Was Herbert Armstrong the Only One to Teach Sabbath, Holy Days, & Clean Meats?
While producing Servants’ News, we have learned about many other groups with doctrines similar to Armstrong’s. In this article, we list 26 groups in several categories. The combined total of members is many times the number that Armstrong reached.
All of the groups below are Sabbatarian. Most observe the Clean and Unclean meat rules in the Bible and a large percentage keep the Holy Days. Some have many other doctrines in common with Herbert Armstrong, some have things that most of our readers would clearly class as error. Unless we specifically note otherwise, none of them learned any of their truth from Herbert Armstrong or the Worldwide Church of God. This is just a very brief summary with some interesting facts. We will include more extensive stories on some of these groups in the future.
It is also important to realize that most of these groups do not have the degree of hierarchical control exerted by Mr. Armstrong, so their members are free, to some degree, to keep other doctrines as they understand them from the Bible. In other words, some members of these groups may understand more Bible truth than their organization’s doctrinal statement indicates. After all, what shows more personal commitment—practicing a doctrine because a church organization will disfellowship you if you don’t practice it, or practicing it because of personal commitment?
Seventh Day Adventist: The approximately 10 million people who would use this name are becoming move divided all the time. There are dozens of splinter groups, some of which keep the Holy Days, reject the Trinity, and teach other doctrines similar to Armstrong’s. Some within the main body do have doctrinal beliefs different than the main group, but they stay in the main group because they do not want to be separated from their friends. (Sound familiar?) We know of one long-time SDA member who stood up in an interactive Bible study and said: "If we have doctrines that can be found in the writings of Ellen G. White (the SDA prophetess), but not in the Bible, we need to change our doctrines." This is a radical step for an SDA. If only 1% of Seventh Day Adventists have accepted doctrines similar to your own, that would be 100,000 people who believe like you, but were not taught by Herbert Armstrong.
True Jesus Church: This church has about 2 million members in China, but must keep a low-profile as it is not officially recognized. It has thousands of members elsewhere. Their Melbourne office provided a speaker to the 1997 Australian Friends of the Sabbath conference. It is difficult to work with this group in any major way because they are hierarchical and consider themselves the "one true church"—is that familiar? (Source: Craig White, Sydney, Australia.)
Church of God Seventh Day: Over 100,000 people, most outside the USA, make up the several branches of this group. Most Church of God Seventh Day doctrines are very similar to WCG doctrines. One branch, based in Caldwell, Idaho, officially teaches Holy Day observance. Other branches make their church camps available to those who would like to keep them. One of their ministers, John Kiez, observed the Holy Days since working with Mr. Armstrong in the 1930s until his death in the 1990s. While Herbert Armstrong called these groups the "Sardis Era" and "spiritually dead", many congregations have continued to grow with no TV or other expensive evangelism. Today, they are larger than all of the WCG-split-off groups combined.
Seventh Day Baptists: This diverse group has a history going back into the 1600s. Some are doctrinally similar to Sunday-keeping Baptists, except for their worship day. Others hold doctrines similar to Church of God groups. The Seventh Day Baptist World Federation listed 55,000 members in 1986 Directory of Sabbath-Observing Groups, (Bible Sabbath Association, 1986).
House of God, Holy Church of the Living God, Pillar and Ground of the Truth, House of Prayer for All People, Inc. This organization was founded in 1918 by Bishop R. A. R. Johnson. Most members are of African descent, with about 130 congregations in the United States, Canada, Jamaica and Africa. They keep the Holy days, do foot-washing, eat clean meats, and have other doctrines similar to the WCG. There are about 10,000 members. (Source: Minister Tyrone Johnson and web-site http://www.houseofgod.org/)
The Church of God and Saints of Christ: This group was founded by William Saunders Crowdy (born a slave in 1847) in 1896. He taught the Sabbath and Holy Days, though their main get-together is at Passover. Today, there are about 8,000 members. They have some doctrines which most WCG members would find unusual, but their principles of living at peace with neighbors, working hard and going into business for yourself if possible are quite refreshing. (Source: www.churchofgod1896.org/.)
Evangelical Reformed Methodists: Sixty-eight congregations in North America separated themselves from the other Methodists in an effort to return to the "faith which was once delivered unto the saints." They observe the food laws, do not use crosses, and keep other doctrines familiar to "Church of God" groups. They are still very much learning and growing in their understanding (Source: Nov/Dec 1997 issue of the Hebrew Roots magazine.)
Scottish Sabbatarians: Margaret McKormack, born January 25, 1916, grew up on the Sottish IslandArran. Most people on the Island were Sabbath and Holy Day keepers. They believed in British Israelism, clean meats, the destruction of the wicked, and many other doctrines similar to Mr. Armstrong. They called themselves "the Church of God." While the group has been scattered or disbanded today, its history goes back generations. Margaret later came in contact with the WCG and attended. (Source:John Morgan, Melbourne, Australia.)
English Sabbatarians: Gladys Carnes, born March 5, 1897 was the daughter of Alfred Henry Wight, a minister in the "Church of God." Abuilding near where she grew up was inscribed with that name—it was built in the 1600’s. Mrs. Carnes knew of seven congregations when she was little. She was baptized at age 21, and when she met Herbert Armstrong in the 1950’s, he saw no need to rebaptize her. (Source:Jeff Zhorne, Worldwide News, March 4, 1985).
Dutch Sabbath Association: This group consists of many smaller, mostly Sabbatarian groups, but has undertaken quite a bit of evangelism. They distributed over 500,000 leaflets advertising the Sabbath, drawing the attention of the local news media. Over 750 Sabbath information packets were sent as a result, in addition to telephone and internet inquiries. Congregations are growing as a result. (Source: Joop Peterse, Netherlands.)
Ukrainian Sabbatarians. On Pentecost, in 1949 Michael Palchay began to keep the Sabbath after it was revealed to him through speaking in tongues. Various congregations continued to flourish, even though they were illegal and hunted by the KGB. Today, there are over 3000 Sabbatarians in the Trans-carpathia area. (Source:Victor Kubik, UCG-IA Minister.)
Transylvanian Sabbatarians: These groups clearly go back to the Christian reform movements of the 1500s. They kept the biblical food laws and some kept many of the other practices that most people would consider "Jewish". There were many thousands of these brethren, but they were often persecuted by other Sunday-keepers, sometimes officially by the government. Most had to go into hiding during the communist rule. Today, a few thousand are still known to exist in the areas of Cluj and Sibiu. Others may exist, but are still in hiding. (Source:Gerhard O. Marx, The Beliefs and Practices of the Church of God in Transylvania During the Middle Ages.)
Polish Sabbatarians: The Sabbath Day Christian Church currently has about 400 members in 25 congregations. They have roots in the Seventh Day Adventist movement, but have rejected Ellen G.White, the Trinity and other doctrines. One of their leaders was Pavel Buyok, who has traveled in the USA. He was quite interested when the Holy Days were presented to him. (Source: 1996 e-mail from Craig White.)
Sabbath Keepers in Chile and Argentina. Some Church of God Seventh Day brethren in Chile in the 1930’s began to study and keep the Holy Days. When Israel became a nation in the 1940’s, they felt the end was near and wanted to migrate to Israel. Some travelled to Argentina as the first step in their migration, but only a very few ever made it to Israel. But the Holy Day-keeping congregations in Argentina flourished. The several thousand brethren in these countries eventually came into contact with the WCG, some joined, but some remained independent. (Source: Ambassador College Correspondence Course Lesson #53, p. 11, 1969).
Burmese Sabbatarians: About 17,000 people attend a variety of congregations, speaking a variety of languages in Burma. While these groups were influenced by WCG and Seventh Day Adventist literature, they are not connected to these organizations. Indeed, communications and travel are so difficult in these areas that they must be served by their own ministers. Lazum Brang is one such minister. He is a subsistence farmer with two small children, but he spends whatever extra time he has traveling, often on foot, to preach the gospel, and whatever extra money he has to write or print literature. (Source:Leon Sexton—traveled to meet these brethren in January, 1999).
Australian Independent Sabba tarians: In the early 1930’s, a former Adventist minister, A. H. Britten, founded the Remnant Church of God. He may have been influenced by G.G. Ruperts writings (see next item). On Pastor Britten’s death in 1966, the church was looked after by a Mrs. McLachlan. The Church observed the Holy Days and appeared similar to other Churches of God. Later, it was led by a former WCG member, David Dutton, but now it is apparently completely disbanded. (Source: 200 years of Sabbath Keeping in Australia by Bruce Dean.)
