Tuesday, 26 July 2016

Sentimental Christianty

There's an interesting discussion occurring off-blog about Lonnie Hendrix's recent "God and Jane Fonda" posting. Here's a couple of excerpts from that post.
I have been saying for several years now that Christianity is NOT an intellectual experience. True Christianity is not found in a set of doctrines or teachings. Like God, it cannot be fully or adequately explained by ANY book or pamphlet. Paul wrote in many places that Christianity cannot be explained or understood using man's words and wisdom - that it is OUTSIDE of that realm. Christianity must be experienced on an emotional level - in the gut. I'm not saying that you have to experience Christianity in the same way (or using the same words) that Fonda did, but I am saying that you can't be a TRUE Christian by comprehending and/or adopting a set of beliefs as your own. Choose your own words, but you must be "begotten again" or "reborn."

Try to forget the literalist and fundamentalist baloney. Abandon the apologetics. You're never going to get there on that road... It turns out that the HEART and SENTIMENTALITY are what it's all about! You've got to FEEL it on the inside. Wipe that smug, self-righteous smirk off of your face and let God and Christ into your heart.
Do read the entire piece.

I guess I know where Lonnie is coming from. I certainly agree strongly with many of these statements, but I still did a double take. I'm not so sure that something called Christianity can be primarily "experienced on a emotional level - in the gut." That's where values come from, the still, small voice, the conviction that something is right - or wrong. But Christianity has no exclusive market on that. Isn't that the whole point of Romans 1:19-20?

And I'm not sure that the heart and sentimentality are what it's all about either. It took more than sentimentality to motivate the reformers and abolitionists who fought the slave trade, who campaigned for women's suffrage, who work today for a just society worth handing on to future generations. There were few more "sentimental" varieties of Christianity in the years leading up to World War One than German Protestantism, especially in its Pietistic form, but that seemed to matter not at all as nationalism swept across the face of Europe, and the pastors fell in behind the Kaiser in whipping up unquestioning patriotic fervor.

My point, I guess, is that to identify good feelings and sentiments with Christianity creates a category error. And to focus on good feelings and intentions can lead to quietism and withdrawal from the great issues which should command our attention and passionate advocacy. Christianity, under any positive definition I'd be comfortable with, is as much about the hand as the heart.

Christianity, Lonnie contends, comes to us from outside the realm of human words and wisdom. Again, I know what he means, but can anything beyond instinct and lower animal behaviour really be conveyed outside the realm of language? Even if that was true, which I personally doubt, there is no other place that it - or anything good - can be expressed other than in this messy realm with all its uncomfortable paradoxes.

Doctrine, apologetics... on these I agree wholeheartedly with Lonnie. But if you strip them away, I wonder if what you're left with is best described as something other than Christianity. And, in my view, intellectual rigor, engaging the mind, at least at a basic level, is a non-negotiable element in negotiating one's way through life - and that includes faith commitments of whatever stripe.

As Lonnie often says, what do you think?

Monday, 25 July 2016

O Tannenbaum, O Tannenbaum

If you were ever a member of the old Worldwide Church of God (or one of its offshoots) you know about the Christmas tree passage in Jeremiah 10. I certainly had it underlined and highlighted in my wide-margin KJV from that era.

"For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not." (Jeremiah 10:3-4)

Clearly a precursor to the tinsel-decorated Christmas tree. As verse 2 thunders, "Learn not the way of the heathen".

How clear could it be? Well, maybe not as clear as we thought. The Remythologized blog has an entry called "No, Jeremiah 10 isn't a Christmas Tree." The writer finds textual reasons to show that the word 'workman' (he translates it as 'craftsman') refers to an idol maker. The passage is about a wooden idol, not a decorated tree.

The argument goes further than this though.

"Does it really make sense to argue that Christians should not make use of symbols with pagan origins or associations when Christians are either: a) totally unaware of a symbol’s history, or b) using the symbol with no pagan (or completely different) intentions? My problem with the Hebrew roots movement [he could have sad Churches of God] is that the standard of purity it uses to beat up Christian holidays and symbols cannot even be applied to the Bible. I’ll give you some examples:

"John uses a snake as a symbol for Jesus (John 3:14); it is well known that many of the Biblical proverbs have Egyptian origins and influences (If you don’t believe this you simply haven’t ever picked up an academic commentary on Proverbs.); Psalm 104 is very reminiscent of an earlier hymn to Aten; Psalm 29 seems to be modeled after Baal texts (for example); both Jesus and YHWH are given the Baal’s deity title “cloud-rider” in both testaments... or consider that the book of Revelation is crawling with Greco-Roman astrology. (Ever read Revelation 12?)

