The Apostle Paul prophesied that a “falling away”
would occur shortly before the return of Christ.
Has it happened yet? And if so, when?
In 1974 two dramatic announcements were made to the ministry and membership of the Worldwide Church of God. The Pasadena headquarters announced that the observance of the day of Pentecost would be changed from Monday to a Sunday, and that divorced couples would now be allowed to remarry. These were major doctrinal changes, and there was rejoicing on the part of many, especially over the doctrinal change on divorce and remarriage. At the time, most who accepted these changes had little idea what the repercussions would be. What they did not realize is that once a Monday Pentecost was repudiated, it would only be a matter of time before most other Church beliefs would be questioned, and many discarded. These 1974 announcements were the beginning of the long slippery slide into the transition and chaos that followed. What is now the Worldwide Church of God bears little semblance to what it was and for what it once stood.
What was also not realized is that these “alterations” were a rejection of divine revelation. Why? Because the Bible clearly reveals that the only way divine Truth can be understood is by inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Jesus said the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth: “. . . I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; Even the Spirit of truth . . . ” (John 14:16-17). See also John 15:26 and 16:13. So, the question that needs to be asked is this: Did God lead His Church into error and allow it to remain in this condition for more than 40 years only for us to discover that truth comes by scholarship? Yet, this was the reason behind the doctrinal changes made in 1974. A chink had been made in the impregnable armor of Church doctrine, and soon the entire teaching collapsed.
Progressive revelation was touted as the key to Bible understanding. However, this did not mean additional Bible revelation that adds to previous truth and, in turn, does not contradict. It referred to scholars who constantly change their views by “learning new things.” The idea promoted was that revelation ceased with the canonization of the New Testament, and that Bible understanding is acquired by means of scholarship. In brief, God does not lead His Church into the Truth, so we must rely on scholars. Since scholars are constantly changing their views, we must be adaptable and change along with them. Sunday Pentecost and the freedom to divorce and remarry reflect this viewpoint. These changes were promoted as “new truth,” yet were nothing more than what most Protestant churches had believed and taught for centuries.
The immediate result is that thousands of members became bewildered, confused, and disoriented. They were spiritually shattered, disillusioned, and embittered. The unity and fellowship that had prevailed for so many years was gone. Many recognized that the doctrinal changes were a repudiation of past teachings. So, they asked what else was error? They lost confidence in their calling and what they had believed. Today more than 300 groups have been spawned as a result of what took place in 1974. The assortment runs the gambit from ultraconservative to ultra liberal. Take your choice.
Was It Prophesied?
There can be no doubt that “a falling away” from the Truth of God occurred during the latter half of the first century AD. What Christians embrace today is a Hellenized form of Christianity that does not reflect the teachings of the Apostolic Church. About AD 180, Hegesippus wrote a defensive treatise against heresy. Church historians tell us that Hegesippus demonstrated the pure apostolic tradition. See A Church History, by Johann Heinrich Kurtz, Volume 1, pages 157-158, and A History of the Christian Church by Wilhelm Moeller, translated by Andrew Rutherford, page 116. The work of Hegisippus, which contained five volumes, has been lost, but Eusebius of Caesarea wrote that Hegesippus was a Jew of Ebionite leaning who reported that after the death of the Apostles, false teachers introduced impious error, fraud, and delusions (Ecclesiastical History, Eusebuis, Chapter 17). Shirley Jackson Case summarized what happened to the teachings of the original Apostles. According to Case, Christianity as accepted by the Gentile world, was not the original revelation. It represented a change (The Social Origins of Christianity, pp. 72-74).
The Apostle Paul foresaw this event long before it happened. He warned the Ephesian elders what would occur-a falling away from the Truth.
This is what He told them:
Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears. (Acts 20:28-31)
This was one warning. A departure from the Truth began during the latter half of the first century and continued for three hundred years before crystallizing into what is today called Christianity. But there was another warning given in 2 Thessalonians 2.
Now we beseech you, brethren, by the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by our gathering together unto him, That ye be not soon shaken in mind, or be troubled, neither by spirit, nor by word, nor by letter as from us, as that the day of Christ is at hand. Let no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, except there come a falling away [apostasia] first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition. (vv. 1-3)
Paul was not speaking about his day, or even the following few centuries. He was talking about the “last days,” shortly before the return of Christ. This statement introduces a cogent question. Can an apostasy apostatize from error? The answer: Absolutely not. An apostasy is already an abandonment of what was believed. The only way an apostasy can transpire is if it departs from truth. Paul was not talking about nominal Christianity that had apostatized centuries ago, and has remained in that state. Paul is speaking of a departure from the Truth which would occur shortly before the return of Christ within the very body that had the Truth! What happened to the Worldwide Church of God, beginning in 1974, certainly fulfills that prediction. We may be shocked to realize that the departure, which took place in our day is, in fact, a repetition of what occurred during the first three centuries. In many cases the justifications given today are almost word for word as those given then.
The Unchanging Truth
Scientific and historical views are constantly changing, mainly because new facts continue to come to light. Wrong conclusions have been corrected when the evidence proves otherwise. Not so with divine Truth! Christians come to understand the Bible by means of divine revelation only. There is not one Bible example that supports the notion that revelation can be changed. While God may change how he chooses to administer His will and teaching, He never changes true doctrine. It is permanent (Jas. 1:17, Heb. 13:8). The problem is with men who do not understand the Bible and presume to interpret it as they think best. The notion that Truth changes to suit the times in which we live is an example of the fickleness of men. It reflects their desire to conform to the world. Jesus said: ” . . . Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice” (John 18:37). He said ” . . . I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6). “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17). “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). God does not reveal error. He is not capable of it (Titus 1:2). The idea that doctrine can be changed in the light of “new study” rejects Jesus’ plain words. Yet reliance on “scholars” was behind the doctrinal changes that began in 1974. These changes represented a total lack of faith in Jesus’ promise. The question we need to answer is this: Do we believe what Christ said, or do we rely on scholars? While professing the name of Christ, many have rejected His words. ” . . . Whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 10:33).
Doctrinal Changes Beginning in 1974
Old-time Worldwide Church of God members know what happened in 1974. The doctrinal changes on Pentecost and divorce and remarriage were called “adjustments.” As early as 1977 Robert Kuhn, administrative assistant to Garner Ted Armstrong, admitted to a Christianity Today writer that 29 doctrinal and administrative changes had been made (Christianity Today, April 15, 1977). Most members were not informed of these changes. But this was only the beginning. In an article that appeared in the Christian Research Journal, Winter 1996, entitled, “A Church Reborn,” Joseph Tkach, Jr., head of the Worldwide Church of God, wrote:
During the past 10 years, the Holy Spirit has blessed the Worldwide Church of God with unprecedented growth in doctrinal understanding and in sensitivity to the world around us, especially other Christians . . . .
Gone are our obsession with a legalistic interpretation of the Old Testament, our belief in British-Israelism, and our insistence on our fellowship’s exclusive relationship with God. Gone are our condemnations of medical science, the use of cosmetics, and traditional Christian celebrations such as Easter and Christmas. Gone is our long-held view of God as a “family” of multiple “spirit beings” into which humans may be born, replaced by a biblically accurate view of one God who exists eternally in three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.
We have embraced and now champion the New Testament’s central theme: the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ saving work on behalf of humanity is now the focus of our flagship magazine, The Plain Truth, rather than end-time prophetic speculation. We proclaim the sufficiency our Lord’s substitutionary sacrifice to save us from the death penalty for sin. We teach salvation by grace, based on faith alone, without resort to works of any kind. We understand that our Christian works constitute our inspired, grateful response to God’s work on our behalf-“We love [sic] because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19) . . . and that by these works we do not “qualify” ourselves for anything, nor do we compel God to act on our behalf. As William Barclay put it, “We are saved for good works, not by good works.”
