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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, October 30, 2022

The Purpose of This Blog

In past posts on this blog, I have emphasized the fact that I am NOT an evangelical. In short, I am NOT interested in converting anyone. As I have repeatedly said, there is no Church of Lonnie (and no plans to start one). Hence, for me, the sharing of my beliefs is NOT intended to persuade others that I'm right about this or that. Instead, my goal was to help others in their own spiritual journey.

My former affiliation with the Worldwide Church of God, Church of God International and Seventh Day Baptists has given me a unique perspective on Christianity and things spiritual. Likewise, the fact that I am a gay Christian has also contributed to my distinctive perspective on spiritual topics. In particular, these experiences caused me to dig deeper and do more research into why I believed certain things and rejected others. Indeed, my experiences and studies have informed my views on a whole host of issues relative to religion, spirituality and morality.

My blog is also informed by Christ's commission to his followers at the close of his own ministry - to carry his story and teachings to the rest of the world. Also, I am trying to follow Peter's admonition to "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." I believe that it is God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit who draw people to themselves and reveal things to their understanding. That is NOT my job, or the job of any church, minister or guru!

I consider a post to be a success if it has helped ONE person or has caused ONE person to THINK about their own beliefs and take another look at the available evidence. For me, the rekindling of my own curiosity, questioning and reasoning skills was one of the greatest benefits I derived from my own experiences and studies, and I want to rekindle that in others. Also, finally, it is my hope that this blog presents an expansive view of God - that this blog glories in the God who cannot be contained or limited by humans or any of our beliefs about "him."

Saturday, October 29, 2022

TITHING: The fleecing of the flock!

Unfortunately, many Christian leaders have appropriated the Old Testament principle of tithing to support their ministries. The reasons for this misappropriation of the flock's resources are obvious: 1) it provides them with a substantial and reliable source of income, and 2) by grounding it in Scripture, they can claim that it is a Divine requirement - not something which they have instituted in their own self-interest! In other words, church leaders can claim with a straight face that anyone who fails to tithe is actually robbing God and hurting themselves, not the folks who are actually collecting and spending the money! In this way, these ministers have quite cleverly imposed a self-policing mental straitjacket on their parishioners.

In the now defunct Worldwide Church of God (and in many of its descendants), the tithing principle was probably exploited more effectively than in any of the other Christian groups which have employed it! In addition to demanding that their members give one-tenth of their gross income to the church, they also expected members to set aside a "second" tithe (to be used in attending their annual eight-day celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles referenced in the Torah), and a third ten percent every third year (ostensibly designated to help their poorer members). "How do you convince folks to devote such a large percentage of their incomes to the practice of their faith?" you may be wondering. They accomplished this in part by claiming that God would more than make up for what they were sacrificing financially. In this regard, one of their favorite quotations was from the Old Testament book of Malachi: "Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the LORD of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it." (Malachi 3:10, KJV)

In exploring this topic, one of the very first things that we need to point out is that the designation of a "first, second, and third" tithe does NOT appear in the Judeo-Christian canon. That's right - modern religionists use those designations to describe what actually appears in the Torah. In other words, Scripture talks about A tithe that was to be used in a number of different ways by the Israelites. Why would religionists describe them thus? Do you think it's possible that it might have something to do with the fact that having ONE tithe employed in three different ways would naturally reduce the amount of money flowing into the coffers of the church?

Next, one of the most important things that these Christian groups often fail to mention is the context of the tithing mentioned in the Hebrew Bible. Not only was tithing clearly identified with the tenets of the OLD Covenant as outlined in the Torah, it is also very clear that the principle was intimately associated with the AGRICULTURAL economy of ancient Israel! In the book of Leviticus, we read: "And all the tithe of the land (Hebrew "eres" or earth), whether of the seed of the land, or of the fruit of the tree, is the Lord's: it is holy unto the Lord." (27:30) In addition to crops, we read in the same book: "And concerning the tithe of the herd, or of the flock, even of whatsoever passeth under the rod, the tenth shall be holy unto the Lord." (27:32) In other words, the tithe was figured on crops and livestock - It was NOT figured on wages derived from labor! Notice too, that the context also takes for granted the farmer's ownership of the land, the planting of a crop, and the preexistence of a flock or herd! This is made even plainer by the insistence in the book of Deuteronomy that the Israelites tithe on their INCREASE (Hebrew "tebua" or product, yield, crops, gain, revenue) - what was produced THAT year! (See Deuteronomy 14:22, 23 and 28). In other words, ancient Israelites were NOT tithing on their gross income - they were tithing on their NET income from their crops and livestock!

It should also be noted that there is absolutely NO MENTION of using tithing as a means to support the New Testament Church in Scripture! Now, it is true that Jesus Christ pointed out the hypocrisy of the scribes and Pharisees relative to their attitudes towards tithing (see Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42). Jesus underscored the fact that they had neglected the more important aspects of their faith by focusing too much attention on getting tithing right. Christ taught his followers to "Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away." (Matthew 5:42) Indeed, throughout most of the New Testament, we find the principle expressed that Christians should be motivated to willingly give of themselves and their resources (see Mark 12:41-44, Luke 6:38, Acts 20:35, I Corinthians 16:1-2, II Corinthians 9:7, and Hebrews 13:16). In other words, there is NOTHING in the New Testament to suggest that Christians are under any obligation to tithe on their income and present it to the Church! Moreover, anyone who would suggest that this is a requirement for Christians is almost certainly motivated by self-interest! Christians are clearly obligated to be generous and to be looking to help those who are in need, but there clearly isn't any formula prescribed by Scripture for accomplishing that end!

Wednesday, October 26, 2022

Setting the stage for the next scandal

Traditional Christians often seem to be fixated on trying to suppress human sexuality. For many of them, the only acceptable sex is that which takes place between a heterosexual married couple for the purposes of producing children. Any sexual desire or activity that doesn't fit that formula is disparaged and discouraged by them. Indeed, if most of them followed their stipulations regarding "righteous" Christian dating practices, marriage and reproduction among them would probably disappear altogether! For centuries, many Christians have associated human sexuality with shame and guilt, and the fruits of that association have been a lot of unnecessary misery, frustration, heartache, and perversion! Even worse, these folks NEVER seem to learn their lesson - they keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again and expecting a different outcome (the very definition of insanity).

