Many of the teachings and practices of traditional Christian churches are incompatible with biblically based doctrine. While the sincerity or motives of those who hold these beliefs is not questioned, it is essential that this systematic theology state the teachings on these subjects juxtaposed with what the Worldwide Church of God teaches as biblical truth.
The basic approach of this systematic theology has been to present the beliefs and doctrines of the Worldwide Church of God in a positive, non-polemical manner. We realize and acknowledge that our biblical teachings are substantially different from those of other churches and religious groups. We therefore view it as our responsibility to clearly point out where our doctrinal position differs from traditional religious beliefs, customs and practices.
"God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth" (Jn. 4:24). The emphasis on biblical truth has always been a hallmark of Worldwide Church of God theology. Sincerity, though necessary, is not sufficient for complete fidelity to the teachings and directives of Jesus Christ and the entire New Testament. Truth, the doctrinal truth of the Bible, is absolutely essential for those who will follow Jesus Christ. This is not to claim that doctrinal perfection is necessary
for either God's collective Church or for the individual Christian. Indeed, this is unrealistic to demand, considering the fact that God works through fallible human beings; such doctrinal perfection can be achieved when Jesus Christ returns as King of kings and Lord of lords. Nonetheless, it is the responsibility of God's Church to grow spiritually upwards with each generation to the unfolding reality of biblical truth through the guidance of God's Spirit, intelligent study and committed scholarship. Surely
all commandments and traditions of men, as Jesus Christ Himself taught (Mk. 7:7-8), must be rejected and replaced by the commandments and teachings of God.
This Church maintains that God's Word, the Bible, is God's written instruction book of worship, and that it is the foundational authority on doctrine. Without maligning or casting aspersions on other Christian groups who sincerely and honestly believe the doctrines to be true, we feel that some traditional beliefs are incompatible with biblical teachings and certain traditional practices are not those which show the greatest respect to the Creator God who gave us life. Common sense dictates that one who
want to properly worship God must worship Him as He Himself wants to be worshipped.
The beliefs of the Worldwide Church of God have been outlined already. It is thus clear that there are significant variations from those of other churches. There is no need to repeat what has already been discussed except to summarize where we differ from certain "traditional" Christian beliefs. Some doctrinal beliefs are rejected as being directly contrary to the stated biblical truth. Certain observances, on the other hand, are rejected because they do not contribute to a better understanding
of God's plan or, in certain cases, tend to lead away from it. For example, various Christian festivals are widely known to be transformed non-Christian celebrations which heathen tribes brought en masse with them when they "converted." Today, these celebrations have lost their overt pagan connotations and are often even secularized to the point of losing practically all religious connotation whatsoever. On the other hand, there are celebrations within the Bible which have generally been abandoned
by Christianity. We deem it far more scriptural to continue the biblical festivals than to take up the more recent traditional holidays rooted in non-Christian religions.
Many are surprised to learn that commonly held Christian doctrines are in fact not "Christian" at all--that is, they are not the teachings of the New Testament. Some of these doctrines have been generated by sincere misunderstandings about what the scriptures teach on a given topic. At other times, however, the tradition or doctrine of some churches will exist solely on the authority of that church, which indeed may openly acknowledge that the doctrine is not supported by scripture. Many such
beliefs are based upon church traditions that evolved in the earlier years of the respective histories of their churches, and have consequently taken on the aura of authority. While the Worldwide Church of God does not negate the importance of proper church authority and tradition, it does maintain that such authority or tradition must in no way conflict with or negate the scriptures. For support of this premise, we cite Jesus' words of strong disapproval of those in His time who allowed men's commands to
supersede God's. "In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men" (Mk. 7:7).
The main danger in observing or believing certain "harmless" doctrines or customs is that these tend to lead people away from the true plan of God. Thus while one can think in his mind that he is obeying God, he is actually far from knowing, understanding and doing what God would have him to do. A man may be totally sincere but may be just as totally misled by teachings of men which are not derived from the teachings of the Bible. As such he may be unknowingly worshipping God "in vain."
The consequences of non-biblical doctrine are thus quite severe—even affecting one's eternal life!
