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Worldwide Church of God

The Worldwide Church of God was formed in America in 1934 as "The Radio Church of God" by Herbert Armstrong. Just as with Russell, Armstrong started a new religion despite having no formal seminary training.

Beliefs as taught by Armstrong that coincided with Witnesses were as follows:

  • No Trinity
  • Disfellowship wrongdoers
  • Great Tribulation about to come in the 1900s including 1975
  • His was the one true church, criticised all other religions as children of the Devil
  • No involvement in war
  • Millennium as the major focus
  • Cross a pagan symbol
  • Christmas, Easter and Birthdays wrong
  • Christianity is a way of life
  • Cant vote

The major difference was the belief in keeping the Sabbath.

Armstrong appointed a long term follower, Joseph Tkach to replace him when he died. Just as of Russell's followers left under Rutherford's leadership, the Worldwide Church of God split at the death of Armstrong due to Tkach changing many of the Church's original teachings.

Tkach changed almost all the teachings listed above, feeling they were plainly unscriptural. Witnesses would say for them to go back to Christendom's teachings proves it is now being blinded by Satan. Does this mean that Armstrong's ability to break away from Christendom and Satan's wrong teachings mean that he was being guided by Holy Spirit? Or are the Witnesses and Armstrong no more than Bible students whose study led them in a similar inaccurate direction?

When the doctrines were changed Tkach showed heartfelt sorrow for the sufferings the Church had caused. The apology relates to enforcing unnecessary and unbiblical burdens and over adherence to Old Testament law. It is interesting to notice how closely this compares with current Watchtower practice.

The apology appeared at gci.org/aboutus/forgiveus (of of May 2013).

"Forgive Us Our Trespasses" by Joseph Tkach

The Worldwide Church of God [now named Grace Communion International] … has changed its position on numerous long-held beliefs and practices during the past few years. At the heart of those changes has been an acceptance that salvation is by grace through faith. While this was preached in the past, it was always coupled with the message that God owes us a reward for our works that build holy, righteous character. For decades we regarded scrupulous adherence to the law as the basis of our righteousness. We attempted to relate to God through old covenant rules and regulations in our fervent desire to please him. In his mercy, God has shown us that old covenant obligations do not apply to Christians who are under the new covenant. He has led us into the riches of his grace and a renewed relationship with Jesus Christ. He has opened our hearts and minds to the joy of his salvation. The Scriptures speak to us with fresh meaning, and we rejoice daily in the personal relationship we have with our Lord and Savior. At the same time, we are acutely aware of the heavy legacy of our past. The Holy Spirit is working today in the body of Christ to heal historic wounds and restore good relations between offenders and offended. It is my painful responsibility to acknowledge that the Worldwide Church of God has been among the offenders. Our flawed doctrinal understanding clouded the plain gospel of Jesus Christ and led to a variety of wrong conclusions and unscriptural practices. We have much to repent of and apologize for. We were judgmental and self-righteouscondemning other Christians, calling them "so-called Christians" and labeling them "deceived" and "instruments of Satan." We imposed on our members a works-oriented approach to Christian living. We required adherence to burdensome regulations of the Old Testament code. We exercised a strongly legalistic approach to church government. Our former old covenant approach fostered attitudes of exclusivism and superiority rather than the new covenant teaching of brotherhood and unity. We overemphasized predictive prophecy and prophetic speculation, minimizing the true gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ. These teachings and practices are a source of supreme regret. We are painfully mindful of the heartache and suffering that has resulted from them. We've-been wrong. There was never an intent to mislead anyone. We were so focused on what we believed we were doing for God that we didn't recognize the spiritual path we were on. Intended or not, that path was not the biblical one. As we look back, we ask ourselves how we could have been so wrong. Our hearts go out to all whom our teachings have misled in the Scriptures. We don't minimize your spiritual disorientation and confusion. We earnestly desire your understanding and forgiveness. We recognize that the depth of alienation can make reconciliation difficult. On the human level, reconciliation is often a long and difficult process over time. Yet we pray daily for it, realizing that the healing ministry of Christ can close even the deepest wounds. We make no attempt to cover up the doctrinal and scriptural errors of our past. It is not our intention to merely paper over the cracks. We are looking our history squarely in the face and confronting the faults and sins we find. They will always remain a part of our history, serving as a perpetual reminder of the dangers of legalism. But we cannot live in the past. We must rise above our past. We must move on. We say, with the apostle Paul: "Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 3:13-14). We have set our minds and hearts on Jesus Christ and trust explicitly in him. I have never been more thrilled about the state of our fellowship! We are pooling our energies and moving forward in preaching the gospel worldwide and equipping our local congregations to be healthy examples of the body of Christ. We are using the spiritual gifts w e have been given and capitalizing on the intense dedication to Jesus Christnow rightly channeledwhich has long characterized our church. So we stand today at the foot of the crossthe ultimate symbol of all reconciliation. It is the common ground on which estranged and alienated parties can meet. As Christians, we all identify with the suffering that took place there, and we hope that identification will bring us together. We desire to meet there with anyone we may have injured. It is only by the blood of the Lamb and the power of the Spirit that we can put the hurts of the past behind us and move forward toward our common goal. I have expressed these sentiments in sermons and letters in recent months, but I wanted to restate them for our Plain Truth readers. So to all members, former members, co-workers and othersall who have been casualties of our past sins and mistakes of doctrineI extend my sincerest heartfelt apologies. And I invite you to join us in proclaiming the true gospel of Jesus Christ around the worldas even now God is blessing us with renewed growth and vigor in his service.

