Please do not look at this article and say, “Oh no, just more squabbling”, but realize that much of the division in the CoG groups is caused by each group assuming itself to be right and then not communicating, in love, these issues to others. We must clear up the misunderstandings and bad feelings before making real progress toward unity in Christ (as opposed to unity under man).
Letter: August 3, 2002
Dear Norman Edwards:
Please be more careful about what you print and the editorial comments you make. According to the Servants’ News index, you posted a letter exchange between me and Darwin & Laura Lee beginning on page 12 of the Jan/Feb issue, which arrived at my house last night (August 2, 2002). There are many problems regarding this, as well as your comments at the end of the exchange.
First of all, page 12 is erroneously page 12 from the Mar/Apr 2002 and not the Jan/Feb 2002 issue (though it was correct in the on-line version), and thus you left off my original comments which made the rest of the exchange out-of-context and instead accidentally published something else that it does not appear you had the original author’s permission to publish.
Secondly, this letter exchange was a private exchange between me and the Lees and you did not have my permission to publish this. It is not that I would have necessarily minded, but when you and I spoke some months ago, you asked me if you could publish articles I had written at my website—I said you could as long as you told me what you wished to publish. You agreed to those terms, but seemed to have violated the spirit of our agreement in this case.
Furthermore, this publishing gave a false impression of what really happened. The Lees did not send me an e-mail asking about my letter published in Servants’ News. Instead, it was my opinion that I was being spammed. They, like the porn-spammers, called their spam “invitations”, but to me it was unsolicited spam. I consider that spam is a violation of Jesus’ admonition to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. It was only in their third or fourth e-mails to me (which were after I told them to take me off their e-mail list) that they directly mentioned my letter published in Servants’ News.
I have never spammed and find it improper and distasteful. I frequently receive anti-COG spam, prophetic speculation, doctrinal views, etc. from individuals who feel they can send out mass e-mailings to people who are not interested. This is how I viewed the Lees’ first two e-mails.
If the Lees would have asked me any legitimate questions, I would have answered them (as you admitted to me, I was the only one to respond to your hierarchical letter, who actually attempted to answer all the questions and subquestions you posed). Instead, they wish to hold me, a lay member, responsible for the fact they admittedly ignored requests from their local LCG minister (and there are differences in administrations, 1Cor 12:5).
To add insult to injury, you put comments at the end (page 14) regarding my refusal to continue to communicate with them “because they will not accept this questionable prophetic interpretation is clearly unbiblical”. The Lees originally were spamming me. They seemed to be trying to insult me. They stated they did not agree with what I wrote. They did not ask me any direct questions (and I even attempted to address the negative question on page 13). Thus, I concluded again that it would be best for them to stop contacting me. But then they contacted me again (the letter on pp.13–14). Plus have sent me at least one more unsolicited e-mail since then.
You seem to prefer to take the side of those who once attended LCG over those who still do. Instead, to be accurate, you should have commented that it was not right for the Lees to send unsolicited e-mails to LCG members, especially after they have politely asked to not receive them.
Furthermore, the Lees’ letter to me on pp.13–14 states, “You have a responsibility to proclaim the good news of God’s soon-coming kingdom here on earth”. The hint is that I do not. However, according to a compilation published in Ambassador Watch, the COGwriter website (http://members.aol.com/cogwriter/home.htm) is the most visited website of its type in the world, and the second most visited which is produced by an individual (as opposed to an organization) with a COG background. My articles on COG doctrinal issues address the proclamation of the good news. And my most recent article (which you should consider publishing) is on how the COGs and Protestants have a different view on the hope of salvation.
The Lees also commented that they hadn’t seen membership growth in LCG—this comment seems odd, since LCG has grown in membership each year since it began.
Finally, regarding the belief in Church eras, yes, I am “guilty” of believing that the Bible supports the teaching that the New Testament Church would have seven somewhat successive eras through its history. As you are aware, the concept of a “Philadelphia era” is not unique to Herbert Armstrong though you implied that in your comments on page 10. Many theologians throughout history have believed in Church eras (even A. Dugger did). What was unique about Herbert Armstrong is that he felt God used him to raise up that era. Herbert Armstrong reached more people with the truth of God than any other minister I am aware of. I agree with him, that the open door in Revelation 3:8, has to do preaching the Gospel (which is consistent with other New Testament scriptures, i.e. Acts 14:27, 1Cor 16:9, 2Cor 2:12). But I also agree with him that radio and television were some of the modern doors that allowed the Gospel to reach a wider audience. And that is probably why God chose to begin the Philadelphia era when He did.
