There are things I like and don't like about this article.
I quite liked how Hunsburger says that Flurry is reading Scripture backwards in both Malachi and Zechariah 3 regarding Zerubbabel and Joshua. I never looked at it that way before.
I also quite liked how Hunsburger pointed out that Zerubbabel was not succeeded by Joshua in the way that HWA was succeeded by Tkach. Instead Zerubbabel and Joshua held two separate offices at the same time, namely that of governor and high priest.
I also liked how Hunsburger pointed out that WCG had never taught that the man of sin of II Thessalonians 2 would be a man within WCG. I remember being quite confused when I saw Flurry teaching this in one of his booklets, The Little Book, when I first looked into what PCG taught.
Gerald Flurry did not address those issues when he discussed this article in Chapter 8 of a later edition of Malachi's Message. So let us see what Hunsburger's article said for ourselves.
His justification for withdrawing Mystery of the Ages from print is a weaker part of this article. But at least WCG did not change the words in Mystery of the Ages the way the Philadelphia Church of God has.
I am sure those who went through the Tkach changes for themselves will have strong opinions about what was written here.
Without further ado here is the article in question.
What the Church teaches about Malachi and his message
David G. Hunsburger
A number of brethren have written that they have received unsolicited mailings from former ministers and members who have been disfellowshipped. These mailings often contain accusations against the Church and its faithful ministers.
Usually the dissidents try to justify themselves and offer their own ideas about prophecy, doctrine and politics. They attempt to lure God's people away from the Church to support them. Some who have been disfellowshipped actually claim to be prophets.
The Church, of course, does not exercise censorship or forbid the reading of dissident literature. It does, however, earnestly warn brethren to be careful if they choose to read such material because they often contain tricky arguments, twisted explanations of Scripture, devious reasoning or outright defamation.
The late Herbert Armstrong always reminded us that we need to prove all things and hold fast to what is good (I Thessalonians 5:21). The Bible is God's word and our foundation in understanding God's way.
One of the duties of the ministry is to help brethren avoid being "tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness by which they lie in wait to deceive" (Ephesians 4:14, New King James).
In this article we will examine the claims of one critic of the Church to show how his teachings contradict God's word and how the attitude displayed in his writing is an affront to the Holy Spirit and contrary to Christian principles.
The subject for this study is a book titled Malachi's Message to God's Church Today ©1990 by Gerald R. Flurry. Mr. Flurry contends that since the death of Herbert W. Armstrong the Church has changed "away from the Philadelphia standard" and has become the Laodicean era.
He presents himself as the continuation of the Philadelphia era and implies that he is the rightful successor to Mr. Armstrong.
The Elijah controversy
According to Mr. Flurry, the book of Malachi contains a prophecy that the Worldwide Church of God would become the Laodicean Church after the death of Mr. Armstrong.
God's strong rebuke of the priests and people in chapters 1 and 2, he says, means that God is angry with the ministry of the Church and most of the people. In his view. Malachi 4:6 is a curse that will destroy all members who do not leave the Worldwide Church of God and follow him.
On page 68 we find this amazing statement: "God is primarily talking about destroying the inhabitants of Hi Church who refuse to build a family around God's 'Elijah' and God's instructions."
He says that Mr. Armstrong was the prophesied Elijah (Malachi 3: 1 and 4:5-6) and that after Elijah's death the conditions of Malachi 1 and 2 were destined to develop in the Church.
In making his argument, however, the author must turn the passages of Scripture around backward. God's indictment of the priests and people (chapters 1 and 2) comes before the appearance of Elijah (chapters 3 and 4) in Malachi's prophecy.
The careful student of the Bible knows, of course, that it is not safe to invert the Scriptures. To understand a progression of prophesied events, we cannot read backward instead of forward!
The intent of Malachi is to show that an Elijah would appear after the period of corruption and laxity in the priesthood. Indeed, Elijah, in the person of John the Baptist, did come to introduce the Messiah after Judah had experienced a prolonged period of religious laxity when God sent no prophets.
Reading the book of Malachi forward yields the correct story. Reading it backwards may seem to help Mr. Flurry's explanation, but it is not the way to understand the meaning properly.
Malachi's message turned around
What was Malachi really writing about? Malachi's name means "My Messenger." Malachi wrote about the same time as Ezra and Nehemiah, and he addressed the same problems they did.
A few commentators place Malachi at about 460 B.C. just before the coming of Ezra in 457 B.C. According to most scholars. though, it is more likely that he wrote about 430 B.C., possibly while Nehemiah was in Persia between his two stays in Jerusalem.
