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Why Political Speech Is Inappropriate from the Pulpit!

For years now, I have been criticizing the preaching of politics from the pulpit. Why? What's so wrong with talking about issues and can...

Sunday, May 31, 2020

PENTECOST: The Holy Spirit

Christ's followers received the Holy Spirit on Pentecost (see Acts 2). The Holy Spirit flows from God and gives us a piece of his eternal life and nature.

Notice what Paul wrote to the Galatians about God's Holy Spirit:

So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. --Galatians 5:16-17, NLT

The Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. --Galatians 5:22-23, NLT

Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. --Galatians 5:25

Now, in my opinion, that's about the best explanation of the operation of the Holy Spirit that we have!

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Sweet Spot

Anyone who is familiar with the book of Revelation and the messages to the seven churches knows that you don't want to be considered a Laodicean. Why? Because Christ's message to them was that "I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." (Revelation 3:15-16) Now, the lesson that many Christians take away from this passage is that God doesn't like fence straddlers - that God wants us to be whole hog or nothing! In other words, the middle ground is no place for Christians!

But is that really the lesson of this scripture? Does God want us to eschew moderation? OR Was this passage meant to denounce indecision?

Unfortunately, many Christians have used this scripture (along with many others) to support binary thinking. They see everything in terms of black and white, good and evil, good or bad, beginning and ending,etc. The problem is that this kind of dualistic thinking offers us a distorted perception of reality, and it is not consistent with what we know about God's character.

How does it skew reality? We all know that there is a whole lot of space between two extremes. Hot, cold and lukewarm are only three points on a continuum that is wide, varied and nuanced. Think of all of the different possibilities that exist between staring into the light of the sun and staring into the total darkness of a cave hundreds of feet below the surface of the earth. Black and white? How many shades of gray are there between the two? And what about all of the different colors that are discernable by the human eye? Acid, alkaline and neutral? There are fourteen points on the pH scale.

Moreover, if we take just a moment to think about it, the point between the two extremes is very often the best place to be. Think about our Solar System. Earth orbits the Sun in a place that moderates our surface temperature (averaging about 15 degrees Celsius). Our advantage in this regard is brought into sharp focus when we consider the conditions extant on our two closest neighbors. The average surface temperature on Venus is about 470 degrees and is about negative 30 degrees on Mars (Celsius)! We've already mentioned the pH scale, and we know that the human body does not fair well in acidic or alkaline environments. Likewise, this point is underscored for us by the fact that pure water is right in the middle of the scale - neutral.

That the sweet spot is usually very close to the middle is also demonstrated by observing other features of the world around us. Although it is now considered politically incorrect to be a moderate, when we consider the historic record, we see that the best outcomes were often forged in the furnace of compromise. In fact, there are many instances where the complete triumph of an extreme position has resulted in disaster (e.g. the extermination of the Jews). Moderation has also proven useful in things like diet, exercise, alcohol consumption, sun exposure, etc. In fact, when we consider almost anything related to humans, we see that we are generally always better off when we avoid the extremes.

What about God? Scripture tells us that God is without beginning or end. In short, God embodies the extremes and all of the space between them. That blows binary thinking out of the water - doesn't it? Can we be zealous for a God who occupies the center of the universe? Can we be passionate about the middle? Can we decide to follow a moderate God?

Conservative or liberal? Democrat or Republican? Atheist or theist? Catholic or Protestant? Yes, we love to frame things in terms of a choice between two extremes; but the reality is that the sweet spot is almost always found between the two!

"Do not be over-righteous, neither be overwise – why destroy yourself?
17 Do not be overwicked, and do not be a fool – why die before your time?
1It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. Whoever fears God will avoid all extremes."
--Ecclesiastes 7:16-18     

Saturday, May 23, 2020

Preaching to the Choir

Although it takes many different forms within our culture, most Christians believe that they have some responsibility to evangelize (usually characterized as preaching the gospel or trying to convert/save nonbelievers). Nevertheless, in practice, many Christians engage in what is commonly known as "preaching to the choir." In other words, many Christians tend to inhabit their own little self-reinforcing bubble. They hang around like-minded folks and talk to each other about their shared values and beliefs. Unfortunately, we can readily see that this type of behavior is really not consistent with the notion of evangelism.

