This dissertation defends those institutions associated with my Christian background. Another irony of Christianity, characterized in denominationalism, is being unsympathetic to those considered heretical. Yet love is unconditional. Paul attempted to address this problem in Romans 14. But, Christians remain stuck, without realizing the venomous effect of such behaviour. The only sign that identifies Christians is love, one to another (John 13:34-35). True love is possible; only when appreciating the responsibility one has, to positively impact others. I am guided by two scriptures:
Proverbs 17:5. Whoever mocks the poor insults his Maker; ……. (ESV).
1 John 4:20. If anyone says “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. (ESV).
Jesus has taken over in my life. Whether misguided or not, I feel as one firmly grounded in Jesus’ teachings. Unfortunately, it seems as if not many can share in my discoveries, which include impartiality among brethren.
When Christ says the greatest among Christians is a menial servant, He exposes imprudence, in categorizing God’s Children according to value. Christians are not ordinary (See Matthew 11:11 & Matthew 23:8-12)? The spiritual gifts do not prescribe who is greater than whom, as distributed by Christ himself (Romans 12:3-11 & 1 Corinthians 12)?
My Christian world is influenced by institutions highlighted on the above title. I was born within the SDA Christian community. However, my liberty led me into associating with the Worldwide Church of God (WCG); subsequently, Grace Communion International (GCI). This shaped my current understanding of God and Christian principles. Those not identifying with the scope of my background could be excused for not appreciating what is advanced in this discussion. This is just as I am unable to acknowledge the background of those of other denominations, having had no privilege to be associated with them.
The SDA church enabled my appreciation of the infallibility of Scriptures. I give them credit. My inquisitive mind led me out of the SDA church into the WCG, appearing as truthfully projecting God’s word, through the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong. I also give HWA credit, even though viciously vilified for preaching heresy.
After the death of Herbert Armstrong, Joseph Tkach and His team led WCG into another unfamiliar, but providing new paradigm in my Christian understanding. This enhanced my further training on spiritual matters.
But, in acknowledging the cited denominations, I am aware of all this not being possible, without the Pharisaic religiosity. The preservation of the accurate scriptural record was facilitated by the Scribes and Pharisees. Without ancient scriptures, it could not be possible to establish my Christian foundation. Jesus’ ministry was facilitated through the established Jewish religion, whose scriptural record helped to prove Jesus’ Messiah-ship. The Jews were providentially used as guardians of the Old Testament Scriptures. I give them credit.
Jesus came to contend with a sinful world to save humanity. Surprisingly, those who viciously opposed Him were the Pharisees and teachers of the law. The repentant sinners simply saw in Jesus, a virtuous man, identifying with their sinful conditions, though not a sinner Himself. Hence my submission acknowledges those associated with God, but somehow missing the point. This is just as I am aware that with all the confidence I exude, resulting from my current Christian understanding, I may as well miss the point, somehow. Glory belongs to God.
Jesus described the Pharisees as a hypocritical lot, primarily based on their condemnation of those not upholding God’s laws. I understand them. They were very technical about the applications of the law, as provided in recorded scriptures, without being aware of the transcending gospel epoch. Their position had been guided by the principle that holiness needed protection from what was unholy. But Jesus had come to reverse that reality. In Jesus, holiness transforms unholy things to become holy. Jesus’ death reversed any possibility of wickedness ever polluting holiness? His death guaranteed the possibility of holiness to transform what was unholy towards holiness?
The Pharisees had scriptures at their disposal, yet they could not understand those scriptures. However, Paul provides reason for their inability to understand:
“Lest you be wise in your own sight, I want you to understand this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be served, as it is written, The deliverer will come from Zion, he will banish ungodliness from Jacob’ and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” (Romans 11:25-27) (ESV).
