Exit and Support Network

Questions and Answers (Pt. 3 of 3)

 

Pt. 1 | Pt. 2 | Pt. 3

Questions About Recovery:

How do I recover after exiting an abusive group?

The following is taken from "Therapeutically Speaking" in our OIU Newsletter One, Pt. 2 of 2:

The healing process consists of several stages:
  1. Evaluating your involvement. Why were you recruited? What attracted you to the group? What was going on in your life at that time?
  2. Evaluating the group. Intellectually and theologically
  3. Scrutinize the group's ethics. Where does the MONEY really go? Learn the methods of thought reform / mind control used by the cult. Investigate the group's practices of deception, manipulation, persuasive techniques, etc. Research the group's history and its leaders.
  4. Personal Recovery. Recognizing post-cult effects such as depression, anger, floating, fear phobias, isolation, loneliness, loss of self-worth, physical ailments and lacking feeling. Starting a help-yourself program and/or counseling.
  5. Sorting out spiritual issues. Recognizing spiritual abuse and tactics used by cults to distort the Bible to support their agendas. Reconnecting spiritually regaining trust.
  6. Cult education. How does the cult you were in compare to the thousands of others? Understanding the cult phenomenon is the only protection from re-recruitment into another cult.

More info by L. A. Stuhlman, founder of ESN:

The healthiest ex-members are those who have patiently studied their way through:

(1) The deception of the Worldwide Church of God;

(2) A full understanding of what a cult is, how it functions in society, and the repercussions of cult involvement;

(3) Spiritual discernment gained by:

a) learning how WCG used techniques that spiritually damaged members (such as Scripture twisting
b) networking with others who have experience and sensitivity with the understanding of GRACE vs. LAW and the Gospel as understood by traditional Christianity
c) following through on the booklist provided which leads members into making solid decisions backed up by factual content and not just emotion, which often leads to toxic faith syndrome.

There is no particular order in the healing process. It has proven to be most successful when the exiter becomes responsible for his own recovery on his own time schedule. Understanding of corruption and deception within the organization has proven to be instrumental in leading the exiter away from the Armstrong dogma and into clear traditional Christian understanding. Recovery consists of breaking down every facet of manipulation and building a solid foundation on truth.

The following information on our site has proven to be helpful for exiters:

From Victim to Survivor (Take Back the Power) (Includes: "Steps to Recovery and Success"; by founder of ESN) 

Recovery Info for Exiters (Understanding our Involvement; covers why we were vulnerable, how propaganda and mind control works, indoctrination, effects, educating yourself, healing, and more. By founder of ESN.)

Healing From Emotional and Spiritual Abuse

Understanding Mind Control and Exploitive Groups

Booklist

Where is the True Church?

What do I do about phobias?

A phobia is a persistent, irrational fear that is being triggered. One of the main techniques mind manipulating groups use to control their members is fear. Their literature is saturated with it. Many of these fears may remain for years if the exiter doesn't work on breaking free from them. (Read how WCG made use of fear phobia induction.) Once a person becomes fear phobic, they become submissive to the authority of the group and are vulnerable to exploitation.

If one feels they need further help in recovering, cognitive therapy has been found to be helpful for phobias that resulted from the group's spiritually abusive teachings. However, many exiters, especially child survivors, are unable to read, or hear quotes, from the Bible, due to it being used against them in the group. If the therapist is a Christian, they must understand this and pay heed to how the counselee is feeling about it. Therefore, when searching for a counselor the survivor should choose one that shows consideration in this regard, along with having a good understanding of abusive groups and/or trauma and methods of thought reform (or be willing to learn). The counselor should not try to control the exiter or blame their problems only on what happened before joining the group; otherwise, they could be harmed by the therapy.

It helps to be able to recognize the fear and then challenge it. For example, write the fear thoughts on the left side of the page in a column, and then on the right side in another column, challenge it by writing out what you rationally know is the truth of the situation.

Cognitive Behavioral Focusing for Exiters (An Approach to Handling Depression, Anxiety, Fear & Guilt)

How to Walk Yourself Through a Panic Attack

Some books that might prove helpful are:

Captive Hearts, Captive Minds (Freedom & Recovery From Cults & Abusive Relationships) by Madeline Tobias and Janja Lalich (Includes info on phobias)

Cults in Our Midst by Margaret Singer (Includes aftereffects of fear; fear used as a controlling technique, etc.)

Why do I have so much guilt?

