Servants' News

Sept/Oct 1998

Letters and Responses

We print a representative sampling of our mail—both positive and negative. We do not include names unless we are fairly sure that the writer would not object. To avoid any difficulty, writers should specify how much of their name and address they would like us to print.

We include our response to each letter in this type-style. We have selected a title for each letter for easy reference. If writers supply their own title, we will be happy to use it.

 

COG Splits Want Market Share

Letter: September 30, 1998

Dear Norm,

Thank you for your work. I find it encouraging. As one with a short history as a "Sabbath-and-Holy-Days-observant Christian", and no history in the WCG as a member, I find the squabbling and competitiveness of these various WCG off-shoots appalling. Don’t these people understand that they have a common purpose?

I see a lot of concern over "market share"; former WCG members being the "market". If cooperation and brotherly love replaces competitiveness, I believe the splits of the recent past and those to come may eventually be recognized as multiplication rather than splintering. After all, what one organization of people can cross all the cultural and other barriers that characterize our world? May God bless and guide all our efforts.

— Larry Little, California

Response: Much insight, Larry! The COG split-off groups are going after the "market" of the former WCG members. The main way they do this is by claiming that they are the rightful heirs of the WCG’s or of Herbert Armstrong’s teachings. Some groups pick out a particular era (60’s, 70’s, 80’s or 90’s) and claim that was the best time, and they are faithful to those truths. Many groups make changes to WCG and Armstrong teachings, but are very careful to "prove" that their changes are biblical—that they are additional truth revealed from God. Unfortunately, group ‘A’ will often point to a change made by group ‘B’ and say "see, group ‘B’ has departed from the truth taught by Mr. Armstrong", without even any discussion at all of the biblical merits for the change made by group ‘B’.

Paid ministers leaving the WCG are often told that they will be hired by a split-off group only if they bring a significant tithe-paying congregation with them. The ministers often work overtime, saying whatever they have to say in order to get members into their group. Members, having been "burned" by the WCG, are now much more likely to attempt to verify if a minister is giving them accurate information. When they find that they are being led to or manipulated to increase some group’s "market share", they often become disillusioned and drop out of all groups.

The net effect of all these WCG split-off groups "seeking after market share" has been to greatly reduce the size of the market.

What the splinter groups should be doing is "going after a new market"—seeking to preach the Gospel to new people, whomever they are most suited to reach. If individuals would look to the Eternal to serve Him in the way that He has spiritually gifted them, He would use them. There is probably a need for some to print booklets, some to publish magazines, some to make TV broadcasts, etc. There is also a great need for much to be done on a local level—and there are thousands of "30-year experienced" brethren to do it. There may not be big salaries available to do any of this—but Jesus never promised that His followers would be wealthy.

The warning in Matthew 24:44-51 is inescapable. Brethren who are feeding (teaching truth to) others will be rewarded at Christ’s coming. Brethren who are fighting with each other will be punished.

— NSE

 

Will UCG Teach UCG Doctrine?

Letter:

The following was contained in Les McCullough’s recent letter to the ministry:

"In addition, we plan to print another four to six booklets before April 1. The working titles are: What Happened to the Church Jesus Built?; How to Understand Bible Prophecy; Are We Living in the End Time?; America and Britain in Prophecy (or perhaps, Where Are The Israelites?); and Holidays or Holy Days, Which Should We Keep?"

Many of us still find it tragic that some within our midst do not believe in many of these truths and have come into the UCG on the misunderstanding that we have accepted all of the Tkachian changes except we still keep the Sabbath (they do not believe it is sunset to sunset or that it is a Sign).

For ministers and their close friends in UCG (who go around on the minister’s behalf) causing immense division and driving out 1/2 of their local church (which they do not go out to seek after) to accept Tkachism is beyond belief. They refuse to uphold the doctrines of UCG and give us the most sloppy and neo-protestant ‘sermons’ you can possibly imagine.

When will they just leave us alone and go back to where they belong?

— UCG Member, Australia

Response: If ministers are paid by a church organization that disseminates its doctrines from headquarters, they should be willing to preach what that organization pays them to preach. Ideally, organizations should allow ministers to disagree and provide a forum for airing different scriptural understandings of a particular doctrine. This would allow everyone to learn and grow.

Leaders usually say that they do not want an open doctrinal forum because it would confuse everybody. But the current situation where people preach a variety of things for no apparent reason is even more confusing. What usually happens is local ministers say nothing about doctrines they disagree with, so it is impossible for others to tell if the minister just "doesn’t like" the doctrine or if he really has a Bible-based reason for disagreeing with headquarter’s teaching. In many cases, it seems that ministers are simply preaching what their congregation wants to hear or they are afraid to acknowledge that they preached some error while in the WCG and do not want to reverse themselves on anything that they taught while in the WCG.

We all need to realize that the Eternal judges our hearts (Jer 11:20), that He knows exactly why we do what we do, and that we are accountable for it (Matt 12:36, 2Cor 5:10).

