Two books printed in 1997 tell the story of our struggle. We, the Philadelphia Church of God (pcg), printed one, Mystery of the Ages. The Worldwide Church of God (wcg) printed the other, Transformed by Truth.
Joseph Tkach Jr., author of Transformed by Truth and current pastor general of the wcg, sums up the dispute like this: “While many have exited the Worldwide Church of God over the years, some still cling to Herbert W. Armstrong’s teachings, and others have been transformed by the truth.” Mr. Tkach correctly identifies the nature of this division—Mr. Armstrong’s teachings.
Herbert W. Armstrong founded the wcg in 1934 and wrote Mystery of the Ages in 1985. After he died in 1986, the new administration in the church repudiated all of his central doctrines and permanently stopped the presses on Mystery of the Ages and all other works by Mr. Armstrong.
In this article, we will briefly explain how all this came about. With that background, you will see why we reprinted Mystery of the Ages in 1997.
Mr. Tkach says Herbert Armstrong was a complex man—a man of contradiction. In Transformed by Truth, he refers to these many “contradictions” as “cognitive dissonance”—a term as condemning as it is vague. It enabled Mr. Armstrong and his followers, Tkach explains, “to believe two contradictory ideas at the same time.”
Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions—people who have studied Mr. Armstrong’s plain and understandable teachings—would take exception with how Mr. Tkach views those teachings.
Yet, if you look into the writings and speeches of Joseph Tkach Jr., you will be struck by a number of complexities. Transformed by Truth—indeed, Mr. Tkach’s life—is markedly contradictory. Even those in the traditional Christian community—those who now applaud the “unprecedented changes” he has made—suspiciously wonder why he tried so hard to conceal from his own members the earliest changes made after Mr. Armstrong’s death. If the wcg’s post-Armstrong “transformation” was an innocent awakening, as Tkach suggests, why did church leaders keep its members in the dark for so long?
It’s because they had an agenda to destroy Herbert Armstrong’s life work while simultaneously working to dupe his supporters into believing their lies. They wanted the best of both worlds: Get rid of Mr. Armstrong’s beliefs, but keep as many of his members as possible, not to mention his multi-million dollar assets (an estimated $250 million worth).
The End-Time Elijah
Long-time members of the wcg will remember that Herbert Armstrong and most of his faithful ministers, from about the mid-1970s on, referred to Mr. Armstrong’s prophetic office as “end-time Elijah.” This belief was based on numerous biblical prophecies, most notably Malachi 4:5-6 and Matthew 17:10-11. Mr. Armstrong acknowledged this office in his final book, Mystery of the Ages, on page 291.
Even after Mr. Armstrong died, Joseph Tkach Sr. confirmed the church’s official position on the end-time Elijah role. In the August 25, 1986, Worldwide News, a newspaper for wcg members, Tkach Sr., then the pastor general, listed 18 points of doctrine Mr. Armstrong had “restored” to the church. He was implying that God had sent Mr. Armstrong to this Earth as the end-time Elijah to “restore” certain key truths (see Matthew 17:11).
Yet, concurrent with Tkach Sr.’s admission in the church newspaper (sent to members only), he cut out all references to this Elijah role when he serialized Mystery of the Ages in the July-August 1986 Plain Truth magazine (sent to the general public). That surreptitious omission proved to be quite telling.
By the middle of 1988, all production had been stopped on Mystery of the Ages. Mr. Tkach Sr. finally decided to let the members in on this monumental decision in January of 1989. At that time, church representative Larry Salyer suggested that Mystery of the Ages was discontinued because it was very expensive and because there were a few minor errors in the book, giving the impression it was only temporarily shelved.
At the end of 1989, Gerald Flurry (Trumpet editor in chief) was fired by Joseph Tkach Jr. for adhering to Mr. Armstrong’s teachings and beliefs. Dennis Leap (Trumpet senior editor) was one of the first wcg members to follow my father’s lead in continuing the tradition established by Mr. Armstrong. Mr. Tkach Jr., in a nine-page letter written on April 20, 1990, tried in vain to convince Mr. Leap to reconsider his course of action. In it, he said that church literature over the years had referred to the work of the church as fulfilling the prophecy concerning Elijah, not Mr. Armstrong himself. Mr. Armstrong did not, he stated firmly, “claim to be the exclusive fulfillment of the end-time Elijah office.”
