Mystery of the Ages (a critical review)
By Kelly Marshall
Chapter Six - Mystery of the Church (Pt. 1 of 5)
"…and because their language resembles ours, while their sentiments are very different…" (Irenaeus Against Heresies, Book I, Preface, para. 2).
Redefining common religious terms into a Bible-based cult's unique dialect is known as "loading the language." HWA will spend the next 96 pages—the longest chapter in the MOA—redefining Christian terms into these new "loaded" terms—words that sound Christian but, as early church father Irenaeus observed, mean something completely different. Once HWA lured his readers into his web, he knew they could never find their way back out of this confusion-filled mess. They would have to stumble along and blindly follow his lead, putting their complete trust in him.
In this sixth chapter of the MOA, we will observe HWA pull off the ultimate con—getting the reader to buy into the belief that his church is the only true church that preaches the only true gospel. First, he will convince the reader that the gospel proclaimed today is a false gospel and that the true gospel was not proclaimed from A.D. 50 until the year 1953. (p. 198) HWA begins each doctrinal discussion with misrepresentations of "traditional Christianity" used intentionally to stir up feelings of outrage and discontent. Confident that he has secured the reader's sympathy and loyalty, he offers what seems to be the "correct" biblical explanations to these seemingly "illogical" doctrines. HWA will quote history to establish his organization's sacred roots, painting a legendary epic of a "small, faithful flock" being persecuted by institutionalized Christianity. HWA reassures the reader that this "passing of the baton" from one faithful group to the next has continued throughout the ages to this present day. He will claim to be carrying the baton of the Philadelphian Era. Having successfully immobilized this "small flock" against this formidable "false Christian" foe, the size and scope of HWA's "Work" will be used as evidence that God is supernaturally backing this "end time messenger." The appeal to the reader's conscience for help puts him in a precarious position—either be one of the few, faithful elite that God is calling to proclaim these "truths" to the end, or join the ranks of the bloodthirsty deceived "whore." The scam is on while the options are narrowed: partner with God, or partner with the devil—which will the reader choose?
One clever (and very effective) tactic used by con artists is to make the customer/victim1 believe that he/she is in control and can walk away at any time when, in fact, the opposite is true. We will observe numerous examples of limited choices followed by the heaping of "guilt and bad feelings" if one chooses to go against HWA, as in the example above. Let's revisit HWA's usual methods to disarm and influence the reader. He will begin with a false premise—that the "truth" about the church is being withheld from the general public [bolding mine]:
The real truth about the Church, the reason for its origin, is as little understood as the Bible itself. The revelation of that mystery must come as a shocking truth. The real truth about the church…and its purpose has remained hidden from even the professing Christian world. (p.198)
Millions have read over this passage (II Cor. 4:3-4) without grasping its real meaning. (p. 198)
But is the Church a building? Many assume it is, which assumption reflects their ignorance of the purpose and meaning of the Church. (p. 199)
Yet almost no one has ever known that meaning. (p. 199)
What has been hidden from even the professing Christian world is the real purpose of the Church…(p. 199)
Again, the set up becomes increasingly transparent. HWA utilizes social pressure against the reader by placing him in the category with the "assuming and ignorant" masses for not knowing the true purpose of the church. But for those who are interested in finding the "hidden" purpose and meaning—one that "almost" no one has ever known, HWA will gladly initiate the reader into his secret society—his organization.
EKKLESIA—"CALLED OUT ONES"
HWA confidently gives the unscholarly reader a short lesson on the Greek meaning of the word "church":
The word church is an English-language word translated from the original Greek of ekklesia. Ekklesia means called-out-ones. (p. 199)
From where did HWA get this definition? He doesn't say. When HWA doesn't quote the Strong's Concordance, then that should be our clue to see what he may be hiding. In the New Testament, the word "church" is assigned number 1577 in the Greek. Strong's defines ekklesia as "a calling out, i. e., (concr.) a popular meeting, especially a religious congregation (Jewish synagogue, or Christian community of members on earth or saints in heaven or both)—assembly, church." Once again, we witness the purposeful omission of information that contradicts his teachings. We do not see the term "called-out-ones" as part of this definition. Obviously, the "assumptions of the many ignorant" have been correct. There is nothing erroneous with today's definition of what a church is—a gathering or meeting of believers assembling together for worship. The type of building they meet in is irrelevant, but HWA wants to make issues out of non-issues to keep the reader suspicious and distracted.
In duplicitous mockery, HWA spewed all over the mainstream church for acquiring "worldly" real estate, telling members over and over that the "church building isn't the church," but then he went out and acquired buildings and expensive real estate for himself. So here again, HWA holds a double standard. He spared no expense to lavish himself with the best, while the members footed the bill and went without.
