"Daughter Of Babylon,
The True History of
The Worldwide Church of God"
by Bruce Renehan
Chapter 17 The Daughter of BabylonIt is quite perplexing to watch events as the Worldwide Church of God (Worldwide Church of God) unfolds [sic]. Since founder Herbert Armstrong died in 1986, the new leader, Joseph Tkach and company have tried to correct many of the obvious errors in doctrine that the church held for so long.
But, how can the leadership make changes when the church had entrenched the belief that Armstrong was God's apostle who had restored the church which was lost with these same "inspired" doctrines?
What many inside and outside fail to understand is that many cults are not only cultic in doctrine, but cultic in practice as well. When dissension came from members who objected to the changes, a number of leaders began to implement the heavy-handed tactics of summary disfellowshipping and shunning, demonstrating an unhealthy continuation of abuse of power.
Apparently some in leadership felt that they could no longer appeal to doctrine as a point of loyalty because the doctrines were changing. Instead there was an appeal to loyalty based on the concept that the Worldwide Church of God is God's "only true church," that there is no salvation outside of the organization, and that to question the leaders is to question God. (6, The Watchman Expositor, Vol. 10, No. 7)
Herbert Armstrong had moved from Eugene, Oregon in 1946 to establish his college with only 5 inaugural students. By 1986, The Plain Truth magazine was well known and circulated throughout the world. It was being published in 7 different languages. Ambassador College had become an architectural dream come true. The mayors of both Pasadena and neighboring Los Angeles had often given the institution praise.
In the community, Ambassador College was a cultural mecca with its beautiful and luxurious concert hall, Ambassador Auditorium. The greatest performers and symphonies of the world had graced its stage, bringing prominence to both Pasadena and the Worldwide Church of God. Luciano Pavorati, Vladimir Horowitz, Beverly Sills, Arthur Reubenstein had all been among the mass of celebrities who had performed at the Ambassador Auditorium.
The 56 acre estate that was once known as "millionaires row" in Pasadena had been purchased, mansion by mansion, in the 40 years of Ambassador College. Exquisite landscaping and architectural additions continued until the campus was finally completed in the early eighties. The small liberal arts college had been dubbed the most beautiful campus on earth in landscaping journals.
Millionaire's row began at the corner of Orange Grove Boulevard and Green Street. This is where the major television networks set up their cameras every New Year's Day to broadcast one of the biggest media events of the year--the Rose Parade. Armstrong's stately residence overlooked the passing parade on Orange Grove boulevard as he lay ebbing away. On January 16, 1986 he died. It was officially stated that he was reclining in his first wife's favorite chair. Even though he had often referred to himself as the Elijah who would cause the hearts of the children to be turned toward their fathers (Mal. 4:6), not one of his children was by his side at his death.
On the CBS evening news, Dan Rather announced to the country, "Evangelist Herbert W. Armstrong, founder and pastor general of the 80,000 member Worldwide Church of God died today at his home in Pasadena, California. Herbert W. Armstrong was 93. In addition to the radio and television program, 'The World Tomorrow', the church publishes Plain Truth magazine and runs Ambassador College in Pasadena." The other major networks also paid their last respects to Armstrong. Seven years earlier Dan Rather's colleague, Mike Wallace and his "60 minutes" staff had done an investigative report on the church entitled "God and Mammon." The report had ended with a tirade by Stanley Rader threatening to sue Mike Wallace. Now Armstrong's feared persecutors paid brief homage to the controversial man.
Earlier that day, an employee meeting was held at Ambassador Auditorium and Armstrong's death was announced by the new Pastor General, Joseph Tkach. Tkach had been introduced by fellow evangelist Ellis LaRavia, who was visibly disturbed when calling his new boss to the stage.
Back stage, someone goaded Tkach by saying, "You'll have a hard time filling Mr. Armstrong's shoes." This irritated Tkach for more than one reason. He had succeeded in grabbing the brass ring by inheriting the $200,000,000 per year empire of Armstrong but, in the eyes of the church, he possessed nowhere near the stature nor charisma of the man.
The other reason Tkach was so irritated by the goading statement was clear. Tkach had known the dark side of Herbert Armstrong during his final years. "They were the most miserable years of my life," he confided to some of his ministers.
In Tkach's address to the 3,000 employees and church members that day, he seized the opportunity to claim that he "might not be able to fill Mr. Armstrong's shoes but at least I can walk in his footsteps."
At Armstrong's funeral on the following Sunday, Herman Hoeh rose to deliver the eulogy before thousands of onlookers. He repeated the worn and tiring story about Armstrong being raised up to prepare the way for the Messiah. He began with the story of Abraham and led up to the New Testament church. He recited the fabled "history" of the one true church, beginning on the day of Pentecost in 31 AD. He spoke confidently about Peter Waldo and Stephen Mumford being predecessors to Armstrong, the end-time apostle.
Among the many dignitaries and aging evangelists seated at the grave side was the silver-haired estranged son of the apostle, Garner Ted. When Ted and family had stepped out of their limousine, a chilling hush of respect came over the crowd. Before scandal had destroyed his reputation, he had been held in the same reverence as his father. Rod Meredith grabbed Ted off to the side and made an appeal for his repentance.
After Armstrong's burial, the first task facing Joseph Tkach was simply to introduce himself to the church. He needed a persona to survive in a church that had been held together by the charisma of its former leader. This required a year long media blitz turned inward on the church's membership.
