The Painful Truth About The Worldwide Church of God

Der Fuhrer, Herbert W. Armstrong

By Marc

Way back in 1984, about two years after my baptism into the Worldwide Church of God, I read The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, the classic history of Nazi Germany by William L. Shirer. While reading the book, I was struck several times by the similarities between the Third Reich and my church. I should have heeded my misgivings and left the church then, but like a good cult member I pushed unfavorable thoughts to the back of my mind.

I formally left the Worldwide Church of God in May 1998. Since leaving, my thoughts have gone back to Shirer's book, and I thought an essay on what caught my attention almost 15 years ago and in the years since would be of interest to the visitors of the Re-examining Herbert W. Armstrong web site. So I went over to my bookshelf and blew the dust off of my copy of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Here goes:

Strength Through Joy

Under Herbert W. Armstrong, the Worldwide Church of God never lacked activities for its members. When there weren't picnics, there were church socials. When there weren't track meets, there were basketball tournaments. There were Plain Truth newsstands to fill, and there were work parties to clean up Feast of Tabernacles sites. Everything was done under the watchful eyes of the "ministry," who made sure everybody maintained a happy face, and that nobody complained too loudly about anything, lest a bad attitude infect the entire camp.

Organization was always emphasized. "Let all things be done decently and in order (1 Cor. 14:40, KJV)" was the mantra. There was to be no chaos in the Worldwide Church of God. Everything was meticulously planned. Rules, of which there were many, were rigorously enforced.

Typical of Worldwide Church of God activities was the Feast of Tabernacles. I first attended the Feast in 1982 at Mt. Pocono, Pennsylvania. Everyday an announcement bulletin was handed out not only listing the activities scheduled, but also the rules the attendees were expected to follow. For example:

From the October 2, 1982 bulletin:

HOLY DAY OFFERING: ...To ensure proper credit, all offerings must be placed in an envelope and sealed. Please assist the offering processing crew by not folding or crumpling any bills....

SECOND TITHE AS HOLY DAY OFFERINGS: Mr. Herbert W. Armstrong has taught for over 40 years that the second tithe is to enable members to attend God's Holy Days-especially the Feast of Tabernacles. The second tithe is saved for that purpose-not as offerings for the Work. The Scriptures are very clear on this point (Deut. 14:22-27).
However, members may supplement their Holy Day offerings with second tithe provided they have first carefully planned to meet all their festival expenses, sent in their tithe of the tithe, and have shared a portion of their excess second tithe with less fortunate members by sending it in at the Feast site. Those who fulfill these prior obligations and still have second tithe left over, may give it in addition to their regular Holy Day offerings. (That is, above and beyond the amount already set aside for Holy Day offerings.) Or, they may turn it in as excess second tithe. [Editor's note: We mustn't shortchange the church coffers by giving money we already saved for the Feast of Tabernacles in lieu of money we had planned to give as an offering; we should give both.]

USE OF EXITS: Please notice the large signs over the doors on the north end of the auditorium: Handicap Exit Only, Bus Exit Only, and Emergency Exit Only. That side of the auditorium is to be reserved as an exit for these people only. Everyone else should exit via one of the other sides of the building, except in case of emergency.

PICTURE TAKING DURING SERVICES: You are asked not to take any pictures and especially during Mr. Armstrong's transmissions.

SPANKING OF CHILDREN: There is special emphasis at the Feast of Tabernacles on the family. However, the Feast of Tabernacles is not the place to start child rearing. Please be circumspect in where and how much you spank your children.
No spanking will be permitted in the Mother's Rooms. If you need to spank your child, please use the restrooms.

From the October 3, 1982 bulletin:

PARKING: Please follow the instructions of the parking attendants and park only in designated lots. No cars are to be parked on the apron around the auditorium. [Editor's Note: Not true. They did allow handicapped members to park on the apron, a nice gesture. But they also allowed the paid ministry, none of whom was handicapped (except possibly mentally), to park there. It saved them the quarter mile walk from the members' parking lots.]