When a new recruit attends a Sabbath Service for the first time, he/she will question the unappealing surroundings of the "rental hall," which is usually a school auditorium, Masonic or IOOF buildings; a basement of an office complex, or hotel conference room. Many of the buildings are musty, or run-down, with little or no heating or air conditioning, few or no windows, and many of these rentals are located in unsafe neighborhoods. More than a few elderly persons went home ill from the stifling heat, and many a child received "discipline" (spankings) for their inability to "sit still and be quiet" during services under these very difficult conditions. The new recruit—who mentally visualized "God's Church" as being something exceptionally extraordinary—will be puzzled at the disparity. He has seen the lovely photos of the Ambassador College campus and the breathtaking pictures of the millennial paradise in the church's literature. He has read about God's love for "quality" and that inequality, squalor and poverty are against His desire for mankind. He was led to believe that God's Church was restoring His government on earth, and portrayed this ultimate "Way of Life." Yet, this initial observation begins to raise a red flag. Unable to resolve this discrepancy, he will be reassured by the ministry that: "All of God's tithes are being utilized to preach the gospel and finish the Work. We don't waste His money on worldly things like carpet, padded pews, etc. just for our personal comfort. We're going to go to Petra soon, so we don't need to acquire buildings that do little more than swallow up resources that could be better spent on more important things. We're not like those worldly churches that have fancy buildings and major upkeep expenses." What the new convert perceives as frugality is nothing more than a con.
Once HWA has poisoned the reader into believing that the real PURPOSE for the church has been withheld from him, he now has a free reign to define that purpose to his benefit and to the detriment of the reader.
"GOSPEL NOT ABOUT JESUS"
Herbert Armstrong hammers throughout the MOA that the gospel "ABOUT Jesus" is a false gospel. The loaded term, "the gospel OF Jesus" will be substituted as the correct definition of the gospel, which HWA has free reign to pervert to his benefit. This gospel OF Jesus is supposedly the "kingdom message"—the message he brought concerning the coming future kingdom of God to earth. (This will be covered more thoroughly in the Chapter 7 review).
HWA announces that the church isn't used by God to save souls, nor did Jesus come as a personal savior:
It [the church] is not the instrumentality by which God is trying to "save the world." Few may realize it, but Jesus made no attempt to gain converts or to invite people to "give their hearts to him" or to "accept him as their personal savior." (p. 200)
The inexperienced reader, who has heard these familiar terms without fully understanding them, was easily tricked by this clever presentation. In the first sentence, HWA is speaking of the purpose of the church, and flatly denies that God is using it as an instrument to save the world. Without providing any proof for this particular statement, he simply announces that Jesus made no attempts to gain converts, negating his role as a personal Savior to the world. Instead, he introduces a twisted version of predestination—that those who are in the true church are drafted—handpicked and chosen by God Himself to be part of an elite force.
Christ came also to call out selected and chosen ones from Satan's world to turn from Satan's way into the way of God's law, and to qualify to reign with Christ when he comes to replace Satan on the throne of the earth. Those called into the Church were called not merely for salvation and eternal life, but to learn the way of God's government and develop the divine character during this mortal life in the Church age. (p. 201)
This seductive offer to be part of something unique is hard to resist. Since HWA loves "hidden meanings," he knows that the inexperienced reader doesn't fully comprehend the hidden meaning of the phrase "learning the way of God's government and develop the divine character," which is nothing more than enslavement to the works-based rules of his organization. In his usual cunning style, HWA ingeniously sidetracks the reader by quickly mentioning the seven annual festivals and their hidden meanings. All this distraction is designed so the reader never goes back to the question of why traditional churches teach Jesus as personal Savior and that one must "believe on Him" to be saved. Could there be some truth to this? Since HWA can't be depended on to give an unbiased view, we will let the Bible speak for itself: [bolding mine]
But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name (John 1:12)
That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (John 3:15-16)
He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. (John 3:18)
Jesus answered and said unto them, This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent. (John 6:29)
And Jesus said unto them, I am the bread of life: he that cometh to me shall never hunger; and he that believeth on me shall never thirst. (John 6:35)
And this is the will of him that sent me, that every one which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up in the last day…Verily, verily I say unto you, He that believeth on me hath everlasting life. (John 6:40, 47)
Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. (John 11:25)
But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name. (John 20:31)
Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus…And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he [the eunuch] answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Acts 8:35, 37)
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Rom. 10:9-10)
These things have I written unto you that believe on the name of the Son of God; that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God. (I John 5:13)
If HWA was speaking for God, then why does he have trouble quoting these Scriptures, and many others just like them (which are so numerous it would be lengthy to quote them all)? Is it because they plainly don't say, "Believe in the kingdom message about the government"? Look up the word "believe" in the Strong's Concordance and prove it to yourself. It appears that traditional Christianity's belief in the gospel ABOUT Jesus wasn't a deception derived from the devil, but taken straight from Scripture. Modern vernacular such as "give your heart to Him" or to "accept Him as their personal savior" is simply another way of saying that one believes with all their heart that Jesus is Savior, as described in the verse with Philip and the eunuch above. Any honest person would not have twisted the meaning, nor withheld such important information. The key to eternal life is Jesus Christ, and believing with all our heart that He is the Son of God, the Savior of the world. (See: How Do I Receive Eternal Life?) This is pure, straightforward salvation. The gospel is not a complex concoction of "eighteen restored truths," various "mysteries," lost identities, sacred rituals and total submission to a hierarchical government. Is there any wonder why Paul marveled at those who turned away from the grace and simplicity of the gospel to these complicated, burdensome beliefs? (Gal. 1:6-7; II Cor. 11:3)
Throughout this whole chapter of MOA, we will observe HWA underhandedly avoiding Scripture whenever it dispels his doctrines. Observe that whenever he makes blatant statements against Christian doctrines, he doesn't reveal any of the Scriptures that Christianity uses to back their beliefs. Instead, he will only give information that proves him right. Like any good salesman, he can't let anyone know that the competition has a better product.
