Skip to content

Memoirs of a One True Church

November 20, 2009

Followers of what was formerly classified “the one true church” now declare on their church’s website: “We have much to apologize for. We are profoundly sorry that we verbally persecuted Christians and created dissention and disunity in the body of Christ. We seek forgiveness and reconciliation.”

These former followers of the late Herbert Armstrong, founder and apostle of the Worldwide Church of God, came to realize the doctrinal errors of their founder after his death in 1986.  After a long and painful process over more than ten years, the leaders finally made the decision to reject the unbiblical doctrines of their founder and to embrace the Biblical gospel of Jesus Christ and His grace. Earlier this year they changed the name of their organization to Grace Communion International to reflect the doctrinal changes their organization has made, in particular their “fresh awareness of the importance of grace.”

The journey from heterodoxy to orthodoxy has been full of costly sacrifices for this organization.  Members had found their identity in Armstrong’s unique doctrines that made them different from other churches.  Thousands left the organization in waves as significant doctrinal changes were announced by Armstrong’s successor, Joseph Tkach Sr, who could not reconcile Armstrong’s erroneous doctrines with scripture. Here is a timeline from their website of the doctrinal changes and the subsequent impacts to the organization:

  • 1988 – Tkach made minor doctrinal changes.  He taught that it was permissible for members to go to doctors, take medicines, observe birthdays and wear cosmetics. He realized that many of the prophetic speculations, even though they made the television program and magazine interesting, couldn’t be proven from Scripture.
  • 1989 – several thousand members left to form a new church that preserved Armstrong doctrines
  • 1990 – church peaked at 133,000 in weekly attendance. More doctrinal changes were made as Tkach realized that more of Armstrong’s unusual beliefs, though sincere, were not biblical. The focus of the gospel is Jesus Christ and grace, not prophecy or the millennium. Budgetary reductions began to affect the television broadcast. More Armstrong literature was discontinued and/or edited.
  • 1991 – Tkach revised the church’s explanation of what it means to be born again, noting also that humans will never become Gods. He also announced a study about the modern identity of the lost ten tribes, and accepted the divinity of the Holy Spirit. Membership, attendance, and income began to decrease slowly.
  • 1992 – income continued to decrease, and a prominent minister and a few thousand members left to form yet another church.
  • 1993 – the church accepted the doctrine of the Trinity. The church declared that the cross is not a pagan symbol, that it is not a sin to have illustrations of Jesus, and that Christians may vote.
  • 1994 – the television program was cancelled and employees were laid off. The church also explained to the members that true Christians can be found in other denominations.
  • 1994 –  Tkach announced that Christians do not have to keep old covenant laws such as the weekly and annual Sabbaths, two and three tithes, and avoid pork, shrimp and other meats. In many ways, the Sabbath had been the foundational doctrine of the entire denomination, so this was the biggest change of all. (Click here for the text of the sermon Tkach used to announce these changes, and click here to see a menu of papers analyzing these doctrines.)

The church website shares the impact of these changes:  “Many members did not accept these changes. After decades of understanding their identity as Christians in terms of Sabbath-keeping, and after making many sacrifices in order to keep the Sabbath, they could not easily accept the idea that it really didn’t matter. In 1995, hundreds of ministers and 12,000 members left to form a different denomination. Thousands more stopped attending any church, and many congregations were left with only half the members they used to have. Church income dropped another 50 percent, and hundreds of employees were laid off. Friends and families were split. It was a time of anguish and depression.”

“A few additional doctrines were changed later in 1995: The church officially rejected the doctrine that the Anglo-Saxons descended from the tribes of Israel” (I wonder if DNA studies had anything to do with this?)

As members left income decreased and the organization could not continue many of its ministries.  The membership has reduced to less than half of what it was. “The television ministry, once one of the largest in America, is gone. The church’s magazine, Christian Odyssey, now has less than 20,000 subscribers. The number of employees at headquarters fell from 1,000 to 45…Ambassador College/University closed because the church could no longer subsidize it, and its properties have been sold. The church’s properties in Pasadena were greatly underutilized and were sold in 2004.”  Their reduced income has also forced them to replace paid pastors with lay pastors in smaller congregations.