WALKING ON THE GRASS: God has blessed us with a beautiful facility for the festival. Let's all do our part to keep it that way. Please walk on the walkways, and not on the grass.

From the October 4, 1982 bulletin:

LOST CHILDREN: Lost children will be taken to the Information Booth. If your child becomes lost, please look for him there. Announcements regarding lost children will not be made from the pulpit.

From the October 5, 1982 bulletin:

MINISTERIAL SEATING: The ministers are at the Feast to serve you. In order for them to be accessible to you, a special section has been reserved for the ministers and their families. Please respect their need to have these reserved seats and find seating in other sections. [Editor's note: Not surprisingly, the ministers' seating area had the best view of the stage in the cavernous Mt. Pocono auditorium.]

From the October 6, 1982 bulletin:

FAMILY DANCE REMINDER: Plan on spending tonight right here in the Auditorium dancing on what may well be the largest dance floor in the Poconos. A wide variety of music and types of dancing has been planned for your enjoyment [Editor's note: They did not play any music that would interest anybody under age 50, concentrating on big band music and square dances. YAWN!] DRESS IS TO APPROPRIATE [sic], NEAT AND CLEAN [Editor's note: No, we're going to come to the dance with vomit all over our clothes. What a @#*$&% moron!].

UNSUPERVISED CHILDREN: Due to problems that occurred last night at the Young Ambassador Film, if parents are not able to attend scheduled activities, they should not send their children unsupervised. [Editor's note: As one who was there, I feel that the biggest problem that night was the Young Ambassador film itself. I writhed in agony for two hours at this horribly insipid trash. The morning after the film was shown, the festival coordinator said, "I was so moved that I had tears in my eyes." I, too, had tears in my eyes, but for very different reasons.]
Please remember that Special Music is a part of the worship service, therefore do not talk during Special Music.

From the October 7, 1982 bulletin:

PARKING: Those wishing to leave the 196 parking lot after the exit gate has been closed should use the Green Street exit. Please do not drive across the grass. [Editor's note: The festival coordinator was very anal about cars driving across the grass. Not a day went by without him ranting and raving about the lack of respect for authority. He finally threatened to expel from the Feast the next person who violated this most sacred rule.]

TRAMS: The trams are primarily for those who have trouble walking. If you don't have difficulty walking, please leave the space on the trams for those who do.

FRIDAY NIGHT BIBLE STUDY: There will be a Bible Study tomorrow night, October 8th, here in the Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Since this will be the Sabbath, everyone should plan to attend.

From the October 8, 1982 bulletin:

BIBLE STUDY: There will be a Bible Study tonight here in the Auditorium at 7:30 p.m. Since this is a Sabbath, everyone should plan to attend.

HOLY DAY OFFERING REMINDER: don't forget that tomorrow we will be having a Holy Day offering. Be sure to make your checks payable to Herbert W. Armstrong, and to use your personal envelopes to facilitate the processing of the offering. Now is the time to think objectively and positively about the Holy Day offering. Second tithe may be used after you have met all your other Festival obligations. (Housing, excess second tithe, expenses for return trip, etc.)

From the October 9, 1982 bulletin:

HOUSING RESERVATIONS: Please do not make housing reservations for next year's Feast until the Festival Edition of the Worldwide News comes out in the spring. If you have already made reservations for next year, please cancel them before you leave Mt. Pocono.

Things didn't improve the next year. Apparently, the Mt. Pocono festival coordinator took any infractions of the rules during the 1982 feast as personal challenges to his authority. The rules given in the 1983 daily bulletins were even more forceful than in 1982.

From the September 22, 1983 bulletin:

HOLY DAY OFFERING: The Holy Day offering will be taken up today, September 22. Please remember to bring your special Holy Day envelopes. If you do not have your personal envelopes, you can obtain one from an usher.
To ensure proper credit, all offerings must be placed in an envelope and sealed. Please assist the offering processing crew by not folding or crumpling any bills. Be sure your name, complete address, and the amount of your offering are on the outside of the envelope.
All checks must be made payable to HERBERT W. ARMSTRONG, a Corporate Sole.

