There is nothing new under the sun, but unless we get up early in the morning, we might miss the sunrise. During the day—busy as we are—we might not even notice the storm clouds, and when the winds begin to blow and the rain comes pouring down, darkness has overpowered us, before we know it. I’m talking in figurative terms, of course, speaking of doctrinal changes. They are like a dam which first allows a little bit of water to get through, until it breaks down entirely and the resulting devastating deluge tears down everything in its path; or they are like an avalanche, which buries everyone and everything under it.
Many of us have experienced abominable changes in the Worldwide Church of God (“Worldwide”), after Herbert W. Armstrong had died in 1986. Under the new leadership, a proverbial apostasy or falling away from the truth set in, destroying everything that Mr. Armstrong and those loyal to the truth had worked for. The changes were introduced subtly at first, and many were caught unawares, until the changes became bigger and swallowed up those who embraced them. Today, most unsuspecting, gullible or willingly ignorant “victims,” as well as the actively promoting perpetrators, have lost just about every aspect of the truth which they had once embraced.
We write about these horrible changes in the last section (“Why It Matters”) of our free booklet, “Are You Already Born Again?” If you don’t know the history of the apostasy in Worldwide, and how these changes were introduced, please read this booklet immediately.
Because, you see, the past will repeat itself—in fact, we are already seeing the beginning stages. Changes are taking hold in unsuspecting and trusting members of certain organizations, which are reminiscent, even though under a slightly different mantle, of what we all experienced in the days of Worldwide’s heresies and spiritual downfall. Make no mistake—the apostasy is not over, but ongoing, and it will raise its ugly head again with strong deception and persuasive temptation. Jesus said that because lawlessness (sin) will abound, the godly love (“agape” in Greek) of many (in the Church of God) will grow cold (Matthew 24:12), and many will be offended and betray and hate one another (verse 10).
When a Church organization changes established teaching and attempts to introduce “new truth,” one must ask the question, “Why is this being done? What’s the motive? What’s behind the move?” Now, sometimes, the leaders or those advising them might not know themselves where a particular change may lead, but Satan, the originator of everything in opposition to God and His truth, knows very well what he is doing, and whom he may be able to use to carry out his purposes.
Some are teaching now that the end-time apostasy, which Paul talks about in 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, describes a major religious organization outside the Church of God, and it is claimed that the apostasy will set in with full force when that church becomes very influential and powerful. But this is most emphatically NOT what Paul is addressing here. (Compare also our Q&A in this regard). Paul is saying that in the end-time, when the man of sin is being revealed, an apostasy or falling away from the truth in the Church of God will occur, and many Church members will be deceived, because they did not receive and maintain the LOVE of the truth (verse 10). After all, the very word “apostasy” describes a falling away from the truth—it must be talking about the Church of God, which alone has the truth (compare 1 Timothy 3:15). How can an organization fall away from the truth, which it never had, to begin with?
The recent apostasy started, without any question, in Worldwide, after Mr. Armstrong died, but it is ongoing. And it will raise its ugly head again and become extremely powerful in the very near future. This means, God’s people will be severely tested, and many will fail. They must be warned today, not to fall for religious deception. Most in the Church might say: “It can’t happen to me.” But don’t be too sure. Paul warns us: “Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall” (1 Corinthians 10:12).
Religious deception will not begin with obvious and big doctrinal changes. No Church of God organization will declare right away that the Sabbath and the Holy Days need not be kept anymore; that we are now free to eat unclean meat; or that we don’t have to tithe anymore. When Worldwide introduced its changes, they did not begin to address the “big ones”—they began by fooling around with seemingly minor issues, so that most did not even realize, at first, that real changes were being made.
Some changes might be tolerated or even accepted by some, because, so they reason, they are unimportant, non-salvational, or only a matter of semantics—changes related to concepts such as: Are we already born again? Are we allowed to serve on the jury or vote in governmental elections? Are we embracing the idea that Christ was created by God the Father? Are we saying that the Holy Spirit is God; that is, a separate and third entity? Must we celebrate new moons today? Should we begin to create our own calendars for the determination as to when to observe the annual Holy Days? Should God’s ministers perform interracial marriages, or a marriage between a believer and an unbeliever? Should we teach that the Sacrifice of Christ has nothing to do with physical healing? Should we teach that the woman riding the beast in Revelation 17 is the USA riding Europe? Should we teach that Christ is going to return on Pentecost? Should we believe in a rapture and that we are going to go to heaven at some point in time? Should we teach that the marriage supper is going to be celebrated in heaven?
All of these ideas are, and have been circulating in certain corners within some Church of God organizations, but not one of them is biblically correct or sound. However, far too many have already begun to entertain or even believe and teach these and other concepts. But not one of them is new, as there is nothing new under the sun.
Let’s take the marriage supper as an example. Some preach that Christ will return to resurrect the saints and change those alive, and take all of them to the third heaven, where the marriage supper will be celebrated, and then return together with the saints to the earth. The concept is that He comes first FOR the saints, and then later together WITH the saints. This is clearly a variation of the false secret rapture teaching—a doctrine of demons. Some even teach or have taught that after Christ’s “third” coming with the saints and their short stay on earth, Christ and the saints will return to the third heaven to rule the earth from heaven during the Millennium.
The idea that Christ will “rapture” the saints to celebrate the marriage supper in the third heaven was introduced by some in the Church of God as early as 1997, if not even before then. At that time, the Global Church of God (“Global”) decided, for biblical reasons, NOT to teach this concept.
At that time, I sent a memo to Global’s leading ministry. After discussing the Scriptures which were used to support a marriage supper in heaven, I wrote in November of 1997: “The above-mentioned scriptures do NOT prove that we will go to heaven, not even for a short time. Further, there is NO Scripture which says that the wedding banquet… will take place in heaven. Rather, all implications are that it will take place on earth.”
After discussing those passages, I set forth the following conclusion: “I would feel that we would make a big mistake if we were to preach that it [the marriage supper] will take place in heaven, as this runs absolutely contrary to the long-standing teaching of the church under Mr. Armstrong.”
At the same time, Evangelist Colin Adair submitted a paper on the matter, in which he wrote: “I believe it would be a mistake to teach as established fact and doctrine that the marriage supper occurs in heaven… We should not be looking for something ‘new’ just to please some brethren who think that growing as a church means discovering some new doctrine or teaching. Growing as a church means personal spiritual growth as Christians and getting the Work done, not ‘some new thing.’”
Others raised similar concerns, and so, the decision-making body of leading ministers in Global decided correctly at that time not to teach that the marriage supper will take place in heaven. The Church of the Eternal God and its corporate affiliates in Canada and the UK–the Church of God, a Christian Fellowship, and the Global Church of God—maintain that it is unbiblical to teach that the wedding supper will take place in heaven or, that there will be a rapture of some kind and that Christ will return twice, and we have written several Q&A’s, http://www.eternalgod.org/qa/11537 ; http://www.eternalgod.org/qa/4125; http://www.eternalgod.org/qa/16 setting forth the biblical reasons for our stance on the matter.
We can learn from all of this that it is important to stick to the trunk of the tree and not to change anything, just for the sake of changing and pleasing somebody. We should and must only change an established teaching, when the Bible dictates the necessity of such a change. It is too dangerous to fall into the trap of wanting to declare something new—because the avalanche of change might ultimately bury those unaware, who are busy altering teachings and approving new doctrine. The Bible warns us, and not without reason: “Do not associate with those given to change” (Proverbs 24:21).