The Armstrong Legacy

Most Christians are aware of the changes that have taken place in the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) and it is a joy to see those who have come through to a personal relationship with Christ. However, we do need to be alert to the fact that the errors taught by Armstrong are still alive and well in Britain, and are propagated by groups such as the Philadelphia Church of God and the United Church of God.

This article will concentrate on such groups, but before we do, I want to make clear what has happened to the WCG in the past few years. Some, if not many, of its members have come to a place of secure relationship in Jesus Christ. There is no question that their “Statement of Faith” is evangelical and Trinitarian, and their attitude is no longer exclusive or over-domineering. As such, I believe it is right for them to have been accepted into the Evangelical Alliance.

This situation of course does not mean, as is probably true of many churches, that every member is a true born-again Christian. Indeed, the very situation they have come from, may make the transition all the harder and leave some lingering questions and doubts. However, as Christians we must reach out to build bridges to them and not hide behind the old brick walls.

This said, we will now turn our attention to see the errors of Armstrongism that are still being propounded today in other churches in Britain.

One thing that becomes obvious, when you look into such groups, is the number of splits there have been and then, the further divisions of the original splits. It is possible that by the time this article is read there will have been further divisions! However, whatever the change of name of the group the basic teachings that stem from Armstrong are still alive and well and need to be guarded against.

PHILADELPHIA CHURCH OF GOD

Last year the Philadelphia Church of God (PCG) with a PO Box address in Daventry advertised in a national newspaper, Herbert W Armstrong’s (HWA) The United States and Britain in Prophecy. However, there is now a note on their website as follows:

“We regret to inform you that we can no longer offer The United States and Britain in Prophecy (expanded, 196-page version). The Worldwide Church of God has demanded, and has obtained from the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals a ruling, that the Philadelphia Church of God cannot disseminate copies of Mystery of the Ages. We believe the Worldwide Church of God will adopt the same posture with respect to Mr. Armstrong’s other books.”

A look at this book does sum up the teaching of the PCG as indeed any investigation of their website will show.

Using the monarchy as the background, the PCG claimed in the advertisement,

“… Herbert W. Armstrong clearly proves that Britain and her former colonies are dominions all established from the biblical twelve tribes of Israel. This book will prove to you that Queen Elizabeth has descended from a line of kings and queens going back 3,000 years to King David.”

This was HWA’s equivalent of all popes go back to Peter – no apparent proof, but we will make the claim.

This book shows beyond doubt the claims of HWA that are clearly not compatible with mainstream Christianity and the sad fact is that there are groups still propounding them today. A few examples are listed below, starting with the claim that HWA often made, that he had special revelation.

“One might ask, were not biblical prophecies closed and sealed? Indeed they were – until now! And even now they can be understood only by those who posses the master key to unlock them.” p.5

“So, the first week in 1953, God’s message started getting into Britain from Europe – when The World Tomorrow program began going out on the superpowered voice of Radio Luxembourg.” – p.181.

“… when the throne of David was first overturned by Jeremiah, it was replanted in Ireland, later overturned a second time and replanted in Scotland, overturned a third time and planted in London. When Christ returns to earth to sit on that throne, He shall take over a live, existing throne, not a nonexistent one (Luke 1:32).” – p.102.

“But when that 2520-year withholding of the birthright had expired, God was faithful to His unconditional promise to Abraham! Not because of any British or American goodness, superiority, or worthiness, but because of God’s faithfulness to His promise, beginning in 1800 these two birthright peoples suddenly burst forth as the greatest world powers in all history!” – pp.127/128.

We can see here a similarity to the proven false prophecies of Jehovah’s Witnesses, using dates and then finding facts to fit with the theories propounded. However, I doubt if Britain and America were ever the greatest world powers. Also reminiscent of the second President of the Watchtower Society, Rutherford, HWA uses amazing facts such as the first steamboat and the railroads to confirm his prophecies. (See p.153.)