Evangelism is by its very nature outward looking - reaching out to folks who do not share our beliefs, outlook, nature, traditions or language. Christ sent his disciples into the world with his message and suggested that they would be baptizing new folks into his church as a consequence of this activity (see Matthew 28:29-30). Indeed, Christ himself always reached out to the sinners, uneducated and plebian folks of his day. He also made a point of conversing with people who did not share his outlook or faith.

Christ said that "They that are whole need not a physician; but they that are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (see Luke 5:31-32) For Jesus, it was all about seeking out those who were lost (see Luke 15:1-10). When his ministry was finished, Christ didn't ask God to take his disciples out of the world - he asked God to protect them from the evil that existed in the world (see John 17:15). And, once again, he prayed in that fashion because he was sending them into the world (see John 17:18).

Pastors today wonder why their churches are withering away and not growing. Some are content to blame it on Satan. Others suggest that the people of the world are just too wicked and secular today and imply that folks aren't as receptive to Christ's message now as they were in times past. Is it possible that many Christians today are just not confident enough to step outside of their comfort zone and reach out to folks who do not agree with them? Many Christians seem to feel like evangelizing is all about pointing out people's faults and sins and showing them that they are wrong and stand condemned in their present state, but didn't Christ say that he didn't come to condemn but to save? (see John 3:17)

Preaching to the choir might be self-satisfying, but what does it really accomplish? I may be wrong, but it feels more like spinning our wheels to me! What do you think?

Friday, May 15, 2020

A Reason To Continue

As long-time readers of this blog know, I have attempted to bow out of blogging here on a number of occasions over the last year or two. Sometimes it has felt like I've been "spinning my wheels." In short, the terrain and arguments often feel uncomfortably familiar - you know the Deja vu thing.

When I read or listen to things that Armstrongites and others are talking about, it often feels like being in a rut/hole or stuck in a Bill Murray style Groundhog Day time warp! And then I begin to think that it's all been said before: Why must we keep going over this same ground? Hasn't everything been said that needs to be said on this or that topic?

I will, however, inevitably read or hear something that makes me want to come out of my self-imposed retirement and respond. Why? Because we can't leave people in the ditch. Most of us feel compelled to help people - especially folks who we perceive to be in bad situations from which we have made our own escape. There is this feeling of "I survived that - you can too!"

I see the way that people continue to limit God, and it makes me frustrated. I see the narrow-mindedness, the binary thinking, the arrogance and superiority, and I feel compelled to weigh in on it and attempt to knock it down before it causes anymore damage than it already has. I think too about the depression and hopelessness that I have experienced in times past, and I want to share that there is light at the end of the tunnel - fresh air on the other side.

Hence, while I may take an occasional hiatus from writing or posting comments, I've begun to realize that I will probably never withdraw from this completely. If even one person remains bruised, battered and lying in the ditch, how can I ignore them and pass by on the other side of the road? No, as long as I'm in a position to offer assistance, I have a feeling that that is exactly what I need to be doing.

So, from here on out, a temporary silence doesn't mean I've given up and gone away. As Arnold Shwarzenegger once said, I'll be back! 

Sunday, May 10, 2020

The Conclusion of the Matter

The previous eleven posts provided historical and scriptural evidence that destroys the Armstrong Church of God narrative about their history. Taken together, they discredit the assertion that the majority of Christians adopted a counterfeit Christianity promulgated by Satan and the Roman Catholic Church. It also demolishes the notion that the ACOGs can demonstrate an unbroken lineage apart from the Catholic Church back to the church of the apostles.

Now, what does that have to do with a God who cannot be contained? By disproving this false historical narrative, we have demonstrated that God is not the property of this group of people (or any other for that matter). If deception disqualifies one from being included among God's people, then the folks within the Armstrong Churches of God are clearly excluded by this evidence. Once again, God is proven to be bigger than our petty notions about "Him."

God is bigger than the book that we possess about "Him." God is superior to our beliefs about "Him." Scripture informs us that we must believe that God exists, "and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him." (Hebrews 11:6) Likewise, the entire New Testament drives home the message that we must believe the good news about Jesus Christ's teachings, life, death, burial and resurrection. We can claim to believe many other things, but God's reality trumps whatever conclusions we may reach! In other words, we should always be willing to retain the possibility that our beliefs about God might fall short of the ultimate reality (and let's be honest, they almost certainly do).

