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Privately Reforming from Inside
"Salvation by Grace"
December 19, 1994 Letter to Joseph Tkach, Sr.
Dear Mr. Tkach:
I just heard about your trip to Atlanta this past weekend and it inspired me to share a few thoughts with you on what God's grace has done in my life. I grew up in the Worldwide Church of God, went to Ambassador University and am now employed in the full-time ministry. I must admit that I possessed a very legalistic approach. I have been a perfectionistic, self-righteous person that lacked spontaneity and joy and made my wife feel very guilty and condemned. Your focus the last five years on the gospel of Jesus Christ has contributed to a peace and joy in my relationship with God and others that I had never before experienced.
It was therefore to my dismay when a senior minister explained to me this past spring that he finds it "silly that Pasadena has suddenly discovered Jesus Christ." He related to me that the members of this church have always had faith. He said they had that back in the Protestant churches. He said what they needed was law and that is why they came here. Well, that may seem all fine and good (of course, not to the apostle Paul), but what about the thousands of us who grew up knowing nothing but the Worldwide Church of God. What we heard over and over again was law, not grace or faith or love. We just never heard grace discussed. Unless, of course, it was in terms of what it does not mean, or in context of all we are still obligated to do. "Yes, you are saved by grace, but..." I never remember anyone emphasizing the fact that God loves me as his own son because of who I am in Christ.
I have done a cursory review of the church literature for the past 20+ years and have not found a single article exclusively devoted to the subject of God's grace and love for us. I do not have a single sermon in my vertical file devoted to the subject. There have, of course, been numerous ones on the law, or the law and grace. We just could never bring ourselves to say God loves us unconditionally. But, Mr. Tkach, you have begun to preach the gospel, and for that I praise and thank God. It is no surprise to me that so many brethren are experiencing an intense personal and spiritual renewal as a result of God's work through you. I know my wife and I are overjoyed and excited. Yet, the last few months have seemed like a roller-coaster ride for me personally. I have been alternately encouraged by the direction of the church toward God's grace and then discouraged by what seems like more legalism from the very same source. I must admit that even your latest video presentation on the sermon on the mount seemed to me to fluctuate between the gospel and legalism. I was discouraged.
However, the last Pastor General's Report seemed more gospel-oriented than ever. I have also heard some very exciting things about your trip to Atlanta. I heard that you supported the gospel of Jesus, salvation through faith by grace. I have heard you supported Earl Williams and chastised those who have gossiped and engaged in backbiting. I have heard that you are committed to going where God takes you. I have heard that you are going to go forward regardless of what the portends for the organization. I have heard that you are very serious about getting rid of the campus. Hallelujah! My wife and I were ecstatic.
This is just so great to hear! I have heard repeatedly throughout the years in the Worldwide Church of God that other churches taught that the law was done away, we are under grace and therefore you can do whatever you want, sin with license. I now realize that we did not really understand their teaching on grace and the Christian walk. Of course, as long as I never discussed this with someone from another church, I had no reason not to believe it. But thankfully, now that you have encouraged interaction with the community I find out that is most definitely not what most churches teach.
For the past three years I have been completing a Masters degree in Counseling to augment my ministerial skills. In that time I have interacted heavily with a number of Christian professors, psychologists, and counselors from a number of different denominations. I am currently spending time each week in a Christian-oriented mental health hospital completing my masters internship. Their Christ-centered approach emphasizes the freedom that comes through the grace of God. And, surprisingly, they help people overcome drug addiction, alcoholism, homosexuality, sexual addiction, depression, suicidal ideation, and more. What a surprise to not find them saying you can do whatever you want since you are under grace. Paul said, "Use your freedom not to fulfill the desires of the sinful nature but use it to love one another." The many Christians I know believe the same.
Not only have I been dismayed that other churches do not teach what we said they did, but I have also been amazed to read what Christian authors say happens in churches that preach legalism instead of Jesus. Many different authors write of the kinds of problems that are inevitable in a legalistic environment.
* Personally, we experience emotional and spiritual difficulties. These can vary from perfectionism, anxiety, and a sense of spiritual superiority on the one hand to discouragement, depression and overwhelming guilt on the other.
* Congregationally, we experience strife, anger, jealousy, quarrels, dissensions, and factions. Members are critical and judgmental of one another in this environment.
* Socially, we isolate ourselves and look down on those outside of the group.
* Spiritually, we are kept from the love, joy, peace and forgiveness that our salvation is meant to bring and a personal walk with Jesus Christ bestows.
* Biblically, we err from the truth of the gospel. While Paul tolerated a wide variety of views on many things, he was adamant when it came to the gospel of Christ crucified.
* Evangelistically, we have slow growth. New converts are confused by exactly what are all the expectations of them. These burdens block them from Christ.