In a system where perfection is the model, no human being can ever measure up.  On of the things leaders of abusive, high demand groups use in order to control people is guilt. A common characteristic is to blame the members when they don't (or can't) live up to expectations--or when the promised physical benefits never arrive, which is sure to happen sooner or later. The end result is that the person blames themselves and feels guilty for not measuring up to what the group expects and demands of them. What exiters almost always have is "false guilt." To reverse this involves a process of unlearning false concepts (lies) that we have come to believe about ourselves. Understanding the love and grace of God and how He does not try to control us (as leaders in the abusive group did) can begin to erase those guilt feelings.

Getting the Group Out of Us 

An End to Guilt  

How can I untangle my mind from HWA's dogma?

Untangling our mind from false teachings and lies about God and the Bible takes years and even then we cannot claim to have all the answers. Only cultic groups will proclaim that.

Loyalty and unquestioned obedience to Herbert Armstrong was what was paramount in the group, and this "obedience" was always laced with fear. To understand this is very important before trying to "untangle the mind" from any teachings. Read: Lifton's Eight Criteria of Thought Reform (shows how these methods are used in totalistic groups).

HWA taught that "salvation (and conversion) is a process." That was not true. It was the mind control (thought reform; programming) that was the "process" and it will take time to undo it. If survivors fail to undo the programming they received, they will be vulnerable to joining another controlling, or exclusive, offshoot with similar methods.

In addition to redefining the entire Bible, Herbert Armstrong redefined history; i. e., his own personal history, biblical/church history and the history of the Worldwide Church of God. There is ample documentation to prove that his own history as reported by himself was a lie.

An individual may have left the group because they came to see the abuses, but the teachings ("God's way"; "God's truth"; "God's Government") can still be implanted in their mind. Many have not understood that these teachings were instilled in them in the first place for the sole purpose of controlling and exploiting them financially.

When a survivor makes their own choice to read the Bible again, they often continue to see many parts of it through the lens of HWA's dogma. It is suggested that they start in the New Testament epistles and stay out of the Old Testament for awhile. Read and believe what the Scriptures say, not what HWA said they mean. Pray for guidance and discernment. Only the Holy Spirit of God can reveal the meaning of Scripture.

However, since reading the Bible was always pushed in the group, reading a Bible commentary (the older ones are recommended) or a Bible dictionary such as Unger's Bible Dictionary may be less triggering for some. Even taking a Bible concordance and noticing how many times the word "grace" is mentioned in the New Testament, along with the context the verse is in, can be helpful. When doing this, notice how the focus is on the death and bodily resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. The exiter can then go from there to read other Christian material on the New Covenant and grace.

The messages of the late J. Vernon McGee are helpful as he reveals Christ as the centerpiece of Scripture and gives a true understanding of the grace and love of God and our position in Christ. He goes through the entire Word of God in 5 years (M-F). Free notes and outlines are available.

The following sections on our site may prove helpful:

Getting the Group Out of Us

Where is the True Church?

Mystery of the Ages (a critical review) (shows plagiarism; twisting of Scripture, etc.)

Articles on Grace and Law (and other teachings)

Biblical Studies (from on our Booklist)

Prayers For Freedom From Spiritual Strongholds

How can I help my children overcome fear of Armstrong teachings?

Read: Any Ideas to Help Children Overcome Fear of Armstrong Teachings? (includes several letters; also covers Halloween and Christmas)

How do I help someone recover?

Intense emotions are normal whenever anyone has been coerced, abused and exploited. Be willing to listen patiently and non-judgmentally whenever they desire to talk about their experience and that they feel safe. Avoid being confrontational. Never push anything on someone who has left an authoritarian group, as they are very sensitive to being controlled. It can also feel like a re-programming of their minds if you try to force a particular belief system on them, or urge church attendance, no matter how correct you feel it is. Remember that survivors of mind-manipulating or high demand groups have had the Bible used (and pushed) on them in a very negative way. Therefore, it is normal for them to not be able (or even want) to open the Bible after exiting, due to triggers and fears, or to not trust any religious leaders or organizations. Many survivors struggle with their faith at a very core level and it is common for them to find it hard to even trust God.

It is important to build trust, convey love, and offer support before issues of belief are broached. No one should insist on Bible reading for those who have been in any type of high demand religious group, as it takes years to undo the emotional and spiritual scars. Resolving spiritual issues is only part of the recovery process.

Give them time to rest; to evaluate their goals and identity. Encourage them to make simple decisions. Let them know that there is hope, and that you support them unconditionally.

When they have questions about the history of the group they were in and how mind manipulative groups (a. k. a. "cults") function in our society, don't feel you have to be the one to furnish all the information you can find, or it could prove overwhelming. Allow them to have an active part in their own recovery and to learn to make independent decisions. It is important for them to know they are not powerless. (See Q&A above: How do I recover after exiting an abusive group?)

