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The House That Herbert Built
The Worldwide Church Of God


he Worldwide Church Of God is a church that was founded decades ago by the late Herbert W Armstrong. A unique blend of British-Israelism, Seventh Day Sabbatarianism, and a return to the observance of Old Testament holy days, the WCOG held a 'lesser deity' view of Jesus similar to the Jehovah's Witnesses. Pronounced a cult by the mainstream church, what some called Armstrongism flourished until the founder's demise. Among the most notable outreaches was the widely read magazine The Plain Truth. Utilizing this highly polished print media, the WCOG impacted millions.

When Herbert died, the church was rocked with revolution as would be successors fought for control. The original heir apparent, Herbert's son Garner Ted Armstrong had been thrown out over sexual improprieties. Joseph Tkach Sr, a prominent leader, had apparently been sympathetic to an attempted theological revolt that had occurred back in the 1970's. This group wanted to move the WCOG more towards mainstream denominational thinking. That attempted coup was put down by Armstrong, but Tkach was not implicated in the 'palace revolt.'

When Armstrong died, the new regime headed by Joseph Tkach Sr began to move the church towards orthodox Trinitarian theology with a re-assessment of the deity of Christ, a denial of the British-Israelite doctrine (one of the forerunners of today's Identity movement), and a repudiation of the WCOG's Sabbath and Feast day observance. In short, in what has been described as "the most momentous religious event of the decade," Mr Tkach has completely reversed course for the large organization.

The result was a series of schisms and breakaways in the huge organization. Herbert W Armstrongs's last book, The Mystery Of The Ages, was the catalyst for the inevitable confrontation. Completed just before Armstrong died, MOA was to be the doctrinal centerpiece of what had become a new denomination. Within 3 years of Armstrong's death, MOA was "declared obsolete" by the new leadership, and removed from circulation. By September of 1989, other Armstrong books were listed in church documents as "obsolete literature."

Various senior pastors, dismayed at the direction the church was taking, chose to confront the new leadership. Eventually, several groups would spin-off from the WCOG and draw away large numbers of former members by reaffirming the central doctrines that Armstrong had espoused. These include The Global Church Of God (GCOG) in San Diego, a 20,000 member group now called The United Church Of God (UCOG), and the Philadelphia Church Of God (PCOG-named after the church in Revelation 3 but based in Oklahoma). Garner Ted Armstrong also has a spin-off church. Each of these breakaways publishes a magazine that closely resembles the WCOG trademark publication, The Plain Truth. It has now been estimated The Worldwide Church Of God has lost over 80% of their members.

By 1995, the WCOG came under the leadership of Joseph Tkach Jr who had been in leadership for many years. Mr Tkach Jr has aggressively continued in his father's reformation process. After the church pulled Armstrong's intended doctrinal statement the Mystery Of The Ages, a senior pastor named Gerald Flurry wrote a scathing denunciation of the doctrinal changes, including labeling the WCOG as the modern manifestation of "the church of Laodicea." Flurry was promptly fired and went on to lead the spin-off Philadelphia Church Of God, with that written WCOG criticism becoming the group's doctrinal basis as a book entitled Malachi's Message. Flurry and the other groups wanted Armstrong's final work, the Mystery Of The Ages, to serve as a broader statement of their belief system, but the Worldwide Church still controlled the copyright.

Joseph Tkach Jr and the other WCOG sought to bury the Armstrong title and refused to print or distribute it in any way. They now believe the doctrines of their founder are heretical, so they wish to suppress that work because they feel a sense of responsibility to make amends for their prior involvement in those doctrines.

In January of 1997, Flurry's Philadelphia COG reprinted The Mystery Of The Ages without any copyright permission, drawing a predictable lawsuit from the WCOG for copyright infringement. Thus, the stage was set for one of the most interesting legal cases involving religion for a long time. The PCOG feels they should have the right to print and distribute a religious document that their leadership and members were instrumental in supporting for many years while they were under the WCOG banner. The WCOG is in the awkward position of not wanting to profit financially (even though they need the money) from a book they feel is spiritually deadly and thus should be suppressed.

The California based WCOG first filed suit against the Oklahoma based PCOG in LA, asking a judge to temporarily restrain publication of MOA while the matter was adjudicated. The judge not only refused to enjoin the publication of the book, he clearly indicated that he thought the WCOG would lose this case in spite of the fact the WCOG corporation clearly owns the copyright. The PCOG maintains that the WCOG leadership "conspired" to betray the trust placed in them by Armstrong and even lied to come to power so they would be in a position to change the doctrines and move the church away from its original belief -- and various evidences are surfacing that indicate the WCOG leadership was considerably less than forthright about their doctrinal intentions.

