pentecost should be kept on Sunday.  The error occurred because Mr. Armstrong misunderstood the counting of fifty and the Hebrew language concerning how that counting should take place.

But when the error was discovered, Mr. Armstrong made a doctrinal change.  He corrected the error, and from then on the Church observed it on the correct day, Sunday.

God is no doubt teaching us something here.  God could have prevented the error in the first place by inspiring Mr. Armstrong to understand the matter correctly from the beginning so we would always have observed it on the correct day, Sunday.  Or God could have allowed the error to continue to this day, and the Church might still be observing it on Monday.  But God allowed Mr. Armstrong to make the error, and then inspired Him to correct it.  This teaches us lessons that the Church and Mr. Armstrong were never infallible, that the Church and its leadership can make mistakes, that God sometimes allows mistakes in doctrine for a time, but also that we should correct our mistakes when we discover them according to God's word, the Bible.  The Bible must always take precedence over our traditions.  We must not be like the Pharisees who put their traditions over the word of God (Matthew 15:1-9, Mark 7:5-13).

When I think about the history of Pentecost being kept on a Monday in the Church of God, I often ask myself what I would have done if I were in the Church at that time and knew it should be kept on Sunday.

I was not in the Church of God when it was kept on Monday.  I don't even know what year that was changed.  I was probably a Plain Truth reader researching the Bible and proving the truth.  I had not yet come into the Church and been baptized.

But suppose I was in the Church of God, keeping the holy days with the Church, when Pentecost was kept on Monday. I probably would not have known it was wrong because I am not an expert in the Hebrew language and would not have discovered the error on my own.

But from what I have heard or read, some members of the Church did know the error and communicated with Mr. Armstrong about it.  He did not make the change right away, but eventually he did.

So I ask myself, if I were in the Church when it was keeping Pentecost on Monday, yet I knew it should be Sunday, what would I have done?  Would I keep it on Monday with the Church or by myself on Sunday?

It's always risky to try to answer the question, what would I have done, or, what would I do in given circumstances, because each decision has to be made when the question comes up.  I cannot make tomorrow's decisions today or yesterday's decisions that I never had to make when it was an issue.  It is easy to tell ourselves, if this situation came up, I would do the right thing.  Actually facing a trial and making the right decision is different than daydreaming about what we would actually do.

But I can still ask the question, knowing what I know now, what should I have done if I were in that situation?

As I understand it, what I should do in that situation is obey God and obey the Church, and do both without causing division, if possible.

We should respect and obey the leadership of the Church (Hebrews 13:17), except when that would conflict with obeying God.  In that case, we must obey God rather than man (Acts 4:18-20, Acts 5:29).

I think the best thing I could have done was to rest and assemble with the Church to keep Pentecost on Monday, yet also quietly without telling the brethren also rest and study the Bible on Pentecost Sunday.  I would rest on Pentecost Sunday as God commands, yet respect and obey the ministry by resting and assembling for Pentecost services on Monday with the rest of the Church of God.  And I would keep quiet about resting on Sunday - I would not create division.

I don't say that is the only right way to handle it - circumstances may differ from person to person - but I think, given what I know, that would have been the best way for me to handle it.

My main point is that God has given us the example of the Pentecost error in our time probably to teach us and remind us that we should follow the example of Mr. Armstrong and correct our errors in doctrine and tradition when we discover them.

This can be another lesson of Pentecost.

Sunday, May 26, 2024

The Statement, "Truth Never Changes", Should Set Off Alarm Bells!

Have you ever heard a speaker in the Church, perhaps giving a sermon or sermonette, say, "the truth never changes"?

What does that mean?

If you take it literally, it is so obvious that it carries no meaning.  It doesn't mean anything.

Of course truth doesn't change.  Circumstances might change.  But truth itself cannot change.   

So why does the speaker say this?  

It is often a verbal trick to mislead the listeners.  

It is a combination of a literal truth so obvious that it cannot be denied, thus establishing credibility, with an implication that is false and misleading.  The implication is that doctrine, in other words teaching, should never change.  And that implication is based on an assumption that our knowledge and understanding of the truth is always perfect and complete.  That is a false assumption.  God says our knowledge is not complete, but we know only in part.  "For we know in part and we prophesy in part" (1 Corinthians 13:9).  The history of the doctrines of the Church shows that the Church, and even Mr. Armstrong, made mistakes, and those mistakes should be discovered and corrected.  