RELIGIOUS ASSUMPTIONS/SALVATION BEFORE JESUS
Grabbing the reins, HWA will launch into deep theological questions, putting the reader on the spot:
If the Church came into existence as an instrumentality for "getting people saved," then, I ask, by what means did God try to save people prior to Christ's founding of the Church? (p. 202)
Again, HWA resorts to social proof that most people assume, or don't know why the church exists, or its purpose: [bolding mine]
But when we ask, why do churches exist, how did the Church as an institution come into being?—what is its reason or purpose for its existence?—does it make any difference whether, or to which church you belong?—then, indeed, it becomes a mystery. The average person has no answer. (p. 203)
I was led to take it for granted that I was an immortal soul and that when I died I would not really die, but rather pass away into heaven where I would have no responsibilities but only a life of idleness and ease in sublime glory forever and ever. (p. 204)
Like millions of others, I assumed that "good people" went to church and so ought we. (p. 205)
Most people think of the CHURCH as a building with a sharply sloping roof, a steeple pointing heavenward atop and a cross on its face. (p. 205)
Back in early part of 1927 when my intense Bible study was bringing me toward conversion, I asked myself such questions. I supposed questions of that sort never enter the average mind. (p. 207)
HWA knew where to shoot his fiery arrows. The reader will readily nod his head and say to himself, "Yes, this man is right. I carelessly assumed these things." Now that the reader has admitted that he is like all "assuming" people and these questions never entered his "average mind," he will look to HWA as the all-knowing authority.
Of course HWA knew that his target market—Bible illiterates—would not know the answer to his tricky questions. That's why he asked them. He quickly surmises the situation into another of his faulty conclusions: Since the reader couldn't answer the questions, then it's proof positive that Satan has blinded him. As the reader becomes more and more suspicious of the world surrounding him, he becomes more and more open to HWA's teaching. The pattern is repeated over and over. From here we need to make a note of two things: 1. HWA, himself, did not answer these questions, but used them as a springboard to show that he was right about Satan deceiving the world, and, 2. HWA did not give anybody else's answer to these questions—he never quotes any outside religious authorities, theologians, etc. He does not want any opposing opinions that may give legitimate answers to these questions—although he asks the questions with a tone of incredulousness, as if nobody out there had an answer! If HWA had the real truth, then he wouldn't be afraid to show that there are other answers to the questions he proposed. His truths should easily stand against falsehoods. Let's see what Dr. J. Vernon McGee had to say concerning this: [bolding mine]
Now let me answer our critics who say that we who hold the dispensational view of Scripture teach that there are two or more ways of being saved, No, God has never had more than one basis on which He saves men, and that basis is the cross of Christ. Every offering before Christ came looked forward to the cross of Christ, and every commemoration since He has come looks back to the cross of Christ. (Thru the Bible With J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 4, p. 127)
To illustrate this, let's go back to Gen. 4 and look at the offering which Abel brought to God. He brought a little lamb. If you had been there, you could have asked Abel, "Why are you bringing this little lamb? Do you think that a little lamb will take away your sins?" He would have said, "Of course not! I'm bringing this little lamb because God told me to do so. I am bringing it by faith." Then you could have asked him, "Well, if it won't take away your sins, why would He ask you to bring it?" Abel's answer would have been something like this: "This little lamb is pointing to One who is coming later, the seed of the woman, my mother. That One will take away our sins. I bring this little lamb by faith, recognizing that I am a sinner and need a substitute." You see, Abel was looking forward to the One who was coming. (Ibid.)
John the Baptist...also said, "...Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). John identified Him. Before the coming of Christ everyone who had come to God on His terms was saved on credit. And they were forgiven on the basis of the death of Christ. In the O.T. God never saved anyone by Law. At the heart of the Mosaic system was the sacrificial system. They brought a lamb to God because the Law revealed that they were lawbreakers, that they were not obeying God, and that they did need to have a substitute to pay the penalty of their sins. ... (Ibid)
Thank God, He saves by grace today. In fact, grace has always been His method. In the Old Testament He never saved anyone by Law. They were saved by His mercy and grace to them, looking forward to the coming of Christ to die on the cross to take away their sins. (Ibid., Vol. 1, p. 561.)
