There are people on the Web who seem to be on a crusade to capture people who are leaving a Church of God (COG) and get these people back to traditional Christianity. I’m sure some of these sites are funded by traditional Churches or religious groups. If a site has a lot of material on it and looks too slick or professional it’s a good bet it’s got some money behind it. I wouldn’t be surprised if at least one such site run by a former COG member is being funded by some traditional Christian group or “cult watchers”. Another warning sign is when a site seems to want to blame all the woes of Church members on Armstrong and other COG leaders, while avoiding criticisms of traditional Christianity. They would have former COG members believe their whole problem is the way Armstrong and his ministers misinterpreted the Bible, and that if only we go back to the “correct interpretation”, keep Sunday, Easter, and Christmas, and believe in the Trinity, we’ll be back to where we should be. Praise the Lord.
It’s easy to just put all the blame on Armstrong and the COGs. Yep, they just completely misconstrued The Good Book to get your money. It was all their fault. Forget every one of his unorthodox doctrines and you’ll be fine. Tired of not fitting in? Just go with the spineless flow and join the crowd of lemmings in the “Christian” world.
Armstrong was Mr. Bad. He was a master mind-control expert. He could probably teach Satan a few things about manipulation and deception. Using supernatural marketing skills, he completely and single-handedly hijacked our minds and told us sad helpless zombies what to think. So, since we are helpless people who can’t think, we just need to forget all we were told and let the preacher on the corner tell us what to think. Then we’ll be OK.
It’s hard to understand how anyone could fall for that line after spending years in a COG; yet some people do. Many of us witnessed the Worldwide Church of God morph into Grace Communion International under the “leadership” of the Tkaches, so we know it can happen.
So, before we lay all the blame on the COGs, perhaps we need to be reminded of some scriptures.
One of the things the “cult watchers” gripe about are the high demands put on COG members by the COGs. But Herbert Armstrong did not come up with the idea of making huge sacrifies for Christianity. The high demand lifestyle comes from the Bible:
- Deny the self to the point of giving up this life (self-crucifixion): “Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” (Matt 16:24).
- This life is said to be meaningless; only the next life counts, so give it all up for the work: “For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.” (Matt 16:25).
- Give up everything for God: “So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33).
- This life is nothing compared to the work: “If any man come to me, and hate not … his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26).
Did Herbert Armstrong write those scriptures? No he didn’t. He just taught people to follow them. Most “Christians” just won’t follow them. They won’t condemn Matthew and Luke for writing them, they just condemn Herbert Armstrong for reading them and teaching them. They read scriptures like that and still try to tell people all the laws in the Bible were done away with and condemn “Armstrongism” for being a high demand religion.
Traditional Churches are not as demanding as the COGs because they have watered down Christianity to the point that it does not require much for them to live a “Christian” life. Herbert Armstrong was right about that.
What about families?
What about the strain that membership in a COG often puts on family ties? Whose fault is that?
Here are some more scriptures that were not written by Herbert Armstrong, David Pack, Ronald Weinland, Larry Salyer, or other COG ministers:
- Don’t let family get in the way: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26).
- The Church “family” comes first; the mere “physical” family second: “And he answered them, saying, Who is my mother, or my brethren? And he looked round about on them which sat about him, and said, Behold my mother and my brethren! For whosoever shall do the will of God, the same is my brother, and my sister, and mother.” (Mark 3:33-35).
The church member in a high demand group can end up alienated from his family, but is promised a newer, better “family” in the church. The real family, now merely the “physical” family, must not come between the member and the organization. Those are more ideas Armstrong did not originate.
I do not write this to defend Armstrong or the COGs. My point is that they did not come up with their teachings completely on their own. They found a lot of it in the Bible. Going “back to the Bible” is not the solution, it is part of the problem.
What about pagan holidays? Was it merely Armstrong’s idea that we should not keep pagan holidays?
- Having nothing to do with religious practices not sanctioned by God: “But I say, that the things which the Gentiles sacrifice, they sacrifice to devils, and not to God: and I would not that ye should have fellowship with devils. Ye cannot drink the cup of the Lord, and the cup of devils: ye cannot be partakers of the Lord’s table, and of the table of devils.” (I Cor 10:20-21).
- People who don’t follow Christ are worshipping demons: “And the rest of the men which were not killed by these plagues yet repented not of the works of their hands, that they should not worship devils, and idols of gold, and silver, and brass, and stone, and of wood: which neither can see, nor hear, nor walk” (Rev 9:20).
- The world’s system is the habitation of demons: “And he cried mightily with a strong voice, saying, Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and is become the habitation of devils, and the hold of every foul spirit, and a cage of every unclean and hateful bird.” (Rev 18:2).
- Gentiles worship demons: “Yea, they sacrificed their sons and their daughters unto devils” (Ps 106:37).
- God calls his people out of devil worship: “And they shall no more offer their sacrifices unto devils, after whom they have gone a whoring. This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations.” (Lev 17:7).
What about the idea that the whole world is against us? Did Herbert Armstrong get that out of thin air?
- The whole world is in Satan’s grip: “And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him.” (Rev 12:9).
- The world is evil: “Who gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us from this present evil world, according to the will of God and our Father” (Gal 1:4).
- The world is in darkness, which condemns them because they like it that way: “And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19).
And so, if the member is alienated from the world outside, “Satan’s evil world,” don’t blame it all on Armstrong and his interpretation.
Now, let’s get to another thing that mainstream churches don’t like about “Armstrongism”—keeping the law. Did Herbert Armstrong come up with that idea in defiance of all scripture?
