Making Sense of the Church Split: Judge By the Fruits
After joining the United Church of God in 1995, one former minister of the Worldwide Church of God outlined four choices for disgruntled members of the wcg: 1) Stay with the Worldwide Church of God; 2) join the United Church; 3) go with Rod Meredith’s Global Church of God; or 4) wait on God to clearly reveal where to go.
In his mind, the Philadelphia Church of God wasn’t even worthy of consideration!
At the time he listed those four options, the pcg had been in existence for more than five years. We had 52 ministers worldwide, serving more than 4,000 brethren. The church’s annual income was over $5 million. Our Trumpet magazine circulation was around 50,000. And our weekly Key of David television program could be seen nationally on several cable stations, including wgn, as well as over the air in the 22 largest markets in America. We also had nationwide television coverage in Canada, Australia and New Zealand.
But all this was of little consequence to most ministers and many wcg members during the 1990s. We, after all, were nobodies who started with nothing. Our work began in 1989 with two unemployed, relatively unknown field ministers from Oklahoma, two used automobiles, an old desktop computer, $80 in the “church” account, a typewritten manuscript known as Malachi’s Message to God’s Church Today and about 400 names and addresses of wcg members.
Added to that, the tiny church, made up of just four families at the start, had a hierarchical form of church government. And hierarchy, as I noted in my column last week, had become a dirty word to former members of the wcg in the early 1990s.
When Rod Meredith started his church in 1993, for example, he said church government was “one of the greatest and most serious misunderstandings” to ever develop in the Worldwide Church of God. In the New Testament, Meredith wrote, we find a “totally different approach to government” than what had developed in the Worldwide Church of God under Mr. Armstrong. The original apostles, for example, were never concerned about who’s in charge, Meredith explained. Everyone had input. All the elders submitted to one another.
So he established the Global Church of God on a “collegial” form of governance, rather than hierarchical. In 1995, the United Church of God was established on this same “collaborative” premise, as explained last week. Many ministers from both churches, after supporting and even encouraging many of the Tkach changes for years, finally had had enough by the mid-1990s, left the wcg en masse, and encouraged others to leave too.
Back then, it wasn’t so much where you went, you just needed to get out of the Worldwide Church of God. There were plenty of “branches” you could join. Any of them would work—as long as it wasn’t the Philadelphia Church of God. We, after all, had that oldauthoritative government. It was much too harsh and austere, Laodicean ministers would tell prospective members if they inquired about the pcg.
Publicly, however—because we were never considered a viable option—these ministers simply ignored the work of the Philadelphia Church of God—even as it became more and more difficult to overlook.
Neutral in War
In 1997, while Global was on life support and David Hulme was duking it out with board members at United, we entered into an exciting new phase of God’s work: printing and distributing what Mr. Armstrong considered the “best work” of his life, Mystery of the Ages. Shortly before he died, he said he wanted the book to reach the largest audience possible—a mission quickly aborted by the Tkach administration.
Soon after we printed the book, a grueling, six-year copyright battle ensued in which we went head to head with the Worldwide Church of God over its avowed “Christian duty” to bury the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong. In the end, we not only won the rights to Mystery of the Ages, we obtained ownership of 18 other works of Mr. Armstrong, including The Incredible Human Potential, The United States and Britain in Prophecy and the 58-lesson Bible correspondence course.
Through it all, ministers from United and Global did absolutely nothing to help us fight for Mr. Armstrong’s printed works. They carefully maintained their position of neutrality, sitting idly by on the sidelines—inactive and silent.
“That court battle revealed so much about God’s people,” my father wrote in The Last Hour. Remaining neutral at such a critical hour, he said, might be their most condemning failure of all in these latter days.
Now that the lawsuit is over and we own the literature, many brethren from other churches have contacted us for copies, since we offer it freely to anyone who makes a request. In private, some ministers from other groups have even encouraged their members to come to us for personal copies of Mr. Armstrong’s books.
Publicly, though, we were still the elephant in the room.
Raising the Ruins
Reprinting Mr. Armstrong’s works really helped to crystallize my father’s vision for our work. With the addition of Mystery of the Ages, he wrote in early 1997, we now had a message for billions of people. In support of that worldwide mission, he firmly believed we had to raise the ruins of everything the Tkaches had destroyed (Amos 9:11-12). This began in earnest during the summer of 2000 with the purchase of 158 acres in northern Edmond, Oklahoma. It accelerated the following year with the opening of Herbert W. Armstrong College.
