Coming CleanStudy No. 144
He was on a company business trip to a seminar in Atlanta. The seminar lasted several days. He stayed at a very expensive hotel. One night he went to a Japanese restaurant with several of the men from other companies who were attending the seminar. He judiciously avoided unclean foods. After the meal, the other men wanted to stop by a bar called "The Tattletale." He didnít listen well to what they were saying. Since another man had a rented car and was driving, he saw no harm in going along, and expected that they would go back to the hotel soon after a brief stop at the bar.
When they got to the bar, there was a cover charge to enter. Someone paid it for the group, and they went in. Much to his shock, he realized that he was in a topless, bottomless bar! Being a man of high moral principles, he realized he should not be in this place. He did not want to be there. But, it did not occur to him that he should walk out immediately, and call a taxi to return to his hotel room. That might be embarrassing. "These guys will soon get tired of watching the naked women dance, and weíll soon be out of here," he reasoned. It was impossible not to look at what was going on. One woman after another came on stage, danced to music, and took off all her clothes. One completely nude woman came to their table after she had finished her act. The other men did not tire quickly. It was an hour and a half or longer before they decided to return to the hotel.
He felt dirty and rotten inside for having been so weak in not standing up for what is right. He should have walked away from evil, rather than participating in wrong. It was months before he had the courage to face up to what he had done and confess his sin to his wife. In the end, he had to get rid of that nagging feeling of guilt that would not go away. He is a writer of religious articles, and should have practiced what he preached! What a hypocrite! His shameful actions were totally unexcusable and a disgrace.
I am the man. Yes, I was a stinking SKUNK! I am ashamed to admit this incident. I feel about as small as these letters. What a rotten, spineless jellyfish I was, not to exercise strength of character and walk away from evil, when it would have been so easy to have done so. I would never see these men again. No need to worry about being laughed at or ridiculed because I wasnít interested in what they were doing. But I acted as if my friends "made" me do it!
Why didnít I do the right thing? Many times when a believer in the Almighty sins, it is not that he or she doesnít know that what they are doing is wrong. We usually know what is wrong, but when we sin, we are too weak in character to grab the bridle and force ourselves to resist the evil path and instead, go the right way. Our excuses are so pitiful.
The first step in our spiritual rehabilitation is to openly admit our sin to someone else whom we care about. Obviously, we should first pray to God and ask forgiveness. But, it is often easier to admit our sins before God, whom we cannot see, than before others, whom we can see. "Coming clean" often involves confessing our faults to others. We donít need to confess our sins to just anyone, and usually, not everyone, but definitely to those whom we have wronged. "Coming clean" is a process that, when completed, makes one feel good inside.
"My Lawyer Made Me Do It"
Years ago, I worked for a leading minister of a large Sabbath-keeping organization. This minister was forced out of his high, church administration position, and placed on a yearís "sabbatical" doing nothing, during which time he received full pay, conditional on his not publishing or doing anything contrary to the church organization. It was really "hush money." After his sabbatical, he made a break with the organization. Then he justified his yearís silence by stating that he couldnít make them stop sending the checks! He acted as if he was forced to cash them! The strange thing is that his new group of followers believed him.
My minister friend then turned around and sued the organization he broke with, for severance pay. After doing nothing on full pay for a year, apparently now he felt justified to break I Corinthians 6, by going to court against the church. When cornered by another friend of mine on this issue, his defensive excuse was: "My lawyer made me do it!"
Coming Clean Before God
When am I, when are we all, going to face up to our individual responsibility for our sins? Adam and Eve tried to shift the blame from themselves. Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. Actually, Adam blamed God, for Adam said, "The woman whom Thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat," Genesis 3:12. Sin makes us dirty and naked before God. That is why a lamb had to be slaughtered, to make clothes for Adam and Eve after they had sinned.
Please read all of Ezekiel chapter 18. Let us not shift the blame by weak excuses. We must turn from our transgressions, for the soul that continues to sin shall die. (For additional discussion on this subject, see Study No. 61, "Personal Spiritual Object Lessons," in our free book, Bible Studies.)
