February 1994 (AR54)
Editor: In the last issue of AR, I emphasized the many dramatic changes that have taken place in recent months in the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), Ambassador College, The Plain Truth magazine, and on The World Tomorrow telecast - the institutions founded by the late Herbert W. Armstrong. In this issue I mainly want to report on the amazing phenomenon of the growing number of WCG offshoots. However, before doing so I'd like to raise an important question: Of all the doctrinal changes taking place in the WCG now run by Pastor General Joseph W. Tkach, which one is the most significant?
One reader who recently wrote me said AR was over reporting on the Trinity issue and that we should be focusing more on the WCG's changing views on evolution. Some have thought we should be emphasizing the WCG's clear shift regarding the place of Jesus in defining the Gospel. Still others have suggested that the change in the WCG's approach to prophecy is the most important. While all of these views have merit, let me put forward my own suggestion - one that I have not yet seen made in any other publication. I believe the most significant change made in the WCG by the Tkach administration is this:
The Bible Is Being
Now, this may at first seem like an outlandish statement to make. After all, the WCG still quotes the Bible extensively, writes about it, quotes it in doctrinal statements, has members (some, at least) who study the Bible, and Mr. Tkach continually quotes from it in editorials and sermons.
Nevertheless, even though this change (like so many others) has not been overtly announced, it has taken place and one does not even have to "read between the lines" to see it. I first noticed the shift in the Tkach administration's position in the July 27, 1993 Pastor General's Report. On page one Pastor General Joseph Tkach makes this statement:
Before the God Is... booklet was published, I wrote to the Church explaining that the teaching we once held - that the destiny of human beings is to become Gods - was not one we could support theologically (or biblically, for that matter). At that time, I encouraged all members to read the new booklet carefully. [Tkach then goes on to write how many found the new booklet difficult to comprehend.]
Putting aside, for now, the distortion of HWA's teaching Tkach creates by using the word "Gods," let us just focus on one phrase: "was not one we could support theologically (or biblically, for that matter)." Please note the words I have italicized: "theologically OR biblically." Now, think for a moment - in all the history of the WCG - up until now - when was "theology" ever considered a basis for belief other than when it was "biblical theology"? With only one exception (discussed below), I can't recall any theological position that HWA's organization ever took that did not have at least an ostensibly biblical basis. Indeed, there are many of us who took theology classes at Ambassador College in years past who can distinctly recall that the WCG's position (often stated by reference to Rev. 22:18) was that we were not to produce theological positions that were not biblically based. There was no "theology OR biblical theology." There was just the latter.
Most seminarians understand the difference. Among academicians there is a distinction made between "natural theology" and "dogmatic theology." The former is usually defined as a branch of philosophy or metaphysics. A good example would be Aristotle's discussion of the "unmoved mover" - that is, the "uncaused cause" - what can rationally be described as the Creator God. (Here's the one HWA exception I alluded to above. HWA's booklet Seven Proofs God Exits would be viewed as an example of natural theology, and, indeed, many have recognized that that booklet's arguments came from various classical philosophers - even though one could also argue that those arguments are a priori within the Bible itself.) On the other hand, "dogmatic theology" refers not to a branch of philosophy, but to the dogmas or basic doctrines of a particular religion built upon that religion's first articles of faith. For example, in a religion such as fundamentalist Islam, the basis of their dogmatic theology Would be the Koran. Among fundamentalist Christians, the basis of dogmatic theology (what most of us have simply referred to as plain "theology") would be the Bible.
Many, if not most, individuals raised in a Protestant home simply assume that the Bible - often called "The Word of God" - is the basis of belief for all Christians. Nevertheless, while all Christians make some room in their theology for the Bible (or, at least, the New Testament), exactly what that place is often varies from denomination to denomination. Let me give but one example.
The Eastern Orthodox Churches, which predominate in Eastern Europe and which are some of the fastest growing Christian denominations in the world today (and to which Joseph Tkach Sr., his wife, and a few other WCG leaders once belonged), have a view of the Bible that is quite different than that of Protestantism. Let me quote briefly from the latest edition of The Orthodox Church (Penguin Books, 1993) by Timothy Ware (Bishop Kallisto of Diokleia). The author is both a clergyman and a lecturer at Oxford and this work is considered the authoritative introduction to the subject in the English language. In explaining the position the Bible holds within the Orthodox Church, the author writes (pp. 199-200):
The Bible is the supreme expression of God's revelation to the human race, and Christians must be "People of the Book." But if Christians are People of the Book, the Bible is the Book of the People; it must not be regarded as something set up over the Church, but as something that lives and is understood within the Church (that is why one should not separate Scripture and Tradition). It is from the Church that the Bible ultimately derives its authority, for it was the Church which originally decided which books form a part of Holy Scripture, and it is the Church alone which can interpret Holy Scripture with authority. There are many sayings in the Bible which by themselves are far from clear, and individual readers, however sincere, are in danger of error if they trust their own personal interpretation .... When received into the Orthodox Church, a convert promises, "I will accept and understand Holy Scripture in accordance with the interpretation which was and is held by the Holy Orthodox Catholic Church of the East, our Mother." [emphasis is his-ed.]
©1994 Ambassador Report. Published irregularly (as finances allow) as a Christian service. ISSN 0882-2123
John Trechak, Editor & Publisher Mary E. Jones, Associate Editor
Founding Publishers: Robert Gerringer, Bill Hughes, Mary E. Jones, John Trechak, Len Zola, and Margaret Zola
In other words, the Bible is only a part of Tradition (with a capital T), and it is Tradition - and Tradition as understood by the clergy alone - that forms the basis of that religion. But what is this "Tradition"? On page 196, the Bishop explains:
...to an Orthodox Christian, Tradition means something more concrete than this [opinion, belief, or custom handed down]. It means the books of the Bible; it means the Creed; it means the decrees of the Ecumenical Councils and the writings of the Fathers; it means the Canons, the Service Books, the Holy Icons - in fact, the whole system of doctrine, Church government, worship, spirituality and art which Orthodoxy has articulated over the years.
One final quote. On page 202, the Bishop writes:
The doctrinal definitions of an Ecumenical Council are infallible. Thus in the eyes of the Orthodox Church, the statements of faith put out by the seven councils possess, along with the Bible, an abiding and irrevocable authority.
Now, you may ask, what does all of this have to do with the WCG? Only this: if one studies the early history of the Christian churches, one sees that those first three- or four-hundred years parallel very remarkably the WCG's last few years. In both cases there are the same debates about law versus grace, Judaic-Christianity versus Paulinism, pyramid church government versus collegiality, the same debates about the relevance of Greek and Hebrew terms, the same dickering over the ideas of post-apostolic church "scholars," and, of course, the big debates about the nature of God. Anyone wanting to understand what is happening in the WCG in our day would do well to study the early history of the Eastern Orthodox Church. (Timothy Ware's book is highly recommended for this and, especially for those having trouble understanding the WCG's new pronouncements on the Trinity, his chapters on that subject are particularly illuminating.)
Those that doubt that this repeat of ancient history is happening before our very eyes should look at the Nov./Dec. Plain Truth. A PT reader asked (p. 11), "During the Christmas season, why do you cast a gloomy atmosphere on the celebration? As God loves all of us, can't you be more understanding of those with different beliefs?" Here was the WCG's response (emphasis here is mine):
Although the Bible does not teach nor command the observance of Christmas, we respect your difference of belief. It is not our intent to condemn others, but to teach and explain the biblical examples.
The Worldwide Church of God observes the biblical Holy Days that Christ and the apostles observed. The apostles continued to observe these days after the crucifixion....
We understand that not all Christians, including many Sabbatarians like ourselves, observe these days. We believe, however, that the tradition of Jesus and the apostles warrants our observance of them, rather than the traditional holidays introduced in later centuries.
There you have it. The biblical holy days were just "the tradition," just as the days some keep today are traditional. No wonder that in the same issue of the PT, Tkach's Christmas season editorial (p. 1) stated:
Jesus' birth was a miracle of unparalled significance for humanity, bringing true light into this world of darkness.... Don't just hum the Christmas tunes. Believe the good news!
In the new WCG with its new recognition of traditions, it is not surprising that the new Ambassador College Bible Correspondence Course is not just being altered, it is being cancelled. Local members who find the new church doctrines confusing or contradictory will simply have to trust the explanations given by the church's Greek scholars. Local church pastors have already been told that weekly Bible studies are "optional." And in Pasadena, the tradition begun by Herbert W. Armstrong more than 45 years ago of having weekly Friday night ("commanded assembly") Bible studies at church headquarters will soon come to an end. Insiders say Tkach wants the weekly studies to be permanently cancelled. The steadily declining small numbers in attendance show that among those at "HQ" there is just not enough interest in the Bible to keep the studies going.
WCG Sabbath services in Pasadena were canceled for January 1 this year. The church's parking structure was rented out to some of the New Year's Day hordes who came for the Rose Parade and the Rose Bowl football game. With no place for the members to park their cars, services were just cancelled. Why they were not simply postponed to later in the day or moved to another location was never explained. Interestingly, next year the Rose Parade will be held on Monday, January 2. The reason? The organizers of the parade have an understanding with the Christian churches of Pasadena that the parade festivities will never be scheduled so as to interfere with the regular services of any of the city's established churches. Apparently, as regards the New Year's parade and church services, Pasadena's Sunday keeping churches have priorities that differ from those of the WCG. (Incidentally, the Ambassador parking structure in question was seriously damaged in the January earthquake. Most ironic, considering that in December Tkach asked all WCG members to fast, presumably for church deliverance or a "sign.")
Recent broadcasts of the World Tomorrow have caused confusion in the minds of some viewers from another era. One California reader wrote us: "I like to watch the religious programs on TV. Sunday I saw Garner Ted Armstrong for the first time in many years. I was thrilled to see him again. I was surprised at some of the things he now says, and I was even more surprised that he has gone back with The World Tomorrow. But I still think he is TV's greatest preacher!" Sorry to have to report this, but Garner Ted has not returned to The World Tomorrow. The new addition to that program's string of "presenters" is WCG minister Judd Kirk (no relation to the Star Trek character). Insiders say he is the replacement for David Albert, who had the Tkach-forbidden habit of deviating from scripts formally approved by the Tkach family. Albert is now teaching psychology at Big Sandy. In the meantime, Judd Kirk is fulfilling a lifetime fantasy. Said one of his former colleagues, "He's spent a lifetime literally imitating Garner Ted Armstrong right down to the minutest details of personal grooming, posture, and delivery. Now he's getting his chance to act the part on TV."
WCG insiders report that declining church revenues have caused Tkach Sr. to be in a panic. Layoffs in the hundreds are in the offing. And Tkach has told the young Turks that manage the church - Little Joe, Feazell, Albrect, Kubik, etc. - that he wants to see a moratorium put on doctrinal changes. The young Turks, however, are reported to have openly balked at the idea. They envision even more dramatic changes in the coming months and years. Those changes will undoubtedly involve fundamental HWA teachings. Little Joe was approached by WCG members in a restaurant one day as he ate shrimp. Questioned about his diet, Little Joe responded, "It's OK, I'm not a Jew." Another WCG minister decided this year to put up a Christmas tree in his living room and Christmas lights on his house. When members started driving past his house to gawk at the lights, the minister's supervisor called "HQ." Little Joe's response: "No problem. It's OK."
Slavery Under the New Freedom
With church revenues declining, WCG leaders are being forced to find new ways to raise money. One member recently wrote us:
You have successfully put into print what a lot of us have privately suspected or thought, but the "reinforcement" of weekly Sabbath services suppresses. It is the most devastating feeling in the world to realize that you've been deceived and defrauded - especially under the guise of religion. I am now trying to repair the credit rating that I enjoyed prior to the WCG, which was ruined as a result of the high interest loans we took out not only to survive financially, but to support "the Work."
