An Open Letter to the Churches of God

from Hermanus W. Smeenk

Dear Brethren:

         I was listening to a sermon that you presented on the book of James not too long ago. I generally enjoy listening to your bible studies and sermons. However, in this particular sermon you made some very dangerous assumptions. What you taught in that sermon was based in good part on those assumptions, i.e. 1) "Because Israel had been living in idolatry ever since they were cast out of the land of Israel by the Assyrians in the early 700s BCE, James couldn't have been writing to them so his letter must have been written to the 'spiritual' 12 tribes of Israel." 2) You appear to assume that the Apostles operated mainly within the Jewish community and made their converts there (the Church of God in Judea) and that Paul was the only one who established churches outside that district (Asia Minor, Greece, and Italy).

         When I met and talked with you at last year's feast, you impressed me as a knowledgeable individual that would weigh the evidence before making a judgment. I'm still convinced of that, however, I believe that you are making judgments based on insufficient facts and knowledge. I say that because you have exhibited some very lopsided reasoning in the subject sermon. You know, we all like to think that we know more than others about our area of expertise and, consequently, resist any new information that may cause a great confusion in the parade of our lined up ducks. But, think about you believe that it took twelve Apostles to convert the Jewish population and only one to do the same for the Gentiles? Please give the following some serious thought.

         You and I both believe that Jesus Christ was the Rock of Israel, the God of Israel, during the time before He came in human form. If that is true, and God doesn't change, nor can He lie, what does it mean when He comforts Israel in Jeremiah 50:17-20 where He states that Israel is scattered like sheep, but He will bring back Israel (think of the parable of the lost sheep) and his iniquities shall not be found in them or in Judah. And in Jeremiah 50:5-9, and 13 where God promises that neither Israel nor Judah will be forsaken of their God, even if the land is filled with sin!! Then Jesus, when he sends out the seventy and the twelve, instructs them to "go to the lost sheep of Israel". Elsewhere Jesus tells us that He came to die for Israel to save his wife from her sins and present her to Himself as a pure and unblemished bride. As Paul tells it, Christ came to fulfill the promises to the fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

         After Jezebel issued an edict to have Elijah killed as he slew the prophets of Baal, and Elijah complained to God that he was the ONLY one who worshipped God, he was told that "I still have 7,000 who have not bent the knees before Baal". I think we can infer from this that God has always had a small remnant in Israel with whom He has worked throughout the ages. Didn't He also say that only a small "remnant shall remain" at the end of this age? There is the lesson from the situation in which Abraham pleaded with God not to destroy the cities in the plains for the sake of the righteous - in which Abraham started with 50 righteous and ended with 10 righteous people. God told Abraham that he would not destroy the cities even for the 10 righteous people. It is for this very reason that God never completely destroyed Israel. There have always been the few righteous people, the salt that gave Israel its savor, within each of the ten tribes and were the cause that Israel has not been totally destroyed by God for their idolatrous lives steeped in sinful living.

         You have said that the 144,000 that accompany Christ at His return are spiritual Israel consisting of 12,000 individuals from each tribe. And that is true, at that time they will be spiritual, but before they can become spiritual they first have to live out their physical existence and endure many trials and much suffering. We now have physical bodies but will be changed to spirit at Christ's second coming. So, don't claim that we are now spiritual just because the Father, in His great mercy toward us, gave us His holy spirit. We can lose that spirit if we don't take care. Paul himself stated that "I am carnal, sold under sin". If he considered himself to be spiritual, he would have said so. It wasn't until the end of his life that he confided in Timothy that he had fought the good fight and that now a crown was laid up for him.

         According to the Bible, Christ has always worked with Israel and has never fully rejected Israel. The messages of the prophets are replete with how much God hates the doings of his people and how He will punish them for their sins...AND has done so through the ages. But that's speaking of Israel as a nation, not of individuals. It are the individuals who have kept God in close contact with His people. It was for the sake of these individuals that God never completely cast off Israel as He threatened so many times to do. BUT, He always relented and promised to once again gather Israel and Judah from the four corners of the earth and make them one nation under David. To bring them back to the land that He promised to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and prophesied that He would again rule over them as their KING, with David reporting directly to Him. However, this won't happen until directly after Christ's return.

