In 1974-1975 members of the Worldwide Church of God saw a dramatic change take place in the church’s approach to Bible understanding. Members were now told that truth comes by means of “scholarship,” not by divine revelation. Because the church did not at first have Greek and Hebrew scholars, Mr. Armstrong had to “ferret out” what truths he could. But now truth comes by means of “research,” which has proven that many of our doctrines were wrong. In effect we were told the basis for truth is human rationalization, not divine revelation.
Not only should this concept be seriously questioned, but we need to see how it came about!
What Is Truth?
When Jesus stood before Pilate, He stated, “Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice” (John 18:37).
What was Pilate’s reply?
Pilate said, “What is truth?”
Those who understand the truth of the Bible find this reply to be senseless, but it is not senseless to liberal ideologues. It is a major fact of liberal thought.
Socrates once said one could never know the truth about anything. Briefly, his reasoning was that if one did not know the truth when he started, how could he recognize it when he found it? One fact is certain in Socratic reasoning, as well as that of modern liberals-both discount divine revelation. Specifically, Socrates was addressing the issue: How does one come to a knowledge of the truth?
The Importance of Liberal Thought
The Western World, and especially the United States, has become the citadel of liberal thought. Many leading figures in America have wholeheartedly embraced the tenets of liberalism. Some of these figures include Franklin Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor, Arthur Goldberg, William O. Douglas, Arthur Schlesinger, John Kenneth Galbraith, Drew Pearson, and William Shirer. Almost all areas of public communication, as well as the press, are dominated by liberals.
Liberalism can be accurately defined as the public ideology. The public educational system is its church. Its aim is to allow each individual to be as unrestricted as possible in the opportunity for self-expression and self-fulfillment. As a result, Liberalism is anti-traditional and anti-religious. Reason is its sole authority, with no single individual or committee to give the final word. Its appeal to pragmatism, which can be clearly seen in the labors of William James and John Dewey, was given national prominence under Franklin Roosevelt and the New Deal.
At the heart and core of Liberalism is rationalism. This has a tremendous appeal to human reason. This is why Liberalism has become the popular “doctrine” of the nation. This doctrine is seen not only in economics, sociology, and education, but in religion as well. Liberal thought has had a profound influence on the churches of the land, including the Church of God!
What Are the Basic Tenets of Liberalism?
Liberalism, as a political expression, advocates the belief in progress, the essential goodness of man, the autonomy of the individual, and the protection of political and civil liberties. Its fundamental philosophy rests on four basic beliefs. These can be defined as the ideology of Liberalism. These are: 1) the definition of truth, 2) the nature of man, 3) the universal dialogue, and 4) the problem of guilt.
What Is Truth?
Take the definition of truth. To the liberal, truth is that knowledge which can be discovered or ascertained by science and reason. Truth, therefore, is the consensus of scientific opinion that is embraced by the democratic majority. No permanent truth exists apart from those areas which science has discovered to be unalterable. The Constitution, for example, is viewed as being entirely dependent upon the time and circumstances in which it was written. Belief in divine revelation is regarded as a form of mental derangement. Society should be continually altered in order to conform to present-day needs. Since religious concepts entail man’s search to fulfill his needs for God, as man’s needs change, so should his religion.
The liberal belief regarding the nature of man can be called the heart and core of liberal thought. To the liberal, man does not have a fixed nature; rather, it is plastic and changing. Like all things that evolve, man’s nature has an unlimited potential for positive or progressive development. Nothing inherent in human nature prevents man from achieving Utopia here and now. There are really only two obstacles that prevent man from achieving this goal. They are ignorance and faulty social institutions. Ignorance can be overcome by a universal, rationally oriented educational system, and defective social institutions can be rectified by legislation. Thus, the ills of man can be corrected by man. There is no need in liberal thought for a Superior Being, especially if that Superior Being is in any way inhibiting.
Man’s Ability to Reason
Since the ills of man can be corrected, it is necessary to use reason in order to find solutions. Liberals refer to this aspect of problem solving as the Universal Dialogue, or Dialectics-the use of communication. This is the third major tenet of Liberalism. To a liberal any problem can eventually be solved by means of communication-the motive is to win the opponent to the liberal viewpoint. If not, then at least reach a justifiable compromise. The more erudite and abundant the liberal arguments, the more likely the liberal is to win. This form of dialectics can be termed “logical argumentation.” Repetition, appeal to popularity, and logic and reason are the methods employed to convince the stubborn that the liberal is right and he is wrong.