A great many people...feel that their denomination or their little group are the only saints there are. My friend, God has a pretty big family. In the Old Testament He had Old Testament saints. The nation Israel were called saints; the Gentiles who came in as proselytes were called saints of God. That's a different company from New Testament saints today who are in the church. Don't get the idea that your little group is the only group that will be saved or even the idea that believers in this dispensation of grace are the only ones to be saved. God saved people before the Day of Pentecost ... (Ibid., Vol. 3, p. 574.)
So men were saved before the Cross—by grace through faith in Christ (Eph. 2:5-8). God has always saved, and will always save, by grace through faith in Christ. Can we see how true ministers of Christ focus on Him, giving Him due credit, and have confidence and assurance in Him? They don't launch into conspiracies, elite status, British-Israelism, and other such nonsense that shines the limelight over His specialness and supernatural wisdom. If HWA were truly being honest and forthright, he wouldn't have withheld information. All Bible-based cults engage in "milieu control" and the doctrine of grace and salvation through Jesus alone is one major piece of information that will remain tightly controlled. HWA knows he cannot enslave those who know they are free.
Moving right along, HWA gives his personal story concerning his religious experiences as a youth, convincing the reader that he can "relate" to their own situation. ("I am reminded of my own personal experience, probably typical of many others.") He tells of his religious "assumptions" concerning the immortal soul and heaven, taking "churchgoing and a religious phase of life for granted." He also reveals that he stopped attending church after becoming a legal adult because other pursuits became more interesting and/or important. He still believed in God, but took His existence for granted. How many of us could easily relate to this scenario? Probably all who have made it this far into the MOA. HWA gained a stronghold into our minds through the use of trust. Once we trusted him, we believed anything and everything he said no matter how farfetched it could be.
IMMORTAL SOUL/MISREPRESENTING BIBLICAL CHRISTIANITY
Earlier, HWA planted seeds of doubt in the immortal soul teaching by misrepresenting Biblical Christianity.
The teaching has been that man is an immortal soul and already has eternal life. It denies (Rom. 6:23) that the penalty for sin is death and that man can have eternal life only as the gift of God. (p. 124)
I was led to take it for granted that I was an immortal soul and that when I died I would not really die, but rather pass away into heaven where I would have no responsibilities but only a life of idleness and ease in sublime glory forever and ever. (p. 204)
Again, HWA gives a false view of Christianity's "immortal soul" doctrine and paints an unpalatable picture of heaven. From where did HWA learn to make disparaging remarks about heaven? Let's compare his remarks with that of the Watchtower Society's:
And what is this? Bliss in heaven sprawled out on the billowy cloud, twanging a harp as you float along in space and eternity? No! It is not that vain and useless existence that idle dreamers have conjured up as heavenly life. (The Watchtower, 01/06/1981, p. 3)
All Bible-based cults use the same tricks—don't quote any Scriptures of heaven, but make it out to be a boring place where nobody wants to be!
Observe, however, HWA's clear avoidance of quoting any sources to back up his allegations against Christianity. In his other literature, he poses the following familiar question:
And if the saved go to heaven when they die, what need is there for a resurrection from the dead? Why a resurrection if they have already "gone to their reward"? (The Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course, Lesson 7, p. 3)
HWA capitalizes on the inexperience and lack of knowledge of the Scriptures by the average reader. HWA will do his best to give one-dimensional information while making it seem that he is divulging complete information, which we will later show. So what about the question proposed by HWA? Does Christianity teach that man has an immortal soul, already possessing eternal life? Why, if the saved go to heaven, is there a need for a resurrection from the dead? Is Christianity's teaching redundant?
First we will examine whether pagan philosophers introduced the immortal soul teaching into Christianity as HWA claims, then we will touch on other teachings of the resurrection, the soul and spirit espoused by HWA.
DID PAGAN PHILOSOPHERS INTRODUCE IMMORTAL SOUL TEACHING INTO CHRISTIANITY?
Biblical Christianity understands that man consists of a physical body, soul and spirit (I Thess. 5:23). Though the body is mortal, the soul continues to live after the body is dead. (Rev. 6:9). The early church fathers understood that even this continued existence of the soul was "conditional existence" or "conditional immortality"—conditional upon the grace of God, for they knew that God could "destroy both body and soul in Gehenna" (Matt. 10:28) if He chose to do so. If HWA was as widely read in religious materials as he claimed, then it is certain that he fully understood this, but chose to misrepresent it anyway. HWA made his members falsely believe that Plato and other pagan philosophers, in cahoots with powerful religious leaders, were responsible for introducing the immortal soul teaching into Christianity.2 This is simply not true. Plato and the pagan philosophers believed that the soul was always immortal, pre-existing before it entered the physical body; and even after leaving the body, the soul was inherently immortal and indestructible. There was no dependency upon God for one's previous or continued existence. Let's look at some resource material that supports this: [bolding and italics mine]
It was hinted that one use which the Greeks made of the metaphysical argument was to prove the indestructibility of the soul—its immortality in the sense of having no beginning and no end. This is not the Christian doctrine. The soul has no such inherent indestructibility. It is dependent on God, as everything else is, for its continued existence. Were He to withdraw His sustaining power, it would cease to exist. That it does continue to exist is not doubted, but this must be argued on other grounds. (Immortality: "Soul not Inherently Indestructible," International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1915)
So here we plainly see that Christianity does not embrace the pagan version of the "immortal soul" doctrine as HWA claimed. Let's look at another source (Philip Schaff), one HWA frequently quoted from: [bolding mine]
HISTORY of the CHRISTIAN CHURCH, Schaff, Philip, (Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc.) 1997. This material has been carefully compared, corrected¸ and amended (according to the 1910 edition of Charles Scribner's Sons) by The Electronic Bible Society, Dallas, TX, 1998.
