Herbert W. Armstrong gave a landmark sermon to members of the Worldwide Church of God on Pentecost in 1985. “There is a reason why we are the firstfruits,” he said. “And I wish I could drive that home, but I fear that most of you just don’t get it. You don’t understand it at all. Why? Why are we the firstfruits? I am going to try to make it plain this afternoon, and still I think you won’t get it.”
Mr. Armstrong died about eight months after he gave that message. And in the years that followed, he was proved tragically right when some 95 percent of Church members ended up rejecting most or all of what God had taught through him.
Why did they reject it? Because, as Mr. Armstrong had warned during that sermon, they failed to see the reason why they were firstfruits!
Mr. Armstrong didn’t just tell the members that they weren’t grasping the firstfruits vision. He also told them why: “So much Protestantism has rubbed off on us we can’t get it out of our heads.”
He continued: “[Protestants] think God is trying to save the whole world; and then we [members of the true Church] think, ‘Well, He’s just saving us first.’ And that is not the answer at all. We’re not saved just because God wants us to be His favorites and get us into His Kingdom ahead of others. We are saved for a very, very great purpose. We are the firstfruits of God’s harvest for His Kingdom.”
Mr. Armstrong was clear about the reason Church members were not comprehending and loving the truth at a meaningful level: too much Protestantism.
At the time he delivered that sermon, the wcg had run strong for more than five decades. Many members were not of Protestant backgrounds, but were second-generation Christians. Their direct exposure to Protestantism would have been minimal. That makes it more interesting that he zeroed in on Protestantism as the cause for their failure.
It’s also significant that he did not say it was too much of the Babylonian mystery religion, or Catholicism, which the true Church is prophesied to have conflict with, that had rubbed off on the Church. No, he said Protestantism! And sure enough, after he died and the Laodicean leaders took charge, they didn’t steer the Church toward Catholicism or to outright atheism, but as deep as possible into Protestantism.
How did Satan use this centuries-old belief system to deceive so many of God’s people, and how is he using it today?
We must not ignore one of Mr. Armstrong’s final major warnings or think that its threat has passed! Let’s look closely at the dangers of Protestantism and study how to prevent it from rubbing off on us.
What Is Protestantism?
Just a few short years after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, men began to twist His teachings and blend them with paganism, forming a religion that would become Roman Catholicism. And for hundreds of years after, this great false church directed the dominant religion of the Western world. But in 1517, a German monk named Martin Luther hammered his list of “Ninety-Five Theses” to the door of a court church in the city of Wittenberg.
Luther had numerous complaints, or “protests,” with the Catholic Church. One of his main concerns was how to be saved. In one letter about his decision to exit the mother church, he wrote: “I greatly longed to understand Paul’s epistle to the Romans and nothing stood in the way but that one expression, ‘the righteousness of God,’ because I took it to mean that righteousness whereby God is righteous and deals righteously in punishing the unrighteous …. Night and day I pondered until … I grasped the truth that the righteousness of God is that righteousness whereby, through grace and sheer mercy, He justifies us by faith.”
So Luther reasoned that God doesn’t expect anything from us because He loves us just as we are. This belief ended up starting the Protestant movement, which formed three main dissenting denominations: Lutheran, Calvinistic or Reformed, and Anglican. Today there are thousands of subdenominations and branches. Some have bits of truth scattered in a sea of deception. Others are based almost entirely on emotion. They all have numerous disagreements with each other, but one thing all Protestants seem to agree on is the notion from Luther that God loves us just as we are.
Consider this statement from a modern-day Protestant, a Presbyterian minister named Philip Tait: “The three dissenting denominations, as they were known, did not agree on the relationship of church and state, church order, baptism, or even the precise terms in which they expressed their covenant theology; but they were totally in agreement in preaching the same gospel of salvation by grace and justification by faith. We cannot claim to be Protestants unless we believe and teach the same ‘wholesome doctrine.’”
That is the basis of Protestantism: If you have faith that Christ died for your sins, you do not need to do anything else besides recognize that fact.