"What examples like these show is that symbols are not magically evil. John uses a snake to represent Jesus and it’s totally kosher in his mind. We talk about Jesus “riding on the clouds” and it’s not an issue that this was a title that originally belonged to Baal. The history of a symbol or its uses in pagan contexts doesn’t make it evil or unusable by Christians, it’s the intention behind the symbol that makes it good or bad."

All of which seems sage advice to me.

The demonic and the depressive (2 of 2)

I drive past the local Anglican parish church several times a week. An oppressive stone building, it sits on a main intersection in town. I've only been inside once, around age ten, when my parents drove up from Hamilton for a cousin's wedding. It seemed a fairly strange place to an out-of-town Lutheran kid, not least because of the impressive (brass?) eagle lectern which utterly fascinated my younger self. These seem to be features exclusively associated with Anglican churches and, I'm reliably informed, represent "St. John the Evangelist."

I wouldn't say this particular church is the ugliest I've seen. Churches of a similar age in Melbourne, judging from a trip there several years ago, probably trump this particular structure decisively. These buildings reflect a colonial age in which Christian worship was a rather dour, serious activity. Hushed voices, patronising ten-minute homilies, often cheerless hymnody, no room for spontaneity. The architecture was designed to put you in your lowly place. You attended because it was expected. Good people went to church in the same way good businessmen belonged to service groups like the Lions Club or Rotary. Which denomination largely depended on your family background. Scottish? Tick Presbyterian. English? Tick Anglican. Irish? Tick Catholic.

But times have changed, and the preference these days is for the bubble-gum flavoured mush that the happy-clappy charismatic, prosperity-focused churches vomit forth. The traditional churches haven't kept up. Perhaps they shouldn't even try, but the sad truth is that they're now so out of step with the surrounding culture that their demographic is rapidly sliding into senescence.

On an optimism-pessimism continuum, traditional churches tend to teeter at the depressive "op shop" end. Not that I'm against op shops, they provide a valuable service, but this is often as far as social engagement goes in the historic denominations - at least on a parish/congregational level. When your community PR and profile is mainly associated with this kind of down-in-the-mouth venture, it isn't likely that you're going to attract or retain millennials. It's worthy. It's earnest. But worthy and earnest need to be balanced with something from the joyful end of the spectrum. It makes more sense to me (but what do I know?) to have many local churches vigorously supporting a single initiative alongside other non-religious charitable groups with minimal - or no - church branding.

This whole thing is summed up for me in the audience response to a lecture at Auckland University some time ago by Amy-Jill Levine. Levine is both a New Testament scholar and Jewish. She constantly used humour in her presentation, and very effectively. The attendees were the local Christian theological set. What amazed me was how the humour completely went over the heads of at least half the listeners. I was sitting a couple of seats along from a couple of what seemed to be young religious professionals. They seemed genuinely immune. Certainly they were unappreciative - not even a smile, perhaps they were just puzzled. It was a hard room to play to. The thought that these blokes were going forth into pulpits the following Sunday was genuinely worrying. It still is.

Sunday, 24 July 2016

The demonic and the depressive (1 of 2)

City Impact's Mortlock
The New Zealand Herald has unmasked the worst demon-spawned sects that create havoc across the country's Christian landscape.

Of course, that's not the kind of language the august Herald chooses to use, nor that of the expert commentator they quote, but that's how I see it.

I'm using the term "demonic" and "demon-spawned" in a metaphorical sense. There are no fallen angelic entities that correspond to the literal definition many people still quaver in fear of. Demonic is still a useful descriptor, however, for high demand religious movements which mercilessly exploit gullibility through manipulation - and line the pockets of their leaders in the process.

Only one of these cults (and yes, I'm aware that in the academic realm where religious studies are pursued "cult" is a word avoided at all costs) is not a "prosperity gospel" franchise; the faux-Amish Gloriavale community. Gloriavale is however perhaps the most controlling of these entities, especially if you're a woman or someone with any kind of thirst for independent thinking.

Not surprising to find "Bishop" Brian Tamaki's Destiny Church on the list, nor City Impact Church led by Peter Mortlock. The others include C3, Victory, Life NZ, Equippers and Arise.

"Combined, the religious charities have amassed assets worth more than $214m."

That won't sound like much by American standards, but New Zealand is a small, overwhelmingly secular nation with a population of under 5 million. 

What's the appeal of groups with rubbish theologies and narcissistic leadership models? Peter Lineham of Massey University, whose background is Open Brethren, notes:

"All of these churches hold to what we call the ­prosperity ­doctrine - which argues that the sign of God's love for you will be that you become rich and that you will earn God's love by the generosity of your gifts to the church."

Frankly, you'd have to wonder how stupid someone would have to be to embrace this kind of abuse. Yet many do, and with great enthusiasm. At that point abuse also becomes self-abuse.

But where are the prophetic voices in the more mature Christian community? The voices calling out the prosperity gospel and exposing it for what it is? Where are the prominent Baptists, Presbyterians and others who are willing to decry these caricatures of churches? For God's sake, surely this calls for - at the very least - a measure of indignation.

