I’ll begin with my conclusion: The transformation of the Worldwide Church of God over the past 13 years has not been based upon truth, as Joseph Tkach Jr. suggests in his 1997 book Transformed by Truth. The church has been transformed, for sure. But certainly not by truth. In his book, Tkach accuses Herbert W. Armstrong, the church’s founder, of creating hooks to, in effect, capture members, like a fisherman working to snag a large-mouth bass. Yet it is Joseph Tkach who has baited the most enticing hook of all and reeled in over 50,000 members, convincing them that what they once proved to be true and right has all been a lie. Another 40,000 or so who didn’t quite bite have been turned off from religion altogether. And around 20,000 former members of the Worldwide Church of God have rejected the bait and are looking for spiritual food elsewhere.
This is the behind-the-scenes story of how it all came about.
Herbert W. Armstrong died on January 16, 1986. Six days previous, he wrote church members to inform them that he had appointed Joseph W. Tkach Sr. to succeed him as pastor general. (Mr. Armstrong did not, however, ordain Tkach as an apostle, the highest spiritual rank in the church.) At Mr. Armstrong’s funeral, Tkach eulogized him as irreplaceable. He prayed, “There is no man who can fill his shoes, but Father, we aim to follow in his footsteps.”
For a while, the church seemed to do just that. Tkach praised Mr. Armstrong’s final work, Mystery of the Ages, saying it was his “most powerful and effective book.” Mr. Armstrong considered the book’s importance second to none, except the Bible. He completed it just months before he died.
But a look behind the scenes reveals rumblings of a doctrinal earthquake to eventually shake the church at its very foundation. The softbound Mystery of the Ages, which church officials produced around the time of Mr. Armstrong’s death, had a few curious edits not contained in the hardcover edition. Similarly, the serialization of the book in The Plain Truth had one especially glaring deletion. Mr. Armstrong started serialization in the July 1985 issue, and it continued through December 1986. The conspicuous omission occurs in the Plain Truth’s July/August 1986 issue, six months after Mr. Armstrong’s death. The serialization omits reference to the Philadelphia era (the era in Revelation 3 Mr. Armstrong believed the Worldwide Church was in), as well as prophecies Mr. Armstrong explained from Malachi 3:1-5 and 4:5-6; Matthew 17:10-11 and 24:14. All of these prophecies revolve around one man whom God would raise up in this end time to take His message to the world. Prior to his death, church teaching clearly identified Mr. Armstrong as that one man. Pages 289-292 of Mystery of the Ages indicate this, but in the serialization, the most significant statements in this section were missing.
Later that summer (1986), Joseph W. Tkach hired his son, Joseph Jr., to work at church headquarters as assistant to the director of Church Administration. The significance of this move, as is pointed out in Malachi’s Message, is that Tkach’s son was hired by the church after the founder’s death. He was not an old-timer.
By the end of the year, Tkach Sr. began using Matthew 28:19-20 as the church’s scriptural commission instead of Matthew 24:14, the one Mr. Armstrong used in Mystery of the Ages and many other publications.
In January of 1987, just one year after Mr. Armstrong’s death, Tkach Sr. referred to himself as an apostle. This spurious assertion, together with his decision to omit references to Mr. Armstrong’s office in Mystery of the Ages, suggests that Tkach harbored at least some resentment over the church’s adulating love for its founder.
In March of 1987, Tkach changed the church’s position on healing, stating that it was not always God’s will to heal. (This was something liberals tried to change in the 1970s before they were fired by Mr. Armstrong.)
Later that year, church officials released an abbreviated version of The United States and Britain in Prophecy, the most popularly requested book Mr. Armstrong ever produced (5 million requested it). Editors chopped at least 70 percent of the original copy and, as with Mystery of the Ages, surreptitiously altered a few key expressions and passages, watering down the message. The following year, the booklet was removed from shelves entirely, to await results of a proposed two-year review to determine whether or not its content was relevant to the church’s commission and purpose.
That same year, in June of 1988, Mystery of the Ages was also withdrawn from literature inventories—which, in hindsight, comes as no surprise. Much of the book’s fifth chapter summarizes the knowledge expounded upon in The United States and Britain in Prophecy.
By the end of 1988, The Book of Revelation Unveiled at Last, one of Mr. Armstrong’s most popular booklets, was discontinued and replaced with Inside the Book of Revelation, a booklet that spoke more in generic terms and less about end-time prophecy.
To be fair, at that point in time, most people in the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) did not notice that the church was embarking on an unprecedented shift away from its relatively unorthodox roots. There are two reasons for this. First, it is not in man’s nature to detect warning signs. There is an occasional exception, like Churchill or Lincoln. But for the most part, the masses drift along, not fully realizing what is taking place until it becomes absolutely obvious. Church members back in the late ’80s did not see the writing on the wall. Secondly, making matters worse, the new WCG administration clandestinely worked to conceal changes from the membership. This is well documented, as we shall see. And if that wasn’t deceitful enough, when called on the carpet by those who knew what was going on, church officials obstinately played dumb: “Changes? What changes?”