The question is: Can we be comfortable with a God that we cannot completely fathom? Also, can we love and accept brothers and sisters whose notions about that God might differ from our own? Could my God also be yours?

Saturday, May 9, 2020

What did the Waldensians Believe?

As many churches have claimed the Waldensians as part of their spiritual lineage independent of the Roman Catholic Church, it may be of interest to them (and us) to take a closer look at what these folks actually believed. What follows are transcripts of two ancient documents that offer us some insight into their beliefs:

The Apostles' Creed

I believe in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth.
And in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic Church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting.

Waldensian Confessions of Faith, 1120

1. We believe and firmly maintain all that is contained in the twelve articles of the symbol, commonly called the apostles' creed, and we regard as heretical whatever is inconsistent with the said twelve articles.
2. We believe that there is one God - the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
3. We acknowledge for sacred canonical scriptures the books of the Holy Bible. (Here follows the title of each, exactly conformable to our received canon, but which it is deemed, on that account, quite unnecessary to particularize.)
4. The books above-mentioned teach us: That there is one GOD, almighty, unbounded in wisdom, and infinite in goodness, and who, in His goodness, has made all things. For He created Adam after His own image and likeness. But through the enmity of the Devil, and his own disobedience, Adam fell, sin entered into the world, and we became transgressors in and by Adam.
5. That Christ had been promised to the fathers who received the law, to the end that, knowing their sin by the law, and their unrighteousness and insufficiency, they might desire the coming of Christ to make satisfaction for their sins, and to accomplish the law by Himself.
6. That at the time appointed of the Father, Christ was born - a time when iniquity everywhere abounded, to make it manifest that it was not for the sake of any good in ourselves, for all were sinners, but that He, who is true, might display His grace and mercy towards us.
7. That Christ is our life, and truth, and peace, and righteousness - our shepherd and advocate, our sacrifice and priest, who died for the salvation of all who should believe, and rose again for their justification.
8. And we also firmly believe, that there is no other mediator, or advocate with God the Father, but Jesus Christ. And as to the Virgin Mary, she was holy, humble, and full of grace; and this we also believe concerning all other saints, namely, that they are waiting in heaven for the resurrection of their bodies at the day of judgment.
9. We also believe, that, after this life, there are but two places - one for those that are saved, the other for the damned, which [two] we call paradise and hell, wholly denying that imaginary purgatory of Antichrist, invented in opposition to the truth.
10. Moreover, we have ever regarded all the inventions of men [in the affairs of religion] as an unspeakable abomination before God; such as the festival days and vigils of saints, and what is called holy-water, the abstaining from flesh on certain days, and such like things, but above all, the masses.
11. We hold in abhorrence all human inventions, as proceeding from Antichrist, which produce distress (Alluding probably to the voluntary penances and mortification imposed by the Catholics on themselves), and are prejudicial to the liberty of the mind.
12 We consider the Sacraments as signs of holy things, or as the visible emblems of invisible blessings. We regard it as proper and even necessary that believers use these symbols or visible forms when it can be done. Notwithstanding which, we maintain that believers may be saved without these signs, when they have neither place nor opportunity of observing them.
13. We acknowledge no sacraments [as of divine appointment] but baptism and the Lord's supper.
14. We honour the secular powers, with subjection, obedience, promptitude, and payment.


Friday, May 8, 2020

The Resurrection WAS on Sunday!

For most Christians and Biblical scholars, the title of this post would not need an exclamation point. However, for most members of the Armstrong Churches of God, the title of this post will evoke anger and dismay. "With his background in the Worldwide Church of God, how can he say that the resurrection was on Sunday?" they will say.

Many years ago now, Herbert Armstrong published a booklet entitled The Resurrection was not on Sunday. He opened his treatise by asking two questions: "Was Jesus three days and three nights in the grave, as he said in Matthew 12:40? Can you figure three days and three nights between sunset 'Good Friday' and sunrise Easter Sunday?" see https://www.hwalibrary.com/cgi-bin/get/hwa.cgi?action=getbklet&InfoID=1319658718 According to Armstrong, in order for the math to work, the crucifixion had to occur earlier in the week - before sunset on a high day, not on the Friday before the weekly Sabbath. He then went on to assert that Christ was actually resurrected Saturday afternoon, not on Sunday!

