Galatia Revisited

Phillip Arnn

The articles on our site concerning the Worldwide Church of God are to inform readers about the history of that organization and the doctrines taught by its founder; numerous splinter groups still practice Armstrongism. The former Worldwide Church of God--now named Grace Communion International--is now a Christian denomination and a member of the National Association of Evangelicals and Evangelical Ministries to New Religions (EMNR).

The Worldwide Church of God is an offshoot of the Sabbath-keeping churches with which its founder, Herbert W. Armstrong, had contact in the 1920's and 1930's. The keeping of the Sabbath and the emphasis on the Ten Commandments and the Law are the legacy of Armstrong's early associations. But over the years, Armstrong added peculiar doctrines of his own.

The doctrine of conversion after water baptism is given a new twist by Armstrong. In his book All About Water Baptism, he states, "We are saved by grace, and through faith - make no mistake about that; but - there are conditions!" (p. 2).

He continues to elaborate, "So, being, as we say, converted - receiving the Holy Spirit of God - is merely the beginning! Then begins a life long of LIVING under the GOVERNMENT of God - by God's Laws which express his will..., And the GOSPEL is the Good News of the Kingdom of God - which means GOVERNMENT of God; and government means obedience to LAWS, in this case God's laws..." (p. 3).

Armstrong's bizarre doctrine of being born again is presented in his book, Just What Do You Mean - Born Again? He teaches that man is in a process of being born again. Mankind is only a begotten child equal to a fetus. Only at resurrection will man be Born Again into the kingdom of God (pp. 22, 23).

The act of baptism in any religion is very significant. It is a statement before the world on one's commitment to the beliefs of that group and a refuting of all other beliefs.

Someone can join the Worldwide Church of God only after much soul searching and unwavering belief that this is God's true church on the earth today and God's true teachings. In an article in the Good News it is written, "At baptism, God's minister asks, `Have you repented of your sins and accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior?' After you answer `Yes' he goes on to state, `As a result of your repentance of your sins, which is the transgression of God's holy, righteous and perfect Law, I now baptize you.' Then follows the laying on of hands to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:1-6), and God begets you as his own child. At this point you are committed. There is no turning back... Luke 9:62... Heb 10:38,29" ("Are You Committed?", p. 7).

Once a new member has accepted the strange doctrines of the Worldwide Church of God and has been baptized, the reality of life under "God's government" begins. The article "Why Does God Govern The Way He Does?" gives an insight into the new member's environment. "Repenting of your ways and then living by God's laws changes your carnal human mind into a Godly mind... PS 19:7. As you submit to God's government and live by his laws, He injects His character into your mind... the more we live like Him, the more we follow his government, the more we become like Him," (Good News, Nov/Dec. 1988, p. 6).

It is important to note the association between God's word and will and that of God's government (the Worldwide Church of God). They become synonymous in the mind of the member. The consequences of rebelling against the authority of God's government or leaving God's true church are vividly pictured in the aforementioned article "Are You Committed?" If one should commit the crimes mentioned above, their fate is compared with the crash of a fully loaded Boeing 747.

Examples of actions that could cause a member to "crash and burn" spiritually are:

"For example, we can begin to compromise by cheating on tithing or working a little on God's sabbath," (p. 7).

"If we as Christians turn back or give up - if we fail to remain faithful to our spiritual commitment - we'll face similar fiery consequences," (p. 8).

Thus the Worldwide Church of God becomes the only arch of safety for the member. Obedience God's law and the interpretation of that law by "God's true church" is the only hope of being born into God's family at the resurrection. Rebellion literally means spiritual abortion and loss of eternal life.

Galatia Revisited

With this background it is easier to understand why members of the organization have come to accept what is unacceptable to historic Christianity. Belief in these doctrines and acquiescence to the mandate of the Worldwide Church of God are accepted over a long period of indoctrination. It may be started with a subscription to the Plain Truth magazine which was ordered from the World Tomorrow television broadcast. The magazine and the doctrinal booklets it offers are all free for the asking. But, the ultimate destination is New Galatia.

