Saturday, October 5, 2019

How the Rich Prove 2nd Tithe is Wrong

There are so many good reasons why COG7D acknowledged annual holy days and permitted people to observe them BUT refused to make them official doctrine of the church. HWA chose to make them one of his pet doctrines and used them to carve out his own cult following. Making them a New Testament requirement brought with them a laundry list of questions on how this was to be done. And no answers can be found in Scripture. So what is a man to do? One way is to declare yourself an Apostle and Elijah and presto, your answers are now un-admittedly on par with Scripture. 

I have a whole series of posts coming on the topic of tithing but since many are just days away from traveling to feast sites around the world, I thought I would make one simple observation about 2nd tithing that when thought through, proves it is not a New Testament concept.

The highlight of the year is "keeping" the Feast of Tabernacles for many brethren in the churches of God. While the sermons usually suck and it is annoying to be expected at services every morning, it is a vacation better than a vacation because not only are you with family but you get to be with like-minded friends on your vacation. It is always exciting to see what old friends show up at the same feast site. 

The dark side of 2nd tithe is the fact that it is compulsory. Church of God tithing is an egregious doctrine to the poor. It is inherently unfair and actually drives the poor out of the church. If you don't believe this, just look at the cars in church of God parking lots today. The truth is the poor can't afford to be in the churches of God. This is the exact opposite from Christ who told John the baptist's disciples that one of the proofs that He was the Promised One is the fact that He preached to the poor. Why bother preaching to the poor? They cannot support your ministry through compulsory tithing. The poor are unable to sustain an organization dependent on cash to preach the gospel so the end will come. (I will talk more on the poor and tithing in another post)

I spent many years on meager wages saving 2nd tithe to the harm of my family. While the feast was always an oasis of joy for 8 days, the stress it put on me and my wife the other 357 days of the year was almost unbearable some years. And to fail to obey God in this would bring great mental anguish and shame... so year after year, I sucked it up, obeyed and suffered and watched my family suffer.

It is funny how ministers will say to test God on tithing and say you can't afford to not tithe. They will say (and sometimes without saying it) that tithing is proportionately related to your faith and obedience Well, I can say I did test God on tithing for over 20 years. I was very faithful in "doing it" for a long time. I am now in a time of my life financially where tithing is no longer burdensome. So these ministers need to know that some people actually stop tithing or never start because it truly is unBiblical and unGodly. 

I could not see the real problem with 2nd tithe until a wealthy friend pointed this fact out to me. The church takes an Old Testament concept and has to force it into a New Testament construct that is functional to a people in today's society. This gets back to simply accepting a man's explanation as to how this should be done. HWA decided that brethren should put aside 10% of their incomes to pay for annual holy day observances. The bulk of this would be needed to observe the feast of tabernacles. The reading of this feast tells people to enjoy the feast, spending their tithe on food and drink. This has been interpreted by HWA to mean that one must blow 10% of your annual income in an 8 day spending spree on food and alcohol. If you fail to spend it all, you must give the excess to the church.

What a wealthy person can observe about this is something I never could afford to see but it is very true. Let us say you are a person who does have an above average annual income. Maybe you are a successful entrepreneur, doctor, lawyer or IT guy. Maybe $300,000 a year. Maybe $500,000 a year. Does it sound like a Godly principle to take $30,000-$50,000 and blow it on whatever your heart desires in an 8 day spending spree? And do this year after year? You can quickly see as a rich person with Godly principles, that this would fly in the face of what God would have us do and not do concerning money.

Keeping 2nd tithe in its Old Testament context and thinking this one through actually appears to be a very sensible socio-economic principle for the financial well-being of a country. Largely an agrarian society, wealth and value was measured in nondurable goods. Enduring wealth building would involve making annual purchases in items that would grow your agrarian family business into the next year. My wealthy friend proposed that the Feast of Tabernacles was used as an annual market place at the end of ingathering when one would take 10% of his annual increase and use it to trade and purchase what would be needed to continue growing into the next year. 

This is just one really good example of how myopic HWA was in trying to take a specific socio-economic construct designed for an ancient nation and force it into an American religious cult. COG7D leaders who were smarter than HWA thought this through and probably told him as much in so many ways but as they said, "Herbert was not one to listen to anyone."

I still save money and attend the feast. It is a family vacation that we get to spend with friends that love God. I even suffer through the morning sermons. BUT I enjoy the feasts now more than ever because the other 357 days are not spent agonizing over a soul stealing doctrine of the church.

I have much more to say about tithing coming soon.


Saturday, September 28, 2019

Reinventing the Reinvented

In a previous post, "A Child Shall Lead Them", I talked about mid-life (crisis) analysis we all go through after our first 20+ years of adult life. Apparently, organizations, even churches of God, go through such periods in their existence.

In the latest UCG "Update From the President", Victor Kubik reminds us all that UCG is coming up on their 25th anniversary. Titling this update, "Reinventing Ourselves", he opens with this:

"The United Church of God is nearing its 25th anniversary. This time is proving to be one of critical reflection. In recent months, this milestone has led many at the home office, on the Council of Elders and elsewhere to ponder and consider: Where have we been? Where are we now? And perhaps most importantly, where are we going?"
 "Reflecting these questions in a general way, Donald Ward, the chairman of the Council of Elders, recently made some insightful and remarkable comments. He openly emphasized in his recent summary comments to the Council of Elders that the United Church of God needs to consider “reinventing ourselves.” This comment fit squarely with the many discussions that have recently been taking place around our upcoming 25th anniversary."
I find it interesting that the response to analyzing their first 25 years is one of "reinventing." What does that mean?

1. Reinvent can mean to change the appearance of something old so much that it looks like something new.

2. Reinvent can mean to change a person or organizations, goals, purpose, functionality or persona.

3. Reinvent can mean to duplicate something old in a wasted exercise in futility.

In order to successfully reinvent ones self, one must begin by humbling the self and openly addressing flaws and mistakes. Then, start the learning process again.