Many church areas have now cashed in on the local church-sponsored "fundraiser" consisting of the assembly and sale of fruit baskets. There are two delivery dates: Thanksgiving and "December." The Thanksgiving baskets are decorated in colors like orange, brown, and yellow; the "December" baskets are decorated in red and green. One congregation, the Boston church, has been so successful they even made a "how to" film for other church areas to emulate.
For those who don't like to sell, it is expected they "serve" by spending the dates designated for assembly working as basket assemblers. You see, this measures just how much a member's heart is in "the Work." For those who do not participate in either the assembly or in sales, there's a bit of tongue-lashing from the lectern at services.
Of course, a lot of us are wondering just where all the proceeds from these fundraisers actually go. Ministers are allowed to use part of the funds to buy themselves high-tech toys and software (for tracking purposes, no doubt)!....
It amazes me how, for a church that does not keep Christmas, we make merchandise out of it. Personally, I think it's unethical, as is the use of sermonette and sermon time to promote the fundraiser, and the peripheral sales activities and sales-related discussions that take place on the Sabbath. And then there's the tremendous stress a member experiences for lack of participation and enthusiasm. They are real good with guilt!
I'm told that in Boston, for those who didn't participate in the fruit basket fundraisers, they get an additional five or six "opportunities" to serve. In a 10-month period, there were additional fundraising projects that involved inventory, telephone book distribution, candy bar sales, clean-up, painting projects, and more. They even had an outright request on two Sabbaths for contributions from their second tithe to fly past ministers and their families in for their 25th anniversary party. The money-hungry game goes on and on.
In spite of it, in Boston the church activity fund is always broke. The minister there has been known to openly complain about how low his salary is from Pasadena. But you know as well as the rest of us that there are different colors of money, and what benefit packages the ministers have! They are exempt from social security taxes, pay no 2T, no 3T, get housing allowances, a new automobile, health insurance, etc., etc.
Editor: Aside from the obvious (leaving WCG), let me make one suggestion to members in this oppressive position. Calculate the hours you are slaving for your local task master and multiply that number by what your time is worth. It might be worth $15 an hour or it might be worth much more. For instance, Sunday time - time you are taking away from your family, for instance - might be worth $100 an hour to you. In other words, put a dollar amount on the time you are giving your task master and then just simply deduct that amount from your tithe checks. Time is money. Doctors and lawyers know this. So does Tkach. YOU SHOULD TOO!
Will the Real
"One True Church"
Please Stand Up!
For most of its existence, the WCG had a curious interpretation of Rev. 17:5. That verse talks about a Babylon that is "the Mother of Harlots." Herbert Armstrong saw in that symbology the Roman Catholic Church as the great mother church and the Protestant Churches as her harlot daughters (churches who traded spiritual heresies for money and who gave birth to their own daughter churches). That colorful interpretation is never mentioned by the WCG today. Perhaps the doctrine's fading away came because it is just not nice to call established Christian churches "whores." But another reason may be that in the last twenty years, the WCG, more than probably any other church in America, has been an organization of great confusion that has given birth to many other religious organizations which, in turn, have often given birth to even more religious groups - and even more religious confusion. Furthermore, that process is increasing at a tremendous rate.
In our very first issue in 1976, we mentioned nine separate religious organizations that had already come out of the WCG experience. Since then there have been scores more. So many in fact, that it has become increasingly difficult for us just to learn of the existence some of them, let alone to discover what all of them now teach. But so many AR readers have been asking us for updates on the WCG offshoots, we are going to attempt to tell you what we know of them (and for some groups, unfortunately, it is very little). Before doing so, however, a few points should be made.
First of all, while most of the WCG offshoots may have teachings with which we disagree, we shouldn't be too quick to assume what motivates the leaders of such groups. For some of the church leaders, it is all too clear that a hunger for spiritual truth and a desire to serve mankind are not at the core of their motivation. Nevertheless, we should not assume that such is the case for everyone that leaves Worldwide to start another group. Certainly, as for those who join such organizations, our experience has been that most are very sincere in their desire to gain spiritual understand-ing and live godly lives. The same might be said for some ministers in the various churches (even though a desire for a following, tithe money, a chance to preach, self-deception, miseducation, and even serious delusion, may be involved in some cases).
Second, it is important to remember that as human beings, all of us have failings. While some failings rise to a level to warrant being reported on, not all do. In other words, just because some group is having problems does not mean that it should automatically be labeled a "cult" or be attacked in the press. It is not always easy for us to know where to draw the line on this. However, as a general rule, the more a group fits the definition of a "destructive cult" (see AR44 for a detailed explanation) and the more the unethical or deviant conduct is likely to be long-running, intentional, or illegal, the more we feel we have a duty to report those facts.
Finally, readers should not assume that because we mention some groups without critical comment that we are endorsing them. There are many organizations with which we are not in philosophical agreement. However, because they have something to offer our readers, we will mention them and give their addresses. Sometimes we can learn even from those who are in error on some point, or many points, even if what we learn is only that we should not waste any more time on such a group.
The Armstrongism Group
In AR51, our lead headline asked the question, "Is Armstrongism Dead?" One of our readers responded to that question with the following astute observation:
I agree with you that in the WCG Tkachism has replaced much of what Mr. Herbert Armstrong used to teach. But, if by "Armstrongism" you mean the core teachings that Mr. Armstrong gave us - (1) the importance of keeping the law of God, including the seventh day Sabbath, (2) the importance of the Holy Days, (3) the importance of tithing, (4) the importance of church government, (5) the identity of Israel in prophecy, and (6) the importance of preaching the gospel of the coming Kingdom - well, then "Armstrongism" is not dead. It lives on in a growing number of groups. Furthermore, all those groups readily admit they got their key doctrines from Herbert W. Armstrong. So, it's pretty clear that "Armstrongism," as you call it, lives on.
The writer makes a very good point. In fact, outside the WCG, Armstrongism seems to be proliferating rapidly. A few who have come out of the WCG to form new religious organizations have rejected most, if not all, the key teachings of HWA (we'll write more of them in a future issue). But a majority of the break away groups still hold on to most of the core teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong. Below is a listing of the major Armstrongite churches that we are aware of, along with a few comments about their key features.
Church of God, International
CGI was covered quite thoroughly in our last two issues so we will not review that information here. But a few recent CGI items should be mentioned.
With CGI's new corporate headquarters building in place near Tyler, Texas, CGI has now started a program there to train CGI ministers. Called Imperial Academy, the program is in no way a college or seminary, yet it is being dubbed "Church of God, International's premier leadership school."
The Academy's first session began on July 5 with a total of 37 men and women students. According to CGI's International News (IN, Vol. 14, No. 6, p. 5):
These students spent two weeks of in depth [two weeks? in depth? - ed.] study through a variety of class instruction. Mr. Armstrong taught Homiletics (the art of preparing and preaching sermons), Prophecy, and History of the Church of God, International.
Mr. Ronald Dart taught Principles of Speech and Preparing to Serve; Mr. Vance Stinson taught Comparative Theology; Mr. Bronson James addressed the Fundamentals of Fellowship; Mr. Charles Groce, in his Conflicts Resolution class, explored the problems of local congregations and how to solve them.
In addition to all of the classes, there was an "Introduction to Speech" club. This club met twice a week and both men and women gave speeches on any topic they chose.
As we reported in our last two issues, not every one in CGI is happy with the Academy. Many see it as only a way for President Armstrong to further consolidate his hold over the CGI.
Global Church of God
Of all the WCG spinoffs, the one currently growing the fastest is Roderick C. Meredith's Global Church of God (GCG, P.O. Box 5500, Glendora, CA 91740-5500).
Recent developments in GCG include the addition of numerous congregations. GCG now has over 85 fellowship groups in nine countries. While not all the groups have a pastor - some are just small "video groups" - the number is growing steadily. Among the most recent WCG pastors to join Meredith's camp is evangelist Carl McNair who brought many of his Helena, Montana congregation with him.
GCG has a doctrinal and marketing game plan that mimics the winning formula put together by Herbert W, Armstrong; it has a dedicated higher echelon; and its chief spokesman is not generally perceived as a raving lunatic or a whoremonger. For those reasons, it is quite likely that GCG will emerge as one of the three or four clear frontrunners among the dozens of Armstrongite organizations. Nevertheless, because of the oppressive personalities of its leaders, it is also sure to have a contentious future. Notice the following September 6 open letter to Roderick Meredith from one ex-WCG member who attempted to fellowship with GCG:
Dear Mr. Meredith:
I was recently disfellowshipped from the Global Church of God by area minister Dave Pack because I found it necessary, once more, to stand up for the Truth.
On August 6, 1993, 1 was awakened at 10:30 p.m. by a telephone call from Mr. Pack. I was questioned about my interest in Mr. William F. Dankenbring's articles about Passover and Pentecost. In my studies of this comprehensive literature, I have proven to myself, from the Bible, that the dates and manner in which we keep these Holy Days are in error. I was sharing my new understanding of these Truths with the Host of the Tuckerton, New Jersey congregation. This is what prompted the call from Mr. Pack.
In our conversation, Mr. Pack made the statement, "Mr. Dankenbring makes his living acquiring information on sins about people and paying people to publish books about them. Aren't you glad, John, that he doesn't know your sins or he would publish a book about you?" Why is it that when we can't attack the message, we attack the messenger? When will this stop?
Mr. Pack was also very hostile toward Mr. John Trechak, saying he has been spreading garbage about him for years. And "that Trechak is no good." In one of your early sermon tapes you admonished us not to say unkind things about people, even when we ourselves are attacked. Is there a double standard in the Church? Where is Mr. Pack's humble attitude that ministers and members alike are supposed to exhibit?
Mr. Pack said that if I passed out any more literature, which I have already proven to be true, or call any members to discuss these issues, that I "would not ever be able to come back." Not ever? In a conversation with a friend, Mr. Pack said I would lose my salvation if I continued this practice.
In Mr. Pack's conversation with me he made the statement, "I've never been wrong yet!" My question is, does God back him up even if he is wrong? Mr. Pack seems to think so!
I am extremely disturbed by the method used to force me out of the Church. Very similar tactics were used by WCG Ministers when they disfellowshipped me without proving me wrong! Mr. Pack refuses to address these issues, saying it is not his job. Is it this Church's policy to disfellowship a duly-baptized, God-fearing servant of Jesus Christ, without proof of error, or is the Global Church of God becoming WCG II? I had hoped that a better lesson would have been learned.
All facts related to my understanding of the Truth are in the Bible. If anyone wishes to have further information for their studies, please write or call me.
John F. Morris
Q11 Coachman Manor
Lindenwold, NJ 08021
tel. (609) 435-0231
Undoubtedly, GCG is very fortunate to have as one of its top ministers a man who has "never been wrong yet." Not many of us can make such a claim. Mr. Morris is not the only new GCG member to be rudely banished. A number of Meredith's Pasadena-area associates have been put out for agreeing with Dankenbring's Holy Days position and for "Judaizing" (this includes the use of such Hebrew theological terms as Torah, Tenach, or Mischna - terms Meredith does not want used in GCG). Some prospective members have been put off by other Meredithisms. One former respected WCG minister wrote Meredith a friendly letter of encouragement. Instead of a personal reply, he was sent a copy of GCG's tithing booklet and some tithe envelopes. Another minister, John Trescott (see "Splinters" section below), attended a couple of GCG meetings but was told he was no longer welcome as he held some views that are not allowed in GCG (one being that he feels elders, such as himself, should not insist upon being called "Mister," but that calling elders by their first names is entirely proper).
As is obvious from the above, while Tkach's ministry may still believe in church government, the Meredith church will be strictly enforcing church government by chastening with spiritual whips. It's a sort of B&D outfit: you get put into spiritual bondage and then you get disciplined by the ministry. If getting whipped is your thing, then Meredith's church may be the one for you.
