Here are a few more Feast of Tabernacles memories. I was hoping to end this series with a shebang, but I may actually do so with a whimper. My last two posts were the meatiest in terms of actually discussing the meaning of the festival. In this one, however, I’ll be talking about experiences.
1. Garner Ted Armstrong could be a powerful speaker, let me tell you! Sure, he often moved from topic to topic, without any discernible thesis. But there were a few occasions when I found myself giving him a standing ovation–with thunderous applause, at that. One was when he criticized the U.S. government’s actions in Waco. That was new, since, prior to that time, he uncritically swallowed the liberal press’s version of those events (not that this version was completely wrong–it’s just that the ATF wasn’t exactly a group of saints). He related to us that he actually spoke to survivors from the Branch Davidian compound, and he learned that they kept the Sabbath and the holy days, much like the Armstrongites.
Then, there was the time when he told us about his vision. Actually, he shared it on numerous occasions, but this was the first time that I heard it. He said that he saw himself standing before rulers, and he’d say, “If I be a prophet of God, let the earth quake!” Then, the earth would shake! I guess he died before any of that happened. Perhaps some speculate that God will raise him from the dead so he can be one of the two witnesses, but I seriously doubt that will happen.
My passionate, sieg heil reaction to Ted’s oratory reminds me of an experience I had at Depauw, when a group of us went to a Pat Buchanan rally. One of the people who went with us was not too enthusiastic about Pat Buchanan. (There were rumors that this student was gay, but I don’t think they were true.) Anyway, once the student was listening to Pat’s oratory, he got caught up in the experience. Like most of the people in the room, he passionately chanted “Go, Pat go! Go Pat go!,” as he waved his hands in excitement. It’s amazing what charisma can inspire! Maybe even scary, if it falls into the wrong hands.
2. I remember Ted asking his audience, “Who here believes Revelation 2-3’s messages to the seven churches apply mainly to the first century?” This was an important issue. The Worldwide Church of God promoted a doctrine called “church eras,” in which the seven churches represented different periods of the Sabbatarian churches’ history. Naturally, the WCG was Philadelphia, the righteous church of brotherly love (right!). Because Ted’s group broke away from the Worldwide, it got labelled “Laodicea,” which is the bad church, the one Christ will spew out of his mouth. So you’d expect every hand to go up in response to Ted’s question. But they only went up when Ted said, “That’s odd. I expected every hand to go up!” Independent thought wasn’t a strong tradition in the Armstrongite movement, even in the less authoritarian Church of God, International!
What do I believe about church eras? There is an obvious reference to the end times in Christ’s message to Philadelphia (Revelation 3:7), so I have a hard time saying that the prophecy only related to the past. Consequently, I can understand where the Worldwide was coming from, though plenty of survivors will tell you that it was far from being a church of brotherly love! Many scholars contend that the author of Revelation held that Christ would return in his lifetime, since Christ says that he comes quickly (Revelation 22:7, 12, 20), plus the Beast of Revelation 13 has a number that is the value of Neron Caesar in Hebrew (666). In this scenario, Philadelphia was an end time church–it’s just that the author of Revelation believed the end time was the first century.
I have problems with this view as a believer, but apocalyptic literature was like that! It held that God would intervene in the time of its composition. Daniel presents God overthrowing Antiochus Epiphanes and setting up his kingdom. II Esdras has God destroying Rome right before he establishes the Messianic era. Maybe there’s deeper meaning that I do not see–such as a dual fulfillment of prophecy, in which Nero was a type of the coming Antichrist. Or perhaps these writings teach believers to keep hope alive, however dark life may be. I don’t know.
3. I remember someone reading a book about the Jewish festivals–during the sermon. It reminded me of a lady who read George H.W. Bush’s biography at the 1988 Republican National Convention. I wonder if this gentleman learned more from that book than he would have from the sermon! Many would consider his action rude, but I didn’t see it that way at all. He was thirsty for knowledge! Plus, I don’t think we kids were listening to the sermon either, since we had our books and crayons to keep us busy. So this guy was doing something socially acceptable, in our minds.