James 2:18-24 is the most explicit passage disproving this approach: “Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar? Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect? And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God. Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”
I believe Mr. Armstrong identified Protestantism as a chief danger to the true Church because of its appeal to God’s people. It is founded on a pseudo-biblical, feel-good teaching that sounds far easier and more attractive than law.
Let’s look at four dangerous Protestant beliefs that connect to each other. They could be viewed as the fruit, branches, trunk and roots of the same deadly poisonous tree.
The Fruit: Comfort
Deuteronomy 8:11-14 warn God’s people not to prioritize material things and the short-term comfort they provide: “Beware that thou forget not the Lord thy God, in not keeping his commandments, and his judgments, and his statutes, which I command thee this day: Lest when thou hast eaten and art full, and hast built goodly houses, and dwelt therein; And when thy herds and thy flocks multiply, and thy silver and thy gold is multiplied, and all that thou hast is multiplied; Then thine heart be lifted up, and thou forget the Lord thy God, which brought thee forth out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.”
In Mr. Armstrong’s final years, the wcg was flourishing, yet the members were slowly forgetting God. This is partly because members’ “flocks” and “gold,” so to speak, had multiplied; many had become quite comfortable. Focused on taking comfort in the things around them, God became a lower priority.
Changing and growing to become more like God can be extremely uncomfortable. Protestantism says all we have to do to be saved is believe Jesus died for us, so it doesn’t require any action that would risk the comfort we find in material things. Protestantism offers us comfort, and that is dangerous because it is extremely attractive to all of us.
Any of us can grow so comfortable in our lives that we fall asleep spiritually! How much do we pray for God’s Kingdom to come? Are we anxious to see the end of this current world and its suffering and confusion, and to help set up God’s future society of peace and truth? Or are we caught up in the things and ways of this world?
“Do we really understand that this is not God’s world?” Mr. Armstrong wrote. “It is Satan’s world. But have we not, most of us, let so much Protestantism rub off on us that we just sort of take for granted that this is God’s world —God’s civilization?” (co-worker letter, March 23, 1984).
This is an uncomfortable truth: We can get caught up in thinking how to make this world better rather than seeing that it has to be totally replaced. We can think that if only one political party were in power instead of another, we would be on track. The truth is, this is Satan’s world. All political parties and other man-made organizations are under his sway. He is still in control and broadcasting his evil with great urgency! (Revelation 12:9; 2 Corinthians 4:4; Ephesians 2:2).
Being unable to distinguish God’s world from Satan’s is spiritual blindness.
In Matthew 4:8-9, Satan offered Jesus Christ command of the kingdoms of this world. And Christ knew they were indeed Satan’s to give! Going along would have solved many of Christ’s short-term problems. People would not have been trying to kill Him all the time. It could have been a pretty comfortable life, at least for a while. But Christ was not looking for comfort.
In Oklahoma, where the Church producing Royal Vision is based, you do not have to look far to find churches offering a comfortable kind of Christianity. One of the large Protestant churches in Edmond states on its website: “No matter what you’ve done, Jesus invites you to come as you are. Rejection is painful. It leaves us feeling unwanted, unworthy, and like we just don’t belong.”
These Protestants are saying Christians can try to cram God into their lifestyle instead of the other way around. That sounds comfortable, but it is not Bible-based.
In the August 1981 Good News magazine, Mr. Armstrong explained the Bible-based truth: “Just what is religion? Is it merely an incidental interest, secondary to many other things, such as earning a living, your home, your family, your friends, hobbies, sports, entertainments? Possibly secondary to television or movies? Religion is your connection with God—your relationship with Him. Religion is realizing the purpose of your life—the reason why God had you to be born—the reason you draw the breath of air and exist—the purpose or end goal of your life, and how to live that life so as to arrive there.”
Protestantism is attractive because it does not require repentance or change, yet all of our sins are still forgiven! Come as you are, believe that Christ is your Savior, and move on with your life as comfortably as possible. If you mess up, all you have to do is remember that Christ already paid for your sins.
