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Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Alright, here's the short list!

In response to my previous post, one of my friends jested that we are supposed to prove all things - NOT DISPROVE ALL THINGS! He suggested that it would be interesting to see the list of the things that I do believe (seeing as how my Statement of Nonbelief was so extensive). As a consequence, I've decided to publish the short list (I'm borrowing a page from the "minimalist" playbook). So, here it is:

I BELIEVE:

1. That God exists, and that "He" will reward those who diligently seek "Him."
2. That God is the Creator, First Cause, Source and Sustainer of all that is; but that science has provided us with the best answers about how those things were/are accomplished.
3. That God sent Jesus Christ to this earth to redeem mankind from sin and death; and that he accomplished that task by living a sinless life and perfectly fulfilling the requirements of the Law, and then offering himself as a sacrifice for our sins.
4. That everyone who accepts Christ as their personal Savior (during this lifetime or in the resurrection) and attempts to follow his teachings and example is reconciled to God and will receive eternal life with God.
5. That God gives the Holy Spirit to those who repent and accept Christ in order to guide and help them in this life; and that God can and does use that same Spirit to inspire and help people of other faiths during their lifetime on this planet; and that the Holy Spirit represents God in us, the very thing that ensures a future with God after this life is over.
6. That the Judeo-Christian Scriptures are useful in helping us to understand the nature of righteousness and sin, for correcting us and inspiring us to do better.
7. That love is the basis of God's Law, and it fulfills/satisfies all of the requirements of that Law. Moreover, love for God is best demonstrated/expressed by loving each other.
8. That there are certain rituals which are useful in demonstrating/expressing spiritual realities/truths, and which are approved by God for general use by "His" people (e.g. prayer, baptism, the laying on of hands, the communion service, the gathering together of Christians for worship and fellowship, and that the observance of the weekly Sabbath is the most meaningful and effective ritual in accomplishing this end).
9. That Jesus Christ will one day return to this earth, and that EVERYONE who has ever lived will be given the opportunity to have an eternal relationship with God (and that the vast majority of them will accept God's offer).

I know that's only 9 compared to 22, but I no longer feel comfortable wading into the weeds! What do you think?

Monday, February 22, 2016

My Statement of Nonbelief

As most of the various Armstrong Churches of God have presented a formal statement describing their beliefs to the public, I thought that it would be interesting to offer my own Statement of Nonbelief to highlight the theological distance which I have traveled since being disfellowshipped from the original Worldwide Church of God in 1985. Indeed, many of the folks both within and outside of that culture have questioned me about my beliefs (Do you still believe this or that?). While this should not be regarded as an exhaustive or comprehensive list of the doctrines/teachings of Armstrongism which I have rejected, I believe it will underscore just how far away from that culture I have journeyed over the last thirty years.

My Statement of Nonbelief:

1. I don't believe that the Bible is God's complete and final statement/authority about "Himself" or "His" plans for us. I also don't believe that everything in the Bible is the "Word of God," or that it is inerrant or free of contradictions. Moreover, I don't believe that all Scripture is subject to a literal understanding/interpretation.
2. I don't believe that God is defined or contained by Scripture.
3. I don't believe that any individual, group or church has all of the truth or is the only vehicle through which God is working.
4. I don't believe that God instituted a hierarchical or authoritarian form of government within "His" Church.
5. I don't believe that any individual or group has the spiritual authority to excommunicate/disfellowship someone from God's Church.
6. I don't believe that keeping the Law (including the Sabbath command) is necessary to receive salvation or win God's favor.
7. I don't believe that God expects Christians to observe the Holy Days or the regulations regarding clean and unclean meats outlined in the Old Testament.
8. I don't believe that there is anything inherently wrong with Christians observing Christmas, New Years, Easter, birthdays, etc.
9. I don't believe that Scripture delineates three separate tithes, or that Christians are obligated to tithe on their gross income, or that they are required to give all of their tithes/offerings to any individual, group or organization.
10. I don't believe that prophecy was intended to equate modern people or peoples with ancient individuals or nations, or to provide us with a timetable for world events.
11. I don't believe that the peoples of the United States and British Commonwealth are descended from two of the so-called lost tribes of Israel, and I don't believe that the current British royal family occupies David's throne.
12. I don't believe that the gospel message is exclusively concerned with the subject of government.
13. I don't believe that anyone knows what happens when a person dies, and I don't believe that Scripture provides us with a clear understanding of the subject either.
14. I don't believe that Christians will one day be God or equal to God.
15. I don't believe that Jesus Christ was resurrected on the Sabbath, or that Christians who regard that event as having occurred on the first day of the week are wrong.
16. I don't believe that homosexuality is an abomination or that homosexuals are bound for the Lake of Fire.
17. I don't believe that God ever had to change "His" plans or that this earth was originally designed for angels.
18. I don't believe that any part of the rituals surrounding the Day of Atonement had anything to do with Satan.
19. I don't believe that angels are immortal, and that Satan's ultimate fate is to be cast into outer darkness.
20. I don't believe that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit immunizes anyone against deception or fallibility.
21. I don't believe that Herbert Armstrong was qualified to be a minister of Jesus Christ, let alone an evangelist, prophet or apostle.
22. I don't believe that the theory of evolution contradicts God's existence or undermines "His" role as Creator.

