Saturday, January 4, 2020

Look for the Helpers, He Said....

There are plenty of buffoons out there who like to claim they alone are the mouthpiece of God. All it takes is a simple youtube search to find all of the buffoons who truly like to claim that their knowledge is God's knowledge. Some of them seem rather tame and benign, while others go full out in apostolic clothing with a beard that would make Santa himself jealous. What is it that makes a person go so hogwild with their interpretations? What makes a person so special that they feel they alone have been hand-picked by God to carry out their message?

It really doesn't matter if it's the pastor at the local corner church, or some lone ranger on a youtube channel. They all think they alone are right. They've established their little piece of the religious pie, and are intent on getting anyone they can to take a bite out of it. These range from the scholarly to the absolute ridiculous - harping about on the latest thing that catches their eye that no one's doing, but they feel everyone must do. Yet, in spite of all of this, there is one thing that they all nearly universally agree on - tithing.

From the weird to the wacko to the strange and the destitute to the socially awkward to the pulpit pounder, you will find they all agree that you must fund their life so they can get their message out. Yet, in this day and age of free youtube and live broadcasting - why do they need your money to do it? They already have cable internet, or you wouldn't be seeing the message in the first place. They have a computer or they wouldn't have a way to broadcast the message. What they are really asking for is that you - as a watcher, or even a follower - would recognize the "calling" they recognize and then give them your money as agreement that they are God's mouthpiece for whatever it is they are so zealous about. Once you agree, whether it's a youtube "preacher" or a full on church member, you're in "the system".

Now this isn't to say that there isn't good out there in the world of corporate Christianity. But the bottom line of corporate Christianity is very simple - it's the word "Corporate". The religious industry is big business. It's tax-free, supposedly charitable non-profit business which rakes in millions to even billions of dollars, often pastors amd denominations benefiting the most from the deal with some notable and worthy exceptions. Many not-so-worthy individuals would love to get into that system with intentions that are not so good. And many already have.

From the background and experience of my life growing up in an Armstrongism Cult, many of these individuals have risen from the muck. Not of their own power, but because the muck has drained and their sorry heads pop out looking for whatever and whoever they can devour with their own pithy propaganda, believing they and they alone are God's Mouthpiece for "this end time" generation, joining the thousands and thousands of others who believe the same thing of themselves. Instead of getting out there in the business of love and service, as the hands and the feet of Jesus, they exalt themselves as whatever figure they see themselves at and dupe the fragile in the process. And the cycle repeats itself, over and over again.

"Look for the helpers", Mr. Fred Rogers would often teach. Perhaps his lesson was the best lesson - to avoid the pitfalls and snares of Corporate Americanized Christianity with all of it's love of money - and rejoin what true Christianity is - the simple act of helping, of loving, of caring, of giving, of being a kind and good person. Because - to all those who think they are somebody and they really are not - it's not about you - it never has been about you - and it never will be. It's about how you show Jesus to others, and even the world in your life. It's not about buildings, or bank accounts, or trees, or calendars, or this thing, or that thing. It's not about what day you worship, it's about how you worship, in spirit and truth, or lies and deception. It's not about if you go to Church in a suit and tie, but if you're willing to be "a helper" when the need arises. It's about being a light. It's about being the one people look to not because you are yelling at them to look at you, but because you are one of the helpers - a good and bright example of Jesus.

In my background, we were taught not to be "helpers". We were taught to be inclusive. Introverted. Self-withdrawn. "Away from the world". The only ones we helped were ourselves. It is this introverted legacy that infiltrates cultic thinking and even corporate Christianity. There's much more to life than what's shallow. Living is being a helper. And you don't have to glorify yourself to be just that.

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

The Great Reconciliation Between Jew and Gentile in the New Testament

If there is one subject that the COG's have absolutely failed to teach their congregants properly is the great reconciliation that shocked the Church in the New Testament in the book of Acts.

Of course, it was the Church's beliefs on the differences between Jew vs. Gentile and who compromised "Spiritual Jews" or "Spiritual Israelites" that literally muddied the waters when it came to just how huge of a big deal it was back in the days of the beginning of the Christian Church at and shortly after Pentecost.