Common Emotional Difficulties After Leaving a High Demand Group

Common Spiritual Difficulties After Leaving a High Demand Group

Amazing Words That Have Been Said to Exiters-or-(What Never to Say to Someone Who Has Been Deceived by an Exploitive Group)

Recovery From Spiritual Abuse - How You Can Help [good offsite article]

Why is it hard for me to attend a mainstream church?

Exiters placed their trust in and were betrayed by spiritual leaders; therefore, it is very common for those who have exited any abusive, authoritarian group to have a deep fear and distrust of anyone in a position of spiritual authority, and not to be able to attend a church for quite awhile, perhaps never. Going to another church can also present many triggers and exiters need to be aware of what to expect. Even attempting to sing certain hymns in some churches can cause problems (i. e., cognitive dissonance) since HWA changed many words in sacred hymns, along with teaching that all churches were "false" and were "Satan's churches." HWA fostered many lies in order to keep others from leaving his exclusive "true" organization.

We need to very discerning today as most evangelical churches are now part of the church growth movement (incorporating New Age teachings), or the emergent church. Others are hyper-Charismatic, theologically liberal and apostate, or extremely controlling, even abusive, and focus on works in order to be saved (Lordship salvation). (See links under Discernment & Research)

If an exiter does decide to attend another church but finds they are having more and more problems, or they feel something isn't right, they should not hesitate to leave instead of remaining and hoping things will get better. (Read: My Pain With Other Churches Was Great)

Those who have suffered in a high demand group need time to rest, heal, become stronger, and then determine for themselves whom to trust again. It is more helpful to first spend time reading some books on mind control, spiritual abuse, and recovery.

See the links below at the end of What about not forsaking the assembling together?

Struggles With Attending Mainstream Churches (several stories from exiters)

Beware of the Organic Church and Frank Viola (letter to ESN)

Spiritual Healing (lists radio ministries and Christian ministers we recommend)

 

Questions About Our Website:

Why are you critical of WCG and certain offshoots?

Worldwide Church of God destroyed thousands of innocent lives in the name of "god" through fraud, deception, intentional abuse and exploitation, using techniques of mind control. What happened is a holocaust that cannot be simply buried and forgotten. We expose them in order that the other side of the story may be known as a testimony to the victims and also that others may avoid going into the abusive and totalistic splinter groups that engage in the same practices. Those who do not learn the lessons of history are doomed to suffer the same fate for lack of knowledge.

Read the following:

Did Herbert W. Armstrong Abuse His Flock?

Is it Wrong for Christians to Judge?

What is Agape and How Did it Work? (Does love mean never saying a harsh word or stepping on toes?)

What are your beliefs?

First of all, we do not believe that doctrine should be used to control, deceive or exploit others. Neither do we believe that anyone should force their beliefs on survivors who have suffered mind control and spiritual abuse, since their trust has been betrayed in the deepest sense of the word. Simply stated, we at ESN believe that eternal life is found through faith, by grace, in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is Truth, not a particular church, denomination, or organization, and that He completed everything for us on the cross.

What Do We Believe? (Our statement of beliefs for informational purposes)

Why do many survivors choose to remain anonymous?

Pseudonyms, initials, or first names only, are often used on the site for two reasons: (1) Survivors of abusive and controlling religious groups have had their trust severely broken, and they do not wish to take the chance of being harassed or threatened by their former group, receive criticism from family still in, or have to explain their involvement to friends or employers. Therefore, anonymity is often chosen unless the former member or survivor requests their real name be used. (2) Basic Internet Security bulletins put out by officials, including police agencies, recommend several ways to stay safe on the Internet. One of these is to not give out personal information such as full names and/or addresses.

 

Questions About the Law, Works or Salvation:

Doesn't keeping the Ten Commandments play a part in salvation?

The Ten Commandments constituted the old covenant, and there is nothing in Scripture stating that they were ratified as a separate covenant. The Law of Moses (which the Ten Commandments are a part of) was given to the children of Israel. This Law consisted of 613 points of law. [See offsite article which lists all of them.] The "written Law" consisted of 10 commandments and the "oral law" consisted of 603 commandments. All is considered the Mosaic Law. All 613 points of law were/are "written" by Moses and recorded in the book of the law. Oral law are added "traditions" or commentaries on the written Law. [See offsite article on the Oral Law.] The Scriptures state that one cannot pick and choose from these old covenant laws. If you are going to try and observe them, you are obligated to do the whole law, including the New Moons with their sacrifices. (See Galatians 3:10) After Christ came, there is no more need nor obligation for Christians to observe the Mosaic Law and the ceremonial types.