This scripture, basically, produces trepidation; when observing those supposing that the condemnation of the Pharisees echoes Jesus’ contemptible words against them. My view is that only Jesus had the right to denigrate the Pharisees. One of His instructions is that we should avoid judging (Matthew 7:1-4)? Also, my understanding of Christianity could not be possible without those Pharisees? Jesus used them to display what hypocrisy implied. But, in my view, the frightening Scripture carrying more serious ramification affecting Christians than Pharisees, today, is Matthew 23:13-15:
“But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” (ESV).
This brings complexity into Christianity, when compared with other beliefs? Today’s Christians are no better than the first century Pharisees. But Christians stand on more dangerous ground, when under the assumption that they are better than those Pharisees. After all, the preservation of scriptures was through the Pharisaic religiosity?
The cited shutting of the Kingdom of Heaven is not only applicable to the Pharisees. But is more applicable to the Christian missionaries of today? Failure lies in inability to appreciate that Christianity is not a religion, but an applied Kingdom of God in the lives of those having accepted Jesus as their personal saviour?
While the works of missionaries appear commendable, the world over, the question is: What gospel are they advancing? Jesus mentioned the possibility of shutting the Kingdom, in disguise of advancing the gospel. Apparently, as long as God’s Kingdom is not mentioned in their work, the esteemed missionaries could serve as fulfilling Matthew 23:13-15?
The Eleven Apostles
Jesus entrusted His ministry to the eleven apostles, comprising the core of those sufficiently taught in gospel mission, before Jesus ascension to Heaven. The early chapters of Acts highlight the initial impact of the gospel. This was, however, followed by intense persecution that left the Church in disarray? However, of significance to me is what took place, immediately after Jesus had left (Acts 1:12-26).
This heralds the co-option of Matthias as one of the apostles. I have reservation, concerning that arrangement? Jesus had not told those apostles to exercise this discretion. He had simply told them to preach everything that He had commanded them. Nothing shows that one of the instructions had been to cast lots to appoint apostles?
The clear instruction to them, before His ascension, was to wait for the promise in Jerusalem (Acts 1:4-5)? This is not suggesting condemnation of their initiative. But, I suppose precision is necessary in avoiding error? Jesus was aware of their numbers having been reduced to eleven. And we notice that it wasn’t long before Paul was added. Yet, there is no other mention of the name of Matthias, other than at the time of his glamorous ordination?
In Paul, appointed by Jesus Himself, we see great works, highlighted in the book of Acts, including the epistles that Paul penned. This makes Paul probably the most used apostle in the first century? Judging by the fact that there is no recorded work of Matthias, I conclude that his co-option may not have had the blessing of Jesus? However, I do understand the apostles’ initiative to appoint an additional apostle. God had bestowed upon them the leadership responsibility in preaching the gospel.
But, the byword of avoiding error is precision? Humans are susceptible to error, due to generalizing instead of being precise in obeying God’s instructions? I suppose the Old Testament stories assert to this reality? Another interesting observation is that even Paul succumbed, concerning the criteria of appointing Church leaders (1 Tim 3 & Titus 1)? But, just as with the other apostles, Paul’s initiative may have been guided by opinion, not necessarily for everyone to then adopt as doctrine?
Paul’s instruction had no precedent, as there is no record of Jesus specifically suggesting it? Jesus never used the same criteria to ordain Paul into the ministry? Jesus also did not use the same criteria to appoint the other apostles? But, I would be wrong to condemn exercising such discretion. My view is only that, where the Holy Spirit is given priority, human reason comes behind? In other words, no-one should question God, if overriding the noble exercise in appointing office bearers, using Paul’s instructions to Timothy and Titus as an example.
This, in no way, is a treatise to invalidate the work of the apostles, but an opinion weighed against the actual words of Jesus. Like all humans, I give the apostles latitude that they were susceptible to error, in the same way that I am. And I will never condemn them for such errors, but being only careful in knowing that Jesus holds the stable datum. Whatever is said or done by scholars or Christian leaders, even today; needs weighing against what Jesus taught. More so, in the four gospel books of the Bible?
