I've been talking a little bit about my experiences growing up in one of the most oppressive, hide bound, controlling churches that anyone could imagine: The World Wide Church of God.
As I've been showing, my father (who passed away in 2002) was in a very senior position in that denomination, engaging directly with and reporting to the Pastor General of the Church, the late Herbert W. Armstrong.
When my father left the World Wide Church of God in 1974, he was heading the Department of Theology at their private college known as Ambassador College.
My father reached that position through a long rise through the ranks in the Church over a period of almost 20 years of membership in the Church. Of course, the main reason he left was the major failure of the predictions made by Mr. Armstrong in the mid -1950's concerning the coming of Jesus Christ in 1972.
Now, over the years, my father used to speak about a body in the World Wide Church of God which he had a great deal of experience. It was a body known as "The Church Doctrinal Committee." Here is what I said in my first post in this series about these types of bodies in churches like the World Wide Church of God.
"Church leaders maintain “doctrinal committees” which on the surface are suggested to be forums where new information is discussed and formulated, but, in practice, these bodies are in existence to continue promoting the same old teachings that Church One has been teaching since its inception. The old line is to be preserved at all costs. There is no such thing as “new truth.”" (Martin, Foundation for Biblical Research Exposition Sept: 1976)
So, let's understand what this body is.
It is simply this. It is in existence to portray that the Church is in fact open to new ideas and new truths. It is the forum within the Church for "growing in grace and knowledge" (II Peter 3:18). It is where the spirit that says: "That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God" (Colossians 1:10). It is where the light of truth radiates following the Biblical directive saying: The path of the just is as a shining light that shineth more and more unto the perfect day" (Proverbs 4:18).
What a beautiful instrument of truth dissemination and growth such a body is? Yes. That is what it is on the surface, but let me tell you a fact. Bodies like this are in existence for one purpose and one purpose only.
They are there to do one thing, which is to preserve at all possible costs and under all possible circumstances the teachings on which the Church is based and to at every possible opportunity eliminate the possibility that any new teachings are introduced into the Church that do not fit into the precise directives of normally the man (or men) at the top!
After all, the experience my father had was as follows:
1. The World Wide Church of God (WWCG) is the True Church of God
2. The Pastor General of the WWWCG is the Apostle of God on earth and is in direct communication with All Mighty God
3. God would never under any circumstance mislead or deceive His anointed leaders.
4. Therefore, everything that the True Church of God is teaching is the truth and not one thing needs to be changed (unless God inspires the Pastor General otherwise).
So, it was these types of forums that my father found himself a part of. He would submit papers of his own research which would be summarily shot down as irrelevant, unless, wrong and unnecessary.
In these types of Churches, the main criterion for advancement is not to point out anything that the Bible says or to do any independent research. No, not at all. The main criteria for advancement is simply nod your head in blind obedience to the man (or men) in charge and never, ever under any circumstance or for any reason question him (or them).
Well, my father did not last too long in that denomination, but his experience is similar to so many people out there who question things that are happening in their Christian communities.
Here is his own view on Doctrinal Committees:
"One thing we will never do at the Foundation [this is the organization founded by my late father and two other people] is to be paternalistic to any of you. We censor none of our material (or anyone else's) from any of our readers. All are free to read what they want. This is God's way. After all, you are as mature in Christ as we are. You are also the best critics of what we produce and we thank you for your suggestions for improvements. I tried for years to go through professional doctrinal committees to get simple biblical teachings accepted, but got nowhere." (Martin, Foundation for Biblical Research Exposition Sept: 1976)
That is right! He got nowhere!
Here is a summary in his own words of some of his experiences with Church Doctrinal Committees normally headed by one man. I am sure many will simply cut and paste the names and churches of men and other bodies where they have had similar experiences into this firsthand account of my dad's experience.
