The Worldwide Church of God (WCG), with headquarters in Pasadena, California,
was officially begun in Oregon in late-1933/early-1934 by Herbert W. Armstrong
(1892-1986) (originally called "The Radio Church of God" -- changed
to WCG in 1968). (The
"original" WCG should not be confused with the organization "The Church of God
International" in Tyler,
Texas, founded in 1978 by Herbert
Armstrong's "disfellowshipped" son, Garner Ted Armstrong.) Once a very
large organization with a huge media impact, Armstrongism has waned in recent
years. At its peak, Armstrong's radio/television broadcast, "The World
Tomorrow," aired on more than 446 television and radio stations, but was eliminated
in 1994 and replaced with spot ads and a two-minute time-slot radio
program. Armstrong's grossly misnamed magazine, The Plain Truth,
peaked at a monthly distribution of more than eight million, but has since fallen
to less than 100,000 (and will probably decrease even further with its 1997
change from a free to a paid subscription basis).
In The Plain Truth magazine of January 1959, Armstrong claimed that "on the first Sunday of 1934" his radio ministry "was the initial start-off event of the fulfilling of some 90% of all the prophecies in the Bible!" (The Plain Truth, 1/59, p. 3). Furthermore, when Armstrong's broadcast "leaped to Europe" in 1953, he claimed that the Gospel "went to Europe for the first time in 18-1/2 centuries" (The Philadelphia Trumpet, 2/64, p. 46). By the mid-seventies, Armstrong was widely proclaiming himself God's apostle for the last days. (In 1979, the state of California placed the church in receivership under allegations of financial abuses by church leaders. After lengthy court battles, the courts removed the church from receivership.) Thus, Armstrong viewed himself to be the "endtime Elijah," the "restorer" of "truths lost to the Church," and "God's apostle" for the "Philadelphia era." (See Armstrong's summarial history in his Mystery of the Ages volume, which he published at age 94 and regarded as virtually inspired. He said, "I feel I myself did not write it. Rather, I believe God used me in writing it.")
The WCG's membership peaked at about 145,000 during Armstrong's lifetime. The group still claims about 67,000 members in about 100 countries in more than 950 congregations served by more than 1,400 pastors, but its active membership is closer to 40,000. At one time, income for the group totaled more than $200 million a year, but fell to about $70 million in 1984 after the loss of a $1.3 million defamation suit; income is currently down to an annualized $28 million (for the first eight months of 2001 -- also, expenses exceeded revenues by $4 million during this period). In 1988, the WCG claimed to have mailed 127 million pieces of literature; in 1991, it reported only 11.4 million, an 80% reduction! It is estimated that 2001 mailings will be less than five million. (In addition to The Plain Truth, the WCG also publishes The Worldwide News in the U.S., the British Plain Truth in Great Britain, and Northern Light in Canada.)
The WCG still owns 51 acres of land in Pasadena, along with 72 buildings, but the entire property is up for sale. (Employees at Pasadena headquarters have fallen from 1,000 to 150. Even some pastors have been terminated and lay pastors appointed for small congregations.) The WCG also sold Ambassador College/University, an accredited, coeducational, liberal-arts undergraduate institution founded in 1947 (which had an enrollment of about 1,200 in its heyday), located in Big Sandy, Texas (about 100 miles east of Dallas) -- the WCG closed the facility at the end of the 1996-1997 school year (5/97), and sold all the properties. At that time, the WCG brought the Ambassador students into a working relationship with Azusa Pacific University along with Fuller Theological Seminary (two theologically liberal institutions) (1/21/97, The Worldwide News, p. 1).
Just prior to Armstrong's death in 1986, Joseph W. Tkach, Sr., assumed the title of "Pastor General" of the WCG. (Tkach died in September, 1995, at the age of 68. He was succeeded by his son, Joseph Tkach, Jr.) Since the 1986 leadership change, observers of the cult's affairs can list some 40 changes in WCG's doctrines, as well as a withdrawal from circulation of a number of Armstrong's written works. The leadership of the WCG has issued a new statement of faith which, on the surface, appears to accept traditional Bible doctrine in many areas. The major changes are toward a more orthodox position on the Trinity and salvation through the grace of God alone and not through good deeds. The WCG has also declared that tithing and observing the Sabbath are no longer mandatory. [Of the Sabbath, it says, "Though physical Sabbath keeping is not required for Christians, it is the tradition and practice of the Worldwide Church of God to hold its weekly worship service on the seventh-day Sabbath (Saturday)."] And though the WCG continues to hold annual festivals based on the Old Testament feasts, they no longer claim that these are binding upon Christians. (Despite the doctrinal changes, many still question the sincerity of the WCG leadership in making them -- see note below.)