Mr. Armstrong originally thought Pentecost was on Monday. and this was a doctrine of the Church.  Later, that doctrine was changed to reflect our new understanding that Pentecost is on Sunday.  Our doctrine changed.  Did the truth change?  Of course not.  The truth was always that Pentecost should be kept on Sunday, but our knowledge of which day is Pentecost was imperfect and incomplete.  This was a perfect example of God's teaching in the Bible that we know only in part, not completely or perfectly (1 Corinthians 13:9).

Therefore, while truth itself never changes, our knowledge of the truth and our doctrine based on our knowledge should and does change as we find and correct errors and as we grow in knowledge (2 Peter 3:18), letting God teach us new things as He wills.

Mr. Armstrong wrote an article titled, "Should We Listen to Others?", in the May 1960 issue of the Good News.  Dr. Meredith in a sermon once praised the article and mentioned that he might look into having it reprinted.  It is available today on the Internet.  You can find it in the HWA Library (  In the HWA library, search on the word, "listen".  In the article, scroll down to the section heading, "Didn't I say LISTEN?".

Anyway, in the article Mr. Armstrong discussed how a member should react if he finds something in the Bible he feels is contrary to the teaching of the Church.  Should he hide his eyes from it?  Mr. Armstrong says, no.  The article further explains, do not discuss it with other members, but take it to the ministry either by bringing it to your local pastor or writing to headquarters.  If you, the member, are right, "we" (Mr. Armstrong and church ministry) want to know and will correct the error in church doctrine for the whole Church, but if you, the member, are wrong,  it will be explained.

This is the process Mr. Armstrong taught in the Church!  That same process should be followed today, as I have been saying in this blog for years.  

Mr. Armstrong was willing to be corrected by members who found errors in church doctrine provided they did not cause division by discussing it with other members.  No doubt Mr. Armstrong remembered that he himself submitted doctrinal correction to Church of God Seventh Day when he was a lay member.  

There has been a saying in the Church for years, "correction in the Church is always from the top down, not from the bottom up".  That is true, but only in a certain sense.   Authority to make changes always flows from the top down.  Corrective punishment and enforcement come from the top down.  God's government is hierarchical, not a democracy.  But advice, counsel, information, and suggestions for correction and change can and sometimes should come from the bottom up.  The Bible teaches this in the example of Naaman, the Syrian army commander who came to Elisha to be healed of leprosy.  Naaman's servants gave good, corrective advice to Naaman when Naaman didn't want to do what Elisha told him to do, and Naaman heeded his servants, and God blessed this corrective advice from the bottom up with a miracle of healing.  I have written about this before in this blog.  You can read the account in the Bible in 2 Kings 5:1-14.

It is not wrong to suggest changes in doctrine to church authority in a proper and respectful way without causing division.

Do not be misled by the statement, "truth doesn't change".  Truth does not change, but our understanding of the truth, and therefore doctrine, does change as we correct errors and learn additional knowledge from the Bible we did not have before.

We must let God teach us new things we did not know before.

Who will go to a place of safety?  Those who have an open door for effectively and powerfully preaching the gospel and getting a warning out to the hundreds of millions of people who need it.  Those who hold fast to the way of life taught and practiced by Mr. Armstrong, a way of learning and practicing new knowledge from God, a way of life of admitting error when corrected and being willing to let God teach us new things from His word, the Bible, as He wills.

If we say that God taught us through Mr. Armstrong and we should learn from Mr. Armstrong's teachings, we should be like Mr. Armstrong in learning new knowledge, for Christ said that he who is perfectly trained will be like his teacher (Luke 6:40).

Many assume that if they are just zealous enough for the truth they know they will go to a place of safety.  That is not true.

Laodiceans are lukewarm.  They will not go to a place of safety.  We must not be lukewarm.  We must be zealous, the opposite of lukewarm.  But that is not enough.