The silence is deafening. The truth is probably that the virus has infected their denominations too, and that any attempt to effectively address the issues would have catastrophic consequences in low-energy denominations which try and project a smiling, non-threatening, irenic face to the world.

And so the "demons" go unopposed.

Wednesday, 20 July 2016

No longer abiding (and other stuff)

The tiny Abiding Church of God is apparently no longer abiding, given that its website is down and its FB page hasn't been updated since last year. The group first came to public notice just last year as a splinter from Dave Pack's Restored Church of God (RCG). Maybe the webmaster just gave up, or perhaps the whole mini-sect has imploded. Does anyone care? I guess we'll have to wait and see.

If you haven't already seen it on Gary's blog, there's an excellent interview with Dennis Diehl available on the Ra-Men YouTube channel. Gotta say it, Den does an exceptional job. The interviewer is "Amon-Ra", who recently took Pack's idiotic take on creationism apart (one largely shared by other COG bodies) one bleeding chunk at a time. Great questions, great responses. The presentation lasts just under an hour.

What's happened with the Painful Truth blog is a bit of mystery. There are only three current posts up, then everything seems missing till it starts again back with May 2011 posts. What happened to everything in between? Douglas?

Note: the Abiding website is up again. Whew, what a relief.

Siesta time for Otagosh


Keeping two blogs running is a demanding task, at least as far as I'm concerned. Over the years the balance has shifted back and forth between Otagosh and Ambassador Watch. The idea was to post more theological material - particularly related to biblical studies - on the former, and Church of God stories and commentary on the latter.

To simplify things I've decided to include all new Otagosh stories on AW first. The existing blog won't disappear. If you just want to view the latest posts that relate to the kind of things Otagosh has covered you can weed out the often surreal COG content with the Otagosh-specific link http://ambassadorwatch.blogspot.co.nz/search/label/Otagosh 

Every so often, time permitting, I'll reblog relevant posts back over on AW as well. We'll see how it goes.


The dangers of rose coloured glasses

Ah, the good old days before the world went to hell in a handcart. Things are just so bad these days, and they're only going to get worse. Oh, to wind things back to simpler Fred MacMurray My Three Sons times.

That's a popular narrative today. These are unsettling times.

But were they any less unsettling twenty, forty, sixty years ago? Really?

Pam Dewey has been busy producing a short (20 minute) "docucommentary", The Best of Times, part of her ongoing MythAmerica project. Here's the link where Pam introduces her work (which she also narrates) and where you can access it. Just hit play and don't forget the set it for full screen.

Tuesday, 19 July 2016

The Plain Truth About Balaam's Ass

If you thought you already had a handle on the famous talking donkey tale, you might want to check out Paul Davidson's blog. Things are not as simple as they seem. Paul provides a mixture of archaeological data along with some impressive textual detective work that explores the contradictory information found in the Bible. This is one of the smartest biblical commentators I know of, and he makes a pretty watertight case. The Balaam character evolved down the years from a prophet of God to a pagan bad guy.

If you needed any further evidence that the Bible can't just be read at face value, this about clinches it.

Rehashing Ernie

If you were around in the 1970s you'll remember the name Ernest L. Martin. Arguably Ernie was the greatest threat to the WCG at one stage, a former high-flying faculty member at Ambassador College with a disarming personal appeal. He was the Herman Hoeh of "the resistance" (like Hoeh his doctorate was unaccredited) and hugely influential as members started questioning things for themselves in the wake of the 1974 ministerial crisis. Martin talked and wrote openly about the New Covenant, the irrelevance of tithing and Sabbaths and something he termed "progressive revelation". He also adopted a form of "universal reconciliation" - inspired in part by Alfred. E. Knoch's Concordant Publishing Concern.

Not to say that Ernie was a "liberal" by non-COG standards. In many ways he continued to embrace a very wooden, literalist understanding of the Bible. Theologically tolerant he was not. I well remember a peevish letter he sent to Christianity Today making fun of an article on the Trinity. Many in the ex-WCG community however considered him a scholar without peer, especially as he churned out book after self-published book on everything from the Jerusalem temples to the star of Bethlehem. He died in 2002, and is modestly immortalized with a short Wikipedia entry.

Martin's magnum opus was supposed to be a fresh translation of the Bible putting the various books in what Martin considered their original order. After his death the task was passed on to James Tabor, from where it seems to have been slowly killed off.

In recent times Ernie's legacy has been faithfully promoted by David Sielaff. Sielaff continues to beat the prophecy drums, and to turn up to events like a recent "prophecy conference" in Colorado Springs. In his latest monthly newsletter to the dwindling faithful he explains how his views differ from the prophecy-obsessed evangelical fringe which he seems to freely mingle with. Sielaff also regurgitates a 1977 article on prophecy by his master.