The Cover Up
In January of 1989, the WCG finally announced Mystery of the Ages’ discontinuation in the Pastor General’s Report, a bi-weekly newsletter sent to church ministers. Larry Salyer, director of Church Administration, wrote, “We do updates on our booklets as the need arises based on a number of criteria. Some of these include the number of booklets in stock, the cost to reproduce the projected number of booklets needed in inventory, the degree of accuracy to be corrected and the need for such a topic in our body of literature” (emphasis mine). He lists four reasons why updates need to be made and then uses Mystery of the Ages as an example, saying it “is among the most expensive pieces of literature we have recently published. We have offered this book to the public many times through the telecast, The Plain Truth, co-worker letters and semi-annual letters. While it is not completely accurate to say that we have saturated our audience with these offers, we have made more offers for this book and have distributed it more than any other in the past four years.” All of that is part of the camouflage. The book was expensive, Salyer argued, and we have pretty much saturated our audience with it anyway. After the smoke screen, he then reveals the real reason it was discontinued: “Because Mystery of the Ages covers so many doctrinal subjects and is so costly to publish, obviously we want it to be completely accurate theologically.” He then covers a few minor, seemingly insignificant points that need revision. But he fails to mention such doctrinal mainstays like church eras, healing, the end-time Elijah, and the United States and Britain in prophecy—all of which are covered in Mystery of the Ages—all of which had been either changed or watered down by this time.
So while members assumed the book would be temporarily withdrawn while the “little” errors were fixed, the changes kept coming out of Pasadena. At about the same time Mystery of the Ages was stopped, so was the softbound version of Mr. Armstrong’s Autobiography—a book you would think would take on greater significance now that its author was dead. Later in 1989, The Plain Truth About Christmas, another popular booklet by Mr. Armstrong, was discontinued. In September of that year, The Missing Dimension in Sex, one Mr. Armstrong had written for use as a textbook at Ambassador College, was canceled.
By this time, a few old-timers were beginning to sit up and take note of what was happening to their church—especially some ministers who were reading of the now steady flow of changes in the Pastor General’s Report. Gerald Flurry was one of those disgruntled few. Shelving Mystery of the Ages was the last straw for him. From that point forward, he began work on Malachi’s Message, a book that has since been mailed to 70,000 people revealing why the WCG was turning away from its founder’s traditions. When Joseph Tkach Jr., now director of Church Administration, heard about Malachi’s Message, he immediately summoned Mr. Flurry and his assistant John Amos to church headquarters in Pasadena. That night, Tkach Jr. summarily fired and excommunicated from the church both of these long-time WCG ministers. Mr. Tkach Sr. was not present.
During the course of their firing on December 7, 1989, the subject of Mystery of the Ages came up. Messrs. Flurry and Amos hotly defended its content, arguing that it should not have been discontinued. Tkach Jr. retaliated by suggesting that the book was “riddled with error.”
Now here is where the WCG’s unprecedented shift toward mainstream over the past 13 years is revealed as the stealthy tactics of a band of opportunists: Why do you tell the church in 1989 that Mystery of the Ages is expensive and has a few minor errors that need correcting while in the same year you tell two ex-ministers who disagree with its shelving that it was “riddled with error”? In Transformed by Truth, Tkach Jr. tries to convince readers that the WCG’s transformation innocently came about, one change after another—that there was nothing calculated about it whatsoever. The facts, however, have been preserved in numerous publications, tapes and letters. And the facts reveal that there has been nothing innocent or ingenuous about this unprecedented shift. The facts reveal that there has been an agenda. The following sequence of events proves that conclusively.
If you are looking for genuine, guileless behavior in a church’s efforts, consider the early days of the Philadelphia Church of God: Technically, the church was established the day Messrs. Flurry and Amos were fired. Nine days later, their first official service was held— December 16, 1989. There were 12 members in attendance. A financial report from that month detailed the church’s financial standing: $88 in reserve. Yet with the money the four original families were able to contribute to the work in the first few weeks of 1990, Mr. Flurry finished Malachi’s Message and mailed photocopies to a few hundred WCG members. That’s how this work—which supports the magazine you are reading, which supports The Key of David program which airs every weekend—began less than ten years ago. And it began with one goal in mind and has not deviated from that purpose since: to follow in the footsteps of Herbert W. Armstrong, something Joseph Tkach Sr. said he would do at Mr. Armstrong’s funeral.
When Malachi’s Message first landed in mailboxes four years after Mr. Armstrong died, it was clear that the ripple it was causing would soon spread beyond the two regions it was mailed to initially. It was clear because those who read it and agreed with it would send in addresses of friends and family they wanted copies sent to. This, in turn, forced more WCG officials to defend where they stood with regard to Mr. Armstrong’s teachings and the foundation of the church’s beliefs.