Due to the doctrinal and practical changes brought in by the new leadership, Joseph Tkach Jr. lists 104 organizations that have splintered from the Worldwide Church of God to form separate entities. (There were approximately 350 pastors in the Worldwide Church of God as of 2/95, but more than 40% of these ministers had resigned or been terminated because they could not accept the church's movement toward so-called mainstream Christianity; with new additions, however, as of 11/01 there were 334 WCG pastors in the U.S.) These dissident-formed breakaway churches include the Global Church of God; the Philadelphia Church of God; the United Church of God; Triumph Prophetic Ministries (Church of God); and Christian Churches of God. To various degrees, all these continue to promote Armstrongism. (See Notes below on the Philadelphia Church of God and the United Church of God.)
Without doubt, under the new leadership, the legalism of this cult has been moderated. Gone are the prohibitions against the use of cosmetics, celebrating birthdays and holidays, seeking medical treatment, and interracial marriage. However, when examining the WCG's new doctrinal statement, one has trouble considering it to be an Evangelical, much less Fundamentalist statement on basic doctrines -- namely, the Scriptures. For example, the WCG depicts the Bible as "the fully reliable record of God's revelation to humanity." One can ask if the Bible is "God's revelation to humanity" or is it just a "record" of it? A reliable record to tell us about God's revelation is not the same as God's revelation. A Fundamentalist would declare that "the Bible is God's revelation of His Person, His works, and His will for humanity." Since there are other cases like this, it is still uncertain as to exactly what the membership of the new and reconstituted WCG truly believes, and how the defections will affect the continued existence of the original group. (Glancing at some of the articles in recent issues of The Worldwide News, one's hopes for the WCG's doctrinal correctness are not bolstered -- articles ranged from praise of Martin Luther King, Jr., to an account of the encouragement of self-love and self-esteem at a WCG woman's conference, to a psychologically-oriented article on how to cope with the pain from childhood abuse.)
Therefore, what is presented below are the highlights of what the Worldwide
Church of God officially believed, pre-1994 (and what most
of the breakaway groups continue to believe), compared with the WCG under Tkach,
concerning the Godhead,
salvation, heaven and hell, and prophecy. [See the following articles for an up-to-date analysis of the WCG's doctrinal positions: (1) David Cloud
"What is Happening With the Worldwide Church of God; (2) "The
Two Faces of the Worldwide Church of God,"
1Q97, PFO Quarterly Journal;
and (3) "Transforming
the Truth – The Worldwide Church of God Continues to 'Make' History,'"
3Q98, PFO Quarterly Journal.]:
1. God/Holy Spirit/The Trinity. (under Armstrong) -- "The Hebrew for God is Elohim, a uniplural noun, such as the words family, church, group ... And so, in truth, God is not merely one personage or even limited to a 'Trinity,' but is a family" (The Good News, February, 1979, p. 1). "The doctrine of the Trinity is false ... Elohim is the divine family -- only one family, but more than one divine Person ... So the eternal Father is a Person, and is God. Jesus Christ is a different Person -- and is God. They are two separate and individual Persons ..." (The Missing Dimension In Sex, p. 32). Also, the Holy Spirit is not a person, but an active force emanating from God. Armstrong taught that the Bible reveals "two Personages coexisted and nothing else did. No third Person is mentioned -- no 'Ghost'" (Mystery of the Ages, p. 37). One argument for why the Holy Spirit is not a person comes from an interpretation of Acts 2:18 and 10:45. These verses say that the Holy Spirit is poured out. Armstrong reasons that a person cannot be poured out, "The Holy Spirit, like water or a fluid, can be 'poured out.' Can you pour out a person from one into another -- as from God into those assembled there?" (Ibid., p. 47).