In his sermon titled “Mission of the Philadelphia Church Era” on 12/17/83, Herbert Armstrong stated that the top priority of that era was to proclaim the Gospel of the Kingdom to the world as a witness, and that God restored truths to that era that the Ephesus (apostolic) era had. I believe that these two criteria are consistent with the criteria of Jesus in Revelation 3:7–12. Since even the non-Philadelphians keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ (Revelation 12:17; Revelation 3:10), it is clear to me that when Jesus told the Philadelphians “you have kept My command to persevere” and to “hold fast what you have”, that this is not referring to the most basic of doctrines. I believe that these admonitions mean that the remnant of the Philadelphia era would persevere by holding fast to the truths that were restored to that era. These are now commonly referred to as the 18 truths.
You, the Lees, and others are free to not agree and that is your right. But when you choose to publish information, I feel you should have permission, you need to be accurate, and should not provide comments which are inaccurate. I understand that you strive for accuracy, but in how this matter was handled, it appears that you did not succeed.
— Bob Thiel
Response: Thank you for writing, I am printing your letter as one piece this time as you have previously requested. I will use subheads to address the various issues in my writing—it is all short enough that it should be easy for readers to follow.
I am sorry for the problems I caused by printing a page from the wrong issue. I was working on the next issue while printing the previous, and somehow, the new page 12 ended up in the printer. I am sending out the corrected page and encouraging everyone to read your complete message.
It appears that you are objecting to both the e-mail that Laura Lee sent you and the e-mail of the “invitations for fellowship” that she sent to LCG members in her area. You compared it to “porn spam” which is a crime in many places. However, I don’t think any jury would agree with you. Please think about this some more and note the following points:
1. The Lees were sending information to people whom they personally knew. In your case, they sent e-mail to you about your article to your address printed in Servants’ News, which you knowingly placed there.
2. Their material is not obscene or objectionable by any legal standard, but likely to be of interest to some former WCG members—some responded asking for it to continue. Some who received it were upset, probably because it reminded them that there are others who seek God, keep the Sabbath, Feast Days and other truths, but who do not attend their congregation. I had the same kind of trouble when I was a WCG member and met “disfellowshipped” people who seemed diligent to obey God.
3. Spam is frequently sent from hidden e-mail addresses. I receive lots of it hawking business deals, medications, loans, porn and other junk. I just delete it; asking to be removed from those mailings is frequently pointless because the “sender” changes every few days anyway. These “no-return-address” junk mailers should be tracked down and prosecuted. I also receive lots of unsolicited e-mail from CoG groups. Nearly all readily identify themselves and their e-mail “return address”. I actually read some of it and learn from it. With others, I ask to be removed from their list, and they almost always do it. I think they should be allowed to try to communicate what they believe is an important message.
4. The Lees send out a “Prayer List” regularly to their
entire e-mail address book. They do not have a sophisticated e-mail system
and this is the easiest way to do it. Rarely, this e-mailing contains a paragraph
or so of commentary on some particular subject. I believe these are the e-mails
that you said did not have any specific questions. The vast majority of people
like to receive this e-mailing. Everything they send contains an easy way to be removed from their list. The Lees believe their first communication with you was an e-mail about your article printed in Servants’ News,
and that the “Prayer List”
e-mails followed after. If you accidentally were deleted then re-added to their Prayer List e-mail list and received an unwanted e-mail, the Lees are sorry. They removed you as quickly as possible afterward. If you feel this is an inaccurate representation, they would be willing to search their e-mail archives where they should have a copy stored of everything that they have ever sent you.
5. Let us consider both sides of the golden rule. When I worked for the Global Church of God, if a member gave us names and addresses of people whom they thought “might want” GCG literature, we sent it to them. Sometimes those people were happy with it, sometimes they responded by saying “never send us anything again”—and we stopped. Rod Meredith approved of that policy—he even gave us names and addresses to send to in the early months. When Mr. Meredith left the GCG, he mailed to its members to tell them about the LCG. Do you consider the unsolicited GCG/LCG mailing acceptable because it is “truth”, and the Lees’ mailings “bad” because they are “sin”? If so, who should decide which mailing is good and which is bad? You? The LCG? The government? Or the people who receive the mailings?
The WCG taught that members were preparing to rule with Christ, but I have often wondered what would have happened if they had the power of the state behind them today. What would they have done to people who sent out literature that disagreed with their teaching or exposed their sin? Jailed them? Restrict them from using mail/
e-mail? Command everyone not to hire them or sell to them? Execute them? Let us back up a moment and ask this question: How would Rod Meredith have been able to start the GCG if the WCG had the power of the state behind it? Would not they have been able to change doctrines however they wanted, and then eliminate Mr. Meredith and all of the other men who tried to continue Herbert Armstrong’s work? Our present government has many big faults, but I think it is still better than what we would have if the leaders of the average CoG hierarchy had complete control. I appreciate the freedom to write to others, even if the church or government thinks I am wrong.