The good news (this is beautiful):

“Something unexpected also happened: Many members, after struggling to understand the doctrinal change, began to experience a new sense of peace and joy through a renewed faith in Jesus Christ. Their identity was in him, not in the particular laws they kept. The Sabbath doctrine was changed in order to be more biblical; the result was that members became more spiritual. Members focused more on their relationship with Jesus Christ; they also had an increased interest in worship. Organizationally, the doctrinal changes had catastrophic results. But spiritually, they were the best thing that ever happened to us.”

Looking toward the future with hope and humility:

“There are some similarities between the story of Paul and our story. We have our roots in the old covenant, and are now firmly planted in the new. We have embraced grace with joy, and there have been Barnabas-like people who have helped reconcile us to other Christians, and who have helped teach us. And yet it has taken us some time to understand our identity and our role in the Christian world.  We do not have any delusions of grandeur, that we will be as great as the apostle Paul. We do not imagine that we will turn the world upside down. We do not think we will transform the church like Paul did. But we do expect God to use us to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. There may be a niche that needs our particular experience. Perhaps God is preparing us for situations that do not yet exist. We do not know, but we remain ready to respond to God’s leading.”  (from http://www.wcg.org/lit/aboutus/history.htm)

What a beautiful testimony of God’s gracious work in an organization.  I am so blessed by the humility they now exhibit as they seek to serve the Lord as one part of His entire body.  No one can deny the painful sacrifices that have brought them to this point.  May God be glorified to do this miraculous work again in other organizations in need of His touch.

Questions to ponder:

What are some similarities between the former doctrines of the Worldwide Church of God and the LDS Church?

Will there be a courageous leader like Joseph Tkach Sr in the LDS church anytime soon?

If an LDS prophet did make doctrinal changes, which ones do you think might result in a church split?

What doctrinal or procedural changes would you make if you were in charge?

Advertisements
23 Comments leave one →
  1. November 20, 2009 4:45 am

    Jessica,

    Wonderful post, as usual. I am so touched by what God has been doing in the World Wide Church of God! It is truly nothing short of a miracle! I have in the past, prayed the same thing would happen to the LDS church.. … how awesome that would be! ( and yes painful to as I think many LDS would leave if something similar happened)

    I think there is a video or DVD production of some sort out there that chronicles the changes made in the WWCOG? I would be interested to view that.

    As far as similarities between doctrines……. I see many.. but I will let the LDS readers here share their thoughts on that one. I will be interested to hear what they have to share.

    Meanwhile, praise God for what He has done in that church!

    Gloria

  2. nathmac permalink
    November 20, 2009 7:36 am

    This is a fantastic post! Thank you for taking the time to research and share your thoughts….

    NM

  3. November 20, 2009 4:48 pm

    Gloria,

    I think the video you are talking about is this one:

    It’s wonderful! 🙂

  4. November 20, 2009 10:28 pm

    Keep dreaming Jessica.

  5. November 20, 2009 10:38 pm

    Hey, she’s not the only one dreaming.

  6. November 21, 2009 6:59 am

    Luk 15:10 Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.

    Same here ladies.

  7. November 21, 2009 9:07 pm

    Sadly, it isn’t quite that simple, as many, many former members of the Worldwide Church of God can attest. The current leadership (the denomination is now called Grace Communion International) has been deeply divisive, and many of those who were at the forefront of reform are now on the outside. While there is no prospect of a return to the old ways, the hierarchic structure established by Herbert Armstrong is still there. Members have little or no real voice. The lesson is that more than doctrine has to change, so does structure. On that scorecard the Worldwide Church of God gets an F.

  8. PurpleHymnal permalink
    November 21, 2009 9:43 pm

    “Ambassador College/University closed because the church could no longer subsidize it, and its properties have been sold. The church’s properties in Pasadena were greatly underutilized and were sold in 2004.”

    The revenue (suspected to be in the millions) that was generated by these sales was never accounted for. Joseph Tkach Jr. is the Pastor-General-in-perpetuity of the church (the SOLE head of the church, and the SOLE member of the body corporate that controls ALL assets of the church; the unfortunate attenders of WCG/GCI are NOT “church members” as per the church’s own By-Laws).