God/Holy Spirit/The Trinity. (under Tkach) -- "Do let me summarize, and I hope to make
this crystal clear. Our old literature taught that there are two god beings in
one God Family, each composed of Holy Spirit. That teaching, which implied that
there are two Gods, is not biblical. The Bible
teaches that there is one God, not two. "The Bible does not teach that God
is a family name, with two God Beings in that family right now, and billions to
come later. The Bible teaches that the one and same God is Father, Son, and Holy
Spirit" (Pastor General's Report, July 27, 1993, p. 4).
2. Christ. (under Armstrong) -- Claims that before Jesus was conceived by Mary, He was not the Son of God, and therefore, is not equal with God the Father -- Jesus only became a Son of God by His resurrection. It is also claimed that the Blood of Christ does not finally save anyone, but it saves merely from the death penalty of sin. "Christ is the Yahweh of the Old Testament" (The Plain Truth, Jan., 1955, p. 7). "Hence, we see that He was not the 'Son' of God until He was born of the virgin Mary" (The Plain Truth, July/August, 1955, p. 4). "The Satan inspired doctrine that Jesus was not human, that He did not inherit the sinful nature of Adam, that He did not have all the normal human passions and weaknesses against which all of us have to struggle ... this is the doctrine of the antichrist" (Ibid.). "Now notice carefully God the Father did not cause Jesus Christ to get back into the body which had died" (The Plain Truth, April, 1963, p. 10).
Christ. (under Tkach) -- "Was Jesus the God of the Old Testament?
Since God is one, what is the point of asking who the God of the Old Testament was? The
answer ... has to be 'The one and
only true God. Who else?'" (Review on the Nature of God, p. 5).
"The Son of God is one of the three hypostases of the one God. Therefore,
the Son of God hypostasis is eternal" (Pastor General Report, Oct.
1993). "From God's standpoint, there was no possibility that Christ might
sin, ..." (Pastor General Report, Jan. 22, 1991). "Jesus
Christ clearly showed to his disciples that after his resurrection, He still
had the body He had before His death" (The Plain Truth, April
1994, p. 19).
3. Salvation. (under Armstrong) -- Claims that salvation is by faith, but that it also requires works, and as such, water baptism is essential for salvation. Actually, there are as many as six steps necessary for salvation: repentance, faith, baptism, receiving the Holy Spirit, obedience, and resurrection (the "new birth"). Since "obedience" is one of the required steps for salvation, a disciple of Armstrongism can never be secure in this life -- one can be converted in this life, but salvation will have to await a future resurrection (cf. Acts 16:31; Eph. 4:30; 1 John 5:13). [Armstrong claimed that the true Gospel had been lost to the world from A.D. 70 until it was restored by God through Herbert W. Armstrong in 1934.] "We are saved by GRACE, and through faith -- make no mistake about that; but -- there are conditions! ... People have been taught, falsely, that 'Christ completed the Plan of Salvation on the Cross' -- when actually it was only begun there. The popular denominations have taught, 'Just BELIEVE -- that's all there is to it; believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you are that instant saved! That teaching is false!" (All About Water Baptism, p. 2, 1954 edition). "... Jesus gave them the final GOSPEL COMMISSION ... He commanded baptism as an obligatory ordinance for this Gospel dispensation: ... it is 'he that is baptized' that shall be saved. It's part of the divine Commission -- a required ordinance for salvation!" (Ibid., p. 5). "Now water baptism is a required CONDITION to receive the Holy Spirit" (Ibid., p. 8). "But now see how God's Spirit entering and dwelling in one compares to the physical sperm impregnating the ovum -- the imparting of eternal SPIRIT life, later to produce ... a SPIRIT PERSON! ... Life from the Father has been imparted to it ... but neither embryo nor fetus is YET a born person. In the same manner the Spirit-begotten human is not, yet, a SPIRIT PERSON ..." (Just What Do You Mean ... BORN AGAIN, p. 17, 1972 ed.). Armstrong taught that a believer could lose salvation by disobeying what Armstrong declared to be "God's command through His chosen Apostle." He wrote, "Do you want to let resentment against God's government over you NOW disqualify you -- snatch you from God's GRACE and PURPOSE for you, and cast you into a lake of fire?" (Dear Brethren Letter, May 2, 1974, p. 7).