The PCG’s website clearly shows the continued erroneous teaching of HWA. The Plain Truth Website (no longer running) was helpful in giving us the background to this group and why they continue the teaching.

“In 1989, Gerald R. Flurry was fired from being a minister in the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) for writing a book that he later called Malachi’s Message and eventually claimed was the “little book” mentioned in Revelation 10:2-4. So he started the Philadelphia Church of God (PCG), which now has about 6,000 people attending its meetings. None of the WCG ministers went with Gerald Flurry, so he set up other people as “ministers.” The PCG has a magazine called the Philadelphia Trumpet, a television program called The Key of David…”

The Philadelphia Trumpet, July 1995 helps us understand ‘Malachi’s Message’. In simplicity, what Flurry says is that HWA was the end-time Elijah mentioned in Malachi 3:1 and 4:5. This he says refers to one man that will prepare the way for the return of Christ. In Malachi 4:6 it talks of a curse that will come on some as this one executes his ministry. This is explained in Malachi’s Message as,

“God is primarily talking about destroying the inhabitants of His Church who refuse to build a family around God’s ‘Elijah’ and God’s instructions.” – p.121.

This statement is important, as we shall see, in setting the PCG apart from all other churches. Indeed, they take their very name from the fact, that they believe, the church referred to in this era of Malachi’s Ministry is the Philadelphia Church of Revelation 3.

The article goes on to make clear why Flurry split from the original church. He says that Tkach (who took over from HWA) had assisted HWA for seven years and had acknowledged then and even after his death that HWA did fulfil this end-time Elijah ministry.

In his final sermon to the church towards the end of 1985, Flurry maintains that HWA said that Elijah had come and had brought to light 17 or 18 vital doctrines for the church, and had restored the government of God. Tkach, he says, at first believed this had happened but then turned away. Flurry ends his article with a clear declaration of his position and that of the PCG.

“Several churches have come out of the Worldwide Church of God since Mr. Armstrong’s death in 1986. But as we have said so many times before, the only Church which believes Mr. Armstrong fulfilled the end-time role of Elijah and that God restored His government through him is the Philadelphia Church of God. Can you begin to see why the subject of government is such a key issue? It is the point of truth around which all the other 18 truths revolve! Why is it so many people today reject this fundamental teaching of the end-time Elijah? In the first century, John the Baptist came in the spirit and power of Elijah. Yet Christ plainly said, “they knew him not” (Matt.17:12). And so it is today.”

This acceptance of HWA as such a servant of God is brought into perspective with another revealing quote from the Plain Truth Website:

“It is questionable how much the Philadelphia Trumpet magazine could tell anyone about the future when it can’t even be honest about the past. The February 2000 issue of the Philadelphia Trumpet magazine was a special, expanded (20 extra pages) ten-year issue that said on the cover, “He Was RIGHT! Remembering Five Decades of Accurate Forecasting by HERBERT W. ARMSTRONG.” This was designed to give readers the impression that Herbert W. Armstrong (HWA) was right with all his predictions. They might naturally wonder why so many people from the Worldwide Church of God would stop listening to a forecaster who had been right for fifty years. Surely Gerald Flurry wouldn’t deliberately try to deceive his readers about HWA’s forecasting accuracy, would he? Or would he? There are some articles on the Internet’s World Wide Web written by people who don’t think that HWA was always totally accurate with his forecasts.”

“GLOBAL CHURCH OF GOD”

Please note the ” ” in the title above as this group does not exist, as it did originally, but it is a group from which other groups have come into being.

In 1993, what was to become the Global Church of God (GCG), split from the WCG under its then leader, Roderick C Meredith. In 1998 however, the church’s board of directors sacked Meredith because, they claimed, he had separated himself from them.

The issue in contention was that of church government, just who ran the GCG. On 21 November 1998 Meredith sent an “Emergency Letter” to all the supporters putting his side of the story.