In the Worldwide Church of God's alternative facts, the story-line was completely different. Jesus came not for the world, but for a select few called "the Church". The "Gentile" line went off the deep end, ignored the "true" Gospel, which, according to Armstrongism, laid dormant and powerless for centuries - save for an infinitesimally small group of observant Christians who kept the Jewish Law throughout six different eras - up to the "Philadelphia" era which, of course, was started, and ended, with Herbert Armstrong.

What this different chronology does is shocking to the standards of orthodox Christianity, the work of the Spirit, the inclusion of the Gentiles, the lessons of Acts, the epistles of Paul, and actually, the entire framework and network of the New Testament. That framework being the freedom in Christ with the inclusion of the Gentiles into the Church that came with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost.

We pick up the story at Acts 15: (NIV) (emphasis in bold mine) (my inserted comment in brown)

15 Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved. 2 This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute (AHA! Well, this wasn't expected at all, was it?) and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question.

Let me interject here what it must have been like at this point. Paul and Barnabas were at "Sharp Dispute". I bet you hands were flying and spit was being spat, and they obviously did not come to a solution or a conclusion - both held their ground. The only thing to do was for them both to be sent up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and the elders to talk about what to do. I can imagine that both were absolutely and completely set in their ways (What else is new?? This was a prospect of huge change, great for Paul, nightmarish for Barnabas!) BUT - they both could not deny the fact that the Gentiles had been converted. And for them, this was a Game-Changer - a Very Big Deal.

The church sent them on their way, and as they traveled through Phoenicia and Samaria, they told how the Gentiles had been converted. This news made all the believers very glad. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and elders, to whom they reported everything God had done through them.

Until a section of believers felt that the Gentiles must now become Jews in practice: 
Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, “The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses.The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7 After much discussion, (something tells me that this was a major understatement!!) Peter (NOT Paul, NOT Barnabas, but Peter!!!) got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10 Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? 11 No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

Shocking words!! Just look at the first four words in the next verse: 
12 The whole assembly became silent as they listened to Barnabas and Paul telling about the signs and wonders God had done among the Gentiles through them. 13 When they finished, James spoke up. “Brothers,” he said, “listen to me. 14 Simon[a] has described to us how God first intervened to choose a people for his name from the Gentiles. 15 The words of the prophets are in agreement with this, as it is written:
16 “‘After this I will return
    and rebuild David’s fallen tent.
Its ruins I will rebuild,
    and I will restore it,
17 that the rest of mankind may seek the Lord,
    even all the Gentiles who bear my name,

says the Lord, who does these things’[b]
18     things known from long ago.[c]
19 “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood. 21 For the law of Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.”

I think it's good to point out here that you can definitely see the difference of opinions that are existing within the different personalities at this point. We have Paul, who is championing Grace and Freedom for the Gentiles. We have Peter, who is adamant that placing the Law of the Gentiles would be too much for them to bear and that salvation is by Grace through Faith.  We have Barnabas, who is championing the Law of Moses and Circumcision for the Gentiles. We also have James, who seems to be thinking that eventually, they'll come around to the law of Moses. Oh no, it's a split decision! It's sometimes difficult to see the human reasoning within scripture, but we have to remember, these were humans - men - just like us - with thought and reason and rationale just like what happens when a group of us get together.  What then was the end result? We read it in verse 22.

The Council’s Letter to Gentile Believers

22 Then the apostles and elders, with the whole church, decided to choose some of their own men and send them to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas. They chose Judas (called Barsabbas) and Silas, men who were leaders among the believers. 23 With them they sent the following letter:
The apostles and elders, your brothers,
To the Gentile believers in Antioch, Syria and Cilicia:
24 We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. 25 So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul (THIS IS SIGNIFICANT, since both had very divergent opinions!!) 26 men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. 27 Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. 28 It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29 You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
30 So the men were sent off and went down to Antioch, where they gathered the church together and delivered the letter. 31 The people read it and were glad for its encouraging message. 32 Judas and Silas, who themselves were prophets, said much to encourage and strengthen the believers. 33 After spending some time there, they were sent off by the believers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent them. [34] [d] 35 But Paul and Barnabas remained in Antioch, where they and many others taught and preached the word of the Lord.