My father articulated to the church the scriptural teaching that Christians are under the New Covenant, not the Old. This teaching resulted in our abandoning past requirements that Christians observe the seventh-day Sabbath as “holy time,” that Christians are obligated to observe the annual festivals commanded to Israel in Leviticus and Deuteronomy, that Christians are required to triple tithe, and that Christians must not eat foods that were “unclean” under the Old Covenant.
All these changes in the space of 10 years? Many are now advising us that profound course corrections of this magnitude are without historical precedent, at least since the days of the New Testament church.
The various arguments against the true revelation, that began to creep in from about the middle of the first century, do not necessarily reflect the views of a unified body. Historically, the Catholic Church cannot be regarded as universal until about the end of the fourth century AD. The heretical arguments do, however, represent a general trend that was solidified by the various church councils in the following centuries. What took place over a three or four hundred year period at that time has been compressed into about a 20-year period in our time. The trend and thinking in the following pages reflect the views of ministers and representatives within the Worldwide Church of God, as well as those who are now without.
Sabbath and Holy Days
Apart from the Scriptures, the first writings to appear on the scene following the deaths of the original Apostles were those of the Apostolic Fathers. They appeared about the middle of the second century. These writings show a marked contrast to the inspired Scriptures of the New Testament. The first of these writers was Justin Martyr. Justin wrote of Christians who had previously been pagans but who were induced to unite the observance of the Mosaic Law with the Christian faith. He said these rigid Christians by no means adhered to the genuine principles of the Apostle Paul. Justin then went on to pronounce a sentencelike condemnation on all those who still observed the Mosaic Law (History of the Christian Religion and Church, by Dr. August Neander, Volume 1, page 363, translated by Professor Joseph Torrey). In his “Dialogue with Trypho” (a Jewish opponent), Justin viewed those who observe such institutions, such as those given by Moses, as weak-minded. He did not approve, but felt it was permissible to fellowship with them as long as they did not proselytize. He went on to say that those who accept Christ and then go back to legalism shall by no means be saved (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 218, Justin Martyr’s “Dialogue with Trypho”).
About the middle of the second century, Justin Martyr began to disparagement the Sabbath, and eventually his antagonism led him to oppose anything Jewish. In time this view caught on, and pagan festivals replaced all Jewish observances (Seventh Day Baptists in Europe and America, by Gamble and Green, Vol. 1, pp. 13-14). Justin’s concepts represented a union of Christian thought with Gentile philosophy (A History of the Christian Church by Williston Walker, p. 52).
Quoted earlier, Josehph Tkach, Jr., wrote that ” . . . Christians are under the New Covenant, not the Old,” leading to “. . . our abandoning past requirements that Christians observe the seventh-day Sabbath as ‘holy time.”‘ Included were ” . . . the annual festivals commanded to Israel in Leviticus and Deuteronomy . . . ” This view was bantered around in the Worldwide Church of God for some time before being fully accepted.
A former Worldwide Church of God minister and researcher wrote:
The Christian has every day as a spiritual rest or Sabbath-keeping, and there is no need to return to the one-day-a-week physical Sabbath which Israel was required to observe under Moses. Its strict physical application no longer applies to the Christian under God’s New Covenant legislation . . . Our Sabbath is now complete in Christ . . . . Thus, the principles of rest and peace which the seventh day of the week (the Sabbath) typified, were now in the Christian’s possession in a DAILY sense . . . .
He added these comments:
Ye are the temple of God, and the Spirit dwells in you (1 Cor. 3:16) . . . . You are as holy as anyone else on earth. You are the temple of God . . . . All earthly temples and human authorities are gone . . . . So, it is not important where (or with whom) you worship, as long as the Spirit is in you where you do.
Paul relates of the Christian: “He that is entered [note that the believer has entered] into his rest” (Heb. 4:10) . . . . Christ has made it available for us now . . . . Paul says that the Christian has already “tasted of the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come” (Heb. 6:5). He is spiritually experiencing the promised “rest.”
The Worldwide Church of God official Ministerial Bulletin, sent to the ministers, related the view of Dr. Lester Grabbe from Ambassador College. He declared that the Foundation for Biblical Research could be correct in the evaluation of John 5:18 where it was shown that Christ cancelled the necessity of Sabbath observance for Christians. While Dr. Grabbe listed other interpretations, he went on to explain that Christ was making a complete loosing of the day, destroying its significance, releasing people from the need to keep it. He referred to the glorious rest we have in Christ and that there was no need for the spiritually mature to return to the “schoolmaster” intended to lead us to Christ. He wrote that we ought to thank God for the liberty we now have in Christ.
The Statement of Beliefs of the Worldwide Church of God says that “Christians are not enjoined by Scripture to limit corporate worship to any particular day of the week, and that our practice is to accommodate the choice of day which the local congregation, in is discretion, prefers.” According to the latest poll (2002), 47% of the local Worldwide Church of God congregations now observe Sunday. Each congregation determines this by a vote. Gradual acceptance of Sunday also took place during the first three centuries of the Christian era. Sabbath observance varied from locality to locality, but Christians were finally forced to accept Sunday as the “Lord’s Day” by the counsel of Laodicea in AD 364.
Regarding the annual holy days, a former minister wrote:
. . . Paul didn’t mean that the Corinthians were to observe the seven days of unleavened bread as those under the Old Covenant were required to do . . . . He said of the Corinthians: “ye are unleavened” . . . . They were already unleavened . . . . the Corinthians were already spiritually unleavened several days before the literal Days of Unleavened Bread.
Another comment this minister wrote is as follows:
Since the Christians were already spiritually unleavened through the sacrifice of Christ, they were then to be keeping a festival of unleavenedness-and it was to be perpetual . . . . let us keep on keeping the feast-a perpetual feast . . . . The Corinthians did not have to keep the physical festival.
According to the church historian, Adolph Harnack, the original New Testament Church, often referred to by church historians as “the primitive church,” appeared on the scene as Christian Judaism, a universal religion based on the Old Testament. Thus, they retained the Mosaic law (Outlines of the History of Dogma, Adolph Harnark, translated by Edwin K. Mitchell, pp. 74-75). While Harnack’s conclusion is not entirely correct, it does illustrate that the original Church kept the Law of God.
What is clear is that early Christians did not regard the Sabbath as abolished, and the influence of conservative Christianity upon the Eastern churches was discernible for several centuries. Even after Sunday worship was largely accepted, the Sabbath continued to be observed-especially in the East, and as late as AD 425 the people of Constantinople assembled on the Sabbath. The process of departing from Sabbath observance to Sunday worship was gradual. The abandonment of the Sabbath meant the abolishment of “Jewish law” (From Sabbath to Sunday, by Paul Cotton, pages 63-66, 68). According to Hippolytus, the learned Christian writer, the controversy over Sabbath observance took place among the Eastern churches because Jewish Christians retained the whole Jewish ceremonial laws and all the Jewish festivals, regarding them as Christian (Neander, Vol. 2, pages 182-184). It is unlikely the Jewish believers in Asia Minor continued to practice the sacrificial law, but most church historians fail to point this out.
It is impossible to assume that Sunday worship was introduced into the Church in Jerusalem prior to the destruction of the city in AD 70. All Jewish converts took for granted that the gospel was continuous with Judaism, and acceptance of the New Covenant did not mean that the covenant between God and Israel was no longer in force. The Jewish brethren continued to observe the feasts of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles, as well as the weekly Sabbath and the Mosiac regulations concerning foods (From Sabbath to Sunday, by Samuele Bacchiocchi, p. 151). Augustine mentioned that those hungering for the Word of God met on Saturday, and that the later idea of fasting on the Sabbath was done intentionally in opposition to the Jewish Sabbath (Moeller, p. 513). The Church Father, Chrysostom, said that “Christians should not merely celebrate one single day as a feast, they-whose whole life should be a festival . . . . What need therefore of the sabbath, to him who celebrates a continual feast . . . . ” (Neander, Vol. 2, pp. 314-316). When Saturday was appointed as a fast day, Tertullian, the Latin bishop, disagreed and said that Christ Himself expressed the feeling of the Creator, but not by practicing fasting on the Sabbath (The Church History of the First Three Centuries, by Ferdinand Christian Baur, translated by Allen Menzies, Vol. 2, p. 285).