REGISTRATION: A Festival Registration card was sent to you with your Holy Day offering envelopes. (If you don't have one, the ushers can supply you with one.) Please stop right now and fill out that card. Pass your card to the aisle when you are finished.
This information will be used only to contact you for an emergency during the Feast, and for registration purposes. It will not be given out to anyone else. Thank you for your cooperation!

TAPING OF SERVICES: As was announced recently from the Pastor General's Report, there should be no taping of services either in local churches or at the Feast. This is not a change, but a restatement of a policy set by Mr. Armstrong many years ago.
Those who are unable to attend may request to borrow tapes of Feast sermons from their pastors. These tapes will be available a few weeks after the Feast.

PICTURE TAKING DURING SERVICES: You are asked not to take any pictures during services, and especially during Mr. Armstrong's transmission.

APPLAUSE AT THE FEAST: In past years, many members have applauded during sermons and sermonettes at the Feast which, all too often, became an embarrassment to both audience and speakers. We want to alleviate this problem by informing you of the proper approach to this subject.
Normally, it is inappropriate to applaud. for special music, sermonettes or sermons. However, spontaneous applause for announcements of inspiring developments in the Work., special intervention or miracles from God, or a special appearance by Mr. Armstrong would be appropriate and fitting. When we want to show our appreciation to God for the special music or spiritual messages we will be receiving during the Fesst [sic] of Tabernacles, it would be more effective and appropriate to do so by our inspired singing of hymns at services and our private, personal prayers of thanks to God.
Therefore, PLEASE DO NOT applaud for sermonettes and sermons at the Feast.

From the September 23, 1983 bulletin:

FAMILY TOGETHERNESS AT THE FEAST: Throughout the year family members of God's Church tend to become separated by the demands of jobs, schools, and other daily responsibilities and activities. But God's Feast of Tabernacles is a time for families to draw closer together as we worship Him.
Accordingly, it would seem only natural for parents and their children to want to sit together in services as they listen to God's ministers preach from His Word. Parents should therefore take the lead in making sure that their teens and younger children sit with them.
Of course, it would be fine for the teens or younger children to sit with their friends occasionally, provided that the parents of the friends are also there. However, unsupervised teens should not sit together in groups, as this takes away from their attention to the messages and prevents family togetherness. Other problems have resulted from this practice in the past -- problems which parents and teens should be striving to avoid this year by sitting together.
When we come before God as a family, He will bless us individually and as a family. This is because worshiping God in this way glorifies the One who created family life for a great purpose. Let's do everything we can during this festival season to draw our families closer together!

MOTHERS' ROOM: Please respect the needs of others in the Mothers' Room by observing the following rules:
* No spanking is allowed.
* No unnecessary visiting.
* Please return to your seat as quickly as possible.

KEEP THE AUDITORIUM CLEAN: Please take a few moments today (and every day) to clean up the area around your seat. This will greatly help the ushers keep the Auditorium clean.
Also, please do not move chairs from their proper places.

From the September 24, 1983 bulletin:

SPANKING OF CHILDREN: There is special emphasis at the Feast of Tabernacles on the family. However, the Feast is not the place to begin a child rearing program. Please be circumspect in where and how much you spank your children. There is a fine line between disciplining and child abuse according to the world's standard. No spanking is permitted in the Mothers' Room. If you need to spank your child, please use the restroom.

CURFEW: While attending the Feast of Tabernacles, God wants us to enjoy fine food and fellowship. However, the primary purpose for attending the Feast is to worship God. We need to be sure that we get plenty of rest to be alert during services. Please wrap up socializing early enough to get plenty of rest. [Editor's note: Maybe the reason why people fell asleep during services is that the sermons were boring. The typical egotistical Worldwide Church of God minister would never admit this, however.]