There are many books on grace and legalism, but I have listed five below. The last six months have been very difficult for me to sort through all of my cognitive dissonance and legalistic cobwebs, but these books have made the most difference for me personally in understanding the gospel. All of them are exceptional, but the first two are outstanding.
Blue, K. (1993). Healing Spiritual Abuse: Biblical Answer to the Wounds of Legalism. InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois.
Seamands, D. A., (1981). Healing for Damaged Emotions: Recovering from the Memories That Cause Our Pain. Victor Books: Wheaton, Illinois.
Hansen, G. W. (1994). Galatians: The IVP New Testament Commentary Series. Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, Illinois.
McGee, R. S., (1985). The Search for Significance: Building Our Self-Worth on the Love and Forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Rapha Publishing: Houston, Texas.
Anderson, N. T. (1990). Victory Over the Darkness: Realizing the Power of Your Identity in Christ. Regal Books: Ventura, California.
Thank you for the lectures on the nature of God. You have taught us that the Holy Spirit is God. But we know God does not rely on the Ten Commandments or Law of Moses for guidance. He is love and a law to himself. We also know Jesus and the Holy Spirit dwell in us. Why do we then fall back on the "weak and beggarly elements of the world"? We don't. We live a life following the Spirit, and the Spirit does not compel or obligate us. It convicts and corrects, but it does not coerce or punish like the law. It gently leads. God doesn't want me to do things that hurt me or others, but I still do them. And, yet, he loves me, not because of my religious performance, but because I am a new creation in Jesus.
However, a legalistic approach is attractive because it grants a seeming stability, predictability and order. It has answers for all of life's difficult questions granting security in a frightening world. Further, the conformity that is desired is much simpler since it is essentially external and can be prescribed, measured and monitored. It has a high respect for the law. One person commented to me that he was initially drawn to the church because it presented itself as "a cut-above the rest." While this may sound good, there are significant problems with that attitude. This same man's wife mentioned to me that a certain mildly mentally handicapped individual did not have a place in our church. His uncouth mannerisms were displeasing and made him unacceptable for fellowship. It was her belief that he should not be allowed to attend.
A local elder commented to me that he was not a religious person but came to this church because it was the one true church. Again, physical, external rules and regulations are more palatable than a faith-walk with Jesus. One teenager who has grown up in the Worldwide Church of God told his mother that this was the church that "hated Jesus." He met some teenagers in another local church, was saved there, and is excited by the fact that they "love Jesus." I believe this is worth our consideration as more than an isolated incident.
A recent Plain Truth article was entitled "Grace is Free, But It Isn't Cheap..." My experience in the Worldwide Church of God has been that too often in our preaching, in our writing and in our relationships to one another grace has been neither free nor cheap. We have had to work for it. And, yet, I see a great number of people who are being healed by grace and growing in peace and love due in large part to your ministry. Mr. Tkach, please keep it up! Imagine how much more growth is possible when we allow the love and power of God to work in his people. Stand strong! The members are worth it. You are worth it. And Jesus is worthy of it! I know there are a number of ministers who are not preaching Jesus Christ and who will want you to go back.
It is for freedom that Christ has set you free; Stand firm, therefore Mr. Tkach, and do not let yourself be enslaved again with a yoke of bondage. Galatians 5:1
Mark Cardona our regional YOU coordinator and pastor here in Memphis is supporting you and the gospel all the way. We also have four local elders here working with our music, youth, childrens and seniors ministry who are helping people grow in a personal relationship with Jesus. We have just been approved to purchase a church building, and the Memphis congregation is ready to go public with its Christianity, as you have put it. We are excited and with you as you follow Jesus' lead. Thank you so much for the courage, leadership, and humility you exhibit in your ministry and for your time and attention in this matter. In Christian love,
(Name Withheld), Associate Pastor
P.S. I have included a separate document contrasting the Worldwide Church of God's traditional approach to law and grace to that of traditional Christian authors who focus on the gospel. I implore you to present a series of lectures/video tapes/conference sessions on the gospel and the New Covenant in the way that you did with the nature of God. I believe the nature of God lectures were important, and I certainly grew as a result. They were extremely well done and everyone I know who has listened to all of Dr. Stavrinides 12 Bible study tapes understands the concepts. But the gospel is so foundational and critical to understand. Would you please consider having him or Mike Feazell do the same for God's grace in next years conferences?
Forgiven for PAST SINS ONLY
Forgiven for ALL SINS
But does this mean God's laws are no longer in force? No! You are saved from past sins by grace (Ephesians 2:8) — something you cannot yourself earn. But you must now, in a repentant state of mind, begin to keep all the commandments, lest you again come under the death penalty!
The GOOD NEWS June-July 1987 "Why Confusion Over Law and Grace" p. 8
The moment you trust Christ many wonderful things happen to you: All your sins are forgiven: past, present and future (Col. 2:13-14).