It is not just Laodecians in the Church who will go through the tribulation.  There are seven messages to seven churches in Revelation chapters 2 and 3.  Seven spiritual conditions are described, and Christ repeats in every message, "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches" (Revelation 2:7, see also Revelation 2:11, Revelation 2:17, Revelation 2:29, Revelation 3:6, Revelation 3:13, and Revelation 3:22).

Christ doesn't just say, look at the message you think applies to you.  We should look at all the messages.  Each message describes the predominant characteristic of one of the seven eras of the Church, but you can have individuals in any condition in any era - Mr. Armstrong taught this also.

And only Philadelphians are promised protection in a place of safety.  Not individuals in the other six conditions described.

So it is not just lukewarm Laodiceans who will go through the tribulation.  You can be zealous, red-hot on fire, and not a Laodicean, but not be a Philadelphian either.  If you are in one of the other five spiritual conditions described, you are not promised protection.

You must not be lukewarm.  But you must hold fast to what you have been given through the example and teaching of Mr. Armstrong who said, don't believe me, believe God.  He was always willing to learn new things from God, and that is part of what made him a Philadelphian, and we must do likewise.  And the evidence will be an open door for finishing the work.

If you are not willing to learn and practice new knowledge from the Bible as Mr. Armstrong was willing, and you do not have an open door for POWERFULLY getting the warning message out, forget about the place of safety.  Don't kid yourself.  You are not a Philadelphian like Mr. Armstrong.  You are going through the tribulation if you are alive when it comes and you haven't repented, I don't care how hot you are for the truth you have.  Perhaps God will make an exception in your case and protect you anyway even though you are not a Philadelphian, but I wouldn't count on it.  You have no such promise to claim.

Lukewarmness is not the only danger.  You must be willing to learn new knowledge from God and let Him correct your doctrines.  Then, God will give you an open door, not a token door, for getting the message out, and that door will open wide in God's time.

If you can't do that, then stop thinking about the place of safety.  That promise is not for you.  Instead, start thinking about how you will have the spiritual strength to endure the suffering and martyrdom of the tribulation and repent during the tribulation, so you can be saved.

Friday, April 12, 2024

Passover 2024

Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread are the beginning of the holy day year - the first of the annual festivals and holy days God ordained both for ancient Israel and for the Church of God today.

A holy day is an annual sabbath day.  No work is to be done on a holy day.  A festival day is not necessarily a holy day.  Passover day is a festival day, a feast day, but not a holy day.  Work may be done on Passover day.  Passover is to be observed after the beginning of Passover day, that is, just after sunset the night before.

The Days of Unleavened Bread are seven days in which all leaven is to be avoided and we are to eat unleavened bread on each of those seven days.  The first and last days of unleavened bread are holy days - annual sabbath days - in which no work is to be done and we are to assemble, as possible, for services.

These days are rich in meaning for the Church of God.

The Modern History of these Days in the Church of God

As we keep these days it would be good to take a moment to reflect on the history of the Church in modern times and our individual personal history of how we came to know about these days and their meaning.

The history of the modern keeping of these days for us begins with Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong and is strongly tied to his keeping of the Sabbath.  Those of you who have read Mr. Armstrong's autobiography are probably familiar with the story, or much of it.  Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong were Sunday-keepers, though Mr. Armstrong was not very religious.  Mrs. Armstrong learned about the seventh-day Sabbath, and she accepted it and told Mr. Armstrong about it.  He did not accept it at first, but felt challenged to research the question in the Bible.  After research and much personal struggle, he also accepted the Sabbath.

But in his research he also learned about the annual feast and holy days.

He began to fellowship with the Church of God Seventh Day, which kept the Sabbath.  At that time, Mr. Armstrong was only a lay member of the Church, not an apostle or even a minister.  The Church of God Seventh day kept the Sabbath and Passover, and they understood the meaning of the both.  But, although they knew of the existence of the annual holy days, they did not keep them.  They did not think they were required.  It was not their tradition to observe them.

But Mr. Armstrong, in his research on the Sabbath, discovered that not only is the Church required to observe the weekly Sabbath but all the annual feast and holy days also.  So he and his family observed those days though the Church of God he fellowshipped with did not.  He followed the Bible more than Church tradition or authority.  He obeyed God rather than man (Acts 5:29).