Salvation. (under Tkach) -- "The gospel of the Kingdom of God is the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ" (The Worldwide News, August 11, 1992, p. 4). "Our hope of the future, the time when we will receive the fullness of our inheritance, is made all the more real to us as we truly enter into and participate in the new life to which God has called us in Christ right now" (The Worldwide News, October 6, 1992, p. 1). "... forgiveness is not a result of baptism. Jesus forgave sins without having to perform a baptism. So when does a believer receive the Holy Spirit? When a person believes, he or she is 'in Christ,' sealed with the Holy Spirit" (Reviews You Can Use, November/December, 1993, pp. 21, 22). Yet Tkach has also taught that believers can lose their salvation by not being overcomers: "Salvation is one thing but overcoming is another. And if we are not interested in overcoming, you can rest assured that salvation is not going to be there. Salvation is a present possession. However, it does not mean once saved always saved in any way, shape or form. You have to overcome and endure to the end" (Joseph Tkach Sr., "Feast of Tabernacles," Sept. 30, 1993). "If the Christian remains faithful and does not turn away from God, his salvation remains firm and secure. In that sense, 'once saved always saved' is right" (Pastor General Report, May 15, 1990).
4. Sabbath. (under Armstrong) -- The Jewish Sabbath must be observed to maintain one's salvation. Also required is the keeping of the feasts and other aspects of the Old Testament Law (cf. Col. 2:16,17).
Sabbath. (under Tkach) -- Sabbath-keeping is no longer required for salvation. Also, it is now alright to work on the Sabbath for a brief period of time. The Sabbath
(Saturday) is still the WCG day of corporate worship.
5. Being Born Again. Claims that the term "born again" refers to a physical resurrection, not to spiritual birth -- "receiving" Christ merely means to be "conceived." Claims also that Jesus Christ had to be born again.
6. Second Chance for Salvation. (under Armstrong) -- Those who "missed the chance" to believe in this life will be given a second chance in the next life -- that they will be resurrected at the close of the Millennium and given another opportunity to believe the Gospel (cf. Rom. 2:12-15; 2 Cor. 6:2; Heb. 9:27; Rev. 20:11-15).
Second Chance for Salvation. (under Tkach) -- The WCG still teaches
a variation of the "second chance" principle -- the unbiblical concept of "postmortem evangelization": "It is
the belief of the Worldwide Church of God that the Lord has made righteous
provision in the Judgment for the unevangelized dead, and that many will respond
to their risen and glorified Savior in faith and be saved, while the rest will
be condemned" (11/2001, WCG Internet web site).
7. Heaven and Hell. (under Armstrong) -- Denies the Biblical promise of heaven for believers. Instead, believers will spend eternity with Christ on earth. Likewise, hell is reserved for Satan and his demons only, while the wicked are annihilated; i.e., they do not suffer eternal torment in the lake of fire (cf. Rev. 19:20; 20:10; Matt. 25:46).
Heaven and Hell. (under Tkach) -- The new WCG still rejects the
Biblical concept of eternal punishment.
8. Soul Sleep. Claims that the soul is mortal; i.e., it will die, and that there is no conscious existence between death and resurrection. (This is the same teaching as the Jehovah's Witnesses and the Seventh-Day Adventists -- cf. Lk. 16:19-31; 2 Cor. 5:1-8; Phil. 1:23,24; 1 Thes. 4:14.)
9. Forced Tithing. (under Armstrong) -- Tithing is required, and on special occasions, giving a tithe of the tithe of the tithe (i.e., a three-tithe, 30% system).
Tithing. (under Tkach) -- Tithing is not part of the New
Covenant and Christians are not obligated to obey tithing laws.
But when income dropped, the WCG was quick to explain that the
new doctrine means members are not restricted to giving only 10
percent of their income (i.e., they should now be giving more).
This amounts to no real change because the WCG under Armstrong also told
members to not only pay their tithes, but to give generous
offerings besides. Further, the new WCG has returned to the old
manipulative techniques of telling members that God will bless
them for giving, God commands them to give, and the WCG, with its
unique ministry, is in financial need.
10. British Israelism/Anglo-Israelism. (under Armstrong) -- Views the "lost ten tribes" of Israel as the key to prophecy. Claims that "Judah" and "Israel" always refer to the two separate nations, and that inhabitants of Great Britain are of the tribe of Ephraim, while the inhabitants of America are of the tribe of Manasseh. (Armstrong never did explain how a Britisher, by immigrating to the U.S., moves from the tribe of Ephraim to the tribe of Manasseh.) Claims that white Anglo-Saxons are the chosen people of God.