Meredith felt his calling was specific and confirmed by all sorts of circumstances. The letter related,

“As many of you know, the living Jesus Christ guided circumstances so that I was literally “pushed” to start this Work. After learning of the increasingly apostate movement in our former association, I had been praying fervently and fasting twice a month for God to make it absolutely clear to me what He wanted me to do. Finally, in December 1992, Christ did reveal it very clearly to me. I was told that I was going to be forcibly retired whether I wanted to be or not. And it was made clear that in retirement I was to do “nothing”-not even visit or anoint the sick (which I had requested to do) or write an occasional article.

Brethren, the timing of all this was very significant. Yet it was out of my control, for I was certainly not “trying” to get retired. This assault on my ministry came exactly 40 years after my ordination as an Evangelist in December 1952. And strikingly, the official beginning of Global at our first service was seven years to the month from Mr. Armstrong’s death in 1986! Most of you know the significance of those numbers, so I won’t elaborate further on that except to say that I am positive that all of this was done with Christ’s Divine guidance and blessing.”

However, he confesses that his leadership was not without mistakes,

“You might ask how could they do all of this? It all goes back to a serious, though innocent, mistake I made at the founding of Global. We had to have an outside attorney draw up the By-Laws governing the Church so that we could operate legally, receive tithes and offerings, and so that you brethren would be able to deduct your contributions from your taxable income. Those By-Laws contained the expression that “the Board” was to make all decisions regarding hiring, firing and the other administrative and business affairs of the corporation. Frankly, brethren, in the midst of hectic day and night telephone calls from many of you who came early on, with the need to get new booklets out, get our radio program going, etc., I was so busy that I didn’t realize the danger of the way those By-Laws were worded. And, besides, the original Board consisted of the most trusted individuals I knew at that time-my wife and me and Mr. Davis.”

Others joined the board, who did not have the same vision as Meredith and hence the impasse was reached.

In this letter it becomes clear that Meredith sees himself as a ‘special’ leader and, as always in this position, signs of a cult raise their head. He brings out the well-used illustration of Saul,

“Frankly, brethren, throughout the Bible, whenever you see a man being used of God-whether by appointment or through circumstances-to raise up or lead a phase of God’s Work, that man is “God’s anointed” in that particular function and must be respected as such. Even King Saul of ancient Israel-unrighteous though he was, even to the point of attempting to murder David (I Sam. 19:10)-was respected as God’s “anointed.” So even when David had already been anointed by Samuel as the next King of Israel, he DARED NOT try to harm or overthrow Saul! When David had a perfect opportunity to destroy Saul he told his warriors, “The LORD forbid that I should do this thing to my master, the LORD’S anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, seeing he is the anointed of the LORD” (I Sam. 24:6).

These men who have made these threatening political moves and comments toward me seem to have NO FAITH in the Living Christ to lead His Church and remove me if that were ever necessary. Rather, they have decided to use human, carnal political means to get their way and to thwart the one Christ guided to raise up and lead the Global Church of God.”

However, Meredith will not lie down and he makes it clear that he is determined to continue with the work in whatever form it must take.

“I could go on with many more details, dear brethren, but I think you get the picture. Therefore, until these disloyal and deceived men back down, or leave, I am asking all of you faithful brethren to send all of your tithes and offerings in care of me to Post Office Box 501304, San Diego, CA 92150-1304. Just put my name “Roderick C. Meredith,” on the check and then it will be used for the powerful preaching of the Kingdom of God and to maintain our local congregations and video groups. We have already started to incorporate and will see to it as soon as possible that your donations can be deducted from your taxable income as usual.

Remember, brethren, Mr. Herbert Armstrong did the same thing when the “receiver” took over the Church’s Pasadena headquarters in 1979. And at that time all the loyal brethren responded enthusiastically and the Work was able to continue. So I ask you in the name of Jesus Christ to do the same thing now! This new (hopefully temporary) mailing address will be placed as a postscript at the bottom of this letter.”