I read today an article by Al Jazeera titled Pope Francis warns priests against temptations of pornography. In the piece, Francis is quoted as saying: "Each of you think if you’ve had the experience or had the temptation of digital pornography. It’s a vice that so many people have, so many laymen, so many laywomen and even priests and nuns." According to the same article, he went on to say: "And I’m not just talking about criminal pornography like child abuse, where you see live cases of abuse – that’s already degeneracy – but of the more ‘normal’ pornography...The devil enters from there." So, these men can't "lust," date, have sexual intercourse, masturbate, marry, or do ANYTHING to gratify/satisfy that portion of their God-given humanity! And they honestly expect these folks to be well-adjusted, happy, and saintly? What happens when those human feelings are suppressed?

I seem to remember that the Roman Catholic Church has experienced an ongoing scandal related to pedophilia among the priesthood. Is it possible that this plague is somehow related to their attempt to actively curtail the sexuality of those men? I ask again: What happens when these very human and normal sexual behaviors and needs are denied and suppressed? What happens to a human that stops eating and drinking? What happens to a person when they are deprived of sleep? What happens when people are isolated from other humans and not allowed to communicate with others of their species? Short answer: NOTHING GOOD!

To be clear, I am NOT advocating on behalf of promiscuous or perverted sexual behavior. I am NOT promoting pornography. I AM saying that the attitudes of many Christians toward human sexuality are unhealthy and unsustainable! I AM saying that many traditional Christian attitudes toward human sexuality have NO basis in Scripture. If we really believe that God is the Creator, we must admit that human sexuality is of Divine origin! Human sexual desire is a God-given phenomenon. We must acknowledge that the human form is beautiful, desirable, and worthy of admiration. In short, this attachment of shame and guilt to our bodies and their natural functions did NOT originate in the mind of God! According to the Bible, that stuff wasn't present at the beginning. The notion of shamefulness and guilt came later - you know, after the Serpent enticed them to eat the fruit of that tree! 

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

The Bible: Jesus Christ Reconciles Us to God

 It’s your sins that have cut you off (or separated you) from God. - Isaiah 59:2

Who has believed our message? To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm? My servant grew up in the Lord’s presence like a tender green shoot, like a root in dry ground. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected — a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. Yet it was our weaknesses he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! But he was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all. He was oppressed and treated harshly, yet he never said a word. He was led like a lamb to the slaughter.  And as a sheep is silent before the shearers, he did not open his mouth. Unjustly condemned, he was led away. No one cared that he died without descendants, that his life was cut short in midstream. But he was struck down for the rebellion of my people. He had done no wrong and had never deceived anyone. But he was buried like a criminal; he was put in a rich man’s grave. But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands. When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins. I will give him the honors of a victorious soldier, because he exposed himself to death. He was counted among the rebels. He bore the sins of many and interceded for rebels. - Isaiah 53

He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west. - Psalm 103:12

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! - John 1:29

He was handed over to die because of our sins, and he was raised to life to make us right with God. Therefore, since we have been made right in God’s sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God’s glory. - Romans 4:25 and 5:1-2

When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. - Romans 5:6-11

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation. So we are Christ’s ambassadors; God is making his appeal through us. We speak for Christ when we plead, “Come back to God!” For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ. - II Corinthians 5:18-21

Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. - Ephesians 2:13

For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in Christ, and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of Christ’s blood on the cross. This includes you who were once far away from God. You were his enemies, separated from him by your evil thoughts and actions. Yet now he has reconciled you to himself through the death of Christ in his physical body. As a result, he has brought you into his own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before him without a single fault. - Colossians 1:19-22 

For Christ did not enter into a holy place made with human hands, which was only a copy of the true one in heaven. He entered into heaven itself to appear now before God on our behalf. And he did not enter heaven to offer himself again and again, like the high priest here on earth who enters the Most Holy Place year after year with the blood of an animal. If that had been necessary, Christ would have had to die again and again, ever since the world began. But now, once for all time, he has appeared at the end of the age to remove sin by his own death as a sacrifice. Hebrews 9:24-26

For God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time. Hebrews 10:10

And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place. And since we have a great High Priest who rules over God’s house, let us go right into the presence of God with sincere hearts fully trusting him. For our guilty consciences have been sprinkled with Christ’s blood to make us clean, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. - Hebrews 10:19-22

Saturday, October 22, 2022

The Fall Holy Days and Jesus Christ

It has been pointed out many times here and elsewhere that the festivals outlined in the Torah were associated with the agricultural cycle of the original homeland of the Jews. Indeed, this connection has long been recognized by the Jewish people as being an essential element in understanding the meaning of these days. In an article (Why Are Jewish Holidays Pegged to the Agricultural Cycle?) for Chabad.org, Lazer Gurkow observed: "The festivals are named after the miracles that they commemorate...In addition, G‑d gave these festivals names that reflect the seasons in which they fall. Passover is called the festival of ripeness, Chag HaAviv, because it falls in the early spring, when the crops have just begun to ripen. Shavuot is called the Festival of the Harvest, Chag Hakatzir, because it occurs in the late spring during the harvest. Sukkot is called the the Festival of Gathering, Chag HaAsif, because it is celebrated in the fall when the crops are gathered. On the face of it, the connection between our festivals and the seasons they are in is tenuous. The festivals celebrate miraculous events, while the seasons during which they fall appear to be coincidental. Yet the Torah emphasizes this link, and goes so far as to manipulate our calendar to ensure that the holidays are always celebrated in their respective phases of the harvest cycle."

Of course, this connection also did not escape the notice of the authors of the New Testament. Christ and his followers were repeatedly associated with the Spring harvest in those writings - the "firstfruits" of God's spiritual harvest. Likewise, according to those same writings, the salvation of the vast majority of humankind would be associated with the great harvest of the fall. Unfortunately, this differentiation in the timing of when folks would be welcomed into the Kingdom led one Herbert Armstrong to think of these festivals in terms of a past, present, and future fulfillment of God's plans to save humankind. Armstrong reasoned that the Holy Days must picture a chronological progression of the events outlined in Scripture because of this clear distinction between the two harvests. However, while the harvest analogy is unmistakable for Christians, we must also remember that the New Testament makes EVERYTHING in the Torah point to Jesus of Nazareth and his work on our behalf. In other words, whatever meaning we ascribe to these Jewish festivals - chronological or otherwise - it must focus on Jesus Christ!

