A Brief Reply to Gary Fakhoury’s Arianism
By Eric V. Snow
Because of space limitations, it would be impossible for me to reply adequately to all of Gary Fakhoury's most recent arguments in favor of Arianism (Feb. 28, 1999, "Why Do Doctrinal Debates Have to Be So Confusing?") My essay, "Further Evidence That Jesus is God," makes a careful, detailed examination of Fakhoury's reasoning. (For those interested, check for its availability at the following three websites: www.biblestudy.org; www.provide.net/~kmiller1/npath.html; www.io.com/~ucgaa/ucgaa.html). However, a brief examination of Unitarian and Arianism' basic premises and arguments is in order here.
The fundamental mistake Unitarians make is to assume implicitly that the word of God fully reveals a given teaching equally clearly throughout its contents. Hence, if the Old Testament almost always seems to reveal that God is one Person, then any future revelation by God (i.e., the New Testament) must be made to fit the earlier revelation by any means necessary. Instead, it should have been considered that the earlier revelation may have been murkier than initially thought, and should be reinterpreted in light of the later revelation. Hence, the Jewish interpretation of the Shema, that God is one means God is one Person only, is assumed to be correct. That "one" doesn't have to mean a monolithic unity, as shown Biblically by Gen. 2:24 or I Cor. 12:12, 14, is never taken seriously by Unitarians or Arians.
In order to make the New Testament fit the Jewish interpretation of the Old Testament, Unitarians constantly have to allegorize texts, retranslate texts, and/or revise texts against established textual or grammatical usages. For example, the four texts Fakhoury cites as "ambiguous" (Titus 2:13; I John 5:20; II Pet. 1:1; Rom. 9:5) are not 50/50 propositions in which the Unitarian and Binitarian interpretations are equally plausible a priori, thus making the latter easy to dismiss. In case of Titus 2:13 and II Pet. 1:1, the weight of the Granville Sharpe rule points overwhelmingly in the direction that one person is meant in both cases. Similarly, inserting a "hard" punctuation mark in Rom. 9:5 and insisting I John 5:20 doesn't refer back to the immediate antecedent in the preceding verse both go against the standard usages of Greek grammar. (Fakhoury's arguments also ignore that Rom. 9:5 is a doxology, i.e., a stylized prayer to Christ, unless an unnatural punctuation mark is inserted). Hence, these verses aren't 50/50 propositions in which a pro- or anti-Unitarian meaning are equally likely, but rather more like 90/10 propositions, in which the Unitarian swims against very strong grammatical, contextual, or even historical currents when insisting on their interpretations.
Another major problem Unitarianism and Arianism share is that they put forth arguments that make their viewpoint essentially unfalsifiable from almost any theoretically possible scriptural evidence. When John 20:28; 10:30-33; or Isa. 9:6 catch Unitarians in a tight spot where retranslation or textual evidence can't be used to save them from their plight, they reply, "'God' doesn't mean 'God," in those texts." That is, when the word "God" is unambiguously predicated of Christ, it's asserted then the word "God" in those cases doesn't refer to the Almighty Creator, but it has some lesser, weaker meaning of mere "divinity." When Old Testament texts about Yahweh are applied to Jesus, such as Zech. 12:10, a concept of "agency" is suddenly employed to explain them away. (That other humans, such as Moses, David, Isaiah, Paul, Peter, or John the Baptist, never have such texts applied to them cuts no ice with Unitarians). The Rabbinical Jewish tendency to assert things existed before they really did, or outright allegorization, is used to dispose of John 1:1-14. Yet, the Jewish crowd, upon hearing Jesus' statements about the Bread of Life coming down from heaven, correctly took them literally, not allegorically (see John 6:38, 41-42, 51), so why should we understand John 1:1-14 nonliterally? In those cases where the context indicates Jesus was worshipped (Matt. 28:9), Unitarians will argue the word "worship" never means "worship," but merely "obeisance" or some such conveniently evasive equivalent. When Unitarians argue this way, what kinds of statements, and how many statements, would Scripture have to make to prove it teaches that Jesus is God to those denying it? Is Unitarianism a potentially falsifiable paradigm? Or does it have to employ a nearly endless series of ad hoc modifications to prop itself up ("'God' doesn't mean 'God,' 'Worship' doesn't mean 'worship,' agency, allegorization, textual revision, unlikely grammatical exegesis, etc.)?