The disciples of Ernie and his Foundation for Biblical Research (since morphed into Associates for Scriptural Knowledge) once made up the most radical wing of the WCG diaspora. Today what remains is looking very tired and shopworn. 

Sunday, 17 July 2016

Everybody forgets Fred

Pack, Flurry, Meredith, Thiel, even Weinland. The narcissistic sect leaders we all so love to comment on and critique. If this was a soap opera, these would be the stars. Stringing along would be the leaders on a leash; Kubik and Frank (it's a shorter list) under the "also starring" label. Everyone else is relegated to an occasional "guest appearance". I suspect David Hulme is looking at a complete contract cancellation.

But trotting alongside patiently, often barely noticed, is Fred Coulter. Fred parted ways from the mother-ship shortly after Ted jumped into the shark-infested waters in 1978. Prior to that he was a California-based pastor, produced his own self-published Harmony of the Gospels and occasionally hosted a call-in radio show. Fair to say that, even then, he was a bit outside the usual ministerial stereotype. Perhaps he jumped before he was pushed. Fred established the Biblical Church of God (BCG) and produced a magazine called Bible Answers.

Alas, Fred had a Spanky moment (or more accurately, in later years Spanky was to have a Fred moment). Problems arose. The peasants were revolting. People were getting ideas above their station. Fred relaunched with the Christian Biblical Church of God (CBCG)... leaving the stroppy underlings out of the picture.

While Fred doesn't have a lot of profile, it isn't through lack of effort. In some parts of the world (New Zealand is one of them) the faithful followers of Fred are batting in the big league (the big league here being any COG sect with a mailing address and a minister).

It seems to me that Fred isn't to be counted among the more abusive COG leaders, which may be why he flies under the radar as much as he does. Listening to his sermons is an acquired taste - he makes Rod Meredith sound simply riveting by comparison. Don't believe me? Try his 1 hour 20 minute ramble on Brexit.

CBCG has recently held an Elders' Conference. Counting spouses, kids and curious members, over 150 are said to have turned up at the Hilton Cincinnati Airport Hotel. Actual elders? 17, including Lyall Johnston from New Zealand. Other registered attendees? 7.

(Lyall is an interesting chap. I knew his parents and brother's family in Invercargill many years ago. Genuinely nice people. Lyall returned here several years ago in the wake of WCG's dissolution and - please correct me if I'm wrong - attempted to get credentialed as a mainline minister. He apparently took on the job with Fred after the Stephen Gough fiasco and an initial transfer of leadership to son Chris Gough.)

Being a sprat in the fishpond doesn't stop Fred from thinking big. Some years ago he translated the New Testament into a kind of updated King James Version (A Faithful Version). No mean feat. How many COG translations other than Fred's can you think of? The Old Testament followed, but as I understand it he just bought an existing translation then edited it to fit his agenda, tweaked the proof texts (Hebrew isn't on his CV), then bunged it on the front of his New Testament. Full page ads in the BAR followed lauding the excellencies of this Bible, though he had to scrape pretty deep to find any favourable reviews to quote.

Speaking of the Bible, hallelujah, there's an app. The Fred Bible on your Android or Apple device. I needed to have a lie down and slowly sip a cup of weak tea just to bring my excitement under control. Sadly, I have too many thirsty apps on my phone as it is, so I guess I'll give this one a miss.

Saturday, 16 July 2016

G(C)I Joe on Brexit

Joe Tkach has ventured forth to offer enlightened commentary on Brexit in his Weekly Update.
"You have likely heard a lot over the last couple of weeks about “Brexit.”"
Yes, likely.
"GCI-USA Regional Pastor Rick Shallenberger was in the UK the week of the vote and sent me this report".
 On holiday was he? I guess Rick is one of the few left on the payroll.
"What bothers me the most, Joe, is to hear Christians speculate that this decision fulfills prophecy, some indicating that it aligns with British-Israelism. I even heard some say this decision makes way for the rise of the Holy Roman Empire. It saddens me when people read more into an event than is there. The British people need our prayers as they transition into a new reality for the country. Whether or not this was a good decision, it happened and so we pray for the people involved. We also continue to pray that God provides the means for the gospel to be shared in Great Britain."
The trite comments about providing "the means for the gospel to be shared in Great Britain" deserve a separate response, something about "American Evangelical Imperialism", but maybe another time. More to the point, given that Rick will have been chatting to local GCI members, not rabid LCG/PCG types, it seems all that quoting of Torrance and "Trinitarian theology" has had little effect on the doughty survivors from WCG days. Guess that's a "fail".