"When we talk about “reinventing ourselves,” we are not talking about what we believe. For certain, the biblical truth of God is eternal and unchangeable . The magnificent truths of the Sabbath, of the Holy Days that we are about to observe, the true understanding of the role of Jesus Christ, the knowledge of the insightful Royal Law that daily guides our behavior, and the plan of God for humanity all represent precious hard-won truths that make up the core of who we are. We must never part with these."

OK...maybe the churches of God can continue to skip self examination, addressing the past and revisiting doctrines derived from Armstrong eisegesis. So...I'm thinking they are leaning toward the third definition to "reinvent" mentioned above.

He goes on to show that what he really means is that the church needs to change its gospel message in a way that will have an impact on a generation that is increasingly more hostile toward the Bible. This increased hostility is  a threat to our young people as they transition from high school to college.

"Society today increasingly tramples on and rejects biblical authority, putting our young people to hard tests. Dr. Ward noted that with the incredible experience of the Church’s youth camps, young people in the Church “may be so excited through their teen years” about biblical truth, but then comes a challenging “transitional period between high school and college and the first year of college” that often proves to be a difficult time to stay grounded and committed to the truth of God. It is during this critical transition time that young people can be in danger of slipping away. The Church, he emphasized, needs to reinvent itself to address these critical societal changes and provide highly relevant spiritual tools for young people to survive and thrive. This includes opportunities for them to be together, like at Ambassador Bible College and church-sponsored young adult gatherings."
A few years ago, I watched a friend struggle with his teenagers. In the end, he could not answer satisfactorily, their questions and they both left the church and Christianity altogether. I can tell you this: They did not leave because of societal pressures to accept transgender lifestyles and marijuana. It was not because there was not enough church social events to keep their carnal needs satisfied or in check. They did not lack spiritual tools only Ambassador College alumni could the next 25 years, of course.

His free-thinking adult children researched the church and its history on the internet and asked why all the splinter churches refuse to address the sins of the past and the hypocrisy that continues. They asked how the churches think they can continue to hide all of the documented errors and never have to answer to the next generation. They asked why the churches feel no need to re-examine any of their doctrines or practices when some of them are easily challenged by the latest science and  technology or "mainstream" Christian  scholars. They asked why the leadership demands we all "speak the same thing" and inundate our time reading church literature and sermons instead of the Bible. In the end, their father looked to be a cruel hypocrite imaged after the organization itself at worse or a mindless kool-aid drinker to be felt sorry for at best.

"These Thursday conferences, as Dr. Ward mentioned to the Council, are open and honest discussions, even to the point of admitting that sometimes the weekly church presentations in our congregations are “stale.” To build more energy and excitement into our weekly church meetings, Dr. Ward noted that “some of those things we could do—shorter sermons and more focused sermons and improving our messages—we really need to focus on…we really need more excitement and energy in the local churches.”

Shorter sermons would certainly be a step in the right direction but if that is your solution to achieve energy and excitement, then this shows the comprehension level of a mouth-breather with no self awareness. Your organization is stale because all the splinters of Armstrong refuse to relinquish power to the brethren. They all quench the working of the Holy Spirit in the body. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are completely absent because a top down hierarchical cult structure is the exact opposite of what Jesus Himself told the disciples how His church was to function in Matthew 20:20-28

Jesus juxtaposes two opposing ideas against one another to make his point very clear and He does so by doing it twice. He compares exercising lordship to being a servant and exercising authority to being a slave. These opposing concepts cannot exist as one in the same. A lord cannot be a servant and an authoritarian cannot be a slave. Jesus is saying if you want to be a lord, your only option in the body is to be a servant and if you want be first in rank, the only opportunity that exists in its’ stead is to actually have no rank at all as a slave. What Jesus is showing is that there is no place to be a lord in the body and there is no position of chief in the body. If you want to be those things, the only position that can be given you is a servant and a slave with no rank at all. What you seek in the body as it appears in carnal human governance simply does not exist in the governance of the church.

His final statement makes it even more plain by comparing it to His own role in the flesh among them. He truly did not come to be served. He was not there as King of kings and Lord of lords. That will be at His second coming. He was there among them in the flesh as a teacher. Jesus Christ literally takes the gentile concept of top-down government and turns it on its head! It is imperative that He do that for His body, the church, because He is the head and there is no other head. The body is knit together by the workings of the Holy Spirit.You have to go back to the beginning of the exchange. It all started when two among them were seeking high rank in the Kingdom of God. Jesus answer to them in a nutshell was if you want to rank high in the Kingdom of God, (which is possible!) you must first practice being servants with no rank and no elevation in the church body.

“And whoever exalts himself will be humbled and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”  -Matthew 23:12

If you exalt yourself within the models used in this world by oppressors, you will have no place in the Kingdom. If you become a servant and slave among the brethren in the body with no exaltation or rank in the church today, you will be exalted in the Kingdom.

The only way any of the churches of God will be able to inspire real excitement and energy in the local churches is to be honest about their history, admit to sins, re-examine doctrine and practices, and reject Roman suppression and replace it with congregationalism. This will produce a firestorm of excitement and energy among brethren and we will see the fruits and gifts of the Holy Spirit unleashed in ways never seen before among the churches of God.

If you really want to reinvent yourselves, then I suggest you start by patterning yourself after the New Testament church. But all I hear you saying is you want to reinvent the reinvented in the worse kind of way.


Saturday, September 21, 2019

The Modern Essenes

"The Essenes were the 'hippies' of their day." I heard this snide remark from Gerald Weston and Jonathan McNair in sermons. What are they talking about? Is this something they learned at AC? How were the Essenes like the hippies in 1960's America?

After reading up on who and what the Essenes were about, I was hard pressed to see any connection between the dope smokin, std riddled peacemakers who encouraged everyone to make love, not war and  the separatist, heterodox (and some say) celibate Jews of the late Intertestamental period.

In fact, let me just share a few things that have been said about the Essenes and I will let you decide what modern group they sound like.