Besides, no one can keep the Law perfectly in thought, word or deed. Trying to keep it actually stirs up the sin nature. (Romans 7:8) It will always condemn us and say we are guilty. The Law is called "the ministry of death." (II Corinthians 3:7-8) In contrast, the grace of God through Christ Jesus is what releases us from sin and death. The purpose of the Law is to lead the unconverted (those not under faith) to Christ. (See Galatians 3:24-25) We must not mix up this old covenant Law of the letter which brings condemnation and death with God's spiritual law of faith which leads to life. (See Romans 3:27; Romans 7:6 and 8:2)

The Law of Moses and the Grace of God

The Sin Question

"Why the Ten Commandments were Given" (Excellent message by the late J. Vernon McGee)
[see our Links to contact the ministry and receive this sermon]

How Do I Receive Eternal Life?

Spiritual Healing links

Is it essential that we keep the Sabbath?

The Sabbath was the sign between God and ancient Israel. It was part of the old covenant, which was a national, temporal law for a national, temporal purpose. The Israelites first received the Sabbath command from God through Moses. (See Nehemiah 9:13-14 and Deuteronomy 5:2-3). It was a covenant between God and the Israelites and no one else.

Leaders of certain authoritarian religious groups emphasize the Sabbath and teach that it is a "sign" of God's "one true church." This serves to control members (in order to exploit them) and leads to a dogmatic insistence that one couldn't be converted unless they were in this "one true church."

We find no mention of Paul instructing the Gentiles that they must keep the Sabbath. In fact, the Sabbath command is not mentioned at all in any of the Pauline epistles. Romans 13:8 mentions five of the Ten Commandments and then states, "if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shall love thy neighbor as thyself." There is no mention of the fourth commandment and that Christians need to "keep it holy." When our motive is love (the love of Christ in our hearts), there is no need for any other laws. The "law of Christ" mentioned in Galatians 6:2 refers to "love one another" (John 13:34; 15:12), not to the Ten Commandments. The Christian is to live on a much higher plane than the Ten Commandments, and that is love. (Romans 13:10: "Love is the fulfilling of the Law.")

The early church fathers wrote that the observance of the Sabbath was demonstrated to have been temporary. (An Answer to the Jews 4:1, Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. 3, p. 155) [offsite link]

If one chooses to rest on the Sabbath, they are free to do so, but it does not affect one's salvation. (Romans 14:5-6; I John 5:12a)

For further study:

Should the Sabbath Be Observed Today? (Will cover Colossians 2:16)  

The Sabbath Law (6 MP3 messages by Aaron Budjen; free download; excellent study) [offsite link]

A Critique of Which Day is the Christian Sabbath?

Seventh Day Adventism Renounced by D. M. Canright [offsite link]
Canright spent 28 years in Adventism. He was taught that to give up the Advent faith was to give up the Bible. A classic book which not only shows the errors of Adventism (a group that HWA received and plagiarized much of his teaching from), but goes in depth concerning why the Sabbath is not binding on N. T. Christians. (Important chapters are: "Did the Pope Change the Sabbath?" and "Forty-Seven Prominent Texts Used by Sabbatarians Examined.")

Sabbath and Sunday (Common Arguments & Misunderstandings) (Will also cover whether or not the Roman Catholic Church changed the day of worship from Saturday to Sunday)

The Sabbath in the New Testament [offsite article]

What is the Mark of the Beast and how do we keep from being afraid?

The Bible doesn't tell us what the Mark of the Beast will be. HWA used fear to teach that it was worshipping on Sunday; however, there is no day mentioned in relation to worshipping the image of the beast in the book of Revelation. Read: What About Sunday Worship?

Here are some reasons why we should not be fearful or concerned about it:

Christians will not experience the wrath of God (which the Mark of the Beast will lead to):

"Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him" (Romans 5:9).
"And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come" (I Thessalonians 1:10).
"For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ," (I Thessalonians 5:9).

God says He has not given us a spirit of fear:

"For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind" (II Timothy 1:7).

There are many places in the Bible where God says to "fear not" or "be not afraid."

He can deliver us from fear and give us peace:

"I sought the LORD, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fears" (Psalms 34:4).
"And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus" (Philippians 4:7).

We do not need to worry about the Mark of the Beast or the Great Tribulation. Our name is written in the Lamb's Book of Life as a result of believing in and trusting the Lord Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, not because of any works we might perform.

Can we ever lose our salvation?

Should we observe "pagan" holidays?