As Mr. Armstrong learned early on in his ministry, the work of preaching the gospel to the world directly paralleled the growth of Ambassador College. “It was the development of the college in Pasadena that made possible the growth of the whole gospel work,” he wrote in his Autobiography.
In like manner, our college has provided the means for this work to exert a powerful influence worldwide. In terms of membership figures, this church is still incredibly small. But the size and scope of this work testifies loudly to what Almighty God can do through a small group of dedicated servants.
With the college and the headquarters building program now well into their tenth year, here is a quick snapshot of where we are in God’s work: Worldwide attendance stands at about 5,500. Serving those brethren, we have 72 ordained ministers—41 of them employed by the Church. Counting ministers and employees, 115 people work for the Church full-time. Another 60 are on payroll as part-timers. We’ve added 55 employees just since 2006, when the college first started turning out four-year graduates.
Our total worldwide income in 2010 amounted to $20.6 million—a solid 5 percent increase over 2009. Seventy-two percent of that revenue is donated by members of the Philadelphia Church of God. The other 28 percent comes from co-workers and donors who voluntarily offer their financial support.
Our beautiful 170-acre headquarters campus—which features the magnificent Armstrong Auditorium, a 22,825-square-foot Hall of Administration, a huge mail processing and literature storage facility, a state-of-the-art television studio and numerous structures for the college and the academy—is valued at about $50 million. Since we still owe $9 million on the auditorium, the total value of all our tangible assets is over $40 million.
As for the message going out to this world via television, the Internet and the massive amounts of printed matter—including all of Mr. Armstrong’s major works and a storehouse of additional material we’ve produced since 1989—all of that pretty much speaks for itself.
Aside from a brief hiatus in 2002 when we concentrated many of our resources on winning the court case, the Key of David program has been on the air for 18 years now. At present, the program airs nationally on wgn and also covers much of America on the cw-Plus and Ion networks. Of the more than 150 tv stations we are on, five reach New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Boston and Washington, d.c., over the air.
The print version of the Trumpet magazine has a circulation of 300,000 each month. We also mail Royal Vision to members and co-workers and the Philadelphia News to members. Outside of that, our mail processing facility distributed an additional 534,000 pieces of literature in 2010—our most popular being Mystery of the Ages.
God has blessed this work of raising the ruins immensely over the past 21 years! He started by giving us His family government. He pointed us in the right direction with Malachi’s Message. Added to that, we now own every major work of Herbert W. Armstrong. God also gave us all the lawsuit documents turned over through discovery—a behind-the-scenes look at the wcg’s sinister attempt to destroy God’s work. That story is told in Raising the Ruins—another book we offer for free upon request.
We have the public appearance campaigns, the television program, the web presence, hundreds of online videos, two magazines and dozens and dozens of books, booklets and reprint articles, as well as a 36-lesson Bible correspondence course.
On campus, just as it was in the days of old under Mr. Armstrong, we have a grade school, a high school and a four-year college. We’ve revived the international cultural foundation, the concert series, the Jerusalem dig, the Young Ambassadors. And over the last three years, we raised up God’s house.
It’s an incredible story, much of it recounted in Raising the Ruins. But at the same time, isn’t this what you would expect of a work God does through men? As Mr. Armstrong wrote in his Autobiography, when God does something through humans, it must start in the smallest of ways. But like the tiny mustard seed, the smallest of herbs, it continually grows until it becomes the biggest!
Judge by Fruits
In stark contrast to the way the Philadelphia Church of God began, all the other offshoots started off strong with a large number of high-powered personalities and a sizeable following and comfortable income soon after. But as I wrote last week, none of them had God’s government. And so Rod Meredith got fired. Global went under. David Hulme bolted from United. And United cycled through four other presidents. Now, the largest offshoot of the Worldwide Church of God is in complete and total disarray.
Even before the most recent turmoil obliterated the ucg, one could easily identify a stark difference between its work (or lack thereof) and that of the Philadelphia Church of God. The ucg had about 20,000 people attend its fall festival in September—roughly four times the amount we had at our sites. Yet its overall income for 2010 was only 16 percent more than the pcg’s—$23.9 million.