After these events the GCG entered into proceedings similar to bankruptcy and so ended its ability to operate as an organisation. Larry Salyer and other members of the board then formed a new church called “Church of God, a Christian Fellowship.”

Despite being able to document these splits, there might still be some confusion, because although the name was changed in America, the British Branch, being a separate company, did not change its name and they still operate under the title of the Global Church of God. They still have a PO Box in Derby but there is no mention of the original magazine The World Ahead, which seems to have disappeared from the net altogether, but you can download a magazine entitled Global Watch.

But what of Meredith? Today he goes under the title of the Living Church which opened this web site.

Here we read,

“The Living Church of God is a new organization with an old history. Its leader, Dr. Roderick C. Meredith, was one of the original evangelists ordained by the late Herbert W. Armstrong in December 1952. For almost half a century Dr. Meredith has powerfully proclaimed the truth of God to millions through his hundreds of articles and booklets. He has conducted personal evangelistic campaigns throughout the United States, Canada and the British Isles. Additionally, he has broadcast over radio and television to the whole English-speaking world.

The Living Church of God is active in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Africa, and Australasia. It has scores of ordained ministers and over two hundred congregations. In addition to broadcasts by Dr. Meredith and fellow evangelist Richard Ames in the English language, the Church sponsors broadcasts in French with Dibar Apartian, in Spanish with Mario Hernandez, and in the South African Afrikaans language with Syd Hull.

Church members today view themselves as the spiritual heirs of the original Jerusalem Church of New Testament time.”

However, his views have not changed from his days at GCG and the World Ahead magazine. These were summed up in the publication Your Ultimate Destiny, edition 2.0, February 1996, which is still being offered on the new website.

The early pages of this booklet state the fact that man was put on earth to rule and “to a limited degree (were)… like God Himself!”

At this point, the statement is made that only overcomers need apply for the position of ruling, and p.6 seems to give indication that the way you come to such a place is by doing things.

We are then introduced to the ultimate destiny,

“The ultimate reason we are to go through trials – being tested time and again to see if we surrender totally to God who puts within us His mind, His love, His character – is that God is reproducing Himself!” – p.7

What follows on from this is none other than the Armstrong belief that we were not born again until the resurrection,

“In this life, we are “begotten” or regenerated through conversion and the impregnation of God’s Spirit… The Spirit of God imparts to us the very nature of God. As we surrender our wills to God, yield to His Holy Spirit and drink in of it through regular Bible study and prayer, we grow in spiritual maturity until it is time to be fully “born of God” at the resurrection from the dead!” – p.9.

It should be noted that in this 28-paged booklet there is only one fleeting reference to repentance – with no clear explanation as to what it means – and no reference at all to justification, but simply giving ourselves in total surrender, deeply studying the Bible, heartfelt prayers and occasional fasting (see p.13.)

Whereas we are told clearly God the Father will never grow old, and will always be the head of the family; that Jesus Christ will be greater than us in power and authority, we then read,

“…yet the Bible clearly indicates that the Spirit-sons of God will share the same level of glory and majesty as their Elder Brother, Jesus Christ.” – p.14.

What are we going to do as such beings? Inherit “the entire universe!” Evidently man plans to put all things in subjection to man. This understanding is arrived at because Hebrews 2 tells us that man will be made superior to angels. We will,

“… help rule the entire universe under the direction of our Elder Brother and High priest, Jesus Christ!” – p.17.

Giving us a little more detail of what the GCG teaches we will be like, we read,

“In the resurrection… we will be like Christ was after His resurrection. We will be able to simply pass through walls… disappear into thin air… (we) will also be able to appear in human from, visit with, eat with and teach human beings during Christ’s millennial reign on earth.” – p.21.

This leads to an amazing statement concerning Micah 4:5 which speaks of the people of the time all walking in the FALSE ways of their own gods as compared with those who walk in the one true way.