Now, as we have just finished the fall festivals (Trumpets, Atonement, Tabernacles), I thought it would be appropriate to summarize and make a few additional observations about how these symbols relate to Christ. In times past, this blog has talked a great deal about how the Day of Atonement pictured Christ's work of reconciliation on our behalf. In brief, we have discussed how Christ's sacrifice covered our sins and reconciled us to God by removing the very things which had alienated us from him (those same sins). Likewise, we have underscored the symbolism associated with the Shofar, and how that related to Christ's return and the resurrection. And, we have examined how Christ tabernacled in the flesh for a little while and made it possible for us to someday exchange these tabernacles which we currently inhabit for a more permanent home. Nevertheless, we often forget that Scripture is very often like an onion - with several layers of meaning to peel back and expose. In this connection, I have focused a great deal of attention on the meaning of the Day of Atonement. Hence, I have felt compelled to offer a few more observations about Trumpets and Tabernacles in particular.

In their article on Rosh Hashanah, Chabad.org points out that the Jewish people think of this day as "The Jewish New Year, anniversary of the creation of Adam and Eve, a day of judgment and coronation, and sounding of the shofar." Moreover, there are several elements of this Jewish perspective on the day which should be of particular interest to Christians. The same article goes on to relate that "the central observance of Rosh Hashanah is the sounding of the shofar." They continue: "The blowing of the shofar represents the trumpet blast that is sounded at a king’s coronation. Its plaintive cry also serves as a call to repentance. The shofar itself recalls the Binding of Isaac, an event that occurred on Rosh Hashanah in which a ram took Isaac’s place as an offering to G‑d." In the article Why Are Shofars from Rams' Horns? by Yehuda Shurpin (same website), we read: "The ram’s horn recalls the binding of Isaac, when Abraham was ready to sacrifice his only son, stopping only when an angel showed him a ram whose horns were entangled in the nearby thicket. Thus, the Talmud tells us, when we blow a ram’s horn, it is as if we are reenacting this amazing act of devotion." (Emphasis mine)

Now, Christians have long recognized a connection between this story about the sacrifice of Isaac and the narrative about the sacrifice of Christ. For Christians, just as God provided a substitution for Isaac in the form of a Ram, God provided Jesus as a substitution for us - a sin offering on our behalf! Likewise, Christians have long noted another connection to Jesus in the Genesis account of this story. In God's instructions to Abraham, we read: "Take your son, your only son—yes, Isaac, whom you love so much—and go to the land of Moriah. Go and sacrifice him as a burnt offering on one of the mountains, which I will show you." (Genesis 22:2, emphasis mine) Likewise, after the angel had prevented Abraham from carrying out the sacrifice, we read: "This is what the Lord says: Because you have obeyed me and have not withheld even your son, your only son, I swear by my own name that I will certainly bless you." (Verses 16-17, emphasis mine) This phraseology is of particular interest to us when we compare it to this famous passage from the Gospel of John: "For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him." (John 3:16-17, emphasis mine). It should also be noted here that the King James Version's "only begotten Son" comes from the Greek word monogenes which literally indicates the ONLY child of the parent(s). Moreover, this association between the two narratives is reinforced by a number of other New Testament passages (see Hebrews 11:17 and I John 4:9).

Also, the Jewish notion that the sounding of the Shofar was related to the coronation of a king is of particular interest to Christians. This, of course, is directly related to the Christian belief that Jesus was David's heir (the Root of Jesse) and will return to this earth as "King of Kings" (a position which he will have already received from his Father in heaven).

As for the Feast of Tabernacles, I would like to leave those of my Armstrong Church of God friends who still believe that this festival pictures the Millenium with a few questions to consider. How does the inauguration of the Kingdom of God (an eternal, never ending phenomenon) relate to the strong symbolism of temporariness associated with this festival (even if we allow that one thousand years is a finite period of time)? Should we associate the materialistic promises made to Abraham and his descendants with the spiritual promises made to us through Christ? After all, doesn't Scripture clearly contrast those materialistic promises with the spiritual ones and characterize them as "better"? In other words, aren't Christians consuming a vastly superior food and drink to what the Israelites consumed from the tithe of their crops and livestock at Jerusalem? And, finally, doesn't the putting off of this temporary tabernacle apply to everyone who inherits salvation? In other words, doesn't your Tabernacle and Last Great Day symbolism suggest that these days represent BOTH spiritual harvests?

Whatever conclusions you may reach about the meaning of these Jewish festivals, I hope that we can all agree that Christ fulfilled their meaning for us. Even though Christians are operating under the terms of the New Covenant, we have much to learn from the provisions outlined in the Old Covenant. As I have said many times in the past here, the Hebrew Scriptures were the ONLY Scriptures available to the First Century Church! Moreover, it should be clear to ALL of us that ALL of the authors of the New Testament interpreted the Hebrew Scriptures through the lens of Jesus of Nazareth. Hence, for those of us who profess Christ, there is no escaping this heritage - this reality! What do you think?

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

Real Food and Drink

In response to my recent post on the Feast of Tabernacles, Neo posted the following comment:

While the theme of the incarnation of Christ is strong in Sukkot, there is also the traditional Judaic theme of harvest. Sukkot by itself can have a strong materialistic flavor - emphasis on the agricultural prosperity and affluence provided by God. But the NT and life of Jesus add a new dimension - that life with its materialism is fleeting. We, as Christ, tabernacle here for a while and then we pass on to the real life where we become partakers not of the material harvest but of the of the divine nature of God. I believe that over-emphasis on food and drink and other material concerns during Sukkot tends to increase the effect of materialism rather than dampen it so that the incarnation of Jesus can be clearly seen and understood. It emphasizes materialism forever instead of the primacy of partaking of Jesus. Materialism itself must be subsumed in Christ to have any meaningful value. Jesus said, amidst all the feasting and gourmandizing, "If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink." The incarnation of Jesus and the fact that this kenosis was temporary places the material prosperity of the harvest in its proper place.