Herbert Armstrong taught that Jeremiah 10:3-5 was talking about "Christmas trees"; however, if one reads the chapter in context, it is clear that God is speaking about the heathen custom of idolatry, not Christmas trees. The verses are actually directed toward the house of Israel and refers to regulating one's life according to the Zodiac or being troubled by such things as eclipses or comets, which were believed by these idolatrous nations to be signs of coming events given by the gods. Verse 5 is talking about how the idols they were carving out of trees had eyes, ears, mouth, legs and feet, but they could not speak and had to be carried from one place to another. Israel also covered these idols with blue and purple clothing (verse 9). A similar reference is seen in Habakkuk 2:19: "Woe unto him that saith to the wood, Awake; to the dumb stone, Arise, it shall teach! Behold, it is laid over with gold and silver, and there is no breath at all in the midst of it."

Some aspects of Christmas (and Easter, etc.) have pagan origins, but we must realize that nearly everything in our culture is rooted in paganism; i. e., names of the months, days of the week, planets, weddings, rings, neckties, honeymoons, etc. That does not necessarily make them evil. Evil lies in the heart of man, not in any particular day.

If one chooses, these days can be used as a time to show love and kindness to friends and family; i. e., eating dinner with others, or spending time together, something members avoided for many years while under the control of the group leader and which caused much division and hurt feelings. They can also be an opportunity to help the less fortunate. Worldliness, drunkenness, revelry, covetousness and idolatry are condemned in the Bible, but HWA made it sound like everyone who did something on these holidays was guilty of such. HWA emphasized the negative elements in society in order to isolate people into his exclusive group. This fostered judgmental attitudes, self-righteousness, pride, and a lack of love and compassion toward others. 

The main thing to ponder is: Which harmed us more--Christmas, Easter and birthdays (especially if we grew up observing them)--or leaders with deceitful motives who used days to control us, while they programmed our minds and exploited us in the process? (Read: Why Church Leaders Demand Holy Days For Their Members) God accepts His children not because they don't observe "pagan" holidays, but on the basis of what His Son Jesus has already done for them on the cross of Calvary.

The main thing to remember is that Christ Jesus was born and He was resurrected, and we should remember that all year round, not just at specific times of the year. 

Trading One Superstition for Another 

It's Been Hard to Observe Christmas Again

It Was a Gradual Process to Bring Christmas Back Into Our Family

We Thought the Feast Was "Better Than Christmas"

Should Christians Celebrate Christmas? [brief offsite article]

Christmas and Christians [offsite article]

How can I observe Passover if I've left the group?

We need to first understand that the observance of holy days in high demand groups is for the purpose of controlling members. It is much easier to have authority over someone if their lives are molded around the "church."

Leaders of totalistic groups have always taught that if healthy members didn't show up for the Passover service, they were gravely sinning and were in danger of "losing the Holy Spirit." To the contrary, the Scriptures show that the Holy Spirit and eternal life cannot be lost or taken away, and we are sealed the moment we place our faith and trust in Christ. (See John 14:16; John 10:28; II Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30)

Passover was not given to commemorate the death of Christ, it looked forward to His first coming. Christ, our Passover, has already been offered. Therefore, to continue to observe the O.T. Passover is to say He never came.

Today many Christians observe what is called the "Lord's Supper" (often referred to as Communion), which looks back to His death. This was the teaching of the first century church.

The bread is the picture of Christ, our hope, living within us, and partaking of the cup is to celebrate the New Covenant, which is the totality of forgiveness of sins.

Also read: The Quartodeciman Controversy which covers the Passover dispute in the early church.

What about not forsaking the assembling together?

We must not take one Scripture out of the Bible and try to use it in order to compel someone else to do what we think they should do. Verses in the Bible must also be viewed in the context of the historical and cultural context in which they were given in. In the first century when the book of Hebrews was written, Christians were facing severe persecution, and the words in this verse, "as ye see the day approaching" probably referred to the time when the temple would be destroyed, which was in 70 A.D. These early Christians would not have a meeting place then, and would have to meet in private homes. Apparently, some of the Christians at this time were losing interest in Christ, or had defected from the faith, and were no longer meeting with other believers.

Also, consider the many Christians who are unable to attend a church or even a visible fellowship due to living in countries where they are experiencing severe religious persecution (even from their own families). The only fellowship many have overseas is to listen to Christian radio with only wind-up radios (Saber devices).

In addition, most survivors of spiritual abuse are unable to attend a church due to it being too triggering for them, or because they have been unable to find a good Bible church.

Nevertheless, messages abound today from other Christians or Christian leaders (especially in the United States) to make exiters feel guilty if they aren't "in church on Sunday." This is similar to how members and children were made to feel guilty if they didn't show up for Sabbath services in the WCG (or other offshoot).

We worship God in spirit and in truth, not at any particular church or location. (John 4:23-24) Since more and more churches today are being infiltrated by the church growth movement (including New Age elements), or are apostate, there are times when we have to stand alone for Christ.