“Possibly, Micah is describing the relationship of the people in various cities or provinces to their particular Ruler or Judge – a “born-again” member of the God Family….” – p.22.

How can one of these supposedly born again brothers of Christ lead people into the worship of false gods?

The prospect this group puts before an individual may be tempting but nowhere in God’s Word do we find such a situation exists. It is merely a figment of the imagination built on a few isolated texts, taken out of context. What is even more tragic is that there is no way of getting there, as all we are doing in this life is working towards being born again. Tragically, at that point, it will be too late, as we need to know the justification of Christ in our lives now, not wait until the resurrection. Once we die, we are ‘examined by death’ and if sin is found within us then there is judgement. We must know the forgiveness of sin and the justification of Christ before we go into the grave.

UNITED CHURCH OF GOD

In Britain, the UCG has PO Box addresses both in Watford and Milton Keynes. They offer a magazine called Good News, a free Bible Study Course and other free booklets.

The UCG did have some meetings with the board of directors of the then GCG, seemingly with a view to some type of amalgamation. To date nothing appears to have come from these discussions.

There is much that on paper seems to be okay with the UCG; much of their statement of faith we could agree with. Yet there are some areas of concern, albeit in a different way to that of the PCG and the GCG. The areas of concern do stem from the teaching of HWA but he is not mentioned much and indeed no personalities appear to be exalted over much within this church unlike the two preceding groups.

First, we reproduce a summary of the main teachings of the UCG taken from their 1998 booklet Fundamental Beliefs.

“We believe in one God, the Father, eternally existing, who is a Spirit, a personal Being… He, through Jesus Christ, is the Creator of the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. He is the Source of life and the One for whom human life exists. We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, who is the Word and who has eternally existed. We believe that He is the Messiah, the Christ, the divine Son of the living God, conceived of the Holy Spirit, born in human flesh of the virgin Mary. We believe that it is by Him that God created all things, and that without Him was not anything made that was made. We believe in the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of God and of Christ. The Holy Spirit is the power of God and the Spirit of life eternal… The Holy Spirit of God is not identified as a third person in a trinity, but is consistently described as the power of God.

We believe that Scripture, both the Old and New Testament, is God’s revelation… inspired in thought and word, infallible in the original writings… final authority in faith and in life; and is the foundation of all truth.

We believe that Satan is a spirit being who is the adversary of God and the children of God; Satan has been given dominion over the world for a specific time; Satan has deceived humanity into rejecting God and His law; Satan has ruled by deception with the aid of a host of demons who are rebellious angels, spirit beings who followed Satan in his rebellion.

We believe that humanity was created in the image of God with the potential to become children of God, partakers of the divine nature… sin entered the world, and, through sin, death. Death now reigns over all humanity because all have sinned.”

Much of the above is quite acceptable – although as with many other groups, evangelical Christians would say that they fall into serious error in that they cannot accept the deity of the Holy Spirit and therefore reject the Trinity. What though is the answer to the problem of fallen man? Here we see more errors beginning to form.

“We believe that sin is the transgression of the law. The law is spiritual, perfect, holy, just and good. The law… is immutable and binding. We believe that breaking any one point of the law brings upon a person the penalty of sin. We believe that this fundamental spiritual law reveals the only way to true life…”

With this statement there appears to be the beginnings of reliance on works. However, the next few statements leave us in some doubt as to whether that would be a true conclusion or not.

“We believe God so loved the world of helpless sinners that He gave His only begotten Son, who, though in all points tempted as we are, lived without sin in the human flesh. That Son, Jesus Christ, died as a sacrifice for the sins of humanity… In paying this penalty He has made it possible, according to God’s plan for each person and for humanity as a whole, to have their sins forgiven and to be released from the death penalty.”

“We believe that all who truly repent of their sins in full surrender and willing obedience to God, and who by faith accept Jesus Christ as their personal Savior, have their sins forgiven by an act of divine grace.”