Independent Church of God (Seventh Day) Movement: G.G. Rupert was a minister for the Seventh Day Adventists, then the Church of God Seventh Day. In 1902, he began to work on his own. He wrote thousands of pages of material, in a more scholarly method than Herbert Armstrong. He taught in several cities, one of the latter being Pasadena, California! Rupert taught the Holy Days, abstinence from pagan holidays, clean meats, British Israelism. He used a different calendar and had a different understanding of prophecy than Armstrong. Rupert never believed in hierarchical government, and after he died in 1922, many of the congregations he founded joined other groups or broke up. His daughter kept his publication going until 1929, but much of it was the reprinting of old articles. (Source: The Remnant of Israel by Richard Nickels, available from Servants’ News.)
The Prophetic Herald Ministry: Headquartered at Bethel Temple in Spokane, Alexander Schiffner began teaching the Sabbath and British Israelism in 1933. He was on as many as 40 radio stations, had several congregations numbering in the hundreds, and taught against Roman Catholicism. His ministry broke up when he died in 1973, but some members eventually joined the WCG. (Source:Betty Cook, one of the people baptized by that group, later a WCG member, and now a Servants’ News subscriber.)
The Little Children of Jesus: This unincorporated group was founded by John Quincy Adams (a descendent of the U.S. president of the same name), a Baptist minister. In 1921, Adams was sent to preach against the "speaking in tongues" that was going on in a local congregation, but understood it to be something of God. The group learned about the Sabbath and Holy Days through interpretation of these messages. They also learned about modern day Babylon and the false doctrines of the Trinity and pagan holy days from these messages. Adams wrote as prolifically as Herbert Armstrong and evangelized throughout the central USA and Canada. (Source: Chris Barr, currently attends in Pocahontas, Arkansas.)
Church of God, Jerusalem Acres &Restoration Foundation: With headquarters in Cleveland, Tennessee, this group has no connection with other "Church of God" groups. It has a Jewish flavor, but members keep the holy days and food laws. They are quite active in evangelizing, through print and traveling lectures. (Source: Norman Edwards.)
Jasper, Arkansas: A congregation here is led by Peter Youngs, the grandson of Andrew Dugger. His family has been Sabbatarians for as long as they have records. While Dugger was affiliated with the Church of God 7th Day, Youngs is an independent. (Source: e-mail from Mr. Youngs)
Queensland, Australia: A Sunday-keeping group here converted to the Sabbath. They are associated with an annual "pilgrimage" of Protestants to Jerusalem to celebrate the Feast of Tabernacles and to show solidarity with the Jews. Many keep the Sabbath and all the Holy Days in homes. (Source: Dale Heslin—attended their meeting.)
Nashville, Tennessee: Arthur Lee, Sr., an older African-American gentleman held Bible studies on Saturday afternoons in a Nashville park in the early 1970’s. The studies were largely attended by members of the hippy culture, some of which were "Jesus Freaks". The man would ask questions then ask people to read the answers from the Bible. The people learned about the Sabbath, Holy Days, clean meats, avoidance of pagan days, etc. Eventually, the study broke up, but most attending found their way into the WCG (Source: Richard and Tarcila Fox, two who attended those studies, became WCG members, and are now Servants’ News subscribers).
Appleton-Green Bay, Wisconsin: John J. Purvins and Gary L. Lesperance studied literature from the Worldwide Church of God and other groups in the 1970’s. They received a visit from WCG ministers, but found them quite arrogant—not like the "servants" described in the Bible. In 1976, they began an independent congregation which continues to this day—about 40 members. They observe the holy days and food laws, and teach basic Biblical Hebrew and Greek. They also have a community outreach.
Grand Ledge, Michigan: In 1928, Nora Bush, a former Methodist, began to teach a group of people what she had learned from her studies of the Bible. She taught the second coming of Christ, the Sabbath, the Holy Days, clean meats, and many other doctrines also taught by Armstrong. After Ms. Bush died, others continued to teach in her place. Little written literature was ever produced. Today, 15 to 20 people meet every Sabbath at a small building they have acquired. They have worked with other groups, but found no need to join them. (Source: Barbara McDirmid, wife of their current pastor.)
Imlay City, Michigan: Al and Jeanne Raines, former WCG members attended a year-2000 seminar. They spoke to six people who had dropped out of organized churches to study the Bible on their own. These people realized that the Sabbath is the day of worship, and are looking into the holy days and many other doctrines.
Obviously, there is no way of knowing how many such local groups there are. Since most do not do mass evangelism or advertise, there is no way to find them. But small things cannot be discounted. The Eternal performed great miracles so Philip could baptize one Ethiopian eunuch (Acts 8:27-39).
What Is the Meaning of So Many Groups—Each Slightly Different?