The Problem of Guilt
The last major tenet of Liberalism is how to solve the problem of guilt. Since most liberal ideologues are either agnostic or atheist, there is not the guilt-release common to Christianity. Christians gain release from guilt through the acceptance of Jesus Christ. Since liberal thought rejects divine revelation, there is no means available to expiate guilt. Without guilt-release the liberal must find a “solution” to the problem. This solution is found by transferring guilt into works. In this case the works are generally social reforms. Who are the people so active in the community, busily engaged in “solving” every problem? Liberals, of course. The real motive behind these social reforms is not to cure the world’s ills but to appease guilt. But guilt cannot be released in this manner, so liberal reforms and programs are endless. This guilt complex and lack of release makes many liberals self-abnegating, often bordering on self-destructiveness. It is as though they would like to see the demise of Western civilization itself. The religious liberal can be included in this scenario. Since he cannot gain release from guilt by means of repentance, he not only attempts to gain it by means of works, but by lowering standards. His view is that religion should be changed to meet the needs of man.
The Church of God Affected?
Far more than realized, the Church of God was adversely affected by liberal thought beginning in the early 1970’s. This became apparent in the college when authorities there began to seek accreditation. The acceptable thing to do was to send certain faculty members to universities where they could obtain more eminent degrees. When these faculty members went to the universities of the world to get this needed education, along with education came the liberal ideology.
And what was the first principle to be affected? The truth about divine revelation!
How Do We Find Spiritual Truth?
Contrary to what Pilate thought, Jesus said there was truth. “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17). Since the Word of God-the sacred Scriptures-constitutes the truth, how is the understanding of that truth revealed? Does it come to us by means of scholarship, or does it come by means of divine revelation?
What the Bible tells us is that the recorded word came to holy men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21). The original autographs were inspired and recorded in Hebrew and Greek, except some portions of the Old Testament which were written in Chaldee. Yet, even with the recorded word, the disciples in the time of Christ could not comprehend what was written. A miracle had to occur before they could understand it (Luke 24:45).
So, what then is revelation? Revelation involves two things: 1) The inspiration of the Holy Spirit to men of old who recorded the sacred word; and 2) the inspiration of the Holy Spirit given to each individual to be able to comprehend the meaning of the word. The fact is: Scholarship is an adjunct and an aid to understanding truth, but it is not the basis for Bible understanding!
Scholars often disagree over many issues. So, if scholarship is the key to biblical understanding, which scholar should we choose? Yet, in 1974-1975 Worldwide Church of God members were told that inspiration and revelation were not substitutes for knowledge and that our basic understanding depends on scholarship (The Bulletin, October 21, 1975). So, the question that should be asked is: If the truth was not revealed to the church in the past, what guarantee do we have that we now possess it? When a doctrinal committee member was asked that question, his reply was, “We have exhausted all avenues of research.”
What was said in 1975 was that the church had been in error for many years on major doctrinal issues, and the basis for the doctrinal changes made at that time was “scholarship.” The following quote illustrates this: “The changes in both instances [divorce and remarriage and make-up] involved questions of scholarship to a considerable degree. The broad basic doctrines of marriage and divorce and modest conduct were not affected. Only a particular aspect of each-an aspect based on technical understanding of certain passages-was changed” (The Bulletin, October 21, 1975). What many failed to ask at that time was, can the repudiation of the doctrine of marriage and divorce be called an aspect?
Rejecting the Holy Spirit
The Worldwide Church of God is now denying that Jesus kept His promise that by means of the Holy Spirit, He would lead His church into truth (John 16:13). When the Pentecost change from Monday to Sunday was contemplated, we were told that “The understanding of the meaning of Pentecost is the result of God’s Spirit, but arriving at the proper date was purely a matter of scholarship” (The Bulletin, October 21, 1975). Most of the members of the Worldwide Church of God and its various splinter groups have never carefully examined the question of the proper day for Pentecost. They have looked at one side of the coin only and have not had all the facts. Does God’s Spirit lead us into truth or does it not? Or does God’s Spirit lead us into half-truths only? Or does it lead us into general truth, but specific truth is the result of scholarship? The fact is: Understanding revelation and inspiration is vital to true Bible knowledge. Much error has been generated by the failure to grasp what God’s Spirit really does in the matter of revelation!
We should all ask this question: If the Worldwide Church of God was in error for over forty years on major doctrinal issues, did God’s Spirit lead the church into error? Not according to Jesus! (John 16:13). Can we rely on the promise Jesus made? Or now must we discard what our Savior said and rely on scholars? What has happened to the Church of God as a result of repudiating God’s Spirit as the source of Bible revelation and understanding? It has gone off into the heretical doctrines of today’s so-called Christianity! It has done in less than 25 years what it took the early New Testament church 300 years to accomplish-the departure from the truth revealed by Christ and the apostles. Faith in the revealed truth has been completely vitiated in the lives of thousands who now are changing their standards to adjust to present-day time and circumstances. Doctrinal changes now advocate self-expression and self-fulfillment. Yes, indeed, “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage” (2 Pet. 2:19).
