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Sounds ridiculous. Doesn’t it? But, let’s think about it…
Herbert Armstrong wrote The Proof of the Bible in 1958 (no one can be quite sure if he plagiarized the material or who he might have plagiarized it from). Unfortunately, the so-called “proofs” are all based on Old Testament Prophecies — touted by him to be absolute proof because they were fulfilled, thus “proving” the Bible. Now those of us who have our own copy and have studied Pseudoscience and Extraordinary Claims of the Paranormal: A Critical Thinker’s Toolkit by Johathan C. Smith can spot the problems with The Proof of the Bible almost instantly. We won’t bore you with the disproved theory that Tyre was actually not destroyed — it still exists. No, we ask you to skip forward to page 22 and read the section Why Egypt is a Weak Nation. Herbert Armstrong quotes Ezekiel 29:15-16 where he makes a point that Egypt will be the basest of kingdoms! How did he do? How did the Bible do on this one?
It’s hard to get our arms around this because, really, the statement is pretty vague. Nevertheless, let’s use a commonly agreed upon measure of a country’s viability and ranking by selecting the List of Countries by GDP (PPP). Data from the World Bank ranking Gross Domestic Product for the years 2005-2013 rank Egypt #25 out of 179 countries with a GDP of $910 Billion. That’s fairly respectable. Of course, the United States, China, India, Japan, Germany, Russia, Brazil, France, United Kingdom are ranked at the top above Egypt as you might have suspected. What’s interesting though, is the nations ranked below Egypt: Countries such as Netherlands, South Africa, Columbia, Venezuela, Philippines, United Arab Emirates, Switzerland (who knew?), Iraq (Iraq?), Sweden and Switzerland. The most interesting one, though is… wait for it… Israel! Israel was ranked at #54 with a GDP of $264 Billion.
So if Egypt is the basest of nations, are we to assume that Israel, the specially selected country chosen by God, is even more base? If you use the objective measurement of Gross Domestic Product, the answer is obviously, yes. So much for Herbert Armstrong’s Bible Prophecy (not that he wasn’t a huge failure in this department anyway). The Proof of the Bible is no such thing. And not to put to fine a point on it, The Proof of the Bible doesn’t even begin to address the New Testament, it’s provenance and the questions about such books as II Peter, the gospels and Revelation being forged: The Proof is more than a little thin — it’s only about a small part of the Old Testament and a few prophecies given there — it does not address the Big Picture at all.
Some of the ministers in the Armstrongist churches seem to have realized that no one can actually prove the Bible is true and may believe the information from Theologians, such as David Fitzgerald at Skepticon 3 “Examining the Existence of a Historical Jesus”:
Byker Bob wrote, over at Banned!:
Many groups over the millennia have taught the sabbath, the holy days, clean meats, the ten commandments, and either a tithe or voluntary giving of a generally recommended percentage of 10% as God’s basic standard.
People have been happy, they’ve lived exemplary lives, and they have raised fine families in peace and tranquility under those customs. Whether they are New or Old Covenant, whether certain facts are known or unknown that would make it possible or impossible to still observe those tenets, and whether the act of teaching them is the way of identifying “God’s True Church” rather than love, faith, and other Christian fruits, has been the subject of ongoing unresolvable debate for many years. Still, a once a week “special date with God” would certainly not harm self, or others, in and of itself.
What elevated Herbert W. Armstrong’s church and his heirs into cultic status was the addition of an extrabiblical theory (which can actually be disproven using the Bible, let alone archaeology, history, linguistics, and genetics) based on British Israelism and German Assyrianism. This was compounded by Armstrong’s pretentiousness in claiming to know something that Jesus said could not be known, I.e, when the end would come. Now, that is all cultic “gnosticism”, but it doesn’t yet rise to the label “toxic”.