As far as the historical records are concerned, Justin Martyr was the first to comment on the importance of Sunday as a day of worship. His belief was based on the idea that Christ was resurrected on Sunday and first appeared to His disciples then (Baur, loc. cit.). Justin wrote that while the Sabbath and other precepts were given to the Jews as a sign, God also gave them statutes and laws that were not good. He then inferred it is these Sabbaths and feast days that God hates. He added that they were not kept before the time of Moses, that Abraham did not keep them, and the only reason they were given was because of sin. So, there is no need to keep them now (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, pp. 204-206).
A spurious work entitled, “The Epistle of Barnabas,” relates that if anyone is at the present capable of keeping the day holy by living pure in heart, he is altogether deceived. Only after one receives the promise and is made righteous can one keep it. The writer then attacks the new moons and Sabbaths and says that Christians should celebrate the eighth day, when Jesus rose from the dead (The Apostolic Fathers, English translation by Kirsopp Lake, Vol. 1, pp. 393-397, “The Epistle of Barnabas”).
Martin Luther continued this general line of reasoning when he said that Moses was given to the Jewish people alone, and that there is no need for concern among Gentiles. He quoted Acts 15 and Galatians 4 to demonstrate that the Sabbath is not necessary and that Sabbathkeeping in the New Testament is done daily. He adds, that while man and beast need a day of rest, if the Sabbath is kept for the sake of rest alone, it is clear he who does not need rest may break the Sabbath and rest on some other day, as nature allows (Luther’s Works, edited by Conrad Bergendoff, Vol. 40, pp. 92-93, 97-98).
Regarding the holy days, Justin Martyr ridiculed the Jews for their observance of the use of unleavened bread, and applied this to all Judaizing Christians as well. He said the significance of unleavened bread was to baptize the soul from wrath, covetousness, envy, hatred, and to purify the body. He criticized the Jews because they understood all things in a carnal sense only, and supposed it to be piety to do such things when their souls were filled with deceit (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 201). Irenaeus, toward the end of second century, was the first to advance he idea that the Old Testament law was the schoolmaster to lead Christians to Christ (Harnack, p. 147). The meaning, of course, is that observance of the Sabbath, holy days, and Law of God are not necessary for Christians.
The above demonstrates that the Worldwide Church of God adopted nothing more than what had been previously voiced-arguments against the Sabbath and holy days that go back to the second century AD. They have accepted the same heresies that arose during the early centuries of the Christian era and are conforming to the theology of false Christianity today. Truly, as King Solomon said, ” . . . There is no new thing under the sun” (Eccl. 1:9).
Recall the statement by Joseph Tkach, Jr., that gone is the condemnation of such celebrations as Easter. In AD 325, the Council of Nicaea unanimously ruled that Easter should be observed throughout the Christian world. What many may not realize is that during the second and third centuries a strong movement took place to divorce the “Lord’s Supper” from any association with the holy days. The purpose, according to Baur, was to repudiate the holy days altogether. Church history demonstrates that Easter was substituted in place of the Passover. This same disassociation is found in Worldwide Church of God literature.
Take, for example, this quote from The Real Jesus:
. . . Jesus intended sitting down to a Pascal lamb supper about 20 to 21 hours before all of the other Jewish homes would be doing the same thing! Jesus intended eating the Passover early. . . they [disciples] no doubt expected that Jesus would be eating the regular Passover supper with them either here or in some other place the following evening . . . . By this institution of these New Testament symbols, Jesus was changing the character and time of observance of the “Passover” for all Christians to observe hereafter. He was partaking of His own “supper” about 20 or so hours before the time of the Old Testament Passover. (The Real Jesus, by Garner Ted Armstrong, pages 205-206, 215)
The author’s conclusion was that Christians should observe the Passover on the 14th, but it was observed in the Old Testament period on the 15th.
A former minister of the Worldwide Church of God referred to the Passover as “a memorial service, no longer the Mosaic Passover.” He then went on to say:
Jesus didn’t merely change symbols (lamb, bitter herbs, etc.) from the Old Covenant Passover meal, any more than He transferred the regulatory system of works from the obsolete (Heb. 8:13) Mosaic Economy . . . . We acknowledge that this Service is not in any conceivable manner, the Old Covenant Mosaic Passover celebrated at a specified time each year. We also acknowledge that the New Testament is not specific as to how often the Remembrance of Christ’s Crucifixion should be observed, in Christianity. We further acknowledge that there seems to be no prohibition against accepting the bread and wine symbols more than once a year.
The above quotes were a precursor to the confusion that was to follow. Today some Churches of God observe the Passover on the 15th rather than the 14th, while the Worldwide Church of God allows each member to decide for himself when and how often to observe it.
Most Bible students are aware of the Quartodeciman (14th day) controversy. It erupted in the second century over when the Passover should be held. Clearly, the historical tradition was on the side of those who held to a 14th-day observance of the Passover. The Church Fathers Apollinaris and Hippolytus accused those who supported the 14th as being contentious and ignorant, but not Jewish heretics, because these Asians (Christians living in Asia Minor) were not a Judaizing party (Baur, Vol. 1, pp. 175, 171). The Asians kept the Passover as an anniversary of the last meal of Jesus with His disciples. Not so with the Western church. They linked it to the resurrection, with a Friday crucifixion and Sunday resurrection (Baur, Vol. 2, p. 283). The Eastern churches emphasized the crucifixion as the significant meaning (Baur, Vol. 1, p. 167). These churches felt the Passover had been transformed into a Christian festival, followed by a feast. The Asians regarded Christ as the Passover and believed He died on the day the Jewish Passover was slain (op. cit., 166, 171-172).
During the fourth century, the Council of Nicaea rejected the 14th-day Passover and adopted Easter. Some small sects protested and as late as the fifth century continued doing so, but the rest of the church allowed the Jewish observance to die out (Lectures on the History of the Eastern Church, by Arthur P. Stanley, p. 155). In time the Lord’s Supper was believed to have an efficacious influence on the body and spirit of the recipient. Christ was viewed as entering into a mysterious physical union with the bread and wine (History of the Christian Church, by George Park Fisher, p. 56). The concept of a literal transubstantiation was of much later origin, however. The Christians in Alexandria (Egypt) saw in the Lord’s Supper the mystery behind the mystery, and while accommodating the church, wished to be continually nourished by a perpetual Eucharist. Throughout the church, the service was departing from its original significance (Harnack, p. 115).
Various Church Fathers had different views regarding when Christ ate the Passover. Clement of Alexandria said that Christ ate the Passover on the 13th and suffered the following day. Peter, the patriarch of Antioch, also held to a 13th day Passover, so he believed that Christ could not as yet have used unleavened bread. Theophylact, archbishop of Achrida, believed that Christ did use unleavened bread, but the church need not necessarily use unleavened bread in all succeeding generations (Neander, Vol. 3, pp. 584-585). According to this line of reasoning-Christ instituted the Lord’s Supper one day early-Christians need not have anything to do with the Passover. Therefore, the whole institution is extinct, and Christianity is severed from Judaism. The truth is: This was the beginning step in repudiating the holy days altogether. The kind of confusion which was rampant then is the same as it is among the Churches of God today. In this early transitional period, the one group that refused to accept these ideas was a class of Judaizing Christians who retained the original Passover and everything associated with it (Neander, Vol. 1, pp. 324-325, 331). Today the observance of the Passover, or whatever the various Churches of God call it, varies from church to church. The official belief of the Worldwide Church of God is that the program of annual festivals can vary from congregation to congregation.