Back to Joe Jr.
"Years ago, Hebert Armstrong (our denomination’s founder) did say that Britain would eventually leave the European Union. But he did not get that idea from Scripture—he got it from others who taught what is known as Anglo- or British-Israelism... It’s all too easy to grab hold of a few prophetic statements someone makes, thinking they are right and thus should be followed. But we must look at the larger picture. Herbert Armstrong (along with others) made multiple prophetic statements eventually proven wrong. Mr. Armstrong twice wrongly predicted detailed time-frames for end-time events, including Jesus’ return. Major erroneous predictions like those far outweigh the few, relatively minor predictions that actually came to pass."
Did you catch the typo... Hebert Armstrong? Not a professional look Joe. Must have fired all the employees willing to proof read his stuff.

Overall what Joe says is fair comment, and the sort of thing you might read here. I suppose we have to acknowledge that Joe at least addressed the elephant in the room as Brexit has dominated news... Herb's prophecies on Europe, albeit in a hand-wringing, passionless sort of way.

Then it's back to the gelatinous platitudes.

Friday, 15 July 2016

Real or Knockoff? The Pack magazine.

David Crowl Pack's The Real Truth mag reminds me - more than any of the others on offer - of The Plain Truth which arrived in the family letterbox when I was a teenager. There's a certain nostalgia in the layout, the fonts, even the graphics that take me back to 1970 or thereabouts.

Which is no surprise really. Pack apes "the Work" as it once was. He's not smart enough to realize that time moves on, and the gold standard for the PT in the seventies rapidly evolved by the time Herb Armstrong passed on to his eternal reward. If you're in your thirties, forties or even fifties, the trick won't work nearly as well, but if you're just a tad older you might well do a double take. It's as if time has stood still - only the bylines have changed.

For a start there are those long 'personals' from the editor. In Two Keys to Success! we learn about Dave's Uncle Frank who embodied the first key; out-thinking those who get in your way. The second key is perseverance. Wow, never would have thought of that by myself.

The cover story is The Real Story of American Freedom in which Ryan L. Caswell asks "Why is America Different?" Guess what? It's all to do with British Israelism.

Edward L. Winkfield writes about "The Hidden Economy of Drug Trafficking", while someone without a name opines on "What does God Think of Political Debates?" It must be nice to have the inside track on what God thinks about things that never existed in Bible times. David J. Litavsky is the designated expert on the Yemini civil war, and Packatollah Dave returns with "What is the Unpardonable Sin?"

Full page ads promote a reprint article (remember those?) titled Are You Being Called? (unlikely if you're reading The Real Truth), a booklet called You Can Build a Happy Marriage (run, run like the wind, and don't look back! Dave is the guy who said in a sermon "you don't have a voice woman") and on the back page Dave's slavish rewrite of America and Britain in Prophecy.

It's like stepping into a time machine and arriving forty plus years in the past. Unlike Discern and the unlamented Vision, you can apparently get The Real Truth in print form, though with Dave juggling those nasty bills who knows how much longer that will continue. Alternately you can download the issue from here.

Advocating a Different Spirit

I'm conflicted about the Bible Advocate. Years ago - we're talking the early 1980s - I was a hard copy subscriber. If nothing else it proved to me in my traumatized post-WCG state that a kinder, more generous form of COGism did indeed exist out there, albeit relatively small and distant. I still check out the magazine, though these days only online. It's not exactly riveting reading, especially for folk raised on the decadent triple-chocolate prophetic confections promoted by the mad-as-a-meat-axe Armstrong wing of the movement. The BA - published by the Church of God (Seventh Day) - is more like home made vanilla bread pudding. No artery-clogging additives, and "way healthier".

So why conflicted? Well, it's still a fundamentalist magazine, and for some of us that's now a very far country indeed. But it's not so "in your face", and gentler in tone than it's off-the-wall rivals. It's detractors in the shards of Herbal Empire might label it "Protestant", though I would question that ... who the heck knows what "Protestant" even means these days. Evangelical? Well, kind of, in an irregular sense.

The first thing that struck me about the July/August issue was the number of women contributors - Scott Ashley would have a hernia. The staff box lists a number of women too, including Associate Editor Sherri Langton. Fancy that.

The second thing that strikes an ex-WCG/LCG/UCG/PCG/whateverCG member is the absence of prophetic bullroaring. These folk actually know better. Compared to Beyond Today or Tomorrow's World the BA is positive, up-building and encouraging. If you're addicted to circus acts, you'll need to find an Armstrong periodical.

One item caught my eye in particular; a letter on the Questions & Answers page which asked: "Is the Holy Spirit a force or a person? What does CoG7 teach about the Spirit of God?" Interesting response.

Available to download.

The Fasting Strategy

Gary has a great post up about the LCG's recently announced "church-wide fast" for July 30. In LCG, when the going gets tough the Presiding Evangelist announces a fast and the chorus of yes-men shout amens and hosannas.