Are We "Out of Fellowship With God" if We Don't Attend a Church?

Can we ever lose our salvation?

Jesus tells us He is able to save to the uttermost all those that come unto God by Him. (Hebrews 7:25) All that come to Him, He will not cast out. (John 6:37) He also says that He gives us eternal life and we will never perish, neither is any man able to take us out of His hand. (John 10:28) We are sealed with the Holy Spirit unto the day of redemption. (II Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13; 4:30) We are preserved in Jesus Christ. (Jude 1) We have an inheritance (that does not fade away) reserved for us in heaven. (I Peter 1:4) We may backslide or stumble, but we will never perish because He holds on to us, not vice versa. Jesus is the Good Shepherd and He will seek His lost sheep (those who wander away). He will not lose one of them. (John 6:39)

It is encouraging to know that when we turn to God and place our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who died for the complete forgiveness of all our sins, we have assurance of eternal life now. (I John 5:13) To teach otherwise is to deny the finality of the cross.

Leaders of totalistic religious groups redefine grace, salvation and faith. "License to sin" is covered in several places on our site; i. e., our critique of Mystery of the Ages, Chapter 6, "GRACE."

Eternal Security of the Believer (Written many years ago by the late H. A. Ironside, but very good. Page two answers 24 questions; i. e., question #11 discusses Hebrews 6:4-6 and while question #12 discusses Hebrews 10:28-29, it also covers Hebrews 10:26 about "no more sacrifice for sins.")

My Position in Christ (accepted and secure forever)

Is it Possible For a Saved Person Ever to Be Lost? (offsite PDF article by J. Vernon McGee)

Full Assurance (Wonderful assurance for those doubting their salvation; by the late H.A. Ironside) [offsite article]

Can I commit the unpardonable sin?

There is no act of sin that you can commit for which there is no forgiveness because Christ died for all our sins--past, present and future--and, therefore, does not hold any sin against us anymore.

The Holy Spirit cannot be lost (John 14:16), and if we have believed on, and trusted in Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, we have been reconciled to God (II Corinthians 5:18), and have the assurance of eternal life now. (I John 5:13) (See: How Do I Receive Eternal Life?)

Believing you have committed the "unpardonable sin" brings fear instead of peace and assurance. Such teaching is prevalent in groups which control members by fear and guilt.

The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is covered in our critical review of chapter 3 of Mystery of the Ages. This also includes footnote #7, which quotes J. Vernon McGee from his notes on Matthew 12:29-32.

Could you explain Colossians 2:16-17?

Colossians 2:16-17 says, "Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ."

Larry J. Walker (pastor in United Church of God-AIA in Oregon) wrote a lengthy article on these passages, relating how HWA "claimed that the Colossians were being judged for keeping the Sabbath and Holy days" and that "the translators' addition of the word 'is' after 'body' perverted the meaning of the verse."

However, Herbert Armstrong did not use proper Biblical scholarship.

D. M. Canright thoroughly covers Colossians 2 in chapter 15 of his book Seventh-Day Adventism Renounced.

The following was sent to us from Mike Oppenheimer (Let Us Reason Ministries) regarding a question we sent him about Larry Walker's interpretation:

There is a twist of a complete 180 degrees. Paul is saying the festivals (Lev. 23) and the Sabbaths are all types (shadows) of Christ who has come. He is contrasting the body with the former shadows. Romans 14:1-17 would go along with that. In context of the letter and the other writings of Paul, it would be believers who do not hold to the former Jewish practices in the Old Covenant.
Paul previously told them of the riches--the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (I Corinthians 2:7), so it makes absolutely no sense that he would then uphold the Old Testament shadows as continuing, if the true reality, the substance that is Christ, is available to them.
Eliminating "is" does not change the meaning when read in context--which are a shadow of things to come. ... Reality or "substance" (sōma, lit. "body") is found in Christ.] Christ has come, therefore as Paul says in Colossians 2:20-21: "Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not;").
It was the Gnostics that believed that abstaining from foods would make them holier. They [the Colossians] were not to be judged by anyone if they kept them or did not keep them--it was a personal preference.
Walker's view does not make sense when Paul wrote elsewhere the very same phrase--Hebrews 10:1: "For the law having a shadow of good things to come,"

In addition, William Hohmann, author of A Critique of Which Day is the Christian Sabbath and Mystery of the Ages (a 2nd critical review) writes the following:

What is overlooked in this diatribe [by Larry Walker] is that Paul identifies these things as being shadows in this context. What is a shadow? Something that has no substance. They are poor "reflections" or castings that are empty and hollow. This is hardly the language Paul would use if he were truly defending the Sabbath and Holy days, as the author claims, telling people not to let "Gnostic" Judaizers outside the body of Christ judge them for keeping or observing these days and festivals as though there were no such influences from within the body of Christ as evidenced in Acts 15 and other places such as Galatians chapter 3.
Whether we include the word "is" or not does not change the facts of the context. Eating and drinking, festivals, Holy days and the Sabbath are shadows without substance. That which has substance (sōma - a body) is Christ. The shadows have no "body." Again, Christians are complete in Christ--they are now a part of His body when we take Paul's use of analogy out to its conclusion. The shadows are not a part of this body of Christ's, and neither is the Christian a part of the shadows.

