When you’re either a minister or an ex-minister, people ask you questions. In the old days, I had all the answers. Now, with more than forty-three years of Bible study and hands-on experience under my belt, I’m convinced I know far less than I knew then. Why is that?
In recent years, I’ve wrestled with a myriad of doctrines, sometimes out of my own need to know, often as a result of other’s need to know. The typical question usually starts out with, “Brian, what do you believe about…?” Then follows the topic du jour.
In the old authoritarian days, I would have given the stock denominational answer. Whatever Mr. Armstrong (the denomination’s chief apostle) believed and taught (not that the two were always identical) was what I believed and taught – end of story.
Time, inquisitiveness and experience can’t help but deepen one’s understanding of Scripture, and of life itself. When you’re 60 you don’t believe the same things you did when you were 20, or even 40. The longer you’re out from under an authoritarian system, the more you learn to think for yourself. The more you think for yourself, the more you see things differently.
What’s the Best Translation?
A common question all ministers have been asked at one point or another is, “What is the best translation of the Bible?” In the old days, I would have said, “The King James – after all, if it was good enough for the Apostle Paul, it’s good enough for me.” (That was a joke.)
Today I would say, “There isn’t one. Each translation has its pluses and its minuses. I use six or seven.”
At this point, a “King James only” person might step forward and insist that only the original KJV was inspired and taken from the correct text (the Textus Receptus). If I take the bait, I’ll open up a can ‘o worms, so to speak. There’s no end to that discussion. Volumes have been written about it (of which I have three). In the end, the KJV only person will not be moved off his dime, and I won’t have accomplished anything by getting into the issue.
Then you have your NIV people. Though I use an NIV, I’m not a fan. I find it angering in places. It is a translation based on “dynamic equivalency” rather than on “formal equivalency” as is the KJV. Sometimes that’s appropriate, sometimes not.
Suffice it to say that “Which is the best translation?” is a question I avoid these days, because I simply can’t answer it without starting a ruckus.
Of course it’s the same with many questions: “Where does the Bible say that Christians have to tithe?” “Which day should we keep Pentecost on?” “What is the correct time for Passover observance?” “Can you prove that we gentile Christians even have to keep the feast days and the Sabbath?” “Are we Israelites or gentiles?” “Will there be a rapture? If so, will it be to an earthly place of safety or a heavenly one?” “Are we saved now, or later, at the resurrection?” “Are we born again now, or at the resurrection?” “Is it wrong to keep the Lord’s Supper at times other than Passover?” “Can anyone other than a minister pray for the sick?” “Can women teach in the Church?” Etc. etc. etc.
The Pinelli Principle
At this point, I believe that I know the answer to all of those questions. But if you ask me any of them, chances are I’ll keep my answers to myself. “Why?” you ask. Because of what I have come to know (even though he didn’t invent it) as “the Pinelli Principle”: A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.
Most people seem to ask questions in order to get an authoritative confirmation of what they already believe. Arguing doctrine with Church of God Pod people is largely an exercise in futility. The Pod is exegetically incestuous. It’s leaders feed off each other, rather than stepping out of the box and viewing things from other perspectives. Mutual reinforcement only cements the status quo. There’s no room here for critical thinking. It’s a closed shop.
To make matters worse, almost none of us are academically qualified to be formulating doctrine. It’s all we can do to explain what’s already been formulated. Most of us don’t know, and can’t work closely with, the available texts, even if we could agree on which ones are authoritative. Once, Herbert W. Armstrong said to me, “Brian, I have reserved to myself the setting of ALL doctrine.” On another occasion he said, “I guess I am a sort of a pope, aren’t I?” I remained mute.
If the mantle of Herbert W. Armstrong has drifted down onto the shoulders of Joe Tkach, Jr. (the denomination’s new chief), then that must mean he’s now responsible for “setting ALL doctrine.” Since he and his father, Joe Sr., have set different doctrines than HWA set, where does that leave us?
If I know my Pod, I know that many others are also “setting doctrine” at this point. Each of course claims to be the most faithful to the spirit of HWA, or to “the Truth.”
For my money, it’s all nonsense. I can’t deal with it anymore. I’m sick of the sickness. I’m approaching burnout on Pod doctrine. I don’t want to discuss it with anyone, any time, ever. It’s too stressful, and it’s a waste of time and energy.
If you want to know something about doctrine, don’t ask me. Ask one of the younger ministers who still knows everything.
Meantime, I found a great quote in a great little book: “Ministry takes place when divine resources meet human needs through loving channels to the glory of God.” That’s a quote worth living by. I think I’ll try it.