— NSE

 

Rapid City Feast Comments

Letter: October 20, 1998

Dear Mr. Edwards,

Thank you so much for your major contributions to the Feast in Rapid City [interactive studies and sermons were conducted from Gatlinburg via teleconference, see article on page 9]. Our Father in heaven is wonderful, and He did a great job bringing everything together for us, as I’m sure He did for many others.

[personal paragraphs deleted]

After the first day we were blessed with practically perfect weather for the remainder of the Feast and even a few days after. We were also blessed with a fine piano (keyboard) player and wonderful special music.

It turned out to be a far better Feast than I ever imagined six months ago. In spite of certain published comments, there can be no doubt God’s Spirit was in Rapid City for the Feast. I believe it was His hand that caused it to happen in the first place. I certainly didn’t plan anything like this to start with. I think maybe some of us grew a little in faith and began to grow up in our wonderful elder brother, Y’shua.

Thank you.

— Bill Buckman, South Dakota

Response: It was enjoyable to work with you and the others at your Feast. Thank you for helping us to prove the technology that we hope to use to help others.

— NSE

 

Government Paper is Needed

Letter: October 14, 1998

Dear Norman Edwards,

Please continue sending me the Servants’ News. They are a good part of my education and I really do appreciate them!

The issue that had How Does God Govern Through Humans? was and is needed to be read by all the saints. I think some things should be required reading, so thank you for all the time and work you put into that article.

[Personal paragraph deleted.]

Thank you again for all your time and work; it is very much appreciated.

— ML, West Virginia

Response: Thank you for your encouragement! We hope that our readers will make copies of the paper and give it to those who might read it and be helped by it. We think this is a much better way of sharing it. We do not try so send it to people whom we know little or nothing about.

— NSE

 

New Splits Are Copies of Old WCG

Letter: October 14, 1998

Dear Mr. Edwards,

I am writing to inform you that I would still like to continue to receive the Servants’ News each month. I haven’t noticed that it is becoming a very informative newsletter containing all kinds of interesting information. Yet, when I saw the notification that I received the last SN, I thought on it deeply and then realized that it does indeed mean that much to me. I have also noted that other readers of your publication are in the same exact predicament as me, (nowhere left to go after leaving the various COG groups).

I have been out of both WCG and later CGI for nearly ten years (too long to be away), but unfortunately, I have discovered that the new splinter groups are no more than a carbon copy of the WCG I left years ago. (Too much authority-conscious in the ministry.) I believe God wants His flock to be more active in demonstrating their lights to the world, and not sit back and wait until it’s too late!

Yes, I need this publication! Keep me on the subscribers list, please!

Thank you very much for this opportunity!

— Herbert Kimmel, Illinois

Response: We will gladly keep sending you Servants’ News for as long as you want it. If we have not heard from someone in any way for over a year, we ask them if they still want it. We have no way to tell the difference between someone who is reading every issue and someone who was just curious and after an issue or two never opens the envelope.

— NSE

 

Association for Christian Development

Letter: November 2, 1998

Dear Servants News,

I am writing with a recommendation and a request. On the back page of your newsletter you have a listing of literature resources. I would like to suggest that you offer The New Millennium magazine, available from The Association for Christian Development, P.O. Box 8058, Federal Way, WA 98003. I believe this magazine would most appropriately be listed in the Mature Literature section.

Being a 25 years+ veteran of the Churches of God traditions, I find this publication to be consistently inspiring, thought provoking, and motivating in the Christian walk. Thank you for your consideration of this request.

— Jo Beth Vines, Stevensville, Montana

Response: Your idea is a good one. I am sending a letter to Ken Westby of the Association for Christian Development and asking him to send some copies for us to give away. From the issues of the magazine I have seen, it covers news, biblical history, and Christian living subjects.

I met Ken Westby at the Seattle Friends of the Sabbath conference. As I understand it, he left the WCG in the 70’s because of error and injustice there. He has supported his family through his own job, and has served quite a few brethren for all of these years. He does not make grandiose claims about himself or the work he is doing, but has been encouraging and accepting of other groups even though they may understand some doctrines differently.

— NSE

 

Planning to Begin Local Evangelism

Letter: October 31, 1998

Hi, Norman, how are you?

I’m glad I had a chance to meet you and your wife and speak with ya’ll a little bit in Gatlinburg. It was quite a rush to find folks that I could not only speak with regarding topics like gov’t & authority & tithing & individually preaching the gospel, etc., but also be of like mind on these issues. I’m really pumped up with enthusiasm now that I don’t feel that I have to first convince people about my perspective before I can discuss ideas for personal evangelism.

I received a package with the last two SN’s and the GOVHUM03 as well as the Lit/List and I want to make an order for some of the literature that you offer. Also, Norman, I am considering giving some public Bible studies as well as starting something like the trucker’s study group mentioned in SN, so I would like recommendations/pointers/tips about procedures (from you or others who are doing the same thing) as well as some multiple copies of basic stuff. I think it would help to have numerous copies of different groups’ order forms, and enough hard copies to fill a table. Also, might I recommend that you pull together a literature list that is truth focused (we should do X, we shouldn’t do Y) but that doesn’t include the "Why WCG/HWA/(name your group) is/was wrong" sort of stuff. This sort of in-fighting material could easily give new folks a bad impression.

