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Friday, December 23, 2016

The Assumptions of A Flawed Theology

2016 is almost at an end, and Herbert Armstrong has been dead and buried for almost thirty-one years now. His theology, however, still has its supporters/defenders. Nevertheless, many of us now recognize that Armstrong's theology was based on some erroneous assumptions. In other words, the Armstrong house of cards rests on a very weak and unstable foundation.

As a former member of the Worldwide Church of God who has had many years to contemplate his involvement in the movement, it is now clear to me that the whole system was founded on a number of false premises. What are some of those erroneous assumptions?

1. That the Bible is without error or contradiction and must be understood to be literally true in all particulars (demonstrably untrue).
2. That the Bible is the final and supreme authority in matters of faith (blasphemous).
3. That the Bible can only be understood by those whom God has specially called into "His" Church.
4. That there is only one way of interpreting the various scriptures, and that this interpretation renders a coherent and meaningful whole.
5. That modern nations can be identified with ancient peoples of the Bible, and that those identities are the basis for understanding much of the prophecy recorded in the Old Testament.
6. That there has been a grand Satanic conspiracy to suppress the truth, deceive and otherwise corrupt humankind.
7. That God is a vengeful, angry and mean-spirited entity capable of zapping anyone who displeases "Him" at a moments notice.
8. That growth and material wealth are evidence of Divine favor/approval.
9. That almost everything that Catholic/Protestant churches teach is either false or very inferior to what Armstrongists believe/teach.
10. That individuals within the Church are subservient to the ministry and God's purposes for the Church, and that they should never contradict or seek to overthrow either.
11. That "TRUE" Christians are obligated to keep all/most of the Mosaic Law as outlined in the Torah.
12. That mankind is corrupt and headed for catastrophe/destruction, and that we are living in the last days.

***Please note that points 4-12 are entirely dependent on the first three assumptions***

Thus, it seems to this writer that almost every belief of the Armstrong Churches of God rests on one or more of these assumptions. Moreover, it is apparent to this now former Armstrongite that there are problems with every one of these assumptions. And, as we all know, if the foundation crumbles, the edifice which it supports will also fall!

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Pagan Holidays or God's Holy Days - Really?

Herbert W. Armstrong wrote about some of our modern holiday observances:  "Ancient Rome's pagan holidays have been chained upon a heedless and deceived world. These include certain annual holidays — Christmas, New Year's, Easter, as well as many more, every one a pagan day — every one used to stimulate the sale of merchandise in the commercial markets. Upon honest investigation, the earnest seeker after truth learns that these days are all of heathen origin and pagan significance. He learns that he can have no part in them." He went on to talk about certain days talked about in the Bible on this wise:  "God's feasts, or holy days, or Sabbaths, were commanded to be kept year after year, and forever! We ask the reader to retain an open mind, for we shall prove that forever, in this case, means forever!" -- http://www.hwalibrary.com/cgi-bin/get/hwa.cgi?action=getbklet&InfoID=1326294480

Moreover, many of the groups which have risen from the ashes of the old Worldwide Church of God continue to teach the same things about Christian holiday/Holy Day observance. Are these understandings/teachings correct? Are most of our modern holiday observances pagan in origin? Are Christians obligated to keep the festivals outlined in the Old Testament? In this post, we will examine the scriptural and historical evidence available to us and let the reader come to his/her own conclusions.

SCRIPTURAL EVIDENCE (HOLY DAYS)

HWA and most of the groups who follow his teachings regularly quote the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus to bolster their case for Christian observance of God's festivals. They point out that these events are referred to as "the feasts of the Lord" and "these are my feasts." Likewise, they like to point out that the phraseology of "a statute for ever" and "throughout your generations" is employed over and over again in this chapter. The implication is clear:  These are God's festivals, and they are to be observed forever.

However, when one digs a little deeper into Scripture, such dogmatic assertions do not hold up under scrutiny. In fact, an independent study of what Scripture has to say on the subject reveals that HWA and his followers have either left out and/or twisted a great deal of what is revealed there. For instance, in the opening verses of this chapter (Leviticus 23), we read:  "And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them..." Doesn't that indicate that this message was clearly for the children of Israel?

Another item which they typically gloss over or ignore is found in the sixteenth chapter of Deuteronomy and is referred to as the "Law of the Central Sanctuary" by many theologians. Simply put, it is made clear here that there would only be one acceptable place for the Israelites to observe these festivals. Notice the phraseology which is repeated over and over again in this chapter concerning them observing the festival in the place "which the Lord shall choose." Indeed, in the summary of these festivals, we read:  "Three times (or seasons) in a year shall all thy males appear before the Lord thy God in the place which he shall choose..." (verse 16).

This concept is made even clearer in the twelfth chapter of Deuteronomy. After instructing the Israelites to destroy all of the places of worship which the previous inhabitants of the Promised Land used (verses 1-4), we read:  "But unto the place which the Lord your God shall choose out of all your tribes to put his name there, even unto his habitation shall ye seek, and thither thou shalt come" (verse 5). The following verses make plain that this encompassed all of their religious observances, including the feasts (verses 6-7). And then, just so there wouldn't be any room for misunderstanding, we read:  "Ye shall not do after all the things that we do here this day, every man whatsoever is right in his own eyes. For ye are not as yet come to the rest and to the inheritance, which the Lord your God giveth you. But when ye go over Jordan, and dwell in the land which the Lord your God giveth you to inherit...Then there shall be a place which the Lord your God shall choose to cause his name to dwell there...Take heed to thyself that thou offer not thy burnt offerings in every place that thou seest: But in the place which the Lord shall choose in one of thy tribes, there thou shalt offer thy burnt offerings, and there thou shalt do all that I command thee" (verses 8-14).

Of course, most students of the Bible know that there was only one place which God chose to place his name - one place for the central sanctuary:  The Temple at Jerusalem. This is made clear in the books which cover the kingdom period. After Solomon completed the temple in Jerusalem and prayed that God would recognize it as his house (I Kings 8), we read of God's response in the following chapter:  "And the Lord said unto him, I have heard thy prayer and thy supplication, that thou hast made before me:  I have hallowed this house, which thou hast built, to put my name there for ever; and mine eyes and mine heart shall be there perpetually" (verse 3). Compare this scripture to II Chronicles 7:12-16.

That the temple at Jerusalem was the place which God had chosen is made plain throughout these histories of the kingdom period. It is evident in Jeroboam's decision to create two places of worship at Bethel and Dan to prevent the people from returning to Jerusalem to worship after the ten tribes abandoned David's dynasty and kingdom (see I Kings 12:25-33). It is also clear from these accounts that festival observance as outlined in the Torah was a rare occurrence during this period. This is demonstrated by the fact that Hezekiah and Josiah were reported to have held festival observances in accordance with God's instructions (see II Chronicles 30 and 35).

Notice too, that ALL of the festivals required a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, not just the Feast of Tabernacles (as practiced by most Armstrongites). This understanding is critical to a proper comprehension of the entire subject going forward.

Now, as all good students of the Bible are aware, the Israelites and the Jews (Judah) were carried into captivity. Moreover, when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon defeated and dethroned the last king of Judah, we are told that he destroyed Jerusalem and the temple (see II Kings 25 and II Chronicles 36). What happened to festival observance when that happened?

 We read in the book of Lamentations:  "The ways of Zion do mourn, because none come to the solemn feasts:  all her gates are desolate:  her priests sigh, her virgins are afflicted, and she is in bitterness" (Lamentations 1:4). In the following chapter, we read:  "And he (God) hath violently taken away his tabernacle, as if it were of a garden:  he hath destroyed his places of the assembly:  the Lord hath caused the solemn feasts and sabbaths to be forgotten in Zion, and hath despised in the indignation of his anger the king and the priest. The Lord hath cast off his altar, he hath abhorred his sanctuary..." (Lamentations 2:6-7). Without the temple in Jerusalem, festival observance as specified by God came to an end! To be sure, festival observance was later re-established - after some of the Jewish exiles were allowed to return to the Promised Land and rebuild the temple; but there is no escaping the fact that festival observance ended for a time.

What about the fact that festival observance is prophesied for the future - in God's Kingdom? (see Zechariah 14:16-19) Notice that this is speaking of the FUTURE. This scripture is clearly referring to the time when the Lord of Hosts shall be headquartered in Jerusalem. And, once again, everyone will be required to attend the Feast of Tabernacles at JERUSALEM (verses 16-17) - no Mt. Pocono, Wisconsin Dells or Jekyll Island!

Didn't Jesus and his disciples continue to observe the festivals? Yes, Christ continued to observe the festivals. Remember, he had to fulfill all of the particulars of the Law in order to rescue us from the penalty of breaking its provisions. Notice, however, that Christ always attended the festivals at Jerusalem! In the Gospel according to Luke, we read:  "Now his parents went to Jerusalem every year at the feast of the Passover. And when he was twelve years old, they went up to Jerusalem after the custom of the feast" (Luke 2:42-42). Likewise, we read in the Gospel according to John that he attended the Feast of Tabernacles (Chapter 7) and Feast of the Dedication (Hanukkah) at Jerusalem (10:22-23). Of course, we all know that Christ celebrated his final Passover with his disciples in Jerusalem (Matthew 26, Mark 14, Luke 22 and John 13). There is also scriptural evidence that his followers continued to observe these rituals after his death, burial and resurrection (see the book of Acts).

Doesn't this demonstrate that Christians are still obligated to observe these days? NO! Remember, the early church was Jewish. The apostles had failed to follow Christ's instructions to "teach all nations" (Matthew 28:19) and had focused instead on Palestine. Hence, it is quite natural that Jewish Christians would have continued to observe these Jewish festivals. However, when the church finally began to expand into Gentile countries where there was no tradition of keeping the Mosaic Law (including festival observance), festival observance was practiced by a smaller and smaller portion of the Church (as the number of Gentile converts grew).