It is comfortable to believe that God is on our side—that we have nothing to repent of, nothing to change. It would be comfortable to think we do not have to go out and prophesy and attract undue attention to ourselves, and that we can just study our Bibles and live a quiet life, and no one will bother us.
Royal Vision editor in chief Gerald Flurry, in his booklet How to Be an Overcomer, devotes a lot of space to King David, his terrible sins and his beautiful—but deeply uncomfortable—repentance.
Regarding Psalm 50:18-20, Mr. Flurry writes: “God gets specific about the guilt that was on David’s head. He had gotten into thievery, adultery, murder, deceit, slander—a host of horrible sins.” He then quotes verse 21, which records God speaking to David: “These things hast thou done, and I kept silence; thou thoughtest that I was altogether such an one as thyself: but I will reprove thee, and set them in order before thine eyes.” Mr. Flurry explains: “[David] began to think, God thinks just like I do—I’m right on target. But God doesn’t think like us! We must put our thinking in line with His.”
This was true for David, and it is true for each of us. To avoid getting preoccupied with comfort, we must not think God thinks the way we do.
We must also diligently avoid being comfortably close to the world and too focused on the physical. We must be praying daily and earnestly for the Kingdom of God to come, devoting ourselves to that vision and to supporting the Work that shares it with others. Don’t forget God! Don’t forget His Work! Watch and pray, and be excited about prophecy!
One tried-and-true way to accomplish all this is to regularly read Gerald Flurry’s helpful manual for life, How to Be an Overcomer.
The Branches: ‘Love Is What You Feel It Is’
Another of Luther’s major disagreements with the Catholic Church concerned its interpretation of godly love.
In his 2017 article titled “Martin Luther’s Reformation of Love,” Ronn Ritgers, a professor of history and theology at Valparaiso University, explained: “[Luther] thought God expected him to fulfill the two great commandments [love toward God and neighbor], and to do so perfectly and, at least initially, of his own accord. To understand the new consolation offered by Luther, one must appreciate that the source of his guilt-stricken conscience was the conviction that he was utterly incapable of responding to the immense demand for perfect, selfless love of God and neighbor that he found in Scripture. He believed that it was impossible for him to take a first step toward producing this love through his own efforts, as he had been taught. Luther’s basic problem was one of love …. For him, justification was the flowing forth of God’s love that loves the sinner as sinner …” (Regent World, Fall 2017).
The Catholics taught that sinners had to first prove their worthiness before God would love them. They wove this teaching into a system of confession, penance and “indulgences.” This means if a person confessed his sins to a priest, he could recite a number of prayers, or, as was the norm in Luther’s day, pay the church money. The church would then pray to ensure that it counted as proof of the person’s worthiness so that God would love him.
This kind of “earned” or “purchased” love did not sit well with Luther. He rejected that system and formed his own doctrines about divine love. He was right to reject the Catholic nonsense. But his teachings went to the other extreme and essentially said God is fine with us as we are.
The kind of thinking that underpinned his teachings is outlined in Jude 4, which speaks of “ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness, and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Yes, there is grace. But it does not mean Christians should remain in sin!
Truly, God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). But the truth of what godly love really is has clearly been misunderstood by both Catholics and Protestants.
Godly love is outgoing and sacrificial, which ties in with the above point about comfort. We are to push and extend ourselves for the good of others. This can be uncomfortable, but it is the type of outgoing love that comprises God.
The Protestant view of love is generally about what makes us feel good. We can have a lot of human love and do much for other people based on how it makes us feel.
In Job 29:12, we learn that before Job’s trial, he cared for widows and the fatherless because of how loving he was. But as Job’s underlying motivations are exposed, it is clear this was driven by the wrong kind of love. It was not God’s outflowing and selfless love.
The scripture Protestants seem to point to more than any other is John 3:16: “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.” Though they quote this scripture constantly, they don’t get it. This is about a different kind of love. It is an action-taking love. And what the Protestants miss is that we must love the way God does. The sacrifice He made by giving His Son and risking losing Him forever set an example of the outgoing love that true Christians must embody and display!