I’m working on a couple of different articles right now and I will try to get something to you as soon as I can. I also wrote a poem a couple of days ago, and after I play with it a little longer I’ll send it to you.

[long literature order deleted]

I know that this is an obnoxiously large order, but I do read all of this stuff and I feel like I need to do a little catching up on what people are thinking before I start writing stuff that’s about as interesting as yesterday’s news. A lot of the conclusions that I had come to in my own study that I thought were unique, (and they were, in Global, I guess) I found peppered (salted?) throughout your Tithing, Sabbath, and Gov’t articles. I want to avoid unnecessary redundancy, especially if there is an article out there that says what I was going to say more fully and completely.

— Thanks, David Bankson, Alabama

Response: Your letter is very encouraging. We have talked with quite a few other people who have come to a very similar understanding. They accept the Sabbath, Holy Days, clean meats, British Israelism, multiple resurrections, the ten commandments, the avoidance of non-Biblical holidays, rejection of the Trinity, and many other doctrines held by most Church of God groups. But they have also come to see that the doctrines of Church Government, Tithing, and other issues are simply not taught by the scripture. Many have also come to realize that the WCG rejected some truths that are understood by people with Bible-believing Jewish or Christian background. If we read the stories of Biblical characters, or if we read about the various churches in Revelation 2 and 3, we see that truth almost always comes mixed with error and good mixed with bad. Yet the Eternal calls many of them "His people" or "His church".

Some have suggested to us that since we have studied other groups so much that we should write our own doctrinal statement and start a group that has "the most truth". I think this is humanly impossible because we cannot possibly study any where near everything that everyone else has studied. Some people have written entire books on the meaning of just a few verses in the Bible. We will never learn it all. The scriptures do indicate, though, that we should go on learning. However, we will be judged by what we do with what we know, more than we will be judged by what we know (Matt 12:36-37; 19:16-22,29; chpt 25; Luke 10:13-16; 10:25-37; 12:1-3; 12:47-48; 19:12-26; Rom 2:2-16; 1Cor 3:10-15; 6:9-10; 2Cor 5:10; Gal 5:19-21 { The word "heresies" in the KJV is much better translated "factions" in most modern translations—this is not referring to "doctrine"} ; Eph 5:3-5; Rev 20:12-13; 21:7-8; 22:14-15). I started writing all of the scriptures I could find about this and the list became rather long! It will make a good article in the future.

Obviously, I am happy that you are interested in beginning a Bible Study like the trucker’s Bible study. I think most Sabbatarians need to live and teach what they already know more than they need to strive to learn more. We plan to make a literature list oriented for readers of Shelter in the Word. It will contain only Basic literature and Shelter in the Word articles. It may be a month or two before we have it ready. We mailed all of the literature that you ordered today.

— NSE

 

Baptism Request, Southern Florida

Letter: October 24, 1998

I think you are doing a great job and pray for our Lord to bless you and to keep you in health. Request for renew of literature for myself and also a new subscription for my son, Tom. Please send him items on holidays, Sabbath, baptism in form of back issues as well as your most recent too. Our addresses are: [addresses deleted].

Tom will be released from prison on February 10, 1999 and wants to be baptized after release. Since we are in a remote area with no known person around to perform this event, would you have any suggestions. I am/was a member of Global up to June of 1997 and don’t have transportation or any way to get to Tampa. Thanks for your help in this matter. Please send answer to me soon.

Quotable Quote in The New Yorker: "The family is the essential presence—the thing that never leaves you, even if you find you have to leave it".

— Melbourne, Florida

Response: We will continue your subscription and send your son this year’s back issues. We are happy to hear that your son would like to be baptized. The scripture does not give qualifications as to who can and cannot baptize. The large numbers of people who were baptized in the early chapters of Acts strongly imply that many of the believers baptized each other—it would have been extremely difficult for only the twelve apostles to baptize all of those people. Philip was chosen to help serve tables in Acts 6, but he baptized the Ethiopian in Acts 8.

Herbert Armstrong and the WCG made a big fuss in their latter years about who "was authorized" to baptize people and "lay on hands"—especially for ordination. Never theless, Herbert Armstrong was baptized by a Baptist minister, and was later ordained by a room full of "lay-members". In the four baptisms that I have participated in, one or two people accompanied the person being baptized into the water, and afterward as many believers as cared to, stood around and laid hands on him or her.

What stops overzealous brethren from baptizing people who are not ready? The same thing that stops overzealous ministers from baptizing people just to keep their membership list up. Either the Eternal stops them, or nobody does. People must be taught that baptism is their expression of commitment to the Eternal and His way. The "status" of the baptizer means nothing. If the person has not repented and sought Christ, the baptism is of little meaning—even if done by the head of a church group.