It's a long-standing strategy in LCG, the most fast-obsessed COG sect I know of. There was, for example, the March 2007 fast. Here's a comment from the AW archives:
Saturday March 28 is also, apparently, a designated fast for members of the Living Church of God. Exactly why isn't immediately apparent. Guru Rod Meredith calls these things with little reason, other than perhaps whether he's feeling a bit depressed. Rod is on the wane, mind and body are letting him down - alas, the fate of all who are fortunate and blessed enough to live a life to their three-score and ten and beyond. What to do? Let's call on the brethren to share the misery! That'll show God that we're good people and deserve a break!

The whole concept is infantile. What's more, it's introverted. It does nothing for anybody outside the ghetto. I suppose it does help shore up the sense of identity, specialness and separateness from the wicked world - and those in deviant Laodicean pseudo-COGs. But then, is that a good thing?
Then there was the August 2007 fast... hardly time to recover from March. Again, a comment from the archives:
Poor old Rod. Every time something goes wrong, guess whose fault it is? Yes, you brethren have been getting Laodicean! Notice that the Grand High Poobah doesn't include himself in the backsliding. My question would be whether the saintly Presiding Evangelist will himself be fasting on the 4th. Obviously he doesn't seem to think he needs to, and longtime observers will remember Herbert Armstrong's reputation for drinking coffee on the Day of Atonement, which he shrugged off with a "well, I always said there was no nutritional value in cup of coffee!"
How many fasts has Rod called since then? Most of us have given up counting. Is this one any different. Read Gary's piece and the answer is pretty apparent.

Rod however should fast. He's the one who rattled his tonsils irresponsibly on the Scarborough affair, pulling his church into the legal quicksand. He's the one who consistently ignores the sage advice in James 3:1-12. Somebody should frame that passage and place it in a prominent place in Rod's office where he can be constantly reminded of it.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Blog Watch - July 11

It's sometimes hard to keep up with the buzz around the collapsing pocket universe of the Churches of God. Here are some recent posts on other blogs that have their finger on the pulse.

Gary (Banned): Rod has written to the faithful telling them to get in behind Gerry Weston. As he always seems to when he's ostensibly singing someone else's praises, Rod begins by rehearsing just what a terrifically important and faithful chap he, Rod, is. Gary raises an eyebrow at the claims in his own inimitable way. There are some excellent comments from readers.

Kathleen (Dying for God's Sake): In case you were tempted to view the old Worldwide Church of God through rose coloured glasses, Kathleen reprises the instructions ministers received regarding sticky healing situations and the law. Dishonest, duplicitous and deceitful only begin to describe the church's policy.

Redfox (Living Armstrongism): 'Redfox' is a more patient man than I, taking the time to carefully go through the 1996 edition of the Global COG booklet, God's Intervention in World Affairs, by Rod Meredith. As the blogger points out, this thing has been around twenty years now, and frankly it hasn't passed the test of time at all well. Mind you, nothing Meredith has written since he began his career as a blowhard in the 1950s has. You'd think he'd have learned a little humility over the decades, but alas not (see Gary's piece above).

Silenced: This is the most technically irritating of all the blogs. Depending on how you hold your mouth it can take over a minute to load, and it defies any attempts to slot it into a regular blog feed - which is the only reason I don't have it listed there - it doesn't work. It'd also be nice to give the blogger a name - or at least a nom-de-plume - but the only identifier on offer is "Silence". All of which is a shame as the writer has interesting and perceptive views to offer. "Sustenance Tithing" asks the question, just how many suckers does it take to finance a small COGlet. I think S has it about right, but would add that there's the 'promiscuity' factor - the tendency for members to drink from more than one poisoned well, so to speak.

All of the above are well worth checking out.

Addendum: from the pro-COG COG News website: "John Jewell died on 29th June, aged 83. He ran the Worldwide Church of God’s printing press in the UK in the 1960s, before being ordained as a pastor. He joined the United Church of God at its formation in 1995, and was appointed CEO of UCG British Isles, after David Hulme had split the church in 1998, taking the large majority of UK members with him.

"He left UCG along with a few other members in 2002, and launched an internet radio website Radio 4 Living. Some of the programmes have also been broadcast on radio in Northern Ireland and Southern Spain."

Sunday, 10 July 2016

PCG - Brexit buffoonery

Richard Palmer must have been a very busy little bee providing copy on Brexit as the print deadline for the August issue of the Flurry Trumpet loomed.

August? But it's nary half way into July you protest. Beats me too, but PCG likes to stay ahead of the calendar.

Palmer produced two articles on the hop; What's Next for Britain? and What's Next for Europe? As with all COG pundits, I'm intrigued to know what actual experience and qualifications Richie brings to his analysis. A degree in political science? Years working on the stock exchange? An auntie living in Brussels? Probably not. Just a delusional belief that alcoholic apostle Herb Armstrong was right - even when he was wrong - and Gerry is his prophet.