Seventh Day Adventists
I particularly give credit to my mother, having led me as a child, to appreciate the word of God, through the teachings of the SDAs. When I look back, now, it may have not been necessary for me to leave that fellowship. Even though critical of the SDAs at that time, separation ought not to have been my option?
Of course, after repentance, it may be necessary to depart from sinners, with whom one would have been in association. However, leaving a Christian fellowship for whatever reason; reeks of irresponsibility. The truth I now uphold is that it is darkness that leaves, instead of light. Yet, I suppose God had other plans for me. Leaving the SDAs may not have been coincidental, but by design.
All things work together for good, for those who love God (Romans 8:28). I have no reason to doubt that God has purpose in the existence of the SDA fellowship? I know that Jesus loves them as much as He loves me? Through my current understanding, I now love those people as much as I love every human being in this world? This is regardless of the deeper understanding that, I suppose, I now have. I hope that someday the entire SDA community will identify with the knowledge that I have accumulated over the years.
Nevertheless, my current sincere understanding is that holding onto the supposition that Sabbath-keeping makes me a better Christian than non-Sabbath-keepers cannot be right. Yet I give the SDAs credit for having been used by God, crafting in me, the desire to acknowledge God’s word in my life? I suppose God is aware of their tenacity to obey and hope that He will also eventually show them what He has since revealed to me.
Worldwide Church of God
Having been schooled to assume that Sabbath-keeping was necessary for salvation, the WCG became more appealing for my spiritual adventures. Through a friend, Ekim Tshabalala, with whom I worked in the Air force of Zimbabwe, I was introduced to Herbert Armstrong’s Plain Truth magazine. Other than just Sabbath-keeping, Armstrong also taught that the Jewish festivals were still necessary for Christians. With my Sabbatarian background, I was easily persuaded in observing those Jewish festivals, as well.
HWA’s analytical abilities convinced me that the Old Testament laws were applicable to Christians, as highlighted in Matthew 5:17-19). Mr Armstrong’s teachings included revealing the true gospel, as being about God’s Kingdom, showing that others taught a different gospel. Armstrong’s error may have only been in describing how that Kingdom would be like, in his World Tomorrow analysis. I suppose he had no mandate to talk about the composition of God’s Kingdom? I may have not agreed with everything that Armstrong taught. But his Sabbatarian stance, including expounding the gospel of God’s Kingdom, outweighed everything, as attracting me to his teachings.
After Armstrong’s death, the new leader, Joseph William Tkach (Snr) started questioning some of Armstrong’s teachings. The New Testament was to be looked at, with different understanding. Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law and the prophets (Luke 16:16). The Law, including Sabbath-keeping, could not save anyone.
It was not a sin to keep the Sabbath or being careful about dietary laws of the Old Testament. But it was sin to condemn those not observing such laws. It became clear to me, that I could not use those laws as standard for other Christians, without being Pharisaic. Emphasis on Law-keeping became anathema, in light of the problems that befell the Pharisees. One cannot teach Law-keeping without violating Matthew 7:1-4)?
The new understand became that, if Christ was the fulfillment of Law, Christians ought to look to Him more than anything else? It became necessary to study everything Jesus taught, than dwelling on Old Testament teachings. The new teachings caused bitterness among those viewing Mr Armstrong as having deceived the entire group. Yet others equally becoming bitter, citing Mr Tkach as misleading members away from Armstrong’s teachings? I may have understood HWA’s position more than the WCG local leadership, at that time?
Whilst at home with new revelation, I could not teach authoritatively, due to my junior status. I understood those who left. Yet I equally understood reasons for crafting changes, made by Mr. Tkach. At that time I got castigated bitterly by my wife for not taking sides. She became disappointed, supposing that I was treacherously nimble and unpredictable to decide on what was right or wrong, concerning the adopted changes. She expected me to denounce either of the two viewpoints, on behalf of the family. She could not understand why I exuded excitement with changes, yet at the same time sympathizing with those leaving in droves?