British Israelism/Anglo-Israelism. (under Tkach) -- Late-1995, the church officially rejected the doctrine that the Anglo-Saxons descended from the tribes of Israel
* Unless otherwise cited, four primary sources were used for this report: (1) "The Worldwide Church of God," Phillip Arnn (Watchman Fellowship Profile, 1996); (2) "The Philadelphia Church of God," Tim Martin (Watchman Fellowship, 2001); (3) "The Worldwide Church of God's Orthodox Bandwagon," 3Q98, PFO Quarterly Journal; and (4) "Transforming the Truth – The Worldwide Church of God Continues to 'Make History'," 3Q98, PFO Quarterly Journal;
Note on the Sincerity of WCG Doctrinal Changes: Throughout the WCG "transformation," an issue that needs careful consideration is: Are the changes mere external representations or true internal persuasions? Robert L. Sumner astutely noted that the Worldwide Church of God's "changes seem more convenience than conviction!" In his 1997 article, "Is Armstrong's Cult Now Orthodox?," he writes:
"While going through their alleged metamorphous from a worm to a butterfly, the leaders repeatedly changed and modified their statements to please their 'guides.' For example, in the matter of the Trinity, especially as it related to the Holy Spirit, they would agree among themselves as to a position, then go to those whom they were trying to please, saying, 'How is this?' The latter would reply, 'It doesnt go far enough.' So they would go back to the drawing board and make suggested changes, then return to ask, 'Now what do you think?' That kind of 'doctoring doctrine' is not the stuff of which true Bible believers are made, nor the stuff that may be called orthodox conviction" (The Biblical Evangelist, Nov.-Dec. 1997, p. 7; and reprinted in a 2000 Biblical Evangelism Press booklet, pp. 10-11).
Two more disturbing issues further give pause: The church's continued kinship to its founder, Herbert W. Armstrong, and its conviction that its past doctrine and practice did not separate it from the Body of Christ.
Concerning the former, much is being made by the
church's hierarchy that critics will not be satisfied until
the bones of Herbert W. Armstrong are exhumed and burned. This is
a grave overstatement, to say the least. All should be deeply
concerned by the continued claims and allusions to Armstrong "as a minister of Jesus Christ." It is inconceivable to
us as to the amount of false doctrine, false prophecy, and abusive
practices of this man which has had to be altered and/or
camouflaged, and for this organization to continue to promote him
with such reverence.
The most important reason for caution is Matthew 7:15-20. Jesus identified cultic and aberrational groups as "false prophets." He said we would know them by their fruit (v. 16) and that a rotten tree does not produce good fruit (v. 18). Yet the WCG's leadership today is telling us that the "church" is capable of producing good fruit. It has had to rework and relegate its "bad tree" history into a "good tree" image, which just needs a little care and some pruning and fertilizer. Yet Jesus said, "Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire" (v. 19). He did not tell us to coddle, prune, and nurture it.
Source: Excerpted and/or adapted from "The Worldwide Church of God's Orthodox Bandwagon," 3Q98, PFO Quarterly Journal. [Back to Text]
Note on the Philadelphia Church of
Armstrongism is being perpetuated in a very effective and broad manner by the
"Philadelphia Church of God" splinter founded in 1989 and headquartered in
Edmond, Oklahoma. The Oklahoma "splinter" is headed by Gerald Flurry,
a devotee of Herbert Armstrong, who was "fired" by the Pasadena group
"for disagreement with the new direction" taken by Armstrong's
appointed successor, Joseph W. Tkach, Sr. (The Philadelphia Trumpet,
1/97, p. 17). Flurry and about a dozen others launched the Philadelphia Church
of God "on the Sabbath [Sat.] of December 16, 1989 in a home," and has
since risen to 6,000 members in 115 countries, presumably including many long-time followers of Armstrong who also rejected the
"changes" of the Pasadena headquarters.
The Philadelphia group publishes the monthly The Philadelphia Trumpet (circulation of about 80,000), which replicates Armstrong's The Plain Truth, and True Education, a quarterly magazine for youth. Flurry regards the late founder as being the "endtime Elijah" of "Bible prophecy." Flurry is not only totally dedicated to the claims and teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong, his speaking manner is very much imitative of the alleged "endtime Elijah." He alleges that the original Worldwide Church of God has now made "40 major doctrinal changes" from the "truths restored to the church through Mr. Armstrong" (TPT, 1/97, p. 18). A booklet entitled WCG Doctrinal Changes and the Tragic Results is published by the Flurry-led sect, and is being used to "recall" old Armstrongites who accept the "restored truths lost to the Church over the centuries ... restored to the Church during Mr. Armstrong's ministry" (TPT, 12/96, p. 24).
