October 17, 2004
Reader's Email: Stand back - See the Big Picture
I have just read some of your writings on your website "What is True." The tone of what you say still seems to show to me that you have not got past the idea that someone else is responsible for your own decisions.
I wonder if you have fully absorbed the ramifications for Rom 8:28.
Do you accept that Rom 3: 9 - 18, includes both me and you?
[ What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one. Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips: Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness: Their feet are swift to shed blood: Destruction and misery are in their ways: And the way of peace have they not known: There is no fear of God before their eyes.]
I was obligated to attend a Lutheran church when young. Later I choose to search through most of the denominations including Baptists, C of E, S.D.A and others for about 16 years before being baptized and fellowshipping with W.C.G. I was baptized into "the body of Christ" not into a denomination, a cult, a party or any other organized group.
Because as I decided at the time:
They (the very dedicated small fellowship) believed and practiced more truth (as I understood it ) than any of the others. That is, the people tried to live and be an example of following the way of life taught by Christ and demonstrated by the disciples and those who were called and chose to follow in the early church. The Ministry however lived in a different world. (IN All denominations,creeds or whatever they call themselves)
The people were very friendly and inclusive (sometimes to a fault) and loved studying the Bible - not just WCG writings . Proving all things from the Bible not from any church or denomination's teachings. This meant that I did not accept the more debatable teachings and belief of some of the people or the ministry. I still believe that I am working out my salvation with fear and trembling. I still believe that where two or three are together Christ is there. So we still have friends in WCG, the splinter groups, in denominations, in non denominations etc.
You are critical of the WCG as if they were responsible for the decisions you or I made along the way. In hindsight I made many wrong decisions as well as many right ones. I met my wife at a Feast and I continue to thank God for a happy marriage of over 33 years and a wonderful life together.
You think WCG was bad with HWA. There have been worse aberrations since. Just read the current WCG ministers manual to see what the standards are now "the right [to] fire, disfellowship or demote, without reason or explanation at anytime" sounds like dictatorship to me.
There were many things that needed to be changed back in 1967. In the 90's some were remedied but the main problem of non accountability to the brethren has been entrenched completely. No one is saved through doctrine. The adoption of orthodoxy by Joe has not saved one soul.
Please stand back and look at the big picture, our inheritance is so wonderful that we in future will not even remember the things that so trouble us now.
Thank you very much for your email. I really appreciate your comments, and the opportunity they provide for exchanging views.
I better start off by saying that I have been a non-Christian for years now, since before I started the website. I mention this as often as I think is appropriate, but this may be unclear to some readers since I am still interested in the Bible and sympathetic towards religion.
I still believe in a type of God and I sometimes use the term "deist" to describe my outlook. What I mean by that term is that I don't believe in accepting claims of divine revelation - such as those made by the Bible - as truth. It also means that I still believe in the concept of right and wrong. There are principles that guide man in the right path and these are discovered by reason, experience and flawed human traditions (I include the Bible in that).
One of these principles for life is not to lie, not to bear false witness. The big picture is that the world, from the moment we are born, is swimming in an ocean of deception. The Worldwide Church of God, as an institution, is a drop in this ocean, but it deserves criticism for luring its followers with false promises of happiness, and with false prophetic scenarios that are designed to scare and control.
It is not a matter of blaming someone else for my own decisions, since I believe very strongly that a person must do as much as they can to take responsibility for their life and their actions. Rather, it is a matter of understanding cause and effect, of placing condemnation for tyrannical and deceptive practices where it belongs. I have already taken responsibility for my own decisions by learning as much as I can and coming to conclusions that could correct the course of my life.
I have to give a lot of credit to the Worldwide Church of God reformers who argued their case very carefully in the early stages and eventually opened my mind by teaching that there were Christians in other churches. As soon as they did that - when the major changes were complete - and the Law was replaced with Grace, I realized that I was no longer tied to this Church, and that I could possibly leave. I had never thought about leaving but now I realized the major control was basically gone.
I had been a very strong Armstrong believer in the 80's, and then I had been persuaded first by Joe Tkach Sr.'s positive reforming attitude, and then finally by his biblical arguments that the Law in its Old Testament form was not necessary for salvation.
However, around the same time, 1995, I had been disillusioned by what I read on the Internet - starting with Bruce Renehan's book Daughter of Babylon - The True History of the Worldwide Church of God - about the past scandals. My life started going into free-fall because the structure was gone - for good or ill - and I realized that the Church wasn't making positive progress any longer either.
I realized that Joseph Tkach Jr. was going too far and was starting to even push the orthodox doctrine about hell, and it also seemed that he was trying to change the Sabbath tradition to Sunday. He encouraged Christmas celebration, and I felt good about Christmas personally, but I didn't think it was appropriate for members to be subjected to it in services. And then they produced a Millenial Madness video, hosted by an outsider, who lectured the public and us that all our core beliefs about the imminent Second Coming of Christ were wrong. I feel this video was very inappropriate and found myself getting upset even though technically I agreed with some of the contents.