At first, he did not know the meaning of the annual days, only that God commanded us to observe them.  So he observed them without knowing their meaning.  But after a number of years of obedience, God revealed to Mr. Armstrong the meaning of these days.  He revealed it, not through dreams or direct revelation or prophetic messages, but through the Bible and opening Mr. Armstrong's mind to understand what the Bible said on those subjects.  God helped Mr. Armstrong to understand the Bible because Mr. Armstrong obeyed God (Psalm 111:10).

Later, after Mr. Armstrong was ordained as a minister, God gave him an open door to take the truth to the world, but apart from the Church of God Seventh Day.  God gave Mr. Armstrong an open door (Revelation 3:7-8), but He did not give an open door to Church of God Seventh Day.

Why?  Church of God Seventh Day did not receive new truth.  They held fast to their traditions and were not willing to learn new knowledge from God and His word, the Bible.  They put the Church first and the Bible second.  Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong put the Bible first over the traditions of the Church.

God was not able to use the Church of God Seventh Day to go to the public and say, "Don't believe us, don't believe any man or tradition, believe God, believe your Bible", because they themselves did not practice that.  But Mr. Armstrong did practice that as a way of life and he could say that.  He practiced what he preached.  So God could use him and did.

God used Mr. Armstrong to raise up the Philadelphian era of the Church (Revelation 3:7-13).  That era was made up of many people who heard Mr. Armstrong on the radio say, don't believe me, believe God.  They checked up in their Bibles and found the truth.  They were willing to believe the truth they found in the Bible, new truth for them, more than any man, more than their churches, more than their traditions.

Since God opened Mr. Armstrong's mind to understand the meaning of the annual feast days and holy days in response to his obedience and willingness to learn new truth from the Bible, Mr. Armstrong shared that knowledge with the Philadelphian era of the Church God was raising up through him.

That is how we understand these days today.

That is a brief history of how we as a church understand these days.  But in addition, each of you has his or her own personal history of how you came to understand these days and their meaning.  Some of you may share that history in conversation during the Night to Be Much Observed.

What is the meaning of each of these spring days?

The Meaning of Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread

Passover represents the sacrifice of Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for our sins so we can be forgiven and saved.  The lamb that was killed in ancient Israel represents Christ.  Church of God Seventh Day understood this, and they kept the Passover.  

The bread and wine we take at Passover represent the broken body and shed blood of Jesus Christ.  The wine represents the blood of Christ and his death, and His death paid the death penalty for our sins so we do not have to permanently die in the lake of fire and cease to exist forever.  The unleavened bread we take at Passover represents the broken body of Christ and His suffering, and His suffering pays the penalty of suffering we incur by our sins so we do not have to continue to suffer - it enables us to be healed both spiritually and physically of our spiritual and physical ailments.

I do not know how much Church of God Seventh Day understood about physical healing, but Mr. Armstrong understood it and taught it to the Church.

Days begin and end at sunset.  We observe Passover shortly after sunset when Passover day begins.  We drink the wine and eat unleavened bread in remembrance of Christ's sacrifice for us, and we meditate on the love of Christ and God the Father for us.  We also wash each other's feet, in accordance with the example God gives us in the Bible (John 13:1-15), and this represents the humble services we should give to one another.

Following Passover, we observe seven days of unleavened bread.  Prior to this, we are to get all leavening and leavened products out of our house, and this includes cleaning our dwelling space of bread crumbs.  The principle forms of leavening are yeast, baking soda, and baking powder, but there may be others.

For seven days we avoid eating leavened bread or anything containing leavening.  We also make sure we eat some unleavened bread each day.

Leavened bread and leavening represent sin during this time (because leavening puffs up).  When we are diligent to avoid leavening during these days, we are reminded of the diligence with which we should put sin out of our lives.  Unleavened bread represents the righteousness of Christ, which we are to put into our lives.

On the first and last days of unleavened bread we assemble for services.  The first and last days of unleavened bread are also holy days and we cannot work on those days.

The overall meaning of the Days of Unleavened Bread is putting sin out of our lives and the righteousness of Christ into our lives.  He is our perfect teacher and example.