Triumph Prophetic Ministries
Church of God
Triumph Prophetic Ministries Church of God (TPM), founded by William F. Dankenbring, is a group to which many former WCG members are being drawn. While we have commented on TPM in the past (see ARs 39 and 50), Dankenbring's work continues to stir up controversy and many have asked us for an update. As we have pointed out in the past, unlike a number of other WCG offshoots, TPM does not seem to have a secret side. Dankenbring and his team put out a huge monthly magazine called Prophecy Flash! (PM or "the Flash") plus a large selection of other publications that are quite up front about many of their beliefs. (The magazine and a list of their other publications is available for free by simply writing to Triumph Prophetic Ministries, P.O. Box 292, Altadena, CA 91003). An evaluation of TPM teachings can easily be made from reading TPM literature and making a comparison with critical literature from other sources. Nevertheless, we should point out what many, including AR, view as TPM's positive and negative sides.
First of all, on the positive side, of all those who have ever been a part of the WCG, there has never been anyone who could compete with Dankenbring in terms of sheer personal energy, zeal, and quantity of output. Just the amount of material that Dankenbring writes, edits, and publishes is amazing (particularly to those of us who have worked in the publishing field). On top of that, Dankenbring has even gone on radio now. He can be heard weekly on short wave around the world. (See the Flash for details.) Second, unlike most of the other WCG offshoots, Dankenbring has not fooled himself regarding the very sinful nature of HWA. He quite correctly weighs up the evidence and concludes that HWA, far from being a righteous man, was a man who committed some horrible sins, including incest, and was probably not a "man of God" (see the letter section of his 2/93 Flash). Nevertheless, because he feels that HWA presented many correct teachings, Dankenbring has referred to HWA as one "used by God" (Editor: couldn't the same be said of Nebuchadnezzar, Judas, and Satan?).
Third, unlike the publications of most of the other WCG offshoots, the Flash doesn't ignore the existence of its competitors, nor the implications of what they are teaching. While he is often criticized for being too energetic in some of his scathing rebukes, nevertheless, by openly debating the views of Garner Ted Armstrong, Jim Rector, Ernest Martin, Anthony Buzzard, Charles Hunting, Fred Coulter, Leona McNair, Roderick Meredith, and especially Gerald Flurry, Dankenbring has contributed to the marketplace of ideas - particularly among Sabbath-keeping Christians. The latest Dec./Jan. issue was particularly good in this regard.
Fourth, occasionally one finds genuine flashes of brilliance in the Flash. For example, in the 2/93 issue, writing mainly about church hierarchies, Dankenbring correctly points out that in the WCG and in most of its offshoots, there is an emphasis on pyramid structures. He then very astutely points out that whereas ancient pagan cultures put great emphasis on hierarchical systems of human rule and such was reflected in the architecture of the pagans' pyramid temples, the Bible places more emphasis on individual relationship to God and such is reflected in the rectangular shape of the Jerusalem Temple (and, he could have added, the cubed city of Rev. 21). He then draws on the examples of the solar system and the atom as analogies to God's preferred system of church structure. (While his article does not further the analogy beyond that of the solar system and the atom, many students of analytical psychology and abstract art would further point to the mandala of dream analysis - often considered a symbol of mental wholeness and balance - as the embodiment of the same principle on the unconscious psychic level. Interestingly, those same thinkers frequently point to triadic structures as symbolic of tension, instability, and imbalance - ed.).
Fifth, the Flash has quite often been quite courageous in running controversial - yet frequently insightful - articles and readers' comments that few other publications would run. For instance, the May issue of the Flash contained a rather well-documented David C. Whitaker article that equated the Mark of the Beast with the Christian Cross - the kind of theological speculation one would find in very few Christian publications. And on page five of the letters section of the 1/93 Flash, one reader pointedly speculated that HWA did not die a natural death, but was murdered. While that theory has been quietly discussed in WCG circles frequently since 1986, no other publication has dared bring it up in print.
Nevertheless, with all that said, many Flash subscribers who take the time to carefully read through its monthly 70-80 pages are often quite critical of its contents. Criticisms we have heard include: "Dankenbring is convinced he is on a unique mission from God; he does not discourage his readers from believing that he is the prophesied Elijah." "Dankenbring can't control himself from setting dates. Just like HWA, Hoeh, and Waterhouse, he thinks the Bible shows us how to predict future historical events down to the year, sometimes the day. He wrote last year that Christ will return on April 11, 1998." "I can't stand all the crazy stuff about the meanings of names. When he says that Joseph W. Tkach means 'He Who Adds or Multiplies Wicked Many-Stranded Webs of Deception' and then says his own name means 'THE STRONG-WILLED, RESOLUTE PROTECTOR AND BRINGER OF THE GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM OF GOD!' he sounds a lot like Gerald Waterhouse." "Mr. Dankenbring says the United States is Ephraim. He's got me confused. Mr. Herbert Armstrong said that Britain was Ephraim and that we were Manasseh!" "Dankenbring is still hooked on that old mistranslation I Jn. 3:4. Hasn't he ever read the Book of Galatians?"
But probably the biggest criticism we hear of Dankenbring's Flash is in regard to his prediction that Saddam Hussein is the Beast of Revelation. What exactly he now believes about this is unclear. In the letters section of his 9-10/93 issue he gave a lengthy explanation of what some claim are his failed prophecies. One rather interesting statement was this:
Although I have discussed dates many times, in an attempt to understand the way things will work out in the future, I have tried to avoid being dogmatic, but always said, "probably," "possibly," "very likely," etc. Why have I done this? To stop the mouths of those critics and heretics who accuse me of being a false prophet! In other words, I boldly make "predictions," but couch them in terms which should show the careful reader that these "predictions," although Bible based, are my personal OPINION - and like anybody else, I have a right to personal opinions. Those "opinions" at times can be wrong, but that does not make me a "false prophet" as these angry and hateful critics argue! [emphasis is his throughout his quotes--ed.]
Nevertheless, on the very next page, Dankenbring, expounding upon Rev. 13:14, very unequivocally writes: "Saddam Hussein WILL BE PART OF THE EMERGING BEAST POWER prophesied to rule the world in the Last Days!"
Just how seriously some of his readers take such statements can be seen in a reader's letter published on the last page of the 7-8/93 Flash:
I was driving along in the car listening to the latest news bulletin on the radio. Saddam Hussein was mentioned and after the bulletin had ended I switched off the radio and began thinking about this man Saddam Hussein as I was driving along. After a few moments my eyes glanced over the instrument panel and at that very instant the numbers on the mileometer changed from 6659900 to 666000. I shook my head a few times, looked again and said something loud which was probably something like WOW!
While some Flash readers are concerned about Dankenbring's authoritative tone on prophecy, quite a few more are concerned about his overall tone which many hear as unreasonably dogmatic and even egocentric. A good example was Dankenbring's article "The Enemy Within" which appeared in the 5/93 Flash. It was essentially a 13-page attack on the ministry of James R. Rector, a former WCG minister who later left Garner Ted Armstrong's CGI to form his own Cornerstone Publications ministry (3802 Olive Street, Texarkana, TX 75503, tel. 903-792-1352.) Incidentally, it should not to be confused with Cornerstone Publications of Chicago.
For some time, Rector apparently gave Dankenbring the impression that he was backing the latter's ministry. According to Dankenbring's article, however, it became clear to him at some point that Rector in his own ministry was using ideas culled from Dankenbring's articles without giving the latter proper attribution. Furthermore, Rector was seen as attempting to lure some of Dankenbring's mailing list onto his own. While we have no reason to doubt that Dankenbring facts are accurate, the article attacking Rector was viewed by many as having been more fanatical and vindictive than anything they had ever seen or heard from Herbert W. Armstrong, himself. And for that reason, some told us they would no longer subscribe to the Flash.
Quoting Jer. 23:30 as if it were some type of ancient copyright law ("I am against the prophets that steal my words"), Dankenbring accused Rector of being, in effect, a type of ministerial Milton Berle. But even more wild, Dankenbring equated such acts with Satan enlisting a third of the angels "in his REBELLION against the Most High God" (p. 4 of article). And, warned the Flash, "WATCH OUT! BEWARE OF SUBSTITUTE MINISTRIES THAT SEEK TO LEAD YOU TO FOLLOW THEM!" To Dankenbring, Rector was leading "a plot to destroy the Work of God" (p. 6). Then on the next page Dankenbring brought in that old standby, Matt. 12:31-32 (often used to prove the Trinity, by the way), to shift into high gear:
Those individuals who bad-mouth this Work, and speak EVIL of it, are bringing themselves dangerously close to the LAKE OF FIRE!.... [Then after quoting a Rector letter in which Rector says some have complained about Dankenbring's work, Dankenbring wrote:]
Notice! These individuals haven't just attacked me. That could be forgivable. But they have so ATTACKED GOD's WORK!!! That is another matter altogether. God's Work is inspired by and directed by and follows GOD'S SPIRIT. Thus these evil "complainers" have chosen to attack the very Spirit of God - which is blasphemy against the HOLY SPIRIT!
God hates division. He hates discord. The proof of that is what He did to Korah....
Unity in the faith and truth is VERY IMPORTANT to God! WOE be to anybody who would seek to DESTROY that unity!....
The plain truth is, Jim Rector has STOLEN members and sheep from this Work, and also stolen tithes and offerings in the process....
There CANNOT be TWO independent "works of God," competing with each other, both truly serving GOD!....
Brethren, please let me make this crystal clear: There is ONLY ONE TRUE WORK, TODAY, WHERE GOD IS WORKING! AND THAT "WORK" IS NOT, AND NEVER HAS BEEN, CENTERED IN TEXAS!!! Any work emanating from Texas, which claims to be the cornerstone of God's end time WORK, is misrepresenting itself - it is a rival - a fraud - a seditious competitive, variant THIEF in the sight of Jesus Christ, stealing disciples and sheep AWAY from the TRUTH and TRUE End Time Work! BEWARE!....
The above quotes are but a small fraction of what is a very revealing article. Those who are attracted to TPM should be sure to read that article in its entirety. Incidentally, while we have no reason to doubt that Rector was quoting Dankenbring's material and was hoping to expand his own mailing list, when one AR reader wrote him for his side of the story, Rector (who, incidentally, is reported to be battling cancer) wrote back saying he refused to say anything negative about TPM and its founder. All he would indicate was that there had been some misunderstanding and that he hoped he and Dankenbring could work them out privately.
Finally, there is one aspect of the Dankenbring ministry that needs to be given special attention because it has such amazingly awkward ramifications for the WCG and virtually all of its offshoots. While there are a good number of ex-Worldwiders who, having not abandoned the traditional Christian canon literally or in spirit, feel that a straightforward reading of Galatians absolves them from any requirement of keeping the Old Testament Holy Days, for a number of reasons many other ex-Worldwiders still feel the keeping of those days - and at the biblically approved times - is important. Among the Armstrongites who keep those Holy Days, the majority keep the Passover on the evening of Nisan 14 of the Sacred Hebrew Calendar and keep Pentecost on a formula - calculated spring Sunday or Monday (not on a fixed Sacred Calendar date). Now, along comes Mr. Dankenbring - who has become virtually anathema to all his competitors - and in a series of lengthy and quite thoroughly researched articles claims quite forcefully that the WCG and virtually all of its spinoffs are keeping those two Old Testament Holy Days on the wrong days! According to Dankenbring, Passover should be kept on the evening of Nisan 15 and Pentecost on Sivan 6 (see the 8/92 and 3-4/93 issues of PF).
Now, to many AR readers who read Galatians very literally (or who are just plain irreligious), the only reaction to this would be, "So what? Who cares?" But to those who feel that the legalistically correct keeping of such days constitutes a command from God, Dankenbring's claims cause major uneasiness for two big reasons: (1) the data he uses to back up his claims seem very persuasive, and (2), the weight of Jewish rabbinical scholarship appears to be on his side. So what are all the Armstrongites to do? To begin following TPM's view would, in effect, be admitting that God is inspiring Dankenbring (or, at the very least, that he knows more about scripture than all of his Armstrongite competitors). But, if that is the case, then what are they doing following Tkach, GTA, Meredith, and the rest?