These comments pointing out the materialistic consumption enjoined in the Torah's instructions regarding this festival were of particular interest to me. As Neo also reminded us, this festival (as with the others) was intimately associated with the agricultural harvest of the Promised Land. Indeed, all ACOG members are familiar with the passages which provide the basis for their celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles. In the book of Deuteronomy, we read: "Thou shalt truly tithe all the increase of thy seed, that the field bringeth forth year by year. And thou shalt eat before the Lord thy God, in the place which he shall choose to place his name there, the tithe of thy corn, of thy wine, and of thine oil, and the firstlings of thy herds and of thy flocks; that thou mayest learn to fear the Lord thy God always. And if the way be too long for thee, so that thou art not able to carry it; or if the place be too far from thee, which the Lord thy God shall choose to set his name there, when the Lord thy God hath blessed thee: Then shalt thou turn it into money, and bind up the money in thine hand, and shalt go unto the place which the Lord thy God shall choose: And thou shalt bestow that money for whatsoever thy soul lusteth after, for oxen, or for sheep, or for wine, or for strong drink, or for whatsoever thy soul desireth: and thou shalt eat there before the Lord thy God, and thou shalt rejoice, thou, and thine household." (14:22-26)

Now, for the followers of Herbert Armstrong, this has always represented the blessings which they will enjoy during the millennial reign of Christ on this earth. This notion is firmly rooted in Armstrong's teaching that the festivals portray God's plan to redeem humankind. In the booklet Pagan Holidays or God's Holy Days - Which? Herbert Armstrong wrote: "These days, too, were given to keep God's children in the true memory and worship of God by keeping us constantly in the understanding of God's great plan of redemption. For these annual days picture the different epochs in the plan of spiritual creation-mark the dispensations, and picture their meaning." For Armstrong and his followers, Passover pictured Christ's sacrifice for our sins, Unleavened Bread pictured the removal of those sins, Pentecost symbolized the firstfruits, Trumpets pointed to Christ's return, Atonement pictured placing our sins on Satan and his imprisonment, Tabernacles portrayed the Millenium, and the Last Great Day pointed to the Great White Throne Judgement (when salvation would be offered to everyone).

The problem with this formula becomes glaringly obvious when we consider it in the light of what Christ, Paul, and the author of Hebrews said about these Torah rituals. Christ said that he came to this earth to fulfill the Torah (Matthew 5:17); and I think that it is reasonable to conclude that this encompasses the festivals and Holy Days outlined therein. Likewise, Paul wrote to the saints at Colosse that ALL of the festivals and Holy Days found their reality in Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:16-17). He also wrote to the saints of Corinth that Jesus was their Passover (I Corinthians 5:7).  In similar fashion, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews points to Jesus as our High Priest and Atonement (Hebrews 3-10). In other words, how can you talk about God's plan of redemption without focusing on the Redeemer - the One who accomplishes it! Hence, the obvious flaw in Armstrong's interpretations of the symbolism surrounding these festivals is the absence of a focus on Jesus Christ!

This, of course, brings us back to Neo's commentary on this subject (referenced above). Christ is the real food and drink of TRUE Christians! Jesus said that he was the bread of life (John 6). He said that those who believe in him will never hunger or thirst (verse 35). Jesus said that his flesh was real food, and that his blood was real drink (verse 55). Likewise, he told the woman at the well that he was the source of a water that would permanently quench a person's thirst (John 4:14). Once again, this stands in stark contrast to the consumption of physical food and drink - things which satisfy and sustain us TEMPORARILY. Our Paschal Lamb instructed his followers to partake of bread and wine to symbolize their acceptance of his body and blood as the elements which accomplish their salvation. It is THE Firstfruit who enables us to be firstfruits. It is the King of Kings who returns to this earth and establishes God's Kingdom as supreme over this earth. It is Jesus Christ who reconciles us to God. It is Jesus of Nazareth who makes that great spiritual harvest possible! In short, it is through JESUS CHRIST that we play any part in the meaning of the festivals outlined in the Torah!   

Monday, October 17, 2022

The God of Evolution II

The absurdity and unsustainability of the Fundamentalist and Literalist view of the Judeo-Christian Scriptures is most apparent in the Genesis account of creation! In numerous posts, this blog has demonstrated that the Bible should NOT be regarded as inerrant and was never intended by God to be used as a scientific or historical textbook! Likewise, a number of posts here have pointed out that forcing folks to choose between faith and science is a FALSE DILEMMA! Indeed, it is demonstrably illogical for anyone to state that the acceptance of evolutionary science is inconsistent with a belief in God!

The fact that so many folks frame this as a choice between creationism and evolution demonstrates just how widespread the ignorance is that envelopes many of our theists, agnostics, and atheists. How many of these people really understand that evolution is NOT about the origin of life on earth? Darwin's book was titled On the Origin of Species for a reason! Evolution is an explanation of the diversity of life on this planet, and it is supported by a great deal of scientific evidence! Indeed, it is the ONLY explanation which fits all of the evidence we have gathered from the fossil and geologic records and genetic testing.

Evolution is premised on the FACT that ALL of the life on this planet is actively trying to perpetuate itself. Every organism on this planet is engaged in some form of reproducing itself, and science has conclusively demonstrated that this process regularly leads to genetic mutations which render each generation of offspring a little bit different from the ones which preceded it and can result in very profound changes over a long period of time (like millions and billions of years). Moreover, some of these naturally occurring variations will inevitably prove to be better adapted to the environment which the organism(s) inhabit. This is at the heart of the concept known as "natural selection." Moreover, scientists have observed that many organisms from distinctly different branches of the tree of life have developed similar features to deal with similar environmental challenges (e.g., appendages, eyes, ears, etc.). And, finally, the geologic record has provided us with overwhelming evidence for the great spans of time necessary for all of this to happen (there are more than 33.33 million human generations possible in one billion years, and we know that the earth is more than 4.6 billion years old)!