The Law of God
Most professing Christians are not afraid to acknowledge the importance of the Ten Commandments, though in practice they reject their literal application. The literal application is often called “legalistic.” As noted on page five above, Joseph Tkach, Jr. stated that gone is our obsession with a legalistic interpretation of the Old Testament. He went on to say that this resulted in “our abandoning past requirements to observe the seventh-day Sabbath as ‘holy time.'” The Statement of Beliefs of the Worldwide Church of God makes no mention of the Law of God, but rather talks about the Law of Christ. Nothing is mentioned concerning obedience to the Commandments of God, but only to Christ. There is a reference to Romans 13:9-10, which refers to loving one’s neighbor; and another in Matthew 22:36-40, which refers to loving God with all the heart, soul, and mind, but nothing is stated about how to love God with all the heart, soul, and mind. This is typical of the moral ambiguity found in many Protestant churches today.
This same approach was seen in the early centuries of the Church when the “moral law” replaced the Law of God. Buzz phrases were employed, such as “the new law of Christ,” the “law was only the schoolmaster to direct us to Christ,” the “Ten Commandments were the natural law,” and “the ministration of death is now done away.” Former ministers of the Worldwide Church of God-ministers who left the organization early because their views were not accepted-promulgated these same ideas. But they left prematurely because their concepts are the ones now largely accepted.
Here are some examples:
Since righteousness is demanded of God, we need to know how to receive it. Paul tells us plainly how it is obtained. It is through faith (belief) . . . . Paul shows that faith (or belief) is equal to righteousness.
Christ has presently given us the Spirit to guide us. Christians are to be governed by laws “written not with ink, but with the spirit of the living God; not in the tables of stone [the Ten Commandments] but in the fleshly tables of the heart”. . . . The Spirit now operates in our hearts to make us obedient to the Christian principles of the New Testament, not those of the Old Testament . . . . This is the new commandment of Christ that we are to follow today. These are the commandments, not the Mosaic ones, which New Covenant Christians are to keep.
The Romans were Gentiles. By nature, they were uncircum- cised. They kept no Sabbaths, holydays, or Mosaic rituals. Yet Paul made it clear that they could by nature (through their own human comprehension) do the essential things found in the law.
Paul was distraught with the Galatians. Why, after finishing with the elementary teachings of paganism, should they now enroll in another “grade school” for similar, elementary education? Yet, the Galatians had even gone so far as to observe circumcision . . . . Once we are redeemed, and our attitudes converted, we no longer need the schoolmaster to keep us continually reminded of our sins.
Though the Romans were “the Gentiles which have not the law” . . . . Their own natures were able to teach them that an active and fervent love for their Creator and their fellow man was proper and right.
The law of Moses was a schoolmaster to direct us to Christ: “But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster”-no longer under the law . . . . The Mount Sinai covenant made up of the Ten Commandments and the subsidiary laws . . . is now cast out and is not applicable for those “born after the spirit.”
The New Testament is now the basic guide for Christian conduct-and it needs no additions. All the teachings in the Old Testament . . . . must be viewed through the teachings of the New Testament . . . Our lawgiver is now Christ . . . . Paul said to the Philippians (ones who had been graced with the final, mature teachings of God) that they were “the circumcision which worship God in the spirit, and rejoice in Jesus Christ” . . . .
Almost all the Old Covenant rituals, ceremonies, and regulations were centered in one way or another around the significance of Temple worship. The sacrifices, the priesthood, the holydays, the clean and unclean laws-were all Temple oriented . . . . With the Temple barriers now destroyed in Christ, it means that all ritualism, ceremony, unclean laws, or whatever, are now taken away in Him. This means ALL and EVERYTHING has been abolished! . . .Christ fulfilled every requirement for salvation . . . . Christ fulfilled everything for everybody . . . . Not only did Christ die for us while He was on earth, but He also lived for us.
The New Testament contains the essence of God’s Way, Will, Plan of Salvation, Instructional Laws and Standard . . . . It is the only Rule for the Christian Faith.
The above quotations, written in the 70s, do not express new ideas. They are rehashes of the arguments brought up in the second and third centuries.
The historian Harnack said the new concept of law in the Catholic Church was anti-Jewish, which left at the same time room for the slipping-in of Old Testament Commandments into the Church (Harnack, pp. 75-76). When the annual festivals were introduced into the Western churches during the second century, they introduced the idea of imitating the crucified and risen Christ rather than that observed by the “primitive church” (Neander, Vol. 1, p. 295).
The “free Grecian spirit” strove against the “yoke of the Law.” The Apostolic Church was clothed in the Jewish Bible tradition and the struggle that ensued was due to the contention between those “who remained in bondage to Jewish law,” and those who gloried in their Christian freedom and higher knowledge” (Neander, Vol. 1, p. 340). The idea was that God helps through teaching-first by the laws of nature, then by the use of the Law of Moses, then through the gospel-each according to his measure of receptivity (Harnack, p. 161). Circumcision and baptism was now of the heart, the Sabbath is the glorious Kingdom of God, the gospel frees men from all legality, but lays upon them the highest moral obligations (op cit., p. 17).
Justin Martyr’s comment of Gentile dislike for the Law is typical of this approach. He said that Horeb is for the Jews, but we observe a universal law. Law thus placed against law abrogates the former. Likewise the covenants. He stated the New Covenant has no law, no commandments, no ordinances. Christ is the new law and the new covenant. The new law requires a perpetual Sabbath. Being idle one day makes no one pious. Those who are holy and pure (repenting of adultery, thievery, perjury) keep the “sweet and true Sabbaths of God” (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 200).
A work entitled, “The Disputation of Manes,” used the ministration of death argument as a means of abrogating God’s Law. According to this work, Christ is supposed to have redeemed us from the curse of the law. Sabbath keeping, therefore, is rest from sin and secular things (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 6, pp. 203-204).
During the middle Ages, the prominent theologian, Thomas Aquinas, continued the argument. He said the law was done away because of its position as a pedagogue. He rejected the law concerning unclean meats, affirmed the popular idea that Christ had broken the Sabbath (a current idea of his day), and felt the feasts were not valid for Christians (Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica, “Treatise on Law,” II, Q. 107-108).
What took place in the early centuries after the time of Christ and the Apostles, and what took place in the Worldwide Church of God beginning in 1974, are a repetition of the same thing-a departure from the original revelation given to the Church. The ideas of then and today are fundamentally the same. They represent the distaste for the Law and God, and an unwillingness to live by every word of God (Rom. 8:7, Matt. 4:4).
We commented earlier on progressive revelation. After the first century AD, the major opinion was that Christianity represented the end of a long line of progressive revelation, which at earlier times was manifested in the writings of pagan philosophers. Much, therefore, could be gleaned from their works. It was held that revelation was delivered and calculated so that its substantial contents might be elaborated upon through the divinely enlightened reason of man (Neander, Vol. 1, p. 336). The “Epistle of Barnabas” illustrates this notion. In it, verbal interpretation is set aside, Judaism is of the devil, and Paul is the Christian champion. What this work illustrated is that the evolution of the Catholic system was developing as early as the middle of the second century (Harnack, pp. 56-57). This view is certainly seen in the writings of Justin Martyr who regarded Christianity as the last step in a long chain of philosophical and religious enlightenment, which had begun with the pagan philosophers.
Certain teachers, such as Marcion, established their own canon. As a result it became necessary to establish a canon that had the approval of the majority of bishops. Also, the Montanists (a movement that emphasized prophecy) became a threat to orthodoxy. Montanism was rejected. The reason given was that inspiration had ceased with the canon. Therefore, the only necessary requirement for understanding doctrine was the preserved word-that is, the canon and its meaning, as applied by the bishops. What was not considered is that understanding doctrine has a two-fold requirement: (1) Access to the inspired Word found in the canon, and (2) the inspiration of the Holy Spirit which reveals the meaning of the Word. In brief, Bible understanding depends on access to the inspired Scriptures, and being led by the Holy Spirit to understand the Scriptures. What was overlooked at that time was the need for the Holy Spirit. Jesus said that this is the source of understanding (John 14:26; 16:13). Instead, men began to trust theologians and scholars to give them Bible understanding.