LATE ARRIVALS: As noted in the Festival Brochure, morning services always begin at 10:30 a.m. Please plan your morning to arrive at services on time.

TRAFFIC: Please help our parking attendants by using your turn signals far enough in advance to indicate your intention to turn into the parking lot. (This is so that the attendants can distinguish church traffic from the general public.)

STAGE: Parents - please be sure to keep your children away from the stage and the ropes around it. (Some children have been playing with and sitting on the ropes.)

From the September 26, 1983 bulletin:

FAMILY DANCE: Tonight from 7:00 to 11:00 p.m. a dance will be held for the whole family in the Auditorium. This is for all ages and all groups. Punch and refreshments will be served. A wide variety of music and types of dancing are planned which should bring toe-tapping enjoyment to everyone. Appropriate dress for this event is Sabbath wear [Editor's note: Which means coats and ties for men and dresses (no slacks) for the ladies.]

The days spent at the Feast of Tabernacles were crammed full of activities to keep the membership busy. Throughout the year, the church would sponsor activities on most weekends, and the membership was admonished to attend as many of them as possible, lest we find ourselves "forsaking the assembling of ourselves together (Heb. 10:25, KJV)," a sure sign of spiritual weakness in the eyes of the "ministry." Like the Feast of Tabernacles, these activities were full of rules, with the prying eyes of the ministry always present.

As I read through The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, I came across a passage that was eerily familiar. The thought that popped into my mind was, "This is just like the church!" Shirer wrote, on page 265:

"Tied down by so many controls at wages little above the subsistence level, the German workers, like the Roman proletariat, were provided with circuses by their rulers to divert attention from their miserable state. 'We had to divert the attention of the masses from material to moral values,' Dr. Ley once explained. 'It is more important to feed the souls of men than their stomachs.'

"So he came up with an organization called Kraft durch Freude ('Strength through Joy'). This provided what can only be called regimented leisure. In a twentieth-century totalitarian dictatorship, as perhaps with older ones, it is deemed necessary to control not only the working hours but the leisure hours of the individual. This was what 'Strength through Joy' did....

"To the ordinary German in the Third Reich this official all-embracing recreational organization no doubt was better than nothing at all, if one could not be trusted to be left to one's own devices. It provided members of the Labor Front, for instance, with dirt-cheap vacation trips on land and sea. Dr. Ley built two 25,000-ton ships, one of which he named after himself, and chartered ten others to handle ocean cruises for Kraft durch Freude. This writer once participated in such a cruise; though life aboard was organized by Nazi leaders to a point of excruciation (for him), the German workers seemed to have a good time."

When I read this, the first thing that leapt into my mind was the startling resemblance between the church activities I attended and the Strength Through Joy activities. I found this very disturbing, and I spent a great deal of time thinking about it. I also curtailed my participation in those activities. All of the church activities were closely supervised. The pastor and/or the associate pastor was always present. Any deviation from accepted behavior would have been pounced upon immediately, even if you simply stated that you weren't enjoying yourself. I know this because I saw it first hand. My pastor (who, by the way, was also the festival coordinator for the Mt. Pocono feast site in 1982 and 1983) saw my closest friend and me sitting at a table during a picnic and asked us if we were enjoying ourselves. My friend made the mistake of telling the pastor he wasn't, and both of us (guilt by association, which is common in totalitarian states) got a lecture about how picnics were held for our benefit, that it was ridiculous for us not to be enjoying ourselves because we were with God's people, and we had better do something about our attitudes.

Conformity of Thought

In Herbert W. Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God, independent thought and differences of opinion were frowned upon. "God says we in His Church must all believe and speak the SAME THING-we must be AGREED on what is truth and right and good as opposed to what is evil and sin.

"For 10 months now, the living CHRIST has been setting His Church BACK ON THE TRACK! Also His college. The liberal element MUST GO! Either the liberals must TURN FROM their liberalism, ...and put IT out of themselves and the Church, or they must go out with it! (From the Worldwide News, Monday, February 19, 1979, "And Now Christ Sets Church Back On Track Doctrinally!", by Herbert W. Armstrong, p. 1,4.)"