Nevertheless, it should also be noted that these FACTS do NOT necessarily contradict biblical statements which suggest that God created all of the life on this planet and has caused it to reproduce after its own kind. Who's to say that evolution isn't the vehicle which God has chosen to accomplish that end? In short, these scientific FACTS do NOT disprove or refute the notion that God is the source of life, or that God is the one who set this evolutionary process into motion - knowing what it would eventually produce. Moreover, there is also the problem of spontaneous generation to consider. You know - the notion that life can only spring from preexisting life! From whence did those primitive single-celled organisms originate? And, even if we eventually demonstrate that they arose from some kind of naturally occurring primordial soup that was zapped by electricity, doesn't that still suggest that the universe is organized to produce and sustain life? And what about all of the twists and turns that evolution has taken down through the eons of time? (Think dinosaurs, smilodons, etc.) How can anyone say with any degree of certainty that asteroids and ice ages are purely random events?

No, the notion of a Creator only becomes absurd in the hands of Fundamentalists, Literalists and Atheists. More particularly, I'm thinking of the folks who say that the earth is only six thousand years old, and that man has been here since day six! I'm thinking about the folks who think that day and night existed independently of the sun, and that the sun and moon were created after the plant life was ordered into existence on this earth. I'm thinking about the folks who think that the sun, moon, and stars only exist to give light to the folks and other living things on this earth. I'm thinking of the folks who believe that ALL of the different species of plant and animal life on this planet were created in a single day. I'm thinking of the folks who believe that man was created before a woman, and that snakes used to walk upright and speak in full sentences. Yes, these are the folks who insist on the false and unnecessary dilemma of choosing faith or science. The PLAIN TRUTH is that there are a great many Christians who both believe in God and embrace the findings of science. We are all entitled to reach our own conclusions about the available evidence, but please don't try to tell me that I have to choose between science and God - OR - that I must ignore/reject some of the evidence! 

Monday, October 10, 2022

Jesus Christ Tabernacling in the Flesh

The Armstrong Churches of God are in the midst of trying to observe the Feast of Tabernacles referenced in the twenty-third chapter of Leviticus. For them, the festivals outlined in the Torah represent a chronological representation of God's plan for humankind. Unfortunately, as with the rest of their messaging and teachings, Jesus Christ is NOT the focus of their observances of these festivals.

Of course, Jesus Christ said that he came to this earth to FULFILL the Torah and the prophets (Matthew 5:17). Likewise, the Apostle Paul said that ALL of these Holy Days pointed to Jesus. He wrote to the saints of Colosse that they should not "let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ." (Colossians 1:16-17, NIV)

Along these lines, in times past, I have written extensively about how these festivals relate to our Savior. Indeed, in the series of posts on Jesus in the Torah, I posted a short discourse on how the Feast of Tabernacles points to Jesus Christ. After talking about the festivals which precede it, I wrote:

In similar fashion, the Feast of Tabernacles (or Temporary Dwellings) and the holy convocation on the eighth day also clearly point to Jesus Christ. During this festival, the Israelites were instructed to construct booths, or temporary shelters, to live in for the duration of the festival (Leviticus 23:40-42). In this connection, it is interesting to note that Jesus Christ "tabernacled" in the flesh for a little while. We read in the Gospel of John that "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us." (John 1:14) Indeed, this tabernacling in the flesh was necessary for Christ to suffer the affliction and death that would result in our atonement/reconciliation to God! This is made very plain in the epistle to the Hebrews. We read there: "But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that he by the grace of God should taste death for every man. For it became him, for whom are all things, and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons unto glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings." (2:9-10) And, a little later, we read: "Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil." (Verse 14)

Finally, we read in the Gospel of John that Christ attended the Feast of Tabernacles at Jerusalem during his lifetime on this planet (chapter 7). And, during his time there, he once again enjoined them to not make superficial judgments about righteousness (verses 22-24). Then, we read: "In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)" (Verses 37-39) Interestingly, on the eighth day - the day of that holy convocation, Christ referred to that same living water that he had mentioned to the Samaritan woman at the well and invited everyone to partake of it!

Sunday, October 9, 2022

NO, the Azazel does NOT represent Satan!

This last Sabbath, CGI's Tony Buchert delivered yet another sermon which attempted to prove the ACOG's traditional understanding of the Torah rituals surrounding the Day of Atonement. For those who may not be familiar with those teachings, Herbert Armstrong and his followers have taught for many years that the Azazel of Leviticus 16 represents Satan the Devil. In his sermon, Buchert expressed his dismay with anyone in the Church who might reach a different conclusion about what the Azazel represents. For him, this is just another instance of how that very powerful and cunning old Serpent can deceive God's people and rob them of their salvation! (Satan has always occupied way too much space in the theology and thinking of the ACOGs.) According to Mr. Buchert, one only needs to do a thorough study of the "Laying on of Hands" to establish that the Azazel HAS to represent Satan.

Now, in times past, this blog has addressed many aspects of the profound symbolism surrounding the Day of Atonement. We have discussed how the High Priest portrayed the role that Jesus Christ would later play/fulfill in God's plan. We have pointed out how the author of the book of Hebrews explained the symbolism of Atonement from a Christian perspective, and how that ceremony pictured Jesus' role in reconciling Christians to God - making them at one with him. Likewise, we have explained how the two goats of Leviticus assisted the High Priest in portraying Christ's work. It's NOT that the two goats represented Christ (as Mr. Buchert suggests is the position of folks who do not accept their identification of the Azazel), it's that one goat provided the blood that the human High Priest himself could not supply, and that the "Goat of Removal" (the literal sense of the Hebrew "Azazel") symbolized the removal of the people's sins from their and God's presence! We have also talked about how Satan will be held accountable for "his" sins, and that each one of us will be held responsible for our own sins. And, recently, this blog has examined what Scripture actually reveals about the real fate of Satan the Devil (that the "wages of sin" really is DEATH - NOT eternal life in Gehenna).

So, what about the laying on of hands? Does a proper understanding of this foundational teaching of the Church conclusively demonstrate that Armstrong and his followers were right about the Azazel?