Finally, when the Romans captured Jerusalem and destroyed the reconstructed temple in the year 70 A.D., ALL festival observance ceased (just as it had when the first temple was destroyed by the Babylonians). Yes, history informs us that new traditions eventually developed regarding these festivals, and that the Jews began observing them in their homes and synagogues around the world. In similar fashion, many Christians eventually began observing them again after a fashion in later years. Nevertheless, it is apparent in both the Jewish and Christian observances of these days that they are following man-made traditions with regard to their celebrations and do not observe the scriptural formula for keeping them (indeed, it is currently impossible to do so)!

HISTORICAL EVIDENCE (HOLIDAYS)

How much of our modern observance of Christmas is pagan (pre-Christian) in origin? You be the judge!

Yes, the Norse had their Yule (which could last for 12 days); the Romans had their Saturnalia, Juvenalia and Mithra's birthday - all in December (our months and days of the week also derive from these folks).
-- http://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas

Two of the canonical gospels (Matthew and Luke) contain an account of Christ's birth, and the events surrounding it.
-- King James Bible, 1611

The legend of Santa Claus can be traced back to a Third Century Christian monk named St. Nicholas.
-- http://www.history.com/topics/christmas/santa-claus

Clement Clarke Moore published his iconic description of Santa Claus An Account of a Visit from Saint Nicholas (better known as Twas the Night Before Christmas) in 1822.
-- http://www.history.com/topics/christmas/santa-claus

Thomas Nast drew the first modern likeness of Santa Claus in 1881.
-- http://www.history.com/topics/christmas/santa-claus

Martin Luther (of Protestant Reformation fame) is credited with bringing an evergreen tree into his home and decorating it with candles.
-- http://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas-trees

Chistmas trees were introduced to America by German immigrants in the late Eighteenth and early Nineteenth Century
-- http://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas-trees

Christmas has been a federal holiday in the United States since 1870.
-- http://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas

Washington Irving was responsible for making the celebration of Christmas the family-focused holiday that it is today with a series of stories published in 1819.
-- http://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas

Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol was published in December of 1843 and remade the holiday into a time for cheerfulness, optimism, charity and good works.
-- https://books.google.com/books/about/A_Christmas_Carol_in_Prose.html?id=m_JRAAAAcAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=kp_read_button&hl=en#v=onepage&q&f=false

The custom of sending Christmas cards began in Great Britain in 1843 and appeared in the United States a few years later.
-- http://www.whychristmas.com/customs/cards.shtml

Poinsettia plants were introduced into the United States from Mexico in 1828.
-- http://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas

The story of Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer was introduced by Montgomery Ward Department Store in 1939.
--  http://www.history.com/topics/christmas/history-of-christmas

Consider the following dates for the music associated with the holiday:  Santa Claus Is Coming to Town (1934), White Christmas (1940), Here Comes Santa Claus (1947), Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer (1949), Silver Bells (1950)
--  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christmas_music

Consider the following dates for cartoons/movies associated with Christmas:  It's a Wonderful Life (1946), Miracle on 34th Street (1947), Rudolph The Red Nosed Reindeer (1964), A Charlie Brown Christmas (1965), The Grinch Who Stole Christmas (1966), Frosty The Snowman (1969)
-- http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0038650/
--http://nj1015.com/top-christmas-cartoons/

Now isn't that interesting? Of fifteen bullet points associated with the development of our Christmas traditions, only one of them had anything to do with paganism. And, eleven of those same points occurred within the last two hundred years!

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Fornication, tattoos, long hair and REAL Christians

In the latest offering from the Church of God International, Bill Watson and Wayne Hendrix discuss what is and isn't good Christian behavior for folks living in the 21st Century. If you're interested, you can listen to the complete conversation at this address:
http://cgi.org/armor-of-god-web-chat/2016/11/13/christian-living-in-the-21st-century

Mr. Watson and Mr. Hendrix open the segment by asserting that the Bible must be the standard and foundation for all Christian conduct. For them, the Bible IS God's Word. Hence, the Bible = truth (John 17:17) as opposed to whatever God says (whether it's found in the Bible or not) being truth (same scripture). In other words, the Bible is the only way that God has communicated "His" will/standards to mankind. They see the Judeo-Christian Scriptures as absolute and unchangeable. Moreover, they go on to assert that our world is in such sad shape because people don't read their Bibles.

Having established the Bible as their standard, they proceed to address whether or not the cohabitation of folks without benefit of clergy is an acceptable way for Christians to live. Without quoting a single scripture, they define fornication as a man and woman living together who are not married. Nevertheless, they go on to assure us that "God's Word" is very clear on this subject. To be fair, they do make a passing reference to God performing the first marriage ceremony in Genesis (you will look in vain to find it there) and do talk at some length about the covenant between a man and woman being modeled after the relationship which exists between God/Christ and the Church.

For the sake of argument, let's assume that the Adam and Eve in the Genesis account of creation were real/literal people and not just representative of the beginnings of human life on this planet. We are told there that God created men and women in "His" own image (Genesis 1:26-27), and that "He" instructed them to "be fruitful and multiply" (verse 28). Later, we are told that God created Eve as a helper and suitable partner/companion for Adam (Genesis 2:18).

The second chapter of Genesis concludes with two statements which are pertinent to our subject. The first is the oft cited passage:  "Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh" (verse 24). Isn't that interesting? This scripture seems to imply that the act of leaving the parental household and cohabitating with a woman makes one husband and wife - there is no mention here of any ceremony, formal or informal. We could argue that it is implied (where's the proof?), but we must acknowledge that nothing of the kind is explicitly stated here.

The final verse of this chapter is even more interesting with regard to the subject of human sexuality from the perspective of Scripture. We are told this about the first couple:  "And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed" (Genesis 2:25). WOW, that certainly seems to fly in the face of traditional Christian attitudes toward sex and body image! Where did our shame/modesty originate? In the following chapter (Genesis 3), we are told that this awareness originated in their sin of eating the fruit from the forbidden tree (verses 6-7). Does that mean that Traditional Christianity's prudery originated in the mind of the Serpent?

As for the imagery of the relationship between Christ and the Church, has that marriage ceremony actually happened yet? What about the parable of the Ten Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)? When does the marriage supper of the Lamb actually occur (Revelation 19)? Does that mean that the Church is currently fornicating with Christ? For that matter, where does it state in Scripture that all sexual relationships outside of marriage are sinful?

If you are going to make statements like:  If you want to have God's blessing, He wants you to be married; You shouldn't be having sexual relations without a covenant; OR The Bible is clear that any sex outside of marriage is sin, AND you claim the Bible as your standard, then you should present scriptures to back up those assertions! It is fine and dandy to talk about statistics and the pressure to conform, but wouldn't you accuse me of human reasoning if I chose to talk about those things?

Once again, to be fair, Mr. Watson and Mr. Hendrix do quote numerous scriptures about conforming to the standards of this world in a generic sense (Romans 12:2-3, II Corinthians 5:15-20); but they fail to make the case that their interpretation of fornication fits into that model. If we were truly interested in following God's standard as outlined in the Bible, wouldn't we be talking instead about fidelity? Isn't the commandment against adultery (Exodus 20:14)? Didn't Christ say that it was wrong to lust after someone sexually AFTER you have made a commitment to ONE person (Matthew 5:25)? In other words, he couldn't have been making a blanket condemnation of all sexual desire when he said that. After all, he is supposedly the one who placed that desire within us for purposes of establishing relationships/covenants and procreating!

There is a brief interlude in the discussion of the main topic (human sexuality) after Mr. Watson and Mr. Hendrix finish with fornication. They briefly address tattoos (Leviticus 19:28) and long hair (I Corinthians 11:14-16). For me, it is silly to talk about the intrusion of cultural norms extant thousands of years ago into these writings as if they are representative of eternal spiritual principles handed down by God Almighty. Would Mr. Watson or Mr. Hendrix consider First Century attire appropriate for Sabbath services in a 2016 congregation of the Church of God International? Forget the interlude, they end up relating all of this to the modern practice of masculinizing women and emasculating men.

They go on to appeal to Paul's allusion to us as the "temple of God" to further justify the prohibition of these and other human behaviors which they find to be distasteful (I Corinthians 3:16-17). Be careful men, other folks have used this principle to exclude the consumption of alcohol! I don't think that one would go over too well in the CGI culture.

They assert that:  If you're a truly committed Christian, you will want to conform to God's standard. Of course, as we have already explored, we would have to establish what God's standard is first. They ask:  What would Christ do? Isn't that human reasoning? I thought that they began by stating that the standard must be found in the Bible. Are they now saying that we can deduce our standard from what we are explicitly told in the Bible? How do they know that Christ wouldn't wear a speedo, or that he wouldn't appreciate seeing his wife in a bikini?

Finally, I find their suggestion that "sexually provocative" dress invites certain behaviors in men (especially young ones) to be reprehensible! They warn young women that there are consequences associated with such dress. I too believe in consequences. Young men should face consequences when they force themselves on women who have not invited their attention (dress is not necessarily an invitation).

Mr. Watson concludes with an offer of the booklet entitled How to be a Real Christian, and a warning about relationships with folks outside of the church. If this obsession with superficial behaviors and appearances is any indication of what's inside the booklet, I don't think I'll bother ordering a copy. You can be a REAL Christian by exhibiting love, compassion, empathy, mercy, kindness and tolerance for other folks. And, as for the warning about relationships outside of the church, we may want to disregard that one too. I think that Mr. Watson might need more relationships outside of the church. What do you think?