Thinking for one's self was a sure fire way to end up out of the church and lose one's salvation. "In other words, if you reject one point of truth, or take one step aside into a point of error--unless you repent immediately and get back to the light-you will take more and more steps into erroneous beliefs, and one by one give up the points of TRUTH you had seen and accepted....

"I have covered here, IN PRINCIPLE, what OTHERS did that caused Christ to take them out of God's CHURCH! don't think, 'Well, all that applied to THEM-not to ME!' Be sure YOU do not start, even so little at first, in Satan's direction. Let no jealousy or contention of any kind against another-whether another member or another of YOUR RANK in the Work, even start to kindle in your mind! For GOD IS NO RESPECTER OF PERSONS. For if God spared not even the ANGELS that sinned (II Peter 2:4), He would no more spare YOU! I did not write this article in order to speak AGAINST those who are OUT, but to warn YOU who are still in, from the very TOP in the Church to the least. (From the Worldwide News, Monday, December 8, 1980, "Reminder: Satan Not Yet Chained!", by Herbert W. Armstrong, p. 5, 8.)"

This conformity of thought was hammered into the membership. So strong was this indoctrination that if one was too forward in stating his disagreement with a church doctrine that the ministry would instruct him to keep his differences of opinion to himself. If he did not, he faced disfellowshipment. Members were encouraged to report those who expressed his disagreements too forcefully.

Usually, peer pressure was enough to silence critics. If one expressed his disagreements, he would be met with shocked and sometimes angry stares from the members. This continues to this day, almost 13 years after Armstrong's death. Shortly after I left the Worldwide Church of God, I told one church loyalist of my decision. She looked at me as though I had a huge black wart on my nose that was oozing green pus. When I tried to explain why I had decided to leave (for my reasons, see A Response to Joseph Tkach's March 1998 Financial Crisis Letter), she said that was no reason to leave. Rather than argue with the clueless, I told her emphatically that I had more than enough reason to leave, and walked away.

This is brought to mind by Shirer on page 248 of The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. "No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive how difficult it is to escape the dread consequences of a regime's calculated and incessant propaganda. [I disagree. Anyone who has been a member of a cult knows this all too well. Whenever I read about life in a totalitarian country, I am always reminded first of my experiences in the Worldwide Church of God.] Often in a German home or office or sometimes in a casual conversation with a stranger in a restaurant, a beer hall, a caf,, I would meet with the most outlandish assertions from seemingly educated and intelligent persons. It was obvious that they were parroting some piece of nonsense they had heard on the radio or read in the newspapers. [In the Worldwide Church of God, the nonsense came from The Worldwide News, The Good News or especially from the pulpit. The Armstrong propaganda machine usually withheld their more bizarre ideas from The Plain Truth, their magazine for the general public.] Sometimes one was tempted to say as much, but on such occasions one was met with such a stare of incredulity, such a shock of silence, as if one had blasphemed the Almighty, that one realized how useless it was even to try to make contact with a mind which had become warped and for whom the facts of life had become what Hitler and Goebbels, with their cynical disregard for truth, said they were." Substitute Herbert W. and Garner Ted Armstrong's names for Hitler and Goebbels, and you have the situation that existed in the Worldwide Church of God.

Taxes and Tithes

As a condition of membership, Worldwide Church of God members were required to pay three tithes. The first tithe was paid directly to church headquarters. The second tithe was saved during the year to pay one's expenses at the annual church indoctrination session known as the Feast of Tabernacles. Any second tithe funds not left over at the convention's conclusion was also to be sent to the church. The third tithe was to be saved every third and sixth year of a seven year cycle. Ostensibly, the third tithe was earmarked for a welfare fund to support poor and disabled church members. In reality, while some of the funds were used for that purpose, most of it was used to enhance the standards of living of the church's ministry. The high ranking ministry lived in mansions on the Pasadena campus of Ambassador College, while Armstrong himself used third tithe funds to purchase and operate a private jet plane.