Toxicity entered through Herbert using the apocalypse of Revelation, bolstered by the prophecies of Daniel, asserting that these would occur during our lifetime, applying it all to civilizations initiated by Anglo-Saxon gentiles, and leaving anyone from his primary broadcast audience who wanted to be spared and protected from these with the sole alternatives of joining his church movement, or suffering the brunt of the tribulation. It was a black and white ultimatum. He then introduced another bit of speculation, that the churches enumerated in Revelation were actually eras, thus branding anyone more liberal or conservative than himself who actually taught the same doctrines as “Sardis” or “Laodicean”. Some over the years have considered all of this intimidation to be special, privileged truth, while in the face of continued failure of the root prophecies, and witnessing horrible fruits, others have seen it as blatant, deliberate, false entrapment.
The final and worst toxicity came from Herbert’s doctrine of “government from the top down” (rather than the power of Jesus Christ converting and transforming one Christian heart at a time from the bottom-up), thus opening the door for all of the cruel, arbitrary, “our way or the highway” enforcement practiced in original WCG and the ACOG splinters. Basically, this is the “we OWN you” doctrine, making the leaders of these groups the gatekeepers to the so-called “place of safety” and supposedly to the kingdom itself. Members in good standing do not question their gatekeepers’ authority!
I have no problem with the people who think that the New Covenant is simply the Infusion of Jesus into the Old Covenant. But, I have a huge problem with the people who would contaminate all of that with the various ingredients that Herbert W. Armstrong added as his own modifiers to that. The use of a special set of Armstrong gnosticism, combined with totalitarian enforcement, is what makes the ACOGs toxic. That is in no way spiritual guidance.
Unfortunately, most of the Armstrongist churches have resorted to tactics which make them look more like George Orwell’s 1984 than a church.
Now no one needs to give up the Bible. It can still be used for inspiration. In fact, in some segments of the Armstrongist community, there are those who actually seem to be fine with the fact that the Bible might not be the inspired Word of God, absolute, with Authority. It is a growing community and there are some prominent leaders out there directing the charge. One such group is the Church of God Big Sandy, led by David Havir who is, in turn, supported by Dixon Cartwright and The Journal. Dixon Cartwright has declared that he does not believe in British Israelism: He responded to the PT Article, The Journal is Cursed! by saying:
Yes, the aspects of Armstrongism that I judge to be silly I try to be above it all, as you put it. You can say false prophet all you like, I don’t care. But I don’t think terms like that are appropriate for a journalist to use (except in quoting other people) because those are terms for Bible scholars and farmer theologians and church members. I don’t think Herbert Armstrong was a prophet, therefore I don’t think he could have been a true or false prophet. Just as I tried to remove myself from the Bible fray when I wrote my canon articles (because one cannot prove or disprove the validity of the Bible in the usual conservative-Christian sense by arguing from within the Bible), I think it’s advisable for a newspaper not to report from inside the Bible. Interesting you guys are always talking about British Israelism. I am not a British Israelist, but I don’t think BI is any weirder than certain important doctrines of mainstream Christianity.
It seems likely that David Havir and others at the CoGBS hold the same disbelief. Since the staff of The Journal has ties to the United Church of God an International Association, it is also likely that many of the ministers in the UC Gaia also tacitly realize that British Israelism is a dead issue, although, behind the scenes they still have a United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy, they have backpedaled the issue and don’t promote the booklet actively. Certainly, Dennis Luker was moving United in another direction away from Armstrong during his tenure as President. In addition, “False Prophet” and “Heresy” are irrelevant terms, as Dixon Cartwrite wrote over at Otagosh:
To Black Ops: You do not understand where I’m coming from. I pick up from Gavin and his little comments now and then that he pretty much does. “False prophet”? Interesting that you still are tuned in to the concept of false prophet. That strikes me as a religious and conservative-theological way of thinking that I try not to do anymore. It’s like saying someone’s a heretic. For a person trying to stay above the fray, some of those concepts make little sense. People obviously have strong religious convictions, and I think that can be an objective statement. But lamentations about false prophets and heretics and interpretations of Scripture and doctrine are not. –Dixon C.