The PCOG subpoenaed the WCOG for internal documents showing the metamorphosis of their theology & the WCOG procrastinated in responding. At the last minute before a crucial hearing, the WCOG unexpectedly dropped the entire suit. Shortly thereafter, they refiled a similar suit in Oklahoma. The PCOG countersued the WCOG claiming their opponents were "forum shopping" and filed in Oklahoma because they thought the LA judge would rule against them. They further attack WCOG's claim they suffered "irreparable damage" through the printing of a book they have no use for. The WCOG claim on any "gains, profits, revenue, donations and advantages" accrued from the printing of MOA is further complicated by the fact the PCOG has been giving the book away free of charge to anyone that requests it.

In June 1997, the WCOG abruptly dropped the Oklahoma suit, but continued to defend against the counter-claim of the PCOG. Shortly thereafter, the Oklahoma judge decided the case should be in California after all, and transferred the suit back to the original judge in Los Angeles! The lawyers are lovin' it!

In the midst of all this, Tkach and the other WCOG leaders cozied up to Hank Hanegraaff and the Christian Research Institute, former critics of the church. CRI considers itself to be the religious police of evangelical Christianity, but they can't see the 'beam' named Hanegraaff that has clouded their vision. They heartily endorsed the new WCOG and carried an extensive radio interview on the oxymoronically titled Hanegraaff broadcast The Bible Answer Man. CRI sought to characterize the WCOG as having become a great Christian church and urged their listeners to support the WCOG and subscribe to the newly reformed Plain Truth Magazine. (See the ProFile book Hank Hanegraaff and CRI available from Christian Media).

Meanwhile, each of the WCOG spin-offs are evolving on their own doctrinal paths with various differences, but largely based on the original Armstrong tenets. Space does not permit a lengthy theological discussion of all of Armstrong's doctrinal traits, but a brief treatment is in order.

First and foremost, the conflict brought to light the fact that each of the churches is incorporated and holding (or applying for) 501(c)(3) federal licenses to preach their version of the Gospel. This single fact marks the entire movement, including the splinter groups as false. 2nd, it's clear that Satan is having a field day as he reconfigures the basic scriptural errors and seeks to encourage the falsehoods while diminishing the doctrinal issues the WCOG rightly held. For example, we've already written on the British-Israelite doctrine that says the white race is descended from the so-called "lost tribes" of Israel (see the ProFile book Recognizing Christian Identity for a thorough refutation of this doctrine).

The Russellite 'lesser God' approach to Jesus espoused by Herbert W Armstrong was a clear error, and a crucial one as the deity of Christ is central to salvation -- see John 8:24. Conversely, the abandonment of the Sabbath and the warm fellowship centered around the WCOG feast days meetings greatly diminished the power of the movement. By embracing CRI and Hank Hanegraaff, the "new and improved" WCOG showed they have become like all the other non-prophet state churches. Indeed, had they followed our Lord's admonition to "agree with thine adversary quickly whiles thou art in the way with him; lest at any time the adversary deliver thee to the judge" they wouldn't have brought their suit against the PCOG in the first place.

Furthermore, the very concept of seeking to suppress the other group's teachings by burying the Armstrong book the Mystery Of The Ages (as flawed as it is) simply reeks of the Babylonian whore that is notorious for persecuting her theological opponents. It is hypocritical at best, and apostate at worst to spend their time persecuting their former associates. Pleae note how the WCOG is the one that brought the suit to the Beast government in the first place as they sought to use the power of Caesar to reinforce their theological authority.

Conversely, the various spin-offs have many errors of their own. The most serious is in its denial of the full deity of Jesus Christ. The reliance or lack of reliance on holy days is a mixed bag, and it's difficult to analyze each group's level of discernment on issues like the Sabbath.

Sabbath keeping is a biblical approach to abiding in the vine, but an unbalanced approach that seeks to supplant the grace involved in salvation is also in error. We agree with and applaud the intense efforts on the part of these fellowships to come out of the Babylonian religious celebrations of Christmas, Ishtar Sunday, and other pagan practices the world Christians have defiled themselves with. Unfortunately, each of them has missed a crucial understanding relating to their very structure as their government sanctioned incorporation has entangled them with the very beast they all say they oppose. We pray that the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, will reveal Himself to each group in His own inimitable way, and they will follow the narrow path to Salvation in Jesus Christ.

-- James Lloyd



See Also

Recognizing Christian Identity

Hank Hanegraaff And The Christian Research Institute

 

 

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