Church members were always harangued to make greater financial sacrifices for the church. Hardly a month went by without a letter from Herbert W. Armstrong with a reminder that the church needed its members to make ever greater financial sacrifices. In the most egregious example of this, Armstrong even used the occasion of his first wife's fatal illness to squeeze the membership for more money. To read this unbelievable letter, click here.

The Nazi's managed to extract a similar percentage of their workers' salaries by a combination of taxes and "contributions." As Shirer wrote on page 264, "Finally, the take-home pay of the German worker shrank. Besides stiff income taxes, compulsory contributions to sickness, unemployment and disability insurance, and Labor Front dues, the manual worker--like everyone else in Nazi Germany--was constantly pressured to make increasingly large gifts to an assortment of Nazi charities, the chief of which was Winterhilfe (Winter Relief). many a workman lost his job because he failed to contribute to Winterhilfe or because his contribution was deemed too small. Such failure was termed by one labor court, which upheld the dismissal of an employee without notice, 'conduct hostile to the community of the be most strongly condemned.' In the mid-Thirties it was estimated that taxes and contributions took from 15 to 35 per cent of a worker's gross wage. [With three tithes plus holy day offerings, the average Worldwide Church of God member paid a similar amount to the church. And he paid this on top of his federal, state and local income taxes. The average Worldwide Church of God member was expected to make greater financial sacrifices than the average German worker in Nazi Germany.]"

Education Filtered Through the "True Church" Theory

In his section on education in the Third Reich, Shirer wrote, on pages 249-250, "The German schools, from first grade through the universities, were quickly Nazified. Textbooks were hastily rewritten, curricula were changed, Mein Kampf was made--in the words of Der Deutsche Erzieher, official organ of the educators--"our infallible pedagogical guiding star" and teachers who failed to see the new light were cast out.

"...They began to teach what they called German physics, German chemistry, German mathematics. Indeed, in 1937 ther appeared a journal called Deutsche Mathematik, and its first editorial solemnly proclaimed that any idea that mathematics could be judged nonracially carried "within itself the germs of destruction of German science."

Likewise, what passed for education at Armstrong's Ambassador College had to be adjusted to fit his world view. Herbert W. Armstrong believed that origin of his church, the Worldwide Church of God, could be traced through history, in an unbroken line of succession of church eras, to the primitive Christian church led by the apostles. Since this could not be confirmed by actual historic fact, history had to be re-written to conform to Armstrong's belief. Enter Herman L. Hoeh, the official church historian.

"By what authority have historians left God and the Bible out of history?

"This question may come as a surprise. Many are unaware that a radically new interpretation of history is being taught in schools and colleges today. It is a history of the world in which God and the supernatural are rejected."

So Hoeh opens his Compendium of World History, his attempt to re-write the history of the world according to Herbert W. Armstrong's 6,000 year plan. In the second chapter of his book, "6,000 Years of History," Hoeh writes:

"Now we come to the origin of the scientific study of history. The facts are surprising. Few historians are aware of the real origin of their discipline. They generally take for granted as true the principles already laid down for them by preceding historians. Yet one of the basic rules of any scientific study is never to take anything for granted. Let us pull back the curtain on the study of history and view a plot that has eluded even the historians' keen eyes.

"History as a scientific discipline may be said to have taken its rise with Lorenzo della Valla. He demonstrated that the 'Donation of Constantine', on which the secular claims of the Roman Catholic Church were originally based, was a medieval forgery.

"Forgery. That word became a touchstone. Soon non-catholic scholars everywhere became critical, negative, looking for spurious documents. The Middle Ages provided many rich finds.