There was a man, a much better man than I am, who had the heart of God. He sinned grievously by committing adultery and murder. When convicted of his sin by Godís prophet, he did not retort with lame excuses. He could have said, "She enticed me by taking a bath in public," or "I was the youngest of many brothers and was always picked on by my older brothers," or "I did it in a fit of passion, itís no big deal." No, King David didnít blame someone else for his sins. He didnít minimize or sweep his sins under the rug. He cried out to God,
For I acknowledge my transgressions: and my sin is ever before me [I continue to think about my wretched sin and lament my wickedness]. Against Thee, Thee only, have I sinned and done this evil in Thy sight . . . . purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean: wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow . . . . Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence: and take not Thy holy spirit from me. Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free spirit. Then will I teach transgressors Thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto Thee, Psalm 51:3-13.
The message of salvation can only be preached effectively by a man who acknowledges his sin, and uses his own now-forgiven sin as a living example of how the Almighty can blot out transgressions and create a new and clean heart. Peter was a mighty apostle, not in spite of, but in part because of, the fact that he sinned greatly in denying Christ. On that terrible night of our Saviorís death, Peter was a spiritual wimp. Why, none of us would ever have been such a coward, would we? Would we? Why, I would never deny Christ! Then, why did I deny Him at the Tattletale Bar in Atlanta?
After the resurrection, at Pentecost, and beyond, Peter was transformed into a bold preacher of Truth. Saul was the greatest persecutor of the Church, and shamefully, was part of Stephenís death. But when God took hold of him, the transformed Paul became the mightiest warrior for God. Yet Paul did not forget his sinful past. He continued to use his past sins as an illustration. In I Corinthians 15:9, Paul lamented, "For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the Church of God." See also Galatians 1:13. Paul used his past sins as a spiritual object lesson for others who would be converted:
. . . Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting, I Timothy 1:15-16.
Other sinners would never have been converted had not David, Peter, Paul, and other honest servants of the Almighty freely admitted their sinful past.
In the Eternalís eyes, when we repent and our sins have been forgiven, they are also forgotten. They get as far away from Him as the East is from the West. But in the believerís eyes, our past sins are ever before us. No, not the guilt. But, the lesson is ever before us, reminding us never to sin like that again, reminding us to cry out to God to help us have the power to overcome sins like that in the future. Peter never forgot he denied Christ three times. Paul never forgot that he persecuted the Church of God. May we never forget our wretched past, and Godís deliverance from our transgressions.
Trust Me! It Wonít Hurt!
Instead of a little help from your friends, you may find that others hinder rather then help you avoid sin. Here are some "lines" to be on guard against:
"All my exís live in Texas. Thatís why I hang my hat in Tennessee." This Country and Western song is a classic statement of oneís failure to face up to personal responsibility for oneís past sins. The man in the song has a responsibility to quit committing adultery. He has a further responsibility to offer financial support for the women whose lives he has ruined by his loose behavior. But, he refuses to face his past, running away to Tennessee.
"Trust me! It wonít hurt!" This is a big lie! When someone says this to you, they are enticing you to do evil, and trying to get you to forget about your conscience, when you know what they are wanting you to do is wrong. Donít give in to such temptation!
And this brings me to one of the worst lines of all: "It never happened! Just forget about it, and think positive thoughts!" Spiritual coverup is perhaps the most devastating line of all.
Covering Up the Past
There has been coverup in the Worldwide Church of God (WWC). The Autobiography of Herbert W. Armstrong has been called "about two-thirds fiction" by his son Garner Ted. Armstrong. Based upon historical research, I have found the Autobiography is true, for the most part, but it leaves out much, giving a distorted image of the elder Armstrong. Failing to come clean about oneís past puts a cloud over oneís total character and demeanor. You canít trust a man who covers up his past.
Garner Ted Armstrong (GTA) has published a brief history of himself and his church organization, The Origin and History of the Church of God, International, (Tyler, Texas, 1992). He did the same as the father.
First, I must commend Garner Ted Armstrong for some fine points in his book:
(1) GTA relates about the miraculous healing of his mother Loma. He reproduces a letter of hers which proves that the event really did take place.