It is at this precise juncture in the sequence of events that the WCG’s officials made many of their most serious blunders—turning many people away. Notice what Joseph Tkach Jr. wrote to Dennis Leap on April 20, 1990, in response to one of his criticisms soon after he left the WCG in support of Malachi’s Message: “Your first point concerned our discontinuing distribution of Mystery of the Ages. This book was discontinued because we have more economical ways of providing exactly the same message to subscribers and members. The doctrinal message of the book is not being changed or stopped” (emphasis mine). For Tkach Jr., this quote presents a problem. Saying the “exact same message” of the book was being disseminated four months after he told two fired ministers it was “riddled with error” is not consistent (to say the least). There was an agenda. It was this: clandestinely change church doctrines and traditions for as long as possible, hoping most members will bite.
Tkach Jr. wrote many other personal letters around 1990-1991, pleading with former members to reconsider their actions, insisting that there had been no real changes. Any way you look at it, these many recorded statements do not square with his comment on December 7, 1989: “riddled with error”—a statement he has not denied saying. If that be true, why the barrage of lies thereafter?
Even as Tkach Jr. and his cohorts continued insisting “no changes,” bigger changes kept coming with greater frequency. In January of 1991, the church reversed one of its cornerstone doctrines, saying that one was “born again” at baptism instead of at the resurrection, as Mr. Armstrong taught. Yet, five months after this monumental change, Dean Blackwell, a high-ranking WCG official, insisted that there was no change in the born again doctrine!
But the changes kept coming. In 1992, the WCG said the church was the kingdom of God and that there was by no means an exclusive body representing God. They introduced the new concept that it was impossible for Christ to sin, making Him out to be robot-like. They discontinued Who or What is the Prophetic Beast?, Why Were You Born?, All About Water Baptism and The Wonderful World Tomorrow, all written by Herbert Armstrong.
In 1992, the church became trinitarian; Tkach said the Ten Commandments were important, but not enough. They changed Mr. Armstrong’s long-held “salvation is a process” to “once saved, always saved.” And they discontinued another well-known booklet by Mr. Armstrong: Why Marriage?
By now, much like the Allies when Hitler invaded Poland in 1939, people inside the church were beginning to wake up to what was going on. “Changes? What changes?” didn’t pass muster with concerned members. So after more than six years of changes, church officials finally fessed up—sort of. By the end of 1992, they admitted to changes, but said it was Mr. Armstrong who made them while on his deathbed in 1986! That’s right. Concerning these supposed deathbed conversations with Mr. Armstrong, Tkach Sr. told church members, “When we were talking about a number of these issues, I said to Mr. Armstrong, ‘What you’re bringing up here is really heavy, heavy information. It’s a shame that we can’t tape record this and preserve it for posterity.’” Of course, no one believes this humbuggery now. But in 1992, many thousands were bamboozled into believing this conversation took place and that Mr. Armstrong would actually approve of such an unprecedented, 180-degree turn away from everything his ministry stood for.
In 1993, with the “approval” of Mr. Armstrong’s “dying instructions,” the changes kept coming. God is not a family. He doesn’t have a body. Jesus was not the God of the Old Testament—all of these in stark contrast to what Mr. Armstrong believed and taught.
In his book, Tkach Jr. looks upon 1994 as the watershed year for the church. That was when his father renounced Mr. Armstrong’s teachings as legalistic, Old Covenant, “nailed-to-the-cross” heresy! Consider this: After years and years of saying there were no changes, then attributing those unbelievable changes to Mr. Armstrong, Tkach Sr. and his ministers now flat out said (eight years after the fact), WE WERE WRONG! ARMSTRONG WAS A HERETIC—A FALSE PROPHET.
Over and over again, the facts make the many contradictions hard to explain. If there were no changes from 1986 to 1992, why were so many books and booklets discontinued? Why were so many church members disfellowshiped for believing what they had always been taught before Mr. Armstrong died? On the other hand, if WCG officials acknowledge the changes in those early years, if Tkach Jr. said “riddled with error” in 1989, and if Mr. Armstrong told Tkach Sr. to make these many changes in 1986, why didn’t church officials immediately let the membership in on the church’s unprecedented move toward mainstream while in its early stages? Furthermore, if Mr. Armstrong taught all of these “false” doctrines for decades, but then repented of that before dying, telling Tkach Sr. to make these changes, how could the WCG refer to him as a false prophet or heretic today? At worst, wouldn’t he only be something of a reformed heretic? At best, a repentant sinner? Why take so many shots at Mr. Armstrong’s character (as Tkach Jr. does in his book)? If he told Tkach Sr. to make all the changes, shouldn’t he be given all the credit for this unprecedented transformation?
But let’s not let all of these questions get in the way of the facts, which are these: When Mr. Armstrong died, there were those around headquarters who were definitely not intent on following in his footsteps. Significant changes began the year he died! There was no honeymoon. As the changes increased, so did the cover-up. When that became impractical, Tkach Sr. suggested Mr. Armstrong wanted these many changes made. When the changes were complete, church officials labeled Mr. Armstrong a heretic and themselves heroes for supposedly leading a blind church out of the “dark” and into the light. That’s the agenda by which these self-congratulatory back-slappers have forced the Worldwide Church of God through unprecedented transformation.