Malachi catalogs the sins of the priests and the people. They were offering inferior sacrifices (Malachi 1:6), corrupting the covenant of Levi (2:7-10), marrying strange wives (2:11-12). offering hypocritical sacrifices (2:13), dealing treacherously with their wives (2:14-16) and failing to tithe properly (3:8-12).
The book of Malachi is obviously a witness against the priests and people of post-exile Judah. However. as with any part of the Bible, its lessons are applicable in all times.
Malachi foretold that an Elijah would come to prepare the way for the Messiah. Jesus said (and Mr. Armstrong taught) that this was fulfilled by John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the Messiah's first coming (Matthew 11:14-15, 17:12-13, Mark 9:13).
Mr. Armstrong taught that he, with the Church, was also fulfilling this type of work in preparation for the second coming of Christ. However, Mr. Armstrong did not believe that the book of Malachi predicted that the Church would go astray or that the Elijah work would cease after his death! In his final letter to the brethren, he said, "the greatest work lies yet ahead."
Not only does Mr. Flurry have his own private interpretation of the book of Malachi-far different from what Mr. Armstrong and the Church taught and from what the Scriptures say-he also has his own interpretation of the book of Zechariah.
Zerubbabel and Joshua
In creating a story to support his theory, he says that Mr. Armstrong was an end-time Zerubbabel who built the Temple (Church) and that this "Zerubbabel" was to be followed by an end-time "Joshua" (Mr. Tkach) who would exchange his clean garments for filthy ones meaning he would lead the Church astray. This is supposedly foretold in Zechariah 3 and 4.
Once again. passages of Scripture must be turned around backwards in order to have Joshua end up with filthy garments. Zechariah says plainly that Joshua had filthy garments at first and that he was given clean garments in order to serve as high priest of the post-exile nation (Zechariah 3:1-5).
No verse says anything about Joshua getting dirty garments again. No verse says anything about an end-time Joshua before the second coming of Christ either! Mr. Flurry has also added to Scripture in claiming that Joshua was a successor of Zerubbabel.
In fact, Zerubbabel was the governor of Judah (for a brief term apparently) and Joshua was the high priest-two completely different offices functioning for a time during the same period.
Shortly after the death of the impostor pseudo-Smerdis, however. the Persians began to rule Judah through the high priests. There are historical indication that in about 519 B.C. governors of royal ancestry throughout the empire were removed and replaced. The action was taken in order to prevent revolts and any possible attempts to reestablish independent kingdoms. Since Zerubbabel was a descendant of David. It is thought that he was removed from office at this time.
Remember that the Jews had returned from Babylonian captivity beginning in 538 B.C. The foundation of the Temple had been laid and an altar had been erected at the holy place.
However, opposition from the neighboring peoples had then caused the work to stop until 520 B.C. God sent Haggai and Zechariah to stir up the people to build the Temple.
Our High Priest
Part of their message was that Israel's past sins had been forgiven and there was opportunity for a new beginning. The vi ion of Joshua in Zechariah 3 showed that the priesthood had been reestablished in Joshua the high priest and would continue in his successors.
The removal of the dirty garments symbolized the removal of the sins of Israel and the priesthood so the nation could begin anew and the priesthood could again function according to God's instructions.
The prophecy shows that the restoration of this priesthood would be a sign that the Messiah (the Branch of Zechariah 3:8) would come.
In fact, Jesus did come and has become our High Priest forever (Hebrews 4:14. 7:20-28). Therefore. we do not look for a human successor to Joshua restoring the Levitical priesthood in the Church.
Anyone who claims such a thing denies the eternal High Priesthood of Christ. Contrary to what Mr. Flurry teaches in his book, the vision of Joshua does not foretell an end-time church leader who goes bad; it foretells the coming of a perfect and eternal High Priest who will never fail us.
Zerubbabel was the governor of Jerusalem when Haggai and Zechariah began to prophesy. Because of his lineage from David, the Jews apparently had messianic hopes for Zerubbabel. Under his term, the second Temple was begun, but he is not mentioned at the dedication at the Passover of 515 B.C.
Thus, it is not definitely known whether he finished that Temple. If he did, it would have been after his term as governor. The vision of Zechariah 4 was to encourage Zerubbabel that God was with him in the project and that in spite of the opposition and difficulties, the project would be completed because it was not done by mere human might, but by the power of the Spirit of God (Zechariah 4:6).
Centuries later. Herod began a new Temple project. including elaborate restoration and decoration. The project had lasted 46 years by the first year of Jesus' ministry. Christ came to this Temple.