"During the same period a great revival in Classical Learning had been occurring, The popes had encouraged Catholic scholars of the Renaissance to revive the study of ancient Roman and Greek literature. In non-Catholic educational circles Classical Learning became associated with Catholicism. The inevitable occurred. Scholars who resented everything the word AUTHORITY stood for saw in the Greek and Roman Classics the symbolism of authority and tradition. Tradition would not be purged out, they reasoned, unless the Classics were also attacked and labeled as spurious.

"The frontal assault began. At the close of the eighteenth century Friedrich August Wolf challenged the scholarly world with his
"Prolegomena ad Homerum" (1795). The ancient Greek poet Homer -- famous for having composed the two great epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey -- did not compose either epic in its present form, charged Wolf. Homer, he reasoned, did not know how to write. The epics, he concluded, were pieced together about the seventh century from oral traditions, long after Homer lived. They were therefore unauthentic, Wolf concluded.

"The floodgates of criticism were now opened wide. Thousands of youths, flocking to the German universities for their doctorates, were assigned the task of criticising classical literature. At the height of the epidemic, scarcely a single ancient work remained unimpugned as biased, untrue to fact, or unauthentic. Into the swirl of condemned poems, dramas, myths were heaved the sober histories of Herodotus, and Thucydides, the annals of the Greek city states, the Greek records of ancient Egypt, Assyria and Media. All ancient Greek and Roman history was condemned as spurious, unauthentic, fabulous, unhistorical -- because writing, said the critics, had not been known. How could the Greeks have preserved authentic histories reaching back 2000 years before the time of Christ, asked the critics, if the Greeks did not even know how to write till the seventh century before our era?"

Hoeh decided to set things right. Chapter 3, "History Begins at Babel," begins:

"The restoration of history begins with this chapter. It has taken years of research to recover all the vital pieces of evidence needed to tell the full story. The assumptions of historians and archaeologists had first to be cleared away. The most difficult part, however, was the recovery of rejected evidence -- much of it published over 100 years ago."

The Compendium eventually grew to two volumes (both volumes are available on line; volume one at and volume two at It served as Ambassador College's world history textbook for over a decade. So unreliable was the Compendium as a legitimate work of history that it was discontinued in the early 1970's.

Hoeh also wrote A True History of the True Church (also available on-line at, another work of questionable scholarship. This work was an attempt to trace the true church from its founding as described in the book of Acts through the establishment of the Worldwide Church of God. A refutation of Hoeh' theory can be found in Bruce Renehan's The Daughter of Babylon: The True History of the Worldwide Church of God, beginning with chapter 6.

Herbert Appoints a Successor

As death approached Herbert W. Armstrong, his thoughts turned to the choice of a successor. One would have thought he would have chosen long-time associates like Roderick Meredith, Gerald Waterhouse or Herman Hoeh, men who had worked with him since the 1950's. But these men had fallen from his good graces during the turmoil of the 1970's. Although they had been restored to responsible positions, they were never able to regain Armstrong's complete confidence. Instead, he chose a relative newcomer to his inner circle, Joseph W. Tkach, Sr.

"For some years now, there have been some, like vultures, waiting for me to die. They would like to come back and take over the leadership of the Church in my stead." So wrote Herbert Armstrong in the June 24, 1985 issue of The Worldwide News. Armstrong also must have thought that there were some within his inner circle who were salivating at the chance to move into the apostle's chair. The selection of Joseph Tkach as his successor took many by surprise. It was as though Armstrong was telling the old school, "I know you've been waiting for me to die so that you can inherit my position, but you aren't going to. So there."

When Tkach was appointed, I couldn't help but notice yet another similarity between the paranoid Armstrong and the equally paranoid Hitler. His appointment of a successor was also motivated by spite. In The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, Shirer wrote, "Hitler could not die without first hurling one last insult at the Army and especially at its officer corps, whom he held chiefly responsible for the disaster [losing the war]." Quoting from Hitler's last will and testament, "May it be in the future a point of honor with the German Army officers, as it already is in our Navy, that the surrender of a district or town is out of the question and that, above everything else, the commanders must set a shining example of faithful devotion to duty unto death" (page 1125).