Flurry has imitated the ministry of Armstrong in other ways. Similar to the old The World Tomorrow television program, Flurry airs a weekly television program called the Key
of David. "The program is broadcast to over 400 million worldwide." The Key of David program offers
numerous free books on their web site. Most of these books are written by Flurry, but several are from Armstrong
and Steven Flurry (Gerald Flurry's son). Flurry began republishing Armstrong's
books, but was challenged in court by the WCG. A Federal court ordered Flurry to
cease publication of the Armstrong material in September, 2000.
Flurry follows Armstrong's theories as closely as any of the dead leader's followers. British-Israelism, Sabbath keeping, "keeping the Ten Commandments" as a condition of salvation, baptism as a condition of salvation, and similar departures from "orthodoxy" are as much a part of "Flurryism" as "Armstrongism." Flurry remarks, "If Mr. Armstrong was right in that statement [declaring himself the "endtime Elijah"], then those words flowed right out of the mind of the living, all-powerful GOD!" (TPT, 2/97, p. 1). Flurry's own "Malachi's Message" has been used to "warn" the apostatized Armstrongites of what he calls the "Philadelphia era." (Source: Bob Ross, Pilgrim Publications, 2/97.)
Armstrong's death, Flurry has taught that the Bible prophesied that the WCG
would change direction as it did. However,
this is not to say that the truth would be lost. "If God's Church goes astray, Christ rebukes it. If they fail to repent, then He removes the lamp and raises up another
Church or Work." Obviously, Flurry believes
that "other church" is the Philadelphia Church of
a public address, Flurry stated that Armstrong fulfilled the role depicted in
Matthew 24:14: "And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the
whole world ..." And that the subsequent verse describes the successor to the
WCG, Joseph Tkach
Sr.: "so when you see standing in the holy place the abomination that
causes desolation ..." Tkach
is standing in the holy place because he became the Pastor General of the WCG
after Armstrong died. He is the
abomination of desolation because he changed the doctrines that Armstrong
According to Flurry, the time between Armstrong's death and Flurry's reestablishing the truth is depicted in Daniel 8. Verse 14 indicates that 2,300 evenings and mornings will pass before the sanctuary would be cleansed. After explaining that 2,300 actually refers to 1,150 days, Flurry reveals that this was the time period in between Armstrong's death and the writing of his book, Malachi's Message To God's Church Today. Finally, God is testing his people with the changes in the WCG: "God's church has been flooded with His precious truth. Now God is going to see if we JUST TALK about faith -- or REALLY LIVE BY FAITH -- by His word. Do we remember what we were taught and live by it?" [Return to Text]
Note on the United Church of God: In June of 1995, a group of the WCG's highest-ranking pastors, with 12,000 members, organized a new denomination called the United Church of God. This new church -- announced at the close of a four-day conference in Indianapolis -- is headed by David Hulmes of Pasadena, who resigned from the WCG after 23 years as an evangelist and director of its Ambassador Performing Arts Foundation. The new United Church of God now has more than 360 churches in 43 countries (230 in the U.S.), and claims approximately 20,000 members. It also airs a weekly radio broadcast in 11 media markets ("Good News Radio"), and publishes Good News Magazine, a bimonthly magazine. [Back to Text]
What is Happening With the Worldwide Church of God?**
Many well-known evangelical leaders and cult watch organizations have
accepted the leadership of the new Worldwide Church of God as brothers in Christ
and have called for acceptance of the organization. Hank Hanegraaff, President
of the Christian Research
Institute, has been glowing in his praise of the
changes which have occurred in the WCG. An article in the 10/2/95 Christianity
Today was very positive toward the "post-Armstrong Worldwide Church
of God." The article noted that the reformed WCG has been accepted by
faculty from Regent College, Fuller Seminary, and Azusa Pacific University [all
liberal institutions]. David Neff, an editor of Christianity Today, bewailed the fact that
many Christians have been slow to receive the WCG with open arms: "Sadly,
Christians outside the WCG have been suspicious and slow to extend the right
hand of fellowship." [The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE)
has also accepted the new WCG with full membership status.]
