Most larger WCG splinter groups set out to do the same kind of "work" as the WCG: big-budget TV, radio, magazines, etc. (plus the Internet and other improvements). But it is these largest groups that seem to be furthest away from fulfilling their stated mission. They claim to be the main or only group preaching the Gospel to the world, but at best, they are reaching only a few thousand people each month. (Whereas, some of the smaller groups with limited mission statements are actually fulfilling them.)
This article cannot possibly cover all of the important recent events in the major WCG splinter groups. But we will attempt to accurately cover enough events to help everyone understand the overview of what these groups are doing and how the Eternal is working with them now. During the past few months, significant events have taken place in all of the major "Church of God" groups.
The Worldwide Church of God continues to shrink drasticallyfrom both sides! They are losing both members and money because people do not believe their new doctrines, and because people do believe their new doctrines. As local WCG congregations go to Sunday, Easter and Christmas worship, those convicted of Sabbath-worship are finding alternatives. Those who have accepted the entire slate of essentially liberal Protestant doctrine can find almost no reason to drive a long distance to a hierarchical WCG congregation; many are deciding to attend another, friendlier Protestant church nearer to where they live.
The WCG appears already to be mired in the biggest problem most other Protestants face: getting members to commit to doing anything more than showing up once per week. One local WCG congregation gave a survey to its members regarding when they would like to worship (Saturday or Sunday) and when they would like to have a Bible study. Less than half of the members returned the survey, and half of those who did indicated that no time would be convenient for a Bible Study!
Recent WCG appeals to members to increase their giving have improved the financial picture only a little. If the sale of the Big Sandy college campus goes through, it will save the WCG from drastic cuts or a possible bankruptcy. But it is only a matter of time before that money will be gone. Within the last two months, two separate, loyal WCG members made essentially the same comment to this writer: "Im glad that the WCG does not have any extensive evangelism nowI would not recommend that a new Christian come into this environment!"
The Church of God International, formed back in 1978, has now split into four major groups: itself (CGI), Christian Education Ministries (led by Ron Dart), Church of God Outreach Ministries (an affiliation of largely independent congregations), and Garner Ted Armstrong Evangelistic Association (with its associated Intercontinental Church of God). Most are serving brethren in local congregations, participating in various kinds of evangelism, and cooperating with other groups to some extent. Christian Educational Ministries (CEM) is particularly good in this areait simply serves local congregations with educational and inspirational materials; it makes no effort to control them. It is the one major CGI split that appears to be growing as well as fulfilling its mission. (GTAs evangelistic association is also growing, but this writer considers him disqualified to be a spiritual leader according to 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1.)
The previous Servants News issue reported talks of a possible merger between CGI and UCG-AIA. There was talk by a few people, but no genuine interest by the governing bodies of both organizations. (Of interest, there are some independent congregations that are composed largely of former-UCG and former-CGI membersthey are having difficulties with hymnals, etc., but they are making it work.) Also, there were talks between CGI and Church of God Outreach Ministries of a shared Feast Site, but they rejected that idea.
Literally dozens of other small splinter groups have emerged from the CGI and its off-shoots. Some of these groups have scattered members connected only by sermon tapes and/or a newsletter. Others are strong local congregations. About half of the people in the CGI splinter groups were never members of the WCGwhich demonstrates the fact that evangelism is possible outside of the WCG. Over the years, the CGI developed an extensive body of literature and tapes that would expound most of the basics of Biblical doctrinesomething that most of the other splinter groups have not yet accomplished. Also, most of their congregations had a live minister. His sermons might not be as good as the headquarters video-tape sermons used by other groups, but he was a focal point to run activities and for new people to ask questions. (In some of the hierarchical video groups, there was really no one to which doctrinal or Christian living questions could be addressed.)
The Philadelphia Church of God began in 1990, claiming to be the true successor to Herbert W. Armstrong. Fueled by discontent with WCG doctrinal changes, it grew rapidly and cited such growth as proof that "God was blessing his true Philadelphia Era Church". The PCG fought the WCGto a stand-still in a legal battle over the right to reprint HWAs Mystery of the Ages. They are spending a lot of money to give the book away free. It is probably teaching some people, but it is not enough to answer many of the questions a potential convert has. Unbaptized people are, in general, not welcome in PCG services. In short, the PCG does not have a good way to evangelize and has baptized very few new people.
