The Church of God International has served many people in many ways since its beginning in 1978. It provided a place to fellowship and to grow for many people that left the Worldwide Church of God. It provided one place where people could contribute money that would be used to preach the Gospel to the world. Thousands of people have heard the Bible expounded and were baptized as a result of CGI broadcasts, literature and ministry.
While the CGI membership has been about 5000 for many years, it is important to note that over 25 local congregations and several larger groups have split off from the CGI over the past years. We look on this positively since many of these groups have gone on to grow and teach the Bible to others. Some of these split-offs still cooperate with CGI and with each other. (For more details, write us for a free copy of The Worldwide Church of God Splits, Their Triumphs and Troubles).
When one understands that Jesus the Christ (Yeshua the Messiah) is the living functioning head of his body today, it should not be a fearful thing to see corporations come and go or consolidate and splinter. Our Savior said He would build his Ekklesiaa body of called out believers. He said nothing about building corporations or organizations. It may be a little traumatic to attend services in a different building with different (or just fewer) people. It may be hard to get used to a different hymn book or other new publications. It may be tough to admit that we were not attending the "one true church" or at least the "most correct church."
But these are only small things compared to what happened to our brethren in Acts 8:1-4. They were driven from their homes as well as from their spiritual leadersall at the same time. Fortunately, most Sabbath-keepers are not experiencing this kind of persecution yet.
Nevertheless, the Church of God International is not without trials. In our last issue we reported that Suerae Robertson sued Garner Ted Armstrong for unspecified damages for his conduct while she was giving him a massage. We also reported that a video tape was made of this incident and that we received a letter back from Garner Ted Armstrong acknowledging the existence of this tape, but stating: "the actual tape is in the hands of the FBI, and I hesitate to go into detail, since it is supposedly a 'covert' investigation, and of course with the federal offense such as extortion, some rather lengthy prison sentences could be handed down, and the last thing in the world I want to do, is the extortionist's work for them."
Since that time we have not been able to confirm that any such FBI investigation has taken place and the original tape is in the hands of the plaintiff. We have spoken with four witnesses that have seen the tape all of which agreed on its contentwhich also agreed with the suit filed by Robertson. Without going into all of the details, the tape shows about 40 minutes of a completely undressed Garner Ted Armstrong receiving a massage and making frequent sexual advances toward Ms. Robertson. Armstrong made no effort to flee this encounter, nor was there the slightest bit of evidence that he was being forced to stay there. To the contrary, all of the viewers indicated he appeared to enjoy the whole affair immensely. Armstrong told Robertson on the tape that his evangelistic work was so important that God would forgive him for any sins he might commit.
But why do we bring these things up? Should we not let each man deal with his own sins? Shouldn't we be satisfied with all of the good preaching Garner Ted Armstrong has done?
That is not what conversion is about. Leaders are not there just to "talk the talk" but to "walk the walk." They are to be examples for the others to follow (1Pet 2:21, 5:3, Heb 13:7). The Messiah's basic complaint against the corrupt scribe and Pharisee leaders of his day was that "they say, but do not do" (Matt 23:3).
We have nearly two chapters in the Bible devoted to the qualifications of leaders in our congregations1Timothy 3 and Titus 1. There would be no point in these chapters if we always looked the other way whenever anyone sinned. Also, it makes no sense to say a man must meet these qualifications to become a leader, but once a leader he is no longer subject to them.
A leader should not be removed just because someone accuses him (1Tim 5:19). But there are now several witnesses to Armstrong's doings and a lot more evidence will become public as the trial progresses and as these items are released to the press. If one reads these chapters of Timothy and Titus, it becomes obvious that a publicized sin of this magnitude disqualifies a man from a leadership position. Continuing to recognize such a man as a leader says to the public that our religion is vainthat it does not matter if we practice what we preach.
Should not Garner Ted Armstrong be given a chance to repent? Yes, he should repent. The first step in repentance is to publicly acknowledge the sin as David did (2Sam 12:13, Pslm 51:3). The Eternal is very concerned about what people think of His work based on the actions of his servants. When David sinned, the Eternal told him: "...by this deed you have given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme..." (2Sam 12:14).
A person further disqualifies himself from serving if they continue to lie about their sin or pretend that it never happened. He should step down, repent and bring forth fruits of repentance. "Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones" (Luke 3:8).
We hope those that remain in the Church of God, International realize that theirs is a work of the Eternal, not of Garner Ted Armstrong. If He can raise up stones to be children of Abraham, he can raise up stones to be evangelists. Some of our readers will remember the wondering in 1985 about who could possibly continue the WCG telecast after Herbert Armstrong died. Three "rookies" started making programs and within a few months their average weekend response was greater than Herbert Armstrong's average response. It is the message and the power of the holy spirit, not the person.
CGI has received a copy of the tape through the court discovery process. We hope that they will use a Biblical, faith-filled approach in deciding what to do about the situation. While Garner Ted Armstrong may mitigate his legal liabilities by attempting to prove that he was "entrapped," that has little bearing on his Biblical qualification as a leader. Anyone who will do what he did (frolic naked for 40 minutes with a woman that is not his wife and then lie to cover it up) should not be a spiritual leader.
Several local congregations have already broken away from the Church of God, International because they refuse to be associated with this disqualified teacher. Other congregations are considering disassociation. Tom Justus, a long-time board member, has resigned over the issue. Other Tyler CGI employees are speaking out (see accompanying letter). We hope that the CGI's board of directors will take the necessary steps to see that good works can continue.
Meanwhile, we are trying to make the Eternal's people aware that their faith and trust must be in their Father in heaven, not in a man (Jer 17:5). You can continue or even expand your personal service with or without a particular corporation. The books of Joshua, Judges, Kings, and Chronicles contain many stories of kings of Israel and Judah who made alliances with other nations to protect them from their enemies. These pacts almost always ended in disaster. If they had concentrated on obeying the Eternal, they would have been able to defeat their enemies themselves (Deut 23:6, 32:29-32).
It is never good to compromise with clear Biblical commands simply to "keep the work together." As with military alliances, it may appear to work for a time. But powerful nations do not enter into treaties unless there is "something in the deal for them." And likewise, sin extracts its penalty and price. "Some men's sins are clearly evident, preceding them to judgment, but those of some men follow later" (1Tim 5:24).
We encourage everyone to look to our great Leader and Savior in this time of difficulty. Ask for the wisdom and understanding to know what to do. "Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened" (Matt 7:7-8).
-Norman S. Edwards