The modern parallel is seen in the Pentecost change that was made by the Worldwide Church of God in 1974. From the Ministerial Bulletin dated October 21, 1975, we read:
When Christ founded the New Testament Church, he did not call the scholars and theologians of his day. He used a group of people who were ordinary fishermen, businessmen, and not necessarily that highly educated. In the same way when God founded this phase of the Church, he did not use professional theologians or Greek or Hebrew scholars. He called people whose traits, training, and characteristics were needed in building this worldwide work . . . . It was during those early years that many doctrines were formulated and adopted. Some of these doctrines were completely the result of God’s Spirit and its inspiration. More often spiritual considerations were combined with a certain technical understanding. A few doctrines depended purely upon scholarly research . . . . The understanding of the meaning of Pentecost is the result of God’s Spirit . . . But the date of Pentecost requires scholarly knowledge . . . . The significance of Pentecost was a matter of God’s guidance. But arriving at the proper date was purely a matter of scholarship . . . . When we speak of revelation we are not implying some divine metaphysical or mystical revelation apart from the Bible, but rather the revealing that comes through reading and studying the Bible . . . . Leviticus 23 still reads the same now as in 1973. What was changed was our understanding of the passage. A proper understanding of it required a technical knowledge of Hebrew.
What this is saying is that God is capable of leading His Church into half-truths only. If the Worldwide Church of God kept the wrong date for Pentecost for over 40 years, it was not led into the Truth as Jesus promised. Therefore, God is not dependable, so we must depend upon scholars. We will recall second century theologians said they were the ones the laity must depend on for doctrinal truth. Today, we are also told we must rely on church scholars for doctrinal truths.
A former Worldwide Church of God minister made the following remarks regarding progressive revelation:
It is very important that we do not interweave scriptural teachings meant for certain peoples at one particular time in human history, with revelations of God meant for others at later times . . . . The truth is, God has even overthrown previous teachings in favor of more advanced (spiritual) ones.
We must be careful to apply only the teachings of God that refer to ourselves and not to those intended for other peoples in different ages. God did not reveal all mature Christian knowledge regarding our present standing with Him in earlier times.
The apostles soon after Christ’s resurrection began to see a profound significance in what His death entailed. All of a sudden they realized that salvation rested completely and solely with Christ through His death on the cross . . . . they did not come to a full and mature understanding of its efficacy until God, in a step-by-step way, lead [sic] them into the complete knowledge of the significance of the cross. It took almost 30 years for them (even longer for some) to see what the full teachings of Christ really entailed.
This touts the notion that “progressive revelation” nullifies previous revelation. Contrary to Justin Martyr who believed that the most recent revelation is the most accurate regardless of whether it contradicts previous revelation, the truth is: additional revelation adds to and complements previous revelation; it never contradicts or nullifies it. Regardless of the age in which one is called, the Holy Spirit is responsible for Bible understanding. Revelation did not cease with the closing of the canon, and truth does not come by means of scholars. If this was the case, all scholars would be in agreement with each other. But this is not the case. So, if one chooses to trust scholars, which one will he select?
Church historians, as a whole, support the opinion that Paul’s teaching was in opposition to that of the other Apostles. Supposedly, Paul came with a later revelation that clarified what had been revealed earlier. This idea is, of course, an example of “progressive revelation.” The following excerpt by former Worldwide Church of God ministers illustrates this sentiment:
Everything was not disclosed to the apostles on that first Pentecost day. But from that day forward they steadily began to learn the advanced teachings of Christ. They found it necessary to adopt new doctrines and abandoned old ones that became no longer necessary . . . Later revelations which had been given to Paul amended a number of former doctrines . . . . What happened was a situation that kept the Christian Jews very distinct from Gentile Christians. The two groups were now performing different things while both were within a New Covenant environment . . . . But God was getting ready to reveal a “brand new” revelation which would solve the whole matter in a legal way . . . . But when Paul, and others, received the final revelation of God which he called “the Mystery,” the whole situation changed. When Paul said the “middle wall” was broken down, every principle of Jewish social and religious separatism was being overthrown . . . . Paul had given the church at Jerusalem a lot of trouble before with his interpretations of scripture, but these suggestions of his must have been the last straw. Indeed, Paul was now saying that no man should judge anyone on matters of eating and drinking, or even in regard to the Sabbaths, New Moons, and Holydays . . . . They had been deeply upset by Paul’s teachings before . . . but these new teachings of Paul were simply going too far! They would accept no more of his “revelations.”
This line of reasoning is not new. It began with second century theologians. It resulted from misinterpreting Paul’s writings and ideas, which were eventually obliterated, even though Clement of Rome, Ignatius and Polycarp supported these writings (Moeller, p. 119). Polycarp, for example, had been a disciple of the Apostle John. Gentile inability to grasp what Paul was saying illustrates the trend that was then occurring. The tendency was to favor a purely moral law, which in effect was a rejection of the Law of God. Moral ambiguity became the substitute. Many bishops championed the idea that Paul alone knew the Truth. But Irenaeus, for example, rejected this sentiment. He said both Paul and Peter were disciples of the same God, that there were many who preached the Truth, and that the Lord had sent the twelve Apostles to the lost sheep of the house of Israel because they all knew the Truth (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, pp. 436-437, “Irenaeus Against Heresies”).
Paul was used to bring the gospel to the Gentiles, and their acceptance of it can only be attributed to him. His message characterized the universal gospel in which the Old Testament religion had not been fulfilled or done away. Later, because the Gentiles were not aware of the need to reconcile the gospel with the Old Testament, the allegorical method of propaganda was utilized to free them from the “letter of the Law” (Harnack, pp. 13-14).
The concept that the Apostle Paul was opposed to the other Apostles, as well as the development of Pauline theology, began quite early. The modes of apprehending Christianity were divided into the teachings of James, Peter, Paul, and John. These systems supposedly ran counter to each other, and the end result was harm to the course of divine truth (Neander, Vol. 1, p. 337). However, Neander follows the orthodox view. He believed Pauline doctrine represents an independent, dialectic mind. James, on the other hand, was not completely disengaged from the garb of the Old Testament dispensation. Paul had a more fully developed Christian spirit than James, and must have been less scrupulous in his observance of the Law. While James and Peter mark a gradual transition from spiritualized Judaism to an independent development of Christianity, Paul represents an independent development in opposition to the Jewish viewpoint. On the other hand, John represented the closing period in the training of the Apostolic Church. Only after tedious striving for the goal-to abrogate the Law of God-was this realized by the bishops (History of the Planting and Training of the Christian Church by the Apostles, by Augustus Neander, Vol. 2, pp. 1-57).
A look at the arguments by former Worldwide Church of God ministers, who left the Church prior to 1974, will reveal the doctrines that were eventually adopted by the Church. Had these ministers not been impatient and had they remained within the organization, their goals, like those of the second century theologians, would have also been realized.
Below, from an article entitled: “What is the Law of God for Christians Today?” by John Curry, 1995, is a summary of the Worldwide Church of God teaching on God’s Law.
Christians are called to live a holy life in obedience to Christ. They are to live by every word of God as it applies to them. The law system applying to Christians now is not the law of the Old Testament, but the law of Christ. It is not a written code that one defines by rules and regulations. It is the application of God’s living law of love that affects every area of our lives.
This does not mean that Christians discard Old Testament law as if it has no relevance to them today. There is much relevance because it expresses the will of God for a particular people during a particular age. The principles underlying many Mosaic laws are valid for Christians today.
As D. J. Moo observes:
Jesus never attacks the Law and, indeed, asserts its enduring validity. But it is only as taken up into Jesus’ teaching, and thus fulfilled, that the Law retains its validity. The Law comes to those living on this side of the cross only through the filter of its fulfillment in Christ the Lord. (Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, Intervarsity Press, 1992, p. 450)
Often the application of the law of Christ coincides with laws and principles in the Old Testament. Sometimes it does not. But whenever there is a conflict between them, the law of Christ prevails because it more fully expresses the will of God.