What do you think of my list?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

God just made a big mistake, or Satan has taken over!

Reaction to the recent death of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia underscores the ridiculousness of mixing religion and politics. Republicans are fond of implying (or openly proclaiming) that God is on their side. If that's truly the case, then God was either asleep at the wheel on February 13 (the day of Scalia's death) - or Satan is at the controls! But wait, what if God allowed Scalia to die in February of 2016 so that President Obama could nominate his successor? Senate Republicans: "No, that can't be. We're just going to have to help God out on this one by not even considering the President's nominee!"

The very conservative columnist Cal Thomas recently penned a commentary for USA Today that I wish my Republican friends would take to heart (and, for those of you who were wondering, I'm not a Democrat). The piece is titled "Republicans should cut the God talk" (www.usatoday.com).

In the piece, Thomas observed: "This political season is featuring an unusual amount of 'God talk' among the presidential candidates. As usual, Republicans seem to have cornered the market on religious rhetoric." He continued: "When Republicans lose an election, they respond that God must have gone on holiday, or that some evil force stronger than he must have taken over the country." Thomas went on to observe: "Politicians religious beliefs tell us little to nothing about their ability to be a president or member of Congress." He concluded: "Let the preachers fulfill their role on the moral questions (I would say 'let each individual's conscience fulfill its role on the moral questions') and the politicians theirs. Both will be better off for it, as will the country."

Oh wait, never mind! I can hear my Republican friends now, "Cal Thomas just isn't conservative enough!" My response: Get over it! God or fate (whichever one you prefer) has handed this one to the President!

Saturday, February 13, 2016

God, David and Anglo-Israelism (Part 3)

As with Scripture, Mr. Armstrong ignored or intentionally left out a great deal of history in justifying his teachings about Anglo-Israelism relative to the British royal family. When one takes the time to review the full story, he/she will come to the inescapable conclusion that it does not support the proposition that the British royal family could have played any part in the fulfillment of God's promise to David!

First, legends are just that - legends. They may or may not have some basis in fact. Hence, whether or not Jeremiah ever traveled to Ireland and was accompanied by a Jewish Princess is immaterial to this discussion. However, for the sake of argument, let us assume the legend is true. How does one account for the fact that one generation is skipped in Armstrong's account of God's fulfillment of "His" promise to David (After all, it was Zedekiah's daughter's husband who ruled in Ireland during the period of their supposed marriage)? Now, we are ready to explore the subsequent events relative to Irish, Scottish and English royal history.

If we assume that Zedekiah's grandson (through his daughter) eventually succeeded to his father's throne, how does one account for the numerous changes in dynasties over the years that followed? For the sake of space and time, let's begin with the transference of the royal family to Scotland. The House of McAlpin eventually gave way to the House of Atholl, which was succeeded by the House of Balliol (in the midst of an extended period of disputed succession). That short-lived dynasty was supplanted by the House of Bruce, which was itself followed by the House of Stewart. Do we begin to appreciate how many times the throne passed in the female line?

Indeed, when a Scottish Stuart (the surname was Anglicized) finally assumed the throne of England, his claim was asserted through his famous mother Mary, Queen of Scots (the very same monarch who Elizabeth I had beheaded a few years previous). And, as any good student of British history knows, the Stuart family was eventually deposed by Parliament. In fact, after the execution of King Charles I, Britain did without a king for eleven years! The period is known as The Interregnum (between the reigns). During those years, Oliver Cromwell ruled over England as a Commonwealth. Doesn't that qualify as an interruption?