Throughout the early 1990s, disgruntled former members of the wcg were trickling into the pcg and asking us about what Mr. Armstrong believed and taught concerning the role of “Elijah.” They were being told by wcg ministers that Mr. Armstrong never referred to himself as fulfilling the end-time office of Elijah. To help settle the controversy, the Trumpet ran an eight-page story in its July 1995 issue proving where Mr. Armstrong stood on the subject. It was a reminder of what Mr. Armstrong actually taught on the subject—what Tkach Jr.’s own father had believed shortly after Mr. Armstrong’s death.
Why Joseph Tkach Jr. would insist, as late as 1990, that Mr. Armstrong never taught that he fulfilled the role of “Elijah” is inexplicable. More astonishing still is Tkach’s frank admission in his 1997 book: “Herbert Armstrong used to read Malachi 4:5-6 and say that it applied to him” (p. 181; emphasis added). No mention of it applying to the work of the church, like he said in 1990. On page 182, Mr. Tkach asserted with emphasis that as Mr. Armstrong’s “own ego accepted the notion and certain people began to play on his ego—he began to accept that he was personally the Elijah” (emphasis his). Here he not only admits Mr. Armstrong believed his office was fulfilling these scriptures, he attributes it to Mr. Armstrong’s swelling ego!
What a contradiction with his own words in 1990 when he was trying to persuade Mr. Leap not to leave the church! “It may surprise you to learn,” he wrote to Mr. Leap, “that it has never been a doctrine of the church that men’s names should be applied to scripture.” He concludes his point by reassuring Mr. Leap, “There has been no fundamental doctrinal change in this area [of the end-time Elijah].”
Follow, if you can, this path of deceitful contradiction. Before his death, Mr. Armstrong restates his position on the official role he had fulfilled in prophecy. Mr. Tkach Sr. reaffirms the church’s position right after Mr. Armstrong dies. Yet, at the very same time, perhaps earlier, church officials omit all “Elijah” references from the serialized version of Mystery of the Ages. Two years later, the book is gone from circulation forever. And when members start to wake up to what was happening, Mr. Tkach Jr. tries to convince them that nothing had changed—we never believed Mr. Armstrong fulfilled that role, he said.
But in 1997, after almost three fourths of the church members had been forced out—the wcg’s doctrinal transformation complete—Tkach Jr. asserts confidently, Because of his oversized ego, Mr. Armstrong did attribute these scriptures to himself personally.
Talk about cognitive dissonance.
Pinning Blame on Mr. Armstrong
When you are working hard behind the scenes to change everything, you can only cover it up for so long. Soon, many wcg members began to wake up to the fact that the wcg was changing—dramatically!
That’s when the Tkaches concocted a most bizarre explanation for the church’s transformation: Mr. Armstrong, they said, wanted these changes to be made.
Another classic contradiction! They didn’t start with this line of reasoning until the early 1990s, nearly five years after Mr. Armstrong had died.
Meditate on these words, written by Joseph Tkach Jr. on November 12, 1991: “On his deathbed, Mr. Armstrong himself commissioned my father to look into the very changes we have made. Therefore, we are following the wishes of Mr. Armstrong and, more importantly, God” (personal letter to former wcg member).
Mr. Tkach again mentioned this deathbed discussion in his book: “Just before he died in January 1986, Herbert Armstrong told his handpicked successor—my father, Joseph Tkach Sr.—that changes needed to be made in the church.” But notice how the story had changed over time: “Mr. Armstrong never detailed everything that he meant….” He had to alter his recollection somewhat to account for the five-year gap. If Mr. Armstrong had gone into such detail, why did it take so long for his successors to come out and reveal what he had said? Ah, but if Mr. Armstrong wasn’t specific, that accounts for why these changes surfaced gradually over the years.
Yet, in November 1992, when Mr. Tkach Sr. spoke about this supposed conversation, he indicated that Mr. Armstrong had gotten very specific. Tkach Sr. recalled telling Mr. Armstrong, “What you’re bringing up here is really heavy, heavy information.” And how did he explain the five-year gap? “Some of those things were so far over my head, it’s only within the last few years that they’re beginning to come back,” he said. Apparently, he attributed the mysterious five-year gap to a simple case of amnesia.
Of course, there never was a conversation with Mr. Armstrong about making all the changes we have witnessed the past 15 years. It’s just another example of the cognitive dissonance within an organization willing to do anything necessary to cover its tracks.
Remember, Mr. Armstrong completed Mystery of the Ages six months before he died. He considered it his life’s greatest work. His one main goal after finishing that book, right up to the day he died, was to get Mystery of the Ages into the hands of as many people as possible.
It was within this time frame that Joseph Tkach and his father insist that that Mr. Armstrong wanted the church to make the “very changes” it has since made—one of which was to destroy Mystery of the Ages and repudiate its doctrines.