At the beginning of the Days of Unleavened Bread we keep the Night to Be Much Observed.  This commemorates ancient Israel leaving Egypt.  Egypt represents sin, and Israel coming out of Egypt represents our coming out of sin.  Israel did not come out of Egypt the same night the death angel killed the firstborn of the Egyptians - they came out the following night.  God commands this night be observed (Exodus 12:41-42) but does not say how to observe it.  The Church has made the judgment to observe it with a special meal in groups with the brethren.

Spiritual and Physical Healing

In past posts I have addressed the subject of spiritual healing.

The Bible plainly states that by Christ's stripes, the beating He took, we are healed.  "But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, And by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned, every one, to his own way; And the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:5-6).  My question is, does this refer to physical healing, spiritual healing, or both?  I think the answer is, both.

This may take some thought.

Mr. Armstrong taught, and emphasized, physical healing.  But I know of no statement by Mr. Armstrong that excludes spiritual healing.  Mr. Armstrong had a style of teaching that placed emphasis on those things his readers and listeners did not know.  Most people did not know about physical healing, so Mr. Armstrong placed emphasis on this, even to the point of not teaching much, or anything, about spiritual healing.

Yet, I think it likely that Mr. Armstrong, if he were asked, would have acknowledged that spiritual healing is included.  Perhaps he even said this in the presence of some long-time members still alive today.  Perhaps someone might remember.

Does the Bible use the term "heal" in reference to spiritual healing?  Yes.  "I will heal their backsliding, I will love them freely, For My anger has turned away from him" (Hosea 14:4).  Backsliding refers to spiritual sin, not physical sin, so the Bible can and does use the term "heal" in reference to our spiritual sins and flaws.

Consider the logic of using "healing" in reference to physical and spiritual problems.  They are the same.  The same logic that applies to the doctrine of physical healing applies also to spiritual healing.

Let's start with the need for healing.  It is obvious that we have a need for physical healing when we are physically sick or injured or disabled.  But we have a need for spiritual healing as well.  We have human nature.  Our character needs to be cleaned up.  We need God to shape our character to become like Jesus Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit, which only God can give.

Consider our fate if God only saved us from the death penalty of being burned up in the lake of fire and gave us eternal life, but did nothing to change our sinful nature and character.  The shed blood of Jesus Christ, His death in other words, pays the penalty of death so we can live forever.  But if our sinful character and nature remained the same, we would continue to sin for eternity and bring misery on ourselves and others forever.  We could be healed physically, we could be saved from death, but continue to be plagued by our sinful nature.

When we sin physically against our bodies,  by breaking the laws of physical health, by smoking for example or by eating unhealthy foods, we incur a penalty of physical illness or injury.  Jesus Christ paid the penalty for that by suffering in our place.  By his stripes - the beating he suffered - we are healed.  He suffered in our place so we do not have to continue to suffer.  Thus, our physical healing is made possible.  Our physical healing is the result of God forgiving our physical sins of violating the laws of health.  This is what Mr. Armstrong taught us and emphasized.  The Bible also teaches us this.

When we sin spiritually, we incur the death penalty.  "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).  Is this the only penalty for spiritual sin?  No.  This is what many people miss.  There are at least two penalties for spiritual sin.

When we sin, we incur the death penalty.  But also something happens to our minds.  Our character becomes corrupted.  We begin to acquire a sinful nature, the habit of sin.  And sin brings suffering.  It robs us of happiness.  This is a penalty for spiritual sin as much as death is a penalty for spiritual sin, as much as physical sickness is a penalty for broken health laws.

It might help us to understand when we consider the penalty that Lucifer and the demons have paid and are paying for their sins.  Death, the cessation of existence, does not apply to them.  Angels cannot die.  What is the penalty for sin that Satan and his demons pay?

Mr. Armstrong stated that their penalty is loss of opportunity, and that is certainly true.  But it is more than that.  Satan and the demons are not happy.  They are miserable.

Sin brings misery and suffering.  It brings conflict, war, destruction, and pain.  It brings loss of happiness.

When a wife receives notice from the police that her husband has been murdered, her suffering is mental and it is real.  When a couple goes through a divorce, the suffering is real though it may be only mental, and it is the result of sin.