If your son is ready now, I do not know of a reason to wait until he is out of prison. Prisons usually have a chaplain who can arrange for religious requests such as these. People who are converted need other believers with which to fellowship, even if they live some distance away. It is good if these people can attend and/or perform the baptism. I hope that you know some long-time believers that live near your son who would be willing to go and baptise him, and to be available to either write, call, or visit afterward. If you do not know anyone, maybe someone who is willing to help will read this letter and contact Servants’ News. If they contact us, we will put them in touch with you. After all, if we, as believers, cannot baptize and fellowship with those who are requesting such, what business do we have in planning any kind of evangelism?

— NSE

Sacred Names, New Moons Answer 2

In a previous issue (July 1998, page 12), Rina Burch wrote a letter titled "Keep Sacred Names and New Moons" to the entire Servants’ News staff. Norman Edwards responded to it, but another Servants’ News associate editor also submitted a response:

Having been born, raised and lived my 60+ years in the United States of America, I learned and speak the American English language. My first Bible was an "Old English" translation, i.e. King James Version or Authorized Version. The words God, Father, Son, Jesus, Christ, Messiah, and all others were written per the King’s English of the 1600’s. Therefore I use the names God and Jesus, because it is in my native tongue.

In Acts 2:6 the people heard the messages in their native languages. I have found nothing in the Bible that condemns a person for using names of their native language. God confounded the language for a purpose, see Gen 11:1-9, especially vs 7.

Correct me if I am wrong; but, don’t judge me. Only God can judge me. I have not seen proof of "Sacred Names" usage in the Bible. I do not take God’s name in vain. Show me why you believe I should be condemned. Maybe I have missed something in the translation, but I will continue to talk to God and about God in my own language.

I am not being judgmental of other people’s usage, and I expect them to not judge me by my understanding of God’s words. In the beginning God spoke with Adam and Eve. Did He speak "English" as we read our Bible today? No. Did He speak Hebrew? I doubt it. Does He expect us to know His language? I think not. If so, He would have to provide us with it. He has chosen not to do that yet. Even the Old Testament is in Hebrew, not the original language of Genesis. Language has evolved since the beginning of time.

Although I am not a contributor to SN, I do follow most of the same doctrines as espoused by the editors. As a proof reader I do put in my two cents’ worth occasionally regarding good grammar. However, I do not feel the need to attempt to change anyone else’s beliefs.

— Anne Wibbelsmann

 

Believes in God of Entire Bible

Letter: October 18, 1998:

Thanks for the back issues. I profess no religion, only the one true faith that is revealed in the scriptures of both the Old and New Testaments. I believe in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I also believe that God is, as He says He is, the same yesterday, today and tomorrow. Christianity and Judaism both witness to the one and only eternal God, but they have both been clouded by man-made doctrine and prejudices that have clouded their vision.

The true faith lies in between. I guess, if I felt it necessary to have a title, which I don’t, you could call me a First Century Christian or a Messianic Jew, whichever title one would prefer. We are living in exciting times and things are happening so rapidly that there may be a good chance that we will see the reconciliation of the House of Israel (Ephraim) with the House of Judah. United once again, the tribes of Israel will serve one king, Jahshua (Yeshua), the only begotten son of YHWY, who is YHWY. Does all of this make sense? If not, I will be overjoyed to elaborate, for I love to share my faith in Yahshua with anyone and everyone and I love YHWY’s holy words.

Shalom,

— Larry

Response: When we receive new subscribers via e-mail, it only takes a few seconds to send them back a message asking about their religious background. Most who reply to our question say that they are former members of the Worldwide Church of God and now a member of some other church or fellowship. But there are also a number of responses such as yours which show a simple personal devotion to studying the scriptures and doing what you understand from them. We will print your letter because we hope that all of our readers can learn to be comfortable around people who are striving for the same goal, but have a different background of Bible learning and fellowship.

— NSE

 

Book by James Tabor

Letter: October 8. 1998

Dear Mr. Edwards,

First I want to say please continue sending me Servants’ News. I always read it back to the green page.

The reason I am writing is to ask if you have read Restoring Abrahamic Faith by Dr. James D. Tabor? The book is out of print but I have several copies. Dr. Tabor is a Professor of Religious Studies at North Carolina University and you often can see his name in Biblical Archaeological Review.

It is a little over 100 pages long and is an easy read. I read a lot of stuff every week, but I think that this book is one of the most important books I’ve read.

If you haven’t read it, and wish to, I can loan you a copy if you don’t forget to send it back when you finish. I respect your Biblical scholarship and I am interested in your opinion. You can call [number removed], write or FAX [number removed].

Favor and peace to all who seek YAHWEH’s truth.

— Nick Pecoraro, Florida

Response: I have read most of the book. I have spoken with James Tabor once and exchanged numerous e-mails with him. I believe he is a sincere, honest, and extremely gifted man. He is in the process of producing a new Bible translation, The Original Bible Project, which may become the best Bible for an English-speaking person to study the meaning of the original languages (though still not perfect). I have read samples of the translation, and he seems to be doing a good job of translating the Hebrew and Greek text, even when its meaning seems to disagree with his theology.