The Essene movement began at the time of a very explosive event in Jewish history. Judah Maccabee led a Jewish army utilizing guerrilla tactics to overthrow Seleucid control of Judea and usher in a period of quasi-Judean independence. The temple in Jerusalem was ritually cleansed and the expectation of a Jewish world-conquering king was 3-5 years away for the next 230 years.

It wasn't long before the revolt produced an insider movement of revolt. A new religious movement or sect, we now call the Essenes, rejected Maccabeen authority as corrupt and illegitimate. They would proceed to claim they were the "real heirs" of the Yadokite priestly line and refused to have anything to do with a cleansed temple. They went on to establish their own isolated community outside of Jerusalem.

This reminds me of another movement that caught fire when Allenby marched into Jerusalem in 1917 and culminated in Jewish statehood by 1948. A fast-talkin, nasally blowhard would grow a new religious movement by claiming a conquering Christ would be returning in  3-5 years for the next 45 years. He went on to establish a school to produce minions that would never stray from his control and then established rented venues around the world for adherents to meet in secret and separate from their communities,

The Essenes would go on to isolate themselves from the rest of Israel, both geographically and theologically. They rejected all things pagan and many things Jewish.

Colossians 2:8, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.”

“philosophy” is PHILOSOPHIA: “not philosophy in general but the teaching of a syncretistic religious group that claims special insight into God, Christ, astral powers, creation, that imposes a set of rules on its members and that bases the authority of its message on its age or esoteric (secret) nature.” –p.1272, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

I believe Paul had (at least in part if not completely) the Essenes in mind when he wrote this. I will show how the Essenes fit this description in the remainder of this post and will let you decide how that compares to who modern Essenes would most likely be today under the umbrella of Christiandom.

1. The Essenes believed they were the heir of Scriptures and that all promises made in those scriptures were to them. Any Jew, no matter how devout, not in their sect was a dangerous deceiver. They believed they were in a time when God was pouring out His Holy Spirit on them alone. While physical Israelites were God's chosen people, the Essenes viewed themselves as the new elect purposed by a new covenant. They were living in the midst of the "restoration of all things" and they were the advanced guard; the spearhead of Divine purpose for the world.

[HWA claimed he restored all things back to the body of Christ and that "mainstream Christianity" was deceived. The Holy Spirit was only given to those baptized in WCG. RCM claimed that LCG was the "spearhead of the Work" that would usher in the return of Christ.]

2. The Essenes were pacifists in that they would not participate in armed conflicts, revolts or wars. They stayed away from politics except when and how it related to prophecy.

[WCG and its splinters have long taught against voting in elections, serving on juries or the military and being employed as a police officer or even carrying a gun for personal safety. BUT the churches have never been shy about being aligned, unofficially of course, with the Republican party and their "conservative values" and their political views toward the state of Israel.]

3. Their central message and symbol was prophecy and their personal fulfillment of it in the Divine purpose shortly to pass. One of their writings discovered, called the Damascus Document, speaks of a specific predicted 'Teacher' that would or did lead the community, announcing to be a fulfillment of recent and ancient prophecy.

[HWA's central message was prophecy and he made over 200 false predictions. HWA claimed to be the "Elijah" that restored true doctrine to the body of Christ. HWA claimed he fulfilled what he called his commission in Matthew 24:14.]

4. God's purpose is a mystery revealed by the prophets and are presently made known through the inspired teachers (ministers), the chief revealer being called the "Teacher of Righteousness." In their lifetime, an anointed king and priest will lead the "Sons of Light" in a great war against the "Sons of Darkness" made up of Gentiles and ignorant Jews.

[HWA wrote "Mystery of the Ages" and claimed to be an endtime apostle. He taught two witnesses from his church would precede the return of Christ. The saints will return to fight Gentiles and ignorant Christians.]

5. Essenes used what is called the Pesher Method. This is an arbitrary interpretation of prophetic events and their leading up to the restoration of Israel, into the present.

[HWA was notorious for analyzing current events and wrongly attributing it to Scripture. Often, the exact opposite of what he predicted would happen. Much of HWA's methodology in developing his teachings was through eisegesis.]

6. Studying and writing were primary practices. They put great importance on their own writings. This can be seen in their "Community Rule" and "Damascus Document." They upheld a set of esoteric teachings (or commandments of men) that they regarded as equivalent to and as coming from the Bible. Their commandments of men were not regarded as earning their salvation or membership in the sect but merely expressing it. Piety and purity as defined by the community rules was an outward sign or evidence to a members belonging to the new covenant.

[Richard Ames once referenced church literature and sermons in a single sermon over 20 times. He often attempts to shame brethren for not reading church booklets and articles and listening to sermons in all their spare time when they are not working to provide incomes for the ministry.]

7. Belonging to the Essene movement was not a casual affair. To them, it was not a social club but was a matter of life and death for the members, Israel and the whole world.

[This was true in WCG back in the day. Today, brethren are often shamed by ministers for seeking quality fellowship over "doctrinal purity" among all the ridiculous splinters. The AC alumni know they are all the same and are just vying for retirement security.]

8. Food eaten could only be produced by the community. Council meetings and meal times were solemn and sacred occasions.

[Putting aside clear Biblical references of what is clean and what is not for human consumption, dietary control has always been a mainstay of cults. WCG went beyond Biblical references and made determinations on sugar, white flour and any number of items they deemed "unclean."]

9. Life was governed by strict laws of purity with emphasis on keeping weekly and annual Sabbaths properly and on time. There were penalties for breaking community rules, the greatest being expulsion.

[75% of all sermons produced are  on annual Holy Days. It is a repetitive cycle rehashed every year, year after year. The churches of God know that from a marketing standpoint, it is their only niche, their USP. Take it away (and British racism) and they are left with a very poor product compared to mainstream Christianity. As far as breaking  the commandments of men are concerned, we all know someone who has been temporarily suspended from services, disfellowshipped or even marked for these violations or for having an opinion about Scripture not in line with HQ.]