Friday, November 11, 2016

Franklin Graham gives God the credit for Trump's victory!

Just for the record, Armstrongites aren't the only ones who buy into this flawed theology about God's intervention in choosing our leaders. The following quote was extracted from Reverend Franklin Graham's Facebook page:

"Did God show up? In watching the news after the election, the secular media keep asking 'How did this happen?' 'What went wrong?' 'How did we miss this?' Some are in shock. Political pundits are stunned. Many thought the Trump/Pence ticket didn’t have a chance. None of them understand the God-factor.
Hundreds of thousands of Christians from across the United States have been praying. This year they came out to every state capitol to pray for this election and for the future of America. Prayer groups were started. Families prayed. Churches prayed. Then Christians went to the polls, and God showed up.
While the media scratches their heads and tries to understand how this happened, I believe that God’s hand intervened Tuesday night to stop the godless, atheistic progressive agenda from taking control of our country."

https://www.facebook.com/FranklinGraham/

That explains it all - Graham has answered the secular media's questions about how Donald Trump was elected President. I guess we should all be thankful that God saved us from Hillary's "godless, atheistic progressive agenda." Still, some of us can't help but wish that "He" had saved us from Trump's godly, theistic retrograde agenda!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Did God want Donald Trump to be President of the United States?

Some theists have argued that God chooses who will rule over the nations - that "He" has placed certain individuals in positions of authority for "His" own purposes. Some of these folks (like HWA and his devoted followers) have taken this logic a step further and concluded that this "truism" argues against Christ's followers participating in elections. So, according to this line of reasoning, God wanted Donald Trump to be President of the United States; and anyone who voted against him was resisting the will of God. Is that the case? Did God make Donald Trump President? OR Somehow move others to elect him as their leader?

Much of this reasoning is based on a dubious interpretation of a few scriptures. Chief among these are two passages found in the fourth chapter of the book of Daniel:  There we are told that Nebuchadnezzar issued a proclamation to the world about a vision he had been given by God - "to the intent that the living may know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will, and setteth up over it the basest of men (was he talking about Trump here?)" Daniel 4:17; and, a little later, we are told that Daniel explained the vision to the king and told him that he'd lose his mind and wouldn't recover his sanity - "till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will." Daniel 4:25 Among the other scriptures which are often cited to support these notions, are two from the Psalms:  "For the kingdom is the Lord's: and he is the governor among the nations." Psalm 22:28 and "For God is the King of all the earth: sing ye praises with understanding. God reigneth over the heathen: God sitteth upon the throne of his holiness." Psalm 47:7-8 Finally, another oft cited passage is lifted from Paul's epistle to the saints at Rome:  "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers (state authorities). For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God." Romans 13:1

For those who are interested in understanding these scriptures, a few questions come to mind:  Do these passages imply that God actually places human leaders in office? Does that mean that God placed Hitler at the helm of Germany? Wouldn't that place at least part of the responsibility for the evil which these people unleash in the world in God's lap? Is this God's world after all? Is mankind learning the lesson of life without God? OR  Is God at the controls? Is he directing and micromanaging the affairs of mankind? AND, if "He" is, what does that imply about free will? Is it possible that these scriptures suggest that God has ultimate control, but that "He" has allowed mankind to choose his own rulers and go his own way for the time being? Is it possible that these scriptures imply that God permits/allows humans to govern themselves at the present time? Does it make sense that God would choose a bully, a racist, a misogynist and serial adulterer to rule over a people who mostly eschew such values? Would the broader understanding of these scriptures which the above questions imply preclude God from intervening directly in the affairs of mankind to keep "His" plan/purposes on track?

I don't think that we can blame this one on God. I think that the responsibility for this one rests with the folks who voted for this man. What do you think? 

Thursday, October 6, 2016

The End of the World?

It appears that one of the hallmarks of Fundamentalist Christianity is a belief that the end is right around the corner (this was/is certainly the case with the Armstrong Churches of God). Their attitudes about Scripture don't just color their views about religion. They also color the way they look at science, politics, history and world events. Let's face it, for most of these groups, there is a preoccupation (one could almost call it an obsession) with prophecy.

Moreover, it should be clear by now to anyone with an ounce of objectivity, that this preoccupation/obsession is/has not (been) healthy. It leads people to do all kinds of foolish things. It causes them to fail to adequately plan and provide for their futures. It causes them to send their money to folks who are supposed to be warning the rest of the world about what's coming down the pike in the not too distant future. It perverts the way that they parent their children, and it twists the way that they look at government, politics and world events. It also causes unnecessary anxiety, fear and depression and robs many of these folks of their peace of mind.

Where does this conviction that the end of the world is near come from? Not the Bible! It stems from an ignorance of Scripture, history, science, politics, theology and philosophy. How? A literal interpretation of Scripture that does not consider things like context and the complexities of the symbolism used there leads to erroneous conclusions/interpretations. Without a good understanding of human history, much of the wars, political turmoil, famines and disease that folks observe in the world has no context - commonplace events become extraordinary and seem to have appeared suddenly on the world stage. Likewise, without a good understanding of science, things like earthquakes, volcanoes and hurricanes appear to take on supernatural or magical qualities (they become manifestations of God's wrath). In short, most of these folks (Fundamentalists) are susceptible to the notion that the end is near because they have no frame of reference for what happened before they arrived on the scene. They see bombings, hurricanes, rapes and murders on the nightly news and conclude that the apocalypse is at our door.

The Huffington Post just published an excellent piece entitled "The Second Coming, Prophecy and Politics in America." I encourage everyone to read it. You can view the entire post at this address:  http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/57f63296e4b0568704999eb7  Dr. Steve McSwain applies this phenomenon to the current election cycle in the United States. He writes:
"As the Pew Center recently pointed out, it is largely evangelical Christians who are rallying around a political candidate whom they mistakenly predict will disrupt, or “interfere” with the status quo in government, politics, and in America’s morality. As a consequence, they foretell that this will result in a spiritual revival, restore their version of an “ideal” and “spiritual” America (which is obviously not inside the real prophetic tradition of the Bible). Nor does it square up with what is the nature of historic prophetic preaching. It is as if, however, they regard this “election” year as the “final” attempt by God to return America to its favored and Divinely elected status (what some non-evangelical Republicans would describe as “American exceptionalism”) or else? And, the “or else” means the Second Coming of Jesus, the Rapture of the Church, and the end of the world.
None of this is remotely true, however. Nor is it Biblical."

He continues:  "And, it is only those who know very little of scripture or quote passages of the Bible that are not in any way predictive of the future who engage in this madness. It’s as if they want you to believe that the Bible is some kind of secret code book containing secret ingredients like a recipe to a special dish and only those who are especially endowed by God to interpret the code are capable of doing so." He completes his article by calling these folks exactly what they are:  FALSE prophets.

Are we saying that folks in the Fundamentalist fold are ignorant? Are we saying that they're intellectually lazy? No, but we are suggesting that digging just a little deeper, doing just a little more research/homework might dramatically improve their outlook on the world and their understanding of biblical prophecy in the context of past and current events.

Is the end of the world at our doorstep? I don't think so. What do you think?

Sunday, October 2, 2016

Rosh Hashanah: Things you probably won't hear in an Armstrong Church of God service

I ran across a very good summary of the holiday from a Jewish perspective (after all, it was/is a Hebrew holiday  - Didn't YHWH originally instruct the Israelites to observe it?). The article appeared on the International Business Times website (You can view the entire piece at this address:  http://www.ibtimes.com/rosh-hashanah-2016-5-key-facts-about-jewish-new-year-2424752

Jason Le Miere makes the following points about the meaning of the holiday:

1. It is considered to be the anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve.
2. It is the Jewish New Year.
3. It is a time to reflect on past behavior and think about the year ahead.
4. It marks the beginning of the Days of Awe (related to self-examination, repentance and Yom               Kippur or Atonement).
5. It is a time to consume symbolic foods.
6. It is a day for the blowing of the shofar (ram's horn).
7. The Jewish greeting is paraphrased in English as "may you be inscribed and sealed <in the Book of Life> for a good year."

Hmmm, perhaps it would be appropriate/instructive to do a little more research into Jewish attitudes and traditions regarding one of their chief holidays?

Saturday, September 24, 2016

God and Money

In several of my previous posts, I have discussed various aspects of how economics has impacted our views on God, religion and all things relative to morality. I've talked about how God is not a Capitalist, Socialist or Communist. I've also talked a great deal about the so-called "Prosperity Gospel" and its theological, intellectual and emotional shortcomings. Unfortunately, the influence of money is so pervasive and insidious that most of us aren't even aware of its pernicious effects. It is my contention that one of the most insightful statements that Jesus Christ ever made was his reference to the relative incompatibility of possessing wealth with the potential for inheriting his kingdom (Matthew 19:23-24, Mark 10:25 and Luke 18:25).

It is very human to think in terms of different classes of people, and we can all readily affirm that this phenomenon is most often linked to economics. Along these lines, I recently discovered an interesting post that attacked a British politician (Joseph Muscat, Labour Party) for believing "the only thing which separates different social classes of people is money." ( http://daphnecaruanagalizia.com/2016/08/speaks-though-money-separates-different-classes-people/)
According to the author (Daphne Caruana Galizia), culture is the most important factor in defining class ("values, beliefs, attitudes, manners and mores, and behavioural traits").

My question is:  In our world, isn't culture largely defined by money? After all, doesn't the amount of education and the number of opportunities which are available to a person almost always depend on how much money they have or can acquire? And, doesn't education shape values, beliefs, attitudes, manners, etc.?