Restoring Abrahamic Faith (Tabor’s book that you mentioned) places a great emphasis on studying and living by the Old Testament. It says that individuals must repent of their sins and turn to the Eternal (YHVH) and his law. It effectively shows how some of the prophecies that Christians typically apply to Jesus do not fit their literal interpretation. (This does not conflict with the New Testament as the NT makes clear that people in the first century were unable to understand Jesus’ mission from the OTscriptures. The disciples were constantly looking for someone to set up a literal kingdom, and Jesus constantly had to tell them otherwise.)

Tabor points out much of the false doctrines and evil that makes up most of Catholicism and other mainstream Christian religions. He rejects it and I do, too. He also rejects the error and evil that is found in much of Jewish history and tradition.

I disagree with Tabor in that he does not believe that the New Testament is of itself an inspired message. If he finds anything in it that appears to conflict with the Old Testament, or just "does not make sense", he does not believe it is accurate. Here are some quotes from Tabor with my response:

Tabor, page 80: "Most of these ten references to the Servant in Isaiah clearly refer to the people of Israel personified as YHVH’s instrument or agent for bringing Torah to the nations".

To my knowledge of history, the Jews have never taken Torah to the nations. The world is knowledgeable of the Old Testament primarily because of small Christian groups (not usually the big organized churches) that printed Bibles and placed them throughout the world. I believe that most of the people who have done this are primarily descendants of the "lost 10 tribes of Israel", but these Bibles were not sent in the name of Israel, but in the name of Jesus and his Church, or assembly of believers.

Tabor, page 86: "Yeshua taught the same Way of Salvation as that found in Torah and Prophets—heartfelt repentance of sins, turning directly to YHVH God in faith, forgiveness and salvation through His grace, and obedience to all the commandments of Torah (Matthew 5:17-20; Luke 18:9-4)....Text and traditions which go beyond or contradict these fundamental doctrines must simply be rejected. If we do not find our doctrines clearly set forth in Torah and Prophets, then we are on shaky ground indeed."

The above point is in conflict with many parts of the New Testament. Jesus the Christ clearly taught that He came to reveal new knowledge and that He was the sacrifice for our salvation. (Matt 10:32-33; 11:27; 16:16-17; 19:21; 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-24; Luke 2:28-32; 22:19-20; John 3:13-16; 6:51; 10:7; 14:6; Rev 5:8-9). Mr. Tabor would also agree that it is not possible to live by "all the commandments of Torah" today because many are possible only when there is a functioning temple and priesthood.

Tabor, page 87: Yeshua [Jesus] likely anticipated the dire times in which he lived, based on the prophecies of Daniel (Luke 13:2-11; 32-35; 19:41-44; 21:10-28; 23:27-31). He mistakenly thought that his generation would usher in the Kingdom of God and he gave his life as an offering for "the many" according to his understanding of Isaiah 52:13-53:10 (see Luke 21:29-32).

I am not sure why Tabor believes that Yeshua [Jesus] thought the Kingdom would return soon when there are whole sections of scripture where He tries to convince the disciples that it will come much later (Matt 24: Mark 13; Luke 17:20-24; 19:11-27; 21; Acts 1:6-8). Tabor both believes that the New Testament is not accurate and believes that Yeshua was a man who was confused about his mission. In other words, Tabor’s view is that we cannot believe that any specific story or chapter of the New Testament is true, and even if we had some way to prove that it was all true, we could not trust that Yeshua’s statements represented the will of the Eternal.

Tabor, page 91: "Likewise, Ezekiel writes that the Messianic Prince, in the millennial Kingdom of God, will serve with his sons in the Temple (Ezekiel 46:16-18). The early Christian traditions, now preserved in some of the apocryphal Gospels, that Yeshua married Miriam (Mary) of Magdalene and had children by her were likely suppressed by the Roman church which insisted that both Yeshua and his mother be sexless and celibate for life."

The above shows that Tabor sometimes gives as much weight to apocryphal books as he does to the New Testament, and blames the "Roman Church" for altering the record to produce a celibate Jesus and Mary. If the "Roman Church" was able to do this, why did they leave the job half done and not change the other scriptures that mention the physical brothers of Jesus? (Matt 12:46; 13:55; 27:56; Mark 15:40,47; 16:1; Luke 24:10; John 19:25.) I believe that the Roman Church eventually rose to power and did a lot of evil, but the writings of the early "church fathers", 2nd, 3rd, and 4th centuries do not show a single, centralized Roman church. It took some time for the Bishop of Rome to establish himself as "first among equals".

The idea that all NT manuscripts were dramatically altered does not fit the records of the earliest manuscripts we have. The significant content of all of these manuscripts is at least 95% in agreement. Manuscripts have been found throughout the Mediterranean world and there are none that have whole sections of books altered. Furthermore, the writings of the Church fathers, from the 2nd to 4th centuries frequently quote the New Testament books and argue about what they mean, but they virtually never argue about what the text should be! If the text was being greatly revised during this time, we would expect much argument, but there is almost none! Finally, I know of no writings—Jewish, Roman, or other—from the first few centuries that claim that Jesus, the apostles, or the New Testament books were frauds. If this was the greatest hoax of all time, why would enemies of the Christians bother to argue against their beliefs when they could just expose the hoax and be done with it?