10. Suffering or persecution was a measuring stick for ones future salvation. Of course, it did not matter if that persecution was real or imagined, externally induced or self-imposed.

[Rod Meredith's crowning moment of persecution was being attacked with a chair in his baptizing tour.]

To show ones self approved of God and on a pathway to salvation, the Essene would be a stickler for the communal rules (commandments of men) and a blind loyalist to the "Teacher." Let's not kid ourselves. The Essenes were a mind control religious cult. These types of religious cults exploit the fear one has in suddenly finding themselves on the outside instead of in the cult during a time of great tribulation. Many Essenes and Armstrongites were truly motivated to save their own hides. I heard Richard Ames and Doug Winnail candidly admit this in sermons. They do this by exploiting the very question of what it means to be Jewish or Jewish enough; Christian or Christian enough. Unfortunately, for people that find themselves embroiled in such mind control religious cults, they are adherents to a doctrine of salvation that falls flat concerning morality and virtue. It is the very thing Paul warned the Corinthians about: do not exalt or idolize a man claiming to be a representative of Jesus Christ. Do not chase after anything beyond what is revealed plainly in Scripture. The veil in the Temple was rent and the Romans destroyed it. You are now the temple. Thank God. We are free in Christ motivated by love.

I have seen the hippy and it is us.


Saturday, September 7, 2019

A Child Shall Lead Them

Is there a difference between unshakable faith and unshakable arrogance? I was 15 years in the churches of God and had it all figured out in those first 5 years... so this young kid of 19 in Seminary had nothing to offer me as we talked religion. Jed would only be here for the summer so I had a small window of opportunity to "enlighten" him. He asked many great questions and did a lot of listening. Our lunch hours often went longer than the company would have appreciated.

At summer's end, it was time for Jed to move on in finishing his religious training so that he could start a ministry in the worst part of the city with his new bride. I heard later his apartment was broken into 3 times in the first 2 months he lived there. Oh well, I chalked it up as another dumb decision made in zealous youth. (I told him so!) And all that preaching at Jed was all for naught. Not only did he move his beautiful bride into the hood for "Jesus" but responded to all my pontificating with a set of books as a gift to me, written by an Anglican Priest. The nerve! Those 1500 pages of nonsense sat on my bookshelf for 10 years before I ever even cracked one of them.

But there I was at the Feast of Tabernacles last year getting more spiritual meat from one of those books than all the Feast sermons and sermonettes in the last 10 years!

Hitting "mid-life" is erroneously labeled a crisis. For most, it is actually a time of evaluating your first 20+ years as an adult. Then, after evaluating, we begin formulating the direction of our next 20+ years. If we are being honest with ourselves, we even evaluate our sacred cows and allow those to be challenged genuinely for the first time in years. (Maybe this is why this time of life is called a crisis)

For me, it was a humbling awakening. I was so busy working hard, providing for my wife and our growing family, that I didn't have time to question my "unshakable faith." That part of my life was on solid ground so I had no need to revisit it periodically, nor the time. That was settled in my early 20's when I knew everything.

The miracle of children is their ability to ask questions that cut deep through all the bullshit and force us as parents to carefully consider our answers. When it was Jed, it had no effect. I was unshakable. But now it was my own teenage flesh and blood. Dad was being forced to put his religion on the examination table also. The nagging questions about "church" that were suppressed for years were now being forced into the light of reason. Maybe I should thoroughly give this another look for the sake of not being labeled a hypocrite or a religious minion in the eyes of my own babies.

Mid-life showed me (and others may attest to this as well) that we spend much of our lives on "auto-pilot." Striving for the "American Dream" is a real thing and for the most part, a soul stealing endeavor. This time of life is bitter-sweet. We can be deeply saddened by coming into the realization that we really know very little about anything. We can anguish (but hopefully for only a little while) over bad decisions; forks in the road of our lives where we went left instead of right or ducked when we should have jumped.

But on the other end of this examination, we can choose to rejoice in a recovered zeal for the next 20 year journey. We can be excited about lessons learned and make the course corrections now. We can be content in not knowing everything and instead, move forward with our minds more open and teachable than ever before. I suppose this is the hidden lesson God had in store for us when he gave us our own children to raise. Yes, as parents, we owe it to our children to be critical thinkers but we really owe it to ourselves first.

Probably, the most depressing and disappointing article I have ever read in the churches of God to date is Gerald Weston's, "I Was Wrong." The title was nothing but misleading click-bait full of arrogant apologetics for the ministry. Many people in LCG were hopeful that after the death of RCM, the church would begin to listen and grow and change for the first time in 25 years. Instead, GEW has chosen to double down like Rehoboam, making his pinky thicker than the waist of our Golden Glove champion.

NEWSFLASH: You are not going to win the hearts and minds of our children when you dwell on legalized marijuana and our daughter's shorts as being the biggest problems in the churches of God today.

Older people spend a lot of time criticizing and putting down the younger generations that will inevitably replace them. The churches complain that kids today are less this and more that. One thing is sure: whatever the churches are doing to reach the next generation, it's failing. The death to birth rate in the churches of God is 4/1. The teenagers are not sticking around, once they leave home. New people are not flocking (not even trickling!) into the churches of God. Is it because the world and our children are more evil and less receptive to God and His way of life? Or could it be that the organizations are refusing to open themselves up to their own mid-life examinations, admit to bad decisions, make course corrections and save themselves from being what the children see: religious hypocrites and mindless minions betrothed to a gnostic theology developed by a narcissist of below average intelligence almost 100 years ago?


Saturday, August 31, 2019

Why Stoned Stephen Society?

"Looks like there is another disgruntled member taking to blogging." That will be the snarling remark in HQ board meetings as they play Titus 1:10-11 in their minds over and over.

"For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers...whose mouths MUST BE STOPPED, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, [always ignoring the rest of the statement] for filthy lucre's sake."