In his sermon, Mr. Buchert quoted the twenty-fourth chapter of Leviticus to prove that the Azazel had to represent Satan. We read there about a man who had blasphemed God's name and was held in custody until the Lord had decided his fate (verses 10-12). Next, we are informed that the Lord said: "Take the blasphemer outside the camp and tell all those who heard the curse to lay their hands on his head. Then let the entire community stone him to death. Say to the people of Israel: Those who curse their God will be punished for their sin. Anyone who blasphemes the Name of the Lord must be stoned to death by the whole community of Israel. Any native-born Israelite or foreigner among you who blasphemes the Name of the Lord must be put to death." (Verses 13-16) According to Buchert, this demonstrates that the laying on of hands can symbolize God's judgement or assignment of guilt.

Unfortunately, this is a good example of how one passage (taken in isolation from others which deal with the same subject) can be twisted and employed to "prove" something that isn't true! In other words, what is the full Scriptural context of this notion of the laying on of hands? Wasn't this portrayed in other passages as a means of: conveying God's blessing (Genesis 48, Matthew 19:13-15)? healing the sick (Mark 5:23, 16:17-18, Luke 4:40, 13:13, etc.)? ordaining or setting people apart for some purpose? (Deuteronomy 34:9, Numbers 8:10, 27:18-23, Acts 6:3-6, 13:3, I Timothy 4:14, etc.)? causing someone to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17, 19:6, etc.)? And, before continuing, we should note that what happened in the twenty-fourth chapter of Leviticus could certainly be interpreted to fall within the broader category of setting someone apart for some purpose (In this case, that this man was chosen to represent God's judgement on the sin of blasphemy)!

However, there is one other important use for the laying on of hands which we haven't yet mentioned, and it is a much better fit for what is described in the rituals surrounding the Day of Atonement. I'm speaking of the transference of human sin onto a sacrifice, and there is abundant Scriptural evidence supporting this use for the laying on of hands (Exodus 29:19, Leviticus 1:4, 3:2, 8, 13, 4:15, etc.). Indeed, one could even reasonably interpret this act as setting apart the animal for the task of bearing the sins of the people! To be clear, Aaron laying his hands on the head of the live goat (Leviticus 16) is much more consistent with this understanding. Indeed, the very language of the passage itself supports this interpretation! We read there that: "He will lay both of his hands on the goat’s head and confess over it all the wickedness, rebellion, and sins of the people of Israel. In this way, he will transfer the people’s sins to the head of the goat." (Verse 21)

Does all of that bring anything to mind relative to Jesus Christ? It should! In an Old Testament prophecy that is universally recognized by Christians as pointing to Christ, we read that: "All of us, like sheep, have strayed away. We have left God’s paths to follow our own. Yet the Lord laid on him the sins of us all." (Isaiah 53:6) And, in the Gospel of John, we read: "The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (1:29) It is our sins that have separated and alienated us from God (Isaiah 59:2 and Colossians 1:21), and it is their removal which makes reconciliation with God possible!

Before concluding this subject, we should also note that Tony Buchert sees Satan in the very image of the goat. According to him, even Satanists and our popular culture equate Satan with the likeness of a goat. In other words, how ignorant can these folks be who don't see Satan in the Azazel? Of course, the obvious response to Mr. Buchert on this point is to ask him about that other goat - you know the one that was designated "for the Lord." In other words, just because it's a goat, it does NOT automatically follow that it is analogous to Satan! And I would think that that observation is much more obvious than Mr. Buchert's connection!

Hence, I would encourage all ACOG members to reexamine this subject with fresh eyes and an open mind and ask yourselves: "Which narrative/interpretation/perspective is a better fit with ALL of the Scriptural passages which relate to the laying on of hands?" If you do, I think that you will find that understanding this ritual through the lens of Christ's work on our behalf is a much better fit than Tony Buchert's special pleading related to the events surrounding the stoning in the twenty-fourth chapter of Leviticus! And those folks may also wish to ask themselves: "Why are ACOG leaders so reluctant to acknowledge that the Day of Atonement has NOTHING to do with Satan the Devil?" After all, Jesus Christ has already defeated Satan and reconciled us to God! Could it be that an all-powerful Satan who is really responsible for all of our sins is an essential component of their heretical theology? What do you think?

Thursday, October 6, 2022


It is unfortunate that so many politicians around the world have carefully chosen two groups to use as scapegoats for their nation's problems. In short, they identify immigrant and minority communities as being responsible for fundamental and deleterious changes to their cultures/societies, and they offer a host of policies designed to negate/reverse this impact. Of course, this is NOT a new development in human politics - our history is full of instances where these tactics have been employed to advance the interests/power of some politician or political party. Scapegoats are a convenient way to harness the fears, prejudices, and grievances of a nation's majority - to focus negative energy on a common "enemy."

In times past, religious and/or ethnic minorities were often the targets of these politicians. In our own time, the targets are more often than not "socialists," immigrants, and members of the LGBTQ community. The common thread is that the targeted group can be clearly differentiated from the majority. The objective, of course, is to make it us against them. Their narrative is that these folks are responsible for all of your problems. They claim (without any real justification) that these folks are responsible for things like unemployment, social spending, crime, societal tensions, terrorism, unpopular laws, corrupting moral values, historical revisionism, and indoctrination of the majority's children. After all, if it's THEIR fault, it's not YOUR fault!

I can hear the gears turning in the minds of the folks who engage in scapegoating. "Well, that's just politics!" "What's wrong with this stuff?" "You even admitted that scapegoating has been used by politicians throughout human history!" "What does this stuff have to do with God or religion?"

The problem with this kind of reasoning, of course, should be obvious to anyone who claims to be a part of the Judeo-Christian tradition. After all, the God of the Bible commanded that "You must not testify falsely against your neighbor." (Exodus 20:16) In other words, it is a SIN to blame someone for something that he/she didn't do! It is also extremely dishonest and hypocritical to offer "solutions" to problems that don't really exist! Moreover, by attacking some scapegoat, the politician/party is also avoiding confronting real problems and their sources! After all, it's much easier to blame the dissolution of the traditional family on socialists or LGBTQ folks than to confront things like heterosexual divorce and remarriage or the time we devote to our jobs and entertainment! It's much easier to rail against indoctrination of children than to actually confront the reality that your nation behaved badly in the past! Yes, scapegoats are convenient, but it is also a very dishonest and ineffective way to actually address real problems!

