Over the past year, the largest offshoot of Herbert W. Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God, ironically named the United Church of God, has been rocked by internal division and contentious strife—much of it brought on by disgruntled ministers who are unhappy with the way the church is governed. It is also ironic that the church appears to be falling apart after the same manner it first broke away from the wcg in 1995—following a series of secret meetings and mass resignations.
The ucg’s first ministerial conference in May 1995 attracted 150 former elders of the Worldwide Church of God—a veritable who’s who of the wcg hierarchy. Former members of the wcg, fed up with Tkachism, fled for United in droves. Within weeks of its coordinated kickoff, the United Church of God became the largest splinter group to ever break away from the wcg. Approximately 6,000 members attended its first Sabbath service in 1995. By the end of 1996, its worldwide membership had swelled to about 20,000 people. Within seven years of its inception, the church had more than 200 congregations worldwide and well over 300 elders.
From the outset, ucg ministers made no secret of their intent to try out a new approach to government—a bottom-up format where the general assembly of ministers would regularly vote for a council of elders. They even went so far as to use the term home office when referring to the church’s office complex in Arcadia, California, rather than headquarters, which sounds too hierarchical.
The interim council set up in 1995 chose David Hulme, a well-known wcg evangelist and presenter on the World Tomorrow television program, to serve as the church’s first president. After his appointment, Hulme made these candid remarks about the ucg’s “new” government format: “It’s not a hierarchical structure anymore. It’s a collaborative process, and it should be seen as that” (In Transition, May 5, 1995; emphasis mine throughout). He admitted this was a radically different approach to what Mr. Armstrong used, but was convinced that “God’s hand” was behind the establishment of the ucg. The brethren, he said, just needed to give the new government a chance—“give it time,” he said.
As it turns out, Hulme gave it less than three years. After a contentious and protracted struggle with the council of elders, he was removed from office in early 1998 and left the church soon after. “I could no longer support a governance structure that I believe has failed,” Hulme wrote to those who followed him out of the ucg. “I have had to admit that Herbert W. Armstrong was right in Mystery of the Ages, especially Chapter Six, where he describes a proven form of government for the Church.”
It took 20 years of service as a minister in the Worldwide Church of God and three years as president of the United Church of God for Hulme to finally conclude that Mr. Armstrong was right. But instead of searching for a worldwide work that was backed by God’s family government, Hulme opted to start another church—an offshoot of the offshoot.
Rod Meredith is another prominent wcg evangelist who got burned by the “collaborative” scheme. When he broke free from the wcg in 1993 to form the Global Church of God, he claimed to be following in the footsteps of Mr. Armstrong. Yet the very first doctrine he changed was the principle of God’s government that Mr. Armstrong used throughout his ministry.
“If we look into the New Testament with an open mind, we find a totally different approach to government than what has developed in the Church,” Meredith wrote in Church Government and Church Unity. On the most important matter of all, in other words, Mr. Armstrong had it all wrong. The right kind of government, Meredith later wrote in his 1993 booklet, should be “collegial” in form. It should include “a broad representation of all the elders” in the church, he believed.
Five years later, after the church’s board of directors terminated Meredith’s employment at the Global Church of God, he quickly changed his tune on the subject of church governance. After starting another offshoot of the offshoot, Meredith handpicked his board of directors and charged them with the responsibility of advising the president, rather than ruling the church.
It took Mr. Meredith 40 years of service as an evangelist in the Worldwide Church of God and five years as president of Global to figure out that Mr. Armstrong got it right on the principle formation of God’s government in the Church.
Given these much-publicized, embarrassing failures, you would think these men would wonder, Where was God during the three years I served as president of United? Or, Where was God when I founded Global?
Prior to the first ucg conference in 1995, David Hulme said he was “skeptical” that a large group of ministers could ever reach a consensus on church governance. After he came out on top, however, he was convinced that “God’s hand” was behind it.
Rod Meredith was equally sure that God was behind his “collegial” experiment back in 1993. He claimed to be “faithfully preaching” everything Mr. Armstrong taught—assuming, of course, that everything does not include his radically different approach to church government and his rejection of Mr. Armstrong as the end-time type of Elijah (Matthew 17:11).
