In defense of the Pharisees, Apostles, Seventh-day Adventists, Worldwide Church of God, and Grace Communion International

This dissertation advocates for the institutions linked to my Christian heritage. A paradox within Christianity, marked by denominationalism, is the lack of sympathy for those deemed heretical, despite the principle that love is unconditional. Paul addressed this issue in Romans 14. However, many Christians are still unaware of the detrimental effects of such attitudes. The defining mark of Christians should be love for one another (John 13:34-35). True love becomes attainable when one acknowledges the duty to make a positive difference in the lives of others. My guidance comes from 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 become central in my life. Whether misguided or not, I feel deeply rooted in His teachings. Regrettably, it appears that few can relate to my revelations, which include impartiality among the brethren. When Christ declares that the greatest among Christians is the one who serves, He highlights the folly of ranking God’s children by their worth. Christians are extraordinary (refer to Matthew 11:11 and Matthew 23:8-12). Spiritual gifts do not determine hierarchy, as they are bestowed by Christ Himself (see Romans 12:3-11 and 1 Corinthians 12).

My Christian world is influenced by the institutions highlighted in the above title. I was born within the SDA Christian community. However, my liberty led me to associate with the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) and; 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 the 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.

Following Herbert Armstrong’s passing, Joseph Tkach and his team steered the WCG into a new, yet enlightening paradigm that deepened my Christian understanding and furthered my spiritual education. However, I recognize that such progress would not have been possible without the foundational role of Pharisaic religiosity. The meticulous preservation of scripture by the Scribes and Pharisees was crucial.

Without the ancient texts, laying the groundwork for my Christian beliefs would have been unfeasible. I suppose Jesus’ ministry benefited from the established Jewish religion, which provided scriptural evidence of His Messiahship. The Jews were divinely appointed as custodians of the Old Testament Scriptures, and for this, they have my gratitude.

Jesus came to engage with a sinful world to redeem humanity. Remarkably, His most vehement opponents were the Pharisees and the teachers of the law. Repentant sinners recognized in Jesus a righteous man who empathized with their sinful condition, yet He was without sin Himself. Therefore, my assertion recognizes those connected to God but who may still miss the essence. Just as I am conscious that, despite the confidence stemming from my present Christian comprehension, I too could overlook the essence. All glory is due to God.

The Pharisees

Jesus characterized the Pharisees as hypocrites, mainly for their practice of condemning those who did not adhere to God’s laws. I understand their perspective. They had been schooled to be meticulous in applying the law as outlined in the scriptures, yet they were oblivious to the surpassing era of the gospel. They believed that holiness required safeguarding from the profane. However, Jesus came to overturn this notion.

Through Jesus, holiness possesses the power to transform the profane into the sacred. The death of Jesus eradicated the possibility of evil further tainting the sanctity of God’s children. His sacrifice guaranteed that holiness could redeem and make sacred what was once profane. The Pharisees had access to the scriptures, yet they failed to comprehend them. Nevertheless, Paul explains their lack of understanding:

“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 instils trepidation, especially when considering those who believe that the condemnation of the Pharisees reflects Jesus’ harsh words towards them. In my opinion, only Jesus had the authority to criticize the Pharisees. He taught that we should refrain from judging others (Matthew 7:1-4). Moreover, my comprehension of Christianity would be incomplete without the Pharisees, as Jesus utilized them to exemplify the meaning of hypocrisy. However, I believe the alarming scripture with more significant consequences for Christians today than for the Pharisees 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 adds complexity to Christianity in comparison with other beliefs. Christians today are no better than the Pharisees of the first century. However, Christians are on even more precarious ground when they assume they are superior to the Pharisees. After all, the preservation of the scriptures was through Pharisaic religiosity. The referred misdemeanour of closing the Kingdom of Heaven is not solely applicable to the Pharisees but is even more relevant to today’s Christian missionaries.