One top WCG minister has privately stated that Dankenbring is correct about the dates, but that WCG cannot make too many more doctrinal changes at this juncture. And Meredith's group has been so stymied by the issue, it has ordered copies of Fred Coulter's book on the Passover (see below) to help their ministers refute the Flash. Dankenbring, sensing his competitors' dilemma has of late been emphasizing the issue, saying that submission to the new understanding on the date and manner of keeping Passover and Pentecost constitutes "the Final Test" of God for people at this time (the Flash, 5/93). It remains to be seen how many will pass this new test, but in the meantime it is clear that William F. Dankenbring and his Flash will continue to be a major thorn in the side of Joseph W. Tkach and lot of other religious leaders.
No, we're nor talking about some fifties' singing group, unfortunately. The Philadelphia Church of God (PCG) founded by former WCG preacher Gerald Flurry is one of the WCG's most vibrant - and fanatical - spinoffs. While started by just a handful of Armstrongite zealots just four years ago (officially on Dec. 7, 1989), this small group has shown amazing growth ever since. Today, the PCG (P.O. Box 3700, Edmond, OK 73083), with only about 3,500 members, produces a slick, full-color, monthly magazine called The Philadelphia Trumpet, a magazine for its members called The Philadelphia News, numerous booklets, and at its own new television studios produces its Key of David television program, now seen in eleven major U.S markets and via cable access - throughout the entire U.S., Canada, Europe, and beyond. Besides "Pastor General" Flurry, other key personnel are former WCG ministers Dennis Leap, Colin Sutcliffe, Wilbur Malone, and Flurry's son Steven. (Former WCG minister John Amos, who helped found the group, died of a heart attack a few months ago.)
Reading through back issues of the Trumpet ("Tpt" - to be distinguished from "the PT" - The Plain Truth) and from their booklets, one readily can see PCG's hardcore beliefs. In a paragraph, here they are: We are living in the "end times." God sent Herbert W. Armstrong as the prophesied Elijah to warn the world. At the time of HWA's death Satan was cast down to earth. Joseph W. Tkach became the prophesied "son of perdition" who has polluted most of God's "Philadelphians" into becoming "the Laodiceans." God has now raised up Gerald Flurry to lead those remaining true to God - those still "Philadelphians" - and God, through an Angel, has inspired Flurry's book, Malachi's Message, which is essentially a warning to the Laodiceans: unless they repent of their liberal ways, recognize Herbert W. Armstrong as their "spiritual father" and Gerald Flurry as God's messenger for today ("Elisha"), and begin tithing to his work, they well be persecuted by the Beast and will all die horrible deaths in the Great Tribulation. According to Flurry, his book, Malachi's Message (which they
acronym "MM"), is the "little book" spoken of in Rev.10:10 and is therefore a sacred writing. In the Sept./Oct. 1992 Tpt (p. 8) Flurry wrote about his book (and the emphasis is his):
Malachi's Message is a new vision from a mighty angel. It's a NEW REVELATION - not something somebody already knew!
This new revelation is God's way of saying that we must give the little book a special importance and the majesty it deserves. Only then can we properly respond to the great Work of God - much of which revolves around the little book.
Whew! And we thought HWA had an ego problem!
Unfortunately, Flurry's aberrations do not end there. Here are but a few samples of statements made in the monthly Trumpet during 1993:
January: The issue starts off with an article praising HWA in lavish terms (p. 3), gives a poem to their departed hero the "Faithful Warrior" (p. 8), and reprints without permission from the Worldwide News the "18 Restored Truths" of HWA (p. 9). Just as HWA was a type of Elijah, PCG is a type of Elisha (p. 13). "Mr. Armstrong said many times that he was the father of us all either DIRECTLY OR INDIRECTLY!.... we must look upon HWA as our spiritual 'father'.... When prospective members come to the PCG, the first and perhaps most important question we ask them is, 'Do you believe Mr. Armstrong fulfilled the role of the endtime Elijah?' If they don't believe this then we don't invite them" (p. 15, emphasis in Tpt quotes are theirs). "Paying our tithes shows submission to God's government" (p. 19).
February: "THE SYNAGOGUE OF SATAN WAS THE LAODICEAN ERA IN EMBRYO!" (p. 1). The Key of David is essentially the "truths" contained in HWA's booklet The United States and Britain in Prophecy (which Flurry has aptly acronymed "US&BIP") (p. 2). "What is important for all to understand is the fact that God did not stop publishing when our present Bible was canonized" (p. 5).
March: "The other groups who left the WCG are also BLIND to the fact that God is using the PCG, AND NO OTHER CHURCH, to knock on the Laodiceans' door" (p. 1). "I haven't even heard one of these groups claiming they have new revelation from God" (p. 2) [clearly inaccurate]. Joseph Tkach's ethnic background is attacked as being "alien" and based on this Flurry concludes that Tkach is the "end-time Shebna" (p. 9). "God's true Levites" are equated with "true ministers" (p. 10). "Nowhere has Satan's attack on God's truth been more effective since Mr. Armstrong's death, than Christ's doctrine of healing" (p. 14). "Mixing the races only lessens the quality of the original race" (p. 18).
It is, however, in Flurry's editorial attack on Rod Meredith that he outdoes himself: Flurry begins by calling Meredith, in essence, a liar (p. 2). He then writes (p. 28):
Or course, there are different groups of lukewarm and dead churches. But Mr. Armstrong ALWAYS PREACHED THAT GOD WORKS THROUGH ONLY ONE MAN AND ONE CHURCH! The rest are deceived....
This leader I quoted earlier [Meredith] is teaching a satanic doctrine! IT IS VERY UNBIBLICAL TO SAY THERE ARE BRANCHES OF GOD'S TRUE CHURCH!....
Where did I get this new revelation [MM]? As Paul said, it was "NOT AFTER MAN." It came from God! Members of God's Church who can't see that revelation are BLIND!....
A CHURCH COULD HOLD FAST TO EVERY DOCTRINE MR. ARMSTRONG TAUGHT AND STILL BE LAODICEAN-BLIND!
April: The attack on Meredith continues. Flurry's claims that in God's church there has been the worshipping of demons (p. 4). "Mr. Meredith must destroy God's government to get people to follow him instead of the ONE AND ONLY Church that Christ is using today - the Philadelphia Church of God" (p. 5). Collegial and/or democratic government is satanic (p. 7). Meredith is compared to Lucifer (p. 10). "Only one group can be in a covenant relationship with God" (p. 11).
May: The WCG's leadership is referred to as a Judas-type conspiracy and Tkach to "the son of perdition" (p. 1). Satan is using Tkach (p. 7). Tkach Sr. and Tkach Jr. are Russians [inaccurate] and, quoting a October 1963 Plain Truth article, Flurry writes that the Russian people are inherently liars (p. 7). The WCG is the Synagogue of Satan (p. 11). HWA's Mystery of the Ages and Flurry's Malachi's Message go together "hand and glove" [and, therefore, are both supposedly sacred writings] (p. 24). The 144,000 of Revelation are the Laodiceans (WCG and company) who will be "sealed" by God by going into the Great Tribulation and being raped and torturously killed, while the PCG escapes this fate (p. 25). Satan used David Koresh as a means of bringing persecution on the true church (p. 28).
June: "The Laodiceans have to PROVE THEMSELVES BY DYING FOR GOD" (p. 16). A Laodicean does not have to be an active member of the WCG at this time. What is a Laodicean? The Philadelphia Church of God (PCG) teaches that a Laodicean is one who rejects the Philadelphia Standard. The Philadelphia Standard is made up of the TRUTH that Mr. Armstrong restored to the Church during his lifetime (along with what the PCG teaches today)" (p. 17). But on the very same page the Trumpet admits that its teaching on the 144,000 is not in accord with that of HWA who believed that the 144,000 were the Philadelphians.
July: Flurry claims that "God's secret" in Amos 3:7 refers to his own book, Malachi's Message (p. 16).
August: Demons have turned the Laodiceans away from God through philosophy and education (pp. 20-21).
Sept./Oct.: This issue is interesting because a number of statements show how the PCG handles the sordid personal history of HWA. For example, Stephen Flurry, Gerald's son, writes:
If [Satan] can keep repeating lies over and over again, he knows that pretty soon people will believe them....
In this latter half of the twentieth century, Satan has repeatedly tried to discredit Herbert W. Armstrong, both before and after he died....
Pretty soon many lies and rumors were circulating about Mr. Armstrong. There have been manuscripts, papers, reports, and books with hundreds of pages detailing the many sins of Mr. Armstrong. I mean every kind of sin you can imagine! Most of which are so disgusting they are hardly appropriate for printed matter. Very few of these publications try to disprove the teachings, or THE MESSAGE Mr. Armstrong taught. Instead, they put down the man and then THROW OUT THE MESSAGE WITH IT.
[It is very difficult to view this statement as anything other than a calculated distortion of the facts. Obviously, the author is familiar with the AR, as well as the writings of Robinson, Tuit, Dankenbring, and others. AR has criticized HWA, not just for his life style, but for many of his teachings. Robinson, Tuit, and Dankenbring have criticized HWA's life style and, in addition, have been quite specific about where they thought HWA was doctrinally in error and where they thought he was correct. Nevertheless, isn't it interesting that the author nowhere attempts to disprove the serious and well-documented allegations made against HWA. Nor, for that matter, does he give his readers the names and addresses of those making the allegations in order for his readers to make up their own minds - ed.]
November: Gerald Flurry writes (pp. 4-5):
I have been in the ministry over 20 years. In many marriage counseling sessions I have noticed that the wives are zealous and excel in numerous marital responsibilities. But many wives cause some serious problems in their marriages. The root cause is usually not submitting to their husbands as God commands. Their problem is with God's marital GOVERNMENT, and the LAW on which it is based....
Why can't the GCG accept the many REVELATIONS given to the PCG? They simply lack the childlike submission to God's government, so God won't REVEAL to them which Church is doing His Work today.
[In other words, if Dr. Meredith would only be more childlike, and submit to Mr. Flurry, as would any righteous wife to her husband, there would still be hope for him. But Meredith is too stubborn to obey Flurry. Of course, Meredith says the same about Flurry - ed.]
December: This issue is a particularly good one for seeing the unbalanced spirit that permeates the Flurry PCG.
In the lead article, Flurry writes about California's recent economic problems and its natural disasters (the kind that have gone on here for thousands of years): "California is the only state who attacked Mr. Armstrong and his work. Actually, they attacked a lot more than that. California really ATTACKED THE LIVING GOD! Today God is wreaking vengeance on California and all of Israel - mainly the American and British peoples."
In another article, Flurry writes how Christ has only one wife in prophecy - the PCG. All other churches will have no spiritual husband. He expects to see seven different Laodicean churches. "God's own lukewarm people are going to be devoured by the sword.... They are 'murderers' because they are guilty of the blood of Israel" [by not helping to prophesy with MM] (p. 19). On the next page, Flurry writes:
God will look to and use THIS MAN who is childlike before His word (Matt. 18:1-3). For example, this man will read God's revealed word in Malachi's Message and act on it out of godly fear! He KNOWS that book contains God's truth. He trembles and obeys.
Then, on page 21, Flurry writes: "The PCG has the distinct honor to SPEAK FOR GOD!"