And sin causes us to develop a sinful nature.  Sin becomes a habit.  Part of our sinful nature comes from Satan's influence, temptations, and broadcasting (Ephesians 2:2), but part comes from our choice to sin and what that choice does to our character.

When Lucifer sinned, something happened to his mind.  It was corrupted.  He developed an evil nature.  He sinned more and more, and that sin brought misery to himself and others.  When he embraced thoughts of vanity, his wisdom became corrupted.  "Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; You corrupted your wisdom for the sake of your splendor" (Ezekiel 28:17).

When Adam sinned, something happened to his mind also.  He too began to develop a sinful nature.  The Church has taught this.

And a sinful nature causes sin, and sin causes suffering.  It causes death too, but also suffering.

An evil nature that tends to sin, and the suffering that results from sin, are a penalty of human sin as much as death itself.

The shed blood of Jesus Christ, represented by Passover wine, represents Christ paying the death penalty for our sins so we can be forgiven and not have to die and cease to exist in the lake of fire.  The suffering He endured in the form of beating, represented by broken unleavened bread at Passover services, paid the penalty for our physical violations of the laws of health so we don't have to continue to suffer from sickness.

But just as Christ's suffering paid the penalty of suffering from sickness and injury so we can be physically healed, so his suffering paid the penalty of suffering from the spiritual effects of spiritual sin that comes from our sinful nature so we do not have to suffer eternally from sin and the consequences of sin.  In the kingdom of God we will not be fighting, destroying, and making ourselves and everyone around us miserable, because we will be spiritually healed and will no longer have a sinful nature.

The suffering of Christ, represented by the broken bread at Passover service, makes possible both our physical healing (removing the suffering of sickness) and our spiritual healing (removing the suffering brought on by sin).  The suffering of Christ makes possible our physical and spiritual healing so we don't have to continue to suffer.  Christ suffered in our place, paying the penalty of suffering so we don't have to continue to suffer, whether that suffering comes from physical sin or spiritual sin.

Mr. Armstrong said in his autobiography that his repentance was the bitterest pill he ever had to swallow, but it was the only medicine that brought real healing.  I am not quoting, because I am paraphrasing from memory.  But I do remember he used the term healing.  So even Mr. Armstrong understood that the word healing can apply to spiritual problems, and that is the context in which I am writing here.

How should we respond to this?

We should acknowledge to ourselves and to God that we are spiritually sick, that we need spiritual healing, that we need our character healed and we need God to give us His perfect, righteous, holy character, that we need to be made like Christ, and that Christ by his suffering paid the penalty of our suffering that results from both spiritual and physical sin.  We need to thank God and Christ for their sacrifice that enables us to be spiritually healed so we don't have to suffer for eternity from sin and from a sinful nature.

Self-Examination in Preparation for Passover

Prior to Passover, we should examine ourselves, looking at our spiritual condition (1 Corinthians 11:26-32).  The purpose here is not to determine if we are worthy to keep the Passover - none of us are worthy in that sense.  The purpose is to be able to keep Passover in a worthy manner.

Here are some scriptural passages I look to to examine myself, and these might be helpful to others.

Love God with all your being, the first great commandment (Deuteronomy 6:5, 11:1, Matthew 22:36-38, Mark 12:29-30, Luke 10:25-28).

Love your neighbor as yourself, the second great commandment (Leviticus 19:18, Matthew 19:16-19, Matthew 22:36-40, Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-28, Romans 13:8-10, Galations 5:14, James 2:8-13, Luke 10:30-37).

The three weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faith (Matthew 23:23).

The ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17, Deuteronomy 5:5-22).

The sermon on the mount (Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7, Luke 6:20-49, 11:1-13, 12:1-53, 13:23-30).

The love chapter (1 Corinthians 13:1-13).

The messages to the seven churches of Revelation (Revelation chapters 2 and 3).

Bring every thought into obedience to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:4-6).

Whatever is good, think on that (Philippians 4:8).

Be a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1-2).

Support the work of warning Israel of the tribulation to come (Ezekiel 3:17-21, Ezekiel 33:1-20, Proverbs 24:11-12).

Trust in God (Proverbs 3:5-6, Jeremiah 17:7-8).

Trust not in man (Psalm 146:3-4, Jeremiah 17:5-6).