The failure lies in not recognizing that Christianity is not merely a religion, but the active Kingdom of God in the lives of those who have accepted Jesus as their 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. 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, who formed the core group that had been thoroughly instructed in the gospel mission, before His ascension to Heaven. The initial chapters of Acts emphasize the early influence of the gospel, which was subsequently met with severe persecution, leading to turmoil within the Church. Notably, after Jesus’s departure (Acts 1:12-26), the narrative records the selection of Matthias as an apostle. I have reservations about this process. Jesus did not instruct the apostles to make such decisions.

He had directed them only to preach all that He had commanded. There is no indication that casting lots to appoint apostles was part of His instructions. 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.

Paul, appointed directly by Jesus, is renowned for his significant contributions, as detailed in the Acts of the Apostles and the epistles he authored. This prominence likely makes Paul one of the most influential apostles of the first century. The absence of recorded deeds for Matthias leads to speculation that his selection might not have been divinely ordained. Nonetheless, the decision by the apostles to appoint an additional member may have been assumed based on their divine mandate to lead and propagate the gospel.

The adage that precision avoids error is pertinent, as humans are prone to mistakes when they generalize rather than adhere strictly to God’s instructions. It seems that the stories of the Old Testament affirm this truth. Interestingly, even Paul appeared to falter when it came to the criteria for appointing Church leaders, as outlined in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1. However, like the other apostles, Paul’s actions may have been influenced by personal opinion, rather than a divinely established doctrine for all to follow.

Paul’s instructions were unprecedented, with no records of Jesus explicitly recommending them. Jesus did not employ the same criteria to ordain Paul or to appoint the other apostles. However, it would be incorrect to criticize the use of such discretion. I believe that when the Holy Spirit is prioritized, human reasoning should be subordinate. Therefore, it is not our place to question God, especially if it involves overriding established practices in appointing leaders, as demonstrated by Paul’s guidance to Timothy and Titus.

This is not intended to undermine the work of the apostles, but rather to offer an opinion that is measured against the actual teachings of Jesus. Recognizing that all humans, including the apostles, are prone to error just as I am, I do not condemn them for such mistakes. Instead, I exercise caution, constantly aware that Jesus provides the steadfast truth. The words and actions of scholars or Christian leaders, even in contemporary times must be evaluated against Jesus’ teachings. This is especially as recorded in the four Gospels of the Bible.

Seventh Day Adventists

I especially credit my mother for guiding me as a child to value the word of God through the teachings of the SDAs. Looking back, I realize that leaving that fellowship may not have been necessary. Although I was critical of the SDAs then, separation might not have been the best choice. Certainly, after repentance, distancing oneself from sinners previously associated with may be necessary. Yet, abandoning a Christian community can seem irresponsible.

I maintain the belief that it is the darkness that departs, not the light. Perhaps, God had different intentions for me. My departure from the SDAs might not have been mere chance but rather divinely directed. Everything works together for the good of those who love God (Romans 8:28). I trust that God has a purpose for the SDA community’s existence. I am convinced that Jesus holds them as dear as He does me. With my present understanding, I love them just as I love every person in this world, despite the profound insights I believe I now possess.

I hope that, in time, the entire SDA community will come to share the knowledge I’ve gained 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

Educated to believe that observing the Sabbath was essential for salvation, I found the teachings of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) particularly compelling for my spiritual journey. My colleague in the Zimbabwe Air Force, Ekim Tshabalala, introduced me to Herbert Armstrong’s Plain Truth magazine. Beyond Sabbath observance, Armstrong advocated for the continued relevance of Jewish festivals for Christians. Given my Sabbatarian upbringing, I readily embraced the practice of these festivals as well.

HWA’s analytical skills persuaded me that the Old Testament laws apply to Christians, as emphasized in Matthew 5:17-19. Mr. Armstrong’s teachings revealed the true gospel about God’s Kingdom, contrasting with the different gospels taught by others. His potential misstep might have been in his depiction of what that Kingdom would look like in his ‘World Tomorrow’ analysis. Perhaps he wasn’t authorized to discuss the composition of God’s Kingdom? While I may not have concurred with all of Armstrong’s teachings, his Sabbatarian perspective and his focus on the gospel of God’s Kingdom were the most compelling aspects of his teachings for me.

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 a different understanding. Jesus was the fulfilment of the Law and the prophets (Luke 16:16). The Law, including Sabbath-keeping, could not save anyone.

