If we highlighted one doctrinal change in the Worldwide Church of God that helped turn everything in the wrong direction after Herbert W. Armstrong died, it might well be the healing change made in March of 1987. In that landmark revision, Joseph Tkach tried to spiritualize away Christ’s beating, saying it wasn’t just for our healing, it was far more significant than that. He wrote, “How clear that the broken body of Christ is part of a magnificent spiritual sacrifice for man!” (Worldwide News, March 23, 1987;emphasis added throughout).
And so, it followed, the sacrifice of Christ could not be divided into two parts. The Laodicean teaching blended both together as one supreme sacrifice. This new teaching had a monumental impact on the meaning of the Passover service, where brethren had been reminded each year of the importance of each sacrifice—both the body and the blood.
The new teaching also made Christ look like a robot—as if He only went through the motions— suffering through a horrific and humiliating beating, and for what? Isaiah 53:5 and 1 Peter 2:24 say it was so that we might be healed. Not so, according to Mr. Tkach. Mr. Armstrong taught that it is always God’s will to heal (though God does not promise when). Mr. Tkach said healing was not a promise from God, but rather a blessing—and that it was not always God’s will to grant that blessing. This new teaching had a profound impact on weakening the faith of God’s people.
We can see the ripple effect this 1987 change had in areas like the Passover teaching, Christ’s sacrifice, faith and healing.
It also took its toll on the physical health of God’s people.
Mr. Tkach wrote, “Laws of physics and dynamics, laws of chemistry and nutrition are not something we can ‘break.’ …
“Violating laws or principles of health will produce a harmful or detrimental result. It is a matter of cause and effect. Doing so may be a lack of wisdom. It may be a lack of knowledge or training. It may even be carelessness. But it is not what the Bible defines as sin” (ibid).
In doing away with physical sin, the Church actually abolished God’s health laws. As the Apostle Paul said, you cannot have one without the other: “[F]or where no law is, there is no transgression” (Romans 4:15). Of course, saying there’s no such thing as physical sin doesn’t make the law void. What it does is encourage sin!
What does the Bible teach?
Your Sins Are Forgiven
“And, behold, men brought in a bed a man which was taken with a palsy: and they sought means to bring him in, and to lay him before [Christ]. And when they could not find by what way they might bring him in because of the multitude, they went upon the housetop, and let him down through the tiling with his couch into the midst before Jesus. And when he saw their faith, he said unto him, Man, thy sins are forgiven thee” (Luke 5:18-20). What an unusual thing for Jesus to say if there is no such thing as physical sin. This account is recorded in three of the Gospels—all of which confirm the inextricable link between physical healing and the forgiveness of sin—physical sin.
The Bible teaches that the way to be freed from the penalty of spiritual sin (eternal death) is by Jesus Christ’s shed blood. Christ died for us.
Divine healing is based on the same principle. Prior to His crucifixion, Jesus was beaten and scourged. Matthew 8:17 explains why: “That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, Himself took our infirmities, and bare our sicknesses:” In other words, we are freed from the penalty of physical sin (sickness and disease), not by Christ’s shed blood, but by His broken body—by the brutal whipping He withstood before being crucified.
Continue in Luke 5: “And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, Who is this which speaketh blasphemies? Who can forgive sins, but God alone? But when Jesus perceived their thoughts, he answering said unto them, What reason ye in your hearts? Whether is easier, to say, Thy sins be forgiven thee; or to say Rise up and walk?” (verses 21-23). To Christ, there was no difference between saying, You’re healed and, Your sins are forgiven. That’s because, as Mr. Armstrong wrote years ago, “Real healing by God’s power is a matter of forgiving sin—sin against the physical body” (Tomorrow’s World, April 1971).
Psalm 107 establishes this link as well—that healing is the forgiveness of sin. The whole chapter gives several examples of how people suffer until they turn to God—when He then mercifully forgives their sins. Notice verse 17: “Fools because of their transgression, and because of their iniquities, are afflicted.” Moffatt translates it this way: “Some, weakened by their sinful ways, were sick and suffering through evildoing.” What this means is that when physical laws are broken, sickness and disease result. Mr. Armstrong wrote, “When a person is sick or has contracted a disease, he is simply paying the penalty of transgressed physical law in his body” (The Plain Truth About Healing).