The First Century church was first and foremost a Jewish Jerusalem based church. The disciples and the first converts were predominately Jews by birth or proselytes to the Jewish faith. The Jerusalem believers worshipped God for the gift of eternal life through his Son Jesus Christ and at the same time continued to practice circumcision and observe the sabbath and holy days and attend the Temple. The reality of Christ's work in fulfilling all that these activities symbolized was yet to be realized by the Jerusalem church.

Indeed it was the non-Jewish deacons, Stephen and especially Philip, that broke new ground and reached out beyond the Jewish community. Philip preached in Samaria and baptized the Ethiopian, both of which were contrary to Jewish law. Peter was directed by the Holy Spirit to minister to the house of Cornelius, thus giving credible evidence that salvation had been opened to Gentiles. This revelation opened the door for acceptance by the Jerusalem church of the ministry of Paul.

After the stoning of Stephen, there was a persecution against non-Jewish believers which forced them to leave Jerusalem for their homes abroad. Thus, the Gospel was spread by non-Jewish believers to their Gentile homelands.

These non-Jewish believers were far more intense on proclaiming the news of the resurrection and the salvation offered by God in Jesus than they were in promoting Jewish religious customs. The apostle Paul was converted and received his commission to the Gentiles during the first wave of non-Jewish evangelism. His work at Antioch among the Gentiles concentrated on the person and work of Christ.

When the Jewish believers at Jerusalem heard of the laxity in practice in the Antioch Church, they arrived in Antioch to set things straight. Paul confronted them and defended grace in Christ, without the works of the Law. It was not long after that that the churches at Galatia also were approached about their omission of adherence to circumcision, the sabbath, the holy days, and dietary regulations. Paul's letter to the Galatians is a defense of the revelation of Grace as opposed to the Law which God had been revealing to him at Antioch.

The confrontation between the Judiazers and Paul set the stage for the Jerusalem church conference of Acts 15. Peter stated, in direct response to Pharisaic believers, that circumcision and the keeping of the law would not be required of the Gentile believers. Peter said, "Now therefore why tempt ye God to put a yoke on the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear," (Act. 15:10).

That decision by the Jerusalem church elders freed the Gentile churches from the requirements of circumcision and the observances of the law of Moses. That freedom belongs to the Christian today.

Robert Brinsmead a former Seventh-day Adventists, in his publication Verdict states that the ground upon which Paul based his argument is:

"The word law (nomos) repeatedly used in Gal. 2-4, is the Greek counterpart of the Old Testament word Torah. It does not refer exclusively to the ceremonial law or exclusively to the moral law.

"It means the entire law or legal system which was given to Israel through the Mosaic ministration. (See Gal. 3:10-13, 17, 19, 24; 4:21-22 where it is manifestly impossible to restrict the term `law' to either ceremonial or ethical practice.)

"Paul presses this point with ruthless logic: `Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law,' (Gal. 5:3). If the law must be kept, it must be kept in its entirety - all or nothing. The other side of the argument is equally valid, if any part of the law is abolished, it is all abolished- again all or nothing," (June 1981, p. 19).

Brinsmead quotes from L. Beech, "The Faith of Paul" Journal of Jewish Studies 3: "If the `days of the Messiah' have commenced, those of the Torah came to their close. On the other hand, if the Law, the Torah, still retained its validity, it was proclaimed thereby that the Messiah had not yet arrived," (p. 70).

Paul and all other rabbinical scholars were taught that the Messiah's coming meant the end of the stewardship of the laws. It should not be necessary to belabor the point any further. The evidence is plain.

The Worldwide Church of God must recognize that the advent of Jesus Christ superseded the demands of the law according to Jewish teaching. Secondly, it is not enough to keep a select number of laws; they must keep all 613. Plus, it is not enough to keep the moral law. They must also observe the ritual law as well.

Gentlemen, where is the Temple, the priesthood, and the sacrifices? It is all or nothing!

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