Forgive Us Our Trespasses
AS REGULAR READERS of this magazine know, the Worldwide Church of God, sponsor of The Plain Truth, has changed its position on numerous long-held beliefs and practices during the past few years.
At the heart of those changes has been an acceptance that salvation is by grace through faith. While this was preached in the past, it was always coupled with the message that God owes us a reward for our works that build holy, righteous character.
For decades we regarded scrupulous adherence to the law as the basis of our righteousness. We attempted to relate to God through old covenant rules and regulations in our fervent desire to please him.
In his mercy, God has shown us that old covenant obligations do not apply to Christians who are under the new covenant. He has led us into the riches of his grace and a renewed relationship with Jesus Christ. He has opened our hearts and minds to the joy of his salvation. The Scriptures speak to us with fresh meaning, and we rejoice daily in the personal relationship we have with our Lord and Savior.
At the same time, we are acutely aware of the heavy legacy of our past.
The Holy Spirit is working today in the body of Christ to heal historic wounds and restore good relations between offenders and offended. It is my painful responsibility to acknowledge that the Worldwide Church of God has been among the offenders.
Our flawed doctrinal understanding clouded the plain gospel of Jesus Christ and led to a variety of wrong conclusions and unscriptural practices. We have much to repent of and apologize for.
We were judgmental and self-righteous—condemning other Christians, calling them "so-called Christians" and labeling them "deceived" and "instruments of Satan."
We imposed on our members a works-oriented approach to Christian living. We required adherence to burdensome regulations of the Old Testament code. We exercised a strongly legalistic approach to church government.
Our former old covenant approach fostered attitudes of exclusivism and superiority rather than the new covenant teaching of brotherhood and unity.
We overemphasized predictive prophecy and prophetic speculation, minimizing the true gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ.
These teachings and practices are a source of supreme regret. We are painfully mindful of the heartache and suffering that has resulted from them.
We've-been wrong. There was never an intent to mislead anyone. We were so focused on what we believed we were doing for God that we didn't recognize the spiritual path we were on. Intended or not, that path was not the biblical one.
As we look back, we ask ourselves how we could have been so wrong. Our hearts go out to all whom our teachings have misled in the Scriptures. We don't minimize your spiritual disorientation and confusion. We earnestly desire your understanding and forgiveness. We recognize that the depth of alienation can make reconciliation difficult. On the human level, reconciliation is often a long and difficult process over time. Yet we pray daily for it, realizing that the healing ministry of Christ can close even the deepest wounds. We make no attempt to cover up the doctrinal and scriptural errors of our past. It is not our intention to merely paper over the cracks. We are looking our history squarely in the face and confronting the faults and sins we find. They will always remain a part of our history, serving as a perpetual reminder of the dangers of legalism.
But we cannot live in the past. We must rise above our past. We must move on. We say, with the apostle Paul: "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14).
We have set our minds and hearts on Jesus Christ and trust explicitly in him. I have never been more thrilled about the state of our fellowship! We are pooling our energies and moving forward in preaching the gospel worldwide and equipping our local congregations to be healthy examples of the body of Christ. We are using the spiritual gifts we have been given and capitalizing on the intense dedication to Jesus Christ—now rightly channeled—which has long characterized our church.
So we stand today at the foot of the cross—the ultimate symbol of all reconciliation. It is the common ground on which estranged and alienated parties can meet. As Christians, we all identify with the suffering that took place there, and we hope that identification will bring us together.
We desire to meet there with anyone we may have injured. It is only by the blood of the Lamb and the power of the Spirit that we can put the hurts of the past behind us and move forward toward our common goal. I have expressed these sentiments in sermons and letters in recent months, but I wanted to restate them for our Plain Truth readers.
So to all members, former members, co-workers and others—all who have been casualties of our past sins and mistakes of doctrine—I extend my sincerest heartfelt apologies. And I invite you to join us in proclaiming the true gospel of Jesus Christ around the world—as even now God is blessing us with renewed growth and vigor in his service.
Joseph Tkach, President
Published in the March/April 1996 Plain Truth