We like to think that there are better/upper and meaner/lower classes of people, and we like to think of them in terms of culture (we also like to think of ourselves as being part of the better crowd). However, if we are truly honest with ourselves, isn't money the only thing that really separates us from each other? After all, there are many wealthy Democrats in the United States (they don't all belong to the Republican Party). Likewise, we all know many moral people who are very poor, and wealthy individuals who are unscrupulous or amoral. We can probably all point to people of modest means who have exquisite taste in art, music and decorating; and wealthy folks who are garish, boorish and wouldn't recognize class if it bit them in the ass.

For many of us, this is a scary prospect: The notion that money could be the only thing that really separates us from each other. Are you saying that I would be exactly the same as a peasant in Bangladesh if I didn't have money? Are you saying that most of the things that we think of as defining class are really superficial differences that are largely shaped by the presence/absence of wealth? So, take away the money and we're all the same? That is our reality.

Jesus Christ's perspective, however, was radically different. For him, the values were not superficial, they were/are the only things that truly separate us from each other. For him, wealth only made it more difficult to achieve a truly better plane of existence. For Jesus Christ, there were only people. He wasn't concerned with how much wealth and power they had accumulated.

What socioeconomic class do you belong to? Are you upper, middle or lower class? What makes you a member of that class?

We like to say that you can't take it with you when you go, but we've all seen some pretty elaborate tombs and mausoleums at the local cemeteries. Likewise, we've all seen pauper graves - a simple stake, pile of stones or no visible marker. I ask again:  What class do you identify with? What makes you better than the peasant working in a sweat shop in Bangladesh?

Friday, September 16, 2016

What does the Bible say about Trump supporters?

Hillary Clinton recently faced a firestorm over characterizing some Trump supporters as "deplorables." According to her, this moniker was justified by the racism, sexism, homophobia or xenophobia apparent in some of The Donald's statements.

Of course, the unstated premise of this characterization is that anyone who supports Donald Trump must endorse most or all of the statements he makes. The reasoning goes something like this:  "Can two walk together, except they be agreed?" - Amos 3:3

Just to be clear, the Bible doesn't say anything about Donald Trump or his supporters. We are talking about principles found in Scripture that may or may not apply to them.

In Scripture, we also read:  "A wicked doer giveth heed to false lips; and a liar giveth ear to a naughty tongue." - Proverbs 17:4 This brings us to some of the things that have slipped past Donald's lips and rolled off the end of his tongue.

Consider the following:

“An ‘extremely credible source’ has called my office and told me that Barack Obama’s birth certificate is a fraud."

“Ariana Huffington is unattractive, both inside and out. I fully understand why her former husband left her for a man – he made a good decision.” (Admittedly, this one is a bit subjective, but there's no debating the fact that it smacks of sexism)

“I will build a great wall – and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me – and I’ll build them very inexpensively. I will build a great, great wall on our southern border, and I will make Mexico pay for that wall. Mark my words.”

“When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending the best. They’re not sending you, they’re sending people that have lots of problems and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bring crime. They’re rapists… And some, I assume, are good people.”

“All of the women on The Apprentice flirted with me – consciously or unconsciously. That’s to be expected.”

 “My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.”

"Look at those hands, are they small hands? And, [Republican rival Marco Rubio] referred to my hands: 'If they're small, something else must be small.' I guarantee you there's no problem. I guarantee."

“I was down there, and I watched our police and our firemen, down on 7-Eleven, down at the World Trade Center, right after it came down”

"The only card [Hillary Clinton] has is the woman's card. She's got nothing else to offer and frankly, if Hillary Clinton were a man, I don't think she'd get 5 percent of the vote. The only thing she's got going is the woman's card, and the beautiful thing is, women don't like her."

*** All of the above quotes taken from http://www.marieclaire.co.uk/blogs/550112/donald-trump-quotes.html

Speaking of fellow Republican candidate Ted Cruz, Trump said:  "Republicans are going to have to ask themselves the question: 'Do we want a candidate who could be tied up in court for two years?' That'd be a big problem. It'd be a very precarious one for Republicans because he'd be running and the courts may take a long time to make a decision. You don't want to be running and have that kind of thing over your head." -- https://mic.com/articles/131952/10-of-donald-trump-s-most-ridiculous-birther-statements#.r8k5OiDzP

Speaking of Judge Gonzalo Curiel and the case against 'Trump University, Donald said: "He is a member of a club or society, very strongly pro-Mexican, which is all fine. But I say he's got bias. I want to build a wall. I'm going to build a wall. I'm doing very well with the Latinos, with the Hispanics, with the Mexicans, I'm doing very well with them, in my opinion. And we're going to see, you're going to see, because you know what, I'm providing jobs. Nobody else is giving jobs. But just so you understand, this judge has treated me very unfairly, he's treated me in a hostile manner. And there's something going on." -- http://www.politifact.com/wisconsin/article/2016/jun/08/donald-trumps-racial-comments-about-judge-trump-un/

What do you think? Do these statements reflect on the people who support Donald Trump?




  

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Armstrongism without Herbert or Garner Ted?

Several of the Armstrong related blogs have speculated about the long term viability and survival of the descendants of the Worldwide Church of God. Although I do not consider this blog to be one of those, as a former member, I do feel entitled to wade into the debate and offer my own observations/opinions.

RationalWiki defines a personality cult as "a system in which a leader is able to control a group of people through the sheer force of his or her personality and is often portrayed as a god-like figure." It is the opinion of this blogger that this describes the former Worldwide Church of God perfectly, and it goes a long way toward explaining the phenomena that we have observed playing out within the various offshoots since the deaths of Herbert and Garner Ted.

After all, Herbert continually pointed to himself as God's Apostle. He was the ONE whom God was working through in the end time. God had used HIM (and him ALONE) to restore TRUTH to His Church. Herbert was God's representative on earth. He was the human head of God's government in the Church. Whatever he said was the LAW. It was his prerogative to make all of the decisions and dictate what everyone else believed. It was the job of the lay membership to support him and his work. Likewise, when Garner Ted came of age (and after the death of his brother), he was the heir apparent. What an orator! All of the ministers looked to him as the ideal of public speaking.

For those groups who have embraced Herbert and his teachings (Philadelphia, Restored, Continuing, Living, etc.), we see that no one has emerged with the personality and talent to replace him/them. Moreover, any "new" folks who express an interest in their teachings are quickly put off by their obsession with Herbert Armstrong. When these folks read their material (books, booklets, magazines, etc.) and listen to their sermons, most of them are wondering: "Who in the hell is Herbert Armstrong?" "Why do these folks keep talking about an old dead guy?" or "I don't remember seeing his name anywhere in the Bible!"

For those groups who have sought to put some distance between themselves and their founder (United, International, Big Sandy, etc.), like their sister groups, no one has emerged who has been able to garner the support, devotion and loyalty of everyone within them. They are consumed by trying to satisfy everyone, or at least refrain from offending very many. Moreover, when outsiders express some interest in the groups, they are often met with explanations of how they differ from their parent organization. "What are they talking about?" the newbie wonders. OR They are presented with teachings that can easily be shown to be false (like Anglo-Israelism) and appear to them to have little relevance to the teachings of Jesus Christ. Their left wondering: "Where did they get this stuff from?"

Either way, it just doesn't work! A personality cult doesn't work without the personality who inspired it all. What do you think?

Friday, August 26, 2016

Cognitive Distortion: Black and White Thinking

Dennis Diehl's post on "Cognitive Dissonance" (http://armstrongismlibrary.blogspot.com/2016/08/cognitive-dissonance.html) over at Banned by HWA got me thinking about the way that most of us approach most subjects. Let's face it: Many of us have adopted some form of dualism in the way we think about things. Don't we tend to choose one of two extremes (or at least we tell ourselves that)?

In the United States, we have long standing traditions in this regard. Historically, one was either a Federalist or an Anti-Federalist, an abolitionist or a supporter of the institution of slavery, a Democrat or a Republican, a Conservative or a Liberal, a Capitalist or a Socialist/Communist (many on the Right see the two as being essentially the same), etc.

Moreover, when the subject of God or religion is introduced, this phenomenon tends to become even more pronounced. You're either a Theist or an Atheist. If your a Christian, you're most likely to identify as Protestant or Catholic. And, if you're a Christian, you definitely want to be hot (the preferred position) or cold - You DON'T want to be lukewarm! In short, many of us seem to shun the middle ground.

However, we should all be able to recognize and acknowledge that the real world doesn't work this way. There are certainly extremes like hot and cold, but aren't most of us somewhere in between? What about tepid and all of the variations in between that middle and the two extremes? How many of us are true Atheists or Theists? Aren't most of us somewhere on the Agnostic continuum? We tell ourselves that there are only two alternatives, but aren't there many many more?

I've always believed that one of the most ingenious features of the American political system is its institutionalization of the principle of equilibrium between the two extremes. However, it seems that many Americans have lost sight of this important feature of their system. Most folks seem truly oblivious to the fact that if either side's program/platform was adopted wholesale that it would mean disaster for our republic. Traditionally, the best legislation to emerge from the Congress of the United States have been the bills where folks on both sides of the aisle have had to hold their noses and vote for a compromise piece of legislation that didn't fully satisfy either party.

I think that these considerations should be instructive for all of us in formulating our viewpoints - especially in the spiritual or religious realm. Is acceptance or rejection of the Judeo-Christian canon the only two options that are available to us? Does it really have to be Genesis or Evolution? Does it have to be myth or reality? Is it really Magical vs Scientific? Come on folks! Who are we kidding? Let's get real!

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Destination Truth: The Road Goes Ever On

Yes, I borrowed the title of this post from a television show and my favorite author (J.R.R. Tolkien). The topic of this post has been on my mind for several days. It was inspired by two seemingly unrelated posts on two of the blogs which I follow: Ambassador Watch and Banned by HWA!