    Add to that the fact that the outward doctrinal changes from Headquarters absolutely do not reflect WCG/GCI congregations “on the ground”: As long as the pastors have sheep to warm the seats, members are still allowed to reject trinitarianism, still allowed to adhere to the dietary laws, still believe in British-Israelism, and still “hold fast to the faith once delivered”, some of which number includes the ministers — who are only holding on for the pension plan.

    As long as the members sit still for a forty-five minute sermon about the pagan Christ every week, and don’t vocally go against the ministry’s/church’s heretical views, they can still stay in “god’s one true church” (most of them are waiting for “God’s correction” of the corrupt leadership, or so they delude themselves), and they get off scot-free holding fast to their former doctrines.

    So, tell me, how has the WCG/GCI been “transformed by truth” exactly? Because from where I’m sitting, I don’t see that at all.

  9. November 21, 2009 10:36 pm

    So you are saying that ministers in local congregations still teach that the WCG/GCI is God’s one true church? Does this teaching come from Tkach Jr? If so, is there anywhere on the church website that would give outsiders this information? (according to the church website they were accepted by the National Association of Evangelicals in 1997 – I don’t see how they could be if they still adhere to this teaching of “one true church”). Also, I’m curious if you still currently attend. If so, what keeps you going if you disagree to this extent with the church doctrines and structure?

    Thanks for stopping by and sharing from your “insider” perspective! Very interesting to hear!

  10. November 21, 2009 10:56 pm

    Jessica, you don’t get to pick and choose family.

    You’re kind of stuck with them – good points and bad.

  11. November 22, 2009 2:51 am

    Hi Jessica. No, WCG/GCI does not teach that it is the one true church. A lot of folk who remain still seem to act as though it is, though. Those with “get up and go” have got up and gone. I left before the changes, but when they arrived it quickly became clear that the same top-down system would be retained. Joe Jr. is in effect “president for life,” and board members are appointed, not elected. Which means, I think, that in theory the current GCI leadership has less accountability to its members than the leadership of the LDS church. In my view that’s anything but healthy.

  12. PurpleHymnal permalink
    November 22, 2009 4:08 pm

    Hi Jessica, thanks for your questions, I will try to answer them as best as I can.

    So you are saying that ministers in local congregations still teach that the WCG/GCI is God’s one true church?

    Not exactly, they’re not allowed to that, and would lose their retirement pension if they did. They do, however, “look the other way” if there are members of their congregation that still believe that. There is quite a significant number in the WCG/GCI who consider themselves “God’s Righteous Under Much Persecution” — if you Google the term, you will see that these are current members of WCG/GCI, who DO “hold fast to the faith once delivered” and are waiting for “God’s correction” of the one true church (which is why these members have not chosen to go with one of the splinter groups).

    The ministers are desperate enough to retain their dwindling members, that they preach the Headquarters-sanctioned evangelicalism, and look the other way, when the actual members of their congregations maintain the status quo.

    Does this teaching come from Tkach Jr?

    No, Junior and his Council of Evil spout whatever trinitarian nonsense their evangelical bedfellows tell them is “appropriate” to believe. It’s anyone’s guess as to whether or not Junior believes it himself, as he’s the one sitting on all the church’s bounty, as noted above.

    If so, is there anywhere on the church website that would give outsiders this information?

    No, as I said, this is part of the two-tiered information the cult is still actively engaging in.

    (according to the church website they were accepted by the National Association of Evangelicals in 1997 – I don’t see how they could be if they still adhere to this teaching of “one true church”).

    The Pastor General and the Council of Elders don’t adhere to this teaching, which is apparently good enough for the NAE, who have completely dropped the ball on calling the church out for continuing to be a closed, high-demand religious group, all because church leadership is outwardly saying what the evangelicals want to hear.

    Also, I’m curious if you still currently attend.

    No, I do not currently attend the services of any religious institution.

    If so, what keeps you going if you disagree to this extent with the church doctrines and structure?