The Apostle John’s Writings
Above, we saw that the Apostle John was viewed as the last of the Apostles who reflected apostolic training. His writings were seized upon at an early date to justify a rejection of the Law of God. It was believed that John’s gospel represented a complete breach with Judaism, yet as Moeller observed, there is nothing in John’s writings that less exhibits an anti-Judaism that should emancipate itself from the Old Testament (Moeller, p. 92).
A former Worldwide Church of God minister had this to say about John’s writings:
There is, however, a Gospel intended specifically for the Christian who now has mature knowledge. It is the gospel of John. It shows John’s final reflections on what Christ really taught while here on earth. This is why his Gospel is so different from the other three. Notice how John de-emphasizes everything physical (even though the rites are some of the holiest ceremonies of the Old or early New Testaments). John appraised the holydays as no longer being God’s holy festivals. No, it was the Jews’ Passover which was at hand . . . . With John it is now “spirit and truth” that count-not Jerusalem, not temple, not Sabbaths, not Holydays, not the ways that formerly governed the Jews. John saw that it was Christ alone- as it finally came to be with Paul . . . . Paul was trying to say in the last three or four years of his life: “We don’t need Jerusalem or the temple-we need Christ.”
Like second-century theologians, the above example uses John to reject the Law of God, and touts the same kind of progressive revelation as Justin Martyr. Church historians generally agree with this line of reasoning. Baur, for example, says that John’s gospel shows the complete breach with Judaism and that Paul’s dialectical approach was indecisive. Baur believed that John’s gospel was written late, because it indicates an opposition to Judaism and the pre-eminence of Christianity as a long-standing and historical fact. Baur believed that according to John, everything positive in Judaism (Sabbath, circumcision, etc.) had become unimportant, and that important Old Testament types, required for the understanding of Christianity, were abrogated with the appearance of the reality (Baur, Vol. 1, pp. 157-159).
Clean and Unclean Meats
In his article, “A Church Reborn,” Joseph Tkach, Jr., wrote that Christians are no longer required to observe the Old Covenant law that forbade eating foods that were “unclean.” Notice how second and third century theologians did the same thing. “The Epistle of Diognetus” took the Jews to task for trying to serve God in the manner they did with respect to food. The author of the epistle asked, how could it be anything but unlawful to receive some of the things God created for man’s use while rejecting others as useless and superfluous? (The Apostolic Fathers, Vol. 2, p. 357) Justin Martyr commented that the Jews were commanded to abstain from certain kinds of foods in order to keep God before their eyes while they ate and drank, so that they would not depart from Him, as they had been so prone to do. He continued by saying that Moses said in the book of Genesis that God granted to Noah the right to eat of every animal but not of blood and flesh already dead. In following remarks Justin got around the restriction placed on flesh by the Bible example that restricted the use of herbs, stating that we do not eat certain herbs because they are bitter, deadly, or thorny, and not because they are uncommon or unclean (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 204).
Various sects and movements at the time also repudiated the law of clean and unclean meats. The Novatians were one group, as well as the prominent third century theologian, Origen Adamantius. The Novatians said that the law regarding such was done away, and Origen used “the law of the gospel” to repudiate the teaching (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 5, p. 648 and Vol. 9, pp. 440-441).
During the early 70s various ministers in the Worldwide Church of God compiled lists of questions against the “Jewish” observance of the law of clean and unclean meats, primarily to throw doubt on the Bible teaching. These questions illustrated one of three things: (1) They never really understood or knew what the Church taught on clean and unclean meats, or (2) they had completely forgotten what they once believed, or (3) they never believed it in the first place.
Below is an example of the kind of reasoning that appeared in the 70s, as it takes to task the Church teaching on clean and unclean meats:
Another “binding law” is that of clean and unclean meats. Whereas the holy days were extracted from Lev. 23-the book which enumerates the laws of the Levitical Priesthood-the ceremonial meat-codes came out of Lev. 11 and Deut. 14. All three of these chapters have become super-sacred for the cult. They are given far more “weight” than any comparable chapters in the New Testament! With fanatical zeal, the membership is warned against any condemning violations. The high-powered, or “political Tories” will check menus, scrupulously, to avoid the worldly contamination of pork, shrimp, catfish, etc. . . . Herbert Armstrong’s Talmudic and standardized (at Pasadena), physical righteousness has “bombed” the world into breeding a brand new creation of menu-scanners, kitchen-peekers and pantry-ponderers! Majoring in one of their leader’s major doctrines! And the laity basks in the assurred [sic] confidence of knowing they have not been defiled-since no unclean (Levitically- marked) food had been allowed to pass across the lips!
This sarcastic example is just one of many that illustrates the kind of resentment some ministers had against not being able to eat anything they desired. It is intended to convince its readers of the fallacy of adhering to the Bible commands regarding clean and unclean meats. Members who had the same urge to indulge their appetites were quickly convinced. The writer of this comment would rejoice to read Joseph Tkach, Jr.’s comments in the 1996 article, “A Church Reborn.”
Speculation became a very important part of early Church theology. Origen was paramount in this approach. Since no church councils had yet been organized, Origen (AD 185-254), along with many other theologians, faced the great questions of the day, and at that time no authoritative settlement had been made on many doctrines. No doubt, this accounted for much of the speculative material found in Origen’s works. Later, many of his views were regarded as heretical, though some had been misunderstood as well as unproven (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, “Introductory Note to the Works of Origen”). Origen advocated the allegorical method of exegesis, and his theology was essentially spiritual speculation (Fisher, p. 72). Origen, however, was not the first theologian to favor this approach. Justin Martyr had introduced it much earlier (Moeller, p. 212). The end result of speculation was that Christianity was placed on a friendly relationship with previous philosophy, namely isolated divine rays of “divine truth” from pagan philosophers. During the third century Origen’s influence was tremendous over the entire field of Greek theology. His personal views included the belief in the pre-existence of souls, their pre-temporal fall, and the world as a place of punishment for souls (op cit., pp. 211-215). In addition, it was his belief that all spirits would be rescued and glorified; that there was no literal resurrection from the dead, and that there was a purgatory (Harnack, pp. 165-166). Among the spirits to be rescued are the demons (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4, p. 233).
This speculative approach is seen in the writings of former representatives of the Worldwide Church of God. Here is an example, not only of speculation, but also of the metaphysical approach:
Before any of us were ever born on this earth, the Father already saw us in Christ Jesus. We must have made up His body (in some inexplicable way) before the foundation of the world. . . . All Christians have been circumcised in Him in a perfect way; all have been baptized in Him; all have kept the Sabbath in Him; all have paid tithes in Him; all have kept holy days in Him; all have paid the temple tax in Him; all have died with Him; all have been resurrected with Him; and all are now (spiritually) reigning with Him in heaven. This is why all the physical rituals such as circumcision, etc., are no longer necessary for Christians . . . . When Christ was resurrected, the Father now accounts all Christians as being symbolically resurrected with him . . . . we are legally recognized by the Father as being resurrected already. . . .
The reader will recall that Origen believed that all spirit beings, including demons, would ultimately receive salvation. Notice this comment by a former Worldwide Church of God minister:
Look at what happened. The destruction of “the middle wall of partition” not only made the Israelites and Gentiles on an equal basis without distinction (and now get ready for a surprise-and even Paul must have been amazed at it), the new revelation showed that even THE SPIRITUAL POWERS OF THE UNIVERSE ARE ON THE SAME LEVEL WITH US HUMANS AS FAR AS SALVATION IS CONCERNED. . . . It is now revealed that all humans and all spirit beings scattered throughout the universe are able to be gathered together into God’s family. . . . This means that all beings in the universe will finally come to a heartfelt repentance, real confession, and full obedience to Christ. . . . These verses show that even the hostile powers (whether on earth or in heaven) are destined to be at peace and in complete harmony with God. . . . And while Paul formerly taught that all spiritual powers would certainly be “put down” and “subjected” to Christ (1 Cor. 15:24-28), and of course this is still true for the period of their judgment, but little did he know that even their redemption was now included in the salvation of God. . . . Some have said it was I who came up with the novel doctrines that all in the universe will finally be reconciled to God. But such a thing is absurd. It was not I who came up with such teachings.