Analogies are not prophecies
Mr. Armstrong drew an analogy between his own work and that of Zerubbabel, but he did not believe that Zechariah predicted an end-time Zerubbabel who would finish building the Church (spiritual Temple).
There is a difference between an analogy and a prophecy. Mr. Armstrong did not believe he built the Church-after all, Jesus said that he would build the Church (Matthew 16: 18). Obviously Jesus uses human ministers to assist those he is calling and placing into the spiritual Temple.
But the death of one of these human servants does not mean Christ has finished building his Temple! Remember, Mr. Armstrong aid "the greatest work lies yet ahead."
Who is the "man of sin"?
Perhaps the most unbelievable assertion in Mr. Flurry's book is the claim that Paul referred to the present day Worldwide Church of God and its leader in II Thessalonians 2:34. Once again, history, Scripture and facts are twisted to serve a wild theory.
Mr. Flurry reasons that since the Church is called the spiritual Temple (1 Corinthians 3: 16-17, Ephesians 2:21), this man of sin must be sitting in God's Church!
But the Bible uses more than one meaning for Temple! For example, I Corinthians 6:19 refers to individual Christian -the Corinthian congregation- a the Temple, and thereby "prove .. the man of sin its in individual Christians!
But this is not the way to use the Scriptures! The Temple in II Thessalonian is not individual Christians and it is not the Church. This can be easily proven from the Scriptures.
Paul, in II Thessalonians 2, is telling the brethren that the coming of Christ will be preceded by at least two major signs-a great apostasy or rebellion against God and a man of sin sitting in the Temple calling himself god.
Where did Paul get this information? From Jesus himself! Notice Matthew 24. Jesus said one of the signs of his coming would be an abundance of false prophets or messiahs, performing signs and wonders and leading many astray (Matthew 24:11, 24).
This would not include the elect, however, because they are not led astray by this deception (verse 24). Thus, the great apostasy or rebellion against God is something that happens to the world (II Timothy 3:1-5) as well as to those who are not careful to avoid false teachers who depart from the Church (I Timothy 4:1-2).
The second sign Paul mentioned the man of sin in the Temple-is described by Christ in Matthew 24:15. He calls it the "abomination of desolation" and it "stands in the holy place."
When Jesus used these words there was no doubt that he meant the literal Temple of God in Jerusalem and the holy of holies or most holy place inside it Jesus said that when people see this desecration of the Temple occur, they should flee Jerusalem.
Obviously this would make no sense if the Temple were to be understood as spiritual rather than literal. The ante-type, in the days of the Maccabees, occurred when Antiochus Epiphanes entered the holy place, erected a statue and proclaimed himself to be god. Jesus said something similar will happen again at the holy place.
Paul, like Jesus, was talking about the Temple in Jerusalem, not the Church of God. When Paul wrote II Thessalonians, the Temple in Jerusalem was still standing, and Christians were still going there to worship. When Paul returned to Jerusalem in AD. 57-58, he and some companions went to the Temple for a religious ritual (Acts 21 :26-30).
There is no doubt that the Temple Paul had in mind in writing II Thessalonians 2:3-4 was the Temple and holy place in Jerusalem. This is what Mr. Armstrong consistently taught.
In his book Mystery of the Ages, Mr. Armstrong identified the man of in in II Thessalonians 2:34 as the false prophet of Scripture. who is further described in the Book of Revelation. This has been the long-standing teaching of the Church.
Mr. Flurry is teaching a completely different doctrine that has never been taught in God's Church.
Does God delude his Church?
To assert that the pastor general of the Church is the man of sin is a spiritually hideous claim. After all. could the devil break into God's own Church and place his false prophet at the helm while God and Jesus Christ stood idly by powerless to act? Jesus said that one cannot break into a strong man's house without first binding the strong man (Matthew 12:29).
Mr. Flurry's unbelievable rationale is that God intends to send his own people a strong delusion (pages 56-60) to see if he can fool them! Thankfully, Jesus Christ our Savior assures us we do not have a Father who toys with his children in this manner.
We have a Father who protects and nurtures us in love (John 17:11-12). "How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!" (I John 3:1, New International Version).
When the Father has begun a good work in us, we must be confident that he who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion until the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6).
Therefore, we must reject the theory that God will place the man of sin in his own Church. Such an idea can be inspired by Satan to try to discourage the children of God.
Laodicean or Philadelphian?