    I am an ex-member, born and raised in the church. I understood then that all religions were false, except “the one true church” of course; thanks to the changes, I came to understand that “the one true church” was false as well. There were approximately 40,000 of us ex-members who had roughly the same revelation.

    As for my information on how things actually operate inside the church’s current congregations, I run several websites such as this one, this one, and this one. I do not wish to reveal my sources of information, but I can assure you that they are reliable, and an “insider’s look” at the behaviour and beliefs of current WCG/GCI members.

    Also, Gavin’s site, Ambassador Watch, has a WCG/GCI member by the name of “Larry” who posts regularly, expounding on British-Israelism, “the one true church” (GCI), and other doctrines that Junior and the Council of Elders has “reformed”.

    So how is it that a current member of the WCG/GCI can post openly on an ex-members’ website, expounding the former doctrines of the church, when “the one true church” has been “transformed by truth”?

    Don’t believe it for a minute. The only reason the changes were enacted, was to relieve the pressure from the Christianizing criminals like Hank “postal fraud” Hanegraaf, and others, who were threatening to shut the church down, after Armstrong’s death. Sadly, the church managed to pull the wool over the evangelicals’ eyes, and is no longer listed as a closed high-demand religious group, even though it is still manifestly is, and its remaining membership is allowed to adhere to the old teachings, the ones the evangelicals labelled them a cult for believing in the first place.

    Sorry, I hope this response wasn’t too long, and I hope it answered your questions. Let me know if there’s anything else I can add.

    Aggie

  13. Larry permalink
    November 23, 2009 4:45 am

    Aggie, shame on you.

    Your statement about my posts, are not only inaccurate, but deliberately misleading. I have repeatedly made it clear that my beliefs are my own, and I do not speak as a representative of the WCG/GCI on doctrines that are not relevant to salvation.

    The information that you are supplying Jessica is most definitely not “insider” information and you should explain that you have an agenda. Members of the Church are free and entitled to believe and act as they choose on peripheral matters without criticism or condemnation. There is no attempt by the church members or ministry to enforce uniformity on these issues. This is even more evidence of the previously-mentioned transformation that has occurred.

    I CAN and will specifically and categorically state that the GCI is an inclusive and tolerant organization and welcomes into its fellowship anyone who is willing to accept Jesus Christ as personal savior.

  14. Dennis Diehl permalink
    November 23, 2009 8:01 pm

    Well all I can say that having been a pastor for WCG for 26 years and then balking at the glorious changes that were taking me back to the Presbyterian Church I grew up in, has been a lifetime mistake on my part. With no retirement for any of the 14 congregations, Five states and thousands pastored as well as millionsof dollars, inspired to give over that time, I get a cheap shirt that said in my final evlauation. “We think you know an awful lot about Jesus (church history, origins, politics of the Bible etc) but we don’t think you know Jesus.” How do you fight judgment and come out ok?

    I my opinion, WCG was spiritual thuggery at it’s best.

  15. Larry permalink
    November 23, 2009 10:11 pm

    As you well know Dennis, I have never criticized you. But, I understand that evaluation statement, whereas…..I don’t think you do.

    I don’t know who gave you such an evaluation, but I suspect they were right. That is not thuggery. If you are interested in how I reached such a conclusion, ask me.

  16. PurpleHymnal permalink
    November 24, 2009 10:41 pm

    “There is no attempt by the church members or ministry to enforce uniformity on these issues.”

    So why are you trying to discredit me here, Larry?

  17. PurpleHymnal permalink
    November 24, 2009 11:27 pm

    Oh, and let’s not forget that Larry thinks we will one day all be called back to the GCI. What does that comment say about your “one true church”, Larry? Or what about this comment you made, defending British-Israelism? (Astute readers will note, this is not the first time Larry has defended British-Israelism, and surely it will not be the last.) Larry also references the doctrine over person (cf. Lifton) mindset still espoused by members of the cult, Larry included.

    (Seems to me, if you really had been “transformed by truth”, you would have rejected BI, along with the rest of church leadership, Larry.)

    Also, Larry has remarked upon TRUE Christians, a phrase we are all, all-too-familiar with, which Gavin responded to appropriately.