"The organization with which I was associated for about twenty years was important in helping me to see what real Christianity was. They claimed to be "the true church of God" on earth. The leaders were very active in saying that they would change when shown to be wrong or when new truths were disclosed. This was a notion that appealed to me very much. I was fully aware that most religious organizations of the past changed only when they broke away from another denomination, but they were very reluctant to adjust their thinking once the "complete truth" had been arrived at. [True enough, if absolute truth were within the grasp of man, then once obtained, no more "growing" would be necessary.] Unfortunately, the group that I was associated with claimed to be the "Philadelphia Church" of Revelation Two. They made the identification without the slightest proof to back it up (historically or biblically). But let's face it, since the Philadelphia Church was one of the nicer of the seven, the leaders picked that one as the church that represented them. By doing so, they came to believe that the following descriptions depicted them precisely: "[Thou] hast kept my word, and hast not denied my name" (Rev. 3:8). This, to them, was a sure sign that all the doctrines they were espousing must have been correct. This principle helped me comprehend what real Christianity was, because it became evident that their erroneous beliefs were truly what it wasn't. When one
feels his organization is "the true church," it stops growth in its tracks.
From 1955 to 1960 1 accepted the tenets of that "true church" because I was told it was the "Philadelphia Church" of Revelation. By 1958, I was graduated from college, was sent to England by the denomination to head their London office, and in 1960 was appointed as instructor of Bible and History at their new English College. But in preparing for my classes, it was necessary to study the Bible on my own. I came to see in early 1960 [my dad was 28 years old then] that the theory that the seven churches of Revelation were prophetic time periods, each describing seven eras of the Christian Church was completely false. Indeed, it was very clear in the Bible that all seven churches would exist at the same time in "the Day of the Lord" just prior to, and leading up to, Christ's coming in the clouds of heaven.
When the "Pastor General" came to England for the opening of college, I had a chance to see him in my office. Since he had an hour's free time, I became bold enough to tell him of this wonderful "new truth" that was very clear from the Scripture. After hearing my explanation, he summarily told me my view was not correct and that he was God's representative for the revelation of new truth and that I had no business operating in that field. He spoke with authority! As strange as it may seem, in that 1960 meeting I accepted his "authoritative" position over the plain teaching of the Bible. That was my first mistake! I was to make many more!
The next doctrinal problem came in late 1961. For about a year I had been doing research on the time for celebrating the Feast of Pentecost. Yet the doctrine of the "true church" of which I was a minister and educator, taught that Pentecost was on the wrong day. My biblical, historical, and linguistic studies had shown that this belief was wrong: Pentecost according to the Bible was on Sunday, not Monday. I wrote a 93 page (legal sized) paper on the subject which rehearsed the proper teaching on the matter. In accordance with normal procedure, I submitted it to my immediate superior in England for evaluation before I sent it to the top authorities in Pasadena. He took about two weeks to review the research and finally he told me that he could find nothing wrong with the fundamental issues. In fact, he commended my research as being at the highest academic level and that I would no doubt get a feather in my cap for the new information. He advised me to send it to the "Pastor General." This was done. But instead of a feather in my cap, I got one somewhere else. [I say this now in humor, but it was very serious business for me at the time.] In full conference with all the recognized theologians, historians, and church administrators, the "Pastor General" rejected the whole concept. Again I was told, with much stronger emphasis than in 1960, that I had no business in "wasting a year of my time" to research a subject with such a ridiculous conclusion. I was informed that God had put only the "Pastor General" into a position of authority for the determination of doctrine not me. And again, I reluctantly accepted the appraisal because I firmly believed (at that time) that he was indeed the only authority. [It is most interesting that the same "Pastor General" has now changed his mind [this was written in 1978, four years after my father left the World Wide Church of God] and he accepts almost every one of my suggestions offered in that 1961 paper as being the will of Almighty God.] Still, at that time, I let men rule in the matter when I full well knew that the Bible taught oppositely on the subject. This confession is not very flattering to me, but the truth needs to be told. I was then a follower of men completely a follower of men, even in their grossest of errors! The main problem was my acceptance of their organization as being "the true church of God." The reason for mentioning this is to give some background on why the Foundation has adopted the principle that the Bible is the only real source for doctrine and that no man, or any group of men, has authority to void the teachings of Holy Scripture. There is a true Church of God but its headquarters is in heaven, and we do not need an organization of men here on earth to substitute for it. In no way are we against churches as places for fellowship and learning of the Bible, but to say that the "true church of God" is located on earth and is in the hands of men for administration, is contrary to the Word of God.