While some traditionalists have argued for a different way of reckoning the time between the crucifixion and resurrection, this blogger is of the opinion that Armstrong was probably correct about the timing of the crucifixion. Nevertheless, his reasoning around the timing of the resurrection is clearly NOT in agreement with what is recorded in Scripture.

In his booklet, Armstrong even acknowledged that Jesus had stated that "the only sign HE would give to prove He was the Messiah was that He should be just three days and three nights in the rock-hewn sepulcher in 'the heart of the earth.'" Notice that this time period applies to the time he would spend in the grave - it has nothing to do with the period between his death and resurrection!

In other words, the countdown for this period begins when Christ is placed in the tomb. Hence, the time of his death (whatever day of the week that happened) has no bearing on when he would be resurrected. So, the thing that we need to focus on in this regard is the time of day in which Christ was placed in his tomb.

We read in the Gospel of John that after Jesus died: "And after this Joseph of Arimathaea, being a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, besought Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus: and Pilate gave him leave. He came therefore, and took the body of Jesus. And there came also Nicodemus, which at the first came to Jesus by night, and brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundred pound weight. Then took they the body of Jesus, and wound it in linen clothes with the spices, as the manner of the Jews is to bury. Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new sepulchre, wherein was never man yet laid. There laid they Jesus therefore because of the Jews' preparation day; for the sepulchre was nigh at hand." (John 19:38-42, KJV)

In this account of the events, Joseph and Nicodemus undertake a fairly elaborate preparation of the body of Jesus. This is obviously important in terms of the time element. In short, it had to take some time to prepare the body in this fashion. Notice also the location of the tomb is noted as being close to the place where Christ was crucified - this is important because it was "the Jews' preparation day" (in other words, the sunset that would inaugurate the high day was rapidly approaching).

Now, let's notice Luke's account of the same event. We read: "And, behold, there was a man named Joseph, a counsellor; and he was a good man, and a just: (The same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them;) he was of Arimathaea, a city of the Jews: who also himself waited for the kingdom of God. This man went unto Pilate, and begged the body of Jesus. And he took it down, and wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a sepulchre that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid. And that day was the preparation, and the sabbath drew on." (Luke 23:50-54, KJV) The New Living Translation renders this passage as "the Sabbath was about to begin."

Once again, we notice that it was the preparation day, and the sabbath was imminent. Likewise, Luke confirms that Joseph engaged in at least some preparation of the body prior to placing it in the tomb.

In Matthew's account, we read: "As evening approached, Joseph, a rich man from Arimathea who had become a follower of Jesus, went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. And Pilate issued an order to release it to him. Joseph took the body and wrapped it in a long sheet of clean linen cloth. He placed it in his own new tomb, which had been carved out of the rock. Then he rolled a great stone across the entrance and left. Both Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting across from the tomb and watching." (Matthew 27:57-61, NLT)

And, finally, the Gospel of Mark records that "when the even was come, because it was the preparation, that is, the day before the sabbath, Joseph of Arimathaea, an honourable counsellor, which also waited for the kingdom of God, came, and went in boldly unto Pilate, and craved the body of Jesus. And Pilate marvelled if he were already dead: and calling unto him the centurion, he asked him whether he had been any while dead. And when he knew it of the centurion, he gave the body to Joseph. And he bought fine linen, and took him down, and wrapped him in the linen, and laid him in a sepulchre which was hewn out of a rock, and rolled a stone unto the door of the sepulchre." (Mark 15:42-46)

Taking all four accounts of the burial together, the sense is that Joseph and Nicodemus placed Christ's body in the tomb just in the nick of time - immediately prior to sundown and the beginning of the Sabbath/high day. Given that Christ was supposed to remain in that tomb for 72 hours (3 days and 3 nights), that suggests that Christ must have been resurrected around sundown on whatever day that happened to land. And, when we consider the Divine attitude regarding the Sabbath noted in the Pentateuch (not to mention the zealousness of the Scribes and Pharisees of the time), it is hard to imagine that Christ would have been resurrected on the Sabbath day itself. And, if he was resurrected even one second after sundown, according to the Jewish reckoning of time, it would have occurred on Sunday - the first day of the week!