On Thursday of last week, Gavin posted two pieces that broke a two week drought. As he noted in the first post, one of the side benefits of the dearth of posts was the conversation that unfolded over his last post. He concluded, "maybe the journey really is more important than the destination."

On Friday, Dennis Diehl took Dave Pack (RCOG) "to the wood shed" by posting a video where Aron Ra refutes Pack's statements about God and evolution. As usual, Ra was very matter of fact and devastating. And, although I enjoyed his take down of Mr. Pack, I found myself cringing at some of his statements about God and the Bible.

For the Worldwide Church of God (and almost all of its descendants), the TRUTH is a neat little package of doctrines/teachings based on a Fundamentalist and Literalist approach to interpreting Scripture (with a healthy dose of circular reasoning thrown in). In short, one learned the TRUTH and either accepted or rejected it. And, if you accepted the TRUTH, it was mission accomplished. There was effectively nothing more to consider or learn. Indeed, according to HWA and his minions, if one continued to do research and ask questions, that individual would be sure to lose the TRUTH which they had received. For them, the journey had ended.

It struck me that some of Aron Ra's statements were in much the same vein. In both of the YouTube videos that Dennis included, Ra stated several times that EVERYTHING that Dave Pack believes and teaches is basically bullshit. He also stated that there wasn't ANY truth or ANYTHING of value in the Bible. Like the objects of his attention (Dave Pack and Believers), it appears that Aron Ra has reached destination TRUTH. Sure, Aron says that everything he believes is subject to the further development of the evidence at hand, but his many sweeping statements about God, religion and the Bible seem to undermine his assertion.

You can't find ANY truth in Scripture? Really? I can - ask me about it sometime (it's not that hard). And, just for the record, I'm not talking about TRUTH in the WCOG sense (that Scripture is literally correct in all particulars).

Aron doesn't like religion because he believes it to be the antithesis of reason. He doesn't like the fact that it is so emotional - that it is based on feelings. I wonder what Aron thinks about instinct. I wonder if he believes that instincts are of any value - that nature equipped us with various instincts for a reason(s).

Does any of the old stuff have any value? Must we discard all of mankind's beliefs and experiences that predate the application of the scientific method as rubbish? Where does this need for a god or supernatural things come from? Is it a primitive relic that should be discarded? If for no other reason, is it useful in measuring the progress that mankind has made? And, if so, doesn't that alone make it useful?

I believe that Something or Someone put us on this road. I'm all for exploring and being open to wherever it takes us, and I'm very suspicious of anyone who thinks they've reached their destination (or claims that we must follow precisely in their footsteps). What do you think?

Thursday, August 4, 2016

No finessing this contradiction!

"Reverend" Franklin Graham (son of Billy) apparently recently stated on Facebook (I don't have an account):  "Another first for America that we should not be proud of - the Vice President of the United States presiding over a same-sex wedding...Our country may have made same-sex marriage legal in the eyes of man, but that doesn't make it right in the eyes of God...Sadly, as a nation we have a reputation for celebrating what God defines as sin, AND THERE WILL BE A PRICE TO PAY." He then proceeds to quote Isaiah 1:4 (Woe to the sinful nation - originally intended for Israel). You can see an article on his statement here: http://cnsnews.com/blog/michael-w-chapman/rev-graham-biden-conducts-gay-marriage-there-will-be-price-pay-our-nation

For the sake of argument, let's say that the "Reverend" is right about homosexuality being a sin. The clear implication is that God is going to punish the entire nation because our leaders (Executive and Judicial Branches) have endorsed same-sex marriage. How is that fair? How is it fair for God to punish all of the people like the "Reverend" who oppose the practice - the ones on "God's side" of the issue?

We are told in Scripture that Abraham once persuaded God to spare the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah if "He" could find just ten righteous individuals within them by pointing out how unfair it would be to destroy the righteous with the wicked (see Genesis 18). In Ezekiel, we are told that each person is responsible for his/her own sins - not the sins of others (Ezekiel 18:20).

Nevertheless, it would appear that Franklin Graham is also on firm ground where Scripture is concerned. There are also a number of Scriptures where we are told that God punishes an entire nation because of the sins of a few. Will the real God please stand up?

I have talked about this principle in times past. When faced with a clear contradiction in Scripture, which alternative seems to be the most consistent with a loving, just and fair God? "Reverend" Graham appears to have decided that God is ready to punish the entire country for the sins of some. Personally, I don't want any part of a God who holds me responsible/culpable for the sins of others. What about you?

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

What does Luca tell us about the nature of God?

It appears that the study of genetics has opened up some exciting possibilities about the origin of life on this planet. By comparing the genomes of living things from all three domains (Archea, Bacteria and Eukarya), a team of evolutionary biologists has determined a likely genetic blueprint for the "Last Universal Common Ancestor" (Luca). This is exciting because a common origin for the domains of life has heretofore eluded the scientists who study these things.

As with most other breakthroughs, however, the discovery has generated even more questions. Although they've determined that Luca probably arose about four billion years ago (when the earth was only 560 million years old), many scientists believe that the family tree stretches back further in time to even simpler organisms than this one. Moreover, the scientific community seems to still be divided into two camps about where life originated. One camp believes that pools of warm water on land were the most likely place of origin, while others speculate that deep sea vents provide the most likely scenario (Luca seems to point in that direction). You can read about all of this for yourself at: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/26/science/last-universal-ancestor.html?_r=0

What does all of this tell us about God? For me, this article generated a few questions of my own and rekindled my interest in others that I've wondered about for many years:

Doesn't the nature of life suggest Someone or Something set it all in motion?
Since life began on this planet, what has its purpose been?
Hasn't life sought immortality?
Isn't the perpetuation of itself the preoccupation of life?
Isn't evolution the story of how life has adapted to changing circumstances/environments in order to assure its survival?
Is the survival of a particular organism or an entire species important to the survival of life?
On the other hand, haven't the contributions of individual organisms and species been essential to the survival of the whole (even the "failures")?
Why does life appear to be so fragile and yet has exhibited such tenaciousness?
Hasn't the evolution of certain branches of the family tree into very complex organisms (I'm thinking of things like us) made survival more probable?
Hasn't the development of consciousness and the ability to reason made survival more likely?
What happens to our ability to evolve when we are able to manipulate the genetic code?
Did Someone or Something anticipate the eventual development of these abilities?
Were we intended to accumulate knowledge and information so that life might finally achieve eternal self-perpetuation?
In other words, is life developing along a path that was anticipated by Someone or Something prior to that first spark?
Could it be that it was our destiny to ask questions and explore our world?
Isn't it interesting to think about that genetic code in terms of preserving the story of all living things - from the beginning?
And, if that's really the case, has anything ever really been lost?
Isn't it interesting to think about the fact that we are all the products of everything that has gone before us (I'm thinking literally now, not figuratively)?
Is instinct akin to collective or species memory?
Will it someday be possible to summon up the full story of our past?

The evidence doesn't present us with a picture of a hands-on God, one who is involved in the day to day operation of things (although I'm not discounting the occasional intervention). For the most part, life appears to have been on its own from the start. Meteors have crashed into the surface of the earth and obliterated vast numbers in an instant, organisms have killed and eaten each other for ages, disease and starvation have taken their toll, humans have killed each other and their co-inhabitants on this planet; but life endures. Does the story have an ending? Do we have anything to say about that ending? Just thinking out loud, but none of it seems very random to me. What about you?

Saturday, July 23, 2016

God and Jane Fonda

There's probably only one woman that my conservative-minded friends hate more than Hillary Clinton: JANE FONDA. And, as most of my Armstrong Church of God friends are on the conservative side, I was a little surprised when one of them sent me a link to Jane's website (although I realized a long time ago that the individual who sent it to me had transcended those kinds of labels and exhibited a compassionate open-mindedness that was too often lacking in others within that culture). At any rate, I was delighted by what I read and felt it was worth sharing with others.

In her article "About My Faith" (http://www.janefonda.com/about-my-faith/), Fonda tells the story of her journey from atheist to Christian. Of course, just as one would expect who knows anything about Jane Fonda, the story does not follow a straight line - there are many twists and turns; but it does have the aura of an honest account from beginning to end. Jane seems to have grasped some spiritual truths that many Christians have missed.

In the article, she wrote about how she "had begun to feel I was being lead. I felt a presence, a reverence humming within me. It was and is difficult to articulate." Hmmm, that sounds an awful lot like someone who is being called by God, doesn't it? She continued: "Over the months, I went to Bible study every week, had it interpreted for me by biblical literalists, did my homework faithfully but, as time went on, I felt myself losing the very thing that had called me from within: Spirit. The literalness with which I was expected to read and interpret the Bible seemed to simplify and flatten out what I wanted to experience as metaphor. Christianity was beginning to feel shrunken, freeze-dried...As I diligently slogged away in my weekly bible class, doing the homework and studying the charts, I began to notice that the dance was gone. Try to render it literal, concrete, and it dies. I had started my journey with a powerful sense of the divine presence, but the linear approach seemed too rigid to contain this and I began to get scared: What had I gotten myself into?"

For those who are familiar with this blog, that language should feel familiar. Try to forget for just a moment who wrote the words that I just quoted. I have been saying for several years now that Christianity is NOT an intellectual experience. True Christianity is not found in a set of doctrines or teachings. Like God, it cannot be fully or adequately explained by ANY book or pamphlet. Paul wrote in many places that Christianity cannot be explained or understood using man's words and wisdom - that it is OUTSIDE of that realm. Christianity must be experienced on an emotional level - in the gut. I'm not saying that you have to experience Christianity in the same way (or using the same words) that Fonda did, but I am saying that you can't be a TRUE Christian by comprehending and/or adopting a set of beliefs as your own. Choose your own words, but you must be "begotten again" or "reborn."