Though the leadership of the WCG has officially restated their doctrine in a more Biblical fashion, it is impossible to know how many of its members still cling to Armstrongism. A 1995 report by Phillip Arnn in The Watchman Expositor noted that Tkach's call for WCG ministers to preach the new doctrinal position on the Trinity has been met by hostility: "One of those changes was a bombshell dropped in July of 1993 with the adoption of 'a form of the Trinity' as the official statement on the nature of God. Although the change has been in effect for over a year, many field ministers have failed to explain the new position to their church members. ... Armstrong taught that the Trinity doctrine was false, and God was a family. Ministers and members were taught that God was reproducing Himself and they had the potential to become Gods themselves. THE CHANGE HAS BEEN MET WITH HOSTILITY FROM MINISTERS AND MEMBERS ALIKE. ... Many are unwilling to give up the 'Truth' they received from Armstrong. Watchman has received numerous reports from members and ministers who are saying that they can not understand the New Covenant being preached by Tkach."
This fact must be taken into consideration when determining what position to take toward the reformed Worldwide Church of God. While at least some of the leaders today have rejected Armstrongism, many within its rank and file have not. It is a mixed multitude in every sense of the term.
WHAT ABOUT SALVATION?
Many things about the reformation occurring in the Worldwide Church of God are confusing. The first area of concern pertains to salvation. When were the members of the Worldwide Church of God born again? Since Armstrong plainly denied that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, and that works are a necessary part of salvation, they could not have been saved under Armstrong -- no person can be saved through a false doctrine of salvation.
If WCG members claim that they have always been saved, then they are not to be believed. That judgment is not mine. It is based on the testimony of the Word of God. Those who openly deny the testimony of Scripture, as Armstrong and his followers have done, prove that they are not taught of the Spirit (1 John 2:19,20). Now some Worldwide Church of God leaders are attempting to follow Bible doctrine. That is wonderful, but we still ask "When were they saved?" The Bible says they could not have been saved under Armstrongism. Doubtless, some members did not accept all of the tenants of Armstrongism, but it is also doubtless that most of the members did accept Armstrong's doctrines OR THEY WOULD NOT HAVE JOINED SUCH AN UNSCRIPTURAL MOVEMENT.
WHEN DID THIS STRANGE ENTITY, WITH ITS BLASPHEMOUS HERETICAL HISTORY, BECOME A TRUE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCH?
A second area of concern we have pertains to the Worldwide Church of God as a church. One has to wonder -- when did this strange entity, with its blasphemous heretical history, become a true New Testament church? The fact is that it was not a true church under Armstrong, and it is not a true church today. It is a religious organization, but it is not a New Testament church. We can understand how denominational structures can tentatively accept the WCG as a church, because the denominations themselves are unscriptural. It is not surprising that denominationally-minded men can accept the Worldwide Church of God as a "church," but we cannot. It is not a New Testament church. If the leaders of the WCG want to obey the Word of God, let them disband their unscriptural organization and exhort their members to get saved and to join sound churches. By attempting to reform an unscriptural organization which has such a wretched and apostate history, the leaders of the WCG are creating tremendous confusion.
MORE ECUMENICAL CONFUSION
As the WCG tries to evolve from its cultic position to one that is more orthodox, we soon find that they are being drawn in by the ecumenical/charismatic crowd. In the closing paragraphs of an article, Tkach says that, "We are grateful for those fellow Christians -- Hank Hanegraaff (Christian Research Institute, successor to Walter Martin), Ruth Tucker (a participant of Christians for Biblical Equality, an organization that puts women on the same par with men in the ministry), David Neff (Executive Editor of Christianity Today), William G. Brafford, and friends at Azusa Pacific University, Fuller Theological Seminary, Regent College and elsewhere -- who have extended the hand of fellowship to us as we sincerely seek to follow Jesus Christ." We will not question the sincerity of Tkach and the WCG, but we do question those with whom they have aligned themselves.
Christianity Today editor David Neff, after commending the WCG leadership for its courage in pursuit of truth, concluded his article on the WCG with the following words: "Can we now welcome their people into this transdenominational fellowship we call evangelicalism?" (Neff, "The Road to Orthodoxy," Christianity Today, Oct. 2, 1995). Therein lies the problem! Ecumenism in a nutshell, if you will. Neff's description of evangelicalism as "this transdenominational fellowship" is precisely what evangelicalism has become, and it is an utterly unscriptural concept.