In this context, much stress is placed by God in the New Testament upon striving for, and maintaining purity of, biblically accurate belief. Purity of belief may be defined as that belief which is in accordance and consistent with the teachings of Christ and the apostles (Gal. 1:8-9). We are also instructed to earnestly "contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). The thrust of this verse is that we should strive for the same body of beliefs that Christ gave
His early disciples and apostles as well as the same attitude.
The doctrines explained in the following section are listed under the heading of "Traditional Christian Doctrines," because they represent commonly held teachings. We have a God-given responsibility to state clearly and honestly the biblical truth on these topics. The format is to first state the traditional Christian doctrine, which will be immediately followed by the contradicting and/or corresponding doctrine of the Worldwide Church of God.
Doctrinal Statement on THE FALL OF MAN
Adam and Eve did not fall from any state of moral or spiritual perfection. Neither has the sin they committed been inherited by all mankind from birth (the so-called "original sin"). Adam and Eve were rather created morally and spiritually neutral, having not yet developed character but also having not yet done evil. Using this free moral agency upon being tempted by Satan, they subsequently chose to follow their own judgment rather than the revelation of God. It was actually Satan who had
fallen from his position of glory and had committed the "original sin." It was Satan who then influenced Eve, Adam, and thereafter all mankind to follow the same path.
Doctrinal Statement on THE IMMORTAL SOUL
Man neither is nor has an immortal soul. The traditional concept of an immortal soul, a spiritual entity or substance with fully independent existence and consciousness, which is so fundamental to various religious systems, is a myth. Man is a totally mortal, living breathing creature who has no consciousness, no awareness and no existence after death. In this regard humans and animals are alike—the same death befalls them both. The one element which sets man apart from animals is not an "immortal
soul" but a spiritual essence—a "spirit-in-man"—which transforms the human brain into the human mind. Man indeed has the potential for immortality, but this will occur only at the yet future resurrection from the dead when immortal life will be given as a free gift from God through the Holy Spirit.
Doctrinal Statement on HEAVEN
The reward of the saved is not to go to heaven at death. No conscious human beings have ever ascended into the heavens after death (except Jesus Christ). Man's destiny is to enter God's Family as His Son and to rule in His Kingdom which will be set up on earth. The dead in Christ now only "rest" in their graves until the resurrection when God will bring them into His Family. Eventually, when the new heaven and new earth of Revelation 21 come into being and new Jerusalem comes down from God
out of heaven, God's dwelling and throne will be forever with man. In this light, the question of "going to heaven" becomes meaningless, for heaven will then be on this earth, which will be the final headquarters of both God the Father and Christ the Son.
Doctrinal Statement on HELL
The belief in an ever-burning hell in which sinners are tormented for eternity is nowhere substantiated by the Bible. Such relentless anguish and eternal suffering is diametrically contrary to the character of a merciful, loving God. The punishment for rebellion against God will be a final destruction in the lake of fire, but this will produce death and non-existence, not eternal torment. The Greek and Hebrew words translated "hell" in English versions of the Bible mean either the "grave"
in which corpses are buried, a place of restraint for fallen angels or a temporary fire which burned rubbish near Jerusalem. Christ used the last as an analogy of the lake of fire which will ultimately consume the wicked.
Doctrinal Statement on the TRINITY
The concept of a closed or restricted Godhead composed of three persons—the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit— is non-biblical. The Godhead is a Family, presently revealed as composed of only the Father and the Son, which will eventually include all those who have been given salvation through Christ. The Holy Spirit is not a distinct person or individual entity but the power, mind and essence of God,
Doctrinal Statement on the GOSPEL
The gospel is more than a message about Jesus Christ. The true gospel involves an understanding of the person of Christ, but its main thrust is the "good news" that Jesus Christ brought. This includes the witness and warning announcement that mankind is about to destroy itself and that God will save mankind from this certain self-destruction by setting up His Kingdom on earth through Jesus Christ's return as King of kings. Also fundamental to the gospel that Jesus brought is the revelation
of the way by which human beings may qualify to be part of that Kingdom and rule with Him. This is the process of salvation through Christ's death and resurrection, and begins with obedience to Jesus1 command, "Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand."
Doctrinal Statement on the KINGDOM OF GOD
The Kingdom of God is not simply heaven, nor is it the Church on earth today, nor is it a spiritual kingdom within men's hearts. The Kingdom of God is a world-ruling government (with laws, a king and rulers, territory and subjects) to be set up on earth at Christ's return and to continue thereafter. The Kingdom of God is also the Family of God into which man can be born again. The Family of God constitutes that Kingdom.
Doctrinal Statement on BORN AGAIN
The term "born again" is not synonymous with the immediate spiritual, mental or emotional change (sometimes called "regeneration") one undergoes by accepting Christ or being baptized. Although partially a matter of semantics, the term "born again" in its full sense refers to the actual change from a physical body and being to a spiritual body and Being; this occurs at the resurrection to eternal life and not before.
Doctrinal Statement on SUNDAY
No biblical justification exists for observing the first day of the week; Sunday is nowhere sanctified in the Bible, nor is any special honor or significance ascribed to it. The seventh-day Sabbath was God's holy day from Creation, was so kept by the early apostolic Church, and is kept by God's Church today.
Doctrinal Statement on CHRISTMAS
Christmas is neither Christ's birthday nor a celebration Christians should observe. It is not mentioned in the Bible and in no way is a truly Christian practice. Christmas is rather an ancient pagan celebration which pre-dated Christianity, but was renamed and given new meaning when it was adopted into the professing Christian Churches.
Doctrinal Statement on EASTER
Easter is an adaptation of an ancient, pagan, pre-Christian festival or celebration which was adopted by traditional Christianity in place of the biblical Passover. Easter is nowhere mentioned in the Bible as a Christian holiday. Instead, the Passover should be properly observed on the correct date in accordance with Christ's example and Paul's instructions.
Doctrinal Statement on THE RAPTURE
The doctrine of a secret rapture during which Christ will clandestinely return to catch away the saints from the earth, protecting them from the great tribulation, is not biblical. It is neither taught nor mentioned in the New Testament. Christ will indeed come back to this earth, but it will be only once, with power and full glory, and will be totally visible to all human beings. This will occur at the final trumpet blast, concomitant with the first resurrection, which is after the great tribulation, and
just after the seventh and last plague.
Doctrinal Statement on "THE LORD'S PRAYER"
Repetitious recitations of the Lord's prayer are not practiced as a Christian custom. Jesus admonished His disciples not to repeat ritualistic prayers over and over again to God, but rather to pray from the fully active mind and heart. His sample prayer in Matthew 6:9-15 was given as an outline for prayer, showing His disciples how to pray and what to pray for and about.
Doctrinal Statement on PREDESTINATION
God has not predetermined, nor can He even know in advance, whether or not a person will yield himself to God, strive for perfection, and succeed in entering into His Kingdom.
God has predestined that He will give human beings the opportunity to conform to the image of His Son if they decide to do so. God has also predestined that He would choose a certain group in this end time to fulfill His commission and to qualify for His Kingdom now. Thus predestination refers solely to the time of one's calling, when God decides to open a person's mind to His truth, thereby giving him an opportunity for salvation.
Doctrinal Statement on SPEAKING IN TONGUES
The Biblical occurrences of "speaking in tongues" are not the phenomenon often seen in charismatic circles, nor the sign by which one judges whether a person has been begotten by God's Holy Spirit. Incomplete contradistinction to the
unintelligible verbal utterances of certain groups, for one to biblically "speak in tongues" means that God has supernaturally given the gift of speaking in an actual foreign language to that person as a sign.
Doctrinal Statement on LAW AND GRACE
To be "under grace" does not mean that a person may disregard or disobey God's law by assuming that Christ has "fulfilled" the law for him or that Christ must always forgive him. Grace is "favor" from God, unmerited pardon for sins that are past, granted because of His mercy and forgiveness. Grace in no way gives one license to disobey God. Man must keep God's commandments to be a true Christian. Salvation cannot be earned. It is a free gift but requires law (which defines
sin) and grace (which is the forgiveness of sin), faith (in God and works (a consequence of that living faith which produces spiritual fruit).
Doctrinal Statement on INFANT BAPTISM
The practice of infant baptism is not supported by biblical principle. Since persons are not born with "original sin" there is no need for them to be baptized in childhood. For one to be truly ready for the baptism described in the New Testament, he must be sufficiently mature to understand the Bible, to believe in Jesus Christ and to be capable of real repentance.
Doctrinal Statement on BAPTISM
The traditional Christian practices of baptism by any method other than immersion—such as sprinkling, pouring, etc-—is not in accord with the teachings of the New Testament. Indeed the symbolism likening baptism to the death of the "old" man, being buried with Christ, can be fully expressed only by total immersion in water.
Doctrinal Statement on PENANCE
God does not require penance, an imposed system of physical works, undertaken as a punishment in token of penitence for sin. God totally forgives the sinner upon true repentance and acceptance of Christ's sacrifice as full payment for the penalty of sin. True repentance is toward God alone, and He demands no external manifestation before men.
Doctrinal Statement on ETERNAL SECURITY
The belief that once a person has been converted he is "saved" and can in no way lose out on salvation is biblically unfounded. God wants us to grow in grace, knowledge and character, and gives us the free moral agency necessary. Christians are thereby not saved in the ultimate sense until they have been finally born into God's Kingdom at the resurrection. While still living, Christians are in the process of being saved and can lose out on salvation by willfully rejecting God's way. Only at
the resurrection or at death (whichever comes first), is the true Christian eternally secure.
Doctrinal Statement on UNIVERSALISM
It is possible for human beings to reject God's truth, salvation, and thus be denied entry into God's Kingdom. The ultimate, reconciliation of all humans and creatures to God is not taught in the Bible. If it were impossible to cast aside and renounce God, this would destroy the free moral agency crucially essential to build the character of God. God's will is that all men come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved. However, all will not choose to follow God and be granted salvation, though biblical
indications are that the vast majority will joyously do so. Those who remain unrepentant will be consumed in the lake of fire.
Doctrinal Statement on THE CHURCH
A church is not, except in extended usage, a building or an edifice. It is rather the people who comprise the congregation, the collective "body of Christ," the group of called-out believing Christians in whom God's Holy Spirit dwells. It can be applied to Christians as a whole or to an individual congregation.
Doctrinal Statement on THE CROSS
The use of crosses, crucifixes or the "sign of the Cross" in prayer or worship is non-biblical and non-efficacious in a Christian's relationship with God and Christ. The image of the cross has no intrinsic spiritual value and apparently originated in non-Christian religions; for these reasons it is avoided. God instructs His people to worship Him without such external devices.
Doctrinal Statement on PICTURES OF JESUS
We do not know what Jesus looked like, and we should not make worshipful use of His pictures if we did. The pictures most often purporting to represent His face are mythical, inaccurate and unbiblical, and are the product of mere human imagination. The use of any picture as a religious crutch breaks the spirit of the second commandment.
Doctrinal Statement on RELIGIOUS MEDALS/STATUES
For man to make, venerate or use as reminders in worship such things as medals, statues or images of "God" is forbidden by the second commandment. Man has direct access to God through Christ and needs no other intercessor or aid— no "holy" object or "holy" person--in personal worship.
Doctrinal Statement on MINISTERIAL/RELIGIOUS TITLES
The use of religious titles which rightfully belong only to God, such as "Reverend" or "Father" are avoided for ministers. Respect for a person's office does not depend upon what title he uses. The Bible says that "Holy and Reverend is His /God's/ name," not the name of any man.
Doctrinal Statement on FAITH HEALING
The attempt to promote faith healing as a public spectacle in a carnival-like atmosphere is contrary to both the example and intent of scripture. Christ and the apostles healed as a witness to their preaching of the gospel; and whenever God heals today, it has heretofore been in a private and personal way.
Doctrinal Statement on ABSTINENCE/ASCETICISM
The ascetic way of life is not taught as the biblical ideal. The total avoidance of certain physical pleasures such as drinking alcoholic beverages or having sexual relations within marriage, is not biblically commanded. (Drinking alcohol in excess or participating in sexual behavior outside of marriage is strictly and forcibly condemned.) The Bible does allow, and even encourages, the proper moderate use of the many physical pleasures of life which God created for man's enjoyment.
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