Friday, August 31, 2018

In Defense of New Knowledge

Sometimes members of the Church of God who listen to the sermons of their pastors and teachers feel that they need to hear something new and interesting. They feel bored with sermons that only remind them of things they already know.

Is it wrong to want to hear something new? Does it indicate "itching ears"?

The "itching ears" metaphor appears in 2 Timothy 4:3-4: "For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables". In this context, it indicates ears that are itching to hear something false, something wrong, something that is heresy - not just something new. It is thus a derogatory metaphor, indicating a desire to hear something wrong, something that is not sound doctrine.

But that is not always the case with a desire to hear or learn something new.

There is another Bible passage that refers to the people's desire to hear something new. "For all the Athenians and the foreigners who were there spent their time in nothing else but either to tell or to hear some new thing" (Acts 17:21).

Why do people want to hear new things?

Some might say, it is carnal human nature and it is wrong. But is it?

If you look at the surrounding context of the passage I just quoted, and the results, you will see that Paul made use of his audience's desire to hear something new to preach the truth of the gospel to them (Acts 17:22-33) - and it bore some good fruit. "However, some men joined him and believed, among them Dionysius the Areopagite, a woman named Damaris, and others with them" (Acts 17:34).

People heard the gospel because they wanted to hear something new. And some of them believed the gospel because they were willing to learn something new.

Some readers may remember a book that was popular many years ago called, Future Shock, by Alvin Toffler. The main theme of the book is how the pace of change in society creates stress.

But in discussing change, the book points out that we all need a balance between things that are familiar and things that are new in order for us to be happy and function well and be in good mental health.

If we experience too much change too fast, our brains have difficultly processing all the new information and we become stressed, and that stress reduces our mental efficiency, can cause depression, and can even increase the risk of physical sickness.

On the other hand, if we do not have enough new things in our life, if everything is always the same, we can become bored, and the boredom itself can be stressful and harmful.

So we need a balance in our lives between things old and new, between familiar knowledge and experience and new knowledge and experience.

Christ said, "Therefore every scribe instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure things new and old" (Matthew 13:52).

God made the human mind to need that balance between old and new. God gave man a sense of curiosity and joy in learning new things. And the desire to learn new things is not wrong.

Also, as brought out in Future Shock, that balance between old and new, between the familiar and change, is not the same for everyone. As individuals, we vary in our need for and tolerance of change. Some people handle change better than others.

Individuals who like a lot of change are often seeking new experiences. They never vacation to the same place twice. They change jobs frequently, and sometimes even change careers. They change apartments or houses frequently, sometimes moving to different parts of the country.

Others who like more stability - more of the old and familiar - tend to live in the same place, keep the same job, and take the same vacations year after year.

Good speakers in the Church of God understand the principle of giving both old and new in their messages. The main point of their sermon or sermonette will be the old and familiar sound doctrine we need to be reminded of, yet they will also find ways to make it new and interesting. They may use scriptures and examples from the Bible that most of their listeners may not be familiar with to support the doctrine. They may give historical background not commonly known. They may illustrate the application of the doctrine with examples from their personal lives or the lives of others that are new to their listeners. But they find ways to make the reminder of old doctrine new and interesting in some way.

What does the history of the Church of God tell us about this? Does it teach the need for new knowledge, or does it teach the need to be reminded of the knowledge we already have?

The history of the Church of God teaches both.

The history of the Church certainly teaches that we have a need to be reminded of the truths we already know. We saw that lesson after Mr. Armstrong died. Many COG members quickly abandoned the sound doctrine they used to believe. They needed to be reminded of the sound doctrine they had and the proofs in the Bible of those doctrines. But they either didn't have that reminder in their instruction and their own studies, or they didn't believe the scriptures that proved those doctrines. They fell away from the truth.

This also occurred with many in the Church of God in the late first century and in the second century.

But the history of the Church also shows the need for new knowledge and the need for people - members of the Church and new prospective members coming into the Church - to receive and accept new knowledge and to grow in grace and knowledge (2 Peter 3:18).

Those being called by God have to respond to that call by being willing to learn the new and surprising things God has to teach them as they learn the truth for the first time.

The most obvious application is the growth of the first century Church of God as well as the Church in modern times. Everyone coming into the Church of God has to be willing to learn a lot of truth they didn't know before, a lot of new knowledge. Most of us have heard stories of old timers describe what it felt like to hear Mr. Armstrong expound on the meaning of the holy days and the plan of God at their first Feast of Tabernacles, and how they were astounded at the new truth they heard - it was a life-changing experience, one they never forgot.

Yet, for everyone who heard Mr. Armstrong, or the first century apostles, preach the gospel and believed it, though it was new to them, there were probably many who rejected the truth because it seemed new and strange to them - they wanted to just stick to the things they thought they knew. Because the truth was new to them, it seemed strange, and they rejected it. "I have written for him the great things of My law, But they were considered a strange thing" (Hosea 8:12).

But has this been a problem only for those outside the Church?

No, it can be a problem even inside the Church of God. That also is something the history of the Church teaches us.

Some of that history is recorded in Mr. Armstrong's autobiography.

Mr. Armstrong describes his experiences with the Church of God Seventh Day, with which he fellowshipped and worked. Mr. Armstrong was learning many new doctrines from the Bible, some of which the Church of God Seventh Day had (the Sabbath, tithing, clean and unclean meats), and some of which they did not have (the holy days, the identity of the lost ten tribes of Israel). Mr. Armstrong shared the new things he learned with the Church at that time, but they rejected them. They only wanted to keep the knowledge they already had, but not learn anything new.

It was not a reminder of old knowledge they needed but instruction in new knowledge. But they were not willing to learn.

Mr. Armstrong later identified them as the Sardis Church, a Church of God that had a name that they were alive, but were dead. "And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, 'These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: "I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead" ' " (Revelation 3:1).

The time had come for the gospel to be preached to the world, but God could not use the Church of God Seventh Day to do it. Why? Two reasons.

One, God wanted the new knowledge Mr. Armstrong was learning from the Bible to be included in that gospel message, and since the Church of God Seventh Day refused to learn it, they could not preach it.

Two, and more importantly I think, God was not willing to use someone to preach the gospel who did not practice what they preach.

When we go to the public and preach the truth to them, we are asking them to be willing to learn new knowledge from the Bible. But we must have the same attitude that we want them to have. If we ask others to learn something new, we have to continue to be willing to learn something new ourselves. If we close our minds to new knowledge, then preach to the public things that are new to them, asking them to be willing to learn new knowledge and not be prejudiced against it, we are hypocrites for asking people to do what we are not willing to do ourselves.

So God could not use Church of God Seventh Day. Instead, He used Herbert W. Armstrong, a man who loved the truth, all the truth, even truth that was new to him.

And Mr. Armstrong retained that love of new knowledge all his life.

Today, in the Church, if the ministry does learn something new from the Bible, they often tend to downplay the newness of it, as if they are ashamed to be teaching something new. They will sometimes call it a "clarification".

But Mr. Armstrong was not like that.

When he learned and taught something new, he loudly proclaimed it as new. He would say, here is new knowledge, brethren. He often spoke of Church of God Seventh Day and their rejection of new knowledge, and he taught that we must be different.

When we hear something new, the criteria of whether it is good or bad, true or false, is not whether it is new or old, but whether it is taught by God in His word, the Bible, or not.

That is the criteria the Bereans used when they heard something new. They didn't reject it because it was new. Rather, they searched the scriptures to find out if it was true. "Then the brethren immediately sent Paul and Silas away by night to Berea. When they arrived, they went into the synagogue of the Jews. These were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men" (Acts 17:10-12).

In searching the scriptures, they were able to determine that the new things Paul and Silas taught were true, and they believed the gospel.

If we are not willing to learn new knowledge and be corrected by the Bible, as we teach the public to be willing to do, it is unlikely God will open the door to preaching the gospel very much for us. He is more likely to reject us as He rejected Church of God Seventh Day for the same reason and give the open door to someone else.

There is still a great work to be done before the end, and God will empower those who are willing to believe and be corrected by and be taught by the Bible to do that great work.

Let's not be prejudiced against things that are new just because they are new, but let's all let the Bible be our guide in determining what is true, whether old or new.