In his well-written book, The Thread - God's Appointments with History, Pastor Ron Dart (a well-known minister within Armstrong Church of God culture) supplies another reason for believing this timing. He wrote: "Remember that I have been telling you that the Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread are all about Christ. There was, at this season, a little noticed ceremony in the Temple service that was also all about Christ. This was the season of the first ripe barley. But the people were not allowed to eat any of that year's crop until a small portion of it had been offered to God by the priest. It is called "the wave sheaf" in the King James Version, and the ceremony is described in Leviticus." (page 64 of The Thread by Ronald L. Dart; Wasteland Press, 2006)

After quoting the scripture in question (Leviticus 23:9-11), Pastor Dart continues: "This could not be done on the Sabbath because it was an act of work...So, just after sundown, at the end of the three days and three nights that had passed since Jesus was buried, a noisy little procession of people made their way down from the Temple carrying torches...They came to a field that had been selected ahead of time where there were several bundles of grain already tied together, but not yet cut from the ground. One of the sheaves was selected, and a man stood over it holding a sickle over his head. He shouted a series of questions to the crowd gathered around him and they shouted their answers back at him: 'Is the sun down?' he shouted. The crowd answered, 'Yes!' 'Shall I reap?' 'Yes!' And with a stroke, he cut the sheaf from the ground. That may have been the moment that Jesus, who is also called 'the Firstfruits,' opened his eyes in the tomb. Through that night, the sheaf was prepared for offering..." (pages 64-65 of The Thread by Ronald L. Dart; Wasteland Press, 2006)

This would explain all of the references to the first day of the week in the gospel accounts surrounding the resurrection of Christ (Matthew 28:1, Mark 16:1-2, Luke 24:1 and John 20:1). Now Jewish Christians would have certainly understood the nuances of this timing, and that Saturday evening was the beginning of the first day of the week. It is also easy to understand that Gentile Christians wouldn't have understood the ins and outs of Jewish traditions and time keeping. To them, it simply happened on Sunday, and that is exactly why they regarded that day with such reverence!

In the final analysis, it is disheartening to think that so many folks have placed such emphasis on timing and have neglected the actual spiritual significance of the event itself. For First Century Christians, the joy was attached to the fact that their Savior had risen. Hopefully, Christians of today can all agree that that event is worth celebrating any day of the week! If you can't, just try to imagine what that event means for you! 


Thursday, May 7, 2020

From the Epistle of Barnabas

This document from the First or Second Century AD/CE was among many early Christian writings that did not make it into the canon of the New Testament:

Further, also, it is written concerning the Sabbath in the Decalogue which [the Lord] spoke, face to face, to Moses on Mount Sinai, "And sanctify ye the Sabbath of the Lord with clean hands and a pure heart." And He says in another place, "If my sons keep the Sabbath, then will I cause my mercy to rest upon them." The Sabbath is mentioned at the beginning of the creation [thus]: "And God made in six days the works of His hands, and made an end on the seventh day, and rested on it, and sanctified it." Attend, my children, to the meaning of this expression, "He finished in six days." This implieth that the Lord will finish all things in six thousand years, for a day is with Him a thousand years. And He Himself testifieth, saying, "Behold, to-day will be as a thousand years." Therefore, my children, in six days, that is, in six thousand years, all things will be finished. "And He rested on the seventh day." This meaneth: when His Son, coming [again], shall destroy the time of the wicked man, and judge the ungodly, and change the-sun, and the moon, and the stars, then shall He truly rest on the seventh day. Moreover, He says, "Thou shalt sanctify it with pure hands and a pure heart." If, therefore, any one can now sanctify the day which God hath sanctified, except he is pure in heart in all things, we are deceived. Behold, therefore: certainly then one properly resting sanctifies it, when we ourselves, having received the promise, wickedness no longer existing, and all things having been made new by the Lord, shall be able to work righteousness. Then we shall be able to sanctify it, having been first sanctified ourselves. Further, He says to them, "Your new moons and your Sabbath I cannot endure." Ye perceive how He speaks: Your present Sabbaths are not acceptable to Me, but that is which I have made, [namely this,] when, giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning of the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead. And when He had manifested Himself, He ascended into the heavens.