Who was Joe Tkach? The Tkach party decided to use Armstrong's private jet to travel to each local congregation introducing the new pastor general. The job would be enormous. In 1986, there were Worldwide congregations all over the earth except for most of the orient. As Tkach travelled, his way was prepared by his staff in a fashion usually reserved for royalty.
Larry Omasta, the head of Television Productions, had followed the Armstrongs for several years with his film crew and was now a well-seasoned producer/director. With the deep pockets of the church to finance their efforts, Tkach could now be portrayed as the equivalent to Santa Claus. This was all orchestrated to the theme, "We Are Family" eerily familiar to George Orwell's "Big Brother loves you." Tkach promised to be the loving papa that Armstrong had never been.
After media productions were completed, church members would walk into services to be told that they had a very important program for that day; they were to watch a special movie from headquarters. The famous announcer's voice of Art Gilmore would introduce and narrate the films to the fanfare of the title and theme, "We Are Family!" The films utilized superimposed Hollywood title company graphics and special effects. No expense was spared to thrill the congregation, introducing their new benevolent leader. With stirring music and drum rolls, Tkach was portrayed before the grass roots congregations as a humble man shirking his V. I. P. status, preferring to shake hands with toddlers and embrace the elderly. This was the personality that headquarters wanted the church to imagine belonged to their new pastor general. But was this the real Tkach?
Was this the same Tkach that had bragged a few years earlier to the Pasadena congregation that he had just confronted a member's unconverted husband? He had threatened to go to the hospital with him so he could get his cowboy boot back after it had been removed from the man's ass! Was this the same Tkach who had claimed to have Mafia connections in Chicago? Was this the same Tkach that many had claimed was the very personification of the dreaded and feared "super-deacon?" The super-deacon was the type of man who would not be opposed to physical violence to enforce church rules.
Those church members who had lived in Pasadena in the late 60's and early 70's were familiar with a different Joe Tkach. He would often burst into member homes unannounced and in military fashion place the home under his rigid inspection. This would include checking the sink for dirty dishes, looking into cupboards and examining the contents of the refrigerator. When the home failed inspection, Tkach would fly into lecture mode. One member was caught by surprise once and had to listen to one of Tkach's lectures after stepping out of the shower and only draped in a towel.
Gerald Waterhouse was now on the spot with all of those church members that he had told would never see Armstrong die. But he quickly revised his prophetic rambling to include Tkach. "I just didn't know at the time that God had a greater plan." Not willing to confess that he was not really inspired by God, he chose to drop all former biblical titles that he had given Armstrong. All but one. Armstrong was now surely the biblical type of Moses who had not been allowed to go into the promised land (millennium). Who was Tkach? The successor to Moses was Joshua, who led God's people into the promised land. Tkach had to be the modern day Joshua. Now the kingdom of God was back on schedule, according to Waterhouse. He had just been mistaken about when and how it would arrive and who would lead the church there.
Waterhouse stroked his new boss by calling him a great World War II hero who fought kamikazes aboard the USS Austin. In actual fact, though, the USS Austin never did participate in any battles with the Japanese during the time Tkach was on board.
John Trechak of the Ambassador Report conducted a detailed investigation on Tkach's background and discovered that the Worldwide Church of God has falsified nearly every aspect of his official biography.
Tkach personally possessed very few leadership qualities. He was neither articulate nor well-educated. It became readily apparent that he was, by no stretch of the imagination, the author of the many editorials and personals that the Worldwide Church of God placed his signature on in their publications.
During the legal attack launched against Stanley Rader and the Worldwide Church of God by the California State Attorney General's office in 1979, Joe Tkach and Ellis LaRavia came to the forefront by helping manage church affairs in the absence of Herbert Armstrong, who had fled to Arizona. Both men were later rewarded by Armstrong by being raised to evangelists, the highest rank of the ministry. Stanley Rader was also raised to evangelist the same day as Tkach and LaRavia.
LaRavia and Tkach seemed to display a rivalry. They had much in common and may have been competitive with one another. Besides both being rewarded with rank simultaneously, they were also given luxurious neighboring homes on "millionaire's row" by Armstrong. Coincidentally, they also had wives who had suffered mental breakdowns.
After Tkach took office, the leadership of the well-equipped security force used at the college had been granted to Dennis Van Deventer. Van Deventer became fanatical about his department and began drilling his security guards like military men. He had their uniforms changed from a standard security guard outfit to one that could not be distinguished from a police officer's. The officers were issued mace and trained by local police in self-defense and arrest procedures. Using her alleged mental instability as an excuse, guards were told that Ellis LaRavia's wife had become a threat to the church and was not allowed on church property. This included her home on millionaire's row. LaRavia seemed to have conformed to this restriction. But this seemed too suspicious to Tkach's staff, so they issued the guards binoculars and told them to hide in LaRavia's backyard late at night and spy on the home. The guards obeyed their superiors and shortly discovered that LaRavia was smuggling his wife in.
One night a guard noticed LaRavia's actions and was ready to report his findings over his radio to his superiors. Suddenly, he saw the minister grab his wife's hand and lead her into the bedroom. There he witnessed, as he spied on these two without their knowledge, that they both knelt down and began to pray. This unexpected incident so convicted the security guard that he began to question his presence there and later began to question his superiors. The guard was fired. LaRavia and wife were banished to Wisconsin.
After Armstrong's death, Roderick Meredith had been teaching classes at the sister campus of Ambassador College in Big Sandy, Texas. Tkach had been closely observing his activities too. One of the things Tkach had ordered his instructors to downplay was their speculations about the end of the world. Maybe Tkach knew that this was an impossible task for older ministers. When the word got out that Meredith had violated this order, he was pulled out of an ongoing class and suspended from active participation in all college and ministerial duties.
Meredith and his family were then relocated about 20 miles east of Pasadena in Glendora, California, where the founding evangelist was reduced to the status of a laymember. Tkach chose to keep Meredith on the payroll but took away his responsibilities in the church.
Tkach had commented on occasion that he had many past clashes with his superiors before Armstrong's death and his subsequent elevation to power. Rod Meredith would have been a very likely antagonist of his. Many ministers had experienced a lack of compassion from both Armstrong and Meredith.
Meredith had once been supervisor of the church's ministry and had been known to comment that Tkach held the lowest I. Q. in all of the ministry. There is no doubt that Tkach was getting a little pleasure out of benching an old rival.
Now Tkach had to begin to secure his base of power over the church. He chose to ignore the council of elders that Armstrong had established to advise him and brought from Arizona two young ministers that he felt he could trust, raising them in rank and power just below himself. The two men were Mike Feazell and Tkach's son, Joe Tkach Jr.
A powerful irritation to Tkach had been the constant reminders that "Mr. Armstrong didn't do things that way," from those in the ministry who were now taking orders from him. Even though Tkach wanted to be perceived as being in charge of the international corporation, he found himself being haunted by the ghost of Armstrong instead.
Armstrong had left Tkach with a gluttonous institution that was costing nearly two hundred million dollars per year to maintain. Headquarters had steadily grown into its own microcosmic community within Pasadena. Besides maintaining a complete liberal arts college with faculty and staff, the Worldwide Church of God also provided educational services for the children of local ministers. The kindergarten through high-school institution was known as Imperial Schools. Many ministers, including Tkach's son, Joe Jr., and his boyhood chum, Michael Feazell, had been trained, pampered, and abused completely within the system, from Imperial Schools to Ambassador College (which led them into the ministry).
Also within the microcosm, the church had to maintain what it called a physical plant: Painters, carpenters, electricians, maintenance men and custodians. An elaborate landscape and horticultural department with its own nursery and growing grounds, full time gardeners, arborists, and horticulturalists.
The media productions department was housed in a three story building on Green Street. It contains a complete television studio and two editing facilities. The church also had an on-call remote production unit that it could take anywhere in the world for location shooting. The staff included: Producer, director, film and video editors, writers, artists, audio engineers, musicians, technical engineers, camera men, announcers, and well paid televangelists--David Albert, Richard Ames, David Hulme and Ronald Kelly.
In the four story Hall of Administration were the offices for the various managers and ministers who oversaw operations of the church in several countries and in several languages. Here was where the plush offices of Tkach and staff were located. Tkach, like Armstrong, could be chauffeur driven into his private parking area in the basement of the building and then taken to his fourth floor suite by his own private elevator. Campus security and dispatch ("Control") offices were in the Hall of Administration too; operating 24 hours a day dispatching patrol cars and electric carts that were constantly driven around and through the grounds by a team of watchful security men.
In the two story office facilities building such operations as the production of the church's internal newspaper, the Worldwide News, was produced. Church publications such as the Plain Truth magazine were brainstormed there in the editorial offices.
Also to be maintained were the college bookstore, dormitories, faculty and student dining hall, physical education facilities, natatorium, basketball courts, handball courts, tennis courts, track and field (which all required staff members). Radio facilities and studios, postal operations, mail opening and correspondence teams, and church operators in the large WATS line facility (capable of processing thousands of calls per day), publishing and printing departments, typesetters, pressmen, artists, camera people, managers, writers, photography studios and photographers. Computer operations, data processors, programmers, accounting departments, accountants, bookkeepers, personnel department and job interviewers. Auto mechanics, auto shop, auto body repair and painting, auto leasing and sales, gas station and pump operators, purchasers, and on and on.
Ambassador Auditorium was rival to Los Angeles' Dorothy Chandler Pavilion. Ambassador was elaborately and expensively constructed. Its designers and decorators searched the world over for exotic rosewood, onyx and the finest handcrafted materials and artifacts imported from the four corners of the earth to adorn one of the world's most opulent tributes to the performing arts. The ceilings in the foyer were adorned in pure gold leafing. During its construction, members were coerced into giving offerings above and beyond tithes and holyday offerings to ensure its financing.
After Armstrong's death, the grounds and buildings of the Worldwide Church of God, in Pasadena, were appraised to be worth three hundred million dollars without its artwork and treasures. It was with that price tag that the Pasadena property was put on the market to be liquidated. The campus was closed down and church members' children, hoping to some day become ministers or ministers wives with their unaccredited Ambassador College diplomas, were transferred to the Big Sandy campus.
Armstrong had also maintained flight attendants, pilots and private jet aircraft in Burbank, California; offices and staff members throughout Europe, Britain, Scandinavia, Australia, Canada, the Philippines and Africa; a sister campus in Big Sandy, Texas; and private resorts and cabins.
Requiring nearly a billion dollars in revenue every four years, this was the inherited responsibility of Joe Tkach. All financed by a 100,000 member church deceived into believing that if they did not sacrifice and tithe to the institution they were "stealing from God" and would consequently lose their salvation and eternal lives. The members sacrificed valiantly over the years of Armstrong's radio ministry, but all in vain. Tkach would soon possess the legal documents and deeds to all of Armstrong's empire.
Tkach realized that all this church sponsored activity could destroy millions in assets, so he decided to do some further replacing of his old inherited staff, and asked his new staff how he might go about redesigning church operations, making them financially secure. Among his trusted new vanguard were Bernie Schnippert, Donald Ward, David Hulme, Michael Snyder, Greg Albrecht, and Kyriacos Stavrinides. Their advice resulted in the devising of an agenda referred to in the beginning as the "five year plan." Although the five year plan was presented to college department heads as a budgetary constraint for the church to cut wastefulness in spending, it was also a plan to revise the church's questionable doctrines as well and make them appear more mainstream.
Church members had been particularly naive and trusting of apostle Armstrong, who had lavishly furnished his home with treasures from his trips overseas. One of his favorite games was to challenge dinner guests to estimate the combined value in gold, silver, and artwork in his dining room. After guesses made the circuit of his dining table, he would dazzle them with a price tag in excess of a hundred thousand dollars.
Tkach had the Armstrong mansion sealed after the passing of the baton. The treasures acquired by the apostle then began to vanish.
Armstrong had also maintained several million dollars in a Swiss bank account. Tkach was startled to find that no one in his staff could produce the account number for him. Desperately he had a staff member phone a dissident ex-member, who had once published the fact that he knew the number, offering him a substantial reward for it. He refused to cooperate. Eventually, Tkach was able to gain access to the Swiss account by other means and share the spoil.
One of the first changes made in the doctrinal area had to do with the long-held view of faith healing. Armstrong had claimed that Christ's passover sacrifice was in two parts: the destruction of Christ's flesh (symbolized by the Passover bread) was for the forgiveness of "physical sin;" the pouring out of his blood (or Passover wine) was for the forgiveness of "spiritual sin." Physical sin was understood by him as the cause of sickness, therefore the observance of Passover offered a conditional promise of faith healing.
Armstrong's adherence to the physical ordinances of the Old Covenant caused him to see duality in all aspects of Christianity. He used the term "duality" when referring to himself as the modern version of Elijah just as he felt the apostle Paul had used duality in referring to Christ as the second Adam (I Cor. 15). Armstrong was not consistent in his interpretation, though, since the type/antitype references in scripture refer more in context to opposites rather than parallels. For example, Armstrong could have acknowledged that there was a reference to Christ and Antichrist in scripture. In this context Armstrong would have been the antitype of Elijah and not a type,.
Noting that the church could not guarantee healing to those who kept the Passover was wise on the part of Tkach and his administration. Churches have gotten themselves into legal trouble for unfulfilled healing promises. By advising Tkach to make this doctrinal change, the Worldwide lawyers were obviously trying to protect church finances from being drained by future lawsuits.
The church had accumulated a mountain of damaging doctrinal challenges over the years from without and within. The church was maintained by the grip of Armstrong's controlling personality and misunderstandings about Old Covenant practices for Christians. Now local elders were beginning to embarrass the older evangelists in ministerial conferences. The church's old guard was beginning to lose control to the younger men who had grown up under a system of legalism that they knew first hand did not work.
In one annual ministerial conference at Ambassador College, Herman Hoeh was informing his young ministers that church farmers were commanded to let their land rest every seventh year according to Leviticus 25 and 26. Failure to do so would bring a curse from God. This had been another long-held church doctrine under Armstrong.
One minister politely spoke out and asked Hoeh if he could guarantee the curse from God. Hoeh had never been challenged in such a way. "No sir, I...I can't." "Well, Dr. Hoeh, can you guarantee that our church farmers will be blessed if they do refuse to plant crops every seventh year?" the young minister persisted. Hoeh paused. The classroom full of ministers felt embarrassed for him. "No sir, I can't do that either." Then looking over the room of men Hoeh responded, "This is not the same young man that I knew in Ambassador College, years ago. Let's break for lunch."
It was advantageous for the leadership of the Worldwide Church of God to review its doctrines in order to focus upon Joseph Tkach as the new spiritual leader. This process helped to take the heat off of the group that had accumulated from the outside secular and religious community. Many groups had either spoken or written about the church, placing it in a usually well-deserved, bad light.
Who would want to be known as the spiritual leader of a cult? Certainly not Tkach. In the eyes of the learned religious community, the doctrines of the Worldwide Church of God were easily disprovable and their behavior was clearly cult-like. In earlier years, groups like the Worldwide Church of God were not taken seriously by orthodox theologians. This would soon become a hard lesson for them. Religious leaders had to begin to do their homework. By the death of Herbert Armstrong, nearly every book one might pick up and glance through in the cult section of religious bookstores contained whole passages describing the unorthodox views of the Worldwide Church of God. These books gave varying definitions of cultism. Almost all of the definitions of cult behavior have been practiced within the Worldwide Church of God at one time or another. But, in particular, the one doctrine that theologians claimed to mark the Worldwide Church of God as a cult was their refusal to accept the Trinity.
Dr. Ruth Tucker of Trinity College in Deerfield, Illinois authored a book entitled Another Gospel. In it she explained the teachings of the major religious cults in detail. Curiously, in her description of the Armstrong cult, she opened the door for Joseph Tkach to lead the Worldwide Church of God into orthodoxy. This gave the Worldwide Church of God leaders the chance to clear the group's name. But if they moved too quickly it could spell disaster with loss of members and income. The church had to be kept in the dark until it could emerge from its cocoon as a legitimate Christian institution.
Sensing this possible agenda, one of Tkach's ministers came to believe that the administration was now becoming the predicted "Laodicean era." Gerald Flurry decided to exit the Worldwide Church of God, fearing that it had strayed too far from Armstrongism and feeling that he had to salvage those few faithful Philadelphians. He incorporated a new spin-off branch of the Worldwide that he called the "Philadelphia Church of God." Intent on antagonizing Tkach, he accumulated an immediate audience of dissident sympathizers.
Flurry felt that Dr. Tucker was in league with Tkach to make the Worldwide Church of God "Protestant" and began to write about this theory in his Philadelphia Trumpet magazine. This solicited a response from her which he ignored. Tkach publicly ignored Flurry's accusations.
Like so many other Protestant cult-watchers, Tucker's naiveté lay in her defining a cult strictly by the group's doctrinal unorthodoxy. If one were to choose doctrine as the sole basis of a cult, then most churches would be cults because they all disagree with one another. Yet there is a more foreboding aspect to religious cults which I will discuss later.
In typical fashion, the Worldwide Church of God had not sent a doctrinal committee to visit with Trinity College or other groups who sought to advise them. Instead, the church sent their two public relations experts, Michael Snyder and David Hulme. This should have been suspicious in itself to Tucker. Others who were receiving well-rehearsed public relations announcements were suspicious.
Bob Allen and Dr. James Kennedy had interviewed Michael Snyder on the Christian radio talk show entitled "Truths That Transform." The program is produced in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida by Coral Ridge Ministries. The two interviewers questioned Snyder on the church's move toward orthodoxy. Snyder mentioned that every doctrine was presently under scrutiny. He confessed that Mystery of the Ages had been pulled from circulation because of errors. When asked for examples of doctrinal revisions by the church, Snyder commented,
The Church has recently reemphasized the central position of Jesus Christ in our gospel. In the gospel as revealed in the Bible. And His role in each individual's life, bringing about salvation and bringing a fuller Christian life to an individual.
Smaller changes that have occurred that are of less issue are our changes in make-up and in the celebration of birthdays. The Church has withdrawn from taking positions on those topics. A major reclarification occurred a couple of years ago as well in our understanding of healing, faith healing, and also in the application of medical practice. The Church encourages that all members should seek appropriate medical attention from qualified physicians and reemphasizes this need. In prior years this was always permitted, but never emphasized in the way that it is now.
Kennedy and Allen remained cautious. Having a public relations man speak to them, rather than a theologian, from a church long held to be a cult, was a good reason for them to suspect a smoke screen was being used.
In December of 1990, both Michael Snyder and Dr. Ruth Tucker joined forces in a radio interview with Al Cresta on KMUZ in Detroit, Michigan. Snyder sidestepped issues during the interview to make it appear that the Worldwide Church of God was never cult-like but simply misunderstood. He led listeners to believe that the Worldwide Church of God had never taught British-Israelism and that the Sabbath was never a salvation issue with the church's founder Herbert Armstrong, who believed in salvation by grace alone, according to Snyder. He added, if there was a misunderstanding it was to be taken that critics had misquoted Armstrong. Tucker apologetically stated that she regretted calling the Worldwide Church of God a cult in her book Another Gospel.
James Walker and Philip Arnn of Watchman Fellowship in Arlington, Texas have also closely monitored the activities of the Worldwide and noticed that there was something vitally missing from the church's stated desires to change. Tkach was not being entirely honest with his own congregation. Neither was he owning up to the past sins of the church. This appeared more like cover-up than change of heart to them.
Doctrinal views that Worldwide's representatives had discussed with Ruth Tucker and her colleagues concerned the nature of Christ, the Trinity, salvation by grace, and the spiritual rebirth. These were areas that Tkach's committee expressed some desire to review and improve and this impressed theologians like Tucker.
The committee later chose to make superficial changes based on semantics which might please outside adversaries yet not alarm the church's membership. This backfired though, causing suspicion within the church, mostly among those who had studied theology at Ambassador College. Distrust began to grow mainly based upon their insight that Tkach was being used by his committee to change doctrinal issues that neither he himself could explain nor were the field ministry adequately prepared to teach.
The result was that old-time ministers simply denied that Tkach was making any changes, young ministers hoped that the church would proceed further from past abusiveness and members remained confused. This was not healthy.
Tkach made no effort to redress the abusiveness of the church toward its membership past or present. He maintained the tight-fisted control over the members that had been the real mark of Armstrong. Doctrinal changes had occurred throughout Armstrong's years. They had always been disguised as "New Truth." This saved face for the administration and convinced followers that no other organization had divine guidance outside of the Worldwide Church of God. Tkach's ghost writers wasted little time introducing doctrinal changes in the disguise of "New Truth." Yet Tkach's New Truth had a strange resemblance to Old Protestantism.
When the church finally changed its view of being "born again" in 1991, the leaders chose to blame its past misunderstanding of the doctrine on the late Armstrong. Members began to feel betrayed. They began to ask: "What else will Tkach change?" "How wrong could Armstrong have been?" "Wasn't Armstrong the Elijah?" "Who will preach the Gospel?"
Members had been fed myths about their leaders and their church and had been controlled in areas of food, clothing, make-up, doctors, education, holidays, celebration of birthdays, finances, marriage, sex, child rearing and even how to purchase cars and homes. They had learned to accept everything their leaders had mandated to them without question--relinquishing personal responsibility and losing the ability to think independently. Now the administration was claiming that Armstrong was fallible and that members should accept a new leader--one Armstrong had raised up--as infallible. This created further dissonance.
Tkach continued to ignore the church itself, forging ahead with mysterious doctrinal changes. His shifts were clearly anti-Armstrong. Without making any apologies for past administrative abuse, he continued to push doctrinal changes into mainstream acceptance. All the while threatening members that if they shirked their responsibility to tithe between twenty to thirty percent of their personal gross incomes to him that they were "stealing from God."
Finally in 1992 cracks began to appear in Tkach's facade. Tkach gave a sermon to the entire church worldwide via satellite transmission at the church's annual convention--the Feast of Tabernacles. No more Mr. Nice Guy, he began to lash out about the previous administration and its restrictions and "how dumb we were" to believe such things. This was accurately interpreted by many as a clear attack on Armstrong himself. This aroused angry comments from the members. Tkach had gone too far. So now, he had to attempt an apology before a complete schism would occur.
His apology sermon was video taped in Pasadena and sent to all churches. He denied attacking Armstrong personally and then began to argue that Armstrong, on his death bed, had ordered him to do the very things he had been doing--change all church doctrines because they were in error. It was only on his deathbed that Armstrong allegedly realized his errors. No witnesses could affirm Armstrong's deathbed statement. No record existed of such statements. Tkach was requiring the church to take him at his word that he was the sole witness to such an unlikely occurrence. Tkach was not effective at publicly representing the persona that his committee had created for him.
The only other minister present with Armstrong, in his final days, was Aaron Dean. Dean admitted privately that Tkach had fabricated the stories of Armstrong's deathbed confessions.
Herman Hoeh, Rod Meredith and Raymond McNair knew Armstrong well enough to see through Tkach's ruse.
I obtained a copy of a personal memo sent from Joe Tkach Jr. to a field minister offering reasons why the church will not teach British-Israelism. No references were made by Tkach Jr. as to Armstrong's deathbed desire to have the doctrine changed. But, Armstrong was accused of plagiarizing J. H. Allen's book, Judah's Sceptre and Joseph's Birthright. When I inquired as to the source of the memo, I was informed that it was leaked by Herman Hoeh to church dissidents. This might adequately display Hoeh's support for Tkach's anti-Armstrong stance.
In December of 1992, Rod Meredith asked to have a face to face conference with Tkach. In the two hour confrontation, Meredith pointed out to Tkach that he knew Armstrong well enough to say that he would never have made the alleged changes to his lifelong doctrinal tenets. Meredith was immediately fired and disfellowshipped from the Worldwide Church of God after serving 40 years as a leading and well-respected evangelist.
Meredith had obviously been preparing to start his own spinoff church. It sprang to life upon his disfellowshipping and was named the Global Church of God. Meredith immediately claimed that he was raising up a legitimate successor to the one true church and that it was of the lineage that descended from the New Testament church of the apostles. Meredith proceeded to proclaim Tkach's Worldwide Church of God apostate, abandoning Armstrongism and refusing to preach the Gospel message of soon-coming worldwide tribulation. This he would do himself on the radio as the voice of the radio program, The World Ahead. On page 18 of his first published booklet-- Church Government and Church Unity, Meredith likened Tkach to Diotrephes (III John 9-10), who Meredith claims was one of the wolves in sheep's clothing, misleading the New Testament church, casting out old-time genuine Christians. On page 25 of the same publication he accused Tkach's administration of destroying the legacy of Armstrong. Meredith, one of Armstrong's very first evangelists, was clearly not amused with Tkach's alleged commission from Armstrong.
Rod Meredith struck at the very heart of the Worldwide Church of God. Income began to be diverted to Global from members in the Worldwide, contributing to the Worldwide Church of God suffering an 11% year-to-date decrease during Meredith's third month of operations. Meredith claimed that his first booklet netted a request for 3,000 copies as it rolled off the presses. He has chosen to model his church as an exact clone of the church that he came into in the late 40's and early 50's.
In April, one of the final founding evangelists of the Worldwide Church of God, Raymond McNair, joined ranks with Meredith's Global Church.
In the spring of 1993, cult awareness continued. Few counter-cult groups had been fully convinced of sincerity inside the Worldwide Church of God. Philip Arnn, Craig Branch and James Walker of Watchman Fellowship claimed that in spite of the Worldwide Church of God's changes in doctrines, more than 150 members had written to them complaining of church abuse and mind control tactics still being practiced under Tkach.
Finally there came a confirmation from inside Church Administration that the group had indeed been putting up a front. Michael Snyder, Worldwide Church of God spokesperson and PR man disappeared without a trace. Representatives from group's like Watchman Fellowship and Ambassador Report sought to find him but could not. The Worldwide Church of God would not make comments. Rumors began to flow. One of Michael's co-workers claimed that he had confided in him that the church was indeed a cult before he decided to vanish. Another minister stated that he knew Michael just could not continue to lie for Joe Tkach. David Hulme took over Snyder's position and refused to comment on the status or whereabouts of Snyder also. Possibly Michael did not want his neck in the noose with the media in the light of what had been headline news for nearly two months before his vanishing.
In April of 1993, after 51 days of siege in Waco, Texas, FBI agents raided the religious compound of David Koresh. This resulted in the deaths of 78 members of the Branch Davidian cult. The Branch Davidians are also a descendant group of the William Miller/Seventh-Day Adventist movement. They observe the annual feast day convocations and the Saturday Sabbath. Like many Millerites, they were heavily involved in an apocalyptic belief that they were the only authentic Christians awaiting the return of Christ and the establishment of his millennial reign. Among the strangest of their doctrinal beliefs is that the Holy Spirit is a female.
With minor revolutions brewing inside the Worldwide Church of God, by tight-lipped disgruntled old-time members who were hearing rumors of Tkach's agenda for change, and outside the organization with pricking challenges from John Trechak, Bill Dankenbring, Rod Meredith and Gerald Flurry, Tkach was being forced to lay his cards on the table. The next step for him was to tell the church that Herbert Armstrong had been preaching the wrong gospel. Armstrong had always preached what he called a gospel of Jesus Christ, a gospel that he declared had not been preached for nineteen hundred years until 1936 when Armstrong claimed he was given the divine commission to deliver it to the world. This gospel message was the proclamation of the advent of Jesus to reign over the world. Once delivered to the entire world, the apocalypse would occur.
But Tkach declared that Armstrong was in error. The real gospel was the same one that the Protestants had been preaching for centuries, the gospel of grace. This realization was undoubtedly the result of the
years of influence that Azusa Pacific University had imparted to Michael Feazell, Tkach's chief theologian.
Members were now placed in another quandary. What made them so special? If the Worldwide Church of God gospel was the same one being proclaimed by Methodists, Baptists, and Lutherans, then why had Worldwiders been shunning these Christians?
Colleen Miller, a member of the Gardnerville, Nevada church, wrote to the Pastor General seeking clarification on this issue and she received a personal reply from Tkach in February of 1993. Tkach claimed, "The criterion for salvation is faith in Jesus Christ, not membership in a particular denomination." The Worldwide Church of God had never once taught this to its members. Upon discovering this, Randy Schreiber, Colleen Miller's pastor, wrote a five page letter to Tkach to ask if Christians could also be found in the spin-off groups that had separated from the Worldwide Church of God. Tkach was not amused and Schreiber was relieved of his job.
In July of 1993, the Tkach's theologians startled the mainstream community by accepting the Trinity doctrine. While the Tkach team continued to move their Pasadena based church toward mainstream beliefs, Meredith continued to build his own team determined to salvage the Armstrong legacy. After his defection to Global, ex-Worldwide minister David Pack produced a list of 150 doctrines that had been abandoned by Tkach. Although Tkach had managed to appeal to candid deathbed confessions of Armstrong and the past ignorance of the congregation to justify changing long-held doctrinal positions such as British-Israelism, it seemed evident that at some point he might go too far and cause a major hemorrhage that would bleed his credibility dry. He had already begun to appear anemic but hemorrhage began when the Tkachs would privately accept the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed is the belief in one God composed of three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The confession in the "hypostasis" or Trinity was officially adopted by the Catholic Church in 325 AD upon the request of Emperor Constantine; it was adopted by the Worldwide Church of God in July of 1993.
In the July 27 Pastor General's Report Tkach touted a new booklet, God Is, as a red herring to assure the ministry that they would accept the new teaching once they saw all the facts:
It is true that the Catholic Church teaches the Trinity (though we don't agree entirely with the Catholic view--the booklet will explain why). It is also true that the Nicene Creed was formulated at a council of bishops convened by the Roman Emperor, but those facts don't prove the teaching to be either right or wrong. The teaching stands or falls on whether it is consistent with the Bible, not on who formulated or taught it.
Indeed the teaching is consistent with the Bible because, as I explained in Chapter 11, the Bible was edited and canonized by commission of Constantine in the fourth century.
Watchman Expositor scooped Tkach's doctrinal move in June before he could install a series of glibly crafted articles in the Worldwide News. The cover of the Expositor bore the portrait of Tkach with subtitle "Insiders Report: Worldwide poised to adopt Doctrine of the Trinity." When James Walker contacted David Hulme in Pasadena and asked him to confirm the story that had leaked to them from some of Tkach's aides, Hulme proceeded to threaten a lawsuit over what he called the "unscrupulous scoop."
In November of 1993, I had been interviewed by Christianity Today magazine. Along with Rod Meredith, David Hulme and John Trechak, I had been asked to comment on Tkach's move toward orthodoxy and acceptance of the Trinity. "I wouldn't be surprised if 50 percent --at least-- walk out the door..." was the comment that Mark Kellner quoted from me after about two hours of being interviewed. Had I been too hasty? It would be another year and a half before the real schism would occur. Although the comment seemed impetuous, I knew all too well that for years a 50 percent division of the church had been awaited by members who read the parable of the ten virgins in the book of Matthew. For those disgruntled members that I knew were very willing to produce self-fulfilling prophecies, the number seemed good to me.
By the spring of 1994 photo-copies of the Colleen Miller-Randy Scrieber-Joe Tkach letters had been circulating throughout the Worldwide grapevine as debating members were raging on the Internet about Tkach's motives. Before the church, Joe Tkach's sermons and private conversations contained so much duplicity that confusion continued to climb. He would openly condemn rumors that had circulated claiming he was "doing away with the law," that he no longer believed in strict tithing, or that Sabbath observance was not for Christians. He boasted that he never made such claims but many of his ministers had witnessed him make the statements and wondered now if Tkach was losing his mind.
In the April 27, 1993 Worldwide News, Joe Tkach Jr. made similar duplicitous statements. Two months after his father had written to Colleen Miller, "The criterion for salvation is faith in Jesus Christ, not membership in a particular denomination," Joe Jr. wrote:A rumor that has been circulated is that we now believe that all churches are God's churches. That is most certainly not our belief....
Our validity as the true Church of God is not in question. We know who we are and we know that our motives are pure as we strive to faithfully emulate all that the Bible teaches us....
But in speaking about others who made the same claim (the Pharisees), Tkach Jr. wrote in the same article:Who was it that Jesus called the children of the devil? It was the ones who thought they had a corner on the market on spiritual values and truth.