Of course not. We saw from The Ante-Nicene Fathers that it was Origen.
The Worldwide Church of God Systematic Theology publication, sent to the ministry, contained a large dissertation on the subject of the “spirit in man,” which is highly speculative. The Bible says little about “the spirit in man,” but what the Bible lacks the Systematic Theology discourse invents. Though there is little biblical support, the ministry was assured that this is what the Bible teaches.
There is no truer statement than this: “History repeats itself.” This is seen over and over again in the doctrinal changes adopted by the Worldwide Church of God beginning in 1974.
Use of Types
During the second and third centuries, the use of types became important for sustaining doctrinal arguments. For example, during the Quartodeciman controversy, Apollinaris and Hippolytus accused the Asians of being ignorant and unable to distinguish types. Methodius used the same argument against the Jews in “The Banquet of the Ten Virgins.” Methodius rejected observance of the Feast of Tabernacles because he said the Jews did not know how to perceive the fulfillment of types. He applied the gospel to the Feast of Tabernacles and then said the Feast of Tabernacles was done away. Methodius also said the Feast of Tabernacles is a type of the resurrection (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 6, pp. 344-345).
Here is the modern parallel, seen in the writings of former Worldwide Church of God ministers:
Exodus 12, though several weeks before Exodus 20-24, is clearly not a part of the relationship between God and the nation of Israel. . . . If these days are for New Testament Christians it is by type and analogy (which is no proof whatsoever), not by clear Bible comment.
Remember, the law of Moses, the temple, the sacrifices, and the festivals are types and shadows. They are intended to lead people to Christ, as the “schoolmaster”. . . . Once an individual turns to Christ, the physical types have served their purpose in his life.
Hebrews 9 clearly explains how Christ has already fulfilled the Day of Atonement. . . . Through Christ dwelling in us, we are the temple of God. . . . Also, as Christians, we now live as strangers and sojourners in this world. . . dwelling in a physical, temporary “tabernacle”. . . . The holy days prefigure Jesus Christ.
All of those outward religious ceremonies and laws were designed by God to physically depict the One who was to come to earth to live and die for mankind. They were shadows . . . . However, if people still wish to utilize the symbols. . . let them carry on with them.
A former minister who now ridicules the Holy Days asks this question: “Would Jesus today wear sandals/robe; ride a jackass; keep Feast of Dedication; travel to Jerusalem for festivals; worship at synagogue; pay Temple-tax?” The same kind of ridicule was used during the second century when at that time some said that if Christians are to keep the Passover, then they should find someone carrying a vase on his shoulder to lead them to an upper room, and they should eat the meal in a reclining position.
Since it was maintained by the Western church that Jesus did not keep the Jewish Passover, justification had to be found. The closer the antitype coincides with the type, the less important the type becomes, so the type argument was applied. Allegorical interpretation in conjunction with types was regarded as the highest form of knowledge in understanding the Scriptures. This was why Apollinaris and Hippolytus accused the Asians of being unable to distinguish type from antitype. This gave these heretical theologians the justification to adhere to their alleged tradition. During the second century, the allegorical approach reflected the free development of “Christianity” and its disengagement from Judaism. The reasoning was that since Christ is the Passover, the Passover celebration no longer concerns Christians (Baur, Vol. 1, p. 177).
The “Epistle of Barnabas” utilized types to reject Sabbath observance. In this work, the author drew a parallel between the seven-day week and God’s 7000-year plan. Then he quoted the text, “Your new moons and your Sabbaths I cannot endure.” He goes on to say, “Ye perceive how He speaks: Your present Sabbaths are not acceptable to me, but that is which I have made, [namely this,] when, giving rest to all things, I shall make a beginning on the eighth day, that is, a beginning of another world. Wherefore, also, we keep the eighth day with joyfulness, the day also on which Jesus rose again from the dead” (Ante-Nicene Christian Library, Vol. 1, pp. 127-128).
The gullible may succumb to such arguments today, as they did in the second and third centuries, but this approach is nothing more than the same old rhetoric employed to justify disobedience to Jesus’ words: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4).
Acceptance by the World
When an early return of Jesus did not take place, second century Christians prepared for a long sojourn. They began to allow a worldly disposition to enter into the Church. Tertullian once wrote that he doubted that any Caesar would ever be converted (Case, p. 81). But this changed in the fourth century when Constantine accepted Christianity and made it the official religion. The Catholic Church, after many years of seeking acceptance, had finally been recognized.
Following the prophetic failure of 1972 and the recognition that the prophetic timetable was in error, the Worldwide Church God also began to shift toward a worldly disposition.
For example, an article that appeared in the Los Angeles Times, dated August 11, 1975, written by Russell Chandler, was entitled “Church Group Looking to Culture to Provide a New Image.” Below are excerpts from the article.
Herbert Armstrong, founder-president of the church [Worldwide Church of God], confided to his ministers that it had been “no little embarrassment” to him to be identified only as the leader of a small church and college. . . .
But why would a small, unorthodox Christian organization like the Worldwide Church of God and Ambassador College, with a record of shunning activities of “the world,” set up a cultural foundation whose sole purpose seems to be to give money to humanitarian charities?
Worldwide Church of God leaders have an official explanation for the public. Additional reasons surface in the church’s publications for its members and ministers.
The AICF’s “statement of purpose,” printed in a lavish promotional brochure for the 1975-76 concert series, stresses simply the foundation’s cultural and humanitarian aspects.
But Herbert Armstrong advised ministers and church workers in the June 3 bulletin of additional rationale behind the foundation and the new magazine.
“One thing has been a serious handicap and caused me and my touring team no little embarrassment,” he said. “We had to say that we represent either Ambassador College or Worldwide Church of God.”
He continued that if he represented a church, this smacked of “religion,” which in turn sparked “prejudice.” And if he represented Ambassador College, then he was asked how big it was and he had to admit it only had some 500 to 700 students on each of two campuses.
“Christ said we must be ‘wise as serpents and harmless as doves,'” he continued.
Old-time members will recall the Ambassador International Cultural Foundation was set up as a front for the college and church in order to make these institutions more acceptable to the world. As a result a number of doctrinal and administrative changes were made to mitigate the effects of church government and make it easier for converts to join. As noted on page four of this work, Robert Kuhn, administrative assistant to Garner Ted Armstrong, admitted to 29 doctrinal and administrative changes. Many members of the Church were not made aware of these changes.
We will recall that Joseph Tkach Jr., wrote of the new sensitivity to the world around us, especially toward other Christians (see pages five and six of this work). He also spoke of the new emphasis on “our Lord’s substitutionary sacrifice.” This is a repeat of what happened in the fourth century. Because of the controversy that arose over the position of the Father and the Son in the Godhead (the Arian controversy), speculation arose regarding the person and dignity of Christ. In proclaiming Jesus to be the Christ, men ceased to proclaim the gospel, and everything depended upon appropriating the Person of Jesus (Harnack, p. 20).
The Worldwide Church of God has taken the same path. The gospel is now regarded as the good news about salvation by God’s grace through faith in Christ and little is now said about the message of the Kingdom of God. The emphasis is that Christ died for our sins, was buried, was raised the third day, and the Kingdom of God has been inaugurated by the saving work of Jesus Christ. Thus, the Kingdom of God is God reigning in the church and in the life of each believer who is submissive to His will. God’s reign is now manifested in the life of each believer.
The doctrinal changes made in 1974 were only the tip of the iceberg. Their pastors assured most members that the only doctrinal changes made involved Pentecost and divorce and remarriage. However, Robert Kuhn’s comment in Christianity Today (April 15, 1977) included many more changes than that. Official changes that were announced included a rejection of the “100-year period”-the Church belief that following the Millennium, the unsaved will be granted a 100-year time period to qualify for God’s Kingdom. Also affected, beside Pentecost and divorce and remarriage, were third tithe, healing, race, British-Israelism, make-up, birthdays, voting, land sabbaths, gambling, and adoption rules. At that time virtually every belief, practice, and Church policy was challenged or questioned by at least some faction of the ministry.