(2) GTA frankly admits his rebellion against his fatherís religion. Garner Ted Armstrong hated being a "preacherís kid," and was embarrassed that his father kept Saturday rather than Sunday, and that he could not participate in many school sports and activities such as dances, which often took place on Friday nights or Saturdays. He deeply resented the Sabbath and Herbertís autocratic, domineering rule over his family. Secretly, Garner Ted engaged in Halloween and Christmas activities. When asked by the children on the block what he got for Christmas, "Teddy" invented an answer like "underwear," or "socks." The main reason why Garner Ted joined the U.S. Navy in 1948 "was simply to get away from home, from my father, from all the things that had become frustrating to me, including the Sabbath, Ďchurchí rules and regulations, and all his fatherís taboos, like Ďclean and unclean meatsí" (page 23-24). Garner Ted is thankful for his youthful rebellion, because it shows that he did not blindly follow what his father taught. It also shows that he is able to sympathize with young people today who face similar struggles on the road to conversion. This is helpful honesty.
(3) Garner Ted Armstrong shows that his conversion was based, not upon what his father taught, but what he found in his own Bible. After his discharge from the Navy, GTA was talked into attending his fatherís Ambas-sador College, and was required to take at least one Bible class. A famous theologian of the late 1940ís said in a major national magazine, "First, let us understand what Christianity is not. It is not a way of life!" At the same time, in Bible class at Ambassador, GTA discovered for himself that four places in Acts 18 and 19 show that Christianity is a way of life. Garner Ted asked himself, "Could my father possibly be right about some of the things he claimed were in the Bible?"
Then Garner Ted discovered in a pamphlet on "Law and Grace" by the elder Dr. Richard DeHahn, that this minister, attempting to show that we do not have to obey the Ten Commandments, quoted Ephesians 2:8, 9, but deliberately refused to quote the remainder of the passage, including verse 10. Vigorously challenged, Garner Tedís spiritual progress took off like a rocket. He was baptized in the spring of 1953, ordained in the spring of 1955, graduated from Ambassador College in 1956, by which time he was doing The World Tomorrow radio broadcast full time. His father had virtually retired from doing any new radio programs by about 1958, except for an occasional special broadcast. GTAís life is proof that conversion cannot come on your parentsí coattails.
(4) Herbert Armstrongís actions at the death of Loma Armstrong, Garner Tedís mother, made GTA lose respect for his father and led to their eventual final estrangement. She died with GTA holding her hand, while Herbert acted cold, and less than an hour after her death, Herbert said, "I donít suppose I should think about marrying again right away." Once the moderating influence of Loma was gone, Herbert Armstrong immediately launched into excessively lavish living, worldwide traveling, and (according to some evangelists) more blatant sexual aberrations. GTA objected to this lavish spending, and contradicted his fatherís statements that HWA was "preaching the gospel," when HWA hardly ever mentioned Jesus Christ before world leaders. GTA did not want his father to "marry" divorcee Ramona Martin, who was 46 years younger than HWA. Even though GTA grudgingly agreed to perform the "wedding" ceremony in 1977, he became increasingly estranged from his father. The elder Armstrong, in fact, claimed that God had "allowed" Loma to die because she could not have undergone the "grueling pace" of his worldwide travels. This infuriated Garner Ted.
(5) Garner Ted Armstrong relates how he was ousted from the Worldwide Church of God in 1978, and started his own organization, the Church of God, International. Apparently, Garner Tedís ouster was a political move by those who were struggling for church power. After 20-25 years of writing, and being the major speaker for radio and television, GTAís name has been removed from all WWC publications, as if he never existed. He is not given credit where credit is due, for a large portion of the membership of the WWC came in under the preaching efforts of GTA.
(6) The CGI is structured quite differently than the WWC. Just GTA and a few others are on salary. A Ministerial Council meets regularly to conduct church business such as approving ordinations and local church charters. Annual financial statements are prepared by an outside, independent auditor. The ministry is not held up as idols who have total dictatorial authority over the congregation. The WWC has degraded doctrinally more than the CGI. Garner Tedís church refutes the WWC teaching on "Primacy of Peter." The CGI holds a doctrinally correct position on the "born again" and "trinity" doctrines, which the WWC has changed and/or watered down. In 1992, the CGI had 114 chartered churches or fellowship groups in the USA, with many others around the world. There were six USA feast sites, and plans for the opening of Imperial Academy perhaps in the fall of 1993. Garner Ted Armstrong continues to speak on television. He and Ronald Dart produce video tape sermons seen by church members around the world.
These are some of the good points of GTAís history. However, "the rest of the story" should have been told. When one leaves out important facts, the result is an historical coverup.