Overcome Satan with prayer, fasting, the sacrifice of Christ, and our work of testimony (Leviticus 23:27-32, Leviticus 16:20-34, Revelation 20:1-3. Matthew 4:1-11, Luke 4:1-13, Matthew 17:14-21, Mark 9:17-29, Revelation 12:11).

Violence in entertainment (Isaiah 33:14-16).

Humility (Luke 18:9-14, James 4:5-10).

Practice mercy and truth (Proverbs 16:6).

God's word sets a high standard, but eternal life is worth it.  I myself struggle with many of the points above, and not always successfully.  I fall short many times, but I am determined to keep trying in this life till I die or Christ comes.

When we examine ourselves, we do not have to focus only on the negatives of our sins and faults.  We can also consider our good points, and we can consider that God looks at not only our works but also our faith (James 2:24, Galatians 3:24-29, John 7:38, John 11:25).

For those who struggle with sin, parts of the seventh and eighth chapters of Romans can be encouraging because they show that Paul also struggled to overcome his human nature (Romans 7:4-25, 8:1-17).

Abraham was justified by faith, and God encourages us to look to Abraham's example (Romans 4:3, James 2:23, Genesis 15:6, Isaiah 51:1-2).

I also encourage everyone, in their self-examination, to consider the things I wrote in my last two posts.  We need to glorify God and obey Him by putting Him first in our beliefs and faith, believing what God says in the Bible more than men in the Church, if they differ, and not making idols out of the Church or its leaders.  But also do not cause division by criticizing or contradicting the ministry and leadership.

I hope and pray that everyone has a successful and spiritually profitable Passover, Night to Be Much Observed, and Days of Unleavened Bread.

Thursday, March 28, 2024

Believe God More than Man

Faith is a form of worship towards God.  So is absolute trust in God.  We can trust human beings only to a limited degree, but we should trust God 100%.  Only God does not make mistakes.  Only God cannot lie.  Only God cannot sin.

I know of no scripture that teaches us faith towards man, any man, even a man in the Church.  In fairness, there is a verse that teaches faith in God's prophets, but the context indicates it is referring to prophecies those prophets deliver from God, and the primary application of this would be that we believe the writings of God's prophets, that is, the Bible (2 Chronicles 20:20).

Faith in God, believing what God says, is also a matter of the law, for it is one of the three weightier matters of the law, along with justice and mercy (Matthew 23:23).  My understanding of this is that lack of faith, disbelief towards God, is a violation of God's law, and since sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4), unbelief is sin.  To disbelieve what God says in the Bible is therefore sin, and since the Days of Unleavened Bread remind us to put sin out of our lives, and since we are to examine ourselves before Passover (1 Corinthians 11:28, 2 Corinthians 13:5), our faith is something we should think about when we examine ourselves.  Do we believe what God says?  Specifically, for the purposes of this post, do we believe God more than man, even more than men in the Church?

Ancient Israel which came out of Egypt was unable to enter the promised land because of unbelief, and their unbelief is equated with disobedience (Hebrews 3:12-19).

We can be tested on this anytime we read something in the Bible that seems to contradict, or add to, what the Church of God, its ministers, its leadership, its traditions, and Mr. Armstrong himself teach.  Of course, in most cases we may be misunderstanding something, and a minister can explain it to us.  We find out that the Church is not wrong.  We learn from the Church.

But not always.  It can be that even after discussion and study, we still see something different in the Bible than what the Church teaches.  We may still be wrong but not see it.  God gives understanding to each of us individually in various amounts and on various topics.  But we have to make our choice based on what we know, not on what we don't know.

Who do we believe more, God or the Church?

God sometimes tests us on this.  He tested Loma Armstrong.  He tested Herbert W. Armstrong.  He tested Church of God Seventh Day.  He tested a Sunday-keeping man who had a gift of healing who taught Mr. Armstrong about healing.

Guess who passed the test and who failed.  Who believed God more than man and who believed man more than God?

Read Mr. Armstrong's autobiography.  Again I say, read Mr. Armstrong's autobiography.

It started with Loma Armstrong.  Someone pointed out to her the passages in the Bible that indicate we are to keep the seventh-day Sabbath.  She believed what God said more than the traditional churches she was always a part of, more than the ministers and men in the churches, more than her traditions.  She passed the test.