“We believe in the ordinance of water baptism by immersion after repentance. Through the laying on of hands, with prayer, the believer receives the Holy Spirit and becomes a part of the spiritual Body of Jesus Christ.”

Whereas they talk of baptism as symbolism one can only assume that if we are not baptised by immersion we are not part of the spiritual Body of Jesus Christ and are therefore not His. We again are moving towards a reliance on the outward and not the inward. This is underlined by the next few beliefs.

“We believe that the seventh day of the week is the Sabbath of the Lord our God. On this day we are commanded to rest from our labors and worship God, following the teachings and example of Jesus, the apostles and the New Testament Church.”

“We believe in observing the New Testament Passover on the night of the 14th of Abib, the anniversary of the death of our Savior.”

“We believe in the commanded observance of the seven annual Holy Days that were given to ancient Israel by God; were kept by Jesus Christ, the apostles and the New Testament Church; and will be observed by all mankind during Christ’s millennial reign. These Holy Days reveal God’s plan of salvation.”

“We believe that those meats that are designated “unclean” by God in Leviticus 11 and Deuteronomy 14 are not to be eaten.”

“We believe that Christians are forbidden by the commandments of God from taking human life directly or indirectly and that bearing arms is contrary to this fundamental belief.”

These outward laws are a flashback to the old legacy of Armstrongism that relied on the law. They do not hinder us from receiving initial salvation but they might hinder our growth. Beyond that, there is always the danger that we rely too much on the outward and never come to know the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit of God.

What about the future though, what is the purpose of God?

“We believe God’s purpose for mankind is to prepare those whom He calls… to possess God’s Kingdom and become kings and priests reigning with Christ at His return. We believe that the reason for mankind’s existence is literally to be born as spirit beings into the family of God.”

“We believe that the only hope of eternal life for mortal humans lies in the resurrection through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We believe that at the return of Jesus Christ a resurrection to spirit life will take place for all who have been God’s faithful servants. We believe that, after Jesus Christ has ruled on earth for 1,000 years, there will be a resurrection to physical life of the vast majority of all people who have ever lived. We believe that, after these people have had an opportunity to live a physical life, if they become converted they, too, will receive eternal life. We also believe that those who reject God’s offer of salvation will reap eternal death.”

This brings another clear error to light – the UCG preaches the gospel of a second chance, something that Christians who take the Bible literally can never agree with!

To highlight the clear differences whatever words are used in their statement of faith, we will look at their booklet entitled Heaven and Hell – What does the Bible really teach? published in 2000.

Pages 5-11 of this booklet argue, very similarly to the Jehovah’s Witnesses, that man does not have an immortal soul. The answer to this issue is found in the following Biblical teaching:

Hebrews 4:12 and 1 Thessalonians 5:23 – The Bible shows, in these verses, that man has three distinct parts. It is true that sometimes the words are used interchangeably and it is not always easy to put this doctrine into a nice watertight container. However, it is clear from Scripture that man has both a spirit and a soul and there is that which is eternal that goes beyond death.

Genesis 2:7 – We do not dispute that the Bible uses the word ‘soul’ to talk of the whole man. The point is though, does it also talk about the ‘soul’ as a special part that was created by the breath of the eternal God breathing into Adam?

What we need to understand is that Adam was complete as a person but was not called a nephesh, a soul. Only when ‘life’ was placed in him by means of God’s breath was he called a soul. That life was not nephesh but it made him a nephesh. In other words in this verse, neither ‘a person’ nor ‘the life of a person’ defines nephesh.

Ecclesiastes 12:7 – This verse is clear, the spirit returns to God, who made it, but the body will return to dust from where it came. A clear example of there being an eternal part to man.

Ezekiel 18:4-20 – especially verses 21-23, 27,28,32. This does say that the soul that sins will die, but they equally shows, that if that soul shows genuine repentance it will live.

Matthew 10:28,29 – Shows that even though a person’s body can be killed, no man, and not even Satan, can destroy the soul – only God who created it could do this. This shows clearly that there must be a part of man that survives the death of the body.

