The Continuing COG
They Could Have Been Predicted!!
(The article below is one that I wrote back in 1997 or so, which subsequently got posted on “The Painful Truth Site.” It’s still there, in fact, in 2004, although I’d have to warn the weak of faith away from that site, nowadays.)
The on-going saga of a new church split every few months in the Armstrong-following churches of God should really be no surprise to those who are able to stand back and look at the situation dispassionately. These newly split-off church leaders are only mimicking a lesson well-learned from their founder - that if you're good enough with words, and intersperse enough of those phrases that by-pass the logic and go immediately to the emotion, there will always be some willing to follow you anywhere.
Phrases such as, "Brethren, nothing else matters now but God's Kingdom," "Satan is angry at God's true church and is attacking it," "we're in the gun-lap now," or one of his favorites for instilling guilt and loosening that grasp on one's last dime, "Brethren, if God hasn't conquered your pocketbook yet, he hasn't conquered you!"
Herbert Armstrong was a man well-versed in the field of advertising, and had learned how to impose the will of the seller over the objections of the potential buyer by the use of words. His job as an advertising agent was not to change the facts about a product, just the public's perception of that product.
He was a master at building a case either for or against any subject he choose. Witness his change of position, for example, on make-up, Pentecost, and lesser known, his change in teaching what kind of church government God desires.
Below is a copy of a letter that lays bare what Herbert W. Armstrong originally taught (and rather forcefully) about church government before he later decided that God governs from the "top down "(through HWA, and his boards and committees, of course). In fact, this "top down" theory was so important that it became one of his great restored 18 truths!
The current greatest weakness of these churches, strangely enough, is in the area where he propagated one his greatest errors -that men are to rule over other men in religious matters. And they will continue to pay the price for that error until these churches repent of following a man and his errors.
I think after reading the below letter it can better be understood why the COG churches will continue to split - they have learned from a master how to justify themselves no matter what position they take on any issue. After all, justification, not repentance, was Herbert W. Armstrong's REAL legacy to the world, and to his hangers-on.
(The following was taken from a letter written by Orlin Grabbe in late 1973. Slight editing was done to enhance word flow and clarity. No changes were made to anything within quotes):
Mr. Herbert Armstrong has written about the fallacy of letting politics rule one's life and that there are times not to follow a committee. The following quotes are from the February 1939 GOOD NEWS article "Did Christ Reorganize the Church?":
"We must be continually ON OUR GUARD, never trusting any man, or even a board or group of men, but God alone, thru His Holy Word!" (Page 1, emphasis Mr. Armstrong's throughout.)
"Church authority was given ancient Israel, but: Israel was DIVORCED! This cut off the GOVERNMENT, the ORGANIZATION, from among God's people, and TURNED IT OVER TO THE GENTILES FOR 2520 LONG YEARS until the very present generation." (p. 2)
"Jesus' disciples understood that the KINGDOM, with all authority to GOVERN, whether civil or church government, had been taken away from His people, and turned over to Gentiles. You'll remember how they asked Him, 'Lord, wilt thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?' (Acts 1:6) But He did NOT restore it, then. He did NOT bring the government, the organization, the authority to rule, back from the Gentiles to His people! Consequently He did NOT reorganize His people, or establish any government, ecclesiastical or civil, among them! This the New Testament Scriptures, also, abundantly prove!" (p. 3)
"First, did Christ ever set up an ORGANIZATION, with its boards of HEAD MEN, with authority to GOVERN over the 'spiritual affairs,' or the 'FINANCIAL AFFAIRS' of the Church?" (p. 3)
"Answer: There is not one single HINT in the New Testament of any Church BOARD with authority to rule, to govern, to decide doctrine, or to handle tithes and church finances (of the whole church)." (p. 5)
"All authority and power to rule is limited solely to each LOCAL congregation. But there is NO BIBLE AUTHORITY for any super-government, or organization with authority over the local congregations!" (p. 5)
"Thus it was that CONSTANTINE the 'BEAST' who injected and introduced into the church the idea of a BOARD to decide doctrine, and to rule. "Thus it was that CONSTANTINE made doctrine, as decided by a higher-up Board, the basis of fellowship and unity in the Church! "Jesus never said 'by this shall all men KNOW that ye are my disciples if ye all speak the same thing the BOARD OF THE TWELVE vote on'. That is the policy of some today but it is NOT BIBLE POLICY! Jesus said we should be known to be in the true Church IF WE HAVE LOVE one to another! And doctrine has only brought STRIFE! "In the next century, came the PAPACY in full bloom, starting the idea that the CHURCH is an ORGANIZATION having CHURCH GOVERNMENT!" (p. 6)