How can I give any credit to Tabor’s work when he holds this view of the New Testament? Because his work seems very much unbiased. He is not a member of a church organization and does not alter his work to please any. His goal seems to try to make the reality of historical record that the Eternal has left for us clear to others. Tabor does not say people who do believe in Jesus as savior will be condemned. But he points out that the scripture gives almost no indication that any OT figures expected a Messiah to die for their sins. Yet, they are listed as righteous in the NT (Heb 11). Many Christians have never thought of this. Also, the "sheep" in Matt 25:31-46 do not seem to have any concept of Jesus as Savior either, yet they are given eternal life. Exactly how does that work? I am not exactly sure and will not speculate here.

But I believe the New Testament message is valid, and I have experienced Christ powerfully at work in my life. All of us who have received and believed the message of Christ, and experienced His miraculous power are responsible for living by it! We have enough real problems and enemies without trying to condemn people like Mr Tabor who are striving to know the same Creator and to live by the same law that Jesus lived by—a law that was indeed "glorious" (2Cor 3:11).

— NSE

 

Hierarchy Perpetuates Wealth, Power

Letter: September 2, 1998

Dear Norman,

Thank you so much for the latest issue of Servants’ News and most especially for updating and expanding the thesis "How Does the Eternal Govern Through Humans". I have told many friends about this new publication and feel that it is a much-needed and valuable document—not just for ex-WCOG people, but for all who participate in organized religion.

I’m reading the article for a second time now and I have two small points to make concerning church "leaders". As you point out repeatedly, that Christ is the head of the church and it’s only truly authorized leader. Allowing any person or organization to come between a follower of the Christ and Jesus (Yashua) quickly becomes idolatry. It would appear from the history of the church in general and, more recently, the history of the Armstrong organization demonstrates that this leads to dissension and continuous splits in church organizations.

First, on page 27, you quote scriptures from Ephesians and Corinthians and follow these verses with this comment: "These verses leave no doubt that Christ is the Head, and the apostles and the prophets are the principal leaders of the church." (italics on "are" added). A closer reading of those scriptures shows in all cases, Paul is speaking in the "past", "present perfect" or "past perfect" tense rather then present tense. This simply means that the action taking place has already occurred and does not indicate occurrence in the present time. Jesus indeed gave some to be apostles; the (household of God) was indeed founded on "the apostles and the prophets" (who gave us today’s scriptures—new and old Testaments, respectively); and God did indeed appoint apostles, prophets, teachers, miracles etc. among the "charter" members of the church.

None of these scriptures demonstrate that such are the "leaders" of the church today. Notwithstanding that God may indeed inspire prophets, teachers, evangelists, etc. in His church today and may even give them direct revelation, none of these is set apart to be our "leaders".

Response: I must disagree with you. Paul told the Corinthians to "earnestly desire the best gifts" (1Cor 12:31). Also, "brethren, desire earnestly to prophesy, and do not forbid to speak with tongues" (1Cor 14:39). These are in the present tense. These gifts are still to be desired and received. The only instructions we have on the functioning of the body of Christ are in these letters of Paul. There are none on how to handle an assembly "without any gifts".

Letter: As Jesus so often pointed out, the "greatest" in His church are the "least": that is, they are the real, honest-to-goodness servants of His people. They do whatever they can to exhort, teach, help and otherwise assist their fellow servants in following God’s plan. They clearly do not "exercise authority" over their fellow servants. (Matthew 20:25-28).

This is a unique thing about God’s church—the only authority to be exercised over its members is that of its Head, the Christ.

"Verse 13 No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon. 14 And the Pharisees also, who were covetous, heard all these things: and they derided him. 15 And He said unto them, Ye are they which justify yourselves before men: but God knoweth your hearts: for that which is highly esteemed among men is abomination in the sight of God." (Luke16:13-15) When you select yourself a "king" by agreeing to let a "minister" have authority over you, you will be trying to serve two masters—Jesus Christ and the "minister"! What is "that which is highly esteemed among men"? Wealth and power are the things "highly esteemed" by men! Wealth and power are what make up "mammon"! (mammon—Greek mammonas—"treasure, or riches where it is personified and opposed to God") Why is wealth and power "mammon"? How does one obtain wealth and power? By setting up a hierarchical system which allows the ruler and his minions (pastor general and his "ministers") to have power over and to take money from all those people under them! This hierarchical system is an abomination to God because the person at the top is an idol.

Leaders don’t need to be "selected": they will demonstrate by their actions that they are suitable to "imitate" in their desire to serve others—not exercise dominion.

Response: I largely agree with you here. The modern approach tends to be to find someone with a nice suit, deep voice, and firm handshake (or someone who has been to the right religious school), "ordain" them to be a minister, and then give them "authority" over people. Men who are "full-time" ministers usually want to know exactly what they will be paid before they begin serving. This is completely opposite to Paul’s approach, who taught that it was acceptable to receive money for preaching the Gospel, but chose to support himself in some cases in order not to cause offense. The scriptural approach to recognizing the Eternal’s leaders is to see them doing what needs to be done (a "test"), then to recognize them as leaders. "But let these also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons [servants], being found blameless" (1Tim 3:10). Each believer must ultimately decide which leaders he or she will work with. Some brethren were commended by Christ for finding that men claiming to be apostles were liars (Rev 2:2).