How is it that some can believe such nonsense? The answer is given in the same issue of the Trumpet. In an article entitled "Your Living Environment," one of Flurry's associates, Colin Sutcliffe (incidentally, the father-in-law of World Tomorrow broadcaster David Hulme) explains that scientific methods based on observation are inherently wrong. He equates human reasoning to "doing our own thing" - therefore human reasoning is a no no (p. 26). God's plan for managing every aspect of the global environment "is NOT based on either SCIENTIFIC EXPERIMENTATION or ON OBSERVATION, but ON REVELATION!... Revelation is the basis of what will be used in the World Tomorrow" (pp. 26-27).
There you have it. Don't trust your own God-given powers of observation; don't use your own God-given reasoning abilities; just believe the revelation - of Gerald Flurry.
We've covered the Flurry group's beliefs in some detail for two reasons: (1) His own published writings reveal him very clearly to be a cult leader of the first magnitude. And (2) we expect him and his followers to he in the news in the future. Nevertheless, we don't plan any further detailed studies of his writings. The reason for that is simple - reading his "literature" gives us a headache.
In the last few years we have received a good number of letters from individuals who have made the mistake of leaving the WCG for PCG ("out of the frying pan and into the fire" was how one put it). Each told us that the experience cost them many thousands of dollars and much mental confusion. We have heard from a number who have said the experience cost them their marriage. We have even been contacted by mental health therapists who were attempting to treat some who had come out of the PCG, but who found their patients' mental problems overly complex. While Meredith's B&D church may chastise with spiritual whips, Flurry's group likes to chastise with spiritual scorpions. Flurry's outfit is for those into spiritual S&M - real pain. If you want to be spiritually brutalized, the PCG may be the church for you.
While Flurry claims that his church is one that promotes traditional Christian family values, the evidence shows otherwise. One of our readers, after getting involved with PCG along with his wife, soon discovered that PCG put a barrier between his wife and himself. When the husband discovered that his wife wanted a divorce, he also discovered that not only would Flurry not assist the husband in saving the marriage, but that Flurry was encouraging the wife in her divorce plans. Those who would like further details of this case should write to: Mr. Glen Myers, 1407 Iroquois St., Clearwater, FL 34615.
Over the years, AR has shown that many of the cults we have reported upon have had leaders who have tolerated the worst sexual vices within their inner circles. The same appears to be the case with PCG. One PCG exiter has written an open letter in which he claims that the PCG ministry has secretly tolerated homosexuality among some members, and adultery and bizarre sexual acts by some in its ministry. For details of those allegations, write to: Mr. Bill Cline, P.O. Box 22228, Lexington, KY 40522.
Another individual who can shed much light on the Flurry cult is Mr. Don Marshall of Edmond, Oklahoma. He wrote us:
I knew that something was not right within the WCG because of the way our two ministers, Gerald R. Flurry and John Amos, were fired and disfellowshipped. Another man, J. Timothy Thompson, and I helped raise up the "Philadelphia Church of God" in Edmond. If I knew then what I know now, I would not have been a party to that effort. Being very naive, my wife and I helped him produce and distribute Malachi's Message. Little did I know that Flurry would turn out to be a duplicate copy of Armstrong. I regret I had anything to do with promoting the same fraud upon the hundreds of people who became members of the PCG just as HWA had done upon the thousands who became members of the WCG.
-Mr. Don Marshall
Lt. Col. USAF, ret.
4200 East Depel Dr.
Edmond, OK 73034
Mr. Marshall is an individual of high intelligence and character. And yet, for a time, he was misled by a cult leader. Getting duped by a cult leader - even one like Gerald Flurry - can happen to just about anyone. One final bit of information on Flurry. On the evening of Sept. 18 of last year, Flurry was arrested in a parking lot of a university in Edmond, Oklahoma. According to the police report, Flurry had been drinking and fell asleep in his car with empty beer cans on the front seat. What he was doing driving about a college campus late at night is anybody's guess. After discovering that Flurry was unable to either get the car into gear or to stand up the police officer asked to see his driver's license. Instead of complying, Flurry reportedly handed the officer a twenty dollar bill. When the police officer returned the twenty, Flurry upped the ante by five bucks. He was then arrested.
Church of God, the Eternal
As for holding onto the "conservative" teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong, Church of God, the Eternal (CGE) beat out Flurry's group by about fifteen years. Former WCG evangelist Raymond C. Cole began this organization 1975. While a few of HWA's early teachings have been modified slightly with time, this group has essentially adhered to all the doctrines HWA taught before HWA, himself, started liberalizing the WCG in the early seventies. For example, they recognize divorces only in cases of intentional fraud before marriage vows are taken.
There is, however, one significant difference between CGE and the old WCG under Armstrong. CGE appears to be more Calvinistic - specifically, they strongly believe that only those God "calls" can come into "the Truth") and therefore CGE does not have any type of radio or television outreach program. That fact, undoubtedly, is the reason why this group's membership continually hovers around only 300 to 400. Yet, members say they are being fed "strong spiritual meat" via the church's cassette tape program and other materials that emanate from CGE headquarters (P.O. Box 775, Eugene, OR 97440).
CGE's hard-core membership seems very dedicated to their church. And ministers Bryce Clark and Jean Aviolat are still with the group. Nevertheless, CGE has had its share of critics and defectors. Some find evangelist Raymond Cole too authoritarian. "A General Patton with two pearl-handled revolvers," is what one former member called him. One of our readers, Mr. Stanley Daniel of South Africa, even tells the funny story of how he was disfellowshipped by Cole even though he was never even a member of CGE. Mr. Daniels is now with The Church of God (S.A.), P.O. Box 3421, Cape Town 8000, Republic of South Africa.
Ministers who have defected from CGE over the years include Arlie Satterfield, George Leeman, John Mitchell, Robert Sloneker, and the late James Doak. Paul Royer left many years ago to begin the Church of God, Sonoma (4343 Wallace Rd., Santa Rosa, CA 95404) and Richard C. Nickels left to begin "Giving & Sharing" (a mail order bookstore for Sabbath-keepers, but which also has its own printed materials espousing views that seem to the right of Cole's - their new address is: 2014 NE 85th Street, Vancouver, WA 98665-9770).
Church of God
This group is headed by former WCG and CGI member David J. Smith. His Newswatch broadcast can be heard throughout most of the United States on a number of clear channel stations. The program has also expanded onto TV and Smith's 30-minute program can be seen in several major markets. Smith's messages deal primarily with his interpretation of news events - in the light of Bible prophecy, naturally - and almost always revolve around various conspiracy theories involving the New Age movement, Trilateral Commission, Council on Foreign Relations, Freemasonry, the Illuminati, and various other conspiratorial organizations all supposedly engaged in bringing about "the final world social system." A few years ago a series of his radio program dealt with the supposed prophetic significance of the ABC television series "Amerika." To listen to Smith, there is a bogeyman hiding in every closet. His scare tactics have apparently proven quite effective in attracting growing numbers of followers and, more importantly, financial supporters. The first year's subscription to his Newswatch magazine is free - after that there is a subscription fee. In addition to Newswatch magazine, Smith also publishes a magazine called Restoring Knowledge of God which deals mostly with doctrinal issues.
CGEA's basic doctrines are similar to those of the old WCG. Public marking from the pulpit is frequently practiced. The authoritarian Smith is in complete control of this organization and no dissent is permitted. Those who long for this type of stifling spiritual environment can write to CGEA at 319 Osler, Suite 160, Arlington, TX 76010.
The Christian Biblical
Church of God
Former WCG minister Fred R. Coulter heads this small, but growing, church. He recently wrote us:
We are ministering to many of the brethren who have been twice burned, sometimes three times burned, by various ministers and churches of God. We ourselves, as you know, have experienced that twice burned feeling! It's terrible. But what has pulled us and others through has been that we have kept our hearts with God and our noses in the Bible and let God heal us. It is true that true spiritual growth can be achieved through suffering. Not many of us like suffering, but it certainly teaches us lasting lessons.... As a result of helping so many people who have been spiritually mauled and bludgeoned, we have nicknamed ourselves "the No Hassle, Recycle Church of God."
Besides ministering to a small congregation in California, Coulter, along with Carl D. Franklin, ministers to fellowship groups in about seven states. CBCG has an extensive cassette tape Bible study program and printed materials on numerous Bible topics. Coulter, who has a working knowledge of Greek, has translated much of the New Testament and years ago produced his own harmony of the gospels. Nevertheless, he is not without his critics (Bill Dankenbring is one). And one reader wrote us that she thought "Coulter shows an anti-Jewish bias and is a bit too much like a young HWA for my taste." Nevertheless, in recent months we have received a number of letters from readers who, after leaving WCG, CGI, and other groups, found fellowship with CBCG to their liking.
Of particular interest to many are Coulter's materials on topics that are currently controversial in the WCG and related groups: the Trinity controversy (Coulter is generally in line with the old WCG position on this), counting Pentecost (he favors the Sunday observance - not the Monday observance HWA and even Cole accepted), and the observance of Passover (he favors the Nisan 14 view). In regard to the latter, Coulter has a huge 319-page book on the subject, The Christian Passover (available from York Publishing for $21.95 - write to CBCG for details, they have a free flyer about it). CBCG has a free paper available about counting Pentecost, and regarding the Trinity controversy, Coulter tells us he will send a free booklet and six cassette tapes dealing with the Holy Spirit to anyone who requests that package. (We've seen that booklet and an additional research paper by Franklin dealing with the subject and they represent a considerable amount of serious research.) In addition, they are soon going to publish a 64-page book that focuses on how false teachers work from within church organizations. Their basic premise is that two teachings - hierarchical church government and "one and only church of God" - are false doctrines that form the basis of many heresies. For more information contact: The Christian Biblical Church of God, P.O. Box 1442, Hollister, CA 95024 (tel. 408-637-1875).
One aside. Just as Dankenbring's materials are being read by many of the WCG's top ministers, Coulter's materials are being used by many of the ministers and doctrinal committee people in Global and other groups. Yet, in both cases, members of those churches are told not to study "dissident literature."
The Association For
This group evolved out of the Associated Churches of God which formed in 1974 when a major block of WCG ministers bolted from the WCG. The Association (ACD, 4449 S. Star Lake Road, Auburn, WA 98001, tel. 206-859-1017) currently publishes a magazine called The New Millennium. The editor is Kenneth Westby, and the leading contributing editor is Charles V. Dorothy, once one of Worldwide's top theologians. Dorothy, besides having a Ph.D. in theology from Ambassador, earned another Ph.D. in religion from the prestigious Claremont Graduate School in 1989. He has a book in the offing and many articles to his credit. In the December issue of The New Millennium, his article "Judge Not - What Did Christ Mean?" was one many found very insightful. Other contributors to the publication include Gary Arvidson, Dr. Phillip Arnold, Karl A. Hampton, Jerry McClenagan, Ken Ryland, and Robert Wertz.
Another contributor is Steven M. Collins, author of the 400-page book The "Lost" Ten Tribes of Israel - Found! A while back he wrote us:
I am still affiliated with ACD and am very comfortable with its approach and tenets. ACD, I believe, is one of the more mature offshoots of the WCG. We freely tolerate honest differences over scriptural interpretations, prophetic concepts, etc. and we can differ without becoming angry with one another. ACD has jettisoned all vestige of "we-only" exclusivism when dealing with other churches. While I am admittedly a "conservative" on biblical doctrine, I have benefitted from some of the critical canonical analysis that academic "liberals" have presented. ACD, in my view, is an ideal home for ex-WCG, or ex-CGI people who want to retain many of our traditional beliefs [such as the Sabbath and Holy Days] within an organization that has completely eliminated any vestige of mind-control, intimidation, or oppressiveness.
One final thought on ACD. Of all the groups that we have dubbed "Armstrongite," this one is arguably the least so. In fact, we only list them here because of their historical connection to the WCG.
Editor: I am including under this heading the names and addresses of a number of groups - both churches and publications - that can be generally viewed as "Armstrongite." We are using the term "splinters" here because they are either very small groups (usually having only one minister or leader) or because we have too little verifiable information about them to give more data.