Then, in 1965 the authorities elevated me to the position of Dean of Faculty at the English campus. It was then being confidently taught in the denomination that in January, 1972 the whole of the "true church" (that is, all the faithful ones) would be wafted away to the area of Petra southeast of Jerusalem to be in a position of physical protection from the Great Tribulation that would envelope the rest of the world in that very year. They also taught that by 1975, Christ would come back to earth. This teaching was based, not on biblical revelation, but on certain nineteen year time cycles that were observable in the heavens. It was believed that the early New Testament church had two such nineteen year cycles in which to preach the Gospel before the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70 and that the last remnant of the church [represented by our "true church of God"] would also have just two such cycles. Since it was clear that official preaching by the "Pastor General" started in January, 1934, and his first teaching to Europe went out nineteen years later (1953), then it was taught that the Gospel message from the church would cease in January, 1972. That's when the Great Tribulation would begin but all faithful members would flee to Petra at the end of the second nineteen year cycle (1972) just as the early church fled to Pella in A.D. 69 exactly two nineteen year
cycles from the church's beginning in A.D. 31.
The only trouble was, I now had plain historical information found in the writings of Josephus, that the early church fled to Pella in A.D. 66, not as we were teaching in A.D. 69. I once again submitted the historical material to the same superior in England. He was impressed. He told me that this information needed to get to the "Pastor General." Strangely, it took almost two years for the top man to even be aware of the problem. There was always something more important to discuss with him when he came to England than these prophetical matters. Indeed, after many attempts to get a hearing on the topic, I was finally assured that the next time the "Pastor General" came to England that the subject would definitely be taken up. He was to come over in two weeks. But, in the meantime a great sociological disturbance occurred in the two colleges in America that became more important to solve so that the English campus would not be infiltrated with the "leaven of sinfulness" that had come into both American campuses. Matters concerning this great disturbance took up the whole time of the "Pastor General" while he was in England on that trip. No time was allotted for prophetical matters concerning the fleeing of the church to Petra. Other things were more crucial. And what was the important sociological disturbance? It was whether the college girls should be allowed to wear their skirt lengths at the middle of the knee or, as the risqué ones in America were doing, an inch above the knee!
In all fairness, however, it must be mentioned that we finally got around to discussing the important prophetical and chronological problems. When? It was in December, 1971 just one week before we were all supposed to be transported on eagles wings to Petra. [The meeting had been called because most of the "authorities" now knew that some other explanation for the nineteen year time cycles had to be invented so that the people would not think we had made an error.] Actually, because I showed the utter fallacy of the so-called prophetic nineteen year time cycles at that time, and countered the "Pastor General" with his erroneous teachings, I almost got fired indeed, I almost quit. Had it not been for a dear friend who persuaded me otherwise, my wife and I would have left the organization back at that time. [They finally assigned two evangelists to talk some sense into me. One of them suggested that I not read the Bible (except parts of the Psalms) for ten years. He later lowered the restriction to five years if I kept on good behavior. What nonsense!]
I think it is fairly clear that what my dad experienced (and what many others I know have experienced and continue to experience) is not what God has in mind for his children and for their congregating together. Something else needs to take the place of this Church One I've been talking about in this series.
So how would Church Two be different?
1. The first thing is that it would not be a CHURCH, it would be a family who loved and cared about each other no matter what.
2. No Pastor Generals
3. No Doctrinal Committees
4. A healthy dose of democracy in the operation of the Church
5. For every Simeon in leadership, there would also be an Anna
6. A teaching which could not be agreed upon by all would be jettisoned as not worth entertaining
7. It would be a learning, growing, exciting place which got stronger and nothing could overcome it
8. It would be a point of light
9. It would be heaven on earth
10. It would be a place of peace