Moreover, when Parliament eventually decided that the House of Hanover would replace the last Stuart monarch (Queen Anne), they settled on a man who was the son of Princess Sophia, the daughter of Princess Elizabeth ( who was herself the daughter of James I). The Hanoverian dynasty ended with Queen Victoria (the longest reigning monarch in British history until she was supplanted in that honor by the current Queen).

Victoria married a German Cousin - Albert of the House of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. However, as a consequence of the hostility generated for things German by WWI, King George V changed the dynasty's name to the House of Windsor. When Elizabeth I passes from the scene, her son or grandson will begin yet another dynasty (although she has decreed that the family name will not change). Prince Philip is technically a Greek Prince, but his male ancestry goes back to a Danish king (Christian I).

In conclusion, the promise that David would not fail to have "a man to be ruler in Israel" II Chronicles 7:18, could not have been fulfilled by the British royal family. Moreover, the Bible makes it very clear in numerous places that Christ was the anticipated fulfillment of that promise. Thus, from a scriptural, genealogical and historical perspective, Anglo-Israelism is refuted by the facts.

God, David and Anglo-Israelism (Part 2)

In chapter seven of his booklet "The United States and Britain in Prophecy," Mr. Armstrong wrote about "Jeremiah's mysterious commission." He quoted part of the passage that characterized that mission as being "to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build, and to plant." Jeremiah 1:10 Unfortunately, Mr. Armstrong apprropriated this scripture to describe the prophet's supposed mission to save the royal family of Judah; and he missed/ignored the fact that verse nine indicated that these things applied specifically to the prophet's MESSAGE. In other words, verse ten applies to everything that Jeremiah did as God's prophet - not to some secret mission regarding the survival of David's House. Hence, to learn more about Jeremiah's commission, one would expect to do that by studying the entire book that bears his name.

However, Mr. Armstrong insisted on the correctness of his speculation regarding that commission by drawing his audience's attention to a cryptic prophecy in the book of Ezekiel. The passage in question reads: "Thus saith the Lord God; Remove the diadem, and take off the crown: this shall not be the same: exalt him that is low, and abase him that is high. I will overturn, overturn, overturn, it: and it shall be no more, until he come whose right it is; and I will give it him." Ezekiel 21:26-27 According to Armstrong, this prophecy applied directly to Jeremiah's mission to Ireland and what would become of David's House once it was established there. Nothing could be further from the truth - look a little closer folks!

Remember context, this prophecy clearly refers to the impending invasion of Jerusalem by the king of Babylon. Ezekiel 21:18-25 It is interesting to note in this connection that the Bible describes King Nebuchadnezzar's subjugation of Jerusalem and overthrow of David's dynasty as occuring in THREE stages (overturn, overturn, overturn). II Kings 24-25 and II Chronicles 36 He deposed Jehoiakim, whom the people of Judah replaced with Jehoiachin. Then Nebuchadnezzar deposed that king and replaced him with Zedekiah, who was the last king of Judah. In each case, the king of Babylon abased one man (the then current occupant of David's throne) and replaced (made high) him with one that was low (a Prince who had not been originally destined to be king). Didn't have to reach as far for that one, did we?

Moreover, Mr. Armstrong attempted to explain away the clear implication of this passage that David's crown would remain fallen "until he come whose right it is" - a clear reference to Jesus Christ. He did this by inserting the word "overturned" after "and it shall be no more." Which, incidentally, is not consistent with Amos' prophecy that God would "raise up the tabernacle of David that is fallen" in the day that "He" restores Israel (future). Amos 9:11

Indeed, Mr. Armstrong's error seems to stem from a fundamental misunderstanding (or intentional distortion) of the nature of the Davidic covenant. If we review God's promise of an eternal throne to David (II Samuel 7:12-16 and I Chronicles 17:11-14), it is clear that the promise would be fulfilled by ONE male descendant (Christ). This is affirmed by numerous passages in Isaiah and elsewhere in the Bible. Isaiah 9:6-7, 11:1-16, Matthew 1 & 2 and Luke 1-3 After all, Solomon's (and David's male descendants through him) participation in the Davidic covenant was made contingent upon his (their) personal behavior. I Kings 9:4-9 and II Chronicles 7:17-22

Finally, in considering this from the perspective of Scripture, we would be remiss not to note the nature of the way the concept of a dynasty/house is understood throughout the Bible. In other words, the Bible is overwhelmingly paternalistic in this respect. Please note that ALL of the genealogies recorded in the book are father to son. In fact, females are only included (named) in a handful of the stories about the principal families of the book.

