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.