And make no mistake, the Armstrong name comes up again and again in the Palmer punditry. I have this little technique which makes this level of idolatry just a tad more palatable. For every "Mr. Armstrong", "Herbert Armstrong", "Herbert W. Armstrong" or variations thereof I simply substitute the word Moloch. For variety I'll sometimes go for fishier Dagon. Yes, I know, but it stops me banging my head obsessively against the keyboard.

If you really want to know something about Brexit and the ongoing aftermath, I recommend the excellent online version of The Guardian - just be sure you select the UK edition.

A more comprehensive overview of the August (actually July) Trumpet is available on the Living Armstrongism blog.

The Last Assignment

An obituary to Mac Overton which appeared in the Gilmer Mirror last week is available here.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

The Journal - 185th issue

The latest issue of The Journal: News of the Churches of God dated June 30 has been released.

It's a poignant issue with a focus on the late Karl Beyersdorfer and a final contribution from Mac Overton, written just before his death.

Mac was a journalist to the last, writing of his experience in a nursing home, with very human details of nursing care, food and the trials of lukewarm coffee.

There are warm tributes to Karl Beyersdorfer from several individuals who knew him over the years. You get the impression that he was one of the more decent ministers, a man who in many ways "broke the mold", and an individual who was deeply conflicted over a number of issues. Someone can correct me if I'm wrong, but this must be the most respectful and considered reaction to the suicide of a prominent COG figure on record.

What you can't help notice, though, is that none of the articles comes from an LCG source. While LCG has been circumspect in its reporting of Beyersdorfer's death, it seems they've been very guarded in what they'll say. John Sash writes: "I called Gene Hilgenberg, the Living pastor who gave the Sabbath sermon as well as the funeral sermon, for details of dates for this article. Gene did not return my call."

While the latest crop of COG recruiting magazines seem to have been too far down the editorial pipeline to include references to Brexit, some correspondents to the Journal managed to squeeze their concerns and observations under the deadline wire. Brian Harris provides a precis of what he picked up on news media - which seems a bit pointless. In the letters section Lewis and Kathleen McCann from Milton Keynes applaud the decision to leave the EU and hope for a re-connection with "the Commonwealth countries." Somehow I doubt they mean Uganda.

The list of 2016 Feast of Tabernacles sites now stands at 226 around the planet. Ken Westby has downsized his ACD ministry with smaller premises, and has "ruthlessly got rid of about another thousand books I deemed I could live without." Ken, believe me, I feel your pain. I have a similar task ahead of me having already thinned the shelves somewhat.

Of course there's more. Lifenets, UCG's inability to effect doctrinal change, and two octogenarian COGgers who ended up dead - one murdered in a cemetery, allegedly over a doctrinal (!) dispute, the other (the murderer) in an exchange of gunfire with police. Whatever happened to the Holy Spirit boys?

No mention (that I could find) of the upcoming "Scarborough Fair" which kicks off in a couple of days. I'd have thought that'd be a major story. The LCG punkawallahs should be somewhat preoccupied this month.

You can download the complete issue for yourself.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Happy COG families, parables, Nuclear Neal, and Joel at Armageddon

Break out the milk and cookies, the latest edition of COGWA's not-a-magazine magazine, Discern, is its "happy families" issue.

Happy families? That's always been part of a wholesome PR that goes way back to the seventies, and doubtless beyond that. If you want to know how to break free of the real world, flesh and blood pains and ambiguities of marriage and parenting, do we have good news. Our experts (hack writers) can lead you into the all-American stereotype. Families with flashing white teeth, smiles, the embodiment of niceness and compliance.

Which makes it difficult to explain why so many church kids ditch the whole enterprise just as soon as they're free to walk out the door.

Having said that, there's probably some good advice in this issue. The problem is that good advice is hardly as useful as good example, and how are you going to raise strong, independent, autonomous kids when Mummy and Daddy are doormats to a controlling, high demand sect that tells them what to think?

This edition begins with sagacious advice from the editor, Clyde Kilough. Is Clyde a control freak? I've no idea, but there are a few folk from his days as Beloved Leader at UCG who probably have a well-formed opinion. Becky Sweat has the cover article, 7 Characteristics of Healthy Families. Amazing how that number seven keeps turning up when COG writers want to make a list. It's all very nice, but also somewhat trite (e.g. number 1: A deep commitment to one another).

David Treybig writes on lessons he learned from his parents. Again, there's nothing wrong with what he offers, but it's also fairly platitudinous (e.g. work hard). You might not be surprised to find that "encourage critical thinking" gets missed from the list. At least Dave didn't try to pad it out to the biblical seven. My reaction to number one is a bit jaundiced: "loving authority". Did you say authority?
If  the  Creator  God,  the  being  with  the  most  authority in the universe, can take the time to educate grown-ups on the consequences of their actions, shouldn’t parents do the same for their children?
Now, see, there's the problem Dave, starting with the word 'if' and then moving on to Sky Father imagery. Not that Dave would have a clue what I'm talking about I guess.