In his booklet The Last Hour, Mr. Flurry writes: “John 3:16 shows that our Father loved the world so much that He gave His only begotten Son. We are building that kind of love—risking it all physically because we love God’s Family. This is the kind of family love that will last forever!”
Toward the end of his 1985 Pentecost sermon, Mr. Armstrong again mentioned the corrosive influence of Protestantism on members of the true Church. He said it was blinding members to what true godly love is, and from seeing that firstfruits, called ahead of the world, must put it into action. He said, “To the Church—and not to anyone but the Church—Jesus said, If you overcome (you that are studying to be teachers, if you overcome) I will grant for you to sit with me on my throne; and help me rule the world and teach the world”—referencing Revelation 3:21.
This is true love! This is sacrificial love in the spirit of the love described in John 3:16. Christians overcome, then learn how to rule the world in love and teach the way of love to all men! Revelation 5:10 says we will be “kings and priests” and rule under Jesus Christ on Earth. This ruling will be all about teaching the world to live the way of give.
Mr. Armstrong continued: “Why are we the firstfruits? Why? I’m not talking about what, when, or how, or anything else; but why? We are the firstfruits to become teachers to teach others. The Church is school.”
If we are to learn to love as God loves, we cannot get caught up in what we want. Instead, we must think about our eternal calling: to love, teach and care for all of God’s children! Developing this proper kind of love is the reason we are here. It is for others, not ourselves!
If we think God’s love is a feeling the way Protestants do, then we will see it as something we can “work up.” We’ll be inclined to view it as an emotion attainable on a human level. And that view alienates us from God because it dissuades us from reasoning with Him and relying on His power.
In the polarized and twisted world today, we can see the impacts of idolizing human emotion perhaps more than ever. Feelings have become more important than facts for so many people. Protestantism was one of the originators, at least in the Western world, of this truth-despising view. It is not belief based on revelation, reason or fact. It is all based on feeling.
A true Christian must not base decisions and actions on feelings, but on what the Bible says he should do. Each of us must pray for the power of God’s Holy Spirit and for its fruits—with godly love at the top of the list—to drive us forward (Galatians 5:22-23).
We must study the truth in our Bibles like the Bereans, who dug into the scriptures daily with a discerning but positive attitude (Acts 17:11). We must meditate on the pure and profound love that enabled God to sacrifice His Son to give us real life in His Family. That is the love each of us must let God build in us.
To come to know the real love of God and how to let Him build more of it in you, read Mr. Flurry’s booklet John’s Gospel—The Love of God.
The Trunk: Vain Individualism
Another dangerous aspect of Protestantism that can rub off on us is excessive focus on individualism. This too can be traced back to Luther.
In a 2017 article titled “Martin Luther Is the Patron Saint of Individualism,” Richard Rext stated: “For all his insistence on the Bible alone, [Luther] had the liveliest sense of his own starring role in the drama of his times. He knew that he was the one whom God had raised up for the task of rekindling His Word. His central doctrine, ‘justification by faith alone,’ was meant to give each individual believer absolute certainty of enjoying the grace and favor of God. … The underlying individualism of what would later be termed ‘the personal relationship with God’ passed into the dna of liberal Protestantism and from there into most facets of Western culture.”
Luther rejected the Catholic Church’s policy of inserting itself between individuals and God. He was right about the Catholics being wrong. And he was right about the need for each individual to cultivate a personal relationship with God, and the fact that we can have one. But he went to an erroneous extreme that laid the foundation for much of Western thinking today.
Protestantism and other aspects of modern society teach that each individual is smart enough to figure out how to live his or her life alone. That, of course, is exactly what Satan told Eve in the Garden of Eden: You can decide for yourself what tree to eat from and how to live in a way that will make you happy.
American Presbyterian minister Michael A. Milton recently articulated the way he and many Protestants believe each individual is free to choose how to worship God:“I think of the church, the bride of Christ, like a beautiful mosaic. There are thousands of embedded pieces of divinely wrought glass, every color in the broad spectrum, embedded within the clay of the earth where we now reside. The cuts are as varied as the colors. To be sure: There is one Light. But as the Light is dispersed through the prism of our cultures, our communities and our very lives, a vibrant profusion of faith erupts in celestial celebration. This is the church of our Lord across the globe and throughout the ages.”