Mr. flurry again uses his tactic of reversing what Scripture says when he writes that the Worldwide Church of God has become the Laodicean church and that he and anyone who leaves this Church and follows him and his new movement are part of the true Philadelphia era (pages 27-28). He reverses the order of things by making Philadelphia come out of Laodicea, which is nowhere stated in Revelation 3:7-22.
Mr. Armstrong taught that the Laodicean era of the Church would exist during the Great Tribulation and be clearly distinguished after the work of the Philadelphia era. It was his view that Laodiceans were probably people who have heard our message but never yet fully acted on it. When they find themselves in the time of the Tribulation they will come to repentance.
In trying to gain a following and support, Mr. flurry states on page 80 that those who support his message will escape the Great Tribulation. He says. "That is how they qualify to go to a place of safety."
On page 86 he writes: "I strongly believe that backing and supporting this message [that the Worldwide Church of God is corrupt and should be 'closed down'] is our only ticket to a place of safety and a magnificent reward. This is how God makes up His jewels!"
Later, on the same page, he say : "Those who walk away [from the Worldwide Church of God] and support this Philadelphia standard in a new organization are going to be rewarded for every contribution." A couple of pages further on he say: "We can receive God's tithes and offerings." This message is not too subtle!
Mr. Armstrong didn't consider his books Scripture
A major argument made in Mr. Flurry's book is that the Church is deliberately withdrawing the writing of Mr. Armstrong, such as Mystery of the Ages, in a plot to change the doctrines and lead the people astray. Perhaps it will be good to conclude this article by explaining why this book has not been reprinted.
Mr. Armstrong was enthusiastic about each new book or booklet he wrote and published. He described a number of them as "the most important" writing of our time. Indeed, they were wonderful works.
However, this did not mean Mr. Armstrong thought they were perfect or that he intended to keep all his writings unchanged as permanent pieces of literature. It was the essential message of the gospel they contained that made them important, not the particular book or booklet itself.
Mr. Armstrong realized that Mystery of the Ages had errors in it. Even when he personally distributed it to the sophomore c1ass, he told the students that a new edition would need to be written.
His exact words were: "I won't say it is inspired in the sense of the Bible. It's not perfect. Then when we come to prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and when we come to the New Testament books, God inspired them. They are the infallible words of God. I don't make any such claim for this book [Mystery of the Ages] whatsoever. I think in a way God inspired it, but not in the sense that it is the word of God. I fully expect that within a year there will be a second edition, that some improvements will be made in this book."
Regrettably, Mr. Armstrong did not live to produce a revised edition. It would be almost impossible for someone else to edit and improve the book and still have it appear under Mr. Armstrong's name.
After all, it has a brief summary of his autobiography at the beginning and is written in the first person.
Some of the edits that would have been required are the following:
Historical statements about the origin of the trinity teaching in Christianity are in error;
Historical statements about Arius, implying that he was part of the true church, are in error;
Statement about Noah's pedigree are based on a wrong explanation of a Hebrew word;
Other comments on race need revision;
Some information about Nimrod, quoted from Hislop's Two Babylons, is inaccurate;
Statements about the original creation of angels give the impression that man was an afterthought in God's plan;
The section about the Millennium contains some unprovable peculation;
Statements that Christ qualified to replace Satan as ruler of the world are misleading because Christ has always been qualified to rule his creation and has always had the power and authority to depose Satan whenever he willed; thus it is a matter of fulfilling a plan according to its time element, not a matter of being unqualified and having to qualify.
As can be seen, it would have required more than simple editing to produce the second edition, and it could not have been done under Mr. Armstrong's name after his death.
The doctrine explained in Mystery of the Ages are explained in other literature that is still available. Some 25 booklets written by Mr. Armstrong are still in print.
Mr. Armstrong established the policy of continually updating literature and periodically producing new booklets and withdrawing older materials. In the 1950s, for example, two of the most popular and effective booklets produced by Mr. Armstrong were 1975 in Prophecy and Proof of the Bible.
Yet Mr. Armstrong withdrew them (and other booklets and articles as well) from circulation and introduced new titles. We continue to follow this long-established policy.
PCD available for questions
I hope this article has been helpful in illustrating how one can check up and prove what is right by the Bible itself. When someone leaves the Church and begins teaching error and attacking the Church, he is wrong and can be proved wrong by checking the Scriptures.
The Holy Spirit, of course, would not lead anyone to leave the Church and speak evil of the Body of Christ. Accusations against the Church come from another source (Revelation 12:10).
Whenever anyone needs or desires assistance with a particular question, the service of the Personal Correspondence Department are available. Members may write us and ask for help or ask their pastor. We are all happy to study together to see what the Bible says so that we can all know whereof we speak!