After more than 30 years in the trenches of doctrinal warfare, I realize that much of our warring is an exercise in futility. Taking issue with the doctrinal assertions of Herbert W. Armstrong, for instance, accomplishes nothing with those who believe them. “A man convinced against his will…” You know the rest.
When I read The Journal, month after month, I am convinced that compelling doctrinal arguments carry zero weight with those who, for whatever reasons, are “set” to embrace the pop theology of HWA. A large number of books have now been published exposing the fallacies of Mr. Armstrong’s distinguishing teachings – mostly to no avail. It is analogous to trying to convince a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon that their doctrine is contrary to a sound understanding of Scripture. It is comparable to telling Martin Sheen or Jacques Chirac that the removal of Saddam Hussein and his regime is the right thing to do. It’s like trying to convince some people on the basis of the evidence that OJ did it.
Emotion gets in the way of reason and objectivity. Most of us hunker down in our comfort zones of dogma and tradition. The only time we leave them is when the pain of remaining the same exceeds the pain of change. In other words, we change when there is a “felt need” to change, and not until. Compelling doctrinal or exegetical arguments do not, apparently, produce that need. It takes more.
A Tale of Two Theologies
The esoteric doctrinal wars that take place within the Churches of God Pod are basically linked to two theologies: Herbert W. Armstrong’s and Evangelical. The neo-WCG has adopted a variation on the theme of Evangelical thinking. Herbert W. Armstrong, as Ron Dart pointed out in a recent Journal column, developed a theology of differentiation. In order to draw a following, he had to claim to have The Truth, not just some truth. Those who sought the truth elsewhere were threatened with a loss of salvation for so doing. HWA was it, the only game in town. Time and tide notwithstanding, many still believe that. They view those of us who do not confine our belief system to the doctrinal assertions of HWA as heretics, liberals, apostates, or even “pagans”! They do not believe that truth can be found outside of the narrow confines of Armstrongian thinking.
I believe they are wrong. I would even go so far as to say that I believe that the bulk of the truth lies outside of his theology. This is not to say that HWA did not have some truth – he did; but his core, or distinguishing, doctrines are seriously flawed.
The real theological issues are: what does the text of Scripture actually say, what does it mean, and how, if at all, does it apply to Jesus’ followers in our time? (It should also be noted that Jesus’ followers are made up of two kinds of people: Jews and gentiles.) It is not possible to answer questions like these unless we are willing to avail ourselves of the findings of Biblical scholarship. Most Bible scholars down through the ages have been associated with, or sponsored by, denominations that Pod people label “pagan.” For some, that screens them out.
If we screen out legitimate scholars, what are we left with? An assortment of amateur exegetes armed with Strong’s Concordances (itself a produce of scholarship). Do we expect these people, full of zeal and righteous indigestion, to solve the theological problems of the ages?
At the same time, can we expect the newly Evangelical leaders of the WCG to admit to the possibility that Evangelicals may also be wrong about some things? Can 40 million Evangelicals make mistakes? Can a billion Catholics led by a “Magisterium” make mistakes?
When we study objectively and honestly the Hebrew roots of the Church, and of its documents (the so-called New Testament), we find that it is necessary to revise our thinking in many areas of doctrine – at least I do. This area of study is a gold mine of information. Over the past 20 years, my wife and I have found that it has opened door after door of understanding – doors previously closed by my own Armstrongian thinking.
Rather than wrestle two out of three falls with every Pod person over every nuance of every doctrine, I would recommend that readers of this article do their own research. Check out the ACD website, were you will discover a Recommended Reading List. You’ll find it at www.godward.org under the heading Hebrew Roots heading. Check the subhead “Source Materials.” A good book to start with is Our Father Abraham by Marvin Wilson. A second might be Understanding the Difficult Words of Jesus by David Bivin and Roy Blizzard. Then go from there. Enjoy!