Both the Hebrew and Greek words used to delineate David's dynasty literally refer to his house. Hence, the folks who live in the house or household - the family. Likewise, both words imply the presence of a patriarchal structure or paternal descent. (www.eliyah.com) This fact will be important as we take a look at the relevant royal history of Great Britain in the third part of this series.

God, David and Anglo-Israelism (Part 1)

One of the most distinctive doctrines of the Armstrong Church of God movement is their insistence that an understanding of the "Biblical" identities of the peoples of the United States and Great Britain is essential to a proper understanding of Bible prophecy. In short, Herbert Armstrong (the founder of the movement) taught that the peoples (meaning the White folks) of those two nations are the descendants of two of the tribes of Israel (Manasseh and Ephraim to be precise).

One of the principal "proofs" of (and corollaries to) this doctrine is a bizarre and convoluted story about the fate of King David's dynasty. Once again, to spare the reader some of the confusion and tedium associated with the teaching, it can be summarized as a belief that Queen Elizabeth II is the current occupant of the throne of David (his direct descendant and rightful heir, if you prefer). "What?" you may be asking yourself in astonishment.

Their story begins with God's promise of an eternal throne to King David. II Samuel 7:12-16 and I Chronicles 17:11-14 It continues with an assertion that David's throne did not cease to exist with the fall of the Kingdom of Judah and the imprisonment of Zedekiah (the last king of Judah) at the hands of the Babylonians. If you think that's bizarre, "you ain't seen nothing yet!" This is where the story gets really interesting.

Armstrong and his followers taught/teach that the prophet Jeremiah took one of Zedekiah's daughters and spirited her away to Ireland to marry one of the kings native to that island. From there, it's a matter of following the old legendary royal ancestries that were commissioned by the kings of old to embellish and legitimate their claim to rule. The Irish royal line is traced to Fergus MacErc, who founded what became the royal house of Scotland. And, as any good student of British history knows, the story continues with the ascension of the Scottish James VI to the throne of England as James I (or, if you prefer, with the earlier transference of the Stone of Scone to England by King Edward I).

Great story, but it doesn't hold up to closer scrutiny. As a student of history (my major in college) and genealogy (see my website "The Genealogy Homepage of Lonnie C Hendrix"), and an actual descendant of the British kings in question (along with a smattering of Middle East DNA, the blood of Abraham), and a long time student of Armstrongism and the Bible, I feel like I am somewhat qualified to discourse on the subject. Nevertheless, a word of warning is in order before proceeding, some of my friends in the Armstrong Church of God movement will not like what follows.

First, it should be noted that the scriptures used by Armstrong and his followers to support these notions have been twisted and misinterpreted. If one is willing to exam these scriptures in an objective and balanced fashion, he/she will quickly come to the conclusion that extreme liberties were exercised by Armstrong in both what was used, emphasized and derived from Scripture. In other words, I hope that what follows will serve as a clear-eyed refutation of this pernicious teaching.

(More to follow)

Monday, February 8, 2016

Cocoons and Wombs

Ed Suominen recently posted a piece on his blog entitled "Community." Of particular interest to me, he made reference to the fact that many Fundamentalist groups effectively encase themselves in a cocoon. They separate themselves from the outside world to reinforce the group's beliefs and protect those notions from being corrupted by the heathens without.

This phenomenon is not foreign to the Armstrong Church of God culture. Herbert Armstrong taught that the church (meaning the now defunct Worldwide Church of God) was the mother of the saints. The church served to protect the developing embryos (church members) until they could be born again into God's Kingdom. Moreover, this notion continues to be expressed by the numerous splinter groups which have succeeded that organization.

Bruce Ritter of the Restored Church of God underscored the continued importance of this analogy in his article "Is the Church Our Mother?" Speaking of the church, he stated "she carries her unborn child in her womb." According to Ritter, this is done to protect, feed and nurture the embryonic Christian.

However, as with many other features of Armstrongism, the analogy doesn't hold up under closer scrutiny. In short, we should be asking ourselves whether or not this is what God intended for "His" people. Did God design "His" Church to be a cocoon or womb to protect and nurture the saints from the evil influences of this world?