Observing the Sabbath and adhering to the dietary laws of the Old Testament was not sinful. However, condemning those who did not follow such laws was considered sinful. I realized that using these laws as a standard for other Christians would be akin to Pharisaism. The focus on law-keeping became objectionable, especially considering the issues that plagued the Pharisees. Teaching law-keeping seems to contravene the teachings of Matthew 7:1-4.

The prevailing view became that Christians should concentrate mainly on the teachings of Christ, as He fulfilled the Law. This required a more in-depth exploration of Jesus’ teachings over the Old Testament. Such a doctrinal shift caused discontent among those who felt let down by Mr. Armstrong. In contrast, others felt animosity towards Mr. Tkach, alleging he led followers away from Armstrong’s teachings.

It is possible that I understood HWA’s position more clearly than the local WCG leadership did at that time. While at home with a new perspective, I found myself unable to teach with authority due to my junior position. I empathized with those who departed, but I also grasped the rationale behind the changes implemented by Mr. Tkach.

During that period, my wife harshly criticized me for not choosing a side. She felt let down, believing I was deceptively agile and indecisive in determining what was right or wrong regarding the new changes. She anticipated that I would publicly reject one of the two perspectives for our family. She was puzzled by my enthusiasm for the changes while simultaneously feeling compassion for those who were leaving in large numbers.

I used to think that as the head of the family, it was the husband’s duty to select the church denomination for everyone. However, I’ve come to appreciate the importance of personal choice. Respecting my wife’s freedom to choose her own denomination has helped us avoid conflict. We continue to enjoy a harmonious marriage, even though we attend different congregations. This peace is a testament to my changed viewpoint, which has equipped me with the tools to prevent any discord in our marriage.

Nevertheless, I believe I cannot adequately convey the adverse impacts that the changes have had on our local fellowship. Regrettably, I could sense dissatisfaction even among the local leaders who stayed. Does an authoritarian mindset continue to dominate the local church? It seems impossible for a junior member to assist the pastor when necessary.

Grace Communion International

I sensed that WCG was on the cusp of exciting developments. Did such significant changes warrant the replacement of pastoral leadership in local congregations? Even as new leaders were gradually introduced, the established pattern remained unaltered. Often, those promoted were recommended by individuals who were not fully supportive of these changes.

The full impact of authoritarianism within the church had remained unnoticed. GCI may have adopted significant doctrinal changes without considering a reform in its authoritarian leadership style. As a result, the Church’s growth in numbers suffered. Yet, what disheartened me the most was seeing members leave, often without any previous signs of their discontent.

Subsequently, the leadership at the Headquarters chose to abandon the WCG as the church’s identity, adopting ‘Grace Communion International’ as the new official name. This move seemed psychologically astute, offering faithful members a chance to leave the past behind. The transformation was deemed essential for distancing from previous dilemmas. 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 issues began to emerge when the leadership of GCI sought integration into mainstream Orthodox Christianity. Herbert Armstrong was mistaken in adhering to the Old Covenant. However, in my opinion, his focus on the use of the Bible over the adoption of scholarly advancements was not entirely misguided.

Among the doctrines promoted by scholars is the Trinitarian gospel. This made me extremely uncomfortable, perhaps due to the influence of Armstrong’s teachings. I believe that if Christ is our sole authority, He did not instruct Christians to prioritize the preaching of the Trinity. This is not to say that the Trinity does not exist in the Bible. Rather, I find it incorrect to place the concept of the Trinity above 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 appears that theologians emphasize the ‘Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’ in a way that may overshadow Jesus’ commands. The central part of the scripture outlines the mission: “teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” It is essential to discover what Jesus instructed to be taught. According to Mark, it is stated precisely:

“Go into the entire world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.” (Mark 16:15)

The question arises: which gospel? The scriptures testify that the gospel concerns the Kingdom of God. Analysis of the four gospels reveals that Christ’s teachings confirm this message. Herbert Armstrong described it as a future event. In contrast, I believe that God’s Kingdom was inaugurated among the early Christians and is still growing among Christians today. Similarly, Grace Communion International, like orthodox Christianity, acknowledges the gospel superficially but prioritizes the doctrine of the Trinity.