Below is a summary of the beliefs and practices that were questioned at that time. Some of these beliefs and practices were changed; others were not:
Apostolic office and authority-This was one of the first to be challenged. Once Church government could be repudiated, each minister and member was free to interpret the Bible for himself.
Private prayer-This was looked upon as unnecessary. What really mattered was the attitude, and if it was not right, prayer did little good.
Tithing-no longer looked upon as a New Testament requirement. Along with this was the approval of second tithe for Holy Day offerings.
Interracial marriage and marriage to unbelievers-Approved or permitted.
Petra, as a possible place of safety during the Tribulation-Ridiculed on the grounds that it could not accommodate everyone.
The Fear of God-This had been misunderstood by the Church. It was not necessary to fear God but to understand His mercy and compassion.
Sabbath keeping-Had been observed in too strict of a manner. It was now permissible to swim, golf, ski, and watch sports on TV on the Sabbath. The word “pleasure” in Isaiah 58:13 was interpreted to mean work or vocation. There was, therefore, no prohibition against seeking pleasure on the Sabbath.
Worldliness-Challenged on the basis of a lack of definition. It was stated that no one could define worldliness.
Culture-The Church’s idea of culture was the result of a standard forced on the Church by Herbert Armstrong.
Character-What the Church called character was an artificial standard foisted upon the Church by “God’s Apostle.”
Passover-It could be observed either on the 14th or 15th. In the Real Jesus, the author concluded that it should be observed on the 14th, but it was observed on the 15th in the Old Testament.
Long hair and beards on men-Accepted because who is able to define long hair?
Make-up on women-Permitted because the name of one of Job’s daughters meant “horn of cosmetic,” or “horn of paint.”
Prophecies of the last days-Discarded because these days did not happen when the Church thought they would.
Lying-permitted under certain circumstances, as long as “nobody was hurt.”
Birthdays-Approved on the basis that it was wrong to deprive little children of this pleasure.
The Work-became the gospel of “give and get” to the kings of the earth.
Dress and clothing styles-God’s women looked too shabby, so it was necessary to change to the popular styles of the world. This was to prevent embarrassment when around certain influential figures of the world.
Pork-Permissible to eat in the presence of dignitaries, because they might become offended if we did not do so.
Smoking-Permitted, and it was rumored that some high-ranking ministers had never given up the habit.
Holy Days-There was a definite intention to “do away” with them. In a 1975 Conference in the Bay area of northern California, ministers were told by the head of the Church Administration Department, “We are not planning to do away with the holy days yet.”
Law of God-looked upon as being administered in too much of a legalistic manner. From now on the emphasis would be on “grace,” not law.
Christmas Tree-Jeremiah 10:2-5 no longer to be regarded as a reference to it.
Cross-One evangelist wrote an article “proving” that Jesus was crucified on a cross after all, and not on an upright stake as the Church had long believed.
Covenants-There was no relationship between the Old and New Covenants. Consequently, the Law of God has no bearing on Christians today.
Sabbath Schools-Long rejected by the Church as being non-Biblical, they were approved and started on the local level each Sabbath.
Childrearing-Past teaching now viewed as too strict and parents were told not to be so firm with their children. The YOU (youth organization) was organized to entertain the kids, so parents no longer needed to be concerned with entertainment. Major programs were established on the national level.
Ministerial Credentials-It was discussed that they should be issued on a yearly basis.
Ordinations-Although they were still done, ordinations were not based on the fruits produced by each candidate.
Voting-particularly encouraged in Big Sandy, Texas, in order to provide a mayor who was a Church member so a law could be passed to allow the local sale of alcoholic beverages.
Separation from the world-It was decided the Church was not the place for such separation. Rather, the Church should be the place where the gospel is preached to the unconverted. As a result, Church services were opened to the public.
Modesty-With respect to ladies’ clothing styles, it was ridiculed on the pretext that “no one is able to properly define modesty.”
Love of God-Love of God no longer had any connection with obedience to the commandments of God. Obedience not necessary, and God should be viewed as one who grants “total forgiveness.”
Scripture-Applicable only for the time period in which it was written. Therefore, it is permissible to “dissect” the Word of God and to select those portions which best apply to any particular matter.
The Church-Now regarded as including nominal Christians regardless of their affiliation.
Kingdom of God-Questioned with respect to what, where, and when it would take place, that is, present, past, or future.
Human nature-Nothing is really wrong with human nature. It is evil only because men are “tuned into Satan’s wavelength.”
The above statements illustrate what was bandied about in the 70s. Many of them became the present-day beliefs of the Worldwide Church of God. What, then, are a few of the prominent “orthodox” doctrines the Worldwide Church of God now espouses-doctrines that make the Church acceptable to Protestant Christianity? The doctrines listed below are found in the Worldwide Church of God Statement of Beliefs.
The doctrine of the Trinity-God is one divine Being in three eternal, co-essential, yet distinct Persons-Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ, the second Person of the Godhead, was eternally begotten of the Father. The Holy Spirit is regarded as the third Person of the Godhead.
Their belief regarding hell-Hell is the separation and alienation from God chosen by incorrigible sinners, but because the precise nature of the afterlife is not defined in Scripture the Worldwide Church of God does not hold a dogmatic position on whether unrepentant sinners are annihilated in the lake of fire or experience conscious eternal ruin. On the other hand, to be “in heaven” is to live in the presence of God, apart from all pain, sin, and evil. Some passages suggest a conscious intermediate state, and others an unconscious state. The Worldwide Church of God believes both views should be respected.
What is a Christian? A Christian is any person who trusts Jesus Christ, and the new birth takes place through the regeneration of the Holy Spirit. By God’s grace, humanity and the entire cosmos have been redeemed from sin and death through Jesus Christ [Oh, the shades of Origen!].
Eternal security refers to the belief that the elect in Christ, by God’s power and grace, will never lose salvation. Whether a person can fall out of belief is not made absolutely clear in Scripture. God gives salvation, not only for the present life, but also for eternity, to every person who accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.
Regarding the Christian Sabbath, it is life in Jesus Christ, in whom every believer finds true rest. The weekly seventh-day Sabbath was a shadow that prefigured the true Reality.
Sanctification is God’s gracious act of accounting and imparting the righteousness and holiness of Jesus Christ to the believer.
The final act in this entire scenario occurred during the late summer of 2003. The July 31 issue of The Journal reported that the Worldwide Church of God called for members of their congregations worldwide to finally eliminate “Jewish” and “Old Covenant” practices that include observance of the Sabbath, Old Testament dietary laws, annual (as opposed to more-often) observance of the Passover and traditional dates for the yearly autumn festival. Pastor General Joseph Tkach Jr. wrote in an article entitled, “Something Worth Thinking About: Peace At Any Price?” that pastors should cease “seeking peace at any price” with lay members who wish to hold onto certain distinctive doctrines and practices of the church while it was led by its founder, Herbert W. Armstrong. The Journal reported that the article seems designed to ramp up the pressure of the WCG to end Saturday services and the feast days listed in Leviticus 23. Rather, pastors should not “seek peace at any price” with people who want to cling to outdated traditions and laws. It is “incumbent’ for members of the church to leave behind behaviors that imply disapproval of Christian freedom and distract people from the heart of the gospel.
The acceptance of these “orthodox” doctrines has now made the Worldwide Church of God compatible with mainstream Christianity. Much more could be said regarding the falling away and the various groups that have split off. Since most of the groups also accepted the changes that were made in the early 70s, or later changes that were made, it should be apparent that the apostasy was widespread and thorough. When Joseph Tkach, Jr., spoke of the changes of the past ten years, he was not exaggerating when he said other theologians advised him that “profound course corrections” of this magnitude are without historical precedent, at least since the days of the New Testament Church. Yes, indeed. The fact is: The falling away of the Worldwide Church of God was a repetition of what happened to the Church of God during the first few centuries, compacted into roughly 20 years!