    Another example, of Larry minimizing and trying to discredit ex-members (the relevant bit is at the end, telling us all how “we’re in pain” because we aren’t members of the church anymore). You will also note in this thread it is requested of Larry repeatedly to make clear some of his outrageous assertions, that he has a degree from a “world-class university”, and is a scientist. (If Larry is the age we are assuming, based on his earlier posts, he attended Ambassador College before it was either A) accredited or B) a university. The “world-class” bit I will leave to the reader’s imagination. Perhaps Larry refers to the $3million chandelier?) The reader will kindly note that none of these baseless assertions on Larry’s part have been answered to our satisfaction. You will also note in one of those comments threads, Larry, who claims to be a scientist, does not or possibly cannot, elucidate what the Krebs Cycle is.

    Also, witness Larry defend the church’s flimsy attempt to completely whitewash its past, an attempt at which they failed, as a cursory Google of “Grace Communion International” will reveal. The other comments on that post outline some of the main sticking-points we have with the church trying to completely whitewash itself in this shocking a manner.

    I also note, there is no longer any “church history” on the GCI page, linking the cult to Armstrongism; even the documentsr refuting the old doctrines have now been removed.

    While Pope Joe rules the roost and collects the “free-will”(??) offerings in perpetuity……

    This search criteria will display most of Larry’s comments on Ambassador Watch.

    I leave Larry’s words to speak for themselves.

  18. PurpleHymnal permalink
    November 24, 2009 11:42 pm

    “But, I understand that evaluation statement, whereas…..I don’t think you do.

    I don’t know who gave you such an evaluation, but I suspect they were right. That is not thuggery.”

    Smooooooooth, Larry, that doesn’t make you sound like a cult apologist at all.

    (Yes that was sarcasm BTW.)

  19. Larry permalink
    November 25, 2009 1:21 am

    No PH, I am only interested in truth.

  20. PurpleHymnal permalink
    November 25, 2009 10:13 pm

    Like I say, Larry, your words (and your judgemental, un-Christian attitude) speak for themselves.

    I am speaking the truth too, Larry, it’s only unfortunate that it is a truth you are not yet ready to accept in your thought-reformed state.

    You still haven’t answered my main point, which is that, if the church has indeed been “transformed by truth”, why are YOU still blatantly holding fast to the things that are deemed by church leadership as un-Christian and undoctrinal —- and yet you remain a member of the church?

    The reason why you can remain a member of the church “transformed by truth” and yet still hold fast to the prejudiced, and cultic belief system, is plainly obvious — for those who have the eyes to see.

  21. larry permalink
    November 26, 2009 5:00 am

    PH, you don’t know what I believe. In fact, you don’t have a clue about what you are talking about. “Blatantly”? “Un-Christian and undoctrinal”? Where DO you come up with such nonsense?

    Sorry. Don’t answer that. I don’t want to know. I do know that I am not prejudiced. Nor do I adhere to a “cultic belief system”. That is hilarious.

  22. PurpleHymnal permalink
    November 26, 2009 9:09 pm

    ““Blatantly”? “Un-Christian and undoctrinal”? Where DO you come up with such nonsense?

    Sorry. Don’t answer that. “

    I already answered it anyway, Larry, by your comments I linked to above. Those are the words of your current leadership, not mine, for your beliefs in British-Israelism and “the one true church” that you still cling to.

    Of course, you will want to get the last word in after this comment. Go ahead, I have said all that I needed to say, and your attempts to distract the readers from the main point have now failed spectacularly.

    Church leadership is only paying lip-service to Christian beliefs while the members carry on as before, and the governance and lack of financial accountability remains the same.

    Wherefore then, the “transformation by truth”?

    That’s it, I’m done.

  23. larry permalink
    November 26, 2009 10:03 pm

    PH, apparently you do not know what Christian beliefs are. This is not surprising since you don’t WANT to be a Christian. That is OK. But, let me get this straight: YOU accuse ME of being “judgmental”. That is a phenomenon known as projection.

    You apparently don’t know what the leadership or the membership thinks. And yes, you are done.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: