"Daughter Of Babylon,
The True History of
The Worldwide Church of God"
by Bruce Renehan
Chapter 1 The Mystery of the Church
The booklet simply bore the title: "This Is The WORLDWIDE CHURCH OF GOD" on its cover and the picture of a massive crowd of people in a congregation all standing in unison singing a hymn. It wasn't the cover that was startling or impressive. It was the statement the reader saw upon opening the booklet to the introductory page.
"This is the true story of the true Church, founded A.D. 31 by Jesus Christ, the unique and only voice giving a hopeless world its only and sure hope--the soon-coming peaceful world tomorrow!"
To understand how members of this church have been led to believe statements like the one above, it is important to understand exactly how they interpret and define the word truth.
The Worldwide Church of God (originally called the Radio Church of God) was incorporated by Herbert W. Armstrong in 1948. He taught his followers, from its humble beginning that his church was the ONLY TRUE CHRISTIAN CHURCH ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH and that his followers were called by God during the final generation just prior to the apocalypse and the dawn of "the peaceful world tomorrow." Armstrong was certainly not the first person in history to declare this message and gather a following. Many groups in history have done the same thing. But Armstrong would have to be considered one of the more successful. At his death, he had amassed a multi-million dollar empire and had been in the personal audience of many of the world's leaders.
For his followers, though, he had created an illusion by strategic and repetitious uses of the word truth. Any magician can verify that the most important ingredient in successfully creating an illusion is to convince his audience of its certainty and their imaginations will complete the desired effect. For Armstrong's followers, the illusion was maintained by several fundamental assumptions that led them to create a paradigm, or pattern of thinking. These assumptions begin with the concept that one has been drawn into the only true church and that all other churches are therefore false.
In Part One I want to give an overview of how his church's doctrines were all built upon the axiom of it being God's only true church. This claim is essential in understanding how the church functioned independently from orthodox Christianity and how church members viewed themselves as uniquely chosen to do a job.
If you read the above quote again, one observation seems readily apparent: members needed constant reassurance that their beliefs were true. In fact, the adjective true in its various forms has been meticulously labeled on every possession of the church. Their magazine is entitled The Plain Truth; their church is the true church; and their doctrines are always presented as truths even after being abandoned and replaced by doctrines that were once considered false or evil. In the latter case, Worldwide Church of God indoctrinators utilized the self-contradictory label of new truth to justify both their old faulty belief and their adoption of the newer convenient belief.
The study of other mass movements reveals that believers tend to view their cause as an archetype--they see their cause as the ideal form of government or religion--and so they will loyally identify with it. Humans have a very strong desire to identify with heroic images. This is what psychologist Carl Jung called archetypal activation. "When an archetype is successfully activated, it accrues to itself ideas, percepts and emotional experiences associated with the situation or person responsible for its activation, and these are built into a complex which then becomes functional in the personal unconscious" (Stevens, 32). It would be difficult to believe that people would participate in any cause if they did not identify with it, but there are levels of identification from mild association to blind fanaticism. Fanaticism would lead one to become anti-social, condemn outsiders, refuse to listen to reason from members outside the group, ruin one's own relationship with one's family, ruin one's finances, or even commit atrocities in the name of their cause. It is in the shadow of fanaticism that the Worldwide Church of God has been cast by the media and other critics for several decades, and with good reason.
How did they ever get to be in that position of disfavor?
The church members simply allowed their ministers to redefine the word truth for them. The word truth was given the subjective connotation of church authorization as opposed to objective reality (or, as some have commented about attending church services, "Be sure to check your brains in at the door"). Worldwide ministers prodded members to obsess on the concept that they belonged to God's true church. It then followed that they became exclusive of the world around them, and when they interpreted the Bible they then found scriptures that supported their viewpoint. This is known as isogesis, or the reading of one's own interpretation into scriptures.
By relying on church authorities to redefine the word truth, they were drawn into a type of vortex of circular reasoning. There is a natural human tendency to take shortcuts in thinking but this can make one vulnerable to manipulators. Psychologists know that people will readily submit to advertisers, salesmen, politicians and other exploiters who use certain "weapons of influence." "The secret of their effectiveness lies in the way they structure their requests, the way they arm themselves with one or another of the weapons of influence that exist within the social environment. To do this may take no more than one correctly chosen word that engages a strong psychological principle and sets an automatic behavior tape rolling within us. And trust the human exploiters to learn quickly exactly how to profit from our tendency to respond mechanically according to these principles" (Cialdini, 10). Armstrong carefully chose the word truth to solicit automatic behavior from his followers, thus creating the illusion that his church was the apple of God's eye, as long as it remained the guardian of his definition the truth. Escaping from a vortex of circular reasoning can be next to impossible but one key to escaping is to relearn the meaning of truth.
A generalization about the Worldwide Church of God paradigm of circular reasoning could be summed up with a statement like: "We agree with God. Since God is right, we are right and you are wrong. Either you agree with us or we will have very little, if anything at all, to do with you until you agree that we are right." Ironically, while maintaining this view of the outside world, believers flattered each other for their open-mindedness.
revealed truths of God because they neither observed nor obeyed the doctrines of God's one true church. Worldwide ministers have been quite prone to remind their people that they must "come out of [Babylon] my people and be ye separate." And since members were convinced that they were now of the only existing non-heretical sect of Christians, they were further led to believe that the church was their only refuge in a confusing world that had departed from the "faith once delivered" on Pentecost AD 31. Many of them wondered why other groups, with such a paranoid mind set, would have been classified as cults. Their ministers responded that in a world under attack by Satan the devil, it should have been expected that cults displayed the same type of behavior as God's true church. And this strengthened their resolve to stay in the fold and be wary of the devices of the devil.
At an early point in the indoctrination of followers, the idea was implanted that the paradigm was not so much something that was taught to them by Armstrong but something that they had somehow always believed in. This pressure to accept that they had known Armstrong's truth all along was proof of their "calling." In reality, the natural desire to belong to the group they had identified with had been transferred from one of pressure to conform to one of self-persuasion. This was the hook.
"Self-persuasion is a very powerful force because, in a very real sense, the persuaded never know what hit them. They come to believe that a particular thing is true not because J. Robert Oppenheimer or T. S. Elliot or Joe "The Shoulder" convinced them it is true but because they convince themselves the thing is true. What's more they frequently do not know why or how they came to believe it. This renders the phenomenon not only powerful but frightening as well. As long as I know why I came to believe X, I am relatively free to change my mind; but if all I know is that X is true--and that's all there is to it--I am far more likely to cling to that belief, even in the face of a barrage of disconfirming evidence" (Aronson, 439).
With the paradigm that they had been made privy to God's truth fixed in mind, converts felt that they stood alone in preaching the true gospel of Jesus Christ and that all other gospels were obviously false. Again it is ironic that the gospel Herbert Armstrong felt compelled to preach was that the millennium (or "peaceful world tomorrow") would occur within his lifetime. And after Armstrong's death, the gospel that Armstrong's successor substituted as new truth became a weak attempt at the gospel of grace, the benchmark of Protestant reform. For example, after hearing that Tkach was about to make a doctrinal shift, Watchman Fellowship (a Christian apologetic ministry) contacted Worldwide Church of God headquarters asking for permission to publish the story. They were ungraciously threatened with a lawsuit by church evangelist David Hulme.
When examining the Worldwide Church of God's history of doctrines (its past paradigm) one is constantly confronted with doctrinal inconsistencies. So, it becomes apparent that the term truth to a member of the Worldwide Church of God is not the same as the standard definition of truth. For, the hallmark of truth is that it is consistent and unchangeable.
Another standard for establishing truth and falsehood is by logic. Logical statements (or syllogisms) are always based on a major premise, a minor premise, and a conclusion. It has been understood for a long time in western culture exactly how to establish an argument's relevance and an argument's falsehood. (An argument is the way one's belief is proven). False arguments have been categorized by logicians in what are called the "fallacies of relevance." There are at least 22 ways to deceive people by using the false logic hidden in "fallacies of relevance." I will give examples of these types of fallacies under their title. According to Patrick J. Hurley of the University of San Diego (117), these false arguments are:1. Appeal to Force (Argumentum ad Baculum: Appeal to the "Stick")
example: "We must be constantly on guard against deception. Many have left us because they were deceived. Therefore, if you associate with them, we will have to disfellowship you from the church."
2. Appeal to Pity (Argumentum ad Misericordiam--gaining sympathy)
example: "God's ministers sacrifice long hours to do his work. Many times they don't even have enough time to spend with their families. The least that you could do is dig deep in your pockets and show God how thankful you are for the sacrifices of his ministers."
3. Appeal to the People (Argumentum ad Populum--flattering listeners)
example: "Not many have been called by God to do his work. Those who are must be very special. It is you, brethren, who are specially hand-picked by God to preach this unique gospel to a deceived world of nonbelievers."
4. Argument Against the Person (Argumentum ad Hominem)
example: "Many of you ministers have learned your theology from the evangelist who has just left God's church. Many believe that he was dedicated to the truth. But, I want you to know that for many years he was nothing but a thorn in our sides and a rebellious person."
5. Accident (drawing an illogical conclusion by accident)
example: "During the Dark Ages the Catholic church controlled the whole world and would not allow freedom of religion. Therefore, we can safely conclude that Catholics today are all evil people secretly bent on controlling the world."
6. Straw Man (similar to ad Hominem)
example: "Mr. Brownshoe talks a lot about the good old days, when he was first baptized. As we know, in the good old days the church made a lot of mistakes because it was too harsh. Obviously, Mr. Brownshoe wants us to return to the harsh times when women and children were treated cruelly. Clearly Mr. Brownshoe hates women and children."
7. Missing the Point (Ignoratio Elenchi)
example: "After taking that course in Social Psychology, Mrs. Jones stopped attending church services. Obviously, Satan deceives people when they go to college."
8. Red Herring (used to get someone off the path)
example: "Brethren, it is true that God's ministers commit sin. And Mr. Wanderlust did indeed commit adultery with the deacon's wife. But, David was a man after God's heart and he committed adultery too. If David could do it and be found innocent, you must not judge Mr. Wanderlust."
9. Appeal to Unqualified Authority (Argumentum ad Verecundiam)
example: "Our late apostle told me, as he lay dying, that I must change the doctrines he taught for more than forty years. I tried to record him but could not find a recorder. Based on his authority alone, you must agree that I must make these changes."
10. Appeal to Ignorance (Argumentum ad Ignorantiam)
example: "Why, all the PhD's in the world can put their egg-shaped heads together and NEVER conclude the truth that we, the weak of the world, have come to accept. God chooses just exactly who he reveals true knowledge to. "
11. Hasty Generalization (Converse Accident)
example: "I went to the dentist to get my abscessed tooth removed and he couldn't take me this week. I went to the other dentist in town and he was busy too. God is obviously trying to tell me that I should never go to dentists but just rely on prayer for healing."
12. False Cause
example: "There was an earthquake last week in China. The book of Revelation says that earthquakes precede the return of Christ. Isn't it wonderful that Jesus is returning in our time?"
13. Slippery Slope (everything leads to disaster)
example: "When that earthquake occurred last week in China, I began to hoard water in my basement. I must hoard thousands of gallons because when the great famine occurs people will come and force me to give them my water and, if I refuse, they will begin to riot. The riot will lead to several murders and then the news media will come. Then the whole world will find out that I have water in my basement and more people will come. All law and order will break down and I will be the cause of the end of the world."
14. Weak Analogy
example: "Before Jesus' ministry in the New Testament, John the Baptist prepared the way for him. Jesus is about to return again. Therefore, our apostle must be a type of John the Baptist."
15. Begging the Question (Petitio Principii--it just doesn't follow)
example: "The Apostle Paul and our present leader were personally taught by Jesus Christ. How could we ever question our leader's request to drink this cyanide since the Apostle Paul was bitten by a poisonous serpent and lived to tell about it?"
16. Complex Question (a question that can't be answered 'yes' or 'no')
example: "Have you stopped breaking God's laws yet?"
17. False Dichotomy (either you do this or else)
example: "Either you are committed to pay your tithes to God's true church or you are stealing from God. You don't want to be stealing from God, so you'd better pay your tithes to His church."
18. Suppressed Evidence
example: "Peter Waldo, a successful businessman, was called by God to preach the gospel during the Middle Ages. Our apostle was a successful businessman and was called in these latter days to preach that same gospel."
19. Equivocation (things appear to be equal so they must be equal)
example: "The title 'church of God' occurs exactly 12 times in the Bible. There were 12 apostles. So, 12 must be a significant number. Since our church is called 'The Church of God' we must be the same church as the church in the New Testament."
20. Amphiboly ( an illogical play on words)
example: " The Hebrew words berith and ish mean covenant people. Therefore, the British are God's covenant people."
21. Composition (a sweeping generality)
example: "Since God likes me to give a tenth of my salary to the church, I will give all of my salary. You can't outgive God."
22. Division (an oversimplification)
example: "Our church is God's true church. Therefore, every individual member in our church must be truly converted."
About eight years after the death of Herbert Armstrong, one ex-minister counted 150 formerly held truths that had been revised with new truths by Joseph Tkach, the church's present pastor general. Tkach has revised truth even more since then. In this chapter, I have delved into the general concept of what truth is. The fact that truth can change so much for members of the Worldwide Church of God should be an indicator in itself that their leaders might not even have a clue to what truth is. So, when a concept becomes convenient for the controlling of the membership they slap on the label truth. This has enabled Worldwide Church of God ministers to easily wield the "weapons of influence" on a congregation that responds harmoniously.
Interestingly, all of Herbert Armstrong's teachings could be reduced to three basic doctrinal premises. These three major premises will be explained in Part One.
In the next three chapters I will give a synopsis of these three major premises to show how they were once the source of even the most insignificant of the church's teachings. Let's analyze them, quoting from the writings of the church leaders, before going on to analyze the church's long-held claim to "apostolic succession." This will lay the foundation that is needed to challenge the greatest premise of Herbert Armstrong, that his church was the only modern-day descendant of the New Testament church and therefore God's true church.
The Three Fundamental Beliefs
The three basic premises taught by the Worldwide Church of God are: 1) There is only ONE church that was "built" by Christ and it is identifiable by special keys and doctrines, 2) The law of Moses is an eternal immutable law and the Ten Commandments are God's "great spiritual law", 3) Satan has developed a counterfeit system of Christianity primarily through the Roman Catholic Church.
Let us now see how these original premises created the paradigm of beliefs that supported the Worldwide Church of God during the days of its founder, Herbert W. Armstrong.
Go to the "Painful Truth" page.