Continuing with Hitler's will, "Before my death, I expel former Reich Marshal Hermann Goering from the party and withdraw from him all the rights that were conferred on him by the decree of June 20, 1941...In his place I appoint Admiral Doenitz as President of the Reich and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces" (page 1126). This was a slap in the face to the leaders of the army, whom Hitler believed were responsible for losing the war. Instead, Hitler appointed the commander in chief of the navy, which had been too small to have a major role in the war. As Armstrong did forty years later, Hitler ignored and even denounced those who had served him since the early days of the Nazi party and appointed one who was only recently admitted into his inner circle.

Tkach Weakens His Detractors

One didn't rise to the office of Pastor General in the Machiavellian Worldwide Church of God without being politically savvy. Tkach knew that he was bound to run into opposition from the Armstrong men, so he made sure he put his own loyalists in key positions and neutralized those who were most likely to cause trouble. The highest rank next to Pastor General in the Worldwide Church of God pecking order is evangelist. Most of his potential trouble sources were of evangelist rank. At the time of Armstrong's death, the following men had attained the rank of evangelist: Richard Ames, Dibar Apartian, Dean Blackwell, Frank Brown, Herman Hoeh, Harold Jackson, Ronald Kelly, Ellis LaRavia, Dennis Luker, Leslie McCullough, Burk McNair, Raymond McNair, Roderick Meredith, Leroy Neff, Richard Rice, Norman Smith, Joseph W. Tkach, Gerald Waterhouse, and Dean Wilson.

Tkach proceeded to devalue the rank of evangelist by going on an ordaining binge. He diluted the rank by appointing one evangelist after another. On August 23, 1986 he ordained Larry Salyer and David Hulme. Stan Bass was ordained January 4, 1987. Carn Catherwood was ordained on July 20, 1987. Colin Adair followed on September 5, 1987.

On April 16, 1988, Tkach ordained three men to the rank of evangelist: Donald Ward, Greg Albrecht, and David Albert. In the May 2, 1988 issue of The Worldwide News, the article announcing the ordinations quoted Tkach as saying "The family of servants is growing." In actuality, Tkach was diluting the power that came with the office of evangelist. If there were few men of evangelist rank, the power and prestige of the office is enhanced. If evangelists become plentiful, the power and prestige of the office is correspondingly diminished.

Tkach did not ordain any evangelists for another two and a half years. But he made up for his inactivity by ordaining four evangelists during the 1990 Fast of Tabernacles. Ordained on September 27 were J. Michael Feazell, Bernard Schnippert, Kyriacos Stavrinides and his son Joseph Tkach, Jr. A month later, on October 20, 1990, Tkach ordained Clint Zimmerman.

Each time a new bunch of evangelists was ordained, I thought back to an episode described in The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. In the footnote on pages 754-755, Shirer writes, "There was a colorful scene and one unprecedented in German history when Hitler suddenly broke off his speech in the middle to award field marshals' batons to twelve generals.... This promiscuous award of field-marshalships-the Kaiser had named only five field marshals from the officer corps during all of World War I...undoubtedly helped to stifle any latent opposition to Hitler among the generals such as had threatened to remove him on at least three occasions in the past. In achieving this and in debasing the value of the highest military rank by raising so many to it, Hitler acted shrewdly to tighten his hold over the generals." Tkach was equally shrewd. There were 19 evangelist ranked ministers at the time of Herbert Armstrong's death, including Tkach. Most of them were department heads, in positions of importance to the Worldwide Church of God corporation. Tkach immediately promoted his allies to the same rank as his most powerful opponents, adding thirteen evangelists in less than five years. He also placed his new appointees in the most sensitive positions within the organization and banished his biggest potential threats to relatively unimportant positions away from the centers of power.

This worked well for a few years. However, it all fell apart when Tkach publicly repudiated Armstrongism. Most of his appointees turned on him and fled to offshoot groups.




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