She took the new truth she had discovered to Mr. Armstrong.  At first, he did not accept it, but he had a willingness to believe the Bible and he studied the issue.  Eventually, he also believed God more than man, more than the churches, more than tradition.  He believed what he saw in the Bible.  He therefore also passed the test.  He had faith in God.  He began to keep the Sabbath.

In his autobiography, Mr. Armstrong described a man who kept Sunday, but had a gift of healing, and Mr. Armstrong learned about healing from this man.  Later, Mr. Armstrong taught this man, from the Bible, about the Sabbath.  But this man did not accept what the Bible said.  He clung to his traditions and to his faith in men in the churches.  In effect, he disbelieved God in order to keep his traditions and his faith in what he regarded as holy men of God in the traditional churches who kept Sunday.  He failed the test.

Results were immediate.  He lost the gift of healing.  God no longer answered his prayers.  He rejected God and God rejected him.

God used Mr. Armstrong to test Church of God Seventh Day on the issues of the identity of the lost tribes of Israel and, I believe, on the need to keep the annual holy days.  The leadership of that church, and most of its members, also failed the test.  They did not believe God regarding the identity of Israel and the keeping of the holy days.

The result?  God could not use that church to do the Philadelphian work.  He did not give that church an open door for preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning.  He gave that open door to Mr. and Mrs. Armstrong.  They led the Philadelphia work because they were willing to believe what God said.

When Mr. Armstrong began to preach on radio, he told his listeners, in effect, don't believe me, don't believe any minister, believe God, believe what you see for yourself in your own Bible.  He had the right to say this, more than Church of God Seventh Day.  Why?  Because he had done what he told others to do.  He practiced what he preached.  God had tested him, and he proved to God that he was willing to believe God more than man, even under difficult circumstances.

Sometimes we must pass the same test.

Not only did Church of God Seventh Day and the Sunday-keeping man who taught Mr. Armstrong about healing fail the test of believing God, they made idols out of their ministers, churches, and traditions, for they had faith in them more than in God, putting them first before God.

God must come first, and anything we place before God in importance becomes an idol for us.

Likewise today.

Last post I talked about those who make an idol of Mr. Armstrong by not being willing to learn new knowledge from the Bible that Mr. Armstrong did not teach.  But there are leaders and ministers today who make idols of themselves, not Mr. Armstrong, by teaching the members to believe their interpretation of the Bible rather than letting the Bible interpret itself.

Their reasoning goes like this.  Christ is the Head of the Church (Ephesians 5:23).  Christ, through the Holy Spirit, leads the leadership and ministry of the Church of God to correctly understand the Bible and doctrine.  Christ has appointed men to offices in the Church of God to keep unity and protect the membership from false doctrines (Ephesians 4:11-14).  We are all to speak the same thing (1 Corinthians 1:10).

Therefore, according to their reasoning, because Christ leads the ministry in their interpretation of the Bible, their interpretation is correct, and we should believe the interpretation and doctrines of the ministers more than what we think we see in the Bible for ourselves.  If we think we see something the Church does not, we must assume we are making a mistake, and we should believe what the Church teaches.  We should trust Christ to lead His Church.

That can sound good on the surface, but it leaves out the truth that ministers do not always follow Christ, even in the true Church of God, even among those God works with.

The Sunday-keeping man, whom God worked with by answering his prayers for healing, did not follow Christ regarding the Sabbath.  The Church of God Seventh Day, which Mr. Armstrong identified as Sardis, was part of the true Church of God, but their leadership and ministry (most, anyway) did not follow Christ regarding the identity of Israel and the need to keep the holy days.

Ministers and leaders of Church of God fellowships are human.  They can and do make mistakes.  They can and do sin.  Christ does not always force them to submit to His word regarding doctrine.

If we find something in the Bible different from the fellowship we attend, we should believe what we see in the Bible but without causing division.  Keep it between you and God.  You may discuss it with the ministry in private or write to the Church, but do not discuss it or promote it with members.

Don't make an idol out of the Church, its leadership, or its ministry.  Put God first, trust Him and His word, and believe and put your faith in God.