see http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/barnabas-roberts.html 

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Justin Martyr on Christians Who Observe the Law of Moses

The following excerpt is from Justin Martyr's Dialogue with Trypho:

And Trypho again inquired, "But if some one, knowing that this is so, after he recognises that this man is Christ, and has believed in and obeys Him, wishes, however, to observe these [institutions], will he be saved?"
I said, "In my opinion, Trypho, such an one will be saved, if he does not strive in every way to persuade other men,--I mean those Gentiles who have been circumcised from error by Christ, to observe the same things as himself, telling them that they will not be saved unless they do so. This you did yourself at the commencement of the discourse, when you declared that I would not be saved unless I observe these institutions."
Then he replied, "Why then have you said, 'In my opinion, such an one will be saved,' unless there are some who affirm that such will not be saved?"
"There are such people, Trypho," I answered; "and these do not venture to have any intercourse with or to extend hospitality to such persons; but I do not agree with them. But if some, through weak-mindedness, wish to observe such institutions as were given by Moses, from which they expect some virtue, but which we believe were appointed by reason of the hardness of the people's hearts, along with their hope in this Christ, and [wish to perform] the eternal and natural acts of righteousness and piety, yet choose to live with the Christians and the faithful, as I said before, not inducing them either to be circumcised like themselves, or to keep the Sabbath, or to observe any other such ceremonies, then I hold that we ought to join ourselves to such, and associate with them in all things as kinsmen and brethren. But if, Trypho," I continued, "some of your race, who say they believe in this Christ, compel those Gentiles who believe in this Christ to live in all respects according to the law given by Moses, or choose not to associate so intimately with them, I in like manner do not approve of them. But I believe that even those, who have been persuaded by them to observe the legal dispensation along with their confession of God in Christ, shall probably be saved. And I hold, further, that such as have confessed and known this man to be Christ, yet who have gone back from some cause to the legal dispensation, and have denied that this man is Christ, and have repented not before death, shall by no means be saved. Further, I hold that those of the seed of Abraham who live according to the law, and do not believe in this Christ before death, shall likewise not be saved, and especially those who have anathematized and do anathematize this very Christ in the synagogues, and everything by which they might obtain salvation and escape the vengeance of fire. For the goodness and the loving-kindness of God, and His boundless riches, hold righteous and sinless the man who, as Ezekiel tells, repents of sins; and reckons sinful, unrighteous, and impious the man who fails away from piety and righteousness to unrighteousness and ungodliness. Wherefore also our Lord Jesus Christ said, 'In whatsoever things I shall take you, in these I shall judge you.' "


Saturday, May 2, 2020


My last six posts have included excerpts from historical documents (without commentary or embellishment from me) related to the history of Christianity. For the benefit of those who may not have read those posts, a brief summary of them for the purposes of this post are in order:

1. Worship Among Early Christians - An eyewitness account of a Christian worship service during the first half of the Second Century AD/CE. In that account, we find Christians meeting on Sunday and reading the "memoirs of the apostles" and the writings of the prophets (as they didn't have access to what we now refer to as the New Testament). It is also interesting to note that a simple communion service is observed, and that members with the financial resources to do so made voluntary contributions that were used to help those members who were in need.

2. Martin Luther's Preface to the Book of Revelation - The founder of the Protestant Reformation in Sixteenth Century Europe gives his opinion that the last book of our New Testament doesn't belong in the canon of Scripture!

3. From Book 3 of Eusebius' Church History - The man who was largely responsible for pulling together the New Testament in the Fourth Century states that II Peter, II & III John, Jude, James, Hebrews and Revelation had not been universally accepted by the Christians of the first three centuries of the Church. In other words, Christians had not been able to agree on which books should be included in the canon for three hundred years!

4. First Century Christianity - This Late First Century manuscript gives us the earliest take on a Christian Statement of Beliefs that we know of (once again, prior to any compilation of a New Testament). This simple statement stands in stark contrast to the elaborate Statements of Beliefs put out by today's churches. It begins with a focus on Christ's two great commandments as the foundational principles on which all else follows. Christians are enjoined not to engage in sinful behaviors, and it provides brief treatises on baptism and the Eucharist.