It would have been honest for GTA to have really "come clean" with his past. The Bible is so honest, but men are so deceitful. David committed adultery and then murder to cover up his sin. As the Bible says, "be sure your sin will find you out," Numbers 32:23. David repented, and God considered him a "man after His own heart." I love the Bibleís honesty. Men and women of God have committed sin, have recognized and admitted their sin, and God forgave them. They will be great leaders in the World Tomorrow, but some of their sins are written in the Bible as examples for us all. Now that is coming clean!
He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy, Proverbs 28:13.
A person who freely admits past sins is demonstrating honesty. A sinner who sadly admits his sins is better than a "righteous" person who covers up his past. Proverbs 17:9 may seem at first glance to contradict what we have just said: "He that covereth a transgression seeketh love; but he that repeateth a matter separateth very friends." This verse is NOT referring to covering up unrepented sins. It means we should "take it on the cheek" rather than expose anotherís sins against us.
It was with sorrow that I noticed some of the bad points of Garner Ted Armstrongís, The Origin and History of the Church of God, International.
(1) GTA fails to admit the extent of his "youthful rebellion" against his fatherís religion. He tells us on which ship he served in the navy. But, what was his lifestyle during these years?
(2) GTA leaves an "audit trail" that seems to convict him of premarital sexual activity. He hastily married Shirley Hammer during the second semester of the 1952-53 college year. By 1955, he tells us, his second son David was born, and his third son Matthew in 1956. When was his first son Mark born? He doesnít mention Mark. Is it true, as some say, that Mark was born sooner than nine months after GTAís marriage?
(3) He fails to admit that HWAís broadcasts had more meaty spiritual content then his own. Herbert W. Armstrongís old radio broadcasts were played on Sundays for many years, and probably led to more people being convicted with Godís Truth than GTAís more sarcastic, helter-skelter speaking style. It was proper for GTA to point out that he made so many more broadcasts than his father. However, quality rather than quantity is what counts. On the one hand, GTA accuses his elderly father of not preaching the gospel in later years, when HWA went to world leaders. Yet, on the other hand, GTA fails to admit that a great many of his own broadcasts and sermons are "gospel-less." Even today, it is the sermons of Ronald Dart, and not Garner Ted Armstrong, that contain the most meat, and are the key to the success of the Church of God, International. Just ask anyone who has access to CGI sermon tapes.
(4) Inexcusably, GTA fails to admit that 1978 was not the first time he was disfellowshipped from the WWC. He paints the false picture that his ouster was sudden and inexplicable. In 1972, he was disfellowshipped on moral grounds. Even when he was reinstated in 1973, there was no public confession of his sexual sins, which were common knowledge among the ministry for many, many years prior to 1972. GTA has had a long history of sexual escapades. In 1973, GTA denied before a group of all Pasadena employees, myself in attendance, that he was guilty of any sexual sins. When I questioned him on this point, he went into a rage and fired me from my job, saying he is above the qualifications for the ministry.
When I say that GTA is not qualified by the Bible to be a minister, some may think that I have an unforgiving attitude regarding his previous sins. This is definitely not the case. Garner Ted may indeed be genuinely sincere and may have totally turned his life around. He or anyone else can repent and be accepted back into the church as a bona fide member in good standing, no matter what heinous sins were committed in the past. And these sins should be forgiven and not held against them in any manner whatsoever.
According to I Timothy 3 and Titus 1, a minister that commits gross public sins and is put out of the church (disfellowshipped), can be accepted back into church membership upon genuine repentance, but he should not return to the office of the ministry. I have found no Biblical support for such a practice of letting a minister continue to preach after he has been disfellowshipped as GTA was for gross public sins. The heinous sins of Saul (Paul) were committed before he was called into the church and the ministry. Those who accept Garner Ted Armstrong as a minister do not seem to understand what repentance is. Please see our article "Ten Basic Qualifications of an Elder," Study No. 26 in our book, Bible Studies.
I am appreciative of many of the things Garner Ted Armstrong taught on the radio and in print during the 1960ís and early 1970ís. His Church of God, International, is not patterned after the centralized WWC type of church government. He appears to be sincere when he says all he wants is to preach the gospel and would never go back to Pasadena and work within the Worldwide Church of God. He is right that he will probably never be asked to do so. I appreciate the fact that GTA is sick and tired of church politics. Who isnít?