I woke up to the fact eventually that some of my friends had left a long time ago and they had probably not reformed any of their beliefs; they had remained loyal to their Armstrong beliefs - in most cases ending up, in my opinion, living under toxic pro-Armstrong church governance. Some had also been turned off completely. And why did Tkach Jr. have to take it so far? You can't force a change in basic beliefs. They were continuing to steam-roll their changes - just as they had done all along - into and over the minds of the members without any consideration for their wishes. And the only effect was to prove to me that they - the hierarchy under Tkach Jr. - owned the church and not the "members" - many of whom voted with their feet, in effect being driven out. I believe the ones who remain are divided between those who quietly hold to Armstrong views and those who want the Church to become even more mainstream.
The biggest disappointment of all was that they would not deal with the past abuses and scandals which I had to learn about unofficially. They would not address where the Church had gone wrong in policies and practices - never mind doctrines - and they would not try to assist people in sorting themselves out in anyway and in trying to reach out to former members in order to explain what had really gone wrong from the beginning. This is what I think should have been done, but I was just dreaming. If there has been any attempt to do this since then, I don't know. I had expected a church to be led spiritually and take some hits for its mistakes rather than persist in its chameleon-like and unrivaled public relations expertise.
And you're right, it was still a controlled environment when I left. It was not like I could speak freely about what was going on in my mind, and I decided the whole thing - even though the people were very nice - was too big a drain on my life and I could not be committed to it anymore. So I let myself out and made a clean break, feeling that I was still a Christian and would join another church (not the way things turned out).
I still miss all those great people and my friends (in whatever denominations as you say) - and there were many very friendly and upstanding people with high principles. Now I just think that the old doctrines of the Law were as equally wrong or right as the new doctrines of Grace - and I perceive these two sets of doctrines as two different religions coming from the same Bible.
Here's the point. The fact is, that human beings are responsible for what they do, but they are also weak. They are young or they don't know enough, or they are too easily lured by promises of ruling whole nations and planets after the millenial reign of Christ and lured by promises of protection from the Great Tribulation. And they follow the man who seems to say the right things - who spouts obvious truths like "the world needs peace and it's full of sin" - who speaks with "authority" as loudly as he can, who sells them on a whole set of fine distinctions between "true" and "false" Christianity.
Then many of us, we follow, we obey, our minds are going a mile a second, maybe even doubting, thinking, analyzing, rationalizing, but we decide to believe anyway. And we're afraid - unconsciously maybe - but in reality so afraid. We're afraid to disobey the ministry. We stay in line, and some of us never even think of criticizing them, and we maybe even sense something is wrong, but we're helpless. We stay in place.
We stay single and lonely and immature because of strict rules on dating and marriage. We postpone decisions. We stay controlled and powerless. Our time and energy is used up in Church activities two or three times a week instead of devoting more to education and social life. For many of us, we were pumping an endless stream of required tithes and donation money to the Church and we ended up poor.
For others, in the buried but not so distant past, they felt they were following God by not seeking medical care for their families. And others obeyed strange divorce doctrines and let ministers break up their marriages. I say "they" and I say "strange" but I identify with these people because I know I might have done the same thing. Our spirits were held down, our spiritual and physical walls were under constant assault from those who were supposed to uplift us.
Many of us did not disobey the ministers - we believed in them even if something felt wrong. And really, there was no choice - in our minds, the ministry had the power to send us to the Lake of Fire at the Third Resurrection. They had the power to disfellowship and to remove us from the promised protection (Rev. 3:10 and Rev. 12:14). Every important life decision went through a minister - or none was made. We were controlled - controlled by fear, weakened by grace-free legalism and life-contradicting guilt.
Now, why should I pretend to despise a person who is in that weak position of delusion, since I was in it myself? Was I strong? No, I was weak. It is just a fact about human beings. Fear, weakness, guilt, fear, fear, and more fear. If it is not chemical or sexual or gambling addictions we have to deal with in life, it is false religious lures of abundant happiness. And it didn't turn out to be happiness. Did what I just describe sound like happiness?
And then to top it all off are intoxicating prophetic scenarios and intoxicating identity doctrines and intoxicating salvation promises of God-like power. So of course I am going to sympathize with the deceived Church member. Am I going to hesitate from condemning the leadership of the Church for one second? No. Why shouldn't they be condemned? Why should the abusive actions of Herbert W. Armstrong or his various successors in different denominations be defended by anyone? That's what they deserve.
If it's not a religious lie in this world, it's a political lie or a secular or materialistic lie. We need to learn about "cults" and empower ourselves. We need to learn how to avoid those who seek ultimate power over us to devour us, to use us up, to take our energy and time and money - for their war or their cult or their church.
We need to learn how to control our own lives and not be controlled. And we need to judge justly - to learn more about the concepts of right and wrong, that real moral laws exist to strengthen us and not weaken us - and to condemn verbally the authors of deception in order to protect ourselves and others physically and spiritually, to preserve our own integrity and protect ourselves from emotional despair and even premature death.
As far as I know, this may be the only life we have - I don't assume there is a life beyond - and it must not be surrendered to tyrants. This is a struggle that is fought spiritually by individuals speaking up and expressing disapproval of groups that are affecting them and their family, while at the same time recognizing the importance of religious freedom in preserving individual responsibility and liberty.