Letter: Second, you make a common mistake and one that was taught by hierarchical ministers and one used as a chief Bible source for the authority of church "leaders" in the WCOG. That is the misunderstanding of Hebrews 13:17 "Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you."

Paul (or the writer of Hebrews) has already given his admonition as to how to treat the "leaders" in the church: "Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of their conversation." (Hebrews 13:7) When you quote this verse, you correctly point out that proistemi ("rule"-KJV) ("are over you"-NIV) does not indicate any legal authority nor indicate the exercise of dominion over others. It means to "manage" or "oversee" and (again, as you indicated) is more like the idea of managing one’s family than running an organization.

The 17th verse is an admonition having to do with getting along with civil authorities rather than church leaders and is a good indication that Hebrews was written by Paul because it echoes closely his admonitions to the church in Rome as given in Romans 13:1-8.

Response: It may be possible that Hebrews 13:7 is about civil authorities, but I find few reasons why it could be and several reasons why it probably is not. First, the entire chapter is about one’s relationship to the Eternal and brethren—the author is still talking about leaders in the congregation in verse 24. Second, the Greek word for "those who rule over you" in Hebrews 13:7 is hegeomai, whereas Paul used the Greek exousia for "authorities" in Romans 13:1 Third, worldly rulers do not watch out for the lives of those they rule and "give account" to God, they exercise dominion over them (Mark 10:42). Finally, Paul is concerned that these rulers will have "joy" and not "grief" in their ruling. That makes sense if they were fellow believers, but civil leaders rarely ever grieve if they are disobeyed, they simply invoke some kind of punishment.

Letter: We should give proper respect and honor to those who teach us; to those who carry God’s word to the unconverted; to those who demonstrate God’s "gifts of the Spirit". Certainly we should not allow anyone to exercise dominion over us and especially not to allow anyone to come between us and our Lord and our God.

"But Jesus called them unto him, and said, ye know that the princes of the Gentiles exercise dominion over them, and they who are great exercise authority upon them. But it shall not be so among you:…" (Matt 20:25-26).

These may seem like small points. From the very beginning (3Jn 9), the grief and sorrow that have afflicted God’s people and the church (because of the striving for power (serving mammon) among those who would be leaders) has been, and continues to be, an enormous price to pay for this sin of idolatry.

— Clay Willis, Georgia

Response: I would have to agree that at one time in my life the WCG and Herbert Armstrong were idols in my life. The reason I say this is because if I found something in the Scripture that conflicted with church doctrine or practice, I would have followed Armstrong or the WCG because I believed I needed to follow "church government". However, I probably could not have proved this doctrine of "church government over the Bible" if my life depended on it.

I think this same problem affects many people in the various groups today. It is much better for a person to say he cannot explain numerous doctrines from the Bible, than it is for a person to simply accept the doctrinal statement of an organization. If a person realizes that there is much that they cannot explain, they will keep studying and Christ can teach them. But when a person accepts a doctrinal statement, there is little motivation to learn—they may be put out if they find something different than their organization’s doctrinal statement.

— NSE

 

Feast-keeping: Need a Certain Place?

Letter: October 11, 1998

Dear Norm,

I just received the Servants’ News, and as we have some that meet for Bible Study, I noticed some of the same questions that we have all the time. And that is, how do you know where God has placed His name? I thought I would write this short article that might shed some light on the subject.

Under the Levitical Priesthood, the people were required to go to the Tabernacle and later to the Temple. God showed them through miracles where this was.

Today, men think God has given them authority to select a place for Him to put His name, and He has to follow. Let’s look at what Christ told the Samaritan woman in John 4. Verse 19, the woman said to him:

Sir, I perceive that you are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, and you Jews says that in Jerusalem, is the place where one ought to worship. Jesus said to her, "Woman believe me the hour is coming when you will neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem worship the Father.... But the hour is coming and now is, when the true worshipper will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:19-21, 22-23).

So, where does God place His name today?

When God calls you and gives you His Spirit, He places His name in you individually. Paul had the same problem. In Corinth, these people were coming out of the pagan temples, and they couldn’t get it out of their heads that they were not supposed to go to the temple where the High Priest was. Look what Paul told them: (1Cor 3:16-17) Do you not know that you are the temple of God, that the spirit of God dwells in you? If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are. (1Cor 6:19 and 2Cor 6:16 and Eph 2:21).

Now, who is the priest, today? (1Pet 2:4-10) Here, Peter is talking to the church, and calling them priests. I noticed in your comments, you used Acts 18:21 to say you should go to some designated place. But a careful study of that verse will tell you that "I must keep this Feast" is not in the original manuscript. This only breaks the ice. There is much more. If you feel this would be a benefit to someone, feel free to print it. We are enclosing a donation to help with expenses. By the way, your family and mine left the same organization about the same time and for the same purpose.