Fonda wrote: "From time to time, there have been the awakened ones, conduits of perception, who, by fully embodying Spirit, have shown us the way—Jesus, Muhammed, Buddha, Allah, and others. Their messages have invariably been bare-bone-simple, remarkably similar and often embedded in metaphor, stories, and poems—all forms of art. Why? Because the non-linear, non-cerebral forms that are Art speak on a different frequency, they by-pass thinking, penetrate our defenses and jolt us open to consciousness." YES! You go girl!

Try to forget the literalist and fundamentalist baloney. Abandon the apologetics. You're never going to get there on that road. Leave the Armstrong path! Herbert and Garner Ted were wrong. It turns out that the HEART and SENTIMENTALITY are what it's all about! You've got to FEEL it on the inside. Wipe that smug, self-righteous smirk off of your face and let God and Christ into your heart.


Thursday, July 21, 2016

God and Alcoholic Beverages

A friend recently forwarded to me an interesting piece by Paige Patterson that appeared on the Southwestern Theological Baptist Seminary website on July 11, 2016. The full article, "Concerning alcoholic beverages," can be accessed at this address: http://swbts.edu/news/releases/first-person-concerning-alcoholic-beverages/ (It is well-researched and offers a very comprehensive treatment of the subject from a Scriptural perspective).

The author correctly points out that the term translated into English as "wine" covered a number of different kinds of beverages derived from grapes in biblical times. He goes on to acknowledge that "the ancients...imbibed without reluctance." However, Pastor Patterson is quick to point out that Nazarites were prohibited from imbibing any alcoholic beverages, and that John the Baptist (whom Christ referred to as "the greatest born among men") also abstained from drinking them. He goes on to quote a number of scriptures that speak of the negative effects of drinking alcoholic spirits (e.g. impaired judgment, weakening inhibitions, overindulgence, etc.). This is followed by an attempt to explain away Christ's first miracle at Cana (changing water into wine) and Paul's admonition to Timothy to take a little wine for the sake of his weak stomach. Patterson concludes his article by pointing out that alcohol is either the cause or a significant contributing factor to much of the human misery that exists on this planet (e.g. bad parenting, violent deaths, divorces, crime, damage to property, etc.)

The Pastor talks about three categories of behavior relative to Scripture: "the prohibited, the acceptable and God's ideal." He reasons that Christians should want to live God's ideal and that anything less amounts to sin. Patterson summarizes his thesis thus: "Even if a Christian wished to demur from the idea that to take a drink is sin, strict biblical evidence establishes that imbibing strong drink is not God’s ideal for the believer. The question then becomes: Can it be anything less than sin for a believer who is genuinely grateful for the atoning power of Christ in his life to pursue anything other than the highest—God’s ideal—the best that he can be for Christ?"

That reasoning reminds me of the methodology employed by the Pharisees in erecting a law around THE LAW to ensure that it was never violated. Although my former church culture (Armstrong Church of God) clearly abused the fact that alcoholic beverages are not strictly prohibited by Scripture, Pastor Patterson's apology for his denomination's stance on the use of alcohol does not change/alter/disprove the fact that my former culture was correct in its characterization of the Scriptural position (that imbibing of alcoholic beverages is not prohibited). Nevertheless, the Pastor is correct in his assertion that overindulgence or abuse is a sin.

For me, the subject of what is acceptable for Christian's to eat or drink is a matter of personal conscience. It should NEVER be an occasion for one Christian to label the behavior of another Christian in this area as a SIN. In my opinion, if God intended for any behavior to be prohibited, then that should be spelled out in no uncertain terms by God - no equivocating, no need for extrapolating principles. God is responsible for setting the standard of behavior, PERIOD (not you, me or some organization of men). In other words, if it's not clearly spelled out in Scripture, then it must not be very important to God! Why leave something fuzzy and nebulous that's important?

It seems to me that we would all do better to pay more attention to whether or not our own behavior is motivated by LOVE (something that is mentioned over and over again in Scripture) than whether or not smoking, drinking or eating pork should be classified as sin. If we allowed our conscience to evaluate our behavior based on this standard (LOVE), we might indeed come to the conclusion that imbibing any alcohol would be a personal sin; but that same standard would never allow us to judge the same behavior in others as such. What do you think?   

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

God, Muslims and Guns

In predictable fashion, the Orlando tragedy has been used by two of the largest splinter groups from the old Worldwide Church of God (United Church of God and Philadelphia Church of God) to echo the rhetoric of the political Right in the U.S. and attack those on the Left. In an article by UCG Elder Tom Robinson (https://www.ucg.org/beyond-today/blogs/current-events-trends-muslim-terrorist-carries-out-most-deadly-shooting-in-us), we read: "Yet when President Barack Obama spoke in response immediately after, he would not refer to what happened as Islamic terrorism, following his established pattern, and used this as an opportunity to declare the need for more gun control." Robinson went on to say: "The attack has thrown the progressive left into a quandary. Had a 'right-wing Christian' perpetrated this act, it would have been used to vilify all conservative Christians who want to deny gay rights. But as it was a Muslim, great effort is made to distance him from 'authentic Islam'—lest the left’s alliance with Islam against traditional Christianity be put in jeopardy. The shooter was portrayed as a troubled, unbalanced person—but what Islamic terrorist is not? ... This should be a wake-up call to those on the left. Radical Islamists are not their friends. In a number of Islamic countries, homosexual behavior is punishable by death and gays are routinely jailed and/or executed." Over at PCG, the tease for the Trumpet Daily Radio Show sounds like something that could have been borrowed from a FOX News broadcast or a Donald Trump speech (https://www.thetrumpet.com/radio/shows/1/episodes/578/253-orlando-you-can-t-call-it-islamist-terrorism#player). We read there: "Once upon a time, the media labeled anyone who said 'Islam is a violent religion' as Islamophobic. But after the Orlando shooting this weekend, all you need to do to earn that label is mention that the terrorist was Muslim...No one wants to talk about radical Islam. Even after news media reported Omar Mateen's pledge of allegiance to the Isalmic State, United States President Barack Obama said he had no 'judgment on the precise motivations of the killer.' ... Trumpet writer Richard Palmer explores America's muddled response to Sunday's shooting and shows why America cannot solve a problem that it refuses to see."

The folks over at UCG/PCG seem to be saying that they would like to see the leaders of the United States acknowledge that we are in a war with Islam, they're not as bad as Muslims on the issue of homosexuality, and they are against gun control. They appear to be pining for the good old days when Christians weren't skiddish about declaring war on Muslims (remember the Crusades). Never mind that this is exactly what the terrorists would like to see the fight against terrorism become! Shame on the President for attempting to isolate these radical extremists from any association with the larger religious community of Islam. They can't seem to comprehend why anyone would want to draw a distinction between this violent and perverted minority and the peace loving/seeking majority. Nevertheless, the Left should be willing to acknowledge that shunning homosexuals and declaring them to be bound for hellfire is not as bad as shooting them or throwing them off of a building - there is a difference.  As for guns, what do our friends over at UCG/PCG make of the prophecies about converting implements of war into tools of agriculture in God's Kingdom? If guns aren't part of the problem, then why bother to get rid of them? I also seem to recall something about those who live by the sword dying by the sword (oops, forgive me - that's swords - we were talking about guns). Still, maybe God's not as in sync with "His" churches on this one as "He" should be. What do you think?

Sunday, June 12, 2016

Allah/Elohim needs YOU to do His dirty work!

Many of us were sickened by the news from Orlando.Unfortunately, there are also folks who share this planet with us who will rejoice and celebrate. For them, the gunman was doing God's work.

Allah/Elohim hates homosexuals, so it is OK for His followers to hate them too. In fact, it's more than OK. Doesn't God demand that His true followers execute/stone these perverts?

The gunman's father said that his son may have been motivated by the fact he witnessed two males engaged in public displays of affection. How horrible is that? That one of God's children had to witness such behavior!

At least 50 people dead, and that many more injured. Allah/Elohim must be grateful that there are folks willing to do His dirty work. My question is: If that's what God wants, why doesn't He do it Himself?

Friday, June 3, 2016

God's Peace

An ACOG friend, forwarded an article to me the other day about a Christian Rock star who recently revealed that he is gay. The article about Trey Pearson (lead singer for Everyday Sunday) by Julie Zauzmer appeared in the May 31, 2016 edition of The Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/05/31/i-never-wanted-to-be-gay-christian-musician-comes-out-in-moving-letter-to-fans/). In a letter to his fans, he talks about the impact that his suppression of his sexual orientation has had not only on his life; but how that has affected the people he loves the most (including his wife).

Trey's revelation, and my friend's decision to forward the article to me, provide hope/encouragement/evidence that Christian attitudes are changing on this important topic. I think Trey's words point to a fuller understanding of exactly what constitutes the "peace of God."

He said: "I have progressed so much in my faith over these last several years. I think I needed to be able to affirm other gay people before I could ever accept it for myself. Likewise, I couldn’t expect others to accept me how I am until I could come to terms with it first.

I know I have a long way to go. But if this honesty with myself about who I am, and who I was made by God to be, doesn’t constitute as the peace that passes all understanding, then I don’t know what does. It is like this weight I have been carrying my whole life has been lifted from me, and I have never felt such freedom."

Yes, Trey, I know what you mean. God's peace does exceed our ability to fully understand or describe it!

Monday, May 23, 2016

Which god(s) do you follow?