Spending decades of my adult life in the churches of God, I have seen many friends come and go. More often than not, they had a negative personal experience with another member or their minister or both, that served as the catalyst for becoming critical and exiting stage right. These types of incidences always made it easy to side with the church and not so much with the disgruntled. To make their case worse, these angry exiters often would get wrapped up in irrelevant picky points of doctrine, making themselves more pharisaical than the ministry they attack. 

So when I first started sharing some of my disagreements about church teachings to close friends, the first thing I could see them do was try to determine who I had a beef with and why. Makes sense. I do the same thing. I could tell some of them were frightened by the prospect that I was actually making objective and logical sense. Once they could see I was not motivated by anger or a personal slight or offense, and that my objections were sound, the obvious question they would then ask was, "So what are you going to do about it?"

The question baffled me for 3 years. I had no idea what to do. My temporary solution was to do nothing. As I pointed out in David V. Barrett's book in my previous post, he stressed how in the churches of God's top-down hierarchy, all the power and control rests at the top and the laity has no power, no influence and no voice. But there are two things that have changed that.

Barrett points out that the most important leader in a "New Religious Movement" is not the founder but the second leader. The movement will make or break upon the 2nd leader's ability to legitimize the movement or destroy it. Unlike the Seventh Day Adventists, the Mormons and the Jehovah's Witnesses, the Worldwide Church of God failed to legitimize after the death of its founder. What followed was a corporate rejection of the Armstrong movement and the formation of competing factions led by middling managers with no charisma or credibility. 

This diffusion of power and control has given brethren options. This is quite powerful because one of the most controlling aspect of WCG was it's "one true church" teaching in which it was expected that everyone understood that meant the corporate entity known as WCG. With no charismatic leaders to follow, people just landed where their ministers did and if there was any disagreement with a teaching or a personal falling out occurred with brother or minister, another church of God was probably just a few more minutes closer or further away.

The other game-changer is the internet. Before Google, the only thing people had as a resource concerning the cultic abuses of WCG was Ambassador Report that went largely unknown until it was made available on the internet. The churches of God no longer have the means to control the flow of information. Barrett concludes the churches of God movement will continue to wither on the vine because the internet kicks open closets and drags skeletons into the light of day for everyone to see. Couple that with elitist leaders who think they can ignore and defy reality, and there should be no wonder why there is no influx of new members.

Heterodox or nonconforming (I had to look it up too) religious movements create alternative realities for their believers. This actually serves to isolate members, blinds them from reality and causes them to adhere to a culture where you never question the groupthink. If and when this "spell" is ever broken, that is where emotional trauma, anger and bitterness  enter. I certainly went through my share of it that first year. I was mostly angry at myself and embarrassed that a free-thinking and intelligent person such as myself would be deceived. But I couldn't let the emotional and personal aspect of the moment dictate my actions. I forced myself to step back and pray and wait and meditate and study. I had to let time ensure reason and objectivity was at the forefront of my thinking.

So people ask, "Why do you stay involved? Why do you attend services?" At the end of the day, I had to determine if the people in my life in the last 2 plus decades are really my brethren. And do I love those brethren? I realized I really did have an invested interest in these people. And I also came to realize after studying how the WCG also traumatized the ministry, that the ministers were victimized as well. I am not excusing their sins as the abusers. It's just a matter of recognizing that in a cult setting of concentrated power and control, even the abusers are victims. 

Many have thrown their hands up in the air and walked away, erasing the existence of their time and experience completely from their lives. That is ok. I understand that. But there is a spectrum of response. I see it every day on Banned by HWA and I appreciate everyone's perspective. It is theirs. 

This is mine. If these people are my brethren and I love them, then I am staying. But I will not shut up. This blog is for people like me who love the people, want to stay and encourage positive change but don't know what to do or how to do it. The most important thing I think we can do is be informative without the vitriol. How information is presented can be more important than the information itself.

This blog is for those that understand that no one has the market cornered on all truth. This is for those that have the patience to dissect ideas and beliefs and recognize there are decent, dare I say, Biblical ones, even in the churches of God. Even if the baby is ugly, I still don't want to toss it with the bathwater.

My ultimate goal is to give a greater voice to brethren in hopes we reach a point where the leaders are forced into one of three directions. I am ok with any one of them or a combination of all three:

  1. Dissolve.
  2.  Reform.
  3. Merge.
The key is to no longer allow business as usual. It is time to stir the pot and effect change. The churches of God must shed their cult skins and revert to congregational governance. They must strip their statements of belief to a small core and encourage people to really study their Bibles and develop their own understanding. Spreading information, making connections, building bridges anonymously through the power of the internet, and withholding financial support is the best way I can see to empower both laity and ministers afraid to speak out. I refuse to leave the next generation to wallow in an institution that has not changed or grown in over 60 years.  The organizations may not be salvageable but the people certainly are.

Another 10 years and the guiltiest among the organizations will be dead or out of  power. I am hopeful the next generation of ministers (some of which are my friends) coming into power will begin a reformation. If they don't, then we will simply witness the churches of God continue on toward the dust bin of history and the brethren find new places to go or, better yet, create new congregational entities patterned after the parent church, Church of God (Seventh Day).


Thursday, August 22, 2019

Who Causes Division?

The Church is a (Holy) Spirit led group of individuals defined in Scripture as the body of Christ that precludes human organization. Those who belong to Christ will have love for one another. They will do what it takes to fellowship with one another and not seek for reasons to divide. In my area, there are at least 4 (probably more) Church of God organizations that all meet in separate places and are all within 10-30 minutes of each other. Most of these people know each other and were all in the same fellowship at one time. Many still recognize those meeting 10 minutes away as their brethren. Many believe we should all be in one place to fellowship. So who has caused this division? Who is responsible? Who is able to cause division?

We are told we must all speak the same thing and be in one accord. How is that even possible? A new person certainly doesn’t think and say the same things that someone who has been around 40 years. And anyone who has courageously discussed Bible topics with others knows that there are many different opinions on doctrines and prophecies in the church. That is true even among the ministers. What is the bar setting to let us know we are all speaking the same thing? Does the Bible even tell us to all speak the same thing?