CHAPTER XII: 155. Eschatology. Immortality and Resurrection. Plato, viewing the human soul as a portion of the eternal, infinite, all-pervading deity, believed in its pre-existence before this present life, and thus had a strong ground of hope for its continuance after death. All the souls (according to his Phaedon and Gorgias, pass into the spirit-world, the righteous into the abodes of bliss, where they live forever in a disembodied state, the wicked into Tartarus for punishment and purification (which notion prepared the way for purgatory)… Heathen philosophers, like Celsus, ridiculed the resurrection of the body as useless, absurd, and impossible.
(Footnote: Preliminary—Need of Definition and Distinction: In hardly any subject is it more necessary to be careful in the definition of terms and clear distinction of ideas, especially where the Biblical doctrine is concerned, than in this of "immortality." By "immortality" is frequently meant simply the survival of the soul, or spiritual part of man, after bodily death. It is the assertion of the fact that death does not end all. The soul survives. This is commonly what is meant when we speak of "a future life," "a future state," "a hereafter." Not, however, to dwell on the fact that many peoples have no clear conception of an immaterial "soul" in the modern sense (the Egyptians, e.g. distinguished several parts, the Ka, the Ba, etc., which survived death; often the surviving self is simply a ghostly resemblance of the earthly self, nourished with food, offerings, etc.), there is the more serious consideration that the state into which the surviving part is supposed to enter at death is anything but a state which can be described as "life," or worthy to be dignified with the name "immortality." It is state peculiar to "death" (see DEATH); in most cases, shadowy, inert, feeble, dependent, joyless; a state to be dreaded and shrunk from, not one to be hoped for. If, on the other hand, as in the hope of immortality among the nobler heathen, it is conceived of, as for some, a state of happiness—the clog of the body being shaken off—this yields the idea, which has passed into so much of our modern thinking, of an "immortality of the soul," of an imperishableness of the spiritual part, sometimes supposed to extend backward as well as forward; an inherent indestructibility.)
The pagan philosophers believed that the body held back the soul and had to be shed (or shaken off) in order for the soul to obtain its ultimate, blissful state. It seemed absurd to return to something useless and corrupt. This is why they did not believe in a bodily resurrection. They believed they would exist in a disembodied state, as a spirit, and enter into eternal bliss. This is in direct opposition with the Christian teaching, which upholds the resurrection—a return of the soul to the body. (Schaff points out how the term "immortal soul" has passed into our modern thinking, even though this is not the correct Christian belief).
HWA wanted readers to believe Christians teach that believers go to their final reward in heaven and permanently remain as disembodied immortal souls, just as the pagan philosophers taught. This is a clear misrepresentation. The pagan belief goes against the Christian belief of a bodily resurrection, where the soul and body would be reunited, although changed. The pagan philosophers simply could not conceive the soul returning to the body, as this seemed a hindrance. To them, the body was corruptible and contemptible, so why return to it? They simply could not comprehend the redemption of the body, where the soul of the redeemed would return to it and be resurrected in glorified, spiritual perfection. This promise of a bodily resurrection was unheard of in any pagan religion and is unique to Judaism and later, Christianity.
Contrast the pagan belief of "inherent immortality" with the Christian belief about the resurrection: [bolding mine]
It will be seen as we advance, that the Biblical view is different from all of these. The soul, indeed, survives the body; but this disembodied state is never viewed as one of complete "life." For the Bible "immortality" is not merely the survival of the soul, the passing into "Sheol" or "Hades." This is not, in itself considered, "life" or happiness. The "immortality" the Bible contemplates is an immortality of the whole person—body and soul together. It implies, therefore, deliverance from the state of death. It is not a condition simply of future existence, however prolonged, but a state of blessedness, due to redemption and the possession of the "eternal life" in the soul; it includes resurrection and perfected life in both soul and body. The subject must now be considered more particularly in its different aspects. (Immortality: 2. Biblical Conception, "Soul not Inherently Indestructible," International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1915.)
Upon death, the soul survives the body, but in a disembodied state. This is not considered "immortality," nor does Christianity espouse this. One does not gain immortality until he is resurrected. This is when the whole person—body and soul—are joined back together and completely delivered from the state of death. In the book, The Great Doctrines of the Bible let's observe what this "deceived theologian" has to say about immortality [bolding mine]:
The word [immortality] as used in the Bible means deathlessness, or exemption from the physical death of the body. It is not to be confused with the eternal life of the saved or the unending existence of the lost, though popular usage confuses these terms. The word is used only with reference to the body (Rom. 6:12, 8:11), and never in connection with the soul. Men are unable to kill the soul. Only God can destroy it (Matt. 10:28) where a word is used which does not mean to deprive the soul of life.