(5) Garner Ted Armstrong fails to accept responsibility for lavish spending of church funds and other corporate excesses, while he was in the WWC. As he told Mike Wallace of the 60 Minutes television program, "Mike, itís hard for me to sit here and criticize them [WWC], for I was part of everythingóan unwilling part, but part, nevertheless . . ." (page 4). GTA laments that the "unwilling part" was edited out of the 60 Minutes telecast. But, was he just an "unwilling part" of financial problems in the church? Was GTA unwilling to have a personal jet aircraft, multiple church homes, cars, and perks? Was he unwilling to spend millions of dollars of church funds on his own broadcasts which covered topics such as the scientific details of anableps, a four-eyed fish, rather than thunder the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the world? Even now, he believes in a non-salaried ministry. Is he unsalaried?
(6) Garner Ted fails to admit that he spearheaded doctrinal liberalization in the Worldwide Church of God throughout the 1970ís. It is common knowledge among ministers, pastors and evangelists that GTA led a liberal movement in the WWC which led to the 1974 doctrinal changes regarding Divorce and Remarriage and Pentecost, the weakening of church teaching regarding healing, tithing, the Sabbath, and other doctrines. This liberal thrust culminated in the Systematic Theology Project (STP), published in 1978, the very year he was ousted. Then, from 1986 to the present, we have seen the Worldwide Church of God accept the liberal STP doctrines, and go far beyond this into teaching "born again" Protestant theology, coming near to accepting the pagan Trinity doctrine, accepting Martin Lutherís "salvation by faith alone" heresy, etc. Now, Garner Ted looks at the WWC as being "liberal" compared to his CGI. This is actually true. He assumes responsibility for bringing into the Church most of the people still in the WWC, but he does NOT take responsibility for the doctrinal depravity that has occurred. What a coverup!
One of the most basic and simple (yet most important) doctrines of the Bible is Passover. Leviticus 23:5-6 makes it abundantly clear that Passover is on the 14th day of the first month of Godís calendar, and the 7-day Feast of Unleavened Bread begins on the 15th day of the first month. Yet Robert Kuhn, one of Garner Ted Armstrongís top associates when he was in the WWC, wrote a paper with Lester Grabbe on the Passover, which has confused many into believing that the Old Testament Passover was on the 15th, rather than the 14th. GTA continues to support Kuhnís thesis. Such pseudo scholarship has fooled tens of thousands.
The leaven of doctrinal perversion in the Worldwide Church of God was spread by Garner Ted Armstrong. He adamantly refuses to admit that he has watered down anything. This is not true. Our article, Biblical Doctrine, examines teachings of numerous Sabbath-keeping groups, including the CGI.
As the saying goes, "like father, like son." The sons of great leaders are often much like their fathers, in spite of their protesting to be different. Garner Ted Armstrong has some different qualities from his father, which make him a much more likeable person. There are many positive aspects about his ministry. But, like his father, he covers up his past and has not come clean. King David came clean. Letís be like David, and not like the Armstrongs.
"Coming clean" is usually a process of God working with you, leading you to repentance. As long as there is life, it is not too late to begin the necessary process of "coming clean." I pray that Garner Ted Armstrong will come clean. This world is soaked in sexual sin. How wonderful it would be for a man who has sinned like David, to teach Godís ways to those who have similar problems. No, not as a leader of the Church, but a transformed sinner who has a message for young and old. We need this type of "ministry" today.
During my college years, I worked on different summer jobs to earn my college tuition. One summer I worked at a lumber mill, pulling boards off a re-saw and planer. One older worker was missing the better part of an arm, due to an accident with the millís saw. He didnít blame the saw for his injury. He didnít say the accident never happened. His presence was the best "safety lesson" our work crew could ever have. He may have prevented some of us "young bucks" from careless disrespect of sawmill equipment.
Garner Ted Armstrong may have a tremendous gift of dealing with young people. But that gift is not being used effectively, because he has not been honest
about his past. Many people are stifled and unusable to God. They do not humbly face their past, and they proudly persist in being a "legend in their own minds."
Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing [to confess your sins] and obedient [quit sinning, with Godís help], ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse [to admit your wicked past] and [continue to] rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the LORD hath spoken it, Isaiah 1:18-20
Let us not cover our sins like Adam. See Job 31:33, Psalm 32:5, Jeremiah 2:35-36, I John 1:8-10. Personally, I am ashamed of my sins, and the sins of my people (physical and spiritual Israel). But I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes, Romans 1:16. Each one of us needs to "come clean." W