I Corinthians 1:10 is often misapplied in telling the brethren that we must all speak the same thing and that anything short of that is causing division and involves a spirit of rebellion. Is that really what Paul meant?
“Now I plead with you brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
“For it has been declared to me concerning you, my brethren, by those of Chloe’s household, that there are contentions among you.”
“Now I say this, that each of you says, ‘I am of Paul’ or ‘I am of Apollos’ or ‘I am of Cephas’ or ‘I am of Christ.’”
“Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?”
“I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, lest anyone should say that I had baptized in my own name.”
The division being caused is brethren that are upholding certain men as their leaders in unhealthy ways that would lead to oppression. We are not to follow after and idolize men. It would seem that early on, there was a desire among people to want an overseer that they could look up to and designate as a leader or a champion. This champion would usurp thinking and decision-making and the people would have it so.

Paul even tells Timothy in II Timothy 4:3 that, “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.” For many in top-down authoritative churches, Bible study and discussions are replaced with pontificating sermons. If that does not describe the organizations filled with paid teachers to satisfy itching ears instead of inquisitive minds that should be reading the Bible, then I don’t know what Paul means.

Paul states the solution to this problem at the very beginning.
“…that you all speak the same thing…in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
“Same” is used 3 times and is the Greek: AUTOS, which means “yourself”. The verse, based on the context, should actually read more like this:

“Now I plead with you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all speak for yourselves and that there be no divisions among you [whereby you are choosing men to speak for you] but that you be perfectly joined together by the use of your own mind and your own judgment.”

The truth is, this verse is the exact opposite of how it is used in sermons to quash critical thinking and questioning and just become one in a hive-mind. This is exactly what Paul believed how brethren should be, owning their own minds and exercising them: not allowing their minds to be usurped by the teaching of another man, including himself. The Bereans in Acts 17 were called “fair-minded” because they did not just accept anything that was told to them. They studied, cross-examined, things that were said to determine in their own minds if what they heard was true or false.

This was a huge concern to Paul; that leaders would come along to draw away followers in their own name. It is human nature to want to put off our responsibilities onto others. It is easy to hand over personal responsibility to think and study and discern and give that power over to a champion. Wolves in sheep clothing know this. Those who preach only out of selfish gain know this. In a Forbes list of top 10 occupations sought out by psychopaths, “religious leader” made the list!

I Corinthians 2:15, still within the context of division caused by following after men, Paul says, “But he who is spiritual investigates all things, while he himself is rightly investigated by no one.” In other words, a converted individual “proves all things” and by doing so, never allows himself to be judged  by another man (possibly one who claims to be a special leader). The true Christian will not lazily follow any man or give up his right to question and challenge all things. We must each work out our own salvation and not give ourselves up to human idols and organizations that work against these Biblical warnings from Paul to not give up our individual sovereignty.

Diotrephes is the perfect example of what happens when we give ourselves over to human idols and is exactly what Paul was afraid would happen. Diotrephes became a cult leader who exalted himself, ran down other churches and other ministers, causing division and put people out of church if they didn’t blindly follow his version of truth.

Jude 19 talks about, “sensual persons who cause divisions, not having the Spirit.” These persons are described in verse 16 as, “grumblers, complainers, walking according to their own lusts; and they mouth great swelling words, flattering people to gain advantage.” The context in which this is used in sermons is usually that this is describing disgruntled laity. But what kind of effect would a lay member have going around with this attitude? Probably, not much.

“Divisions” in Jude 19 is APODIORIZO: which means, false teachers that cause division.

The context of Jude is a stern warning to be on the lookout for false teachers and leaders. Notice in Verse 11 that these false teachers, “have run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit…” 

David V. Barrett received a Ph.D. in Sociology of Religion. In his book, "The Fragmentation of a Sect: Schism in the Worldwide Church of God", he points out all splits in WCG to the present various  churches of God could only be caused and were caused by the ministry. On pages 208-209:

"But in a family of churches where top-down authority has always been the norm...members were expected to follow their ministers."
" is primarily ministers who have actively left one church to join or to found another, and in many cases they took their members with them."
" is a feature of established sects that schism comes only from the divisions among the influential elite within each movement; no other person is sufficiently influential to cause division..."
"Schism must thus be from the ministerial ranks, and in particular from those at the center of the organization; the laity are too receptive and docile (accustomed to obedience) to initiate schisms, and have no opportunity to preach heresy, or to challenge organizational arrangement." 
The irony in all this is that an all powerful ministry responsible for the schisms, created options for the brethren and are thus responsible for diffusing their own power and control. Ministers, being the cause of division, is the only thing (besides the internet) that has given the laity any kind of voice.

Our leaders place an inordinate amount of importance in loyalty and consensus. “Division” and “rebellion” are terms used to keep critical thinking to a minimum. This approach alienates members from each other and inevitably creates the culture of, “pay, pray, stay and obey.” Gerald Weston claimed in a sermon about what makes a church Philadelphian, that it was "right government" and of course that right government was the top-down, one-man-rule in LCG.

False claims that we are the “one true church” further alienates us from our communities. We meet in secret and do very little to reach people in our communities. After paying unbiblical tithes, there is nothing left to help people.

Laodicea has often been said to mean, “the people decide.” This has typically been explained by the churches of God that these are groups of people who refuse to submit to the government of God and are making their own decisions or they are in governments where there is voting or congregational polity. This is certainly how Gerald Weston would interpret it.

But let us look at this once again in terms of authority and Judes’ warning of false teachers who serve themselves. In Philadelphia, Jesus has the Key of David. In places where brotherly love exists with no major criticism, Christ has put His authority in those places. In Laodicea, what if the people making decisions are self-serving ministries in top-down churches? A self-serving, elite ministry would reject Christ’s authority and effectively close the door to the Kingdom for them and those that follow them.

“But woe to you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrits! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in.” 

Remember, Jesus said this in Matthew 23:13, right after directing the previous 4 verses to the disciples on not to seek rank among the brethren!

