The sermon that most in the Continuing Church of God will likely listen to today is titled Sermon: The Falling Away Part 1: The Bible and Church History.
As many regular readers of this page are aware of, a COG group changed it position on this in 2012 and at least one in it implied that it was not really a change.
The Bible teaches:
1 Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, 2 not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. 3 Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition, 4 who opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God. (2 Thessalonians 2:1-4)
What did the old Radio Church of God and Worldwide Church of God really teach on this subject?
In the radio broadcast he did titled End Time Falling Away, Herbert Armstrong taught, that the New Testament shows there will be falling away related to the Church of God in Acts 20:28-29, as well as a massive turning aside towards fables for the world in 2 Timothy 4:3 (note, all oral quotes in this document are from my notes and may not always be verbatim):
Men to turn away from the truth…Acts 20:29 and 30…Paul…wanted to meet with the leaders of the church… What church? The Church of God!… “For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them. Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.”
See what the prophecy was? Falling away. Departing from the truth!
And then go to second Corinthians eleventh chapter and the 13th, 14th, and 15th verses.
For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. “And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light… Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works.” Many false prophets will deceive many…Second Timothy fourth chapter third verse…For the time will come when they will not endure—THAT’S the PEOPLE the Western world—sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” the world will fall away after fables. (Armstrong HW. End Time Falling Away, HA103A.MP3)
Similarly, in his 1978 book The Incredible Human Potential, HWA taught that the falling away of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 was related to those supposedly actually part of the Church (pp. 161-162), whereas the 2 Thessalonians 2:7, etc. had to do with a rejecting of God and acceptance of the false church (p. 8). Here is some of what Herbert Armstrong wrote:
To the Thessalonians, about A.D. 54, Paul wrote, “For the Mystery of iniquity doth already work . . .” (II Thes. 2:7). It was the Babylonian mystery religion, started by Simon the Sorcerer (Acts 8), a religion of iniquity – lawlessness – a religion rejecting the law of God…( The Incredible Human Potential, p. 8 )
Few, even among professing converted Christians, realize the vital and supreme need to be conscious and constantly aware of Satan’s efforts to get to us, who already have turned from Satan’s way and to the way of the government of God. For this very reason, Satan has gotten to and overthrown many who have fallen away (2 Thessalonians 2:3)…
There is a reason why God allows those predestinated to be called now to have to withstand Satan and his rebellion against the government of God. It is necessary—in order for us to qualify to become rulers (under Christ) in the Kingdom of God—that we not only reject Satan’s false way but strive against it until we overcome it, relying all the while on God for the power to do so. (The Incredible Human Potential, pp. 161-162)
Herbert Armstrong was referring to the Church of God in verse 3 and the world turning rejecting the law of God in verse 7.
It may be of interest to note that in 1979/1980, HWA did teach that a falling away could affect the Church:
But surely Satan is now endeavoring to scatter and even totally nullify the power God has given to His Church. There has been a falling away, though compared to the total number, it has been minimal. (Armstrong HW. The Time We Are In, Now. Pastor General’s Report-Vol 1, No. 15, November 20, 1979, p. 1; Armstrong HW. Personal: The Time We Are In, Now. Good News. January 1980, pp. 1, 23)
The above demonstrates that Herbert Armstrong applied a falling away to the Church. He called the above one minimal, not because it affected the Church, but because it was a very small amount of the membership at that time of the old WCG.
Notice what also Leroy Neff wrote specifically related to 2 Thessalonians 2:3:
In the last few months some few-just as Jesus prophesied-have fallen away. It is no strange thing when people who have been a part of God’s Church for years fall away. It happened in postapostolic days (II Thessalonians 2: 3). (Neff L. Why Some Fall Away. Good News, January 1961, p. 3)
And this is consistent with something that Dr. Hoeh wrote related to 2 Thessalonians 2:3:
Scarcely twenty years after the crucifixion of Jesus, the apostle Paul, in one of his first inspired letters, cautioned Christians not to be deceived by false preaching, or by false letters purporting to be from the apostles. “Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day”-the time of God’s intervention in human affairs when Jesus Christ will return to rule the nations–“shall not come except there come a falling away FIRST” (II Thess.2:3). The wholesale departure of Christians from the truth was the FIRST event prophesied to befall the true Church. (Hoeh H. Why so many denominations? Plain Truth. September, 1953, p. 3)
Notice also the following article 1968 by David Antion titled Will You Fall Away?:
LET no man deceive you by any means: for that day shall not come, EXCEPT THERE COME A FALLING AWAY FIRST, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition” (I1 Thes. 2:3). This is a prophecy for our time – the end time! It means there will be a falling away from the Truth of God. This also happened in the times of the early New Testament Church. But many hear the truth today. Many understand it and go along with it. Before Christ’s second coming there will be a great falling away. Are you being set up for a downfall? (Antion D. Will You Fall Away? Good News. May-June 1968, p. 5)
All the above quotes were published under HWA’s watch, and some were directly from him. But my main point is that the old Radio/Worldwide Church of God did teach that the falling away of 2 Thessalonians 2:3 was something that was directed towards the Church and happened prior to the appearance of the end-time man of sin.
