I thought this would be a good place to follow up on some comments I made in a recent Bible study in our area. Wyatt Ciesielka’s excellent commentary out today has prodded me, as well (read here: “Are you being taught a false gospel?”).
One thing I appreciate about the Living Church of God — and something that I do not find anyplace else I have looked — is an effective dedication to the Bible above all else and to the proper respect for the teachings and work of Herbert W Armstrong. These intersect, of course, in the fact that Mr. Armstrong taught all of us — often before we even had attended, though watching him on television or reading his many (many!) writings — to look to the Bible for our source. He frequently said as we continue to say on the Tomorrow’s World program: “Don’t believe me, believe your Bible!”
Consequently, we use God’s Word as the foundation for what we teach and practice, and what we teach and practice is a continuation of what we learned under Herbert Armstrong. We continue in the dedication he instilled in us: If we find a practice or belief that we hold actually disagrees with Scripture, we are committed to change it. Thankfully, that’s a rare occasion, indeed, due in great part to the Bible-based foundation God laid in the Church through Mr. Armstrong, himself! However, Mr. Armstrong stressed that such an attitude would be a hallmark of the true Church of God, and we believe him to be correct.
All of this said, when we are justifying our beliefs it is sufficient to point out the Scriptural basis. The Bible is our foundation, and if what we say and do is in accordance with God’s Word, then we need no other justification: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17).
Yet, our (very appropriate) love and fondness for Mr. Armstrong, a man we rightly believe to have been a modern day apostle, is used by many to turn some away from the truth — and even from what he, himself, taught — in subtle, deceptive ways. They do this by recreating Herbert W Armstrong in their own image.
Many do this these days. Tellingly, they do not agree with each other. I remember driving down Central Expressway once in Dallas (actually, it could have been the 635 loop–it’s been a while!) and almost running off the road when I saw a giant billboard with Mr. Armstrong’s face on it. I actually exited the highway, looped around, and got back on to look at it again. It was an advertisement for some sort of public presentation by one of the many “pretenders to the throne” (“graspers of the mantle”?) out there claiming to stand for what Mr. Armstrong preached and taught and claiming that a man who can no longer speak for himself would completely endorse what the pretender had to say.
This fellow is not alone. Many like to parade an image of Mr. Armstrong and claim his posthumous endorsement. Logically they cannot all be right, given how much they despise and disagree each other, yet logically they can all be wrong. The latter would be the case. (Some reading this may disagree. “Well, welcome to my blog,” he says, with emphasis on the word “my.”)
What they do is recreate Mr. Armstrong in their own image. They tend to take the things he said that they wish to emphasize and highlight those things (often with a great deal of bluster and chest thumping), while they tend to diminish, minimize, or explain away those things he said that clearly disagree with their personal doctrinal obsession or their justification for self-promotion. They do this in a variety of ways.
One way is to take advantage of the fact that Mr. Armstrong wrote a lot — and I mean a lot! Consequently, there are many, many, many quotes one can collect from Mr. Armstrong to give weight to your perspective. And for most, you can count on readers not to actually look up the original books and booklets and to read more than the quoted sections to gain a larger, more accurate perspective of what Mr. Armstrong believed and taught. For instance, this happens a lot with the Gospel, which Mr. Ciesielka discussed today in his commentary. For those who actually read what Mr. Armstrong wrote and not just the parts quoted by those who would twist him for their own purposes, Herbert W Armstrong’s view of just how encompassing the gospel of the Kingdom of God was is plain and clear. In his own words, he makes his thoughts clear. The Living Church of God is not only right with Scripture in its presentation of the Gospel, but it is also in perfect harmony with the writings of Herbert W Armstrong. I’ve read more than the quote — I’ve read the whole article, the whole booklet. I’ve read more than the passages — I’ve read the whole book. I won’t be fooled by those who will parade many of his statements around in an effort to contradict the additional statements he made which they will not provide — at least not without deceptive commentary of their own added, which I’ll discuss in a moment — and I am humbled to be a part of the continuation of his efforts to preach the very same gospel to the world via television and other media.
Another way they deceive those who love Herbert W Armstrong and recreate him in their own image is to “enhance” his own words with their own personal commentary. I’ve seen at least one hilarious version of this taken to a ridiculous extreme, in which an incredibly clear statement made by Mr. Armstrong concerning the fullness of the gospel’s content is twisted by inserting the deceptive teacher’s own words and explanation into Mr. Armstrong’s words so as to make Mr. Armstrong’s original writing incoherent. Even today, more than 25 years after his death, Herbert Armstrong remains one of the clearest writers I have ever read — there’s a reason he called his magazine the Plain Truth! Yet this one deceptive “augmented” quote I have in mind would have us believe the man couldn’t put two sentences together without our needing him to explain why the two sentences are self-contradictory. Unbelievable. (And, frankly, a sign of how desperate and self-deceived some people can be.)