Christian Church of God, P.O. Box 7254, Amarillo, TX 79114-7254. The pastor is Jeff Booth. We noticed they were favorably mentioned in a recent ACD publication.
Scriptural Church of God, P.O. Box 15037, Plantation, FL 33318. The pastor is Keith Hunt. Back in 1988, when he was based in Canada, Hunt was teaching, among other less radical ideas, that mushrooms were not to be eaten because they did not qualify as "the green herb" of Gen. 1:29. We currently do not have any more information about this group.
Churchlight Publishing Association, P.O. Box 9901, Colorado Springs, CO 80932. Jack Hines, who pastors the Colorado Springs Church of God, is the editor. What we find most interesting about this conservative Sabbatarian group's small newsletter is the directory of independent Sabbatarian churches they frequently include in their pages. We also found one article in the May 1993 issue particularly interesting. In "How Accurate is the Hebrew Calendar," the author wrote: "lay members are unaware of how this calendar is computed and the fact that it is grossly inaccurate." The computation of the Hebrew Sacred Calendar is increasingly an issue in the WCG offshoot groups.
The Jerusalem Sentinel, P.O. Box 547, Crystal River, FL 34423 is another publication with a special interest in the Hebrew Calendar. Charles Kimbrough is president and Mark Carr is the editor. Apparently this publication serves a number of independent Sabbatarian groups which have a strong aversion to centralized church authority. Many involved with their network of groups are ex-WCG Sabbath keepers.
Church of God (Sabbatarian), 900 W. Alabama St., Anadarko, OK 73005. This group is headed by John Trescott, the editor of Light of Truth magazine. Trescott was formerly a member of the WCG, CGI, and other groups. He still holds to many of HWA's teachings, but in a letter to AR, wrote that he now disagrees with about 30 doctrines HWA taught. His little booklet John Who? explains who he is and gives many insights into the churches he was a part of formerly. One interesting trait that Mr. Trescott has is that he does not isolate himself from the ministries of other groups. His recent contacts with the Global Church of God were mentioned in his July issue. We found one statement particularly interesting:
The only ministers they seem to want, former little Hitlers or not, are those coming directly from the WCG. And they are brought on enjoying a paycheck, as well. I think it would do them all good to get out and try to earn a living by faith first. But then, there would not be the funds to build an organization such as what they have now begun to build.... I believe it would be fitting for all the ministers now coming to the GLOBAL CHURCH OF GOD from Gerald Flurry's group, WCG, or whatever, to publicly apologize for their condoning of the wicked, hierarchical WCG government, and ask the brethren in every one of the Churches of God to forgive them.
Universal Church of God, Route 1, Box 52, Hanna, OK 74845. In February, 1992 AR received a letter from this group signed "Ray Lampley, Prophet of the Most High." The letter explained how he and John Trescott the following month would begin a five-week tour of seven western states to give a testimony to the leaders of those states warning them that The Great Tribulation had begun on March 26, 1991 and that it would last for 1,260 days. We also received a copy of a letter prophet Lampley sent the previous month to the governor of California. The letter began [and the emphasis is his]:
Dear Governor Wilson:
In Accordance with the ORDER OF DESTRUCTION which was filed in the Supreme Court of the United States as the result of failure to answer or to comply with a LAWFUL PROCLAMATION AND DEMAND AT THE COMMON LAW OF GOD, the State of California is presently being destroyed and will continue to be destroyed by authority as stated in Revelation 11:3-13.... The Kingdom of God will be established on this earth beginning October 7, 1994... Please write us if you want to be a part of this end-time work.
The letter was signed the same as the one to AR. Now, we don't know if Governor Wilson ever answered the letter or even saw it. But, we do have to wonder how many tax dollars were spent in surveillance of prophet Lampley and his friend as they made their five-week tour of the west. Trescott apparently is no longer associated with Lampley, but Anderson Fields Jr., another "Prophet of the Most High" is. And so, as you might already have guessed, we now have Lampley and Fields representing themselves as "The Two Witnesses."
Proclaim Liberty, P.O. Box 371, Pasadena, CA 91102 (tel. 1-800-241-4499). Headed by former WCG minister David Fraser, this is another vehemently anti-Tkach, pro-HWA ministry that also claims to be the "Philadelphia era." Fraser puts out numerous free booklets, tapes, and a very thin magazine that leaves some with the impression that it is by and for individuals on LSD. Besides the mismatched colors and psychedelic artwork, Fraser likes to write in simplistic, one sentence paragraphs printed in large type surrounded by much space. During the 1992 presidential campaign, a spokesman for Ross Perot criticized Fraser's publication for using Perot's name and statements in such a way as to leave the impression that the presidential candidate was somehow connected to the Fraser group (Pasadena Star-News, 5/19/92). A good overview of Fraser's ministry is contained in his July 18, 1992 taped message "Goals and Purposes."
Trans-World Publishing, P.O. Box 333, Pasadena, CA 91102. In spite of the ostentatious name of this "group," this is really ex-WCG member Bernard H. Kelly who publishes the inaptly named Common Sense newsletter containing both Armstongism and a few original ideas.
The Masterminder Broadcaster, P.O. Box 2900, Vista, CA 92085-2900 (tel. 619-945-7300). Many readers will recall Al Carrozzo, the popular WCG minister who blew the whistle on Garner Ted Armstrong in 1973 (see AR2). Since then his life has been something of a rollercoaster ride. He went through a divorce, then remarried; went through a bankruptcy and then reportedly made millions on the stockmarket. While his "Twentieth Century Church of God" appears to have fizzled into oblivion, Carrozzo and his son Tom have started something called the Liberty Foundation which publishes The Masterminder Broadcaster newsletter. After reading a few copies we have no idea why it is called that.
Twentieth Century Church of God, P.O. Box 25, Nineveh, PA 15353. This church, which has no connection to the church of the same name stated by Al Carrozzo years ago, is headed by former WCG member C. Kenneth Rockwell. He believes WCG to be Laodicea, puts out doctrinal studies, and has a radio program called The Voice From Afar.
Church of God's Truth, P.O. Box 2951, Corona, CA 91718 (tel. 909-737-0559). Headed by former WCG minister James Russell, this church publishes the Prove All Things newsletter and the booklet Postponements - Another Mystery of the Ages which deals with Sabbath and Holy Day keeping and calendars.
The Total Truth, 30 Barren Creek Rd. Clemdenin, WV 25045. While dubbed "A magazine of love, truth, and understanding," this small, typed newsletter seems merely to reflect editor Lee Grose's personal obsession with prophetic date setting and - you guessed it - calendars.
Restoration Church of God, National Headquarters: 1500 E. Tropicana, Suite 110, Las Vegas, NV 89119 (tel. 702- 251-8343). M. John Allen, the "Pastor General" who heads this group, wrote us: "Being a religious leader is the last thing I want to do right now. What I would really like to do is be a promoter of rock stars. But, unfortunately, that does not appear to be what is in store for me."
Seek and Find! Ministries, P.O. Box 435, Brakpan 1540, Rep. of South Africa. Pastor R.V. Stapleton, a genealogist and former WCG member, puts out articles and attempts to answer religious questions.
Alpha and Omega Christian Foundation, P.O. Box 123, Berowra Heights, N.S.W., 2082, Australia. Coordinator Grigore Sbarcea, publishes The Christian Herald, a theological journal which has included insightful commentary about Mr. Sbarcea's experiences in WCG and CGI. This journal seems more substantive than those put out by many WCG-related groups. That is likely due to the fact that Mr. Sbarcea has a B.A. (majors in religion and ancient history) and has done postgraduate work at an Australian university.
Midnight Ministries, P.O. Box 29, Aylesbury, Bucks. HP17 8TL England. Headed by former WCG member Malcolm B. Heap and his wife Helena, this small group puts out religious pamphlets and the Awake! Awake! newsletter.
One interesting aspect of this ministry is their belief in new revelations. Their son Richard is even believed to have the gift of prophecy. In January of last year it seems God spoke to Richard and revealed that a BMW dealership was about to donate to their ministry a red BMW 325i estate car to assist in the ministry. Heap then wrote to a local BMW dealer telling of God's message. When the dealer didn't respond, Heap went personally to the dealer apparently expecting to collect the free car. Understandably, the dealer thought this a joke. But, the dealer's levity disappeared when he later received a letter from Heap stating, "From this day on, God is going to take away your business to such an extent that in the near future your showroom will close down and most of your staff will no longer have a job." The name of Heap's ministry, coupled with group's letterhead containing a falcon and a sword, didn't help the dealer's disposition much either. The dealer phoned the police and Midnight Ministries made the television news and the front page of the 10/6/93 Bucks Herald.
Top of the Line, P.O. Box 72, Manchester, TN 37355. This is one of our favorites. Under his White Rock logo, former WCG member John E. Kerley, Sr. issues updated bulletins regarding which positions, thrones, and heavenly bodies will be assigned to various living personages in the First Resurrection. How he gets this information we have no idea. But we have been pleased to see that on occasion editor John Trechak has been awarded various planets [not really surprising, some say he's already in outer space, just kidding - asst. ed.]. Others who have made the list are George Bush, Jerry Falwell, Robert Dole, Dolly Parton, and Olivia Newton-John.
* * *
We occasionally get letters from individuals asking about Larry Gilbert Johnson, founder of the Laodicean Church of God (see AR33). According to Arizona officials, Johnson was released from Arizona State Prison on 2/29/92 and was last known to be residing in the Phoenix area. We have no other information about him.
The Bible Sabbath Association
The above listing of WCG offshoots is by no means complete. First of all, in order to save space we have not listed many of the offshoots that have been mentioned in AR in the last few years. Second, we have not included groups outside of the "Armstrongite" spectrum. We'll try to cover some of the non-Armstrongite groups Worldwiders are turning to in a future issue. Third, there are now simply so many WCG offshoots it is virtually impossible for us to monitor, or even to find out about, all of them.
For those who would like to find out about other WCG-related groups, our recommendation is to order a copy of the Directory of Sabbath-Observing Groups. Copies of the 1986 edition and the 1989 supplement can be ordered for $5 by writing to Bible Sabbath Association, Rt. 1, Box 222, Fairview, OK 73737. The directory lists many WCG related groups. Unfortunately, there have been so many changes in these groups in the last five years, some of the information it contains is outdated. However, the Association informs us that they are working on an updated directory right now. So, if you know of some group that should be listed, please write them with the details.
The WCG Exiting
and Support Network
People need people. It's a basic fact of life. And individuals never need the support of others more than when some personal tragedy hits home.
Most people who have been through a cult exiting experience will tell you it was one of the most difficult, traumatic occurrences of their lives. Family ties are often cut - or have to be reestablished. Friendships, and sometimes lifetime careers, come to an end. Belief structures assumed correct for years or even decades are questioned. There is stress and resultant health problems. Many, for a time, will even question their own sanity. ("How could I have been so blind to the obvious?") For relief, some turn to alcohol or drugs, others to religion - or to another cult. Some simply ignore their own feelings (denial, self-deception) only to discover, perhaps many years later, that those feelings and ideas never consciously acknowledged or worked through are still really there, doing immense emotional damage to the self-deceiving individual. It is a proven and well-researched fact that most ex-cult members need transitional help, education on cult awareness, and support to guide them through the exiting stage and to insure a healthy adjustment while reconditioning their lives.
Over the years, we have noticed that cult victims take several paths upon exiting. Some walk away and sever all contacts or they may be left "shunned" by the group. Sadly, some gravitate toward other cultic, aberrant, abusive religions. Of course there are many who are left mistrustful of any ministry and doubtful of any religious beliefs. That is why cult victims benefit greatly by some sort of support, whether it is an informal support group or just having someone to talk to who understands. Guidance regarding important education relating to this experience is essential.
AR has mentioned a few local support groups in the past, but we have never had the means to put together a complete listing. Nor have we had the means to start up an international network of such groups. Additionally, we have simply not had the means to provide all the help that is often needed by those who have recently exited WCG, or to those thinking about leaving, or to the families of such people. Other organizations and individuals, however, are trying to fill some of those needs. One such individual is Linda Stuhlman, a businesswoman and former psychiatric nurse. She and her husband Paul, a professional management consultant, and their two children were once all dedicated WCG members. She recently wrote us:
It was about two years ago when we first suspected we might be in a cult. Unraveling the whole WCG story was not easy. Extricating ourselves from the WCG trance took a great deal of effort. We read Ambassador Report. We contacted the Cult Awareness Network (CAN) and American Family Foundation (AFF) and met with many of their experts. We travelled to Minnesota to attend the annual, National CAN Conference to aid in our recovery. We educated ourselves by talking to psychologists, social workers, and lawyers. And we spent every spare moment reading the ample available cult books and articles plus the massive amounts of literature written about the real WCG.
Along the way, we came to realize that even though AR, CAN, and many other organizations are doing all they are able, those currently or previously victimized by the WCG have unique concerns and needs. The help available for cult victims, if located, is usually not specifically tailored to the WCG victim.
I am presently a Cult Awareness Network and American Family Foundation representative for WCG cases. I have also established a WCG Exiting and Support Network. The purpose of this network is to provide a central contact point to aid exiting members in streamlining their recovery from the WCG. The objectives are as follows:
1. Offer personal, confidential guidance and provide information and resource data for questioning or exiting members as well as concerned non-WCG family members.
2. Distribute or recommend reading materials for those thinking about leaving, and for ex-members pursuing an investigation about the WCG as a cult.
3. Provide a listing of professional mental health experts who are knowledgeable about cults in general and the WCG in particular.
4. Maintain a referral service for those in need of qualified exit counseling consultants or for those requesting to speak with helpful, supportive ex-members who could aid with specific needs or requests.
5. Institute local support groups in as many areas as possible along with a means of interconnection for the local groups.
The goal of the Network is to provide a helping hand for those who have had their personal lives shattered or who were affected in any capacity by their WCG involvement. Many former WCG members are willing to share their experiences with those now exiting Worldwide, perhaps personally, or via phone, fax, or even computer.
The Network will function as an information and support service. It will not in any way recommend specific churches or attempt in any way to convert the exiter to other belief systems.
Those who would like more information, either to assist The WCG Exiting and Support Network or to request help, should write to me: Linda Stuhlman, WCG Exiting and Support Network, P.O. Box 6104, Hamden, CT 06517. Or, you may call me at (203) 281-7182.
One final request. Dr. Langone of the American Family Foundation is currently doing a research project relating to cult experience and suicide. If any AR readers know of a WCG-related suicide, I would like to hear from you. Of course, all information will be kept strictly confidential.
Editor: Our last issue's listing of the many doctrinal changes going on in the WCG brought in a huge number of comments from readers who are both former and current WCG members. What is most remarkable about those letters is the wide range of opinion they reflect about the changes. The following excerpts show just how wide a range of views there are on the subject:
I got the September issue of AR. It just about blew my mind the changes Mr. Tkach is making in church doctrine. A lot of it doesn't make any sense at all.
Well, well. God's Apostle works in mysterious ways, doesn't he? Now let me see if I've got this right. The Kingdom of God is here already. Exactly when did it start? The beast is racism. Toward what race? The Place of Safety is not to be emphasized. I guess that makes sense considering we're living in the Kingdom of God, or maybe it's because there isn't a Place, at least not for the "little people." The existence of God cannot be proven. Does that mean my Seven Proofs God Exists booklet is out of date? The Millennium "may or may not equal 1,000 years." What do they think the word "millennium" stands for?
This is madness! Maybe HWA is turning in his grave. Maybe he resurrected himself and is inside Rod Meredith's body. But at least I know why they decided the Sabbath begins at dark, not sunset. Now they'll still have time to watch Beavis and Butt-head on Friday nights.
I've been in the WCG for 23 years, and I am frustrated to say the least by what I've seen, especially in the last year or so! Mr. Zimmerman [the local WCG pastor] told us, "What changes?" He said there had been only two or three "minor adjustments"! I wasn't bothered too much until this new trinity doctrine - but I have a hard time swallowing this one! I'm beginning to wonder if this is really God's one and only true church anymore. Can you help me? I don't have any money to send you because of tithing. I am not only financially bankrupt, but spiritually bankrupt as well, wondering what is the real truth.
I spent some time going through David Pack's list of 154 doctrinal changes, checking each one. I don't know about any other AR readers or WCG observers, but I found 75 of the 154 - almost half - to be steps in the right direction.
-David C. Strickland
It was a shock to read of so many changes in the WCG. It seems my judgment of Joe T. was correct. Not really the con man like HWA. No doubt he would like to correct the hurts of the past. But for many it's just too late. The damage that has been done cannot be repaired.
I have never felt so positive about the WCG in all the 20 years since I left. I just read the latest AR article about God not being a family - that they were wrong about polytheism. Praise the Lord!
Because of my decades-long association with the WCG I, too, have been shocked at the many recent changes. But, with study I have come to see that there is much that we all need to learn about the New Testament. For instance, many have been ridiculing the idea that racism could be the Beast. I, too, thought that was completely impossible until I read Jesus - a Revolutionary Biography [Harper Collins, 1993]. The author, Prof. John Dominic Crossan, is considered the world's leading scholar on the historical Jesus. Many of his views seem to be in harmony with the scholarship of Mr. Tkach Jr., Mr. Feazell, and Dr. Stavrinides. Dr. Crossan shows how the present or sapiential Kingdom, egalitarianism, and open commensality - for which Mr. Dankenbring has labeled Mr. Tkach Sr. "the Pancake Apostle" - were at the very heart and core of what Jesus personally taught. I therefore think we should not be too quick to ridicule those who are perhaps more learned than we and who have the courage to correct doctrinal errors.
Reading about the WCG adopting the Trinity teaching made me realize how lucky I was in leaving the stranglehold of that group years ago. It just so happened that as your last issue appeared, I was reading Dr. Edmond D. Cohen's brilliant psychological study The Mind of the Bible Believer [Prometheous Books, 1988]. On page 321, there is the following pertinent statement:
The biblical statements implying a Trinity work out so that any coherent summarization one tries to make of them will be wrong. If one focuses on Scriptures indicating that God is "one" and describing the personality attributes of God the Father, then one runs counter to others, indicating the deity of Jesus and the Holy Spirit, making Jesus the ultimate judge, and conferring on the Holy Spirit such dignity that blasphemy against him is a special, unforgivable class of sin. If one focuses on the different consciousnesses and volitions of the three, then one neglects his oneness and the commandment to "have no other gods before Me" - not "before Us." If one tries to make the Trinity one God with three faces or aspects, then the ability of one to be present when another is absent and of one to be literally dead while the others remain alive go unaccounted for. No matter what the novice may understand of God's quantity, the initiate can always force him to be wrong, correct him, and admonish him to be less proud of his sin-cursed, wicked little mind, and more dependent. Having a doctrine flatly stating the contradiction seems to explain the matter. In the development of the Trinity into an express doctrine, there must have been some analogical contamination from the political triumvirates that governed Rome during two crucial periods in the years leading up to the fall of Jerusalem.
In another section of his book (p. 149), Dr. Cohen goes so far as to write that the Trinity doctrine serves as a model for the internally fragmented and confused state of mind of the mind-controlled true believer and is, therefore, useful as a mind-control tool of organized religion.
My suspicion is that, even though in one sense the WCG's acceptance of the Trinity teaching brings them more into the mainstream, in another sense it will only lead to the greater enslavement of the cult's members.
As a former evangelist in the WCG during its explosive growth under Herbert W. Armstrong, I was genuinely astonished at your September lead article, "WCG Adopts Trinity Doctrine." For the past 20 years, a number of us, including Anthony Buzzard, an Oxford graduate and former instructor at Ambassador College, have made the study of the Trinity one of our primary concerns. It is important to know who the God of the Bible is.
We have found that many Trinitarian scholars reject most of the Scriptures used in support of the Trinitarian position. In other words Trinitarians, themselves, say that the verses often used to build a case for the Trinity are unconvincing. Given the circumstances of the first-century Jewish background of the early Christians and their unflinching conviction about monotheism, it would have been impossible for them to have adopted a view of God as three "Persons." Besides being a most complicated philosophical abstraction (this idea that one is somehow three and three is somehow one), the word Trinity is nowhere found in the Bible. When the authors of the New Testament say "God" (ho theos), where do they ever mean "God in three persons"? Jesus was not a Trinitarian (Mark 12:28ff.). It is hard to see why his followers should be. Paul defined the One God as the Father. I Cor. 8:4,6 is his plainly unitarian creedal statement.
Mr. Tkach, the Pastor General of the WCG, has been badly misinformed by his present cadre of theological advisors when he is quoted in Christianity Today as saying, "The Trinity is Bible teaching." Perhaps he does not know that blood has been shed over this issue. The violence of dogmatic Trinitarianism led to the death, amongst others, of Michael Servetus.
The evidence of competent scholars shows that the Trinity did not attain the status of church dogma until the fourth century and only then under great political pressure from Emperor Constantine at the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. The question one must ask is: Why did it take 300 years for this supposedly "plain Bible teaching" to become installed as dogmatic truth?
Anthony Buzzard and I will be glad to share our research. We can show that much modern scholarship has demonstrated the very shaky ground under the Trinity.
"Orthodox" mainline churches are hardly suitable places for ex-WCG members to find "fellowship." The truth about the sleep of the dead and Gospel of the Kingdom will not generally be accepted. Few Protestants know that Martin Luther and William Tyndale held the Armstrong position on the nature of death long before HWA!
Former Worldwiders should definitely remain truth-seekers and not just abandon precious truth for the sake of convenience. If our own exploration over the past 20 years is in any way valid, contemporary Christianity is largely based on a twisting of Paul and a rejection of the historical Jesus - especially his message about the Kingdom of God.
The Armstrong experience can be a useful launching-pad to real restoration of biblical faith. Returning to mainstream traditions uncritically is a double disaster. On no account should truth be abandoned. Everything should be examined carefully, as Paul advised. Worldwiders should now cease playing "follow-my-leader" and take discipleship to Christ seriously.
-Charles F. Hunting
219 Copeland Drive, Orlando, FL 32806
with Anthony Buzzard
185 Summerville Dr., Brooks, GA 30205
Among those who have studied cultural anthropology and comparative religion it is well known that cultures tend to create gods in their own images. Before the anthropologists, even many philosophers commented upon this same widespread phenomenon.
Voltaire had inscribed on his chapel in Ferney the cryptic statement Deo erexit Voltaire (perhaps "God arises from Voltaire") and, according to Karen Armstrong in her current best-seller, A History of God, Voltaire "suggested that if God had not existed then it would have been necessary to invent him." In the nineteenth century, Ludwig Feuerbach revealed in The Essence of Christianity that by logical deduction, the only God that man can worship is the one that man conceives of in his own imagination. Thus, in one sense, man begets God in his own image.
Isn't it interesting that when we analyze the cosmologies of the Armstrong and Tkach administrations, we find that God was cordial enough to allow his very nature to evolve into a curious reflection of each WCG administration.
Let me suggest that when Armstrong or Tkach have used the term "God" they were really subconsciously referring to themselves and their administrations rather than to the true Creator God. The parallels are evident in the following ways:
In the days of Herbert Armstrong, WCG members were led to believe that spiritual inspiration was imparted from God into the mind of their "apostle." And they were indoctrinated to accept HWA as God's conduit of inspiration to a world held captive by the invisible Lucifer. Armstrong used no ghostwriter, per se, although he did need a staff of editors. His sources were more ethereal. So, his view of the Holy Spirit was that it had no personality; it was simply an "inspiration." Armstrong's view of the Holy Spirit was that it flowed like water from a reservoir down from God, then through him first to be distributed by him to his community of true believers. (That is, of course, as long as they paid their water bills to the apostle's water company in Pasadena, in the form of tithes and generous offerings. Otherwise they would have their service cut off.) HWA's view of the Godhead gave significance and force to his tenet of government "from the top down." The old reservoir/conduit theory supposedly made Armstrong the only earthly source for the Holy Spirit and conversion.