One difference between the history of Jehovahs Witnesses and the Church of God is how they have approached changing teachings. Whereas Tkach apologised to the Church members for the mistakes of the past the Watchtower Society has never acknowledged there to have been changes of any consequence. Watchtower changes are attributed to increasing light, or the misunderstanding of members, such as this statement about those that believed the end would by in 1914.

"Some read into the Watch Tower statements that were never intended" Jehovahs Witnesses in the Divine Purpose p.52

The history for the Worldwide Church of God could be the history of the Jehovahs Witnesses. Most interesting is the last paragraphs description of what happened when they changed back to the teachings of Christianity.

In the early 1930s, Herbert Armstrong began a radio ministry, a magazine and a church that eventually became "The World Tomorrow," The Plain Truth, and the Worldwide Church of God. He had many unusual doctrines. These he taught so enthusiastically that eventually more than 100,000 people attended weekly services.

After he died in 1986, church leaders began to realize that many of his doctrines were not biblical. These doctrines were rejected. Today the church and The Plain Truth are in full agreement with the statement of faith of the National Association of Evangelicals. Here is the story of how the church developed and how it changed.

Jesus Christ changes lives. He can change an organization, too. This is the story of how the Lord changed the Worldwide Church of God from an unorthodox church on the fringes of Christianity, into an evangelical church that believes and teaches orthodox doctrines.

Armstrong often focused on areas in which his conclusions were different from traditional doctrines. This aroused interest. He emphasized the unusual, the never-before-understood. With advertising flair, he created interest in various doctrines by teaching things that other preachers did not.

Most people did not accept his unusual views, but he persuaded a few people that traditional churches were wrong, and that he had the truth. This small group supported the radio ministry (called The World Tomorrow) and the magazine (called The Plain Truth). Finances were always tight, but the ministry gradually grew along the Pacific Coast of the United States.

But growth began to slow in the 1970s. Christ did not return in 1975, as many ministers had speculated. Minor doctrines were changed, weakening some members' respect for Armstrong's doctrinal authority.

Armstrong died in 1986 at the age of 93.

Three doctrines were instrumental in Armstrong's conversion: 1) That God is the Creator, 2) That the Bible is true, and 3) That the Bible does not change the Sabbath to Sunday. Armstrong was guided to this third doctrine by a member of the Church of God (Seventh Day), a small group that has some similarities to the Seventh-day Adventists.

Armstrong felt that he had to choose between Bible and tradition, and he chose the Bible. However, he had no seminary training, nor any disciplined study of church history, biblical interpretation, or the original languages of Scripture.

Armstrong did not see biblical proof that the Holy Spirit was a distinct person, so he taught that the Holy Spirit was an impersonal force. In this, his teaching was similar to the Jehovah's Witnesses, but there is no evidence that he obtained his doctrine from them. This anti-trinitarian view had circulated in several groups. He mistakenly taught that God is a family, and that the Father and the Son are two beings in that family, and that when humans are resurrected, they will be born again as members of the God Family.

Armstrong viewed himself as God's apostle, leading the one true church. Armstrong had supreme doctrinal authority. If anyone was disloyal, that person would most likely be fired and expelled from the church fellowship. (Legally, Armstrong was under the authority of a board of directors, but they always supported his decisions.)

Armstrong taught that repentance involves a change in behavior, that Christianity involves a way of life. In the WCG, this focused primarily on prohibitions. WCG members were not allowed to vote, serve in the military, marry after divorce, go to doctors, use cosmetics, or observe Christmas, Easter and birthdays. All this emphasis on rules, however, meant that grace was rarely mentioned. Many members became legalistic in their own relationship with God, and judgmental of other Christians.

Armstrong viewed himself as God's apostle, leading the one true church. Armstrong had supreme doctrinal authority. If anyone was disloyal, that person would most likely be fired and expelled from the church fellowship. (Legally, Armstrong was under the authority of a board of directors, but they always supported his decisions.)

The Great Tribulation would soon start, he warned in the 1930s, in the 1940s, in the 1950s, in the 1960s, in the 1970s, and in the 1980s but the good news is that Christ will soon return and rule for 1,000 years. In fact, the millennium was so important to Armstrong that it became the center of the gospel.

Obviously, there are a lot of doctrinal errors in this list. Equally obviously, we would not describe them as errors unless we had understood why they were in error. We have worked hard to inform our own members about where we went wrong --- and we say "we" with all honesty, for all the current leaders of the church once believed and taught these erroneous doctrines. We have all criticized other Christians as false, deceived, children of the devil.

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.

Many people came to Christ in the Worldwide Church of God, accepted his death for their sins, and trusted in him for salvation. Many lives were transformed from sin and selfishness, to service and humility. A germ of life continued inside the crust of erroneous doctrines.

In 1986, shortly before he died, Herbert Armstrong appointed Joseph Tkach (pronounced Ta-cotch) to be his successor In 1988, Tkach made minor doctrinal changes. He taught members that it was permissible to go to doctors, take medicines, observe birthdays and wear cosmetics. He realized that many of the prophetic speculations that had made the television program and magazine so interesting couldn't actually be proven from Scripture.

Questions also arose about some of the things that Armstrong had written, and some of his books were withdrawn from circulation until further study could resolve the questions. Some members were troubled that the church was no longer teaching the same things that Armstrong had, and in 1989, 3,000 members left to form the Philadelphia Church of God to preserve Armstrong doctrines.

In 1990, the church peaked at 133,000 in weekly attendance. More doctrinal changes were made as Tkach realized that some 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.

In 1993, the church accepted the doctrine of the Trinity. The church declared that the cross was not a pagan symbol, that it is not a sin to have illustrations of Jesus, and that Christians may vote.

But perhaps the most traumatic change came in December 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.

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.

Ed Mentell is a former Worldwide Church of God member and runs what their organization refers to as an "apostate" site at http://www.hwarmstrong.com/ (as of August 2008). He attempts to show why the Worldwide Church of God is not Gods organization. The way Worldwide Church of God members view Ed is the same as how active Jehovah's Witnesses refer to former members, with a quote on his site referring to him as:

Old, burnt out Ed, Sr.'s behavior demonstrates once again that: As usual, the godless have no problem lying for Satan.

United Church of God

When Rutherford took over from Russell and changed Russells teachings the Bible Students splintered into a number of groups wanting to uphold the original teachings, including the Russellites. Likewise, the changes to the Church of God led to the religion splitting and the formation of the United Church of God, determined to continue with the teachings of Armstrong. Their official website is http://www.ucg.org/about/. It is interesting to see how they have progressed into the 21st century. The website is professional and modern, the doctrines presented in an appealing way, yet still they hold to what they believe to be the doctrines of the Bible. They are family oriented and organise events for their youth. Their website discusses events such as cruises that are set up for singles at http://www.ucgsingles.org/ and address the needs of the deaf and hard of hearing. They also do not go to war.

As of 21/07/2005 the introductory paragraph stated;

We trace our origins to the Church that Jesus founded in the early first century. We follow the same teachings, doctrines and practices established then. Our commission is to proclaim the gospel of the coming Kingdom of God to all the world as a witness and teach all nations to observe what Christ commanded (Matthew 24:14; 28:19, 20).

They do not teach an immortal soul or believe in the Trinity, and discuss the same fall into paganism that the Witnesses teach. There is a strong focus on morals and preaching. Their Governing Body consists of 12 men, based on Jesus model of 12 apostles.

The official website for the Church of God was wcg.org, but as of May 2013 redirects to gci.org.

Many former members of the Church of God have set up websites, such as batteredsheep.com.