Judging by its lack of television coverage, the net worth of its property and equipment ($5.8 million) and the much larger number of ministers it had on salary (91), much of its financial expenditures were obviously aimed inward—supporting congregations, paying salaries, setting aside money for pensions, etc.
And now that the church has been rocked by controversy, resulting in mass resignations and firings within the ministry, the reset button has been punched. Everything starts over at zero. And like in 1995, there is an attractive assortment of offshoots to consider.
Some disgruntled members might take this as their cue to evaluate Rod Meredith’s Living Church of God—the organization he raised up after getting fired by Global’s council of elders. Mr. Meredith’s group has been around for about 12 years. He has about 8,000 people attending services and in 2009, his church had a worldwide income of about $13.5 million.
Last week, I noted that after getting burned by the collegial experiment, Meredith quickly began singing a different tune on church government. Here lately, with the ucg falling apart around him, he’s been turning the volume way up. In the November-December 2010 Living Church News, for example, he said that one of the three issues that clearly identifies his organization as God’s true church is that he has the right government, as it was taught by Herbert W. Armstrong.
“Frankly,” he wrote, “I feel very sorry for the pitiful state of so many of our ‘separated brethren’ who somehow hope to be kings and priests in a few years, yet refuse now to practice the very form of government that the true saints will be called upon to teach and to practice in Christ’s Kingdom! A number of such individuals, as leaders in their various groups, have insisted that ‘Christ led us’ to form some type of ‘democratic’ government, following the secular pattern—including voting, politicking, posturing and positioning for support from each other and the brethren.”
That statement, of course, is aimed primarily at members and former members of the United Church of God. Of course, in 1993, Meredith himself insisted that Christ led him to correct the misconceptions Mr. Armstrong had about government and to set up the Global Church on a collegial foundation.
In his most recent edition of the Living Church News, in stark contrast to his 1993 booklet, Mr. Meredith said both the Old and New Testaments are consistent in their overall instruction on government—that it should be hierarchical in form. “There is no exception to this God-ordained form of government in all the Bible,” he now says (January-February 2011).
He then added this helpful qualifier for anyone who might take note of the elephant in the room: “Even though some in other groups have misused the hierarchical form of government in a cruel, harsh, even ‘Hitlerian’ way, we must learn never to ‘throw the baby out with the bathwater’” (emphasis mine).
Thus, the options he presents for disgruntled Church of God members are as follows: 1) The hierarchical government of the Living Church of God; 2) the “pitiful and very sad” forms of democratic church government; and 3) the cruel, harsh, Hitlerian way of other hierarchical groups.
He associates us with Adolf Hitler of all things. When I first read that, I couldn’t help but remember what Mr. Armstrong wrote to Mr. Meredith back in 1980, when he asked him to serve a six-month sabbatical in Hawaii. “You are a harsh taskmaster over those under you,” he wrote to Mr. Meredith. “That is your record!”
And after Mr. Armstrong died, not counting the ministers who stayed with the Tkach administration, you would be hard-pressed to find another high-ranking minister more outspoken in his criticism of Mr. Armstrong’s government than Roderick Meredith. Though he didn’t leave the wcg until three years after the pcg started, Mr. Meredith was, nevertheless, the first high-ranking minister to come out in opposition to the Tkaches. Problem is, in rejecting Tkachism, he also trashed the government of God in the process.
He threw out the baby with the bathwater. That is his record.
Today, he talks as if hierarchical government is the strongest proof he has that his group is God’s true Church—and he has the audacity to lump us in with all the other “Hitlerian” groups, whoever the others might be.
Thank God for the plain and sure word of His inspired truth! As it says in Jeremiah 17:5, Cursed be the man who trusts in man. Our only hope is in God, it says in verse 7: “Blessed is the man that trusteth in the Lord, and whose hope the Lord is.”
God, of course, still works through men. This is why Paul said in 1 Corinthians 11:1, Follow me as I follow Christ.
How, then, can you know if that man is humbly submitted to the government of God and is faithfully following Jesus Christ as the Head of the Church? You shall know, Jesus said, by their fruits.