Chapter 12 starting on p.12 is entitled, ‘Will a Loving God Punish people Forever in Hell?’ Again, so many of the same arguments are used. Emotionally, everyone wants to answer no, to the above question but what is the reality? What should people be made aware of so that they can have an opportunity to repent and be saved? Again, we outline Biblical teaching.

The Hebrew word sheol appears 66 times in the Old Testament. The Greek word hades appears 10 times in the New Testament and the Greek word gehenna appears 12 times in the New Testament. The Greek word tartarus only appears once in the New Testament, at 2 Peter 2:4. This last word need not concern us as it is a special abode for disobedient angels.

Greek scholar W.E.Vine sums up the use of sheol, Hades and gehenna in the Scriptures, as follows:

Hades …the region of departed spirits and the lost (but including the blessed dead in periods preceding the Ascension of Christ) …It corresponds to ‘Sheol’ in the O[ld] T[estament]. In the A[uthorised] V[ersion] of the O[ld] T[estament] and N[ew] T[estament], it has been unhappily rendered ‘Hell,’ …or ‘the grave,’ …or ‘the pit’ … It never denotes the grave, nor is it the permanent region of the lost; in point of time it is for such, intermediate between decease and the doom of Gehenna. – Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol.2, pp.187/8.

Hell …Geenna represents the Hebrew Ge-Hinnom (the valley of Tophet) …’the eternal fire’ is mentioned as the doom, the character of the region standing for the region itself. – Vine’s Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vol.2, p.212.

The Bible shows that the Hebrew word sheol and the Greek word Hades refer to the same place but the Greek word gehenna refers to a different place.

Gehenna represents the valley of the Son of Hinnom south-east of Jerusalem. Here, during Old Testament times, children were offered to the false god Moloch, and later Jews used the valley to dispose of their rubbish, dead animals and unburied criminals. To consume all this, a fire burned continuously, and gnawing worms abounded. It was a vile place.

Bible references to sheol and Hades do not mention a terrifying ‘hell’, full of torment for those within. On the other hand, the references to gehenna reveal such a place and condition not to be recommended.

If gehenna is simply the eternal annihilation of the unworthy, unconscious and non-existent, there would be no point in using the word at all. The Jews of Jesus’ day certainly had a vivid picture of what being thrown alive into gehenna would be like for them. They knew all about the valley of the Son of Hinnom. [See Mark 9:42-48.]

Matthew 5:29,30 – It is better to lose part of one’s body than end up in hell. If hell is only the grave of the non-existent then this Scripture does not make sense.

Matthew 23:33 – Why try to escape from the grave?

Matthew 26:24 – It is better not to have been born. This is nonsense if hell is non-existence because the end would have been the same as the beginning.

Much is then made in this booklet as to whether the reward of Christians is eternal life in heaven. Frankly, this does not seem to be an issue worth arguing about. In fact, we are not promised that we will be in heaven but we are promised that we will be where Jesus is. The last chapters of Revelation show that God’s ‘home’ and man’s ‘home,’ heaven and earth, are all gloriously rolled back into one to make one Kingdom. Whether ‘heaven’ or ‘earth’ is not the case, it will be where the Father and the Son are, that we will be.

However, who are able to be there – wherever ‘there’ is? According to the UCG it goes like this:

There will be those of the ‘First Resurrection,’ the firstfruits that are talked of in Revelation 20:4-5.

These verses also talk about ‘the rest’ and these are the ones who will be resurrected after the first and have an opportunity for salvation. Of these we read,

“That same verse explains, The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended: There is another resurrection after the first, and in this resurrection others will have the opportunity to receive salvation. They will be called to understand God’s truth and His plan during a period sometimes referred to as the ‘great white throne’ judgment (verse 11).

“This time of judgment is further described in verse 12: ‘And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books.’