It may be presumed that the GCI leadership has yielded to the prevalent academic perspective, opting to follow the majority. I recognize and empathize with their situation. They endured a period of intense public renunciation, more so than any of us, the regular members. The press and online platforms unleashed the harshest criticisms on the church, originating from leaders within the traditional Christian community, presumably to safeguard those they deemed misled.

In my opinion, such strong condemnations were unjustified, particularly given that Satan, not God, is the accuser of the brethren, as stated in Revelation 12:10. The critics did not have a Christian mandate to condemn the supposed heretics, according to Matthew 7:1-4. However, the words of Jesus should take precedence over persecution. Jesus was the sole authority on protection in matters of persecution. For the GCI leadership, adherence to Christian orthodoxy seemed more attractive than relying on Christ’s divine protection.

The leadership of GCI should have revisited the Bible, drawing on the foundational traditions of Armstrong that established the WCG. This time, they should have omitted any unscriptural elements that HWA had incorrectly incorporated. While scholars may aid in interpreting scriptures, their expertise does not necessarily extend to understanding God, as they can be profoundly mistaken (1 Corinthians 2:14). Rather than concentrating on scholarly pursuits, the GCI leadership should have devoted more time to thoughtful introspection.

In my opinion, God does not expect humans to attain perfection independently. There is no need to berate oneself for misinterpreting scriptures. What matters is the readiness to adapt upon gaining new insights, which point towards Christ. Paul’s thrice-repeated prayer suggests that even a lack of understanding of the scriptures may be a blessing, provided one’s actions are sincere (2 Corinthians 12:9-10). Misinterpreting scriptures does not seem inherently sinful, as long as all actions are done for the glory of God (Romans 14).

The leadership of Zimbabwe’s GCI grew uneasy with my teachings, leading to sanctions on my preaching. My projections did not align with the Headquarters’ teachings, although they were not unscriptural. I empathized with the local leadership’s perspective, but the fervour within me remained unabated. Consequently, I turned to writing.

Originally, I had hoped for a fair assessment of my script by GCI Headquarters before the publication of the book. However, I was mistaken. I should have recognized the prevailing authoritarian philosophy of this world. Established leadership traditions do not acknowledge Christ as the supreme leader. Although it is not expressed openly, Christ is respected within the context of authoritarian leadership. It is not anticipated that a ‘junior’ would recognize the truth before the authoritarian leaders do.

Leadership figures are sometimes seen as Vicars of Christ, a term often associated with the Pope’s representation of Christ on Earth. Questioning leadership doesn’t necessarily equate to insubordination; it can be an act of accountability or a quest for clarity. The rejection of Jesus by some may be linked to his unconventional emergence outside of established hierarchies.

Significantly, Jesus taught that Christians should regard each other as brethren, a notion that stands in contrast to secular hierarchical systems. It appears that the chapter frequently overlooked by many Christian leaders and scholars is Matthew 23. Engaging with it might help rejuvenate the Church. Observing the apparent disregard for such teachings within the Christian community leads one to question the authenticity of the faith professed by many.

I understand the position of the GCI leadership, which appears to disregard submissions from individuals without recognized credentials. Like the Pharisees, they probably expect a significant display of the correct ways by Christ, dismissing those they consider unworthy. I might respond in the same way if I were in their shoes. Nevertheless, endorsing the works of God requires recognizing that Christ’s teachings frequently differ from the world’s accepted standards.

I maintain hope that God will reveal Himself, particularly to those in leadership roles. It appears that ordinary individuals often become misguided, concentrating on human leaders rather than God. However, Christianity does not condone the condemnation of flawed leaders, be they heretics, sceptics, or outright sinners. I believe that Christians are called to effect change wherever it is deemed necessary. This stance can be precarious, and I assume many Christians find themselves in similar situations. Nonetheless, I persist in acknowledging the institutions illuminating my path throughout my Christian journey, as detailed in this dissertation.

Andrew Masuku is the author of Dimensions of a New Civilization, laying down standards for uplifting Zimbabwe from its current 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, relieving those who have 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 for $13.99

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