My previous understanding had been that, as head of the family, the husband had to decide on which church to attend, on behalf of the family. My new understanding provided latitude for anyone to exercise own discretion. Nevertheless, my relenting to my wife’s decision to join a church of her choice, actually curtailed possible quarrel. Even today, we enjoy good marriage, though not in the same fellowship. I give credit to the new understanding, equipping me with abilities to contain possible marital disaster?
However, I suppose I cannot sufficiently describe the negative effects brought by the changes, right across our local fellowship? The unfortunate thing is that I could easily perceive disgruntlement even among those local leaders who had remained. The authoritarian mind-set still gripped the local church? There was no-way a junior could help the pastor wherever necessary.
Grace Communion International
Personally, I felt that exciting things were about to be experienced in WCG. The magnitude of such changes deserved replacing pastoral leadership in local congregations? While new leadership was gradually being introduced, the pattern could not change. Those elevated were mostly recommended by those not fully committed to such changes, anyway.
I realized that the effects of authoritarianism had not been suspected for its evil intent, in the entire church? GCI may have grandiosely adopted massive changes in its doctrinal pattern, without observing the need to revamp its stance on authoritarian leadership? The Church could not grow, numerically. But the saddest thing to me was to see people leaving; some of them without having initially displayed signs of discontent?
Later, the Headquarters leadership decided to discard WCG as church’s identity, adopting Grace Communion International, as official name. This appeared psychologically noble, as providing loyal membership with the ability to abandon the past. The transformation appeared necessary, for purposes of moving away from past conundrums.
Apparently, the most difficult thing with humanity is managing change. This could be the biggest reason why the Pharisees could not accept the gospel in Jesus’ time?
My own problem started surfacing when GCI leadership sought to be accommodated within the mainstream orthodox Christianity? Herbert Armstrong had been wrong with maintaining the Old Covenant. But, in my view, he had not been far from wrong with emphasis on Bible usage than adopting what scholars advanced, necessarily.
Among the doctrines advanced by scholars was the Trinitarian gospel. I felt extremely uncomfortable with this; possibly, as an effect of Armstrong’s teachings? My view was that, if Christ remained as our only authority, He never advised Christians to preach Trinity? However, this is not to denounce Trinity, as not existing in the Bible. What I view as wrong is to project Trinity ahead of the Great Commission, (Matthew 28:19-20)?
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
It seems to me, theologians consider highlighting ‘Father, Son and the Holy Spirit’ as overriding Jesus’ commands? The middle portion of that scripture specifies the mission: “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” We have to find out what it is that Jesus commanded them to teach. Mark renders it accurately:
“Go into the entire world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)
But, which gospel? Scriptures attest to the gospel being about the Kingdom of God? My analysis reveals that the four gospel books show Christ’s teachings as affirming to the gospel being about God’s Kingdom? Herbert Armstrong referred to it as being of future occurrence. However, my view is that God’s Kingdom was established in the lives of early Christians and continues to expand in today’s Christians? GCI, just like orthodox Christianity, cursorily affirms to the gospel, but projecting Trinity ahead of everything, instead?
My assumption is that GCI leadership may have just succumbed to the academic viewpoint, falling into the trap of going with the majority? I understand and sympathize with them. They went through the most acerbic times of public abnegation than any of us, ordinary members?
The press media and internet had spewed the most virulent attacks on the church, coming from traditional Christian community leaders, assuming to protect the deceived? To me, such savage attacks were not called for, if going by the fact that the accuser of the brethren is Satan, not God (Rev 12:10)? Those accusers did not have Christian mandate to castigate the so-called heretics (Matthew 7:1-4)?