More importantly, projecting a society's problems onto some innocent group is mean-spirited and unkind. In other words, it is the exact opposite of the love and compassion that Jesus Christ demanded from his followers. (John 13:25) Moreover, Christians aren't supposed to be participating in the manipulative, divisiveness, and deception which so often characterizes the political and religious systems of this world. In short, Christ expected his followers to treat others in the same way that they would like to be treated. (Matthew 7:12) Hence, the practice of scapegoating is contrary to the spirit of Christ and his teachings and should NEVER be sanctioned or employed by Christians.    

Wednesday, October 5, 2022

What does the Bible say about Satan's fate?

My former religious affiliation (Herbert Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God) taught that the Day of Atonement pictured God's justice for Satan! They believed that Satan was ultimately responsible for ALL of the sin in our world, and that God would ultimately place all of those sins on his head and imprison him in the Abyss (or cast him into "outer darkness"). Armstrong reasoned that Satan would continue to exist somewhere in torment, because he believed that Satan was immortal - incapable of being destroyed.

What about all of that? Is all of that consistent with what Scripture reveals about Satan's fate? In short, what does the Bible say about Satan's fate?

Now, Armstrong certainly wasn't the first theologian or Bible student to suggest that the fourteenth chapter of Isaiah applied to Satan, but he was unique in the amount of his theology which depended upon that passage. However, before we explore Armstrong's interpretation of this passage, we should also note that the notion that Satan is connected to it is NOT universal. Indeed, the passage itself indicates that it is a reaction to God's judgment on the King of Babylon when Israel is restored (verses 1-3). Nevertheless, for the sake of argument, let's say that this passage does apply to Satan. Notice that the passage makes quite clear that the entity being described there has been defeated and destroyed (verses 4-11). Continuing, we read there: "How you are fallen from heaven, O shining star, son of the morning! You have been thrown down to the earth, you who destroyed the nations of the world. For you said to yourself, ‘I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars. I will preside on the mountain of the gods far away in the north. I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High.’ Instead, you will be brought down to the place of the dead, down to its lowest depths. " (Verses 12-15) Indeed, the passage concludes with the subject's corpse not even being permitted a proper burial and the death of his children! (Verses 16-21) Hence, the subject of this passage (whether we interpret it to refer to Satan or the King of Babylon) clearly dies!

In similar fashion, Armstrong declared that the twenty-eighth chapter of Ezekiel constituted a direct reference to Satan. However, like the passage in Isaiah, it is addressed to the "King/Prince of Tyre" (verses 1 and 12). Moreover, as with the other passage, this one ends with the death of its subject! In fact, the language is even more explicit here than it was in that passage from Isaiah. We read: "You defiled your sanctuaries with your many sins and your dishonest trade. So, I brought fire out from within you, and it consumed you. I reduced you to ashes on the ground in the sight of all who were watching. All who knew you are appalled at your fate. You have come to a terrible end, and you will exist no more." (Verses 18-19) Although I am generally not a fan of Armstrong's use of typology in his interpretations of Scripture (especially where he saw types of himself and his church), I do think that the case for saying that this passage applies to Satan is much stronger than the one in Isaiah. Admittedly, the language is very poetic and filled with symbolism, but it is harder to make the case that the language in this passage can only be applied to a human leader. For example, we read there: "You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and exquisite in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God. Your clothing was adorned with every precious stone— red carnelian, pale-green peridot, white moonstone, blue-green beryl, onyx, green jasper, blue lapis lazuli, turquoise, and emerald—all beautifully crafted for you and set in the finest gold. They were given to you on the day you were created. I ordained and anointed you as the mighty angelic guardian. You had access to the holy mountain of God and walked among the stones of fire." (Verses 12-14) Even so, whatever conclusion you reach about the subject of these passages (whether they are references to a human leader or Satan the Devil), it is clear that the subject ceases to exist in both passages!

In this connection, we should also note that the demons of Capernaum are reported to have asked Christ: "Have you come to destroy us?" (Mark 1:23 and Luke 4:34) Moreover, the original Greek word translated into English here as "destroy" means just that (to put an end to, kill, abolish, cause someone to perish, etc. - see Strong's entry for Apollymi). Thus, if angels and demons have the same kind of immortality or self-sustaining life as God (which Armstrong taught), how do we explain this passage? In this same connection, we have this passage from the first epistle to Timothy: "At just the right time Christ will be revealed from heaven by the blessed and only almighty God, the King of all kings and Lord of all lords. He alone can never die, and he lives in light so brilliant that no human can approach him. No human eye has ever seen him, nor ever will. All honor and power to him forever! Amen." (I Timothy 6:15-16) - OR- In the words of the King James Version, "Who only hath immortality." In other words, this passage seems to indicate that true immortality is a GOD QUALITY!

Indeed, this notion is far more consistent with the notion that God is the Source and Creator of all other life - angels included. After all, John's Gospel informs us that "In the beginning the Word already existed. The Word was with God, and the Word was God. He existed in the beginning with God. God created everything through him, and nothing was created except through him. The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone..." (John 1:1-4). Likewise, Paul wrote to the Ephesians that God "created ALL THINGS by Jesus Christ." (Ephesians 3:9) Does "everything" and "all things" include angelic beings? Apparently, the author of the epistle to the Hebrews thought so! In the first chapter, we read (once again) that God created the universe through Jesus Christ, and that he also "sustains everything." In other words, all created things exist AT GOD"S PLEASURE - their continued existence depends on him! The same passage also makes plain that angels were designed by God to serve him and humankind, and the following chapter makes plain that angels were NEVER given the potential of inheriting the immortality which God has promised to impart to humankind someday!