Yet, Christ in His mercy, knocks on the doors to these churches that have rejected His authority in hopes that there will be brethren inside who will wake up and leave the grips of these false teachers whom Jude warns us about.

I Corinthians 7:23, “You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.”

Romans 14:12, “So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.”

Is the Holy Spirit pouring out gifts in the churches of God? Are their governments set up in a way that forbids the Holy Spirit to work? Does the church reflect love and grace toward all men or is it an aloof and divided people meeting in secret, always wading through "us-and-them" scenarios?

The biggest problem with hierarchical governments is they attract narcissists and psychopaths who "act" their way into positions where they can then exercise oppressive power. Similar types who lack charisma and intelligence fill in the middle ranks as managers. When the charismatic and/or intelligent leader dies or is taken away, the void is filled with squabbling managers. These managers cause division.

Hierarchical pastors will rarely view a strong opposing viewpoint without screaming division and rebellion because he doesn't have to. Managers are small-minded, order-takerers that fear debate, fear being exposed, live in an us verses them world, thrive in hierarchical structures, believe they know all the answers and are willing to seer their own conscience to maintain income and power. To a manager, scholars cause division. To pastor-managers in an unbiblical hierarchy, a laity that studies the Scriptures is dangerous.

Scholars thrive on healthy debate and love fellowshipping, especially with other free-thinkers. They are not insecure about not knowing everything. They thrive in congregational settings where everyone believes each person is sovereign and responsible for their own salvation. Scholars know  authoritarians cause division.

The legacy of WCG and its splinters is division caused by squabbling managers and a support group of lay-members who are happy to have it thus. The scholar is silenced or forced out for rebellion and "causing division."


Wednesday, August 14, 2019

History of Governance in the Church of God

While many churches of God consider WCG as the parent church, the WCG is actually a spin off from another parent church that was called the Church of Christ. Gilbert Cranmer is credited for starting our church in March of 1858. In 1831 at the age of 17, Gilbert was baptized in a Methodist church and started preaching. After 2 years, he quit over the trinity doctrine and joined the Christian Connexion or Christian Church which was made up of loosely affiliated Christians that had abandoned the colonial churches like the Presbyterian, Baptist and Methodist. 

In 1844, he joined the Adventist movement started by William Miller whose prediction of Christ’s return between 1843-1844, spread like wildfire. After the “great disappointment”, Gilbert moved from Michigan to Illinois to escape the ridicule and mocking from his neighbors when Christ did not return.

Sabbath-keeping started being preached by Joseph Bates in the 1840’s and 50’s among the Millerites/Adventists. Gilbert Cranmer began observing the Sabbath in 1852. James and Ellen G. White began raising up Sabbath keeping advent churches at this time and Gilbert Cranmer became associated with them. In 1858, the White’s refused to give Cranmer credentials to preach in the Advent churches because of his tobacco use. By 1860, Gilbert Cranmer raised up 12 congregations made up of mostly Adventists who wished to distance themselves from Ellen G. White’s prophecies and James White’s desire to create a top-down government structure for the church. It is interesting to note here that it was a government issue and prophecy that created the split from SDA and the creation of the Church of Christ. The first structure of our parent church was Congregationalist and strongly opposed Episcopal top-down governance. Over the next 24 years, congregations were raised up and by 1884, they came together under a General Conference. This is when they settled on the name, Church of God.

In Robert Coulter’s book, “The Journey: A History of the Church of God (Seventh Day)”, he says
on p.109:
“It is interesting to note that the Conference was organized as a membership movement that did not require negotiations, concessions, or preconditions among its varied membership in order to organize. The Conference came into existence as a spontaneous action of its membership rather than of its leadership, and it was to serve its membership rather than govern them.”
It was under the oppressive drive of James and Ellen G. White to define doctrine of the church for everyone else and concentrate power and authority unto themselves, that helped ensure a congregational culture and governance of the Church of God and led to publications that had an “open creed” where critical thinkers of the church could get Bible studies published. Any idea that truth could only be introduced into the church from the ministry was utter nonsense. This was the culture that enabled the Church of God to develop its core doctrines during its first 70 years in existence. This period was not plagued with politics, infighting, division and chaos. No, all of that happened under Andrew Duggers’ watch. He was the next “James White” to come along and try to concentrate power unto himself and dictate a new long list of official doctrines. Andrew Dugger managed to split the church in half by 1933. After 16 years, the church merged again but not after membership went from 40,000 all the way down to 10,000 thanks to Andrew Dugger’s “skills in governance.”

It was in the atmosphere of those divided and divisive years that HWA himself railed against Duggers’ oppression and believed as long as he received a paycheck from the Church of God, he would have to preach only what men ordered him to teach. HWA claimed he stopped receiving pay from the Church of God in 1933 and only loosely affiliated because he was not going to be told by men what to preach. But the truth is, and it is in the Church’s records, that he remained a credentialed and paid minister until 1938.

It is ironic but quite possible that some of those 30,000 members who left the Church of God during this time period because of the controls implemented into the church by Dugger, went with HWA because of his stance against top-down governance. HWA clearly railed against one man rule, top down government in his 1939 article, calling it the “image of the beast.”

HWA claimed later he did not know what church government should be and it wasn’t until the 1950’s that it started coming to him. In the GCG booklet on government by RCM in 1993, RCM says it was he and Herman Hoeh that essentially introduced top-down government into the church by a series of articles in the 1950’s. By 1978, HWA had taken on titles to himself like “Apostle” and later, “Elijah” and brought the church so in line with Roman Catholic Church governance that some began questioning this obvious heresy in the church. His delusional concentration of power, in my opinion, is the reason there was no smooth transition after his death and directly contributed to the collapse of ‘his’ church. Just like William Miller, James and Ellen G. White and Andrew Dugger before him, HWA came along to concentrate power, make false predictions in prophecy and the return of Christ (1975), enforce his version of truth, and ultimately cause mass confusion, politics, infighting and chaos.