Nevertheless, Jesus’ words needed to prevail, ahead of persecutions? Jesus was the only protection authority, where persecutions were concerned? To GCI leadership, protection by Christian orthodoxy was more appealing than Christ’s divine protection?
The GCI leadership ought to have gone back to the Bible, using Armstrong’s legendary tradition as basis that founded WCG? But this time, simply removing what was unscriptural, as wrongly adopted by HWA. Scholars can be helpful towards understanding scriptures? However, when it comes to understanding God, scholars can actually be experts in stupidity (1 Corinthians 2:14)? Instead of focusing on academic studies, GCI leadership ought to have patiently engaged more in introspective analysis?
In my view, God does not expect human beings to achieve perfection on their own? It is unnecessary to curse oneself for having ignorantly misapplied scriptures? What is necessary is willingness to change whenever discovering new understanding, as pointing to Christ? In his three-time prayer, Paul reveals that, possibly, even the inability to understand scriptures could be a blessing, as long as sincere in what one does? (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Nothing appears dreadfully sinful about misapplying scriptures, as long as one does everything for the glory of God, after all (Romans 14)?
The Zimbabwean GCI leadership became uncomfortable with my teachings. Hence, my preaching was eventually sanctioned. I had projected what did not align with Headquarters teaching; not necessarily that I had taught what was unscriptural? Once again, I understood and sympathised with the standpoint of the local leadership. Yet, the passion within me could not be contained. I therefore ventured into writing.
Initially, I had hoped that GCI Headquarters would give fair evaluation of my script, before the book could be published. But, I was wrong? I ought to have understood the established authoritarian philosophy, in this world? The established leadership traditions cannot accept Christ as overall leader? Though not verbalized, Christ is appreciated through the lenses of the authoritarian leadership? A ‘junior’ is not expected to see the truth, before the authoritarian leadership?
Could leadership authorities be viewed as Vicars of Christ, assuming that Jesus is incapable of doing the job on His own? Is questioning leadership itself an insubordination? Could this not be one of the reasons why Jesus, having not come through the established rankings, was rejected? Yet Jesus specifically stated that Christians are to treat each other as brethren, unlike worldly practices.
I suppose the chapter that is conveniently omitted by most Christian leaders and scholars alike is Matthew 23? If they read it, they probably either misread or gloss over some verses, like 8-15? When observing lack of application of such scriptures, across the Christian community, I wonder whether we have true Christians out there.
I fully understand the GCI leadership’s position, appearing as invalidating anything submitted by someone without approvable credentials? Like the Pharisees, they probably expect Christ to dramatically show them correct ways, without using ‘despised’ people? Well, I suppose I probably would do the same, if I were in their shoes. Nevertheless, no-one can approve of the workings of God, without appreciating that Christ’s teachings are largely the opposite of what is advanced in this world?
I remain hopeful that God will eventually reveal Himself, especially to those occupying leadership positions. It seems ordinary people randomly get misled, focusing on human leadership, instead of God? But, Christianity does not allow condemnation of bad leaders, whether heretics, sceptics or patent sinners alike. My view is that the duty of Christians is to make a difference, wherever found necessary. This is what makes my position precarious and suppose there are many Christians out there, in similar circumstances. Nevertheless, I continue to give credit to those institutions that enlightened my paths in my Christian journey, as highlighted in this document.
Andrew Masuku, www.newcivilization.co.zw
Andrew Masuku is the author of Dimensions of a New Civilization, laying down standards for uplifting Zimbabwe from current state of economic depression into a model for other nations worldwide. A decaying tree provides an opportunity for a blossoming sprout. Written from a Christian perspective, the book is a product of inspiration, bringing reliefs to those having witnessed strings of unworkable solutions––leading to the current economic and social instability. In a simple conversational tone, most Zimbabweans should find the book as a long awaited providential oasis of hope.
The Print copy is now available at Amazon.com for $13.99
Also available as an e-copy at Lulu.com for $6.99