These notions are also more consistent with what is revealed about Satan's fate in the book of Revelation. In the twelfth chapter of that book, we are informed that after Satan's ejection from heaven that he would show up on earth with great anger "because he knoweth that he hath but a short time." (Verse 12, KJV) The original Greek word used in this passage indicates a fixed or definite period of time. In other words, Satan understands that he does NOT have eternity/forever to accomplish what he wants to do! Now, of course, some will insist that this relates only to Satan's freedom to wreak havoc on the earth, and not to his ultimate demise. Even so, the information provided in the twentieth and twenty-first chapters of this book also appear to argue in favor of a finite time for Satan's existence.

In the twentieth chapter of that book, we read: "Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven with the key to the bottomless pit and a heavy chain in his hand. He seized the dragon—that old serpent, who is the devil, Satan—and bound him in chains for a thousand years. The angel threw him into the bottomless pit, which he then shut and locked so Satan could not deceive the nations anymore until the thousand years were finished. Afterward he must be released for a little while." (Verses 1-3) Notice, that this CANNOT represent the ultimate fate of Satan the Devil, because he is only kept in the "bottomless pit" for the duration of the Millenium! Later, we are told that "Satan will be let out of his prison" and will gather together a mighty army - which he will then use to attack God's people in the vicinity of Jerusalem. (Verses 7-9) Moreover, you will notice in this account that the "bottomless pit" is described as a prison - there is NOTHING in this story to suggest that anyone places the sins of humankind on his head and leads him out into a wilderness! In this connection, we should also note that the Azazel of the Torah was never seen or heard from again! Frankly, it's a wonder to me that Armstrong and his followers have never questioned this obvious discrepancy between this Revelation account of Satan and the ceremony for the Day of Atonement described in the Torah.

Now, we come at last to the real fate of Satan described in the book of Revelation. After informing us that fire came down from heaven and consumed Satan's army, we are told: "Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever." (Verse 10) Interestingly, although Armstrong taught (I believe correctly) that the beast and false prophet would be consumed by the flames - NOT suffer for eternity, his teachings would have us believe that that is exactly what will happen to Satan and his minions! In the final two verses of this chapter, we read: "Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire." (Verses 14-15) Hence, we have to ask: Does the Lake of Fire really represent eternal death? OR Does it represent eternal torment for the damned? Why bother to throw Satan into the Lake of Fire if it doesn't consume/destroy him? And why did Christ say that this fire had been prepared for the Devil and his angels? (See Matthew 25:41)

Finally, we are also left to wonder how Satan's continued existence anywhere in the universe can be reconciled with a passage from the twenty-first chapter of Revelation. We read there: "I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, “Look, God’s home is now among his people! He will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” And then he said to me, “Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true.” And he also said, “It is finished! I am the Alpha and the Omega—the Beginning and the End. To all who are thirsty I will give freely from the springs of the water of life. All who are victorious will inherit all these blessings, and I will be their God, and they will be my children. “But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death." (Verses 3-8) I say again: Is Satan's (or the rest of the wicked) continued existence anywhere in the universe consistent with this passage? After all, if he exists somewhere in torment, doesn't that necessarily render false the statement that those things have been eliminated?

In conclusion, Scripture does NOT support Herbert Armstrong's understanding of Satan's fate and the symbolism of the Day of Atonement! Indeed, if we put all of the passages together that we purport to deal with the topic of Satan's fate, it appears that Satan is ultimately bound for destruction in the Lake of Fire. In other words, like the rest of the wicked, he is destined to be among those ashes under the soles of the feet of God's people! (See Malachi 4:3) This, I believe, is what Scripture teaches about the fate of Satan! 

Monday, October 3, 2022

Is Criticism of Church Leadership Appropriate?

A recurring criticism of this blog (and all of the other blogs which are critical of the Armstrong Churches of God) is that the criticisms voiced here (and elsewhere) are evil and inappropriate. Banned by HWA recently highlighted a good example of this in a post titled You have been WARNED about this blog! The commentator noted: "The continuation of verbal attack and condemnation of the Church of God or any group for that matter, is biblically unsound, sinful and destructive." Never mind that the ACOGs continually criticize Roman Catholics, Protestants, and other faiths - they completely miss the irony inherent in this! More importantly, however, was this a valid criticism of our criticisms? Are such criticisms biblically unsound? Are they sinful and destructive? And, once again, if the answers to those questions are "yes," then what does that suggest about their own criticisms of other folks?

First, it should be noted that the founder of Christianity, Jesus of Nazareth, was continually criticizing the religious leaders of his day! Hence, it is a bit of a stretch to suggest that the practice is not biblically sound. What kind of criticism did Christ level at the religious leaders of his day? He criticized their hypocrisy, inconsistency, emphasis/priorities, pride, leadership style (especially their tendency toward authoritarianism vs. leading by example), and their interpretations of the Torah and God's will (See Matthew 23 and Luke 11), Now that covers a whole lot of territory! Do you recognize any of those same themes/criticisms in the posts that have been critical of the ACOGs and their leadership?

Even so, it should be noted that Jesus NEVER personalized his criticisms of the religious leaders and practices of his day! The Gospels simply do not contain ANY instances where Jesus made derogatory remarks about the personal appearance, speaking, moral character, or educational backgrounds of the folks he criticized. In short, Christ's criticisms always focused on the teachings and examples of the people who were the targets of his remarks. To be clear, Christ's criticisms were NOT personal attacks, and the characterization of criticism as such is discredited by the way that Christ handled these situations. Moreover, as Scripture indicates that Christ lived a sinless life, we must also conclude that criticism of this nature cannot be inherently evil!

Finally, unlike the "Accuser of the brethren" (Satan the Devil) whom ACOG folks are so fond of comparing us to, most of our criticisms of these folks are motivated by a desire to correct destructive behaviors and teachings - NOT to spiritually destroy the target! In other words, we are attempting to point out heretical beliefs and practices for the purpose of helping others to avoid or escape them. Hence, I would suggest that the ACOGs and their leaders heed this admonition found in the book of Proverbs in assessing their reactions to our criticisms: "If you listen to constructive criticism, you will be at home among the wise. If you reject discipline, you only harm yourself; but if you listen to correction, you grow in understanding. Fear of the LORD teaches wisdom; humility precedes honor." (Proverbs 15:31-33)