I have enjoyed participating in discussions about various blog topics pertaining to things Divine (especially those that involve the teachings of Herbert Armstrong). Nevertheless, that participation has underscored for me the fact that many former Armstrongites have merely exchanged one god for another.

Think about it. Instead of the Bible or HWA/GTA, many folks have seemingly turned to newer and better god's to replace the old ones. For some, it's science. For others, it's an advanced degree from an accredited college, a scholar, an expert, an elaborate theology, a high IQ, etc. For most of these folks, something or someone has to be able to decipher or explain everything.

Unfortunately, many of them seem destined to go from one disappointment to another. It's like some of us are blinded to the truth of that old proverb that warns us that it is dangerous to place all of our eggs in one basket.

Yes, science is great, but it simply cannot supply us with all of the answers we need. Likewise, a good historian will use multiple sources to arrive at his/her conclusions. Yes, there are primary and secondary sources. Some sources are clearly superior to others, but please explain to me how choosing to rely on one source is superior to relying on many. Doesn't perspective and outcome improve when many different kinds of sources are tapped?

I appreciate and rely on the expertise of many individuals. I welcome the input of scientists, scholars and intellectuals; but I have to remind myself that they are only tools in a larger quest. Too many of us look to our gods to help us to triumph over our enemies. That may provide a temporary thrill or feeling of intellectual or moral superiority, but it doesn't get us any closer to the real God.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Will God judge everyone by the same standard?

A guest post over at Ambassador Watch about the evidence (or lack thereof) available on the Web regarding allegations that a now deceased religious leader (Herbert Armstrong) was guilty of incest (during the early and formative years of his ministry) has generated a lot of commentary. It has also provoked a great deal of thought/reflection by this blogger. Of particular interest to me, was the fact that almost everyone who contributed to the discussion (ranging in opinion from guilty to not guilty - and somewhere in between) attempted to offer a rationale/set of standards for reaching the conclusion he/she arrived at.

That got me to thinking about the way that God judges. Hence, the question: Will God judge everyone by the same standard? I think that most Muslims, Jews and Christians would be inclined to answer that question in the affirmative. Of course, if you dug a little deeper into what that standard might be, you would most likely receive a wide range of opinions.

However, it would be hard for any Christian who professes any degree of confidence in Scripture to answer that question with anything but an emphatic NO! Why? Because it is apparent that many of the authors and characters of the Christian Bible (including Jesus Christ) believed that leaders would be held to a higher standard than the laity.

Jesus said that anyone who wanted to be a leader within the movement he founded would have to be the "servant of all." (Mark 9:36 & 10:44). He also is reported to have said that the scribes and Pharisees occupied Moses' place for that generation and would consequently "receive the greater damnation." (Matthew 23:1-14) Also, in the Parable of the Faithful Steward, Christ is quoted as saying: "For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall much be required..." (Luke 12:41-48) Christ had also apparently told his followers that they would be judged by the same standard they employed in judging others. (Matthew 7:2)

This same attitude regarding God differentiating between how the leadership of the community would be judged relative to the average Jack and Jill is evident in the writings of Paul and James. Paul said that he held himself to a higher standard so as to set a good example for others. Indeed, he wrote to the saints at Rome and Corinth that personal conviction and conscience would play a significant role in God's judgment. (Romans 14 & I Corinthians 8-10) Moreover, in his epistle to Timothy, he makes it very clear that leaders must meet a higher standard. (I Timothy 3:1-13) Finally, James said that people should be very careful about pursuing a position of leadership within the community because "we shall receive the greater condemnation" OR, as the NKJV renders it, "we shall receive a stricter judgment." (James 3:1)

In addition to these more stringent requirements for leaders, it is also reasonable to suppose that those folks would also be subject to the same instructions regarding proper Christian conduct which Paul offered to the Thessalonians to "abstain from all appearance of evil." (I Thessalonians 5:22) This fits with the qualifications for a bishop which I've already referenced: "he must have a good report of them which are without..." (I Timothy 3:7)

Hmmm, what do you think? Will Christian leaders be judged by the same standard as their flocks? Does God expect more from them?

Monday, May 9, 2016

God As Mother

Another Mother's Day has come and gone, but the notion of mother lingers. The regular readers of this blog may have noticed that I almost always place masculine references to God in italics. WHY? Because, if the God of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures exists (and I believe that to be the case), then we are forced to acknowledge that this entity embodies characteristics that are typically associated with both genders (male and female).

To be sure, the paternalistically inclined human authors of the Old and New Testament preferred to envision God as a male - the ultimate paterfamilias. Nevertheless, God's female side is implied in many passages. In the book of Genesis, we read that God created mankind in "His" own image - male and female (Genesis 1:26-27). This notion is further reinforced by the insistence that the two (man and woman) constitute one whole person - the clear implication being that each one is only half of the whole when separate.

Merriam-Webster uses a number of interesting words in its definition of mother. Consider the employment of terms like parent, "superior of a religious community," one who is old, the source/origin of something, and the rearing of children with tenderness/affection. Couldn't those same terms be applied to the God of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures?

William M. Thackeray once said: "Mother is the name for God in the lips and hearts of little children." (brainyquote.com) If that's true, and Jesus Christ said that we must become like little children, what does that suggest about how we should perceive God?

Like many of my fellow Christians, I have derived much inspiration and comfort from picturing God as a loving Father. But does that notion accurately/completely encompass God's TRUE nature? When we only consider God from the paternal perspective, haven't we created a distorted image of God in our minds (and thus violated two of the Ten Commandments)? Can you imagine God in the guise of a loving Mother?

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Has God gone berserk or is the world coming to its end?

Looks like it's going to be Hillary vs The Donald this year. I'm sure that some of the folks on the Fundamentalist side of Christianity are wondering if God has lost control (or "His" mind). Others will conclude that the end of the world is finally within sight.

Just wait, I prophesy that (very soon) there will be numerous articles on just how far the United States has slid into the toilet (and, with elaborate detail and relish, just how far the old girl still has to go). In two months, you're going to be calling me a prophet! Look out Bob and Gerald, here I come!

Monday, May 2, 2016

The ability to contribute

In a private response to my previous post, one of my friends made the following comments:

"Did you run out of ideas?

But to address your comments: how about we ask 'How can a person who is 2 years old, never read a thing, and doesn't even speak in sentences possibly have anything of value or interest to offer in the way of insights into God or his purposes and expectations? Of course, such a question implies that literate, articulate adults have made nothing but stellar contributions in this regard.' The fact is that one doesn't imply the other, nor does the reasoning demonstrate that attributes are not limiters.

There ARE characteristics that do limit a person's ability to contribute. I'm not suggesting you have any of them, but your implication seems to be that nothing could limit a person's contribution. I disagree, but I prefer to examine an argument rather than its author."

This prompts me to ask: What are the characteristics that limit a person's ability to make meaningful contributions to this topic?

My friend's substitution of the two year old into my statement is a case in point. Does a two year old have the capacity to offer insights into God and "His" character that could be considered superior to what a reasonably intelligent and well educated adult might be able to contribute? Jesus Christ seemed to think so. In addition to quoting this passage from the Old Testament: "Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings thou hast perfected praise," he said: "Suffer the little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God."

When considering some of the attitudes that we bring to the table in trying to answer such questions, I am reminded of just how impaired our judgment can be on occasion. The story of how God chose David to be king is a wonderful illustration of this point. In the final analysis, everything that Samuel had considered to be an important quality for a king was dismissed by God as unimportant.

I have a cousin with Down Syndrome. I will not dispute the fact that she has a low IQ, or that her intellectual abilities are severely impaired. Nevertheless, she continues to surprise me with some of the things that come out of her sweet little mouth! She has made her mother a better person, a better Christian (she has made me a better person).

In my original post on this subject, I referred to the story of the poor widow's mite. The crowd was impressed with the contributions that the wealthy folks had been able to offer, but Christ was impressed with her meager offering. Indeed, he said that her offering was superior to all of theirs. They had contributed from their abundance, while she had given everything she had to give. Clearly, the ability to contribute doesn't necessarily trump the willingness to do so.

In the book of Genesis, there is another story that I regard as a very interesting parable: The Tower of Babel. In the story, God is purported to have said: "this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do." They wanted to build a tower that would "reach unto heaven." In the story, only the restraint imposed upon them by God prevented them from achieving their objective. Are there real limitations on our abilities to make meaningful contributions to this topic? OR are most of the things that we consider to be limitations only imaginary? Is imagination the factor that allows us to supercede our limitations?

And, in answer to my friend's first question: No, I haven't run out of ideas yet!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Why should I waste my time on this stuff?

How can a person who is a fag, former Armstrongite and has no theological degree possibly have anything of value or interest to offer in the way of insights into God or "His" purposes and expectations?

Of course, such a question implies that heterosexuals, Protestants, Catholics and doctors of theology have made nothing but stellar contributions in this regard. In the final analysis, don't the above labels merely serve as a convenient excuse to summarily dismiss a body of material without even considering it? They effectively eliminate the need to think and dig a little deeper. In fact, don't they make the person employing them an intellectually lazy, bigoted, self-righteous, snob who is unworthy of inclusion in the discussion?

Seems to me that I recall a story about a poor widow's mite. Is it possible that the story has anything to offer in the way of an answer to our question? What are your credentials for judging something/somebody as unworthy of notice or consideration? Makes one wonder how a poor, Jewish carpenter with little formal education/training would fair in our world!

Friday, April 29, 2016

Is God a biophile?

The PBS Newshour recently did an interview with acclaimed biologist Edward O. Wilson (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/bb/how-to-save-life-on-earth-according-to-e-o-wilson/). The piece was inspired by his latest book offering (Half Earth), and his efforts to promote a national park and/or wildlife preserve in southern Alabama. Of particular interest to this blogger was his insistence on our (humankind's) responsibility for preserving other species as a moral imperative.