In Mike Magill's Transline Translation of the New Testament, which is a very literal translation, he translates the passage as such:

Therefore let no one judge you in eating and [or] in drinking, or in respect to a feast [festival] or new-moon or Sabbath Which are a shadow of the coming things, but the body is Christ's.

His marginal notes state in regards to the "body is Christ's."

Or, in a figurative sense, the "substance" the "reality." The OT rituals are shadowy pointers to the coming of the future realities in Christ. Said in reverse, Christ is the body that casts the shadows contained in the rituals of the Law. He is the reality.

In Colossians 2:17, it terminates with the phrase, "tode soma tou Xristou" literally, but the body [is] of the Christ, showing possession, hence Mike Magill opting for "Christ's" as his literal rendering.

What is the gospel?

The Apostle Paul (who was personally taught and commissioned by Christ) said the Gospel was the death, burial and resurrection of Christ. (See I Corinthians 15:1-4) It's the good news about the Lord Jesus Christ, what He has accomplished and how He has forgiven all our sins. To teach contrary to this is to deny the Gospel and to teach another gospel. (II Cor. 11:4; Galatians 1:6)

Also read:

This part in "What Were the Lies and What is the Truth?" (N. T. scriptures that tell what the gospel is)

What is the Gospel? (also shows what the gospel is not)

Remember the Children (shows how children, even at a very young age, can understand the true gospel and come to Jesus)

 

Miscellaneous Questions:

Who are the sheep that were scattered?

It is a commonly held belief in the HWA offshoots (i. e., churches of HWA, those who call themselves "churches of God") that the true believers--those who believe Herbert Armstrong restored the true gospel--were all scattered (and continue to be scattered) when the WCG made their doctrinal changes. However, Jeremiah 23:1-2 (which they use) is not applying to them. The word "pastors" in these verses refers to the kings, politicians, those ruling at that time in history, the ones who were responsible for the laws of the land (and which God did later judge).

Ezekiel 34 is another chapter used where it talks about the "shepherds" and the flock being scattered and later regathered. But the "regathering" mentioned here and in other places is talking about the nation Israel, not those who left WCG, PCG, etc., and "shepherds" is what Israel's rulers and leaders were often called.

In Matthew 26:31 Jesus quoted Zechariah 13:7. The "shepherd" in this verse is Christ who was smitten and the sheep that "shall be scattered" was the dispersion of the Jews after 70 A.D. It is blasphemous to even say that the word "shepherd" refers to Herbert Armstrong when he died.

None of these verses apply to any WCG or PCG, etc., pastor or teacher. Those in the offshoots who hold to British-Israelism have wrongly interpreted these scriptures to be speaking to them, especially if they were treated harshly by the leaders of the group they left.

Also read letter: Those Who Have Been Caught Up in the Churches of God Movement (letter to ESN)

What is a cult as defined on your site? 

Read the following:

Identifying Marks of an Exploitive, Abusive Group

Understanding What a Cult is (from Recovery Info for Exiters)

What Makes a Cult a Cult? (from OIU 1, Pt. 1)

How do I tell others I was in a cult?

It is not necessary to come out and tell others you were in a "cult" (a.k.a. a high demand, exploitive group). Most won't understand how you became involved in the first place, and if it is Christians you are telling this to, there is the very real possibility that they may unthinkingly say something hurtful, or look upon you as weak or inferior in some way. Read: Amazing Words That Have Been Said to Exiters-or-(What Never to Say to Someone Who Has Been Deceived by an Exploitive Group) Most Christians believe they can never be deceived, and the word "cult" to the majority of them means something along the order of a Jim Jones or David Koresh cult, or the Moonies.

If you feel you want to tell others something about your involvement (especially if you have been asked which church you were previously in), it is better to simply say you were in a "very controlling church" or "a highly legalistic group." You do not need to give them the name of your former group and can simply say you "don't feel comfortable mentioning it."