The Truth About Human Nature
The idea that man has an amazing potential for good, that his reasoning capabilities are practically beyond limit, is not supported by the Bible. Unless man is given spiritual guidelines which define right and wrong, he is destined to go off into despicable error and behavior. The Bible makes plain the truth about human nature. It is not plastic and changing with an unlimited potential for good. Human nature is essentially evil (Mark 7:20-23, Rom. 7:18, 24, Jer. 13:22-23) and it is not ameliorating (2 Tim. 3:13, Jer. 7:23-26). But, what were we told by the leadership of the Worldwide Church of God? We were told that human nature is “not all that bad,” and that it is normal for church members to get into terrible attitudes and frames of mind, to go to places they should not go, and to say and do things they should neither say nor do. The trend set at that time was to loosen the standards and requirements for conduct. Worldliness had become the acceptable thing. There is no longer any authority to keep the church clean spiritually and morally. Allowance was made for indiscretion and sin. One of the top leaders in the church stated that he would not remove any minister for adultery because that minister would have already suffered enough for his sin.
Those ministers who knew and saw what was happening to the church and yet remained in the ministry did so for financial reasons. They reasoned that what was taking place did not affect them personally. They had forgotten what the Bible says about corruption. “Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” (1 Cor. 5:6). “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit” (Matt. 7:18). Those who thought that what was taking place in the church and in the ministry would not affect them have had much sorrow as a result.
The Universal Dialogue
The use of dialectics-logical argumentation-was employed to change church doctrine. Under the guise of “scholarship” major church doctrines were repudiated and new doctrines formulated. The old was done away in favor of the new. But they were not really new. They were doctrines that had been accepted by nominal Christianity for hundreds of years. This “scholarly” approach appealed to the unwary.
Notice the following:
God has ‘bound’ upon mankind in general the institution of marriage as a permanent, inviolate, relationship between two people (Matt. 19:6). In the sense that God created the institution and set the precedent with Adam and Eve He ‘binds’ all marriages. He expects all marriages to be for life-but He recognizes man’s inherent weaknesses and allows divorce for certain reasons and forgives other divorces which took place for illegitimate reasons (letter from C. Wayne Cole, September 2, 1975).
What does the above paragraph say? Contrary to what Jesus said (Matt. 19:9), it says God does not permanently bind any marriage!
Divorce and remarriage now have a wide open door. This same kind of double-talk became apparent in all the doctrinal changes that took place beginning in 1974-1975.
The Problem of Guilt
In the liberal framework, guilt is transferred into social programs. In the Worldwide Church of God this guilt was transferred into all kinds of new activities “in the Work.” Some very influential individuals in the Worldwide Church of God suffered seriously from feelings of guilt. They had good reason to. After 1972 there was a gigantic flurry to accomplish more “in the Work.” Church services were made public, local Bible studies solicited co-workers who previously were not invited, ministers were told to advertise and become “involved in the community.” All kinds of activities began to take place. Competitive sports on a grand scale were introduced. There were contests for cheerleaders. There were talent shows. Teenagers became the center of interest. Sabbath schools were started for the youngsters. Spokesman’s Clubs were set up for the ladies. Members had become sidetracked from the real goal and purpose of the church into a social orientation. Funds were diverted from preaching the gospel into social programs of one type or another. Thousands “let up” on the struggle to overcome the pulls of human nature and to master the self. Rather, their energies were diverted into all kinds of physical projects. They drifted into many worldly customs and practices they would have abhorred a few years earlier.
Have You Been Affected?
The Worldwide Church of God is now a liberal church. It has lost its true sense of direction and purpose. “Watering down” has eroded the spiritual fiber of every individual. Those with any integrity left the organization long ago. Those who lost their love for the truth have accepted every doctrinal change made down to this day. As far as truth is concerned, they have become indifferent. What is important is to be part of the organization. They have failed to realize what Christ said in the book of Revelation, “I have somewhat against thee.” When a prominent member of the doctrinal committee was asked to explain Matthew 19:9, “And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery,” his answer was, “That scripture is too vague to prove anything.” Among the splinter groups, the changes made in the mid-1970’s continue to be observed. Have they been affected? Far more than what is realized! “Your glorying is not good. Know ye not that a little leaven leaveneth the whole lump?” (1 Cor. 5:6). “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed” (Rom. 13:11).
Those with eyes to see and ears to hear had better heed. Jesus said we must love the truth more than the praise of men. “Make no mistake about this: ‘bad company is the ruin of good character.’ Regain your sober senses and avoid sin, for some of you-and I say this to your shame-some of you are insensible to God” (1 Cor. 15:33-34, Moffatt).
May God give you the courage to seek the truth and to abide by it forever!