That is cognitive dissonance.
Mystery of the Ages
The Mystery of the Ages cover-up has been equally well documented. As mentioned, the wcg suspended production in 1988, announced the decision in 1989, and gave the impression it would be back soon after a few minor edits.
That has turned out to be nothing but a smoke screen, but it helped convince many wcg members to stay on for the long haul. Mr. Tkach Jr. told Mr. Leap in 1990 that the book was “discontinued because we have more economical ways of providing exactly the same message…. The doctrinal message of the book is not being changed or stopped,” he said.
Today, he likes to give the impression that he made these kinds of statements in ignorance, not knowing where the Lord was leading him in this churchwide “awakening.” Problem is, five months before he told Mr. Leap that nothing in Mystery of the Ages had been changed, he told my dad as he was about to fire him that the book was “riddled with error.”
That is cognitive dissonance.
As with all of these contradictions, the passage of time has helped prod Mr. Tkach Jr. to shed more light on what actually happened in those critical years between 1986 and 1990. In his tell-all book, he admits that Mr. Armstrong considered Mystery of the Ages “his crowning achievement.” He goes on to describe how much of its content (chapter 5 specifically) fostered “racial prejudice.” He says that within two years of Mr. Armstrong’s death, “several church leaders” had brought this to his father’s attention (Tkach Sr.). That would have been 1988, the year both The United States and Britain in Prophecy and Mystery of the Ages were discontinued.
It is nothing less than astonishing that nearly two years after that, Tkach Jr. insisted to many church members that no doctrines in Mystery of the Ages had been reversed or altered in any way!
Today, of course, his story is altogether different.
At the beginning of his book, Tkach Jr. urges readers to “honestly investigate ‘the plain truth’ about today’s Worldwide Church of God.” Later, he espouses “tolerance” as an “absolute requirement” for any Christian denomination. You can believe what you want, he says, “But as soon as you say it’s what someone has to do and you try to force your standard of righteousness on others, you’ve crossed the line” (emphasis his).
Then, later on, when acknowledging that some readers might wonder how the church under Mr. Armstrong’s lead could ever come to believe the “dubious theory” of “British Israelism,” he makes this remarkable statement: “And by the way, don’t bother writing for a copy of The United States and Britain in Prophecy. You won’t get it from us. And therein lies a story” (emphasis mine).
And what a one-sided, contradictory story it is! The wcg today says, We want you to honestly investigate the Worldwide Church of God, but don’t bother seeking Mr. Armstrong’s side of the story, you can’t have it! Just take our word for it! He was wrong and we are right, they say in no uncertain terms.
Concerning Mr. Armstrong’s “opus magnum,” Mystery of the Ages, Tkach Jr. writes, “We feel it is our Christian duty to keep this book out of print.”
How decidedly unchristian that is! How can he justify, as “Christian,” banning religious works that do not concur with his belief system?
He concludes, “We believe Mr. Armstrong’s doctrinal errors are better left out of circulation.”
Now who has “crossed the line”? Who is he to determine what is right doctrine and what is wrong? He’s certainly entitled to his own opinion. But isn’t he forcing his standard of righteousness on others by blocking them from reading Mr. Armstrong’s side? What about the “honesty” and “openness” he promulgates at the beginning of his book?
Yet another example of the cognitive dissonance tightly woven through the fabric of Transformed by Truth.
We believe it is our “Christian duty” to keep Mystery of the Ages in print, because anyone who knows anything about Mr. Armstrong, knows that is what he would have wanted. Indeed, right before he died, he told the entire church that he wanted the book to reach the “largest audience possible.”
In 1997, we reprinted the work with that express objective in mind. And the wcg has been fighting to keep the book out of print ever since. Throughout the four-year litigation process the wcg and its team of lawyers has pulled out all the stops to keep you from reading Mystery of the Ages.
In February 1997, they filed for a temporary restraining order to keep us from distributing the book during the litigation. Judge Letts of the U.S. District Court in California denied their request, saying Mr. Armstrong “didn’t dream that by giving this copyright to the corporation, which was his corporation that reflected his religion, that those who would come after him would use their corporate power to suppress his religion.”
Ten days later, on a Friday, the wcg dismissed the California case altogether. The following Monday, they filed a new case in the Western District of Oklahoma in a cynical and obvious attempt to shop for a more favorable judge.
Three months later, after getting nowhere, the wcg requested that the Oklahoma court transfer the case back to California, which it did.