". . . the 'BEAST' injected the idea of church BOARDS to decide what doctrines the rest of the church must believe. And thus the very PRINCIPLE of CHURCH GOVERNMENT becomes THE IMAGE OF THE BEAST! "The whole thing is FALSE! It is NOT ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE! It is part of BABYLON! Those who are IN, and MEMBERS of such an organized church government, submitting to doctrines declared by unscriptural boards as a fellowship test, are IN BABYLON, and actually worshippers of THE IMAGE OF THE BEAST!" (p. 6)
"The New Testament Church is not a kingdom not a church government but an assembly of individuals CALLED OUT Spirit-filled individuals, and therefore a SPIRITUAL ORGANISM, not an organization." (p. 7)
"The CHURCH is God's instrumentality thru which, and in which, He is selecting a people for His name gathering OUT of 'babylon' out of worldly ways, worldly organizations, various individuals one here, and one there to repentance, faith in Christ, receiving of and being led by the Holy Spirit, thus having HIS LAWS written in their minds and hearts living, individually, a life of trial and test, of OVERCOMING, that they may be thus fitted and trained for positions as kings or priests in the KINGDOM OF GOD, after Christ's second coming!" (p. 7)
"And this MARRIAGE will not be made with some one organization! It is THE INDIVIDUAL SAINTS not some organization which shall possess the government, and rule (Dan. 7:18; Rev. 2:26-27; 3:21, etc.)" (p. 7)
"What has split and divided up the saints in the Church of God? Nothing but ORGANIZATION which has led to politics, ministers lusting for rule and for power striving against each other, lining up the brethren on THEIR side, against the other! It is SUCH PREACHERS who have split up and divided our brethren!" (p. 7)
I hardly need to point out that the last quote describes very accurately what is going on in the Worldwide Church of God today. HWA's article says: (a) if we go along with most religious committee's decisions, we are worshipping the Beast, and (b) that salvation is an individual matter, and has nothing to do with whether we belong to some organization.
Now the first thing someone is going to say is that this "old" article is totally wrong. Whoever says that cuts his own throat -for if HWA was wrong in that article, then he was not only wrong, but TOTALLY AND UTTERLY WRONG, since he said that church government which today the Church says is holy, righteous, ordained of God, and is to be obeyed with fear and trembling that church government is the image of the Beast. And if HWA was totally and utterly wrong in so important a matter as church government, then HWA can be equally wrong regarding a host of other doctrines.
Whoever claims that article is wrong, also condemns this Church at its origin, for if HWA was wrong in that article, then HWA's flagrant rebellion against the church in what he was teaching, in taking people's tithes, etc., cannot be covered by a biblical excuse that there is no church authority except under the Beast's.
In fact, this is a typical example of an overall syndrome in the Work. The Church writes very strong articles concerning various doctrines which it teaches, using vast amounts of Scripture in doing so, to "prove" its points while it is convenient to believe that doctrine. In this case, HWA was defending his position against "Sardis" ministers. But when circumstances or economics make it easier to believe something else, something else is taught, with just as many scriptures, and the previous position is conveniently "forgotten".
HWA later found it much easier to believe in Church authority when he had his own church, and when he was the authority. It was not that scriptural reasons induced us to change our position regarding church authority, or to modify our position, nor was it the case that we were uncertain about church authority and needed to study it further and then finally came to "see" the truth all that had nothing to do with it. On the one hand, HWA was ABSOLUTELY DOGMATICALLY CERTAIN that church government was the image of the Beast; and then later, he was JUST AS ABSOLUTELY DOGMATICALLY CERTAIN that church government was one of the most important truths God had revealed to us.
One thing is for certain: there is no real search for truth involved in all of this. One observer noted: "Each nation has created a god, and that god always resembled his creators. He hated and loved what they hated and loved, and he was invariably found on the side of those in power. Every god was intensely patriotic, and detested all nations but his own . . ." In the same way, HWA's god has hated church authority when HWA hated church authority, and loved church authority when HWA loved church authority. And HWA's god feels about the church's various doctrines exactly the same way HWA does. What the Bible says is something else again!