That wasn't the end of the disagreements between Paul and Barnabas - two totally different opinions on Law and Grace and Church Administration, the Law of Moses and the Gentiles. Look what happened in verse 36:

Disagreement Between Paul and Barnabas

36 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.” 37 Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, 38 but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. 39 They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus, 40 but Paul chose Silas and left, commended by the believers to the grace of the Lord. 41 He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
It doesn't take a lot to see that there were hard feelings between the two who had completely different opinions on the path that they thought the two were supposed to take. Doesn't this all sound familiar? A huge shift had just happened within the Church. The Gentiles were included as believers without the inclusions of circumcision and the observances of the Law of Moses.

It is with this perspective that one must read the Pauline Epistles, as Paul went from church to church writing the congregations trying to explain to those who sided with Barnabas' opinion about Law about why the Law existed, what it was for, what it did, and the new way of faith in Christ and Christ in you in such books as Galatians. It is with this background that one can understand why Paul wrote exactly what he wrote, and went into such lengths and details about such issues - because he was dealing with people who could not accept the decisions of the Jerusalem Council, and that the Gentiles were not subject to the same yoke that they spent their whole lives observing. This did not change the fact that the decision was done and the Gentile Church WAS the Church - even though they did things and observed things differently. 

And here is where Herbert Armstrong could not reconcile that the Gentile Church was as much a part of the Church as the Jewish Christians were, 1900 and some years later. Instead, Herbert Armstrong condemned the Gentile Church as a wayward, backwards, pagan people who did not operate on faith but had become absorbed in apostasy. His mindframe was that the Gentile Church must act as the Jewish Church acted in the first Century - as the earliest Christians had to act. His mindframe was that the Gentile Church had to be subject to the Law of Moses. In short, Herbert Armstrong defied the authority and judgement of the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 and made the unilateral decision that the Gentile Church WAS bound to observe the Law of Moses and even circumcision. Herbert Armstrong was in rebellion to Paul, to Peter, and to the entire Jerusalem Council. Herbert Armstrong sided with Barnabas, and put a yoke on Gentile Christians that was too hard of a yoke to bear and distracted them from grace and faith in Christ. THIS is the reality of what happened, and this is the reality of where Herbert stood in relation to the authority of which the Council's decision was made.

In fact, Herbert Armstrong was rebellious to anybody who made a decision that was different than he thought. It didn't matter if it was Peter, or Paul, or Herb's own ministers, or Herb's church before he started his own. Herb had no respect for the Church, for the Decisions of the Council, for the Gentiles, and the list goes on and on. The reality is that what was in Herb's mind was a methodology to use religion - specifically taking the position of Barnabas - to attempt to revive the inclusions that had been outlawed by the council upon the Gentiles for his own personal benefit and gain. Such actions were mutinous, disrespectful, and against the very Spirit who inspired the decisions of the council in the first place.

Just because the Gentiles did things differently did not eliminate, and does not eliminate their faith and their belief in Jesus Christ and does not eliminate their prospects for salvation nor their inclusion into the Church of God. This is the hardest pill for the Churches of God to swallow - and it all stems from the great reconciliation and acceptance of the Gentiles by God in the Spirit at the day of Pentecost.

Will the Church of God recognize the decisions of the Church of God made at the Jerusalem Council? Will the Church of God accept the decisions of Peter, Paul, and all the Apostles? Will the Church of God stop trying to imposing yokes and burdens on the Gentiles that are too hard and cumbersome for them? Will Thiel and Malm and others take the decisions of the Jerusalem council and humble themselves and obey their spiritual authorities and stop imposing Jewish Law on Gentile Christians and creating more hardship than they can bear distracting them from CHRIST? 

Monday, June 3, 2019

The Voice

A Few of my very earliest memories was that of what transpired at the Feast of Tabernacles - when I, as a toddler, had my very own luxurious space during the Feast of Tabernacles - on a cold, cement floor surrounded by legs, shoes, and the bottom elements of grey folding metal chairs. Yet these physical elements were not the substance of my memories. The substance of the memories was a booming, authoritative, and strongly echoing voice that filled not only the Tabernacle - or metal warehouse - that I, along with 14,000 others, were inhabiting for hours per day for eight total days in that Fall. It was that voice that I remember most clearly.