“Those resurrected in this group have never completely understood the truth of God. Consider that the majority of all people who have ever lived have never heard God’s truth. Rather than such people being condemned to eternal suffering in a fiery hell, the truth of the Bible is much more comforting and encouraging. God will extend the opportunity for eternal life to everyone-to a relatively few in this age but to billions of people in the coming second resurrection.” p.47

There will then be a third resurrection, which according to UCG is

“Other scriptures indicate that a third group will be resurrected just before the final destruction of the wicked in the lake of fire.

“Jesus explained that some would deliberately and knowingly despise the spiritual revelations that God would open their minds to understand. These, He said, will not be forgiven ‘either in this age
or in the age to come’ (Matthew 12:31-32).

“Yet ‘all who are in the graves will hear [Christ’s] voice and come forth…’ (John 5:28). Even those who will not be forgiven are to be resurrected from the dead.

“This group will include only those who have deliberately rejected God’s way of life even after they have been ‘once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit’ (Hebrews 6:4-6). These few are people who were once forgiven and converted but later chose to reject the Holy Spirit and priceless knowledge God gave to them.

“Because they ‘trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace,’ for them ‘there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries’ (Hebrews 10:26-29).

“God has revealed that the ultimate fate of the incorrigibly wicked is to be burned up.” – pp.48/49.

Is this biblical? Can we really give such a hope to the people we preach to?

Revelation 20 does not teach the doctrine contained in this UCG booklet. It does talk of a resurrection of some people clearly indicated by verse 4 and indeed, there will be another resurrection of the rest of the dead. There is not a third resurrection because all are resurrected at this time of the ‘rest’.

However, what is clear from a fundamental reading of Scripture is that there is no second chance, at this time, as the UCG teaches. At the resurrection, the books are opened and verse 12 tells us that the judgement takes place on what has (past tense) been written in these books. Judgement is based on what we have or have not done in this life. There is no second chance; today is the day of salvation. Those, whose names were in the book of life already, were brought to eternal life with Christ and those, whose names were not found there, were cast into the lake of fire.

CHURCH OF GOD INTERNATIONAL

We read this interesting snippet from an article by Dixon Cartwright at,

“The CGI, since its founding in 1978, has undergone three major splits. The first was in 1995, when elder Ron Dart resigned and formed Christian Educational Ministries. The second was in early 1996, when about 40 elders left and formed independent congregations, most of which are loosely associated as the Churches of God Outreach Ministries. The third occurred in January 1998 at the time of Mr. Armstrong’s departure.

The Armstrong departure was that of Herbert’s son Garner Ted. While alive he had some influence in Britain and worked under the heading of the Intercontinental Church of God with his own Evangelistic association. He used to have a web site that actively promoted HWA’s writings, although they could notsell them due to the court order, and the following, taken from the site, shows the continued difference with mainline Christianity.

“THE HOLY SPIRIT – The Holy Spirit is the spiritual extension of God, containing the essence, power and mind of God. God uses His Holy Spirit to beget Christians as His sons and daughters. The Holy Spirit spiritually strengthens Christians, converting their minds to be more like God’s mind. The Holy Spirit also serves as an earnest or guarantee of future eternal life.

“SALVATION – The penalty for sin is death, but salvation is the means by which God saves mankind from the penalty of sin so that they may be given eternal life. Working through His Son, Jesus Christ, the salvation process includes one’s calling, repentance, baptism, justification, receiving of the Holy Spirit, then living a life of faith and obedience, and finally, birth into God’s Kingdom as a spirit being. Salvation is a gift freely given through grace by God, with our ultimate reward given according to our works.”

CONCLUSION

As we have seen in this article, the Armstrong Legacy is alive and well in a number of churches, and we need to understand and be ready to help these ones bound up by the law and a false hope that is never going to bring them the reward they so long for. We need to preach the gospel of grace to those now, who are trying to live by works. We also need to show them that ‘Today’ is the day they must respond, not waiting for some second chance after death, that will never come.>

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