5. Ignatius of Antioch on Christians Keeping the Jewish Law - In excerpts from the bishop's letters to the Philadelphians and Magnesians, we read that Christians of the Late First Century and Early Second Century were not expected to follow Jewish traditions or religious practices.

6. 70 A.D. - A First Century Jewish historian (Flavius Josephus) gives a graphic account of the destruction of the Temple by the Romans.


Because they present some very inconvenient truths for Fundamentalist/Literalist Christians - especially for Armstrongites!

In his booklet, Where Is The True Church?, Herbert Armstrong wrote: "So it was, that before A.D. 50 (the Church had been founded in A.D. 31) a fierce controversy arose as to whether the gospel to be proclaimed was the gospel OF Christ, or a gospel ABOUT Christ. Soon the curtain was wrung down on historic records of the Church. It evidenced the fact that a vigorous cooperative and systematic effort was made to destroy historic records of church happenings of the next hundred years. It was the LOST CENTURY in church history. When the curtain of history is raised about A.D. 150, it reveals a church calling itself 'Christian,' but one totally different from the Church Jesus founded through his apostles in A.D. 31."

As you can see from the primary documents I cited (and there are others besides them), there was no "lost century" in terms of the history of Christianity. Yet, the folks who are familiar with Armstrongism will recognize this as a central tenet of his theology (and of those who have followed him). The problem is that, in attempting to explain the emergence of a Christian Church that has abandoned the Sabbath and embraced Sunday, Armstrong and his minions have had to avoid/ignore a whole lot of REAL history!

Yes, Jesus and his disciples kept the Sabbath and observed the Holy Days - THEY WERE JEWS! Yes, the very first Christians were Jewish and observed Jewish traditions and met with other Jews. In fact, we are told in Scripture (see the book of Acts) that this insular attitude of early Christians prevented them from fulfilling the commission which Christ had given to his apostles and church (see Matthew 28:19-20). Indeed, when we continue to read in Acts, we see that Christ had to give Peter a special vision in order to convince him that he should carry the gospel to the Gentiles! Moreover, we know that Christ later raised up Paul as an apostle to the Gentiles, because the twelve simply were not getting it done! Jewish Christians continued to observe the religious traditions which they had been in the habit of observing for their entire lives - until the destruction of the temple in 70 AD/CE made that impossible (remember, there was only ONE place that was a legitimate feast site according to Scripture - see Deuteronomy 16).

Gentiles, however, had no such traditions. Gentiles were never a part of the Old Covenant. They had NEVER observed the Sabbath or the Holy Days. Moreover, the great council of Jerusalem decided that Gentile Christians would not be forced to adopt those features of the Old Covenant - with the exception of a few tenets which everyone agreed should be universal in applicability (see Acts 15). The above history, in combination with Scripture, leads one to the inescapable conclusion that MOST Christians were observing Sunday and didn't have access to any New Testament by the close of the First Century!

The notion that God had handed the Church a completed New Testament and commanded them to observe the tenets of the Old Covenant is made absurd by this history! There simply wasn't any great Roman Catholic or Satanic conspiracy to do away with God's Sabbath during a hundred year period shrouded in mystery!

And Mr. Armstrong was not alone in concocting this false narrative about Church History. There was Herman Hoeh's A True History of the True Church. The United Church of God has its The Church Jesus Built. There is David Pack's Where is the True Church? - and Its Incredible History! We have Gerald Flurry's The True History of God's True Church. There is the Church of God International's documentary, The Chronicles of the New Testament Church. For Armstrongites, this is an essential part of the narrative that makes them superior to the rest of Christianity. They have to tell the story about the rise of a counterfeit Christianity. Never mind that history debunks their false narrative and consigns their efforts to the bin of historical fiction!

I know it feels really good to be so sure and settled about what you believe; but, if your narrative is built on a foundation of sand, how settled can it really be? Rather than read a church booklet on church history, why not do a little digging of your own?

70 A.D.

An excerpt from First Century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus' account of the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 A.D. follows:

"Most of the slain were peaceful citizens, weak and unarmed, and they were butchered where they were caught. The heap of corpses mounted higher and higher about the altar; a stream of blood flowed down the Temple's steps, and the bodies of those slain at the top slipped to the bottom.