When Judge Letts finally issued his summary judgment on the case, nearly two years later, he ruled in favor of the pcg, saying a copyright does not exist for what the Worldwide Church of God wants to do, which is to keep the book out of print. He reiterated what he had said at the very first hearing in 1997, saying Mr. Armstrong “never intended the copyright to stop Mystery of the Ages from going to the public.”
In another distinct example of cognitive dissonance, the wcg responded to Judge Letts’s ruling by telling its members “it could not just stand by and simply ignore the confiscation of its assets” (emphasis added). Ironically, it is the wcg that wants to use the copyright to “confiscate” all of Mr. Armstrong’s works.
Later, Ralph Helge, the wcg’s top legal adviser, told members in a Worldwide News article, “It should be understood that this decision does not end the matter”—meaning they intended to appeal. He concluded his article by accusing the pcg of stealing, breaking both the commandment of God and the copyright law of the United States.
He mentioned nothing about all the wcg had stolen from former members who had donated thousands of hours and dollars—who had given their whole lives in support of Mr. Armstrong’s religion—only to see it destroyed by a small band of rebels who despised Mr. Armstrong’s teachings, but never made that known until after he died!
Talk about cognitive dissonance.
Appeals Court Ruling
The wcg’s appeal brought us before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in Pasadena, California, on December 6, 1999. Three judges had been randomly selected to hear our case.
They filed their judgment on September 18, 2000, siding with the wcg by a two-to-one judge margin. (For a full Internet transcript of the ruling, go to www.ce9.uscourts.gov/web/new opinions.nsf and look up September 18 opinions or wcg v. pcg.)
While we disagree sharply with the majority opinion, we certainly found common ground with the dissenting Judge Brunetti. Three times he referred to the fact that the pcg considers Mystery of the Ages “divinely inspired.” On the other hand, he wrote, “wcg’s decision to cease publication of moa, destroy inventory copies, and disavow moa’s religious message in the context of its doctrinal shift as a church demonstrates that moa is no longer of value to wcg for such purposes, regardless of pcg’s actions. Because wcg has admitted that it has no plans to publish or distribute moa as originally written, there can be no market interference.”
The last point Judge Brunetti touches on introduces yet another recent Tkach contradiction—the proposed “annotated version” of Mystery of the Ages the wcg now says they are going to produce. Once again, consider the timing of this proposal. The wcg discontinued the book in 1988, renounced all of its major doctrines by the early 1990s, and declared in 1997 that it had a “Christian duty” to keep the book out of print. Then, in 1998, a year-and-a-half after taking us to court—after Judge Letts had made it clear that he felt they were using the copyright unlawfully—they suddenly decided they wanted to print Mystery of the Ages again, in annotated form!
That is cognitive dissonance.
It has been over 12 years since they discontinued Mystery of the Ages and destroyed all remaining copies. They have had plenty of time to do something with the book, if they were genuinely interested in reprinting it in some form. Additionally, it has now been more than two years since they told our lawyers they wanted to print an annotated version. Yet, still, there is no annotated version.
What will Joseph Tkach Jr.’s story be next year? What about five years from now? If recent history is any indication, it will undoubtedly keep changing.
The Worldwide Church of God has no interest in ever printing Mystery of the Ages in any form. Even if they did attempt such a project, perhaps just to spite us, it would be the most scathing condemnation of Herbert W. Armstrong and his teachings that you have ever read—much the same as Transformed by Truth.
That is why we feel it is our duty to make this book available to the general public—and at no charge.
How This Affects You
Stop for a moment and think—why would Joseph Tkach go to such great lengths to deceive his own members about what Mr. Armstrong taught and then follow it up by battling in court to “legally” ban all distribution of his teachings? What is it in Mystery of the Ages that Mr. Tkach fears so much? If it’s riddled with error—full of contradiction—doesn’t that, in itself, expose Herbert Armstrong’s “flawed” religion?
Mr. Tkach’s own contradictory writings give us every reason to question his sincerity. In truth, he wants to ban Mystery of the Ages because Mr. Armstrong’s understanding of Scripture opposes his own, and in a powerfully clear and understandable way. In Mystery of the Ages, Mr. Armstrong challenges all the “unprecedented changes” Mr. Tkach has forced upon the Worldwide Church of God. Mystery of the Ages is what accurately reflects the true religion of the Worldwide Church of God, as established by Herbert W. Armstrong.
Mystery of the Ages is a magnificent summary of Mr. Armstrong’s life work. Over the course of his long life, Mr. Armstrong learned that the Bible was a mystery to most people. He often quoted Bruce Barton, who once referred to the Bible as the book nobody knows. The reason for this, Mr. Armstrong explained, is because the Bible is like a jigsaw puzzle, with thousands of different pieces that will properly fit together in only one way. In Mystery of the Ages, Mr. Armstrong puts together all the pieces of the puzzle so that they can be clearly understood.