With the above facts, and the fact that very few people leaving the WCG now go to the PCG, the PCG has been shrinking in size. The PCG recently cut its 70,000 circulation Philadelphia Trumpet magazine back to 40,000. Some PCG members have openly asked if the decline in membership means that God is not blessing themand they have been asked to leave the PCG also! Several PCG ministers have leftin recent months. Some have left over doctrinal disputes, some have left over unfulfilled prophecies in the PCGs main booklet, Malachis Message, but most have left because their leadership was not practicing what they preached. Some of the PCG split-off groups essentially believe that their little group of twenty to fifty people is the "Philadelphia Era of the Church"the main group with whom God is working. Others are coming to the more sensible realization that the Eternal has worked with many groups for millennia.
The Global Church of God was formed in 1993 by Rod Meredith. By that time, the Protestant direction of the WCG was evident to anyone who wanted to look for it. No other paid WCG ministers had committed to join Meredith when he started. Most of the people who did support him were people whom he did not even knowpeople who had, on their own, found the errors in the "new" WCG doctrine. Many then stayed with the GCG because they wanted to continue meeting on the Sabbath, and wanted to contribute to an organization that was "doing a work." But in the process of their Bible study, they found that some of the old WCG/GCG doctrines did not quite match the Bible. So they wrote papers to headquarterswhich were nearly all ignored.
This ignoring became official policy in the Dec 12, 1997 GCG Newsletter which straightforwardly told members not to send doctrinal questions to headquarters, but to local or regional ministers. Yet, there is no official process whereby ministers must either answer the members questions or submit them to headquarters. In hierarchical governments, most ministers have long realized that it is their job to teach headquarters doctrines, not to question them.
Along a similar line, the "send e-mail to GCG" button on the GCG Internet site presents a screen that politely tells the reader that they do not have time to answer e-mail. The GCG seems to fail to grasp that their organization was largely built by people who where individually studying their Bibles. This failure to respond to questions often drives members to study other literature or attend other services. Rather than see the need to answer the questions of their members who are seeking understanding elsewhere, the GCG tends to send them letters like the one at left. Some of the same people who came to the GCG by themselves because of their personal study, in spite of their local WCG minister, are leaving the GCG because of their personal study, in spite of their local GCG minister.
The GCG has produced some good literature, and is reaching some new people with it. But the numbers are in the hundreds of people and the cost is in the millions of dollarstens of thousands of dollars per new baptism. They provide Sabbath services and Feasts for many, though most services are video-taped. Even though they have many educated and talented people, they are doing little to train new leaders to conduct local services and evangelism. Many of the GCG headquarters leaders are in their 70s. The GCGs prospect for long-term continuance does not seem good.
The letter, below, is being sent to Global Church of God members who are visiting other congregations too much. It is a form letterthe minister just fills in the name. Notice the "double-talk" that is in it:
1. It says members "disfellowshipped themselves". If they really did it "themselves", then they should be able to undo it "themselves" and decide to attend the GCG again. But the letter says the minister decides when they can fellowship againso who did the disfellowshipping?
2. The first paragraph clearly says that the people are being disfellowshipped from the GCG, a corporate organization which the minister represents, but the second paragraph "hopes" that the person will come back to "His [Gods] Church." Either this is a terrible job of writing, or the letter is intentionally trying to imply to the reader that leaving the Global Church of God is leaving Gods Spiritual Churchthat there is no other valid group with which to fellowship. NSE
Roderick C. Meredith
Charles E. Bryce
It is very sad and painfully obvious that you have disfellowshipped yourselves from the Global Church of God. This is a very serious step to take. Please think it through thoroughly, and carefully consider the long term consequences of this decision. The direction your life goes now will start to take on implications that relate directly to your personal relationship with God, and ultimately, even your Eternal life. When and if you do decide to come back to Global, you will need to contact me so we can resolve the conflicts that stand in the way of your attending Church and being a part of helping us finish God's Work while we still have time.
If you ever want to meet with us, at any time, or if we can help and serve you in any way, we will gladly do so. Just let us know. That would be very good news indeed. In the meantime, we will continue to pray for you and hope that you will yield more fully into God's hands so He can lead you back into His Church and guide you in the way of life He has called you to livethe way of peace, happiness, and finally, joy in His glorious Kingdom.
In Christian love,
Charles E. Bryce
[address and telephone]
The United Church of God-An International Association is proving to be less united than all of its founders hoped. Numerous events have taken place since the last Servants News issue. We highly recommend reading The Journal (see information on page 21) for more details. Here, we provide a summary with a bit of commentary.
Shortly before UCG-AIAs March 7-10 general conference meeting, Steven Andrews attempted to submit a resolution that would have essentially given the group one-man rule (by then-president David Hulme). A resolution requires only a simple majority to pass, but such massive changes are required by the constitution to be submitted as amendmentswhich require a 2/3 majority to pass. Had this resolution been put to a vote and actually achieved a simple majority, it could have easily been challenged as invalidand the entire operating structure of the UCG would have been in doubt. Fortunately, this was avoided. We have to ask the question: if the Eternal is going to establish "His Hierarchical Church Government", would He do it by having people vote it into existenceunder questionable circumstances?
At the March 7-9 general conference, the four members of the UCG-AIA Council of Elders whose term expired were all returned to office (Victor Kubik, Les McCullough, Burk McNair, and Leon Walker). However, shortly after the conference, David Hulme and Peter Nathan resigned from their positions on the Council of elders. Hulme initially said that he was not planning to start his own group, but then, why does a person resign from a group when, only days earlier, he was seeking to gain nearly complete control over it? Another election was held to replace the vacated Council positions. Aaron Dean was chosen to replace Hulme, but there was a tie for Peter Nathans replacement. It was the council of Elders duty to vote to break the tie, but their initial vote also ended in a tie. (Is it now easier to understand why the Apostles cast lots in Acts 1 for Judas replacement?) After a couple more votes, the Council chose Joel Meeker.
Backing up to the UCG conference again for a moment, Joel Meeker had a very interesting role. Some time into a question & answer session, he stood up, asking the chairman (Bob Dick), to address a point of order: Why was Dixon Cartwright, who was not an ordained elder of the UCG-AIA, allowed to attend the meeting? Even though Cartwright had been at nearly every session of every UCG-AIA general conference from its beginning, and even though the entire Council knew that, Bob Dick could not come up with the right words to say: "Its O.K." Being pressed by Meeker, Dick asked Cartwright to leave. Cartwright said that he would rather stay (it would have been better if he would have asked permission to stay, but it is hard to think of everything at once). Bob Dick explained that if he did not leave, he would have to call the hotel security team. Cartwright agreed to leave when the security team arrived, and did so. The security team was a little baffled by it all, but the meetings continued on.
It was not long after the conference until local congregations and individuals began complaining about the removal of David Hulme and the "suppression" of the pilot TV program that he made. Servants News erroneously reported last issue that Hulme saw himself as commissioned with preaching a "powerful end-time warning." There is very little in his pilot program that would be offensiveand very little that would identify it with "Church of God" doctrine. Hulme apparently does believe he has a commission of sorts, but his program could not be classified as a "powerful warning". Rather, it is an extremely well-produced video about the basic story of the Gospels, with modern day shots for geographical and archeological support. The film was so good, that it won a 1998 Cindy (cinema in industry) award in the category of Religion and Ethics. It was a little unusual that another corporation, Century One, also took credit on their Internet site for wining the Cindy award for this film, but that part of the Internet site quickly disappeared after it was noticed by UCG members. Apparently, the UCG-AIA Council of Elders had no prior knowledge of Century Ones involvement. However, Hulme wrote the scripts for this program and 12 others before joining UCG, so he will probably be free to re-shoot the first program and produce all of the others.
A few weeks later, David Hulme agreed to "serve" all of the many people who were leaving the UCG-AIA in support of him. As of this writing, there are about 20 congregations and over 1000 people. (Please see The Journal for a complete list of congregationsaddress is on page 21.) The initial letter that he wrote to these members is reprinted on page 26. He has chosen the name Church of God which will be extremely confusinghow does one know if they are talking about the one spiritual Church of God, or about Hulmes corporation (they might want you to believe there is no difference, but I think even most of their members are beyond that stage). Since the name is so unclear, other writers are forced to add their own qualifiers to designate what they mean: Church of God (Hulme). (Similarly, the Church of God Outreach Ministries used to call themselves The Churches of God, but abandoned the name due to the confusion after a little more than one year.)
This writer believes that during the process of separation, many mistakes were made both on the part of the UCG-AIA and Hulme & followers. Hulme controlled UCG-AIAs New Beginnings publication, so it contained largely his view. Council members sometimes "leaked" executive session information to The Journal. People were treated unfairly on both sides. Nevertheless, the separation is probably much better than continual infighting. Hulme is now free to produce his broadcast exactly as he sees fit. If the Eternal is behind it, it will have the funding it needs and will reach its intended audience. It may be only a stepping-stone to future, more hard-hitting series. On the other hand, it could fail. We believe it will have its best chance of success if Hulme runs it as "ministry" rather than a "church", leaving those who support him free to fellowship with the congregation of their choice.
If Hulme claims that he is Gods one or main human leader, he has a lot of hard questions to answer: If he did not believe that God would work through a council-run government, or if he did not want to work under the Council of Elders as the UCG-AIA constitution and bylaws clearly spell out, then why did he accept the job? If he claims that he thought the UCG government was right to begin with, but learned by experience that it was wrong, what makes him think that God has suddenly appointed him to lead His Government now? Would not God use someone like Rod Meredith, who has preached hierarchical government for nearly 50 years? Nearly all UCG leaders claimed that God was involved in the elders choosing the council and the council choosing the president. When did the council cease to be inspired? How were the members supposed to know when "inspiration stopped"?
In any case, it is ironic that Hulme, who was so against independent evangelism in the UCG-AIA, has now started his own independent evangelism. Those interested in more information can find it on the Internet at www.Church-of-God.org. (You may need your dictionary. It contains quotes like this: "This desideratum implies nothing less than a paradigmatic shift in the basic perceptions, aims, and methods of established Christian scholarship.")
Now that Hulme (who opposed moving) is out of the UCG-AIA, they have made progress in their move to Cincinnati. They have signed a letter of intent for a 6000 sq.ft. facility that will cut their monthly rental cost from $10,500 to $6900. Some of the office could be moved as early as July. About the time of these announcements, the UCG witnessed a surge in incomeit appeared that members regained more confidence in the groups willingness to do what they had promised in previous conferences.
Unfortunately, the UCG-AIA also began moving against efforts in local congregations in a variety of ways. Things that Hulme only talked about doing, they have now done. This comes as kind of a shock at this time. How can the UCG-AIA council try to stop all evangelism and teaching beside their own? Do they really believe that they are the one government through which God is working? If so, why did God inspire them to elect David Hulme president only to fire him about two years later? This writer hopes that the original "spirit of Indianapolis" could be recaptured, and that the UCG home office would become a central "service facility" for congregations, rather than a boss for them. But it is hard for people to change when they have done something one way for many years. Here is a summary of recent UCG-AIA policies to establish central control:
The most notable case of the above is the attempt by Richard Pinelli, head of ministerial services, to replace the popular pastor of the Big Sandy, Texas congregation, David Havirwith only one weeks notice. The Big Sandy congregations board simply told headquarters representatives that Havir was still the pastor of their congregation, and that they would meet with headquarters representatives if they would agree to do it with the entire congregation would be present. After several attempts to arrange a meeting, president Les McCullough, and Council members Aaron Dean, Leon Walker, Don Ward, and ministers Doug Horchak and Roy Holladay met with the Big Sandy congregation for 4 hours on Saturday, May 9. At the end of the meeting, neither David Havir nor the brethren knew why the UCG-AIA wanted to remove him. The Council claimed that they could not discuss council "executive session" matters, but seemed to have no regard for the clear Biblical instruction on the matter (Matt 18:15-17; 1Tim 5:20-21; Gal 2:11).
This meeting was unique in WCG-split history in that the members of a large congregation were able to have an open forum with the top leaders of an organization and specifically ask why they were running the organization the way they were. After sitting through this long meeting, one of the Big Sandy members said: "I have never heard so many excuses in my life. I was not there when that decision was made. I dont know who decided that. I was out of the country then." If these leaders cannot explain why their actions are right to a group of human beings, how will they explain them to the Eternal?
The Big Sandy congregation is well into its plans for a local building. This has been a sore point to other areas, particularly UCG in England, who believe the building money should be used to preach the Gospel. On the other hand, England has six UCG ministers but fewer members than the Big Sandy congregation. Should they fire some ministers to free up money to preach the Gospel? Or should each area simply tend to its own business and ask the Eternal to lead them? Apparently, the UCG headquarters has the choice of letting Havir continue as the UCG pastor, or seeing the Big Sandy congregation become independent.
It is interesting to note that most GCG members came to the GCG as individuals and left as individuals. Most UCG members came with a congregation, and are leaving as congregations (some with Hulme, some independent). During the early days of nearly every new church group, there were eager expectationsthe weight of problems associated with the old organization are suddenly gone, new people serve in new functions and do so diligently, some mistakes are corrected, people used to being ignored are heard, etc., etc. But so often, new sets of problems and disagreements seem to overtake the organization, and a split is again likely. Almost nobody enjoys an organizational splitmost wish all of these messy problems would just go away. But it seems that neither ignoring them, nor actively trying to do something about them makes the problems go away.