The Search for Significance, 1985 p. 21
A view of Galatians as being against the legalism of JUDAISM and its reliance on RITUAL (thus protecting us from realizing our own Galatianism) A view of Galatians as against the perversion of the gospel by JEWISH CHRISTIANS who told the Gentiles Jesus is the beginning but the LAW is the way from there How plain! Salvation was not through the works of the law. Paul's whole argument throughout the New Testament was against the teaching of Judaism that salvation could be gained without faith in Christ, but through the works — the hard physical labor of offering sacrifices — of the law of Moses.The GOOD NEWS January 1983.
"Were the Ten Commandments Nailed to the Cross" p. 27
These so-called Judaizers did not deny salvation through faith in Christ. They simply added to it a few Jewish disciplines, supposedly to help the Gentile believers go on to maturity (Gal 3:3). They said, in effect, "Jesus gets us started in the Christian life, but we become mature through our own religious performance."
Healing Spiritual Abuse, 1993 p. 45
Rather, it [salvation] is a GIFT from God. But — and let this sink deeply into your mind — it is a conditional gift.... Throughout this book [Galatians]... Paul is not talking about the spiritual law of God, summarized in the Ten Commandments.
The PLAIN TRUTH September 1973
"Is Living a Good Life Enough" p. 22
Paul's letter to the Galatians has been read as a direct attack on Jewish people for their legalism. But a careful analysis shows that his attack is directed against the Galatian Christians who had departed from the true gospel and against Jewish Christians who had perverted that gospel.
Galatians, IVP New Testament Commentary Series, 1994 p. 25
This, in effect, is how many people are taught to look to Jesus Christ. They trust in him, and believe that his love, his goodness, and his mercy and holiness will save them when the time comes. But that kind of faith—however sincere—is not enough to save you.
The PLAIN TRUTH June 1984 "You Need MORE Than Faith in Jesus!" p. 19
Whenever I see Don alone he smiles and says, "Doc, it's still too good to be true, but it's true!" That's the message. The trouble with the perfectionist is that he has been programmed to think it is too good to be true. You too may think: Of course I believe in grace but... "Come unto Me," said Jesus, "all ye that labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest" (Matt. 11:28).
Healing for Damaged Emotions, 1981 p. 87
But because God's grace is free does not mean it doesn't have a price.... Cheap grace, then, wrongly implies that Christ finished his work when he took our sins upon himself.
The PLAIN TRUTH Jan 1994 "GRACE IS FREE... but it isn't cheap" p. 5
To have faith in Christ is to believe Him and do what He says, not just believe on him... According to the apostle Peter, the receiving of the new life is conditional... Does anyone want to argue that one must repent to receive the Holy Spirit? Which commandment is exempted from that repentance?
Portfolio May 1994 "Paradox of Values"
They pictured God as a legalistic judge, favoring those who kept his religious rules and despising those who did not. Modern preachers who make God's acceptance contingent upon religious performance are the Pharisees of today.
Healing Spiritual Abuse, 1993 p. 19
Law AND Grace
Law OR Grace
The truth is that salvation and inheriting eternal life involves — as the apostle James said — faith and works, obedience coupled with the grace of God.
The PLAIN TRUTH Sept 1973 "Is Living a Good Life Enough?" p. 24-25
They reverted to a diluted mixture of faith and works, law and grace. And the result was the same then as it is today when we mix law and grace. Immature and sensitive believers can become neurotic perfectionists who are guilt-ridden, tight-haloed, unhappy and uncomfortable. They are rigid in their outlook, frigid in their lovelessness, conforming to the approval and disapproval of others. Yet, in a strange paradox, they critically judge, blame and bind those same others.
Healing for Damaged Emotions, 1981 p. 82
When I came to the Worldwide Church of God I found a church that did not teach law or grace. I found one that taught law and grace.
November 1994 Open House sermon by a Regional Pastor
Legalistic motivation of FEAR, GUILT and CONDEMNATION for living Christian lives
Grace motivation of ENCOURAGEMENT, LOVE and RELATIONSHIP
For some — and that few is too many in this Worldwide Church of God — have been tending to try to see how close they can get to Satan's way — apparently desiring his way of worldly interests, rather than God's — and still make it into the kingdom! That's the best way I know to make it into the lake of fire.
Worldwide News, August 28, 1978, Herbert W. Armstrong
Understanding our complete forgiveness and acceptance before God does not promote a casual attitude toward sin. On the contrary, it gives us a greater desire to live for and serve the One who died to free us from sin... It is not based on our ability to impress God through our good deeds... Six compelling reasons to obey Him: Christ's love, Destructiveness of sin, Discipline of the Father, Commands are for our good, Eternal rewards, Worthiness of Christ...
Search for Significance, 1985, p. 55-60
How you respond will determine whether you and your family are spared from — or sent into — a grisly, blood-drenched tribulation of such horror that it defies description. The choice is YOURS!
The PHILADELPHIA TRUMPET, Sept/Oct 1994 "Rising Tide of Terrorism" p. 27
What does it take to be that kind of Christian? … to move beyond our inconsequential selfish pursuits to deeds of loving service to God and others?.... First, it requires a firm grasp on your identity in Christ. You can't love like Jesus loved until you accept the reality that, since you are in Christ, His divine nature constitutes your core essence. Second, you must begin to crucify daily the old sin-trained flesh and walk in accordance with who you are: a child of God whose spirit is filled with God's Spirit.
Victory Over Darkness, 1990, p. 88-89
Legalism is NEAT and can be CONTROLLED
Grace can be MESSY and requires FAITH
Most who follow this world's "Christianity" take it for granted if they "accept Christ," they will go to heaven when they die. But in God's Church we talk about "making it into God's kingdom...." If we cannot live as a family should live, according to God's SPIRITUAL LAW... we SIMPLY WON'T MAKE IT INTO GOD'S KINGDOM. We found at the summer SEP camp at Orr, Minn., that in many cases the children DO NO EAT WITH THEIR PARENTS AT HOME!... Many of you are LAX in child training... Many of you are NEGLECTING your very salvation!
The GOOD NEWS Jan 1981 Personal from Herbert W. Armstrong
Some pastors wonder how they could ever keep their people... from sinning or keep them giving if all these loads were removed. They are asking... `If there isn't at least a little law to keep people in line, won't they run wild?' My answer (from experience) is, `Yes, some may run wild. But at least then we know what we're dealing with--that is unregenerate hearts.' There are many... [who] simply took on the loads of Christendom and conformed their behavior to the expectations... It is important to find out who these people are so that they can be properly evangelized and birthed.
Healing Spiritual Abuse, 1993 p. 65-66
SECURITY, order and predictability arising from RULES and regulations
Personal relationship with JESUS that is a walk not by sight, but by FAITH
God is the Author of law, order.... To some degree, the rules of Ambassador College are... to maintain its harmony, order and beauty.... The dress and demeanor of leaders convey a powerful message to those they seek to influence. They help to convey a message of order [italic emphasis mine], stability and security.
The Portfolio May 1994"The Paradox of Values"
Legalism is an expression of leaders' compulsion to seek security and predictability... Tragically, this kind of conscientious rule-keeping actually takes us away from God. Any religious activity that implies that Jesus' cross is not enough for our acceptance with God leads us away from him, not to him.
Healing Spiritual Abuse, 1993 p. 44
Yes, Lord, I need some improvements, some character building, but I've got lots to offer you
Lord I come to you just as I am without one plea to seek your mercy and grace
Will we try to save our lives by remaining what we are—sinful human beings? Is so, we will lose them. We will become the victims of cheap grace. But we can take the road of costly grace, allowing Christ to dwell in us. We can be subservient to God's will. Then we will save our lives by losing our own will.
The PLAIN TRUTH Jan 1994 "GRACE IS FREE... but it isn't cheap" p. 5
The gospel of the grace of God awakens an intense longing in human souls and an equally intense resentment, because the truth that it reveals is not palatable or easy to swallow. There is a certain pride in people that causes them to give and give, but to come and accept a gift is another thing. I will give my life to martyrdom; I will dedicate my life to service—I will do anything. But do not humiliate me to the level of the most hell-deserving sinner and tell me that all I have to do is accept the gift of salvation through Jesus... We must enter his kingdom through the door of destitution.
My Utmost For His Highest, 1992 Nov 28
And, yes, God cuts all of us slack, and He is faithful and just to forgive us... But that same apostle wrote... whoever does not practice righteousness [all your commandments are righteousness] is not of God...
The Portfolio May 1994"The Paradox of Values"
The message of Christ crucified is offensive not only to Jews but also to the pride of all who want to claim some personal merit as the basis of God's approval.
Galatians, IVP New Testament Commentary Series, 1994 p. 161
 From: J. M. Feazell at CPA 12/26/94 10:38AM (2703 bytes: 1 ln)
To: (Name Withheld) at USFIELD
Subject: Re: Letter to Mr. Tkach, Sr.
Thanks very much for the support and encouragement. I forwarded your letter to Mr. Tkach while I was still at the conference, and I'll give him the other report today. He really appreciated the letter and found it quite encouraging. Some people predict that half the church will leave over this, so it does weigh heavily on him. Regardless of what people predict, God has raised up ministers like you who are committed to Christ and his work, and who are not mere hirelings but friends and brothers of the Chief Shepherd. The gospel is transforming, even to people like us.
Thanks again for the letter and your work in Christ's service.
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