He is eloquent and tries to make it sound beautiful. But it is based on human reasoning and feeling, not on the Bible.
In 1 Corinthians 1:10, the Apostle Paul clearly states: “Now I beseech you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfectly joined together in the same mind and in the same judgment.”
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul reiterated the need for Church unity: “There is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling” (Ephesians 4:4).
Many other passages show that the true Church is not divided, and that true Christians must worship and obey God as members of His one, undivided Church.
Of course, our personal relationship with God is paramount for each of us. But it must be on God’s terms. We do not fit Him into our lives. It must always be us that are learning, changing, repenting and growing so we come to see as He sees and think as He thinks. And He has designed His Church as the organism in which we can accomplish this.
“What about the ‘loner’ Christian who says, ‘I will serve Christ in my own way’?” Mr. Armstrong wrote. “What about the one who leaves God’s Church to have his own private relation with Christ—to get his own salvation—without giving his part of the Church’s effort to send the true gospel into all the world? Or what about the one who follows a man because of that man’s personality, charisma or attractiveness, or some other group? Stop and think! Is Christ going to marry a number of differing groups, not in complete harmony with each other—yet all ‘professing Christ’?” (Plain Truth, September 1979).
God did make us to have free will, but none of us gets to decide what is right and wrong. God loves variety, so we all are unique and should have our own personalities. But His law is immutable and inexorable.
Individualism, in the context of Protestantism, is almost synonymous with selfishness. Yes, we are responsible for our own salvation, but we cannot have that as our main goal. We must be focused on helping and giving to others.
In Philippians 2:12, Paul writes: “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” Some may say this passage gives each of us license to do what we think is right, but Paul is actually discussing the way the brethren had been obeying God well and encouraging them to continue in that way, and to even improve on their earlier successes. We can be sure the brethren of that day were not working out their own salvation based on their human reasoning and feelings. Yes, each individual is responsible for himself or herself. But each person’s approach must be based solidly on God’s law and His give way.
Many Protestant churches allow members to participate in mission trips and other kinds of charity work, but taking part is not required because they believe no works are required for salvation. On an individual level, most are mainly concerned with their own individual path to God, not with teaching or helping others.
This thinking has certainly influenced members of God’s true Church.
Mr. Armstrong wrote: “I remembered that, back in the years 1937 through 1947, when the Work was spreading over the U.S.—when I would be away from Eugene, adding more radio stations, speaking, preaching, baptizing new members—about half the parent church had the attitude of, ‘I wish Mr. Armstrong would stay home and take care of the church here. What do we care about getting the gospel to people in Texas, or Iowa, or other parts of the country?’” (Bulletin, July 17, 1974). He explained that these members’ only interests were “in the local church” and in “developing their own personal spiritual life.” He continued: “They had no interest in giving this to others in far-off places. They were on the getting way of life. Getting their own salvation. Getting into the Kingdom. The attitude of this world’s Protestantism—the fundamentalist Protestants—had rubbed off on them. They may have been aware of the great commission—but it didn’t seem to mean them, personally. Their conception of ‘the Work’ was that it was ‘Mr. Armstrong’s work.’ Or that none of us ought to be involved in it. That half of the Church was already spiritually dead, and most of them are now also physically dead.”
Those who follow God in spirit and in truth know that His Church must share the gospel with as many people as possible. It is about sharing! It is about helping others, and doing so by supporting God’s man on Earth and the Work He does through him.
We do have individual relationships with God, but that does not mean being loner Christians. Christ is not interested in a divided Bride who is not at one with Him.
An emphasis on individualism appeals to our intellectual vanity and our selfishness. But if we think constantly of others and refuse to let a nit-picking or negative attitude set in, then we can safeguard against it. We must understand that God has used imperfect men (and women) throughout history to do His will. We must pray to God always for understanding, wisdom and, most importantly, humility. With humility, we will see that we can’t lean on our own understanding. We need God’s.