It means that Christ Himself is leading his church, not a man. It also shows that Christ allows errors in His congregations. Just as the Seven Churches in Asia Minor in Revelation 2 & 3 had some varying and erroneous doctrines, so 1900 years later the hundreds of congregations have many varying and erroneous doctrines. Sometimes the groups last a long time, sometimes they break up and reform, sometimes they seem to disappear.
It seems that no matter how humble and God-centered a teacher is, there is a tendency for people to build an institution around the person and reduce religion to a creed and an organization to join. The "organization" that God built was the nation of Israel—anyone who was circumcised and kept the law could be a member for life. It was a temporal state and "a church organization". In the New Testament, Christ asked for the hearts, minds, and lives of individuals. He did not undo the righteous teaching of the Old Testament, neither did He ask believers to join a new human organization.
All of the groups mentioned here are neither all good nor all bad. Like the churches of Revelation 2 & 3, they are a mixture. Some groups teach that they are the only true church—they might treat you as an unconverted person who needs to be counseled and baptized before entering their fellowship. Others would probably accept your baptism, but you might find their practices "odd" because their teachings are so heavily dependent on the leader or founder of their group. You might find that some of the other groups were very accepting of you—quite happy for you to fellowship with them even though you would probably have some doctrinal differences.
But we need to consider how a member of one of these groups might view the group we attend. Would they find us accepting of them and united on the common ground of solid Bible teaching? Or would they find us overly pre-occupied with the prophetic interpretations and doctrinal teaching of Herbert Armstrong? Would they have trouble accepting phrases that Mr. Armstrong used, but that are not in the Bible?
Some of these groups are active, strong and serving in some capacity. Others spend much of their time debating the teachings of a person now dead. We need to decide what kind of person we want to be. Do we refuse to work with other groups because they may bring up doctrinal issues that we do not have an explanation for? Because we are afraid our group will lose members? Or because we think our group is better? None of these are good reasons for rejecting other believers.
Indeed, there are groups that have false doctrines that truly are dangerous, or that seem to have a contentious spirit. We are not saying that any believer can work with any other group that calls itself Christian. But on the other hand, it seems that most believers reject most "other groups" before they even know much at all about them.
Christ clearly pictured a day of judgment when people from various eras would be able to comment upon each other:
The queen of the South will rise up in the judgment with the men of this generation and condemn them, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater than Solomon is here. The men of Nineveh will rise up in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here (Luke 11:31-32).
I have wondered, sometimes with tears in my eyes, if Herbert Armstrong and his followers are going to stand up and try to tell Christ that none of the people in other groups are His, because their doctrines differed from Armstrong’s. I wonder if Armstrong will tell Christ that none of these people preached the gospel, because he was the first one to preach the gospel in 1800 years. Mr. Armstrong taught his doctrines to as many as 300,000 people, but the groups listed here add up to many times that—and we have no way to know how many people really have the Spirit of God, whether they be in the WCG, these other groups, or groups unknown to us.
Many Sabbath-keepers had their property confiscated and were persecuted greatly for their beliefs. Their leaders taught brethren to rely on the Bible and the Holy Spirit, because they knew that they could be killed at any time. Herbert Armstrong died surrounded by every comfort that money could buy. He left his followers so ill-prepared to live a spiritual life without him, that within ten years and without any outside persecution, they had dispersed to dozens of competing groups or given up on the Eternal completely.
To anyone who will hear, I urge each of you to take up your place as one of the many humble children of the Eternal—realizing that He calls whom He will and is under no obligation to tell us how or where He does it. Remember the real Elijah, a prophet whom the Eternal used to perform many miracles, and whom the Eternal gave His very words to speak before kings. Even this man did not know about 7000 of the Eternal’s people who lived at his time (1Kngs 19:14-18). This article contains only groups that I do know about, without spending that much time looking.
A true servant of the Eternal knows that his or her name is written in the Book of Life—they do not need to make a name for themselves in human history. Have you ever noticed how little the Bible writers say about the importance of themselves and their ministries? Compare that to what Herbert Armstrong said about his ministry!
If we are to be effective in the future, we must consider ourselves followers of the Eternal, not of some man or organization. We must ask Him to use us, and be willing to work with the people He sends our way. If they have doctrines that differ from ours, we need to be willing to show them from the scripture where they are wrong. If we cannot show them of our doctrine from the scripture, then either we need to study more, or avoid showing them that doctrine.
—Norman S. Edwards