- God praises Abraham for keeping the law: “Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” (Gen 26:5).
- Some laws and statutes are forever: “Ye shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.” (Lev 23:31).
- Jesus told the New Testament church to keep every detail of the law: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass [did heaven and earth pass away yet?], one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.” (Matt 5:17-18).
- Keep the law in order to be justified: “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.” (Rom 2:13).
- Faith does not void the law: “Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law.” (Rom 3:31).
- Breaking the law is not honored: “And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully.” (2 Tim 2:5).
- The law is written in the heart of a true Christian: “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them…” (Heb 10:16).
- We do well to keep the law: “If ye fulfil the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself, ye do well.” (James 2:8).
Did Armstrong come up with unorthodox teachings like the Holy Days out of thin air? Just his imagination? Or did he get the idea from the Bible, including the New Testament?
- The day of atonement was to be kept forever: “Also on the tenth day of this seventh month there shall be a day of atonement: it shall be an holy convocation unto you; and ye shall afflict your souls, and offer an offering made by fire unto the LORD. And ye shall do no work in that same day: for it is a day of atonement, to make an atonement for you before the LORD your God. For whatsoever soul it be that shall not be afflicted in that same day, he shall be cut off from among his people. And whatsoever soul it be that doeth any work in that same day, the same soul will I destroy from among his people. Ye shall do no manner of work: it shall be a statute for ever throughout your generations in all your dwellings.” (Lev 23:27-31).
- Jesus and his disciples kept the feast of unleavened bread and the passover: “Now the first day of the feast of unleavened bread the disciples came to Jesus, saying unto him, Where wilt thou that we prepare for thee to eat the passover?” (Matt 26:17).
- Paul was determined to keep the feast: “But bade them farewell, saying, I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem: but I will return again unto you, if God will. And he sailed from Ephesus.” (Acts 18:21).
- Paul instructed the church to keep the feast of unleavened bread: “Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, neither with the leaven of malice and wickedness; but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (I Cor 5:8).
Another thing some COGs catch a lot of flack for is the claim that there is only one true church. Is this an idea without any scriptural support?
- God only worked with one group of people (one nation) in the Old Testament: “And I will take you to me for a people, and I will be to you a God: and ye shall know that I am the LORD your God, which bringeth you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians.” (Exodus 6:7).
- The same theme is echoed in the NT: “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light” (I Pet 2:9).
- The church was not supposed to be divided: “For first of all, when ye come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it.” (I Cor 11:18).
- Did Jesus tolerate division? “He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad.” (Matt 12:30).
- The church is one body: “So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another.” (Rom 12:5).
Did Armstrong invent the controversial healing doctrine out of thin air? Like he just made that up?
- Jesus healed: “And Jesus went forth, and saw a great multitude, and was moved with compassion toward them, and he healed their sick.” (Matt 14:14).
- Peter healed: “Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.” (Acts 3:6).
- Paul healed: “And it came to pass, that the father of Publius lay sick of a fever and of a bloody flux: to whom Paul entered in, and prayed, and laid his hands on him, and healed him.” (Acts 28:8).
- The NT church was instructed to pray for healing: “Is any sick among you? let him call for the elders of the church; and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord: And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up; and if he have committed sins, they shall be forgiven him.” (James 5:14-15).
Is the doctrine of disfellowshipping some kind of cruel, inhumane, un-Christian treatment that Armstrong came up with on his own?
- Avoid those who cause division: “Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.” (Rom 16:17).
- Don’t keep company with or eat with wayward brethren: “But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat.” (I Cor 5:11).
A lot more could be said about each of these points, and many more scriptures could be cited. It should be easy to see that the Bible way of life is demanding and agrees with many COG doctrines. So it’s nonsense to blame the difficulties of COG members on the COGs and their “interpretation” alone.
Am I saying people should believe in healing, disfellowshipping, etc? Whether people should believe these things or not is a different topic. I’m just asking traditional “Christians” to be consistent. The truth is most churches are not very consistent with the Bible. Many churches don’t take the Bible very seriously anyway. At least the COGs try to follow what they think God says. So for “cult watching groups” to blame everything on bad COG interpretations is rubbish. These “cult watchers” need to face facts. Traditional Christianity can’t get off the hook and blame it all on the COGs. The COGs get a lot of things from the Bible, and it was the traditional Churches that gave us the Bible in the first place. These churches should either follow the Bible or reject it as the work of uninspired people. They should admit that traditional Christianity and the Bible are as much a cause of deception as the COGs are, and that going back to those things does not lead to truth. Sure, life is easier for those who fit in with the world around us, but it is not the path to deeper understanding.
Some blame Armstrong for taking the Bible “literally,” but that criticism is misleading because nobody takes everything in the Bible literally anyway. People merely have different opinions on what is literal and what isn’t. For example, there are many symbols in the book of Revelation that Armstrong never took literally. And the same people who blame Armstrong for taking the Bible literally, also think that when the Holy Spirit “speaks” to someone, it should be taken literally, as if the Holy Spirit is a personage who literally speaks. So these traditional Christians take some things more literally than Armstrong did. As I understand it, some churches even teach that the body and blood of Christ are literally transmutated into bread and wine. Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God however, taught that the bread and wine were mere symbols.
My point is that blaming Armstrong and the COGs is the easy way out for traditional Christian churches. The real problem goes deeper than that.
The basic problem of religious deception is not “Armstrongism” but all man-made religions. Those who wish to isolate “Armstrongism” as the problem have blinders on. Armstrongism is just one branch of the false religion of Christianity, which itself is just one of many false worldviews.