With the coming of Christ, light was cast upon the subject of immortality, which had been clothed in obscurity since OT days (2 Tim. 1:10, Gr.). Only Christ now possesses that immortality (1 Tim. 1:17, 6:16). All men, including saved persons, are now mortal (Job 4:17, 1 Cor. 15:22, Heb. 9:27). Men will continue to die until death is destroyed (I Cor. 15:26).
At the translation of the church all believers will put on immortality. They will be clothed with deathlessness as with a garment (1 Cor.15:51-54). Mortality will then be "swallowed up of life" (2 Cor. 5:4) and believers will never again be able to die. In the same manner that their bodies become immortal, they also become incorruptible, or immune to change and decay. (William Evans, 1974, Immortality, Page 299)
HWA brought a scathing accusation against Christianity for teaching a "pagan immortal soul doctrine." Then he fraudulently positioned himself as "the One" who will now reveal "the truth" about the Resurrection. We can plainly see, from the above sources, "deceived scholars and theologians" teaching a future Resurrection. They acknowledge that Jesus Christ only has immortality, for He only, has been bodily resurrected. This is why "no man has ascended to heaven except the Son of man who came down from heaven." Before the resurrection of Christ, the souls of the saved went to Paradise, a.k.a. the "Bosom of Abraham" (Luke 23:43); however, no man, but Jesus, has experienced a bodily resurrection and bodily ascension to heaven. (We will go more in-depth about the bodily resurrection a little later). This book I quoted from was originally published in 1912, long before HWA was "given understanding" about this revealed truth.
Another interesting topic that HWA avoids is the Jewish view of the soul. Do the Jews believe that "the SOUL is composed of physical MATTER, not Spirit"3 and subject to DEATH along with the body, and ceases to exist, as HWA taught? Or do they believe that the soul departs from the body to an underworld? Schaff's commentary concerning the Jewish belief is continued below: [bolding mine]
CHAPTER XII: 155. Eschatology. Immortality and Resurrection.
The Jewish doctrine is far in advance of heathen notions and conjectures, but presents different phases of development.
(a) The Mosaic writings are remarkably silent about the future life, and emphasize the present rather than future consequences of the observance or non-observance of the law (because it had a civil or political as well as spiritual import); and hence the Sadducees accepted them, although they denied the resurrection (perhaps also the immortality of the soul). The Pentateuch contains, however, some remote and significant hints of immortality, as in the tree of life with its symbolic import; in the mysterious translation of Enoch as a reward for his piety; in the prohibition of necromancy; in the patriarchal phrase for dying: "to be gathered to his fathers," or "to his people;" and last, though not least, in the self-designation of Jehovah as "the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob," which implies their immortality, since "God is not the God of the dead, but of the living. What has an eternal meaning for God must itself be eternal.
In the later writings of the Old Testament, especially during and after the exile, the doctrine of immortality and resurrection comes out plainly. Daniel's vision reaches out even to the final resurrection of "many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth to everlasting life," and of "some to shame and everlasting contempt," and prophesies that "they that are wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament, and they that turn many to righteousness as the stars forever and ever."
But before Christ, who first revealed true life, the Hebrew Sheol, the general receptacle of departing souls, remained, like the Greek Hades, a dark and dreary abode, and is so described in the Old Testament. Cases like Enoch's translation and Elijah's ascent are altogether unique and exceptional, and imply the meaning that death is contrary to man's original destination, and may be overcome by the power of holiness. (Schaff, Philip, History of the Christian Church, Oak Harbor, WA: Logos Research Systems, Inc., 1997.)
Of great interest is what HWA doesn't say that is usually worthy of note. Even though he taught his members about Sheol and Hades being nothing more than a "pit or grave" where dead bodies were buried, he failed to mention that there was more to it than that. He gives his members the impression that the Jews also held the point of view (since he quoted OT Scriptures) that the soul was mortal and ceased to exist upon death of the body. But this is not so. The Jews believed that Sheol (Hades) is the general receptacle of departing souls. In Genesis 35:18, we read an example of Rachel's soul departing from her body when she died after giving birth to Benjamin. HWA did not believe that the soul could be separated from the body since he believed it was composed of living matter, the same substance as the flesh and blood human body.4 He taught that, "Man IS a soul as soon as physical LIFE enters him."5 When the body died, the soul ceased. There was no personality or entity to the soul that would depart from the body.