— G. Cochran, Georgia

Response: I completely agree with your point that there is no need, today, to worship in a specific place, such as Jerusalem. Believers are the priests and the temple, and where two or three are gathered together, Christ is with them (Matt 18:20). Of all the various places where Feasts are held, I see no way to determine in advance where "God has placed his name". (After attending at a site, one might feel the presence or absence of the Holy Spirit there, but that does not help one decide where to go.)

Nevertheless, it appears that the New Testament custom was to observe the Feasts somewhere, even if in a local assembly.

The expression "I must by all means keep this Feast in Jerusalem" is not in the Alexandrian Greek texts, which are older, but it is in the "received text". Nearly all Bible scholars agree that neither one of these families of texts are copies of each other, but they go back to a common ancestor text, which we no longer have. A phrase like this which appears in some and not in others was either 1) an addition made after the original (as you suggest), or 2) a deletion from the original. In either case, the addition or deletion had to be well enough liked among the authorities and/or the people who copied the Bible to be propagated to other texts. My method of evaluating such textual problems is as follows:

1) Does the phrase make sense in context? In the case of Acts 18:21-22, the verse makes much more sense with the phrase than without it. Why? Verse 22 says: "And when he had landed at Caesarea, and gone up and greeted the church, he went down to Antioch." Paul was in Ephesus, far to the northwest of Jerusalem. Caesarea was the port city one would use to get to Jerusalem. Antioch was a port city far to the north of Jerusalem—it is impossible that Caesarea was a stop on the way to Antioch. In English, we speak of "going up to Chicago" or "going up to Denver" and the words "going up" can mean either going North, going higher in elevation or sometimes nothing at all. In Hebrew, "going up" to a city almost always refers to going to Jerusalem—something people usually did for the Feasts. Jerusalem was higher than most other cities in Israel, so they went up. This Hebrew concept is apparent in the Greek Scriptures if we look. The Greek anabaino means "go up", "come up" or "ascend" and is used 82 times in the New Testament in a variety of ways. It is often used in the expression "go up to Jerusalem" (Matt 20:17-18; Mark 10:32-33; Luke 2:42;18:31; 19:28; John 2:13; 5:1; Acts 11:2; 15:2; 21:4,12,15; 25:1,9; Gal 2:1). The only place where it is used to go to a city that is not Jerusalem is Luke 2:4, where Joseph is going from Galilee to Bethlehem, a trip that passes through Jerusalem. There are four verses where the term "go up" alone (Greek anabaino) is clearly referring to going to Jerusalem because that is the context (John 7:8,10; 12:20; Gal 2:2). Luke was writing to Theophilus, a Greek. When Paul wrote to the Galatians, he introduced the context of Jerusalem (Gal 2:1) before he used the term "go up" to refer to Jerusalem (Gal 2:2). I believe Luke would have done the same thing. Without the expression "I must by all means keep this Feast in Jerusalem" in verse 21, it appears that Paul went hundreds of miles out of his way just to greet some unnamed brethren in Caesarea. With that missing phrase, the expression "go up" is in its proper context, and Paul’s purpose is clear.

2) Does the phrase make sense with other Scripture? Paul makes a specific point of being somewhere for a Holy Day in other scriptures. He did not leave Philippi until after the days of Unleavened Bread (Acts 20:6). Paul specifically hurried to be in Jerusalem by Pentecost (Acts 20:16). Later, Paul stayed in Ephesus through Pentecost (1Cor 16:8).

3) What motivation would copyists have for either adding or deleting the phrase? The motivation of most copyists must be the accurate copying of the Scripture. Otherwise, we would not have a Bible today. But we can see, both in our own day, and throughout history, that people are quite able to claim the Bible as the basis of their belief system, while practicing and believing things contrary to it. If a copyist accidentally left out a phrase, and if the phrase did not fit well with the theology of future copyists, they may decide to leave it out of their copies without much checking of other manuscripts. People will let things happen "by mistake" that they would never do overtly. As many Greek "Christians" departed from keeping the Sabbath and Holy Days, I can see how they might not be as diligent to verify and prove a phrase like "I must by all means keep this Feast in Jerusalem". However, it is very difficult for me to believe that the phrase was added later. Who would want to add it and why? I have never seen anyone suggest that Jews or "Jewish Christians" somehow secretly put their teaching into Greek New Testament manuscripts. The only way I think this could be an addition is if someone copying the manuscript had other sources of information about what Paul did, and inserted the phrase to clarify verse 22. But if that is the case, then the scripture is likely to be true, even though it is not original.

My conclusion is that Paul and certainly the other believers continued to keep the Feasts. If they could not be at Jerusalem, they kept them where they were. This is based on the numerous casual references to the Feasts which readers were expected to understand. However, there is no clear command to keep Feasts in the New Testament. We are reminded to be "not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching" (Heb 10:25). This scripture is not restricted to Sabbath assemblies. Most believers have met numerous friends and sometimes their spouses at the Feasts. The Feasts picture important events in the plan of the Eternal. Most fruit of Feast-keeping has been good.

— NSE


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