Servants' News

Jul/Aug 2000

“Church of God” Groups Stuck With Reputation?

Garner Ted Armstrong still continues to hold “campaigns” in major cities where he will speak for one or more nights in a local hall. Local news media frequently write a story on these meetings, but they are more often covered as a historic oddity rather than as a serious message. The size and sins or the WCG’s past work are covered in as much detail as the words of the campaign. One example is the following article reprinted from the September 14, 2000 Toronto Star.

I will be the first to admit that this writer was more interested in entertaining the reader than he was in giving a balanced view of the facts of the meeting. Nevertheless, others who attended the meeting agreed with the important facts: few attended, and the message seems largely like a combination of sayings and stories from many years gone by. The interest was not great. The long range effect of what is happening is clear: GTA’s message was heard by 67 new people, but the story about the problems of the past went to over a million Canadian homes, and was probably read by tens of thousands. In other words, for each campaign GTA holds, a larger segment of the population becomes biased against “Church of God” religion.

If all of this were based on lies, I could pray to the Eternal and ask Him to “take vengeance upon these evil newspaper people for printing lies about God’s church”. But I can’t pray that way—because I think a lot of the problems mentioned in these articles are true.

Other Church of God groups still have this media problem, though to a lesser degree if they do not regularly reference Herbert Armstrong in their teachings. Nevertheless, neither the public nor the press always distinguish between the various Church of God groups. I can remember meeting someone once who said they attended the Creation Seventh Day Adventist Church. I thought that “Creation” might just be a local name of a congregation and that this person was part of the major Seventh Day Adventist group. Not so! This is a completely separate group that is rejected by the main denomination. Also, the “Creation SDA” has some new truth (they keep the Holy Days) and has rejected some of the error of the old group. But to me, at the time (and maybe to you), they just seemed like so many Seventh Day Adventists. Please realize, that to the rest of the world, the Worldwide, Living, United, Universal, Intercontinental, etc. “Church of God” groups all seem about the same—especially when they proclaim the same history and nearly identical teaching.

Please read the Toronto Star article below and please finish the main article (beginning page 1) if you have not already done so. I am not saying that God cannot raise up the Church of God groups and do a work, but it appears that He is not doing so. There are many other religious movements that have surged and done great works at some time, only to later break up and become ineffective. Sometimes, we can find individual congregations that will hold fast to the beliefs and methods of the group that did a great work 50, 100, or more years ago. I had a friend who visited a church of over 50 people where all but one of them were related by marriage—they had done a great job of holding onto their name and doctrines and keeping some of their children “in the fold” over the years, but were having almost no impact on the outside world. Is this what Christ commanded?


The Voice of God (maybe) Garners 67 Followers

Toronto Star—Sept 14, 2000

NO OTHER VOICE was more immediately recognized “in”—as the man who introduced Garner Ted Armstrong put it—“the old days.” Not Edgar Bergen’s or Charlie McCarthy’s (or Mortimer Snerd’s). Not Jack Benny’s. Not Churchill’s. But none of theirs sounded like it might be the voice God would use when He spoke to His people. With Garner Ted’s, you couldn’t help but think: maybe.

Providing God was an American, and providing life was a western movie, things enough people accepted to make it a paying proposition.

And didn’t he rumble?

But then, Garner Ted wasn’t some common evangelist offering to save your soul in return for a donation to the address on the screen. He was a prophet, and before prophecy became the exclusive territory of the supermarket tabloids, attention was paid.

Not even God could get more exposure: 360 radio stations, 165 TV stations. And nobody else, not even God, could call their show The Plain Truth About The World Tomorrow and not get laughed off the air.

The plain truth was that Satan had you in his bombsight. The prophecy was “boom!”

There was the glossy magazine, there was Ambassador College, there was the Gulfstream II jet bearing the son of the founder of the Worldwide Church of God.

There was the fall. The legend of the founder and the church elders hastening to Penticton, B.C., to have a word with Garner Ted when he landed. Garner Ted sent away—vanishing! Into the wilderness. And the stewardess being reassigned, under a new name, to the church’s work in New Zealand.

There was the cash flow collapse. Garner Ted was the star attraction. Income collapsed. So he was hauled back! He returned! After six mysterious months. No questions asked (actually, plenty were, but no answers were given unless you count his father saying Garner Ted had been “in the bonds of Satan”).

A little prodigality always wears well; Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggert just didn’t understand the meaning of “a little”. And things took off again. Sort of.

There were schisms. Heresies flourished. Biblical prophecy couldn’t compete in the special effects department with Star Wars. Garner Ted and his father were pushed aside (his romantic nature made even the most Christian bean-counter twitchy). Nothing that is of this world lasts forever.

Fade to forgotten.

“For those of you who have lost track of Garner Ted Armstrong.” The pitch in the flyers. And for those who had, good news: He was coming!

And for those who hung close to hear the first words uttered by the voice that had electrified the fundaments of our being when everyone on Earth knew what the “brink” was, and how close we were to it, we heard a whispered murmur to his wife as he looked around the suburban hotel ballroom. “Pretty light,” he said.

Increasing the volume, he expounded on the “Pretty light” theme to a nervous-looking acquaintance. “They handed out 10,000 flyers, the group here locally. They thought maybe 400 might show up.”

And finally, in amplified flight, to the assembled. “They handed out 10,000 flyers expecting maybe 800 would show up. I told them, ‘Oh, no. I’d be very happy if 150 came out.”’

But 150 didn’t. Only 67 did. Leaving, very unhappily for Garner Ted, 205 seats arranged in tidy rows as empty as could be.

And time must have got extremely warped, or something, because it was hard to escape the feeling that if 10,000 flyers were directed to “those of you who have lost track of Maj. Douglas,” the crowd that turned out to hear him refresh our memories about Social Credit, and run through the A plus B theorem, would probably be about this size, and look pretty much as distracted as this one.

Except there would probably be a lot more, because rising from the grave is likely to be good box office, and Maj. Douglas shuffled off in 1952.

All Garner Ted could offer by way of distinction was that “as my dad once said to all of us assembled, ‘I’m not dead yet.’”

I watched to see what kind of reaction this drew from the man sitting in front of me. He took off his glasses and tied another couple of knots in the elastic band that was tied to the ends of the earpieces and went around the back of his head to keep them from falling off.

That was the extent of it.


Related Articles:
“Church of God” Groups Stuck With Reputation?
Teaching Other Groups — One Example
Working With “Other Groups”: How Do We Do It?

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