Do people still long for the "good old days" when the WCG was the church and everyones role was clearly defined? Do you remember the confidence that most members of the Worldwide Church of God used to have? Their thinking often went something like this.
In some ways, it seemed like a "good package". If one expended the effort to live by the WCG standards (church attendance, tithes, food laws, etc.), then he or she could feel confident that they would be divinely protected both in this life and in the world to come. The large amounts of money sent to a central headquarters made possible one of the largest religious media campaigns of all time. (They also made possible one of the most extravagant life styles lived by any religious leader.)
Most of the WCG splinter groups are zealously trying to regain the glory days of the WCG. They hope to establish such a big and powerful media work that all other groups will acknowledge them as the one true work of God. If people thought there was only one true work, then they would have to stay there no matter what. When controversies about doctrine or local evangelism arose, headquarters would simply be free to dictate an answer and members would have no choice other than to accept it.
But unless the Eternal works some miracle, that will not happen in our lifetime. Today, multiple similar Sabba tarian congregations are a fact of life. Just because church leaders often act as if it is not true does not make it any less true. If a member (or minister) of a Sabbatarian organization is told by his headquarters that to do some specific thing or be "put out," it is unlikely that he will think: "Oh, no! I must go along or Im going to lose Eternal life." Today, it is more likely that he will think: "If I dont go along, I am going to miss my friends in this group, and I will have to find a new group with which to fellowship."
Many WCG-split groups claim to be "the main successor" to the Worldwide Church of God and specifically, to Herbert Armstrong. But no major WCG splinter-group that we know of is attempting to start their organization in the way that Herbert Armstrong started his!
Herbert Armstrong never claimed to have received a divine message telling him he had to separate from the Church of God, 7th day (CG7). He did it so he could preach doctrines that the CG7 did not want to preach. If he believed that "God only works through one human government" during the 1930s, he would have never taught anything in opposition to the CG7 and might have died nearly unknown. As it was, Herbert Armstrong did not start his ministry by mounting a massive campaign to somehow gain control of the CG7 or its budget. He did not start by forming a new corporation and trying to get the CG7 members to come to him. He did not try to get CG7 ministers to join his organization. (As a matter of fact, he did not start a corporation until many years later!) He did not even try to get a local congregation to guarantee him a salary!
Herbert Armstrong started out by throwing his whole life into studying, writing and speaking on biblical truth. Many will claim he was a man full of faith. Others will say he simply had a big ego, and some will say he got into religion for money. Our Savior will judge his motiveswe do not have to. But nobody can deny that he put great energy into his work, constantly talking and writing about itto whomever would listen. Thousands of people saw him as a man committed to doing and teaching what he understood to be right. During his early years, he would write for thousands of people, but he still had time to talk to individuals. He did not simply try to convert Sabbatarians to his way of thinkinghe reached out to Sunday-keepers and people with little religion at all.
What are the WCG split-groups like today? Are they full of leaders desperately trying to teach the Bible to others whether they are paid or not? Or are they full of leaders concerned about salaries, benefits, collection of tithes, and control of organizations. Are there numerous men each trying to preach the Gospel to the world, or are there numerous men trying to control and regulate the Gospel-preaching of others?
Today we find most of the Major WCG splinter-groups trying to regain the "glory days of the WCG". It is not working, but they keep trying harder. In general, the people who are the most "on fire" for the Eternal are the ones who are asking for the most changes. So often, it is these same people who end up leaving. Is it possible that we have made assumptions about what a church organization should be? What does the Bible really say about organizations, ministers, and ordination. You need to know. For a thorough study of this subject in the scriptures, please ask for our literature re: How Does the Eternal Govern Through Humans? Even if you do not have time to read the paper, its charts and tables give a quick overview of the scriptures.
Also, please read the article beginning on the bottom of page 1. It discusses other assumptions that we as former WCG members may have made.
Our Father loves all of us, but we must work with Him in the way He chooses to work with us. "And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart" (Jer 29;13).
Norman S. Edwards
For details of what has happened in the various Church of God groups, we highly recommend a subscription to The Journal, News of the Churches of God, PO Box 1020, Big Sandy, TX 75755, $18 for 12 monthly issues. Back issues are availablethe last several issues have been excellent!