One excellent booklet to help you accomplish all this is Mr. Flurry’s No Freedom Without Law.
The Roots: Rejection of Government
The Protestant name comes from the fact that was born of a “protest” against and rejection of the Catholic Church’s rule. There was much in Catholic teaching and governance that was well deserving of that rejection. The trouble is, in the process, Protestants threw out much of the general concept of government.
It is easy to see how, with their “come as you are” policy and emphasis on individual choice, firm government would not work with Protestants. They hate law, so the idea of government and authority is also anathema to them. They do not want God—much less a man through whom God is working—to tell them what to do. They do not want to be ruled by the coming government of God. They prefer the one that rules the world today! But again, this is not God’s world.
Satan hates law and has influenced man and spread that same hatred into them. In The True History of God’s True Church, Mr. Flurry writes: “Satan has deceived an enormous number of religious people—including Catholics, Protestants and, in far too many cases, even those in God’s true Church—into turning that spectacular grace into a license to disobey. They teach that we don’t need to keep ‘that old law’!” They also reject government that proclaims and enforces law.
Mr. Flurry goes on to discuss Simon Magus who is mentioned in Acts 8 and through whom Satan established the false Christian church. He writes: “That doctrine of lawlessness is what that great false church is all about. That was its beginning, and that is the way it is and will be to the end! And that lie is precisely what Simon Magus preached! He was bound up in lawlessness! Jesus Christ came to Earth and died for our sins—and you can be sure Satan is going to counterfeit something so important.”
That counterfeit is alive and well today, not just in Catholicism but also in the lawless Protestant daughter churches that came out of it. Protestantism focuses quite a lot on Christ. But it ignores the way Christ constantly pointed to the Father, the Head of the God Family.
Protestants do not want to think about how government structure should work, how God works through government, and how He has worked that way for all time!
God’s two purposes for man are to re-create Himself and to restore the government of God to Earth and on out into the universe. Government is foundational!
We can think of the rejection of government as the root of the Protestant tree because all other aspects of their rejection of true Bible-based doctrines sprout from it. It is the root of the self-centered way of get.
The best way to avoid being corrupted by the anti-government stance of Protestantism is to look to God’s government on Earth. He is working through men today in the Philadelphia Church of God. It is a work of faith coupled with obedience. It is a work of worthwhile accomplishment and giving to others.
God’s government is one of law, but the law itself is love. To understand the beauty of God’s law and His government, order your free copies of God’s Family Government and The New Throne of David.
Not for Ourselves
During a sermon at the Feast of Tabernacles in 1976, Mr. Armstrong said: “I want to tell you brethren, it’s one of the most disheartening things in the world when I can preach until I’m so tired I can hardly stand on my feet, and I find that half or more of you don’t believe a word I’m saying. You believe what the Protestants say! So much Protestantism has rubbed off on you, you think that God is trying to save everybody and Satan’s trying to get them lost! And that is a lie! That is not the truth! That is not what your Bible says! And it’s not what God says. God has given you the Holy Spirit to help get the job done! To get back of me in getting the announcements to the world, and for no other purpose except as a means of you getting your own spiritual growth and growing up in the Spirit, and growing in grace and knowledge, so that you can be there with me on the throne of Christ with the power of ruling the nations when we go out to save the world. That’s when we’re going to save the world.”
The heart of the matter is that we are not here for ourselves.
Protestantism is a self-centered religion, and that is how it took hold of so many of God’s people. Its emphasis on comfort, syrupy-love and individualism is a reflection of its refusal to be ruled by God and do what He commands.
Everything the pcg does—schools, congregational activities, buildings, projects, programs, literature and so on—is designed to support the man God has chosen to warn the world before it self-destructs. We must guard against getting mixed up and too focused on the here and now. We must be vigilant about putting ourselves behind this Work to help others.
It is not God’s world yet. Now is the time to support His government, which will soon rule the whole world the right way!