Mike Bennett ties in happy families with Sabbath keeping. Sounding semi-enlightened Mike proclaims "The Sabbath was made for man - and families." Maybe he's been dusting off one of the old Bacchiocchi titles. Treybig is back with a piece on the prodigal son parable. It has "overlooked meaning" apparently, so we're all very lucky that Dave can set us straight, courtesy of ten minutes skimming through the Expositor's Bible Commentary.

Jeremy Lallier writes about Putting Character to the Test, based on another parable, the good Samaritan. Then, wouldn't you know it, Mike Bennett is back with the encouraging news that "You can become a Saint!" (in the sense that all Christians are saints). But shouldn't that be you are a Saint?

So far, so vitamin-fortified, family-friendly biblical, but where's the precious (should that be precocious) prophecy? Fear not little flock, Neal Hogberg to the rescue with "New Nuclear Nightmares." Neal rarks up the fear factor, which is, let's face it, the tried and true strategy that has brought home the kosher bacon for COG sects since before the Radio Church of God launched in the 1930s.

Is there more? Erik Jones asks What Did and Didn't Jesus Look Like? (Hint: he had short hair. Yep, I'm as surprised as you aren't.)

No issue of Discern would be complete without a contribution from Joel Meeker. Joel plays on his experience as an amateur archaeologist with a one-page column on the joys of shifting dirt at Armageddon. I'm sure, once he'd finished, he uttered the words "Armageddon outa here!"

You can't read a hard copy issue because it seems COGWA does this on the cheap as a download only. The link at the top will take you to a page where you can do just that. Knock yourself out.

Saturday, 2 July 2016

Satan's Alternative Magazine

You've got to give the LCG credit for a catchy title. The July/August issue of Tomorrow's World is themed around the title Satan's Alternative Universe. The world, as LCG brethren know, is a scary, upsetting place full of gun control advocates, gays, liberals, people with swarthy skin tones and Bible scoffers. To quote the Richard Ames editorial: "Truly, for those who are not responsive to Jesus Christ, our present world is descending further and further into outright evil, with the widespread conscious rejection of all that was once held as sacred by those who profess Christ." Verily, verily. Bring back the 1940s!

And wouldn't you know it, Rod Meredith has written the feature article on this very problem.
Very few people understand the significance of the massive changes underway in our entire society. Not since the time of Sodom and Gomorrah have people generally been as confused in so many ways. This is especially so right now because of the massive misuse of technology. By gaining almost total control of the media, a very real Satan the Devil is able to “manipulate” the thinking, the attitudes and the actions of billions of human beings - especially the younger generation.
Poor old Rod, the devil is making 'em do it. The wicked liberal media, the "wet behind the ears" younger folk (for Rod that's probably anyone under fifty). The world is going to hell in a handcart. Things just ain't normal anymore.

Ames is back with an article entitled Seven Keys for Peace of Mind. Fancy that, what with seven being a "biblical number" and all. Key One? "Take Part in the Great Commission." Excellent, that's the trick, send in your tithes without delay!

In the London Calling column by one Simon R.D. Roberts you might expect something on the Brexit issue, but the LCG missed the bus on this as much as their UCG brethren. Simon writes about Dolly the sheep instead.

Rod McNair has a major article on Why Does God Heal? Perhaps a more appropriate question would be "why does God not heal?" given the LCG's obvious misrepresentation of this whole issue. Indeed, you could make an argument that, when it comes to divine blessings, the Eternal has massively underfunded his LCG operation. In fact, Rod the Lesser seems to be intent on building a wall of qualifications and - of course - it's the dullard members who are really to blame.
Do you need divine healing? If you do, be sure not to blame God. Instead, look to Him with gratitude for His whole plan, knowing that He can and does bring about His will in your life, as you look to Him with faith and obedience. 
Translation: suck it up.

Douglas Winnail has been skimming Karen Armstrong's writings on the Axial Age and he isn't happy. Thankfully Dougie is here to put a COGish spin on it.
In stark contrast to the spirit of the Axial Age that looked to human reason, the Bible warns us to “lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Scholars of comparative religion may speculate that God was revealing universal truths during the Axial Age to thinkers searching for answers within their own minds, but the Scriptures state that the Word of God is the source of truth (Psalm 119:142, 160; John 17:17).
There, so no need to worry about those silly scholars of comparative religion when you have handy, dandy proof texts to offer.

Wally Smith has an anatomical analogy to offer about The Tireless Human Heart. Quote: “Lub-dub... lub-dub... lub-dub...” Deep, Wally, deep.

There's more in the minor features, but that's probably enough to give a feel for this issue.

Available now to download.