Sometimes you will run across those who have been in a controlling, or abusive church, and who can identify with much of what you have gone through. Other Christians, however, do not even know what the words "spiritual abuse" mean and its damaging after effects. (If they are interested, we list titles of several good books on our Booklist.) It might work okay to tell them that your group used methods of control, guilt and fear to enforce compliance to their dogma. It is best, however, not to blurt out your whole story to strangers, especially other Christians you do not know very well. Don't blame yourself or say you were "stupid" when you are sharing your involvement, or they may feel they should agree with you. The people that will understand the most are those who have been in an abusive, controlling, or exploitive group. While some exiters have found their church caring and accepting (or at least one or two members who are understanding), this seems to be the exception rather than the rule. Nevertheless, it is recommended that exiters always wait until they feel strong enough to answer others concerning their involvement.

If Christianity is true, why are there so many denominations?

This question was first raised in our minds by Herbert Armstrong whose purpose was to try and plant a seed of doubt in the minds of those he was recruiting in order that they might come to distrust all other mainstream Christian churches and their literature and hold to the belief that he alone was God's apostle of the "one and only true church" where he claimed God was working. An crucial question is, "What are the traits of churches that claim they are the "one true church?" (Read All or Nothing Statements for a sample of how totalistic leaders talk.)

What is important is what is going on inside a church or Christian organization. Do they teach that one is saved by faith through grace but then go on to add works, rituals and conditions for salvation? Do they control their members with fear and guilt if they don't obey the leadership? Do they hold to doctrines which center around the Person and Work of the Lord Jesus Christ, or do members believe that extra-revelations were given to their founder that must be used in addition to the Bible? Are their ministers humble, or do they have a proud, un-teachable spirit? Can members question or doubt what their ministers teach? Have they given many prophecies or predictions that have failed to come to pass? Do the fruits of their own lives testify as to what they teach, or have they been found to be hypocrites and liars? Do they forbid their members to listen to former members (calling them "disgruntled," "bitter," "Laodicean," etc.?) Do they practice history revision and gloss over the sins of their founder?

There has always been a false Christianity and a true Christianity. Doctrine is used by false teachers for the purpose of controlling their members and to distract others from their true agenda which is financial exploitation. Deceptive leaders (who are not held accountable) will control, abuse and exploit their members over the issue of doctrine in order to receive a following which brings them money and power. While there are many denominations, a false church will lack a basic fundamental understanding of the true Gospel, which centers around the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, His vicarious blood atonement for the propitiation of all sins (Romans 5:11; I John 2:2) and His bodily resurrection. If their understanding of the Gospel is inaccurate, then their interpretation of other scriptures will be flawed (and in most cases taken out of context and twisted).

While it was placed in our minds to wonder "why there are so many denominations in Christianity," today we find hundreds of Armstrong offshoots (calling themselves "churches of God") with most of them claiming to be the "correct" or "true" one, yet differing or disagreeing on a number of points. (Read letter to ESN: No Good Fruit in the Splinter Groups)

Where is the True Church?

Why Are There Many Different Christian Churches? [offsite article]

How can I find a good church or fellowship to attend?

A good Bible church will teach that salvation comes by grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. The emphasis will be on Him and what He has done for us in forgiving all our sins. This kind of church will not teach from additional books or material that are said to reveal "mysteries," "secrets," or "truths" and which say you must do certain works in order to gain God's approval or eternal life.

It is important to pray that Christ will guide you in this matter and give you discernment and that you will not end up in a church or organization that is financially exploitive, controlling, or teaching any kind of error. Many of these will claim to be the "one true Church" or "God's true Church." (Also see previous Q&A: If Christianity is true, why are there so many denominations?)

If it has been difficult to find a good church or fellowship in your area, see our Spiritual Healing links for ministries we recommend and which can furnish Bible teachings.

Do you have anything that substantiates the Rapture?

The word "caught up" in I Thessalonians 4:17 is the Greek word harpazo which means "to lift, to snatch up, to draw up, to transport." It has several meanings, and one meaning is "to rapture." The word "rapture" comes from the Latin word rapios which is a translation of the Greek word harpazo. Read: Proofs for pretribulation rapture theology and Not Wrath, but Rapture [offsite articles] HWA's WCG and offshoots such as PCG, RCG, LCG, etc., teach that members will escape the Great Tribulation by fleeing to a "place of safety" (probably in Petra) and that the only ones going there will be those who are obedient to the "government of God" (which translates to their HQs and to what their leader teaches). Also read: Memories About Petra.

Do you have anything that refutes the doctrine of annihilation?

Annihilation in the Lake of Fire was taught by Herbert Armstrong. He copied this false doctrine from the Jehovah's Witnesses. A good article on it is: Do annihilation and resurrection make sense?


Pt. 1 | Pt. 2 | Pt. 3