In attempting to answer that question, a few other questions come to mind:
Didn't Christ engage folks with religious views that differed from his own? (Pharisees, Sadducees and Samaritans)
Isn't he portrayed in all four of the gospel accounts as being in the habit of asking and/or answering questions?
Weren't many of his sermons delivered in response to questions/challenges from his disciples and opponents?
Did Jesus withdraw from sinners?
Did he instruct his followers to withdraw from this world or did he encourage them not to allow themselves to be polluted by it?
Didn't Christ ask God to protect his followers IN the world?
Was Jesus isolated or exposed?
Did Christ face and do battle with his adversary (Satan)?
Why did Paul instruct the Christians of his day to put on the armor of God?
Is armor necessary inside a womb/cocoon?
If the truth is the truth, why should we fear or avoid challenges?
Is the truth that fragile and delicate?
What do you think?

Monday, February 1, 2016

God and unanswered prayers

If we (believers) are honest with ourselves, I think that we would have to admit that the fact that prayers often appear to go unanswered is probably the most troublesome challenge to our faith to answer. I was reminded of this by an excellent piece by Van Robison entitled "Why God does not answer prayers?" (Recently posted over at Gary Leonard's Banned By HWA blog) The article (and some of the many thoughtful comments it provoked) certainly gave me a lot to think about and consider.

As the author of the post suggests, the traditional answers offered by most of us (believers) really do appear feeble and inadequate. We say that God doesn't answer prayers because the petitioner is not a Christian (or not righteous enough), asking for the wrong things/reasons (or not in accordance with God's will) or is simply failing to ask in the manner prescribed by Scripture.

First, in attempting to deal with this challenge, I think that it is important to acknowledge the validity of the challenge! It should be easy for us to acknowledge that this is a challenge that deserves consideration and is not a candidate for easy dismissal. Why? Because some of us (believers) have asked that same question (why doesn't God answer prayers?) at some point in our faith journey (unless you're a mindless automaton). After all, Christians are anointed and prayed over every day who are not healed and/or die.

In fact, we could cite many instances where prayers appear to go unanswered. I have prayed every day for my family's protection, and yet my beloved niece died in an ATV accident. People who have prayed for God's protection are killed on a regular basis by fire, earthquakes, tornadoes and hurricanes.

Nevertheless, people report many instances of answered prayer. Is that coincidence? I once had a few seconds to say a prayer on behalf of my family as a tornado rolled toward our mobile home, and we were spared - though the houses on all four sides of us were not and other people were killed (and that same niece who would later be killed in the ATV accident was present). Were we just lucky that day? Would our deaths at that moment simply have interfered with some great cosmic plan/design?

Are there things that would cause me to question God's existence (or, at the very least, if "He" was listening)? What would I do if one of my children or grandchildren was not protected/sheltered by God? How would I respond if God didn't heal me of rheumatoid arthritis, cancer or some other debilitating disease?

The truth is that none of us like living in a world where we have no control - where we are powerless to determine the outcome. Moreover, most of us don't like the idea of living in a world in which there is no One to intervene and fix or ameliorate things that go wrong. And yet we often appear to find ourselves living in just such a world!

Is that happenstance or by design? And would it make sense for a God who has designed and set in motion such a world to change or alter it for the sake of an individual or a few? Can we think of any reasons why a loving God would design a world to function in this way? In other words, is there someone/something out there who is trying to teach us something about Him/Her/Itself and us?

Is God a magician that we should expect "Him" to perform on demand? Does the absence of immediate action upon a request constitute proof that "He" doesn't exist, or that the request will never be satisfied? Is this reality all that matters? Or is this only an ephemeral existence? Is there another reality that will trump anything that we experience in this world?

In short, is God looking at the long game? In John 14:12-14, was Christ speaking of our physical lifetime - the here and now? What does one month or one hundred years look like on the cosmic time scale?

It is interesting to note that Christ's model prayer asked for God's will to supercede our own. Also, when Christ prayed for the cup to pass from him (if it was possible), what happened?

Does what appears to be unanswered prayer constitute proof that God isn't listening or doesn't exist? Aren't we really saying that God's failure to fix bad things is offensive to our sense of fair play? Is our evaluation of this "evidence" objective or subjective? Is a rejection of God on this basis rational or emotional?

Just some thoughts and questions about a thought provoking topic. In the end, we all must answer these types of questions to our own satisfaction.