Might There Be a Future Falling Away?
Yet, at least one has contended that the expression “for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed” means that the falling away must happen at (or very near) the time that the man of sin is revealed. Thus, some have improperly concluded that the falling away and falling towards the son of perdition is required by 2 Thessalonians 2:3 and could not apply to the Tkack-related falling away.
Yet, the overall time-frame of 2 Thessalonians 2:1-10 spans a very long time.
Because these passages mention that before Jesus returns, there will be a falling away, the man of sin will be revealed, and that Jesus will destroy this man of sin. Since a man of sin persecutes the saints for at least 3 ½ years (Daniel 7:25), and is probably revealed some time prior to that (like around 3 ½ years or so, per Daniel 9:26-27, though it may take longer to know for certain), verse 3 seems to span no less than seven years. Also, verse 3 shows the falling away happens “first,” before the final son of perdition is revealed. Furthermore, since verses 6 & 7 show that something had begun by Paul’s time, nearly 2000 years are covered, in a sense, in these ten verses. Over time “evil men and impostors will grow worse and worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:13).
Since the Greek does not clearly give the time-frame between each of the in 2 Thessalonians 2 events, I am not convinced that a particular length (long, short, or none) of a gap between the falling away and the revealing of the man of sin is required.
The fact is that there will be some type of future falling away by believers in Daniel 11:29-36. Herbert Armstrong, when citing Daniel 11:33-35, stated:
These are the people of God (Armstrong HW. Falling away, part 2. World Tomorrow radio broadcast, HA5406.rm).
If one or more of the COGs does balloon up in membership right before the end (as some have thought, and which may be consistent with certain Catholic prophecies as well as how John Ogwyn seemed to interpret Romans 9:28), then it is possible that a larger falling away from the Church of God will appear right around the time that the man of sin is revealed. And if those two events are supposed to be concurrent, then this may better fit 2 Thessalonians 2:3 than the Tkach-apostasy.
A Falling Away From What?
The context on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-3, which is addressed to the “brethren” suggests that the falling away/the rebellion/the apostasy (the Greek term is apostasia) is against the true faith. The abundance of other scriptures strongly support this belief. Biblically, 2 Thessalonians is addressed to the Church in the same way Revelation’s Church eras are addressed to the Church of God. This really is not a “falling away” from the truth by those who really never had any idea of what it was and thus fell towards the son of perdition.
The Bible shows that Philadelphia Christians are to “hold fast” (Revelation 3:11)–not the world.
Actually ten times in the New Testament (NKJV) Christians are specifically told to “hold fast” (1 Corinthians 15:2; 1 Thessalonians 5:21; 1 Timothy 1:13; Hebrews 3:6, 4:14, 10:23; Revelation 2:13;, 2:25, 3:3, 3:11); and three times it uses the expression “holding fast” as something Christians should be doing (Philippians 2:16; Colossians 2:19; Titus 1:9). The Old Testament also tells those who are supposed to be God’s people to “hold fast” six times (Deuteronomy 10:20, 11:22, 13:4; Joshua 22:5, 23:8; Isaiah 56:4).
De-emphasizing that the falling away has to be from the truth, but instead applies to non-believers without COG connection, diminishes the warning to those who hope to be in the COG that they are at risk. Furthermore, as we all know, Laodiceans do not believe that they need to heed the warning (Revelation 3:17-18) or to hold fast (cf. Revelation 3:10-11), but according to Jesus they do (Revelation 3:19-20).
Also, similar to 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 2 Thessalonians 2:15 tells the “brethren” to “stand fast” and hold what they what they have learned. Obviously, this is a warning to those who Paul considered to be among the Church of God brethren (cf. 2 Thessalonians 1:1). Notice also three more times the term “stand fast” is shown (NKJV):
13 Watch, stand fast in the faith, be brave, be strong. (1 Corinthians 16:13)
1 Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved. (Philippians 4:1)
8 For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 3:8)
Paul also warned, “him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall (1 Corinthians 10:12)—in Corinthians 10:1, Paul is addressing “brethren” who think that they are part of the actual Church of God (1 Corinthians 10:32), not some apostate group. In Hebrews 6:4-6, it warns that those that partakers of the Holy Spirit that “fall away” cannot get it again in “the age to come.”
Notice what Herbert Armstrong himself wrote about that:
“It is IMPOSSIBLE for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted of the good Word of God . . . if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh‘ (Heb. 6:4-6). Let it be a warning to ALL, and let all FEAR and TREMBLE before the all-powerful WORD OF GOD! Why, we would not be the true Church of God, unless a few had turned away from the truth! (Armstrong HW. Why Local Assemblies? Good News, March 1954, p. 2)
In his letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul referred to a departure of the faith in his time:
15 This you know, that all those in Asia have turned away from me, among whom are Phygellus and Hermogenes. (2 Timothy 1:15)
A departure from the faith is consistent with the prophecies for a falling away.
Jesus indicated that when He returned there would not really be many that were faithful:
8 Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:8).
Paul also indicated that when he stated:
5 Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? (2 Thessalonians 2:5).
Paul was not speaking to the world in that verse above.
Paul may also have been indicating a future falling away when he also wrote:
1 But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come…8 Now as Jannes and Jambres resisted Moses, so do these also resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, disapproved concerning the faith; 9 but they will progress no further, for their folly will be manifest to all, as theirs also was (2 Timothy 3:1,8-9).
Furthermore, this is consistent with Paul’s other writings. Notice:
1 Now the Spirit expressly says that in latter times some will depart from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons…(1 Timothy 4:1).
Some, if not most, who left the old WCG and left the FAITH have succumbed to listening to doctrinal arguments that are certainly not scriptural, hence are mainly demonic in origin.
Of course, any who leave the true church in the end to follow (or at least partially believe) the demonically-inspired son of perdition will also fit this prophecy as both the Beast and the false prophet are deceivers influenced by demons:
13 And I saw three unclean spirits like frogs coming out of the mouth of the dragon, out of the mouth of the beast, and out of the mouth of the false prophet. 14 For they are spirits of demons, performing signs (Revelation 16:13-14).
Notice also the following:
1 I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: 2 Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4 and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. (2 Timothy 4:1-5)
The Apostle Paul is telling Timothy to preach to the brethren what he should for at some time they will listen to other teachers who promote fables. Is not turning to Christmas and Easter “turning aside to fables” like many of those who supported some version of the Tkach apostasy did?
Furthermore, please consider what the late Dr. Hoeh wrote:
“Let no man deceive you by any means; for that day”-the time of God’s intervention in human affairs when Jesus Christ will return to rule the nations–“shall not come except there come a falling away FIRST” (I1 Thess. 2: 3 ). The wholesale departure of Christians from the truth was the FIRST event prophesied to befall the true Church…
The world doesn’t want to receive the truth, but would rather be lulled to sleep by false ministers who preach what the people want to hear…
In instructing the evangelist Timothy, the apostle to the Gentiles instructed him to “reprove, rebuke, exhort with all long suffering and doctrine. For the time will come that they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts”-the congregations wanting to do what they please–“shall they heap to themselves teachers”–elect ministers who will preach what they want to hear –“and they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables” (I1 Timothy 4: 3, 4).
This was in the days of the apostles and evangelists, not at the Protestant Revolt! MANY who fellowshipped in the local congregations of the early church, after about two generations, did not endure sound doctrine because they had not repented and received the Holy Spirit. (Hoeh H. Why So Many Denominations? Plain Truth, September 1953, pp. 3,4)
Hence, Dr. Hoeh applied this to the church.
It is the which Bible shows that 1 Timothy 4:1 and 2 Timothy 4:3-4 support that a departure from THE FAITH is prophesied—and it is the Bible, and not sometimes conflicting Radio/Worldwide Church of God positions, that must be the guide for those trying to be most faithful. Both the terms for “the” and “faith” are in the original Greek in 1 Timothy 4:1.
Those wishing to learn more can read the article The Falling Away: The Bible and WCG Teachings and/or watch the sermon Sermon: The Falling Away Part 1: The Bible and Church History.
Many have fallen away from the truth. And many more from important parts of it.
Some articles of possibly related interest may include:
The Falling Away: The Bible and WCG Teachings Who is 2 Thessalonians 2:3 referring to? Are there multiple falling aways?
Continuing Church of God The group striving to be most faithful amongst all real Christian groups to the word of God.
What About the Living Church of God? Are there Doctrinal Differences with the Continuing Church of God? This article explains some information and doctrines of the Living Church of God as led by Roderick C. Meredith and some concerns about them.