Fakhoury's argues that those teaching Jesus' Deity have a higher burden of proof than those denying it. This claim ignores how the disciples' former Unitarian monotheism was instantly and totally annihilated by the revelation of God after Jesus' resurrection, as Thomas' attestation demonstrates (John 20:28). Thomas went from denying Jesus was even alive, to saying "to Him" (these two words show it couldn't be a mere ejaculation or impious exclamation without thought), "My Lord and My God!," in the space of less than a minute. When we get the clear and direct revelation of God on a matter, a long-drawn out process of doctrinal revision isn't necessary after its receipt. For other points Fakhoury raises, such as expecting "God" to always fit our definitional "box" (i.e., "How could God be tempted?") or how Jesus being "one Lord" doesn't prove the Father isn't also the Lord (I Cor. 8:6) overthrows key Unitarian proof texts, I will refer readers to my essay mentioned above.
Now, it's necessary to consider the matter of church discipline and how much freedom members should be allowed to attack openly fundamental teachings of their church. Fakhoury is right to maintain it's "unnecessary to demand the excommunication of every person who possess a different understanding of some doctrinal point," but the Deity of our Savior is not just "some doctrinal point." It's a fundamental teaching of the church, of Scripture (I maintain), as well as of Herbert W. Armstrong in the past. It has major ramifications for the theory of atonement (how we are saved). When it comes to disagreements on fundamental doctrines, disfellowshipment is in order. Hence, I believe the Council of Elders of the UCG-AIA should disfellowship Gary Fakhoury (if his local pastor won't) for publicly attacking a doctrine of the UCG more important (arguably) than Sabbath-keeping is. Paul told Timothy why he had disfellowshiped two men, because "some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have delivered over to Satan, so that they may be taught not to blaspheme" (I Tim. 1:19-20). If Jesus is God, but someone denies He is, this can readily be called "blasphemy." Furthermore, Paul later told Timothy that Hymenaeus and Alexander believed "that the resurrection has already taken place, and thus they upset the faith of some" (II Tim. 2:18). I submit that this doctrinal deviation is smaller than denying Jesus is God, yet it may well have been enough by itself to get these two men disfellowshiped.
I believe public doctrinal debates on many issues are perfectly fine, even when I disagree with the opposition's viewpoint, such as the Nisan 14/15 Passover dating issue, Sivan 6 vs. Monday vs. Sunday for Pentecost, the Calendar issue, the old divorce and remarriage rule, or (nowadays, that hardy perennial) church government. It would be good to debate certain changes of the Tkach administration which I believe were correct, but others don't, such as the legalization of interracial marriage, cosmetics, and birthday celebrations, the healing doctrine change, etc. We could debate the issue of whether there are one, two, or three tithes (not whether it is still in force for Christians). Whether Satan and his demons will be destroyed (Eze. 28:18-20), an area I long disagreed with the classic WCG teaching on, is another area worthy of investigation. But fundamental teachings, such as the general validity of the Old Testament law for Christians or Jesus' Deity, should not be subjects for public debate WITHIN the church. If one disagrees with these teachings, it's time to go find another church that in more in line with your convictions, such as the corner Baptist church or Jehovah's Witnesses.
Finally, by giving its enemies ammunition, The Journal made a major mistake in running a series of articles that largely questioned the Deity of Christ. (Including Fakhoury's most recent article, it's roughly about 23 pages against and only about 10 for). Undeniably, some in the COG oppose a free press reporting to laymembers about some of the unsavory actions or administrative mistakes by ministers and leaders in the corporate COG organizations. Before this series began, ministers (or others) condemning the reading of The Journal could only be seen by impartial observers as advocating censorship; after this series, they can be seen as protecting the flock of God against heresy. Fundamentally, although The Journal stands separate from all the corporate COG organizations, it still primarily serves those who agree with the general teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong. Besides the matter of church government/administration, The Journal shouldn't run articles attacking his major teachings. Presumably, The Journal wouldn't be so open-minded as to run a series of articles attacking tithing, or Sabbath and Holy Day observance, as requirements for Christians that (say) Anthony Buzzard wrote combined with a semi-token rebuttal by others. Presumably, The Journal would avoid running articles by Darrell Conder and others who deny Jesus is the Messiah and that the New Testament is the word of God. The same editorial discretion should have been exercised about articles that attacked the Deity of Christ.
If we want to read pro-Arian propaganda, it's readily available from Jehovah's Witnesses. If we wish to read anti-Sabbatarian material, the Worldwide News isn't that hard to obtain. We subscribe to The Journal because, as it reports COG news often hard to get elsewhere, we know those writing in it agree with our basic doctrinal beliefs, not because we wish routinely to read doctrinal essays attacking those same basic beliefs. Freedom of the press is good, but if it is to serve a Christian purpose, it shouldn't cause to flock of God to be blown about by every wind of doctrine, or to suffer shipwrecks of faith, by giving heretics denying major doctrines of the COG a platform to influence the flock of God.