Those who thought they were the only ones who could possibly have a relationship with God. It was that attitude of spiritual superiority that made them partakers of the attitude of the devil. (Joseph Tkach Jr., Worldwide News, April 27, 1993, pp. 4,5)
In the fall of 1994, prior to the Feast of Tabernacles, Worldwide Church of God minister Earl Williams delivered a sermon in which he proclaimed that under the New Covenant the law is done away. Infuriated, David Hulme immediately asked Tkach to disfellowship Williams and his assistant Joe McNair, who had been telling members "that the food laws, Sabbath, and Holy Days are done away..." (Hulme, 3). But, Tkach refused to chastise Williams or his assistant.
In preparation for the next big doctrinal revision, church headquarters suggested that their ministers read Dale Ratzlaff's book Sabbath in Crisis and by January 5 they were informed by the Pastor General's Report that, to the Worldwide Church of God, the law was officially done away and "there is no scriptural requirement for Christians to abstain from unclean meat" (Hulme, 2).
By the end of January 1995, Worldwiders everywhere had been informed that they were not required to tithe or observe other Old Testament commands.
The repercussion caused a predictable collapse in church income which resulted in the inevitable closing of the prized accomplishment of Herbert Armstrong, Ambassador Auditorium. Tkach's team of administrators wasted little time in draining away assets that could be diverted elsewhere. Not only would members suffer by the losses, the greater community of Los Angeles would lament the loss of Ambassador Auditorium. The January 28 Los Angeles Times reported:Ambassador Auditorium--one of the Southland's most acclaimed concert halls and for more than 20 years a center for fine classical, jazz and folk music--is canceling its 1995-1996 season because of financial woes and will shut its doors in May, owners of the Pasadena landmark said Friday....The church has been subsidizing the auditorium's operating budget, providing 50% --about $2.5 million--of its overhead in recent years.
But with dwindling church income, officials said, they "now reluctantly must cease funding the arts." David Hulme, director of performing arts at Ambassador and an ordained minister in the church, said religious donations have dropped 30%. (Ambassador Auditorium, A1)
No longer requiring members to tithe also meant the layoffs of hundreds of loyal church employees. Many had worked for the church most of their adult lives. The February 7 Pasadena Star News reported,
The cuts are necessary because the church suffered a huge loss in January income, said Tom Lapacka, a church spokesman. A change in the church's tithing doctrine led to the losses. Now members are not required to tithe 10 percent of their income....Two weeks ago, the church, which claims 92,000 members, announced that it will no longer support the world-renowned concert series at the Ambassador Auditorium, which church donations supported for 20 years (Sharon and Kendall, A1).
Members were not aware that their hard earned tithe money had been paying celebrities at Ambassador Auditorium at the rate of $60,000 per evening's performance. "In January, after the tithing change was announced, the church immediately lost 30 percent of its monthly income" (Sharon and Kendall).
Under the headline "Financial Crisis Threatens Worldwide Church of God," the Los Angeles Times reported on February 9:
Rocked by members' reactions to major reversals of its most fundamental doctrines--including a new declaration that tithing is no longer madatory--the Worldwide Church of God is facing the most severe financial crisis in its history (Crisis, B1).
The church administration of Tkach had now reached its critical mass, Tkach having accomplished everything that he said he would never do. Nearly ten years earlier he had claimed that he would walk in Armstrong's footsteps, that he would trim the waste out of the church, and make it a financially efficient organization because his forte was in administration. Now his Titanic was sinking. Only Tkach and a few of his hand-picked favorite sycophants were cashing in on the Worldwide Church of God tragedy.
The "work" had already been severly crippled in Europe. Canada had boasted financial security and independence for several years until disaster struck in 1995. Frank Brown, Regional Director of the church's Canadian offices sent out an immediate appeal to his brethren in a February 21 co-worker letter:
This letter is a difficult and painful one for me to write but I cannot delay doing so. As you may have heard from your minister, the income for the Church in Canada is down sharply and will require a number of adjustments to our expenditures to bring things into balance. In fact, income has been declining steadily for the past four years and each year the budget has had to be prepared to reflect this.
The members were now divided and confused. Some angrily defected from Worldwide to the various splinter groups, some reveled in their new-found freedom from the law, and some refused to believe that any changes had occurred since the death of Herbert Armstrong.
The general ministry could see that the handwriting was on the wall for their once securely held jobs and lavish salaries. But in Pasadena, Tkach had moved into the old Armstrong residence hiring an interior decorator to renovate it. He purchased several big-screen televisions and had a Jacuzzi installed in the back yard behind a secure new cinder-block wall. He and his entourage could now view the passing parade on Orange Grove boulevard after observing Christmas for the first time in their mansions on Millionaires row. William Miller's year of doom was just a historical fantasy. Just four years away from the year 2,000, the new millennium would bring paradise to just this chosen few.
With the imminent closing of Ambassador Auditorium in May, evangelist David Hulme the director of performing arts, submitted his resignation from both the ministry and the Worldwide Church of God on April 21. By April 30 a Conference of Elders was convened in Indianapolis and on the first of May, 265 defecting Worldwide Church of God elders elected Hulme chairman of the board of the new spin-off church, United Church of God. Even Gerald Waterhouse, who was never remiss to criticize past defectors from the Worldwide Church of God avowed his allegiance to United. Tkach's son-in-law Doug Horchak and many other close acquaintances had also forsaken their former institution.
Rumors were now circulating that Tkach was thinking of changing the name of the Worldwide Church of God. Whether or not he does so, Herbert Armstrong's prophecy based ministry has met its end. But, Millerism will continue to live on.
Go to the "Painful Truth" page.