Modern evangelicalism represented by Christianity Today and its sister publications and institutions is not following the Bible. It is following a philosophy called "New Evangelicalism" which was formulated 50 years ago by men who had rejected Biblical Christianity for a worldly-minded, positive-emphasis Christianity. Modern evangelicalism is proud of its intellectual accomplishments, but is spiritually blind. This same Christianity Today examined the teachings of Robert Schuller a few years ago and declared that he is not a heretic. This same Christianity Today has argued that the Roman Catholic Church should not be called a cult and that there is such a thing today as an "evangelical Catholic." This is an incredible lack of spiritual discernment. Modern evangelicalism will accept the reformed Worldwide Church of God as a genuine church, but that is not surprising.
It appears that the reformed Worldwide Church of God is going to fit right into the ecumenical movement of these last hours. The ecumenists will receive them and not be overly concerned about when or if they were born again, and the WCG will add just a little more confusion to an already confused ecumenical stew.
We conclude by repeating our earlier statement: If the leaders of the Worldwide Church of God want to obey the Word of God, let them disband their unscriptural organization and exhort their members to get saved by trusting the finished atonement of Jesus Christ and to join sound New Testament churches. By attempting to reform an unscriptural organization which has such a wretched and apostate history, the leaders of the WCG are creating tremendous confusion.
[** The above article ("What is Happening With the Worldwide Church of God") has been excerpted and/or adapted from an article (by the same name) in the 6/96, O Timothy, pp. 9-15 (David Cloud, editor).] [Return to Text]
A Personal Note from a Former Worldwide Church of God Member#
David Covington was a member of the WCG for 25 years and was in the full-time
ministry for five of those years. He was pastor of the Roanoke and Lynchburg,
Virginia, congregations and was a contributing writer to the WCG's Plain
Truth magazine. In May 1996, Covington resigned because, "after 19
months of addressing these issues with [the WCG's] administration, it became
apparent that I was actually enabling a sick system that does not desire genuine
change for Jesus."
Referring to pastor General Joe Tkach Jr., Mike Feazell, director of Church Administration, and Greg Albrecht, editor of The Plain Truth, Covington writes:
"... I am convinced you aren't even capable of seeing, much less addressing the genuine problems. I compare the 1996 WCG to a husband who used to beat his wife seven days a week and now has cut back to four. And, the wife is supposed to be satisfied with his progress! Worse still, he's holding seminars on domestic violence!"
Addressing why outside observers are reporting that genuine repentance has
taken place in the WCG, Covington points out, "These observers cannot
possibly understand what it is like to be a member of this church. They miss the
dynamics of this system which remains abusive."
Covington also points out continuing doctrinal problems: "The WCG still rejects the doctrine of eternal punishment, holds observances on the Jewish Sabbath and festivals ... and teaches as doctrine the debatable matter of post-mortem evangelization [i.e., those who are not saved in this life still have a chance to be saved in a future resurrection]. I would add that the abusive heretic, Herbert W. Armstrong, continues to be regarded as a minister of Jesus Christ." Covington also disputes the WCG's profit motive:
"I have long said that the WCG exists to perpetuate itself and profit its leaders. Observers might argue that this is not true of the new WCG as evidenced by the loss of members and income due to its doctrinal correction. But while employed by the WCG, I was told that the charges were being made to shed the cult image and to shift Plain Truth readership to a market more likely to donate. ... I know you [Tkach] say that you have lost members and income by the changes you have made. However, your power and prestige have not been abated. In fact, you have now had opportunity to speak before hundreds of denominational leaders, be interviewed on radio with James Kennedy and Hank Hanegraaff, obtain several book contracts, and that in addition to your planned radio program (and aforementioned pay increase). You did not possess anywhere near this kind of prominence before."
Covington concludes that he "... hope[s] that observers of the WCG will
begin to see the complexity of the issue of an abusive cult becoming a healthy,
orthodox church. It is not as simple as changing a few doctrines and mouthing
some evangelical sounding phrases."
[# This personal note has been excerpted and/or adapted from an article in the 1Q97, PFO Quarterly Journal: "The Two Faces of the Worldwide Church of God.]