The Bible defines sin as the “transgression of law” (the correct translation of 1 John 3:4). In this case, physical sin transgresses the laws of physical health, resulting in sickness and disease—possibly death. Christ paid for this penalty by His stripes.
Continue in Psalm 107: “Then they cry unto the Lord in their trouble, and he saveth them out of their distresses. He sent his word, and healed them, and delivered them from their destructions” (verses 19-20).
Healing, then, is the forgiveness of physical sin. That is what the Church had always taught—until the spring of 1987.
‘Sin No More’
Let’s turn to another Gospel account for further explanation on how healing is the forgiveness of physical sin. In John 5, Jesus encountered a man who had been disease-stricken for 38 years. The man was waiting for someone to help lower him into a pool that had been known for its medicinal properties.
Jesus asked, “Wilt thou be made whole?” (verse 6). The man thought he was asking if he needed help getting into the pool. In verse 8, Jesus said to him, “Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.” The man was healed immediately (verse 9).
Later that day Jesus again bumped into that man. “Afterward Jesus findeth him in the temple, and said unto him, Behold, thou art made whole: sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee” (verse 14). Notice! Christ told him to stop sinning, lest he come down with something worse.
This underscores another critical point regarding healing and physical sin: that obedience to health laws is a prerequisite for our healing.
Here again, we can look to the spiritual for the over-arching principle to apply on the physical level. We are freed from the penalty of spiritual sin by Christ’s shed blood—but only upon repentance and faith. In like manner, we are freed from the penalty of physical sin by Christ’s broken body—but only upon repentance and faith.
Healing is not a matter of faith only. God also expects repentance, and we cannot assume that repentance only means to be sorrowful (read 2 Corinthians 7:9-10). Repentance means change! It means turning away from one’s past way of living in order to obey God!
In the case of that man in John 5, Christ healed him, but said, You had better make some changes in the way you live, or else something worse will come upon you.
Mr. Armstrong anointed hundreds of people over the course of his ministry—and some were healed, while others weren’t. Those who weren’t most often lacked faith. But not always. “I personally know of a case of a man who wanted healing,” he wrote, “but stubbornly refused to keep God’s commandments. He was not healed” (ibid).
When you call upon God’s ministry for healing, you are actually asking Jesus Christ to take away the penalty most likely caused by your own physical sins. If it is, in fact, our own sins that brought on the disease, then before getting anointed, we need to know about the two conditions for that prayer of faith to be answered: faith and obedience.
Obviously, God looks on the heart. No one yet has perfect faith or obedience. Character-building is a lifelong process. The question is: While we may not yet be perfect, are we striving to be? (Matthew 5:48). If we seek God’s intervention for our healing while stubbornly refusing to observe God’s health laws, we will not be healed.
The Passover Service
There is a revealing New Testament example where God’s people were not being healed. It’s found in 1 Corinthians 11, the chapter where Paul instructed the Corinthians about how to conduct the Passover service. “For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is [or represents] my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me [each year at the Passover ceremony]. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me” (verses 23-25).
At the Passover ceremony, the broken bread represents Christ’s scourged and broken body (John 19:1). During the service, we eat the bread first because His body was first beaten and then His blood was shed. Later, we drink the wine, representative of Christ’s death in our stead.
“For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Taking the bread and wine at the Passover is a memorial of the body and blood of Christ.
“Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord” (verse 27; Revised Standard Version). We must respect the sacrifice that enabled our guilt to be removed. Otherwise, we take the Passover in an unworthy manner.
“But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of that bread, and drink of that cup” (verse 28). An examination does not show how “perfect” we are, but rather reveals the sin we need to repent of. If we don’t do this, we will be taking the Passover in an unworthy manner. Close examination will reveal more sins—and finding these will reinforce the fact that we need a Savior. We must examine ourselves first. Then we are commanded to eat—to take the Passover. The emphasis is positive: Examine self, repent, determine to change, and then take the Passover!