In Chapter 5 of the MOA, HWA revealed the Mystery of Israel. In it, he unveiled the hidden identity of the British, American, and Western European peoples as the "Lost Tribes of Israel." (See my research paper: Where Are the Tribes of Israel Located?) If HWA taught that the American and British people are actually ancient Israelites, then why does he not teach the same doctrines of the Jews concerning the soul? If the Jews believe that the soul is a separate entity that departs from the body at death, descending to the dark and dreary abode of Sheol or Hades, then why does HWA teach differently? HWA made his followers believe they were descendents of the ancient Israelites; therefore, he made them follow the OT customs of the Sabbath (like the Jews), clean and unclean (like the Jews), Holy Days (like the Jews), etc. But here, we see HWA give deference to the Watchtower Society's "soul sleep" doctrine over the Jewish belief concerning the soul. If HWA has his followers behaving like Jews, shouldn't he have them believing like Jews? [ESN Note: For a biblical explanation of Hades and Sheol (including how Jehovah's Witnesses have misinterpreted verses on it), see chap. 3 ("Speaking of Heavens and Hells") in the book Sense & Nonsense About Heaven & Hell by Kenneth D. Boa and Robert M. Bowman, Jr.]
HWA also avoids a thorough discussion of Revelation 6:9-11 which show that the souls under the altar of God that were told to "rest yet for a little season." (Members are told that this is proof that the souls are sleeping). Notice that these souls were conscious when they asked their question—they certainly didnt snore through it. Verse 10 says that, "they cried with a loud voice." The New Strong's Concordance states that this particular Greek word for rest (number 373) means "to refresh—take ease, refresh, (give, take) rest." Contrast this with the Greek word for sleep (number 2837) which means "to decease—sleep, be dead. There's a big difference between resting and being dead. HWA knew this, and as usual, doesn't bring it to the forefront.
So back to the original question, "If the saved are in heaven, then why is there a need for a resurrection?" Christianity teaches that the saved have not reaped the fullness of their reward. They believe that the soul continues in a conscious state after death (1 Kings 17:21-22, Matt. 10:28, Rev. 6:9-11) and that those who put their faith and trust in Jesus as their personal Savior will go to heaven when they die (1 Cor. 5:1-2; 2 Tim. 4:18; 1 Pet. 1:4-5; 1 John 5:13). There, they await a bodily resurrection from the dead at Christ's second coming (I. Cor. 15:22-23, I Thes. 4:14-17). HWA accuses Christianity for not teaching a future resurrection, but this is far from true. In HWA's scenario, believers die and their souls do not continue to exist. They are unaware of anything going on, like being in a sound sleep and "utterly unconscious"6 (this doctrine is also known as "soul sleep" and is taught by the Watchtower Society). The next instant they awaken will be at the first Resurrection when Christ returns to earth. Then they will be raised up from the grave as a spirit being—changed from matter into spirit composition—and finally be born into the "God Family" to immortality.7 HWA claims that Jesus was resurrected as a spirit.8 This teaching also came from the Watchtower Society. They believe that Jesus was resurrected from the grave as a spirit being, and his physical body disappeared by dissolving into gases while in the tomb. HWA simply announces that Christ's dead body disappeared, but never explains how. This will become an important point, as we will see later in this review. Now let's continue with the Christian view.
Christianity teaches that believers' souls go to heaven upon their deaths to be in the presence of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). There, they wait for a bodily resurrection, where their body will be reunited with their soul and raised up again to immortality. This completes their reward—immortality in their resurrected body, but changed. This body is now perfect, free from disease, and is no longer subject to sin and death. It has changed from a mortal body, to an immortal body, from corruptible to incorruptible. This body is a spiritual body, no longer a flesh-and-blood body, and certainly not a disembodied spirit. Look at Paul's own words concerning the spiritual body:
It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body. And so it is written, The first man Adam was made a living soul; the last Adam was made a quickening [or life-giving] spirit. Howbeit that was not first which is spiritual, but that which is natural; and afterward that which is spiritual. (I Cor. 15:44-46)
For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body… (Phil. 3:20-21)
But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. (Rom. 8:11)
"It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body. There is a natural body, and there is a spiritual body." Many years ago in the city of New York (in fact, it was way back in the day when liberalism was called modernism, back in the 1920s) they had an argument about whether resurrection was spiritual. ... A very famous Greek scholar from the University of Chicago read a paper on the passage from this verse. His paper put the emphasis on the word spiritual. He concluded by saying, "Now, brethren, you can see that resurrection is spiritual because it says it's spiritual." ... Well, a very fine Greek scholar was there, and he stood up. ... He said, "Id like to ask the author of the paper a question." ... "Now, doctor, which is stronger, a noun or an adjective? A very simple question, but I'd like for you to answer it." He could see the direction he was going and didn't want to answer it, but he had to. "Well," he said, "a noun is stronger, of course," "Now doctor, I'm amazed that you presented the paper that you did today. You put the emphasis upon an adjective, and the strong word is the noun. Now let's look at that again. 'It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body.' " He said, "The only thing that is carried over in resurrection is the body. It's one kind of body when it dies, a natural body. It's raised a body, but a spiritual body, dominated now by the spirit--but it's still a body." ... May I say to you, just a simple little exercise in grammar answered this great professor's whole manuscript and his entire argument which he presented at that time." (Thru the Bible With J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 5., Notes on I Corinthians 15:44, pp. 78-79.)