While I said it’s “hilarious” it really isn’t, because it’s well-crafted lies like that which are used to deceive individuals of good intention. And, actually, it isn’t “unbelievable” either, since such actions and manipulations are necessary if one is to effectively deceive. For instance, the “teacher” I referenced just above has no choice but to effectively undermine Mr. Armstrong’s ability to string three understandable sentences together meaningfully, because in those three sentences the entire argument of this “teacher” falls apart. But, let’s not let Mr. Armstrong’s gift for clarity get in the way of a good deceptive rant, hmm?
It’s sad, especially given the fact that many of those who do such violence to Mr. Armstrong’s writings would also rail against Protestant scholars and the like who do the very same thing to biblical writers, such as the Apostle Paul! Who couldn’t go through the writings of Paul — inspired, inerrant writings, at that! — and easily pull a volume of selected quotes and passages that seem to confirm every false teaching that law-hating antinomians try to place in Paul’s mouth? Then, we could turn around — like so many do — and use that volume to (deceptively) contradict the other things Paul said, explaining (for instance), “Well, don’t read that the way it sounds, since we know he can’t mean that the law is still to be kept today!” and “enhancing” those passages with their own commentary to make them say something they clearly don’t. They have done this with Paul for almost 1900 years (something Peter warned about: 2 Peter 3:15-17). With so much available in the many, many writings of Herbert W Armstrong, whose amazing writing career as a minister of Jesus Christ stretched over the better part of a century, is it surprising that it’s done today? Nope. But it is surprising that those who rail in particular against the techniques of deceived and deceptive scholars are so quick to use the very same technique themselves. Surprising and shameful.
Now, on one hand, it’s easy to say, “So what?” After all, we know what the Bible teaches, and we are dedicated to teaching what God said. And we know what Mr. Armstrong really believed, regardless of how he is distorted. Why worry about how others are twisting Mr. Armstrong’s words as long as we know the truth?
There is truth in that thought. However, as I mentioned before, there are those — some somewhat innocent and either self-deceived or deceived by others, and others not so innocent who should know better — who would take advantage of a Church member’s good and right loyalty to Mr. Armstrong to lure them away from God’s Word as they seek followers for themselves or as they seek validation for the private religion they have crafted out of their filtered collection of Mr. Armstrong’s teachings and their own opinions.
It’s one thing to differ with Mr. Armstrong over what the Bible said and to discuss that topic together to see the plain truth of the matter, knowing that that is exactly what Mr. Armstrong would want us to do. We should be willing to do that if such times arise as Jesus Christ continues to lead His Church. Should a difference be discovered between those things we teach now in Mr. Armstrong’s footsteps and what the Bible says, that difference should be examined and the truth determined beyond doubt. It is, frankly, exactly what he taught us to do, and I am thankful to be a part of an organization that understands that — that understands this practice which, again, Herbert Armstrong called one of the key hallmarks of the True Church: the willingness to change when we discover error.
But it is another thing entirely to actually agree with Mr. Armstrong and then to have individuals and organizations twist what he said to paint a deceptive picture of disagreement in order to gain followers for themselves or to satisfy their own egos. Such lies should be exposed for what they are.
I am thankful to God that the Living Church of God is currently being run under Jesus Christ by someone, Mr. Roderick C. Meredith, who actually knew Herbert W Armstrong — who worked closely with him, who loved him, who respects him, and who has demonstrated over a lifetime his willingness in the face of attack and accusation to follow in Mr. Armstrong’s footsteps as he followed Christ. I am thankful to be a part of a Church which recognizes Mr. Armstrong for being the apostle he was, restoring fundamental biblical truths to the Church and beginning a work which continues today and which will continue up to the return of Jesus Christ. I am thankful to be a part of a Church which doesn’t feel the need to toss Mr. Armstrong’s teachings and guidance out the window, as if doing something new or doing something differently than he did is somehow a virtue in itself. I am thankful to be a part of a Church that recognizes one of the greatest gifts he left us: a devotion to the truth of the Bible above all else, in which we change whenever we need to do so — however rarely that may be — in order to better live and teach in accordance to God’s Word, as Jesus Christ continues to lead His Church.
And I am thankful that Mr. Meredith and the organization he runs under Jesus Christ hasn’t fallen into the trap that so many have by recreating Herbert W Armstrong in their own images. And how many different images they have created!
One day Mr. Armstrong will live again in the Kingdom of God. Consequently, I imagine a day is coming when he and those who have used his own words to deceive others and or to satisfy their own egos will find themselves having a very interesting conversation…
Until then, I am thankful to be a part of the Living Church of God, where I can honor the memory of the man God used to call me into His truth — by continuing to live that truth, by continuing to teach it to others, by continuing to “contend earnestly for the faith once delivered” (Jude 6), and by refusing to reshape that man in my own image to suit my own purposes.