The turbulent 1930’s in the Church of God produced 3 splinters from the church:

1. C. O. Dodd formed the sacred names movement.

2. Andrew Dugger established a headquarters in Jerusalem to convert Jews who he
believed would be the 144,000 in Revelation.

3. Herbert Armstrong split over the Holy Days and British-Israelism.

Something important to realize is that while HWA claimed to restore 18 truths to the church by direct inspiration from Jesus Christ, the truth is, HWA came into contact with the Church of God in 1927 and began reading all the materials that church produced in its publications that had that “open creed.” He said when he came in contact with “Sardis”, they had very little truth. But the truth is, the focus and culture of the Church of God was to avoid “officiating” doctrines and beliefs held by the members. What that means is even though there was not a webpage with a laundry list of teachings one must agree to in order to fellowship or be initiated into a corporate body, almost every single one of HWA’s “divinely” restored truths were written about, published and discussed in the church; some of those ideas for many years. HWA did not leave because no one would believe his teachings on British-Israelism and the Holy Days. He left because the General Conference would not make them official doctrines as something everyone had to believe.

[John Keizs, who was a close friend and fellow minister of HWA from 1935-1945, says HWA had a persecution-complex and the church was glad to see him go as he was difficult to work with. Keizs also stated that HWA told him he planned to start a college where he could train men to teach only what HWA told them to teach.]

There were people in the church that believed those two doctrines and observed annual Holy Days. HWA learned it there! HWA continued sharing a feast site with John Keizs until 1945. And there are still people in the Church of God (Seventh Day) and the Seventh Day Adventist Church that believe and observe the annual Holy Days to this day.

As a prelude and summary statement about his research, Robert Coulter says this on p.18:

“The history contained in The Journey, from the Church’s founding to the present, has not always been uplifting. Sometimes it reflects the triumph of the Christian spirit and faith. At other times it reflects the selfishness of human nature. But since the church, as a part of the  body of Christ, is composed of frail human beings, the modern church, like the imperfect church of the first century, reflects both the goodness of God and the depravity of the human spirit and the need for Jesus Christ to recreate it after His image!”

Herbert W. Armstrong died 33 years ago. The churches of God birthed from the Worldwide Church of God are but a shell of a former work and zeal. It’s time to look in that mirror and reflect on the truth of our roots and our history.

Something we have been hearing over and over for years now is, “If God has top-down government He plans to implement on earth during the millennial reign of Jesus Christ, why would He NOT want us to practice that government in the church right now?” I have three reasons why NOT:

1. We are not God. We are men and incapable of ruling justly over others. The proof of this is human history and the record of abuse in all top-down structures including the ones implemented in churches.

2. Only the ministry gets to “practice” this government now. The only thing the rest of us get to practice is I Peter 2:18-21 and quite frankly, I get to practice that enough in the world.

3. The New Testament does not clearly endorse any form of government and that is why we see evidence of multiple structures utilized in church history. [I have come to believe through further study that the New Testament does endorse Congregational Polity]

Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. When you compare the Church of God (Seventh Day) early days of congregational polity and open creed, encouraging all brethren to study to show themselves approved to the years they dealt with James White and Andrew Dugger trying to concentrate power unto themselves and dictating doctrine; which approach bore fruits of growth and peace and brotherly love and which bred politics, division and strife?

The so-called "Sardis era" of the Church (Church of God: Seventh Day) has 400,000 members with congregational governance. The WCG legacy is an aftermath of roughly 30,000 people divided by a divisive ministry drunk with top down power and dependency on tithe payers for their livelihoods.

Colossians 2:8, “Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.”

“philosophy” is PHILOSOPHIA: “not philosophy in general but the teaching of a syncretistic religious group that claims special insight into God, Christ, astral powers, creation, that imposes a set of rules on its members and that bases the authority of its message on its age or esoteric (secret) nature.” –p.1272, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament

Philosophia is what destroyed families because of an ungodly understanding of divorce and remarriage in WCG. Philosophia is what ruined thousands of brethren’s financial lives as they believed Christ was returning in 1975 in WCG. Philosophia is what enabled a whoremonger to remain the spokesman (GTA) of the WCG through the 1970’s because when he was initially removed, the income dropped 30% so he was rushed back. Philosophia is why one-man-rule, top-down government was used in WCG to maintain control and keep people focused on HWA as their mediator to Christ. Philosophia is what produced the “true church” doctrine that tied people’s salvation to membership in WCG and put people to sleep.

In Robert Coulter’s concluding statements in his book, “The Journey: A History of the Church of God (Seventh Day)” he points out that, “all churches have skeletons in their proverbial closets if their historians choose to reveal them.” 

As long as LCG and all other splinters from WCG refuse to shine the light of truth on church history, an unforgiving internet will continue to do so for them. Unacknowledged ecclesiastical sins will never be forgiven. You will go down as the church who had a name for being alive (The Living Church of God) but continued only as the walking dead, arms outstretched, falling forward from the white-washed sepulcher of the Worldwide Church of God.

HWA was a failed business man that turned his marketing skills to selling religion for gain. HWA taught many truths that he learned in COG7D and pawned them off as having received them directly from Christ. HWA was a gnostic who pushed his own “philosophia” without grace and without love; two things unconverted men can never understand.

In Philippians 1:15-18, Paul says that there are those who preach Christ out of envy, strife and selfish ambition, while others, out of love. Paul asks what we are to make of this. Should we give up? Discard everything what was learned as lies? No. Paul says, whether in pretense or truth, Christ is preached. And I want to make that clear. I did not write this to take away from what Jesus has done for me by bringing me into contact with the churches of God. Despite the messengers, I learned many truths of the Bible. I am not advocating that there is a “best place to be." There is only the best place for you where Christ wants to put you in your journey. The most important thing is to never turn off the most important aspect of your humanity that is created in the very image of God. John tells us that the name of our God is “Rational Thought.” Please, don’t ever trade that in for a quick fix into the Kingdom of heaven promised by teachers. Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling.