The Mystery of Hanna
Hanna was a regular and enthusiastic visitor to Kadesh-Naphtali and seemed on the surface to effortlessly dovetale into our spiritual and practical life. What concerned both Stan and I was the way she thought and the fact that the spirit which seemed to be propelling her was definitely different to our own. It was Stan's belief that there was something in her former Armstrongite belief system which was throwing a spanner in her spiritual works but we didn't yet know what it was.
"My concern," Stan said to us one night, "is that she sees that we observe the Israelite festivals and the Sabbath, which her former church did also as best they knew, and has simply readjusted her theological map without getting to the heart of the problem. What we need to try and understand is how the old Armstrongite Church was built spiritually because I think she is still being led by its spirit. And I've seen this phenomenon before - of cultists discarding their former teachings, embracing Biblical Christianity, but still being pushed by the same cultic spirit. The conversion looks genuine enough but it's only intellectual."
He turned to Isabel and Suszana: "You were both Jehovah's Witnesses at one time - do you have any feedback on this particular problem?"
Isabel thought for a while recalling the past.
"It's hard to remember so far back. But what I do remember is that the New Birth changes everything - the way you think, feel, and see things. Being born again was like changing climate and you see everything differently."
Suszana remained silent, perhaps not wanting to dig up the not-so-distant past. The demonic influence of the cults leaves deep wounds that can take a long time to heal.
"Do you all remember Eva?" asked Kryztina.
Eva had been an ex-Jehovah's Witnesses who joined the New Covenant Christian Fellowship in Oslo and who had visited them in Raj some years ago. I had never met her but been told a lot about her.
"Oh yes, I remember," said Suszana, suddenly coming to life. "She was so enthusiastic about the Fellowship and threw her whole energy into it. I thought she was going to be one of the most faithful members we would ever have!"
"Yes, that's right," said Stan stroking his chin, "I remember Eva. No matter what you asked her to do, she would do it. She accepted every teaching of the Fellowship almost without question and was slavishly obedient. Many thought she was a model member and she soon advanced in responsibility. She kept the most incredible records we have ever had, logging every single pamphlet that was ever distributed in her fellowship, who they had been given to, and by whom. Yes, I remember! Then things started going wrong. She thought we weren't out on the streets enough and started pressing the Deaconesses, telling them they weren't being faithful enough. Then she got into disagreement with a sister who thought she was being too pushy and there was even an Elders' Court!"
Stan paused a minute.
"As I recall she eventually left the Fellowship because she felt that not enough supernatural gifts were being manifested. There was a fanatical spirit about her, and at times a complete absence of love. There was a deep struggle going on inside her. She could really be sweet at times and then, like a light being turned off, slip into deep depression and darkness. I remember thinking at the time that there was a Jehovah's Witnesses spirit in her alright that was fighting with the New Covenant Spirit within her."
"We need to find out more about the Worldwide Church of God," continued Isabel, "does anybody know if there are any similarities between them and the Witnesses?"
"Oh yes," said Stan, "one big similarity - they believed that they were the only true Church on the face of the earth and that there was no salvation outside of it - like the Mormons, in fact. And they believed that Armstrong was God's exclusively chosen apostle to the world, and that his word was law. That kind of truth-claim, which is common to the Catholics too, creates a slavish mentality. It causes its adherents to base their spiritual life first and foremost on a set of external propositions and to trust human flesh for their guidance instead of going to Christ direct and getting the New Life. Your whole spiritual universe gets inverted because you interpret everything spiritual out of your externally-imposed dogma. The dogma becomes the filter that sifts through spiritual experiences. And amongst the Jehovah's Witnesses it is particularly bad because anything associated with the supernatural is regarded as demonic by them.
"There is no proceedure whereby a seeker can honestly search for the truth once within the organisation except within very limited parameters. There are, moreover, certain key doctrines which must be believed for membership. To be a Mormon you must believe that the Father appeared visibly to Joseph Smith even though the Scriptures say he has never been seen, and cannot be seen, except through the incarnation. They also teach that the Holy Spirit cannot dwell in your heart even though Paul says it can. They also teach that human conscience is pure and a reliable guide to revelation even though Paul teaches that the conscience is defiled. These three teachings alone, which members must believe, prevent the Holy Spirit from ever ministering to them clearly, so what they frequently get is counterfeit manifestations. Their whole revelatory structure is built on burnings-in-the-bosom which they believe to be the Spirit even though their revelations contradict one another.
"The Jehovah's Witnesses don't even believe that Christ is God, but a little god with a small 'g', and they deny the physical resurrection, as the Gnostics and all occultists do. That makes them occultists. And I know for sure that Amstrong adopted many Jehovah's Witness beliefs. Although he claimed that Yah'shua was God he did not quite mean what Christians do becaused he insisted that human beings may become the same too. He believed that no-one is born again until the resurrection, an early Jehovah's Witness teaching of Charles Taze Russel, but perhaps that which most closely identified him with the Witnesses was his belief that the resurrection is spiritual and not physical. That is a cardinal error and places him amongst the Gnostics and occultists. I do not know what Hanna believes but these are some of the things we need to talk to her about. Armstrong made numerous false prophecies, just like the Watchtower has, including claiming Christ would return in 1975 midway during the Great Tribulation. Finally, another major error of Armstrong was his claim that we are saved by law-keeping, which as we know is impossible. And he actually had the audacity to say that the blood of Christ does not finally save anyone. He had no concept of the difference between jurisdictional and literal salvation and taught, in effect, salvation by works. So if Hanna passionately believes in any of these doctrines, then she will almost certainly be under some sort of demonic bondage.
"Why don't we invite her to come to a Foundational Bible Course? We could tailor-make the course to span, say, eight weeks and challenge her to do some intense Bible-study at home in the evenings during the week?"
We were all enthusiastic about this. I knew I would enjoy re-doing the course again. Stan said that we need to be retaught the basics again and again because of our tendency to forget and get sidetracked by meatier doctrines.
Before we had time to speak to Hanna about our proposal, Isabel went into labour, three weeks after I had given birth. Because of her age, she was transferred to hospital in Borlänge for safety, a move which turned out to be prudent as complications occurred requiring a caesarian operation. Hanna was with Isabel most of the time and the two formed a close bond as a result. Isabel gave birth to a healthy boy called Benoni, who changed her life in what was an undoubtedly miraculous way. In one fell stroke, it seemed, it solved many of her problems connected with a sense of self-worth. She remained in Borlänge for ten days before being well enough to be transferred back home and when Stan came to fetch her on the Friday, Hanna came home with us.
Stan and Hanna were around Isabel and Benoni a good deal for many days whilst she gained strength and talked a lot together, and it was during that time that Stan, with Isabel's foreknowledge, deliberately cultivated discussions around the key issues of the faith which were missing from Armstrongism. Others of us were present also, though Stan asked to keep the numbers down to no more than four adults at a time so as not to make Hanna feel intimidated. I was asked to be as present as often as possible in order to downplay the misconception that Hanna had that I was some sort of "queen wife". I must admit I felt uneasy about the whole business for some time because the atmosphere was not the usual relaxed one we were accustomed to. There was undoubtedly a mild demonic presence in Hanna which was not to anyone's liking, but our mission was a redemptive one and we had no choice but to stick it out, even if it was in our own home.
Hanna found it difficult to keep her eyes off Stan and long before she admitted to me that she was in love with him, I had guessed what the truth was. Stan, who is always sensitive to these things, seemed mostly to be aware of the demonic presence as this was the more important issue to him. The thought that someone not properly in Christ could be a potential wife was as foreign to him as contemplating marrying a communist. Marriage meant purity and anything that was not pure simply wasn't on the cards. He would only entertain romantic thoughts if he knew the woman he was dealing with was a proper Bible-believring Christian living as pure a life as she could.
The day Isabel had been returned home and had been served supper in bed, Stan and I were sitting in her room chatting, having decided to eat together with Isabel. Tom was with me in his Moses basket and was fast asleep in the corner of the room, as was Benoni in his own crib. Occasionally I would breast feed him and cuddle him until he fell asleep again. It was hard concentrating on Hanna when I had my little wonder gazing up at me with his big blue eyes - my motherly heart found it hard not to be distracted!
Hanna came in from the dining room where she had eaten with the others and asked us what we were talking about. Stan took his cue.
"If you were to meet an unbeliever on the street, Hanna, and you were to ask him the most important question you thought there was to ask, what would that question be?"
Hanna sat next to me, surprised by the question.
"Well, I'm not sure really," she said. "What kind of question did you have in mind?"
"Well, I knew an American evangelist," Stan went on, "who stopped people in airports, supermarkets, almost anywhere and used to pop the question, 'If you died tomorrow, do you know where you'd go?' It used to surprise them a lot. He would get all sorts of evasive answers, of course, especially if they weren't believers. Then he would rephrase the question: 'If you died tomorrow, would you go to heaven or to hell?' The immediate was almost without exception 'Heaven', of course, even though the person may probably have said he didn't believe in an afterlife. Sometimes he would ask, 'Would you go to heaven?´ and they would hestitate, but if he asked him, 'Would you go to hell?' there was never any hesitation at all - they would vehemently deny such a destination for their souls even if they were die-hard atheists!
"My friend was very interested by this response, for one minute they were saying they didn't believe in an afterlife and the next minute that they would go to heaven, and not to hell. He then became aware that we have two different places within our souls where we express our faith in different things, and these two places are not always in agreement."
Hanna seemed interested although a little confused. Clever Stan, I could see where he was leading to!
"You see, although we may believe one thing in our minds we often believe something completely different in our hearts. You will find some of the most adament atheists praying to God in time of need, especially in wartime situations. Deep within our soul is not only a sense of what our true needs are but also a clear vision of what the truth is but that gets obscured or blurred by our minds because they are constantly indoctrinated by false teachings. We try to make our spirits believe something that is false because our minds have been programmed to think wrongly.
"So if I were asked what question to ask someone - a question that would probably help them to find Yahweh, I think it would have to be structured in such a way as to show that as human beings we are contradictory in our nature and that there are therefore always two sides of an issue which we may think we have for ever solved, especially if it's a question of true faith versus false faith."
He paused to give Hanna a chance to come up with something but that demon was alerted to something going on inside and kept her tongue-tied.
I picked up the thread: "I know that for me the most important question would be something like: 'What must I do to get into right relationship with God?' Ask that question to different believers and you'll get all kinds of different answers."
"Yes, that's true," said Isabel, picking up some energy to speak. "When I was a Jehovah's Witnesses, believing in God was not enough - you have to be in 'Jehovah's' chosen organization too otherwise you were cut off from Him. That meant accepting that those who wrote the Watchtower magazine were God's chosen prophet and therefore inspired. It meant accepting everything they said as truth even though it often contradicted itself. And if they made a mistake, they said that that was only human, but that the most important thing was believing and obeying Jehovah's anointed. We were so brainwashed into not doing our own thinking that we accepted whatever they said like sheep. I know our hearts rebelled sometimes - mine did - but we kept quiet because we believed we were obeying a higher principle, namely, following God's chosen 'prophet'".
There was a pause and I thought it was time to pull Hanna into the conversation and not let her stay out on the wings.
"What was it like being a member of the Worldwide Church of God, Hanna?" I asked. "Were you free to express your own opinions or did you have to tow the official line always?"
Hanna thought for a moment as though wondering which question to answer first.
"It was great," she said enthusiastically. "There was such a sense of belonging and you knew that everyone believed the same thing. It made you feel very special, that you were a part of something important." She smiled as though transported back in time. "Then the new Pastor General started changing everything and nobody knew what they believed anymore." A look of sadness crept across her face.
"That's just how I felt as a Jehovah's Witness," continued Isabel. "I felt that I was in Jehovah's one and only true organization, that I had a place guaranteed for me in the new world that would come after Armageddon, and that all I had to do was obey the elders and make sure I followed the Watchtower teachings. The JW's printed so much literature - we had tons of books which had all the answers we supposedly ever needed. My favourite was a great big pale blue one called Aid to Bible Understanding. It was like a giant lexicon. I believe they've made it twice as big now, a two-volumed Insights on the Scriptures. Stan showed them to me once."
"Oh, yes, we had lots of literature too. Herbert Armstrong wrote lots of books on almost every topic printed by Ambassador College. Have you ever read any of them?"
"Stan's read them all," said Isabel proudly. "He's even read a good deal of the Jehovah's Witness books. I can't even pick them up now without falling asleep." She chuckled.
"Is that true???" asked Hanna incredulously, looking Stan in the eyes. "Have you read all the Church's literature?"
Stan smiled. "Come with me," and took her down to the library. I asked Isabel if she would mind keeping an eye on Tom for a few minutes and went with him.
"There you are," said Stan pointing to all the WCG literature. "I used to subscribe to Plain Truth and a couple of other magazines once too. You'll see all of them all on that shelf over there. I used to use some of their youth materials teaching Władysław and Maria when they were younger."
Hanna was besides herself with excitement though what she was thinking was anyone's guess. Perhaps she thought Stan was an Amstrongite but if she did she was in for a rude awakening. She thumbed through the books and booklets, completely engaged.
"You have all the English ones," she noted. "There wasn't much in Finnish at all when I was active and so we had to use Swedish, but even that was limited. That's how I came to learn English, actually - that was the only way we could read Church literature."
She continued looking through the Armstrongite literature as though she had rediscovered a gold mind.
"This was my favourite," she announced, pulling out a paperback. "Mystery of the Ages - I remember when it first came out in 1985. What did you think of it, Stan?" She looked up eagerly into his eyes hoping for a positive response.
Stan hesitated. "It has some useful material in it, especially such parts where he talks about the origins of cities. There's a lot of solid material in Armstrong's writings but also many things which just aren't Biblical. That's why I never joined WCG."
Hanna's jaw dropped as though Stan had committed the unpardonable sin. There was, for a moment, flint in her eye, but the hostility gradually gave way to confusion. He led us back to Isabel's room so that she wouldn't miss any more of the conversation than necessary. As we climbed the stairs Stan looked into Hanna's eyes with a gentle smile on his face. She looked briefly into his, and then down to the carpet not sure what she should be feeling. We sat down in Isabel's room again.
"One thing I have learned about salvation, Hanna," he said earnestly looking into her eyes, "is that it is a process or event entirely independent of personalities or church organisations. To mature a disciple needs leaders and a brotherhood but these do not in themselves constitute ingredients to salvation. Human beings make mistakes -- all of them, including apostles. Peter started teaching false doctrine and Paul admitted his ignorance in many matters by saying that he was only giving his own opinion. I'm sure that's why Yahweh gave the New Testament Church twelve apostles and not just one. As you know, Armstrong never called any more apostles, only ever recognising one - himself. That isn't Scriptural for a start. There were always twelve apostles with three presiding apostles. Put all power in the hands of one man and you have a recipe for disaster. As the saying goes, 'power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely'.
"Many people got disillusioned with the WCG because of the gross abuse by that organisation of the members' funds. There was even a court case over the matter. Armstrong himself lived in abject luxury. He owned his own personal jet plane and spent millions of members' tithing money sponsoring archaeological digs, entirely on his own initiative, and giving expensive presents to world leaders to win popularity. He used tithing money to live the life of a millionnaire. And you will know that this is not the way Christ's followers are supposed to live."
Hanna stared blankly at Stan, not knowing what to say.
"Armstrong was an occultist..." said Stan, before Hanna protested vehemently.
"That's a lie!" making Isabel jump and waking up both Benoni and Tom.
"Shhhh!" I said, "You've woken up the little ones."
"That's a lie," she repeated in a lowered voice, "he was a perfect Christian!"
Stan was not moved. "I cannot comment on every detail of Mr. Armstrong's life but I do know some things, which you need to hear, because they're fact and not speculation. For one thing, he divorced his older wife and married a younger woman. She had not committed adultery, that much is known, and that is the only biblical grounds for divorce. That was scandalous. His son, Garner Ted, who was virtually number 2 in the organisation, was thrown out for womanising and for siphoning off Church funds, and started his own rival Church in Tyler, Texas...."
"What about all the big shots in the Protestant Churches who have been committing adultery?" protested Hanna. "Sleeping with secretaries, and....."
Stan interrupted her. "Two wrongs don't make a right, Hanna, and you know it. But then that's just the problem, don't you see? You've been trained to think that there is only one true church and that therefore all the others are false, no matter what they teach, believe or do. You have just demonstrated a typical defence used by cultists. I meet it all the time in my ministry to Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. They devote an enormous amout of time attacking other churches to deflect attention from their own errors. Armstrong did the same. Now, don't misunderstand me - I'm not saying we shouldn't expose error in the Body of Christ, but what I am saying is that if we attack others to hide our own faults then we are under the bondage of serious sin. Truth must stand on its own merits. To attack the teachings of Joseph Smith of the Mormons, or the Watchtower leaders, or Herbert W. Armstrong is, in the minds of their followers, no different from attacking themselves personally. It is not possible to criticise the teachings of the leader of a cult without being accused of attacking the leader personally.
"The Bible completely refutes this. When Paul attacked Peter for teaching false doctrine Peter did not, as the then leading Apostle, throw the book at Paul or threaten him with excommunication, did he? Peter had to take the flak that was coming to him. Paul wasn't attacking Peter personally, only his false doctrine which was misleading new Christian converts from paganism and making his job so much harder.
"Tell me, Hanna, what would have happened in the Wordwide Church of God if one of the Pastors started attacking Armstrong's teachings and excommunicating those who accepted Armstrong's teachings from the local congregation?"
"He'd be thrown out of the Church!" spluttered Hanna. "Of course he would!"
"Then why," said Stan, "wasn't Diotrephes excommunicated by the Apostle John for refusing to allow the apostles to visit his congregation and for excommunicating the followers of John? You'll find the account in John's Third Epistle."
Hanna was speechless.
"Do you see now, Hanna, how different the New Testament Church was from WCG, the Mormon Church, and the JW's? These three organisations are founded on the cult of personality and leave no room for honest, loving criticism without the threat of excommunication. True, if we criticise a leader we must do so in a manner becoming Christians - without malice, patiently and in love. And we must be absolutely sure that we are biblically right before we do so..."
"Like when you went into that pentecostal Church when they were all praying in tongues simultaneously," chuckled Isabel, " and told them to stop?"
"He did that?" I asked astonished.
"Oh yes," said Isabel, "and I was so embarassed."
"Do tell me more!" I asked, astonished by Stan's audacity.
"Well," continued Isabel, "we walked into this huge Pentecostal Church in Warsaw. They were all talking in tongues and making a terrible din. Stan walked down the aisle, and just yelled, 'STOP!' Everyone was so surprised as this had never happened before. He then started reading from First Corinthians where Paul says that only two or three should speak in tongues in a meeting and then only one after another."
"What happened next??" I could hardly wait to hear the rest.
"Someone shouted at Stan," continued Isabel, "and he simply said that they were going against the Word of God and were sinning - that they should repent because they weren't true Bible-believing Christians. There was an uproar. I was really scared. People were yelling, calling him antichrist - the anger in some of their faces was frightening. For the first time I saw Satan in an evangelical meeting. And it wasn't to be the last time either. Anyway, some usshers physically picked Stan up and threw him out of the building."
"Wow," said Hanna, "Really?"
"Yes, it's true," said Stan. "And that's just my point. When you believe and practice something that isn't scriptural whilst claiming the Name of Christ you give demons the right to take up residence in you because you are in open rebellion against the Lord. It's a serious matter. And it's worse if the Word of God openly condemns you.
"Now Armstrong taught that all true believers eventually become God, a doctrine not unlike the teachings of the Mormons, and the same lie the serpent taught Eve in the Garden of Eden. There is only one God, the Bible teaches, and always will be. It does not teach that man will ever become God. It teaches that we shall be in covenant relationship to Him as an allegorical wife, eternally submitted to His rule. He may indeed exalt us to a very high position but we will never become God, which implies omnipotence."
The Spirit was beginning to pierce Hanna's demonic shield and her eyes were lighting up - they began to have that sparkle that I recognised in all true believers.
"It's exactly the same thing with polygamy. Polygamy is a biblical principle, sanctioned and blessed by God. But the monogamy-only people tell you it is a sin, thereby imputing sin to Yahweh. It's a terrible blasphemy which is why those who persecute polygamists are undoubtedly demon-infested. I've seen the sweetest, kindest believers suddenly transformed into monsters when polygamy is defended as Christian...."
"Just like those Pentecostals when you rebuked them for not obeying the Word," added Isabel.
"That's right. And remember that Paul said that one of the two key doctrines of devils in the last days would be forbidding biblical marriage and stopping believers from eating food that Yahweh has already declared to be clean in His Law, as when the Catholics forbid the eating of fish at Lent. Biblical marriage - marriage as defined by the Bible - is a man being married to one or more wives. The Catholics forbid their priests to marry and virtually the whole of Christendom forbids Christian men from marrying more than one woman simultaneously."
"Which means they are all demon-possessed!" exclaimed Hanna, astonished.
"No, I would not use the word 'possessed' - to be completely 'possessed' you would have to be deep into sin and willful rebellion. But we are all influenced by demons all the time. 'Demon-influenced' would be a better description. However, if a demon-influenced person is then led to commit a more serious sin like murder, then he would be well on the way to possession. And there is no doubt that the vast majority of Christendom is becoming more and more under Satan's control because they deliberately reject God's Word."
Stan looked deeply at Hanna whom I could see was frightened. "Hanna, do you see why you must now renounce the Worldwide Church of God?"
She nodded peevishly.
"Are you willing to do it right now and be free of the influences which have been creating such confusion in your mind, and to covenant to obey Yahweh in everything that He says in the Bible?"
"Yes," she said. "Yes, I am.". Hanna took a deep breath and said: "In the Name of Jesus Christ I renounce the Worldwide Church of God and its false teachings and practices, and I covenant to obey everything that the Bible teaches." She breathed out and smiled. "Is that it?"
"No, not quite." Stan looked deeply into Hanna's eyes. "Hélène, would you open the window, please?"
I did so. He carried on looking into Hanna's eyes and then, raising his right hand, and with a fierce look in his eyes said loudly:
"You demons associated with the false doctrines and practices of Herbert W. Armstrong, in the Name of Yah'shua the Messiah, I take power of you through His blood, and command you to leave Hanna this instant and go out of that window and completely away from this place. Amen!"
Hanna gave a deep groan, the window rattled, and the room suddenly felt light. Isabel looked worried for a secornd, afraid for her child, but then relaxed after I closed the window again. Stan smiled and took Hanna's hand.
"I feel as though I could float!" squealed Hanna. "I feel so....free!" and started laughing.
She put her other hand over Stan's and started biting her lower lip. Her mood suddenly grew serious again.
"Can I talk with you?" she said. "Alone?"
"If it concerns me or my family, then I would rather you spoke here in front of Isabel and Hélène," he replied softly, knowing what it was she was going to talk about.
She bowed her head, as though in shame: "I would rather talk to you alone....."
I could see that Isabel was sympathetic to Hanna and was trying to find a diplomatic solution: "If you all don't mind, I'd like to sleep. I feel very tired now," she said. Stan took the hint and we three plus Tom left.
"I'm going to rest a while too," I said. "Tom has woken up quite a bit during this last hour-and-a-half and needs to sleep, so I'm off to my room. I'll see you all later for Bible study this evening," and left before Stan could protest. It wasn't often that we scored against Stan, and perhaps it was wrong of us, but I felt that Hanna really did need to be alone with him. Sometimes Stan could miss the boat when it came to what we really needed and so we wives found various methods to ensure that the right thing was done. I could see that Stan was a little embarrassed by our summary withdrawal especially as he had been so insistent that we remain. It was a rebellious act on our part and I apologised to him later. A wife should do as her husband asks of her. Stan would not, however, make a mountain into a molehill and decided that the best solution was to acceed to us. He knew, and we knew, that it wasn't a just question of his having his way with us all the time but more what was right, and sometimes in those grey zones it is not always possible to tell which is which. So Hanna went with Stan to his room to tell her little secret with him which none of us had guessed beforehand.
This page was first created in 2002
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