When Caesar failed to restrain the fury of his frenzied soldiers, and the fire could not be checked, he entered the building with his generals and looked at the holy place of the sanctuary and all its furnishings, which exceeded by far the accounts current in foreign lands and fully justified their splendid repute in our own.

As the flames had not yet penetrated to the inner sanctum, but were consuming the chambers that surrounded the sanctuary, Titus assumed correctly that there was still time to save the structure; he ran out and by personal appeals he endeavored to persuade his men to put out the fire, instructing Liberalius, a centurion of his bodyguard of lancers, to club any of the men who disobeyed his orders. But their respect for Caesar and their fear of the centurion's staff who was trying to check them were overpowered by their rage, their detestation of the Jews, and an utterly uncontrolled lust for battle.

Most of them were spurred on, moreover, by the expectation of loot, convinced that the interior was full of money and dazzled by observing that everything around them was made of gold. But they were forestalled by one of those who had entered into the building, and who, when Caesar dashed out to restrain the troops, pushed a firebrand, in the darkness, into the hinges of the gate Then, when the flames suddenly shot up from the interior, Caesar and his generals withdrew, and no one was left to prevent those outside from kindling the blaze. Thus, in defiance of Caesar's wishes, the Temple was set on fire.

While the Temple was ablaze, the attackers plundered it, and countless people who were caught by them were slaughtered. There was no pity for age and no regard was accorded rank; children and old men, laymen and priests, alike were butchered; every class was pursued and crushed in the grip of war, whether they cried out for mercy or offered resistance.

Through the roar of the flames streaming far and wide, the groans of the falling victims were heard; such was the height of the hill and the magnitude of the blazing pile that the entire city seemed to be ablaze; and the noise - nothing more deafening and frightening could be imagined.

There were the war cries of the Roman legions as they swept onwards en masse, the yells of the rebels encircled by fire and sword, the panic of the people who, cut off above, fled into the arms of the enemy, and their shrieks as they met their fate. The cries on the hill blended with those of the multitudes in the city below; and now many people who were exhausted and tongue-tied as a result of hunger, when they beheld the Temple on fire, found strength once more to lament and wail. Peraea and the surrounding hills, added their echoes to the deafening din. But more horrifying than the din were the sufferings.

The Temple Mount, everywhere enveloped in flames, seemed to be boiling over from its base; yet the blood seemed more abundant than the flames and the numbers of the slain greater than those of the slayers. The soldiers climbed over heaps of bodies as they chased the fugitives."

see http://www.eyewitnesstohistory.com/jewishtemple.htm

Friday, May 1, 2020

Ignatius of Antioch on Christians Keeping the Jewish Law

Ignatius (who lived sometime between 40-140 AD) was the Bishop of Antioch.

From the Epistle of Ignatius to the Philadelphians:

But if any one preach the Jewish law unto you, listen not to him. For it is better to hearken to Christian doctrine from a man who has been circumcised, than to Judaism from one uncircumcised. But if either of such persons do not speak concerning Jesus Christ, they are in my judgment but as monuments and sepulchres of the dead, upon which are written only the names of men. Flee therefore the wicked devices and snares of the prince of this world, lest at any time being conquered by his artifices, ye grow weak in your love. But be ye all joined together with an undivided heart. And I thank my God that I have a good conscience in respect to you, and that no one has it in his power to boast, either privately or publicly, that I have burdened any one either in much or in little. And I wish for all among whom I have spoken, that they may not possess that for a testimony against them.

see http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/ignatius-philadelphians-roberts.html

From the Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians:

Let us not, therefore, be insensible to His kindness. For were He to reward us according to our works, we should cease to be. Therefore, having become His disciples, let us learn to live according to the principles of Christianity. For whosoever is called by any other name besides this, is not of God. Lay aside, therefore, the evil, the old, the sour leaven, and be ye changed into the new leaven, which is Jesus Christ. Be ye salted in Him, lest any one among you should be corrupted, since by your savour ye shall be convicted. It is absurd to profess Christ Jesus, and to Judaize. For Christianity did not embrace Judaism, but Judaism Christianity, that so every tongue which believeth might be gathered together to God.

see http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/text/ignatius-magnesians-roberts.html