This is the first essay in a series.
I first heard the message of the Church of God (then “Worldwide Church of God”) as a teenager looking for something interesting on the radio. A man everyone called GTA was saying something that made sense. He was well spoken and unlike many other preachers, did not rely on “emotion” to make his point. He did not even sound like a “preacher”. What he was saying sounded like what truth OUGHT to be using the only guide I had at the time … my common sense.
A contrast: At about the same time, I attended a Billy Graham crusade. He was a nice man, very sincere, and an inspiration. He asked us to “come forward” and commit our lives to Christ”, so I did. There was a lot of emotion. But emotions have their limitations; they do not fill the inner need to make sense of the universe. There was truth in the message of Billy Graham, but the truth he offered was INSUFFICIENT to answer all my questions. It did not go far enough. When it tried to, it tended to contradict. Here is an example:
Question: If I did not commit to Christ, would I and countless millions go to hell?
Premise: Hell was supposed to be everlasting torture, or at least “a very uncomfortable place”.
Second premise: The Bible says “God is love”.
Conclusion: We have a contradiction. Either the message is wrong, or God is inconsistent, or a liar, or a monster, or there is no God. Even Hitler ended people’s suffering with death. The dots do not connect.
What has impressed me the most about the Church of God is its grasp of “the truth”, and that this truth is so very rational. By “truth” I mean absolute core teachings that distinguish it from all the mainstream churches.
The Church of God always has believed the following:
* A fair and loving God offers eternal life to all mankind, in their time, according to His plan of salvation.
* There is NO ever burning hell fire. Death is the penalty for those who reject His way of life.
* While being a God of love He is also God of justice. He does not exempt Himself from the demands of justice, though it cost Him the painful death of His Son. This point in particular impressed me. One of the “benefits” of being the Creator is that you can do what you want. Yet God who defined “justice” also bound Himself to it.
* The example of Christ and the apostles guide the lives of Christians today. Their example is one of living by the spirit of the commandments of God.
* God clearly disapproves of mixing in our worship of Him the traditions and practices of other religions.
Knowing the truth on the BIGGEST questions in life brings comfort … and with comfort, the greatest joy. Every person who has ever attended the fall holy days, having lost parents and grandparents, friends brothers and sisters not in the faith, children and infants, knew for a fact … that one day they would be reunited. Yes, in the end truth does offer emotion, of the best and lasting kind.
But rather than being thankful, some have accused the founder of the Worldwide Church of God, Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong, of plagiarizing truth from other churches. This is absurd and laughable … given the author of truth is God. Yes, he was not a perfect man. Nor was David. I am profoundly grateful to HWA for whatever role he played in bringing to me the truth of God. As Paul said; some plant, some water, God gives the increase. Even those who leave the truth or lose faith, know in the back of their minds how “the story ends”, thanks largely to the contribution of Mr. Armstrong.
If the truth of God is “a pearl of great price”, why forsake it?
We know there can be many “stumbling blocks” to the growth of a Christian, young or old. Temptations from society can pull us away from the truth, while poor parenting, bad examples or divisions in the church, severe trials, pain and more, can push us away.
Truth is more than is just a set of beliefs. Truth is the very extension of Christ, who said of Himself: “I am the way, the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) Truth expresses the will and nature of God, it expresses the hope for all mankind. Christ is “the truth”.
To grow in truth is to grow in the knowledge of Christ.
To forsake “the truth” is more than just changing we believe.
Since Christ is also “the life” we forsake eternal life in the Kingdom of God.
That is why the pearl has such immense value.
First generation Christians may forget the value of truth, while those “born in the church” may never understand its immense value in the first place.
We know the children of Christians are “holy”. They are “called” and eternal life awaits them. There comes a time when the child grows up and parents must let go. She must choose for herself whether or not to follow the way of truth. Good Christian parents can teach children what truth is … but what does it take for a child, now a young adult, to love the truth of God as one would a pearl of great price, never to forsake it, no matter the stumbling blocks??
A casual relationship with the truth will not do it. Sometimes it takes a hard life; losing what we have, feeling the incompleteness, the futility.
It took our patriarch Jacob over 100 years and two thirds of his life before finally and fully accepted the truth, at Bethel. Along the way, he lost the person he loved most. Why did it take him so long? From the womb, Jacob liked to struggle. In life, he struggled against God. But in the end, he died a devoted servant of God. Like Jacob, some of us for whatever reason need more time. God is patient. He is not willing that any should perish.
But let us never think we are “unsuited” or “a bad fit” for God’s church. Jacob proves there is no preferred, ideal or perfect candidate for the family of God. In this, we may find hope, confidence, and belonging. If God is for us … what else matters?