It was that voice - the live, and deep bass voice - of Herbert W. Armstrong - that penetrated my head with the force of a clap of thunder and the peal of an angry drill sergeant. Sleeping was a necessity for a person of my age at that time - two, three, or even four years of age. Sleep, however, in the audio presence of a certain Herb was not as the effect of Chamomile. No, sleep was not to be had when you were a baby in the Worldwide Church of God when Herbert Armstrong was speaking. For the very moment that you began to be lulled by a more distant rumble - a strike of lightning would punctuate the Arena - activating the emergency wails of miniature alarms no greater than 20 pounds in weight and 2 feet in height. Also activated were the transporter units of mothers who would take these tiny alarms and rush them to the silencing room, as distractions were frowned upon - and that's putting it mildly.

Herbert Armstrong to the youngest of the Armstrong Era alive to remember it was not the Apostle. He was not the gentle grandfather. He wasn't even "nice" in the memories of us. Herbert was a force. A power - not benevolent in appearance, but violent and fierce. A malevolent being that could change from light to dark in the flash of a heartbeat.

I remember as a child looking up at Herbert on the Big Screen at those Feast of Tabernacles. Literally - I had to look up and between heads and shoulders when I was standing up on a seat and not trying to sleep on blankets, cradled with an Etch-A-Sketch and a "Little Professor". I remember his animatd motions. His lean in the chair. And the one time I did what I wasn't supposed to do - I laughed at him when he knocked a lamp over with his dramatic and far flung hand gestures. I didn't look up to him - now in a more emotional sense - as a religious figure. I looked up to Herbert Armstrong as someone to be very, very afraid of.

That element of fear - a pervasive, far-reaching element - was an emotion that Herbert Armstrong crafted to a science for not only those of us who were babies within the Church, but for all who were a part of the brief, yet powerful, movement - for those of us who were seduced into it. That element of fear was in the single man and woman being told how their marriage would be arranged. That element was in the baptized member afraid to upset the minister for fear he or she would be disfellowshipped for trivial mutiny. That element was in the father and husband who was just told to quit his job because it violated either Church rules or the minister's order. That element was in the wife who was told to submit to the husband, the minister, and every command of the Church. That element of fear was something that we simply called "Submission to Government". It was a part of our culture, ingrained into us from day one of Herbert's regime pounded into our psychological crevices, cemented by threats of eternal damnation should we rebel, and use common sense or critical thinking. That element of fear was called "Unity". That element of fear was called "order". Those not submissive to such unity and order were the "World" - and the "World" was what you did not want to be a part of, because then you were, you were told, subject to great loss - and great affliction from physical and spiritual forces. The element of fear is what held you in. It encapsulated, suffocated, and paralyzed you - yet was calming and familiar enough to lull you into a sense of security. Reality became unknown, traded for the narrow and false visions of lies and deceit from one man who convinced you he was sent by God to take you where no man had gone in 1900 years - to truth. Except every aspect of Herbert's ministry was founded on lie, after lie, after lie.

It has been a long time since those days of sitting on the cold, gray, unfeeling cement floors of those warehouse buildings used as Tabernacles. A few of those buildings still exist, such as at Wisconsin Dells, Lake of the Ozarks, and Big Sandy. Time, however has changed those buildings, and time has changed those who used to fill it's cavernous coldness (in some cases, literal coldness!). The Ozarks building only houses boats now. The Wisconsin Dells building belongs to another group altogether, as does the Big Sandy Tabernacle. And for most of us who grew up under the shadow of an abusive, dominating, greed-filled bully - there is no longer any reason to fear him or Armstrongism in general. For the movement that created such fear has fizzled out in a most spectacular dud you could ever imagine.

That voice? That resonant, powerful voice? Silent. Yet the voice that continues to persist and penetrate - that Voice - the voice that says, "I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life". That Voice that says "For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." That Voice that says  "I am the Resurrection and the Life." That Voice that is gentle as a whisper and timeless as the Alpha and Omega. That Voice that searches our hearts and minds. That voice of Truth - yes, that Voice remains, and has remained from the Time of His Birth, to now, and to forevermore. He was never silenced. He was always there. That's the Voice. That's the One. That's the Truth. He's the Wonderful Counselor, the Prince of Peace, the Everlasting Father. And HE - Jesus - is far more powerful than that other voice of lies that came, spoke, and has been silenced so we could finally hear and know The Voice of Jesus Christ, our Lord.