Unfortunately, too many Christians have thought of the earth and its other inhabitants as being exclusively for man's enjoyment and completely subject to his control. Add to this the more recent adoption of unfettered capitalism as God's preferred system, and you have a recipe for environmental disaster in the form of a mass extinction event that will be wholly attributable to us.

Nevertheless, common sense tells us that if God truly is the Source/Cause/Creator of the life (and it's manifestation in the biodiversity) we observe all around us, and God really is the personification of love, then logic indicates that God is a biophile (and would, therefore, expect us to be like-minded). Moreover, for those who would quote Scripture to justify man's dominion over the Earth, we should insist that they include the entire message. Mankind was told to dress it and to keep it - not given permission to deplete and/or destroy it. And isn't there a scriptural reference to God destroying those who destroy the Earth?

If we don't take the necessary steps to curb pollution and preserve habitat for the other life forms (plant and animal) that share this planet with us, I think that Mr. Wilson will be judged as a true prophet by future generations; and we will be judged by them (not to mention Almighty God) as being among the worst sinners that ever lived! What do you think?

Monday, April 25, 2016

Let me do it!

As a parent, grandparent and teacher, I have often heard my children gleefully exclaim "let me do it" when attempting to show them how to do something. And how many times have we all felt the frustration of watching a loved one suffer the consequences of some course of action that we had warned them not to pursue? Isn't it very human to insist on making our own choices and learning things the hard way?

Isn't that the central message of the story of Adam and Eve? Consider the story as a parable or an allegory about humanity.

Adam and Eve (TOGETHER representative of humankind) are placed in a "garden" of perfection where they have access to EVERYTHING. Moreover, they are encouraged to explore, learn and classify/name those things. That doesn't sound anti-science or anti-intellectual to me.

In fact, the only thing that is placed off limits is the "Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil." God has indicated that "He" will personally instruct them in how to differentiate between right and wrong.

But how do the humans react? "Let me do it!"

Hence, the story suggests that it was/is mankind's decision to go it on his own. God is portrayed as acceding to that decision (albeit reserving the right to intervene occasionally to assure the success of "His" project). Nevertheless, the point remains: It was/is our decision to go it alone.

Have you ever noticed how a child will ask: "Why didn't you catch me?" when he/she falls off of the bicycle that they just moments before insisted on trying to ride alone? OR "Why didn't you tell me this would happen?" when something goes wrong. OR "Where were you when I needed you?" (again ignoring the fact that it was their decision to go it alone).

Don't we do the same thing to God? Is it unreasonable for God to expect us to follow "His" rules if we want to play in "His" garden? Do you really want to play in "His" garden? OR is God just a convenient scapegoat when things go wrong for us?

I have cringed at some of the decisions my children/grandchildren/students have made. It's hard to let them fail, but it's essential to their independence and development to allow them to have that freedom. They have to personally internalize/learn each lesson - I can't do it for them (no matter how much I'd like to do just that).

Friday, April 22, 2016

Did you get it right last night?

Many of the "Elect" just participated in a ritual that Jesus Christ instituted almost two thousand years ago. They partook of the bread and the wine and hopefully thought about Jesus a little bit.

Unfortunately, however, many of them were focused on other issues: Are we celebrating this on the correct day? Did we use the right elements? Does grape juice count? Was the bread/wafer unleavened? Do baking soda and baking powder qualify as leavening agents? Were only qualified deacons used to distribute the elements? Was anyone permitted to partake of the elements who shouldn't have? Do the elements actually become the body and blood of Christ? Is everyone who was distracted or had their minds on other things last night headed for the Lake of Fire? Was everyone solemn and quiet and reading their Bibles or were they chatting and smiling? Was an actual foot washing event included in the service? Did they sing a song before they were dismissed? We're all of the appropriate scriptures cited and read? Was the ceremony referred to in the proper fashion (Passover, Lord's Supper, Communion)?

What about you? How would you characterize the above questions: sad or pertinent?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Leavening

Gary Leonard (Banned by HWA) recently asked "Is Jesus impressed with your deleavening routines?" The question is, of course, directed at ACOG members who obsess over the removal of leavening agents from their homes and vehicles in preparation for their observance of the Feast of Unleavened Bread. For most of that culture, it's all about the symbolic meaning of an ancient religious ritual of the Israelites. The removal of leavening being likened to ridding their lives of sin.

It is ironic that many of them point to the fifth chapter of Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians to justify this activity. They use this passage as one of their chief proof texts in demonstrating the continuing obligation of Christians to participate in the ritual, while many of them ignore/overlook the point that the apostle was attempting to make.

Paul wanted the Corinthians to remove pride, malice and wickedness from their midst and replace them with sincerity and truth. Which brings a question to mind for all of the folks who are still engaging in the physical ritual: Are you busy cleaning your house and car and purchasing matzah bread? OR Are you preoccupied with getting rid of the pride, anger and bitterness from your life and replacing them with the qualities that God wants you to exhibit? Which one of those activities do you suppose God is really interested in?

Monday, April 18, 2016

Does God want a trained ministry?

A recent post over at Ambassador Watch caught my eye. "Hanging out in Plato's cave" by Kevin provoked a very interesting discussion related to ministerial credentials.

Herbert W. Armstrong (HWA) had his Ambassador College, and other Christian sects have their seminaries and universities to train those among them who are interested in a career in the ministry. Is that, however, what God wants or expects of "His" Church?

For Kevin's father, a library of about 40 HWA booklets constituted an appropriate religious education for his children (unfortunately, this was not an isolated view within that culture). Kevin also talked about his experience of living in "that bubble of common believers," and how that "bubble eventually popped." In short, he compared his experience to Plato's "Allegory of the Den" and pointed out how one's concept of truth/reality can be twisted by being sheltered from the wider world.

We see this phenomenon in folks who have lived their entire lives in small, isolated towns. We call it provincialism. Of course, none of us would say that these folks are stupid and without anything to contribute to the world (unless we're cultural and/or intellectual snobs). However, many of us seem to think that such a background should automatically disqualify someone from serving in the ministry. In that regard, it is interesting to note: Although one could make the case that Paul was somewhat of a cosmopolitan, Jesus would be classified as a provincial by our understanding of those terms!

In the course of Kevin's post, he asked Pastor Ian Boyne of the CGI a very good question: "Hypothetically, what are the odds that a greedy, dishonest man who had abused his own child would be the one that God would select to work with to reveal new understandings?" He went on to ask: "Doesn't it make sense for God to select an individual with above average character rather (than) below average?"

In the comments that followed the post, Byker Bob emphasized the importance of being "well-grounded" and studying "other exigetics" in evaluating the doctrines of HWA. He said that this would expose the "bogus and shoddy research" that was the underpinning of those teachings.

Ian Boyne advised taking "some time to critique doctrines" and employing "sober thinking" to reveal that HWA was right about many of the doctrines he preached. He even offered a list of the ones he considered to be valid: "conditional immortality, postmortem salvation, millennium on the earth, Sabbatarianism, holy day keeping, Deification, restoration of ethnic Israel (and rejection of replacement theology), necessity of works for final justification (though not for initial justification), Gospel of the eschatological Kingdom." That's quite a list!

Mr. Boyne advised Kevin to "forget about the name Armstrong" and lay aside the pain of his association with the group founded by him. He said: "Do the dispassionate, objective analysis of these doctrines. Read accredited scholars, not the amateurs and theological incompetents who inundate the Internet." He concluded with "Get back to us after you have done that." (How condescending and arrogant can this guy get?)

According to Mr. Boyne, the Bible is only clear to "the called, the Elect." Which brings us to the Achilles heel of his thesis: If you're going to argue for intellectual rigor, you'd better not live in a glass house or introduce other concepts that will dilute/contradict it!

Gavin Rumney argued "that every ordained person who sets out to instruct others" should have "a legitimate degree in theology from a recognized university." Mr. Boyne responded: "Though I do not have a theology degree, my wide exposure to and reading in theology would put me at the post-graduate level. I have wide exposure to the main areas of Old and New Testament theology and am acquainted with all the major theologians in the main areas." (What about the minor theologians in the peripheral areas?) Mr. Boyne then proceeded to share an impressive partial reading list to bolster his credentials.

After complimenting Ian's reading list, Gavin concluded that it wasn't "a substitute for a moderated course of study...for someone who claims ministerial authority." He went on to point out that HWA's brief study at the Portland Public Library had certainly not been sufficient to prepare him for the ministry.

For me, however, the best comment came from "nck." He said, "It is what we do in life that defines us and that echoes down through eternity." (OK, he wasn't the first person to express that sentiment; but isn't it very appropriate here?)

When I was reading these comments, I was thinking about questions like "What is a minister?" and "What is the proper role of a minister?" and "What are the biblical qualifications/credentials for a minister?"

Doesn't the New Testament make plain in a number of places that ministers were to be servants? Didn't Christ say that he didn't want the leaders within his church exercising authority/dominion over his people? Doesn't Scripture indicate that character and life experience are prerequisites for serving in the ministry? Isn't the focus on character, not on doctrines/theology?

I know a CGI minister who is not as well read as Mr. Boyne, never attended Ambassador College and has little formal education. Nevertheless, he has sterling character and epitomizes servant leadership. Doctrinally speaking, he is much closer to Ian Boyne than he is to me; but he looks like the real deal to me! I'm impressed by his genuine care and concern for his flock and for doing whatever he thinks is in their best interest (he doesn't consider himself to be a good speaker, so he talks with other folks in the congregation and encourages them to speak and lead Bible studies).

What is God looking for in a minister? What kind of university does "He" expect them to attend? What do you think?