Armstrong further believed that Jesus was fallible while on earth. Since Armstrong's death, however, his view of Jesus has been cynically dubbed "the big gamble theory" by the WCG's current top Greek scholar, Kyriacos. J. Stavrinides, and his cronies. Was God the Father gambling that Christ would not give in to temptations of the flesh and lose out on eternity? In 1990, Stavrinides emphatically answered, "No!" and another Armstrong teaching fell. But Herbert Armstrong had, indeed, taken a big gamble on his own son, Garner Ted, who eventually lost out on inheriting his father's throne. During the sixties, HWA was fond of publicly and proudly referring to GTA, with obvious allusion to Matt. 3:17, as "my son, in whom I am well pleased." But then Ted fell from grace by yielding to the same lusts to which his father had earlier succumbed. Herbert's self-identification with a Father God who gambled on his son Jesus, from his temptation in the wilderness to his agony in Gethsemane, later became a distasteful paradigm for the Tkachs. So they just changed it. And in the process, they changed God.
Now, as all "insiders" are well aware, Joe Tkach is not "inspired" in the same way his predecessor was. He is not an effective communicator and his frequent verbal outbursts are reminiscent of the irrational and wrathful God of the eighteenth-century Protestant preacher Jonathan Edwards. And so Tkach's policies must be revealed to the WCG's membership by his only begotten son, Joe Jr., who seems all too prone to portray himself as a martyr. As for Tkach's "inspired" written words, those are actually incarnated by yet a third person. Yes, a person. Namely, Michael Feazell. Even though he is not as visible as the father and the son, that doesn't mean that he is not a separate and distinct person. When he writes, he does so in the name of the father. And though these three are indeed separate persons, they all speak the same thing - and always in nomine patriae - Joseph W. Tkach.
How remarkable that the WCG's God is led around by the nose so easily by mere mortals. To the fleshly trinity's doting lemming-like followers, it never seems to occur that truth can be anything other than what their capricious leaders say it is. Under the Tkach administration, the Godview has evolved into something quite unlike that of Herbert Armstrong's. Indeed, it should be obvious to all that in today's WCG the supposed nature of God has complied with the Tkach administration's real life paradigm - the father, the son, and the holy ghostwriter.
Editor: Mr. Renehan, who is married and the father of four daughters, is a twenty-three year veteran of the WCG. Although 42 years of age, he is now an undergraduate student at a California university, majoring in psychology. He hopes to eventually specialize in the area of religious psychology and cultic therapy. In addition, he is the author of Daughter of Babylon-The True History of the Worldwide Church of God, a 203-page book that many of our readers have called one of the best WCG deprogramming tools they have ever seen. One who read the book said, "as a tool for getting current WCG members to wake up, I think Renehan's book is even superior to AR. AR is a little strong for the fragile minds of WCG true believers. Renehan handles the subject with kid gloves, but his documentation is very, very thorough." Bruce tells us that the number of orders for his book has not warranted it being published in hard-bound form. However, the spiral-bound facsimile (photocopied) version he is sending out is very much worth his asking price of $15 plus $3 for postage and handling. Those interested in obtaining copies should order them directly from the author. His mailing address is: P.O. Box 1551, Tehachapi, CA 93581-1551. By the way, please note the correct zip code. In our last issue we gave it one digit off. Our apologies to any who were inconvenienced by that oversight.
It is certainly amazing to me how so many persons who claim that they are dedicated to Jesus Christ seem to forget what He has said, and what we all have believed in the past, can suddenly just throw up their hands and tell everyone that they were wrong all these years, and take the pronouncements of a nobody that claims to be the representative of Christ, tells everyone that HWA was wrong, and then obey this person's substitutions. Just what are they admitting to today? Can a leopard change his spots?....
When I saw Tkach's last tape to be used as a sermon, and at the end as he was leaving the lectern he stuck out his tongue to the people, I knew that this man was not of the calibre that should be leading God's group....
Now, in your latest release you elaborate the latest ministerial conference items which were discussed. I wonder how these ministers who just several years ago, even just several months ago, were declaring God's doctrine. But now, a few weeks later, they completely change, and with a straight face change the position they had from many years of training just to ensure a paycheck. It tells me they have never known God before, nor do they know him now. They should hang their heads in shame....
With all of this behind me, I will never again join any religious group.
Have you contemplated an "End is Near" issue of AR? Of course I mean an end of the WCG as we once knew it. With Joe Tkach throwing out old doctrines with the speed and finesse of a blind man cleaning out his attic, it won't be long before WCG is just one more steeple on the Protestant landscape. It is interesting that there is talk of making the Holy Days just a "concept." The church membership has picked up on all that has happened, and the falling revenues show that more and more of them now regard tithing as also just a "concept."
-Robert D. Ellsworth
408 So. Pasadena Ave., Suite 4
Pasadena, CA 91105
Editor: AC alumnus Bob Ellsworth, besides running a successful tape duplicating business in Pasadena, is involved in marketing a number of significant books about the Bible. Some of his ads have recently appeared in national magazines. Additionally, Ellsworth, along with Dr. Robert Kuhn, Dr. Ernest L. Martin, and Dr. James Tabor, is actively involved in "The Original Bible Project " which is producing a new translation of the Bible. We hope to report on the project in a future AR. For now, those interested in obtaining information about the project may write to the above address for information.
One comment regarding WCG tithing. While rumors persist that many in the higher WCG echelons believe that their tithing doctrine needs total revision, the Tkachs don't seem to see it that way. Joseph Tkach Sr. has recently made it quite clear that he considers non-tithers to be stealing from God. Notice the following:
I have had a long interest in the Waldensians and was interested to learn that there is a town in North Carolina named Valdese which was founded by Waldensians about 1893. They are a Sunday keeping church.
I am also interested in tithing and felt that Joseph Tkach's recently calling people who don't tithe "thieves" opened my eyes to his approach.
Being in the WCG at present is like being in an unhappy marriage - people want to leave but fear the alternative, the unknown.
Though maybe not as tough as the old bunch, the bastard offspring of the WCG are still pretty mean. Power and its associate offenses seem to be in the fore. In none of the writings I have received from them have I read much about Faith, Hope, or Love - the foundations upon which all godly fellowships must be built. These great basic virtues may be given an occasional nod, but Power is the true operative word.
I was aghast when I read in the last AR how one reader felt that The Spotlight was where to go for all the answers. It looks like many who leave the WCG replace it with right-wing, religious-right, authoritarian type philosophies and views. Let someone else do your thinking for you. Replace one rigid way of thinking with another. It still equals slavery....
Is God a Republican? Is Jesus Christ a "Dittohead"? Are The Forces of Righteousness on the side of ultraconservative, fundamentalist, right-wingers? To hear many ex-Worldwiders and current Worldwiders, you would think so. GTA sounds like a Rush Limbaugh wannabe. His Clinton bashing grows tiresome. Think back over the years. When Democrats were in power he would be venomous in his attacks on government evils, quoting scriptures about "the basest" being in charge. When Republicans were in power, he was strangely silent regarding that, but would quote scriptures about showing respect to the government and about not speaking evil of dignities. (To Ron Dart's credit, on a recent tape he said God is not a Republican and refused to engage in Clinton bashing.)
Now, mind you, there is plenty wrong with Clinton and the Democrats. But same with the Republicans and the conservatives. Do conservatives have a lock on the Truth? I think not. But I think many ministers are closet Republicans. Is not all the world (both the conservative and liberal camps) deceived by Satan? Each side has some truth. It therefore angers me when ministers give a wink and a nod of approval to the conservative political camp - it shows partisanship and lack of objectivity.
Editor: Accompanying Mr. Wagner's interesting letter was an article that appeared on the Op-Ed page of the June 12, 1993 Seattle Times. In the piece entitled "Asking twenty questions about the 'liberal media'" columnists Jeff Cohen and Norman Solomon quite persuasively demonstrate that the U.S. mass media, in stark contrast to its "liberal" public image, is actually, in fact, covertly very much politically ultra-conservative. Those interested in obtaining a free copy of that eye-opening article may write to the two columnists at P.O. Box 13193, Oakland, CA 94661. Be sure to include a stamped, self-addressed envelope.
My wife and I have been members of the WCG for about 10 years. It has only been for the last two years or so that we had begun to realize that something was seriously wrong with this "cult" group that we have been associated with.
During a time of severe personal troubles with our son's suicidal mental condition and my father's terminal cancer we found that our supposed "spiritual family" were more than unsupportive, they were actually critical of us spending time assisting our loved ones' needs. This and other factors have led us to the point of "opening our eyes" to what is really going on within this WCG cult that we had been active in for so many years....
I have just read my first Ambassador Report (AR52).... it is a breath of fresh air to find that we are not alone in the feelings of anguish from the years of mental abuse that we endured through the WCG.... Thanks for the peace of mind that I have already received through this one single copy I have read. I look forward to receiving many more in the future.
I read the Report last night before going to bed. Then I dreamed that I was shanghaied into a UFO piloted by Joseph Tkach. The stewardess - I think her name was Ellen - was serving spring water at room temperature.
Please, please, please continue to send me the AR. I will contribute as I am able. After 25 years in the WCG we are brain dead and almost destroyed.
In closing this issue, let me first draw your attention to the last letter above (and, yes, it is a real letter). The reader's language may seem particularly stark, but, in fact, we receive many letters that are just as pointed. Many hundreds of WCG members, both former and current, have been expressing similar feelings. The WCG's recent history, and particularly the last few years, have left thousands of people in a state of real mental confusion and emotional distress. To many such individuals, AR represents a means of coming to grips with reality and a way of gaining emotional and spiritual stability.
We don't make it a policy to run pages and pages of letters praising our own efforts. Like other publications, we could do that. But, I think our limited resources are better used in other ways. However, I do want to emphasize to all of you who are supporting our efforts: besides providing you personally with information, your contributions are significantly helping hundreds (and quite likely, thousands) of confused and hurting people.
Regarding another matter: my thanks to all of you who wrote us after the terrible Altadena fires in late October and expressed your concerns for our safety. As some of you know, Altadena (just north of Pasadena) was the virtual center of our activities for quite a few years. As it turns out, the old Gerringer home was not harmed. (Although, in actual fact, because they are in the process of moving to Missouri, they had just sold the residence where AR had been typeset for many years and where we kept many of our files until just a few weeks before the fires.) As for the Zolas' home - they were not there at the time because their careers require them to travel so much. But their home was in real danger. One nearby house was destroyed only a block to the east, another was severely burned a block to the south, another was completely destroyed a few hundred yards to the west, and the enormous Mt. Wilson blaze actually came to within a few hundred yards of the north end of their property (this was close to the same ridge where just a few weeks earlier four firefighters lost their lives while battling another fire in the area). At one point, those of us hosing down the Zolas' home were forced to evacuate on orders from fire officials because of the thick smoke and high winds. Nevertheless, the Zolas' property was completely saved - as were the properties of our other AR friends in the area.
In addition, some wondered how we fared through the January earthquake centered in Northridge. While our nerves were jangled a bit, all of us came out OK. And now in February (tonight, just as I write this, the rains and the winds are just starting to die down), I can report that we have also survived the Altadena mudslides. So, in spite of the near-Depression economic conditions we have in Los Angeles County, we do have much to be thankful for.
Once again, my thanks to all of you who expressed your concerns and to those who are supporting our efforts.
With warmest regards,
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