Verse 29 says, “For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh damnation to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” The Corinthians were not focusing on the beating and stripes Christ took on Himself for us.
“For this cause many are weak and sickly among you, and many sleep” (verse 30). Or, as it reads in the Revised Standard Version, “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died.” They were weak and sickly because they were not claiming the stripes of Christ for their healing! They either had not trusted in Christ’s body—or they stubbornly refused to obey God’s health laws.
Doing Our Part
God’s Church has always believed that doctors have their place. Doctors can be quite helpful, as long as they work in accordance with God’s health laws. But even then, we should understand that men do not heal. Only God does that.
Mr. Armstrong wrote, “The great advances in the medical field enable man to do for his human family many things he could not do 50 years ago, short of actual healing. God does for us (often by miracle) that which we are unable to do. God gave man talents, mind-power (physical) and abilities that He intended us to use and develop under His guidance, and always for His glory and toward our development in the holy, righteous character of God” (ibid.). The inference here is that God expects us to always do what we are able if we are stricken by disease or infirmity.
Now there are those in the Church, from time to time, who are weak in faith—having more faith in modern medicine than they do in God and His promises. Mr. Armstrong wrote, “If that is the best he has faith in, better let him have what help man can give, rather than no help at all!” (ibid.). In the case of those who are weak in faith, Mr. Armstrong always taught that the Church doesn’t condemn the member or disfellowship him, but rather encourages him to build and receive the faith of Christ.
But we must avoid the other extreme too. There have been those who, while they might trust God for healing, stubbornly refuse to obey God’s health laws. This is not wise. James 2:20 says that faith without works is dead! Christ’s faith in us is made perfect by our works—our willingness and determination to live God’s way.
To be sure, there is a delicate balance between faith and works. God’s Church does not teach that you can heal yourself. Only God heals. We don’t want all works and no faith. But neither should we have faith without works.
God’s Church teaches that faith and obedience must work together. Mr. Armstrong wrote, “[J]ust as your own diligent effort coupled with faith makes faith perfect, so faith coupled with your effort makes perfect obedience! The two go hand in hand. And you cannot have the one without the other.
“A living faith, the only kind that will save, is an active faith—one that trusts God to make it possible to obey Him, to live the true Christian life, to keep His blessed commandments!” (ibid).
Notice 1 John 3:22: “And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.” This is one of the very conditions for healing, as Mr. Armstrong covers in his booklet on the subject. Faith that God will heal does not void the physical laws of health, to paraphrase Paul. It rather establishes the laws of health!
Some have made the mistake of reasoning, It’s all in God’s hands—I’m not doing anything different from what I’ve always done. But unless we are suffering because of someone else’s sin, God says we had better do something different! Isn’t that what repentance is all about? It requires change!
Now everyone is at different levels of growth. Paul told Timothy that in a great house there are vessels of gold, silver and wood (2 Timothy 2:20)—so we cannot allow ourselves to get judgmental. Someone growing up in the Church, inside a home where God’s health laws were actively abided by, will probably have fewer hurdles to clear than someone who came into the Church after growing up on greasy, fried foods. God says, to whom much is given, of him shall much more be expected! (Luke 12:47-48).
No matter where we are in our spiritual journey all of God’s people must know the required conditions of being healed—one of which is obedience. More than just wanting to do better when we are sick, we must work to obey God’s health laws as a way of life.
Mr. Armstrong wrote, “I do not say, Don’t go to the doctor of medicine. I do not know whether you will be healed by God—because I cannot know whether you have the faith, are conforming to God’s conditions, have really repented and turned from violating God’s laws. I do not leave people without any help—for, if they do not have the faith, have not repented, are not keeping God’s commandments, they probably won’t be healed, and I cannot advise them against the only help they might have—that which this world’s society has set up. Healing is not a thing to experiment with!
“But why not solve this whole question by avoiding the cause of sickness and disease—and keeping healthy in the first place? Then there is no problem, is there?” (Tomorrow’s World, op.cit.).
To be continued.