Why is this distinction important? HWA teaches a spirit resurrection, and Christianity teaches a bodily resurrection:
When man's creation is finally complete, he will be a spiritual creation, formed wholly of Spirit. (p. 109)
Those who died with God's Holy Spirit will be in the first resurrection (Rev. 20:4-5). They will come forth IMMORTAL, in a glorious body of SPIRIT composition, their faces aglow as the SUN. (The Incredible Human Potential, p. 88.)
HWA was very clever in not pointing out these distinctions. He knew that most people did not understand the difference and he certainly wasn't going to reveal other viewpoints that would easily prove him wrong. Below, notice again what "deceived theologian" J. Vernon McGee had to say concerning the bodily resurrection:
The first heresy in the church was the denial of the bodily resurrection. We see how Paul has shown the truth of the Resurrection. He has spoken against the three major philosophies of his day. Stoicism said the soul merged into Deity at death and there was a destruction of personality. Paul says our bodies shall rise. Epicureanism said there was no existence beyond death. Paul says Jesus Christ was raised from the dead and our bodies, too, shall rise. Platonism believed in the immortality of the soul but denied the bodily resurrection. Paul says that our physical bodies shall be made alive as spiritual bodies. (Thru the Bible With J. Vernon McGee, Vol. 5., Notes on I Corinthians 15: 48-50, pp. 79-80.)
HWA knew that readers cannot refute what they have no knowledge of. Because of trust, they simply believed that he knew what he was talking about. How many members can say that they fully understood the orthodox Christian teaching concerning the Resurrection so they could compare it against HWA's version? Church members understand the well-worn loaded phrase in the MOA—"God is reproducing Himself"—covertly means that one day they will become "God as God is God."9 Members believe that they will be resurrected as spirit beings (since God is a Spirit and is reproducing Himself) and will rule the universe as co-rulers with Christ. Then, they will "participate in the completion of the CREATION over the entire endless expanse of the UNIVERSE!" (Mystery of the Ages, p. 103). The promise of future Godhood is the reward that keeps members sacrificing all that they have now in order to obtain this tremendous prize in the future.
Since HWA taught that "God is a Spirit," he believed that man had to be resurrected as a spirit being in order to be "God, as God is God." He repetitiously taught that "flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God." On page 71 of The Incredible Human Potential, HWA clearly states: "Matter is NOT Spirit—cannot be converted into Spirit." HWA claimed that Jesus was resurrected a spirit; therefore, he was not composed of matter or flesh. His body simply "disappeared" from the grave when he was resurrected. Now this poses more than a few problems. For instance, to where did Jesus' body disappear? And when Jesus appeared to his disciples after his resurrection, whose body did He use? If Jesus was composed only of spirit at that time, since "matter is not spirit," then how was he able to appear in a material body? Finally, we need to ask whether a spirit can eat, or be touched—actually be felt by human hands? In Luke 24, we have an account of the risen Christ appearing to his disciples:
And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, "Peace be with you." But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And He said unto them, "Why are ye troubled? And why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have." And when he had thus spoken, he shewed them his hands and his feet. And while they yet believed not for joy, and wondered, he said unto them, "Have ye here any meat?" And they gave him a piece of a broiled fish, and of an honeycomb. And he took it, and did eat before them. (Luke 24:36-42)
Inviting the disciples to handle him, Jesus clearly stated that a spirit does not have flesh and bones as He did. He also ate physical food to further prove that he was not a disembodied spirit. So if Jesus was changed to Spirit, "no longer composed of matter or flesh," as HWA claimed, then how does he explain that Jesus Himself plainly said he was composed of flesh and bones and that he was not a spirit? Scripture says that Jesus showed Thomas the nail prints in his hands and the spear mark in his side. (John 20:27) Unless somebody else was resurrected that day with the same nail holes and spear mark, then we will have to believe that Jesus showed Thomas his original body! If Jesus' physical body "disappeared" after the Resurrection, then how did He make it reappear to Thomas (John 20:24-27), including the other nine distinct appearances recorded in Scripture? HWA stated that matter cannot be converted into spirit, but he wants his readers to believe that spirit can be converted to matter. Members are taught that Jesus "manifested himself as human" so he could appear to his followers after His resurrection. Again, this is simply another way of HWA contradicting his own teaching without making it obvious.
The truth is, believers are not going to become spirit beings so that they can "become God as God is God."9 We will return to our bodies, and be resurrected once again, only this time, in bodies that are glorified and not subject to death and decay and fully restored to a sinless spiritual state. Most importantly, believers will not become God, but will be subject to a loving Savior who redeemed them from death through His shed blood. (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14) By not acknowledging a bodily resurrection—a return to the body—HWA was able to put his followers on the same plane as God. This is the highest form of conceit that anyone can ever engage in. Hypocritically, on page 111 of the MOA, HWA declares:
They [philosophers] make mortal man to think of himself as immortal God.