As far as printing your letters were concerned, it never occurred to me to ask permission. You voluntarily sent them to the Lees. Every e-mail they send has a “trailer” that indicates they have a newsletter. They sent a “CC” to me on most of the e-mails to you—you would have seen this in your e-mail. They could have printed it in their newsletter, but they sent it on to me since I ran the original articles. None of your letters asked for confidentiality. I agreed to ask you about publishing things from your website, but did not relate that statement to these letters.
I do understand why publishing these letters could be difficult for you. My original Hierarchical Leader Letter essentially asked, “If people in other groups are indeed brethren, then why don’t you treat them like brethren?” Your answer was essentially: “we do treat them like brethren, they are welcome to visit us and we are allowed to visit them.” The Lees were showing you that in practice, that does not always happen. The Lees and I are not trying to hold you responsible for what the LCG headquarters or its ministry do, but want you to avoid defending them when they are wrong. Also, we realize that the LCG leaders are aging and that someday leadership of such organizations may pass to younger, highly talented and dedicated men such as yourself. If that happens, we hope you will fully understand the issues and do the right thing.
I do not think that the Lees meant to say that you were not proclaiming the Good News, they were just saying that we all have a responsibility to do that, whether we think of ourself as clergymen or laymembers. (The Lees and I both realize that these words do not occur in the KJV or NKJV Bible, nor do the concepts that they represent.) With your website, you are doing far more to proclaim the Good News than most individuals and many organizations. While there are a number of things on your site that I believe I can disprove from the Bible, you have obviously thought through some issues in much greater detail than the LCG leaders. I think it would be good if you split your site in two and put basic articles on one site, and Church-of-God related articles on another site. But, I need to finish moving my basic stuff to the Shelter in the Word site—it just takes time.
You suggested that I print your article on the difference between the Protestant and CoG’s belief on the hope of Salvation. I could not find this article, but I did find an older one on the difference between these groups’ views of “born again”. I think the basic concept here is flawed because it treats “the Protestants” like enemies. Yes, while many Protestant church organizations hold beliefs similar to what you describe, the vast majority of the “Protestant” people do not. Why? Most people who consider themselves protestants view their religion as something they do on Sunday morning and they do not know what their church teaches. At the other end of the spectrum are diligent Christians who live their lives for God on a day by day basis and believe that God teaches each believer through His Spirit (John 16:13). Most of these people are not believers in hierarchy and they will follow the Bible and their understanding from God before they will go along with a “church doctrine”. I have found people in this category who have learned what the Bible says about Heaven/Hell, the resurrections, salvation, the law, the Feast days, clean meats, the Sabbath and many other truths with no CoG teaching.
It is this latter group of people though, who are most likely to go to the Internet and look for others who believe the same thing. It would be good if they found your website—they could learn a lot. It would be bad if they found an article telling them that they did not understand salvation because they were Protestants. It is better to simply state the biblical truth on a subject and then cover common false teachings without using general labels. Another approach, is to refute the official teaching of a specific group (e.g. Lutheran—Missouri Synod, or if necessary, the Worldwide Church of God). With this latter method, people outside the group will not feel attacked, and people inside the group cannot equivocate—either they disprove your article, or they must believe that the group they attend is teaching error.
I am certainly aware that many others teach “Church eras” besides Herbert Armstrong. They place the Philadelphia era at many different times: 1540 to 1900, 1700 to 1900, one even claims it started in 1776 when the U.S.A. government was founded with freedom of religion and its capitol in Philadelphia! A few other cult-like groups claim their church is the “Philadelphia era”. But many other Bible students reject the idea from the obvious reading of the Scripture that tells everyone to listen to the messages of the churches (plural). I am glad that you agree that the Bible does not mention eras, but that you are relying on HWA’s prophetic interpretation. After examining many of his prophetic interpretations, some have decided to trust him, others decide not to.
I do not expect you to suddenly become an independent believer based upon this letter or even several articles. You have spent a long time in the Scriptures looking for support for all the LCG’s doctrines and you believe that you have found it. What I do hope to do is let you know that there are many other believers who really want to obey God, who will deal honestly and righteously with you, but who do not follow a hierarchical church organization. At some time in the future, you will probably see firsthand, leaders within your group, maybe even yourself, having to make a major decision between 1) doing what is biblically right, or 2) doing what is expedient for “the church” or its leadership at the time. I had similar choices to make, and that is why I stopped working for the WCG and the GCG. I know many others who had similar decisions to make—some followed God, some did what was expedient. May God help you to make the right choice!
— Norman Edwards