         The point is, we can't ignore the promises of God by the prophets just so that we can give credence to our assumptions. Remember...Paul said that the gentiles would be grafted into the olive tree while some of the natural branches were removed. He never said that ALL the branches were being removed, but only SOME. The olive tree is a figure of the nation of Israel. The trunk of the tree is the nation of Israel, physical Israel, while the branches are representatives of the people of Israel. Now if some branches were removed to make place for the wild olive tree branches, you can understand that only some, not all, the branches were removed and replaced by the gentiles. As Paul alluded in his epistles, God called a FEW Gentiles to make the Israelites (all Israelites, not just the Jews) jealous to make them come back to Him.

         One of the prophets wrote that God constantly made Himself available to Israel, but they rejected Him, so He said He would make them jealous by calling a people that had not sought Him. That can not be interpreted as the rejection of Israel, but as a method to lure Israel back to God from their idol worship. Now it is true that Paul talked about the Gentiles being grafted into the olive tree and becoming spiritual Israelites. But he said this because they could never be physically descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Just as an adopted child can never be a physical descendant of his adoptive parents, but only spiritually or mentally can it be considered to be their child. So it is with the Gentiles that have become spiritual Israelites. But you can't jump to the conclusion from that statement that now God is raising up a spiritual Israel in place of the physical Israel. That's convoluted reasoning and totally illogical.

         Later, towards the end of his ministry, Paul wrote how that many people in the congregations that he had raised up, had followed after the wolves who had insinuated themselves into the congregations and had begun to teach false doctrines. These individuals, history shows us, where the seed from which the great false church sprung. Paul had already warned them years before that if they weren't careful, Jesus Christ would cut them from the olive tree just as He had done with some Israelites, the natural branches, and was able to graft the natural branches back into the olive tree. Jesus Christ did just that as history shows.

         Christ commanded the apostles to preach to the "lost sheep of the house of Israel". Since Christ did the work through them, we can safely assume that each of the apostles, like Paul, raised up churches within the "lost tribes" of Israel. (Although at that time they were not lost, the people of that day all knew where the northern ten tribes were located. It wasn't until much later when the Israelites removed from that area that they became "lost") Peter and James both wrote to the Israelite churches. They were the same ones that James wrote about when he wrote "To the twelve tribes of Israel", physical Israel, many of whom had been converted from idolatry by the twelve Apostles. Remember, only Paul was sent to preach to the Gentiles. Christ (the Holy Spirit) would not allow Paul to go any place other than where he went because every where else was the territory of the twelve Apostles.

         Christ is, was, and always will be in charge of the first fruits of Israel whom the Father called to become the future kings and priests over physical Israel during Christ's 1,000 year reign. And, subsequently, also over those who will be changed to immortal spirit beings during the Messiah's reign as well as those who will be in the second resurrection. After all that, we, Christ's first fruits, will have an everlasting position to rule over then spiritual Israel (the Israel that will finally be changed to spirit beings) and wife of the Son of the Father, and she will reign with Him over the gentile nations who will become their children and who will also be changed to immortal spirit beings.

         That means that we, whom you like to call THE CHURCH, are the first fruits of Israel along with the few Gentiles that have been grafted into the trunk of the tree (Israel) and endured until death. Paul speaks of the first fruits as the "body of Christ" and that He is the head. If He is the head and we are His body, then one can say that we are one with Christ, that we will be Christ, we will be part of Him (Revelation states that the 144,000 will go where ever He goes -- OF COURSE because we are a part of Him). He will rule over His wife Israel. Since, when a man marries a woman, all of him marries him, not only his head, but all of his body -- we can say that in like manner, we -- being part of Christ in that we are His body--will be married to His wife, Israel, as well.

         As the Churches of God teach -- Christ will marry the Church --the Church consisting of those whom God has now called. But...what individual -- what head -- goes around marrying his/her body? If Christ is going to marry The Church, then maybe our perception of the identity of The Church, has been in error. Throughout the prophets Christ (the God of Israel) talks about bringing Israel back, never forsaking Israel, removing all the iniquities from Israel, gathering the remnant of Israel from the four corners of the earth and speaking to Israel face to face in the wilderness before bringing the remnant into the Holy Land (EXACTLY as He did with Israel when He led them out of Egypt) and where He will purge out the rebels because He won't allow any one into the Holy Land that will not obey Him. And those who are left, upon them He will pour His spirit, and they will be converted and be obedient to Him and serve Him and will be allowed to enter the Promised Land. This is all foretold by the prophets.

Jesus said in John "Thy word is Truth" and in another place "the scripture cannot be broken". So why do the Churches of God (who supposedly are possessors of the truth) not believe these things. Why do they insist on perverting the scriptures with their own ideas and to put those ideas into the mouths of the Apostles? Paul wrote in Hebrews that Israel was called the Church in the wilderness. God called Israel His witnesses or as the Hebrew has it, His Edat, his congregation of witnesses. Israel was commanded to live by the laws dictated by God to Moses and written in the books of the law. In this manner, they would be witnesses to other nations that their God was the one and only God whose ways and laws could lead them to living a life of blessings, comfort and peace. But, Israel failed to do the job set before them. Does this mean that God made a big mistake in making Israel His nation?

         Does the Almighty make mistakes? When He makes plans to accomplish a specific purpose, does He, like people, have a plan A and a plan B? Is God, after all fallible and He failed to count the cost when He took Israel as His bride and His Church or Congregation? Is it written anywhere in the Bible "And the Eternal, greatly disappointed with His wife, divorced His wife Israel and cast her off to replace her with the Gentiles whom He will call to be His Church. For behold, after the death of the Israel's husband on the stake, He shall be released from the law that bound Him to His wife, and He will be free to marry a new nation, a spiritual Israel, composed of those Gentiles whom the Almighty Father will call after the death and resurrection of the Messiah"? Is this the Almighty's plan B? Now we all know that this is not found anywhere in the Torah, the Septuagint, the writings of the Apostles, or in the "Christian" Bible. Not even the Catholic church lays claim to such a thing.

         Yet, this is a popular teaching in the Churches of God. Why? Because that is what Mr. Armstrong taught, a replacement theology. Israel was replaced by the "new testament" church which has now become "The Church". Now the Catholic church DOES teach that, and those that came out of her or her daughters continue to cling to that notion and brought it with them into the Churches of God. After all, billions of people can't be wrong, can they? Or can they? It is true that in Hosea, God tells the prophet that because of Israel's whoredoms He will "utterly take them [the House of Israel] away (Hosea 1:6). Further, in verse 9 God states: "Call his name Lo'ammi, for you are not my people, and I will not be your God." But are these the scripture that prove that God has cast Israel away? If you say "Yes" let me tell you to continue reading through verse 10 where God says: "Yet, the number of the children of Israel shall be as the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured nor numbered, and it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said 'You are not my people' there it shall be said unto them, You are the sons of the Living God."

         Going to Hosea 2:14-16 and 19-20 the Eternal promises Israel "...therefore, behold, I will allure her; and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her. And I will give her vineyards from thence, and the valley of Achor for a door of hope; and she shall sing there, as in the days of her youth, and as in the day when she came out of the land of Egypt. And it shall be at that day, saith the Eternal, that you shall call me I'shi (husband); and shall call me no more Ba'ali (my Lord). And I will betroth you unto me forever; yea, I will betroth you unto me in righteousness and in judgment, and in loving kindness, and in mercies. I will even betroth you unto me for ever; yea, I will betroth you unto me in faithfulness, and YOU SHALL KNOW THE LORD.[!!!] Does this at all sound like God is going to replace Israel with a different wife? Did he tell Hosea to write this just to give the Israelites of that time some hope, although he never intended to take them back? Is God a man that He thinks and acts like one?

         God provides further proof in Isaiah 54:4-8 that He has not put Israel away permanently but, in time, will once again be called her Husband: "Fear not; for you shall not be ashamed; neither be confounded; for you shall not be put to shame; for you shall forget the shame of your youth, and shall not remember the reproach of your widowhood anymore. For your Maker is your husband; the Eternal of hosts is His name; and your Redeemer the Holy One of Israel; the God of the whole earth shall He be called. For the Eternal has called you as a woman forsaken and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when you were refused, says your God. For a small moment have I forsaken you, but with great mercies will I gather you. In a little wrath I hid my face from you for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on you, says the Eternal your Redeemer."

         No! When you really understand the entire Bible, you begin to understand that the Father is calling, and through Christ, is working with only a few individuals during each generation of Israel. These individuals are called the first fruits in the writings of the Apostles. The Passover, Days of Unleavened Bread, and the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost) all allude to them. Christ as the first of the first fruits, pictured by the waving of the first cut of barley corn on the day after the Sabbath during the Days of Unleavened Bread. Then the first fruits pictured by the two wave loaves made of fine flour, one loaf for the first fruits of the kingdom of Israel and the second loaf for the first fruits of the kingdom of Judah. Revelation 14 identifies them as the 144,000 that follow the Lamb where ever He goes. They are the first fruits of The Church, of Israel, not the harvest, but only a very small portion of the harvest.

         The Father is not trying to convert the Gentiles to take the place of His people Israel, but right now He's only calling certain individuals, His first-fruits. He has been calling them for a very special purpose -- to be His Son's co-rulers over the vast majority of mankind that will finally be called, converted, and changed to spirit beings. That's why we are called on now to suffer for His name's sake, to deny ourselves and to follow in the footsteps of Christ and the Apostles. The Father is proving us, testing us to see whether we are prepared to do whatever it takes to obey Him. He has to be sure of us before He gives us any part of His great powers. He doesn't want another Lucifer who disobeyed Him and perverted the truth and 1/3 of the angels in his disobedience. The Father, the Almighty, the Eternal One is following His plan and it is unfolding just as he has commanded. The results of that plan will be the GREAT culmination of the Elohim's plan when they first stated that which is recorded in the book of Genesis "Let US make man in OUR image and LIKENESS". What a wonderful, marvelous and almost unbelievable future we have before us!! What a GREAT and GLORIOUS Father we have in heaven whose will shall be done!!

         I don't expect anyone to jump up and say "you're right, I never thought about this....", but I do expect you to take out your bibles (that is, all your different translations and editions) and, Berean like, go through them and see whether anything that I've said isn't what the bible teaches. And, as you have been taught and also teach others, obtain ALL the scriptures relating to a particular subject area, put them together, and THEN see what they mean. As Mr. Armstrong stated many times, "Let the Bible interpret the Bible"...

POSTSCRIPT  As we are all a part of the first fruits of Christ's True Church - Israel - why do many of you glory in the thought that you are the only ones that are members of God's true church and anyone else that does not hold to the same doctrines of your particular group are, as I've heard it said, apostates and heretics. Seeing that we are all part of the first fruits of Israel, your claim to be the one and only true church is exposed exactly for what it is, vain glorying and boasting, while you also stand up and judge your brethren to be not as righteous as you are. Brethren, think about this -- as the first fruits of Israel, it doesn't matter to which group you belong. We're all equal, we're all brethren, sons and daughters of our father Israel, and all belong to the same Church. None stands above the other in the sight of God. Do not judge one another but let God judge each and every one of us according to our individual fruits as He has given according to each individual's abilities. Let God judge us as we walk in His Way and see if we are keeping His laws, commandments, statutes, judgments, and precepts. And let Him judge whether we love the Father, His Son, and our brethren with all of our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength. For Christ also commanded us to love the brethren even as He also loved us. For, if we do this, we shall not be offended by anyone, but the Father's great love that He has borne us will flow from us towards one another, for then we can truly live in fellowship, being of one mind with one another.

         By creating an artificial barrier between various congregations, you do your brethren a great dis-service and injustice. You sear their consciences by making them doubt whether they are part of that church favored by God above all other Churches of God. The fact is, God sees us all as the first fruits of Israel that He has called and chosen. This spirit of competition that exists between the various groups is ungodly, unholy, and totally unnecessary. It is the main cause for this great scattering of the Worldwide Church and further splitting into smaller groups, at least, from man's perspective because God doesn't see it that way. He sees one Church and many small congregations that are all part of that one Church. If the Father looks at us in that manner, shouldn't we also be able to see one another in a totally different light than that we have in the past? To continue in the way of the past is to walk in darkness, not in the light. Our past walk has been one of envy and strife, jealousy and bickering, hatred towards and competing with one another, offending and being offended. Let us repent and turn from our ways before the salt of the earth loses its savor, and God will be forced to destroy mankind because there aren't enough righteous men left to make a difference. Because He couldn't find even ten righteous men in the five cities in the plain He destroyed them all. This should be a lesson to all of us.

         With warm regards and love through the Father....may His peace and grace come upon you all the days of your lives.

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