This would make absolutely no sense at all in the highly conservative pragmatic Biblical based world of Herbert Armstrong and the Radio Church of God. But if it is rooted in venue of high concept religious abstract fuzzy thinking of modern Christian Theology, it makes perfect sense. The Bible is not absolute — it’s just used for inspiration to pad out sermons and written material. No, what’s really important is the social group. Dixon Cartwright has validated this.
Now if you take a look at the Church of God Big Sandy, you can clearly grasp the concept. Youth Day includes the activities of the Boy Scouts of America chapter at Big Sandy during Sabbath services. The Journal reports on all the personal items of interest (as well as doing the Boomer thing of allowing everyone to have their say and go their way). People can believe whatever they want to and even have discussions about it as long as they don’t get too loud or pushy. As long as it doesn’t threaten the group in any way, it’s allowed — this gives people the Byker Bob standard, acknowledging that as long as the environment isn’t toxic and works for the group, it’s (mostly) OK. In this case, the Bible is just a prop and has no real relevance and neither does doctrine, heresy, false prophets, prophecy. In fact, the ministers could all be humanist atheists (and they may well be) and it would make no difference: The social group is together and everybody’s OK. Of course, some of the more retentive types soaked and locked into the ultra conservative arcane religious beliefs espoused by Herbert Armstrong haven’t got the memo (clueless, deliberately excluded from being able to understand what’s going on) but that’s OK too — there’s a safe place for them to hold their superstitious delusions.
Now it is the case that for the sake of the social group, there are still some unique Armstrongist things. The biggest of these is the so-called Feast of Tabernacles. There is no such thing, of course, because there is no Temple, no Levite priests (no matter how Herbert Armstrong tried to make his hirelings into them), no altar, no animal sacrifices… well, OK, sometimes they do have a barbeque at the “Feast” but you know what we mean. The “Feast of Tabernacles” allows people to get together for social activities, meet friends, make new friends, eat, drink and be merry, have a generally fun time. People can have the best of everything (up to a point) more than they can have any other time of the year. The physical rituals help bind the community together, and that’s all good. There are also all those Christmas / New Year socials for various social activities. With this approach, there’s absolutely no conflict with “Feasts of the Lord” because if it benefits the social group, there’s nothing wrong with it. They do it because they can. [Note: United recently published in The Good News that it is OK for the elderly and those with medical problems to eat and drink on the Day of Atonement, meaning that those “Festivals” aren’t as much an obstacle any more for those who don’t really want to keep them fully and it also means that it was just fine for Herbert Armstrong to have a cup of coffee and a donut on the Day of Atonement to “keep up his strength”. Nothing’s all that sacred any more.]
This is real freedom!
So now, people can whine about false prophets. Irrelevant. People can whine about heresy. Irrelevant. People can get all bent out of shape about doctrine and a million things associated with it, particularly the calendar. Irrelevant. British Israelism. Irrelevant. The Bible can go poof! No problem. Gee, about now, Joe Tkach probably wishes he had the idea back in the day with the Worldwide Church of God: Just allow people to have their local church buildings and build a local social community and people would be happy and it would all be good. None of this mucking about trying to change absolutely everything Herbert Armstrong stood for as a vendetta. Just let the people do what they want to do anyway, and sit back and collect the dough. Wouldn’t it have been so much easier? This is a successful business model that really works! It’s all good as long as the music’s good! After all, it’s just a social club.
Well, live and learn.
And yet… it’s hard to know what to call these fun folks — Unarmstrongists, perhaps?
We do believe that those who have rejected British Israelism should be praised, it’s just that we would have hoped they would have been more obvious and public about it.
These days there are accounts of atheists yearning for a social group. They’d like to have something like a church, just without the religious nonsense that goes along with it. They’d like to socialize with get togethers, pot lucks, conventions, all without having to argue that the Bible is so much superstition. They need to take a page out of the book of these former Armstrongists. They could learn a thing or two.
Make no mistake: Most of those such as Roderick Meredith, David Pack, Gerald Flurry, Ronald Weinland claim to obey God and believe the Bible but prove by their behavior that they don’t.