This is why Mr. Armstrong was overjoyed when it was finally completed in 1985. Fighting back tears, he told the sophomore class at Ambassador College the day he handed it out, “Will you forgive me if I get a little bit of a thrill that this book is done—that this book is out now. Today is a pretty big day in my life, when I can hand copies of this book out to each of you.”
That excitement spilled over into everything Mr. Armstrong did the last few months of his life. He did more to publicize this book than anything he had ever written because he believed it to be his most important work—the best work of his 93 years of life. He believed the book would prove to be a “major step forward” for the Worldwide Church of God.
Since he died, the Tkaches have done everything in their power to force the church backward. Early on, they camouflaged their mission with deceit and trickery. Now, they candidly admit that they are duty bound to keep Mr. Armstrong’s teachings out of print forever—even calling this blatant disregard of religious freedom “Christian.”
We plan to do everything in our power to prevent that from happening. We are currently in the process of appealing the Ninth Circuit’s ruling. If that court rejects our petition to re-hear the case, we will appeal to the highest level of the land—the Supreme Court.
In his book, Mr. Tkach Jr. claims to offer a “behind-the-scenes look” at how the wcg came out of “darkness” and into the light. In doing so, he presents Herbert Armstrong in a most unflattering light—plagiarist, racist, brainwasher; uneducated, eclectic, ostentatious, heretical, dictatorial, legalistic and, of course, contradictory.
Yet, this so-called behind-the-scenes look is another of the many contradictions in Tkach’s own book. Mr. Armstrong’s ministry spanned nearly six decades. Mr. Tkach didn’t become a full-time minister until after Mr. Armstrong died. Quite frankly, I challenge Mr. Tkach’s qualifications as an “insider.” If anything, when Mr. Tkach Sr. appointed his son director of church administration in 1987, most church members viewed Tkach Jr. as an unknown outsider.
But what about Joseph Tkach Jr.’s spiritual qualifications? That he freely condemns and judges the character and work of a dead man goes without saying. But what does that scathing condemnation say about his own spiritual roots? He grew up in a “heretical” church led by an uneducated “racist.” The founder of his own church, Tkach Jr. says, did not receive any of his distinctive doctrines from God, but from “extreme and even heretical” Protestant groups. As a young man, Tkach Jr. went to school at Ambassador College, Mr. Armstrong’s “indoctrination camp” where students were “brainwashed” into accepting the church’s heretical doctrines and “pressured” into getting baptized.
And yet, amazingly, it was within this purportedly satanic environment that Tkach Jr. somehow became converted and was ordained as a minister. Here is how he tries to explain his most unusual spiritual pilgrimage: “By the time I was baptized [at the “indoctrination camp” in 1971, we might add], I already had a saving relationship with Jesus Christ—even though it was encrusted with layer upon layer of theological barnacles.”
As Mr. Tkach Jr. knows, Mr. Armstrong taught that those who endure to the end “shall be saved” (Matt. 24:13). In saying he received salvation before his baptism in 1971, which falls in line with more traditional Christian beliefs, he is basically admitting that he lived a lie while Mr. Armstrong was alive.
What I’m wondering is this: How can Mr. Tkach justify receiving salvation before 1971 when all he had ever known was “Armstrongism”? How can he say Mr. Armstrong’s followers were “programmed not to talk much about Jesus,” while at the same time saying that “Jesus was central to our faith”? How can he accuse Mr. Armstrong of abusing power while also saying Mr. Armstrong made the right decision in appointing his father as successor? How can he call Mr. Armstrong’s teachings heretical and yet somehow consider Armstrong’s church “Christian”? How can he reject everything that has to do with Herbert Armstrong and yet, at the end of his book, imply that Mr. Armstrong received salvation and made it into heaven?
The answer is simple—cognitive dissonance. Joseph Tkach Jr. has to believe these contradictory ideas to somehow justify his own spiritual identity—to make sense of his own complex life.
Our mission is much less complex. We believe and adhere to the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong.
Always have—always will.
That’s why we reprinted Mystery of the Ages. The wcg can say what they want about our distribution of Mr. Armstrong’s works. But they are the ones “confiscating property” and committing “corporate theft.” They are the ones banning books that do not agree with their interpretation of Scripture. They are the ones who have lied to their own members and to the courts. They are the hypocrites.
Of course, they would deny all of these charges, even in the face of overwhelming evidence. Why?
Over the years, they’ve gotten pretty good at believing contradictory ideas.