Thursday, January 21, 2021

Departing from Mr. Armstrong's Way of Life

History repeats itself in the Church of God.  Many COG groups in the past have taken the position of not being willing to change or add to any doctrines taught by Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong.  But these groups are not consistent.  The position they take is self-contradictory.

Someone might say, "Why be critical?  Let's all love one another and be positive."

But is God critical in the Bible?  Are the prophecies in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the minor prophets only on happy subjects?  Or does God sometimes sternly warn and correct and command us also to warn?  What about the curses in Deuteronomy?

Warnings about sin can be done in love.

Someone who loves you can warn you.  Warnings are not always a sign of contention and animosity.

I am trying to continue to post about general principles, letting the reader judge if these things apply to any particular group.  And COG readers have a right to judge those things they must judge in order to make the decisions God has given them the responsibility for making.  COG members must sometimes decide whether to support a group or not, and those members are right to research and discuss their decisions and seek counsel, provided they do not create dissent and division within the group they attend.  The Internet is not a single fellowship.  It is a forum that crosses all group boundaries.  Those who are not trying to decide where to attend - those who are content where they are - do not have to go to the Internet to research all the groups and to consider arguments for different points of view.  I have never advocated members criticizing their own leadership and ministers in conversation with brethren of their own fellowship at Sabbath services.

But the Internet is different.  It is a place where those who have serious concerns can discuss their concerns and share advice and counsel without disturbing the peace and unity of members in their own fellowship.

Those who engage in Internet discussions who see inconsistencies or problems in certain doctrines or policies of groups have the right to discuss those problems with those who must make the decisions to join or support a group, or not.

"As iron sharpens iron, So a man sharpens the countenance of his friend" (Proverbs 27:17).

"Then those who feared the Lord spoke to one another, And the Lord listened and heard them; So a book of remembrance was written before Him For those who fear the Lord And who meditate on His name. 'They shall be Mine,' Says the Lord of hosts, 'On the day that I make them My jewels. And I will spare them As a man spares his own son who serves him.' Then you shall again discern Between the righteous and the wicked, Between one who serves God And one who does not serve Him" (Malachi 3:16-18).

"He who corrects a scoffer gets shame for himself, And he who rebukes a wicked man only harms himself. Do not correct a scoffer, lest he hate you; Rebuke a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; Teach a just man, and he will increase in learning" (Proverbs 9:7-9).

"Deliver those who are drawn toward death, And hold back those stumbling to the slaughter. If you say, 'Surely we did not know this,' Does not He who weighs the hearts consider it? He who keeps your soul, does He not know it? And will He not render to each man according to his deeds?" (Proverbs 24:11-12).

"Where there is no counsel, the people fall; But in the multitude of counselors there is safety" (Proverbs 11:14).

"Without counsel, plans go awry, But in the multitude of counselors they are established" (Proverbs 15:22).

"For by wise counsel you will wage your own war, And in a multitude of counselors there is safety" (Proverbs 24:6).

Some may say, we should not seek new truth.  We should teach what we have been taught by Mr. Armstrong and others and not teach our own understanding of scriptures.

The problem with this is, they are trashing Herbert W. Armstrong's whole way of life.

They are teaching a way of life Mr. Armstrong never followed.  They want to stick to a detailed list of Mr. Armstrong's doctrines, but they depart from the way of life he lived as an example.  The contrary way of life they teach can make them and those who follow them enemies of the gospel and murderers in God's sight.

There are two principles involved here, two sides actually of the same coin.  One, they teach that we should believe and teach what has been taught to us from other men and what we have learned from other men.  Two, they teach that we should not learn new knowledge from the Bible.  We should not have our own understanding of the Bible that is different from what men have taught us.

They don't put it in those terms, but that is what they are saying.  Stick to the basic doctrines of Mr. Armstrong, and don't correct any errors, don't change anything, don't add anything.

They call this, "holding fast", and claim they are following the instructions Christ gives to Philadelphia in Revelation 3.  They claim the title of Philadelphia and want to hold fast to the eighteen truths Mr. Armstrong restored and other truths - the whole body of doctrine - Mr. Armstrong restored and taught.

But to do this, they throw out, depart from, and reject the way of life Mr. Armstrong practiced.  They like to claim the authority of Mr. Armstrong, but they do not do as he did.  They don't follow his example.  They are like false Christians who call Christ "Lord" but do not do the things He said (Luke 6:46).

They are like the Pharisees who strain out a knat and swallow a camel.  They pay undue attention to details of the doctrines of Mr. Armstrong, but they neglect the weightier matters of Mr. Armstrong's way of life.  To see this, you only have to read Mr. Armstrong's autobiography and see how different he was, all his life, from the way proposed by those who claim they are not changing his doctrines.

They say to those who might want to correct them, "Don't be critical, be nice, be friendly, remember, Satan is the accuser of the brethren, don't be like him, don't accuse us".

But Jude, Peter, and Paul were not gentle with those who were enemies of the gospel.

Here is the problem that falsifies their whole approach.

They say, let's only believe the doctrines that were taught to us (by men, is the intent) and not have our own understanding of scripture.  Let's not add to what we have been taught by faithful men in the Church.

But Mr. Armstrong himself never lived that way.  He was always willing to learn and teach new knowledge from the Bible.  He sought new truth.  He never limited himself to what he was taught by men in the Church of God.  He learned from the Bible directly.  And yes, he did have his own understanding of the scripture apart from what the Church of God taught him.

You might say, but that's different.  Mr. Armstrong was an apostle.  

No, he was not always an apostle when he practiced that way of life.  He practiced that way of life from the beginning, as a newly baptized lay member, not even ordained as an elder.  He practiced that way of life of believing God and the Bible more than any man or church and of seeking new truth and new knowledge from the Bible and teaching it when he found it, and he practiced that way of life, his whole life, and never expressed regret for living that way of life as a lay member before he became an apostle.

Read Mr. Armstrong's autobiography if you haven't read it for a long time.  Read the life story of the man whose doctrines some are not willing to change or add to.

Then picture the following scenario.

Mr. Armstrong has recently been baptized.  He is a new lay member of the Church of God.  He is sitting in a Church of God Seventh Day congregation in 1927 or 1928 listening to a sermon by a minister of that church.  And that minister preaches, "Don't have your own understanding of the Bible.  Believe what you have been taught by us ministers.  Believe what you have learned from the true Church of God.  Believe what has been passed on through the centuries from the original apostles who got it from Christ.  Don't change doctrine.  Don't have your own ideas.  Don't seek new truth.  Don't add to what we know.  We have the truth.  Hold on to it.  Cling to it.  Don't try to change it.  Remember, Christ is the head of the church.  The doctrines we teach are the doctrines Christ leads us to teach.  Have faith in Christ.  Have faith in Christ that we ministers are teaching you the truth."

Would Mr. Armstrong agree with that?

He would not!

Mr. Armstrong was always, from the beginning of his conversion, committed to believing God and His word the Bible more than any church, minister, leader, or tradition.  He always believed God more than man.  He didn't have to be an apostle to do that.  That was his way of life before he was an apostle or even thought of himself as an apostle, or even a minister.

And as part of that same way of life, he always sought new knowledge from the Bible.  He sought to learn from God and His word.  He sought out new knowledge, and he taught that new knowledge when he learned it from the Bible.

That was a way of life for Mr. Armstrong.

And it was a way of life that enabled God to give him a wide open door for preaching the gospel and the Ezekiel warning to Israel and the world.

And it is that very way of life that some reject when they claim to "hold fast" to his teachings without learning anything new.  They hold fast to a list of doctrines, but they don't hold fast to Mr. Armstrong's way of life that produced those doctrines.

Actually, these people have nothing to hold fast to.  The instruction to hold fast is given to Philadelphians.  These people show by their fruits they are not Philadelphian.  The instruction to hold fast is not given to them.

If Mr. Armstrong followed the teachings of these people, there never would have been any restored doctrine, he would never have had an open door for preaching the gospel, and most of us would not be here.

And as I have made clear, the approach of not changing doctrine is one that disqualifies any person or group from the open door promised to Philadelphians because they are not practicing what they must preach to the public.

I don't say they won't preach the gospel in some small way.  They should try, anyway.  And they may serve the spiritual needs of some people in the Church.  But not Philadelphians.  Philadelphians will not be attracted to the message of these people.  Philadelphians will hold fast to the way of life practiced by Mr. Armstrong, the way of life of believing the Bible more than man and being willing to learn new things from God's word - a way of life consistent with what we must preach to the public - "don't believe us, believe the Bible, and learn new things from the Bible you have not learned from your traditional churches".

Those Philadelphians will have an open door, and as long as they are Philadelphians in spirit and character, God will not take away that open door by sending them to a group that has no open door and is not preaching the gospel effectively.

I said earlier that following the idea of not believing the Bible more than the Church and not seeking new knowledge from the Bible can cause us to become murderers in God's sight.  God says in Ezekiel chapter 3 that if we do not warn the wicked, which means getting the gospel and warning message out to our nations, their blood will be on our heads, which is another way of calling us murderers.  And the philosophy of no doctrinal change can disqualify us from getting that message out.

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