Today, both Meredith and Hulme head up two spin-offs of wcg offshoots. All totaled, there must be at least 100 offshoots of what once was the Worldwide Church of God.
It makes you wonder: How many failed experiments with collaborative government will it take for former members of the Worldwide Church of God to wake up and figure out where God is working today?
The Evils of 300-Man Rule
Since firing David Hulme in 1998, the United Church of God has tried out four other presidents. Les McCullough agreed to fill the post for three years after Hulme was ousted. After McCullough’s three-year term expired in 2002, he asked the board for another three years. Instead, it gave him one additional year and then voted to replace him with Roy Holladay in 2002. Three years after that, in 2005, council members gave Holladay the boot and selected Clyde Kilough as his replacement.
Last year, amid swirling controversies about a proposal to move the “home office,” complaints of politicized bloc voting within the general conference of elders and charges of unethical behavior and financial mismanagement aimed at board members, Kilough decided to give up his chair on the council, but continue on serving as president.
Against this backdrop, the council distributed an eight-page heart-to-heart letter to all the elders in the church. In it, board members maintained that God was still leading United, but that the ucg ministry had become deeply divided and the atmosphere in the church had become toxic.
The council wrote, “Due to this negative spiritual incursion into our fellowship, for more than two years we have been forced to focus our church’s time, energy and resources inwardly ….” Later, board members expressed grave concern about the “preservation” of the United Church of God.
The church, we now know, was teetering on the brink of total collapse.
We predicted this would happen way back at the start, when the former wcg ministers gathered themselves together to experiment with a new government format. On May 6, 1995, for example, my father said this about the newly established United Church: “It absolutely will fail because it’s a new form of government, and not the one that Herbert Armstrong taught us, inspired by God.”
He issued the very same warning in response to Meredith’s collegial experiment in 1993: “You can’t do God’s work without God’s government. Mr. Meredith will have that proved to him by God—since he has shamefully failed to learn that most important lesson of all while he ‘sat at the feet’ of Mr. Armstrong!” (Trumpet, April 1993).
It’s so simple—if you’re submitted to God’s family government. If not, then—as we have seen—history simply repeats itself.
Last year, on April 9, the ucg council of elders terminated Clyde Kilough’s presidency and outlined a new process for selecting a president whereby the general conference of elders would submit nominations to the council. The council would then determine which nominee should be president.
Toward the end of June, the ucg council settled on Dennis Luker as the church’s fifth different president in just 15 years.
Since then, Luker has been desperately working to keep the sinking ucg ship afloat. The worst of it started about the same time Luker was voted in as president. That same week, the council terminated the employment of Leon Walker, who had served as regional coordinator for Latin America. Firing Walker triggered a mass exodus of Spanish-speaking brethren and ministers from the ucg and resulted in the establishment of another offshoot—the Church of God, Latin America.
Incredibly, when responding to the crisis, President Luker pinned the blame for the split on hierarchical government, rather than the collaborative form that has repeatedly failed inside his own church! Walker’s rebellion, Luker wrote in a letter to ucg members, “represents the very reason that hundreds of ministers collectively chose some 15 years ago to embrace and refine the administrative structure that we now have. We have seen the destructive outcomes that ‘one man rule’ in a Church of God organization can wreak, and this current experience in Latin America underscores the reason we changed our model of governance 15 years ago to include safeguards from this happening again.”
In looking at the fruits, one would think he would at least acknowledge how destructive 300-man rule has been over the past 15 years. In the eight months after the ucg council relieved Mr. Walker of his ministerial duties, at least 150 moreucg elders either resigned or were removed from the ministry.
That can only mean that many more offshoots are on the way.
Meanwhile, the one organization that actually started the right way—as a tiny mustard seed planted in 1989, without any of the best-known former ministers of the wcg or their many thousands of supporters, but with God’s government—continues to grow and prosper as it fulfills its God-given commission to prophesy again before all the world and to raise up the ruins of a work God established and built through His servant Herbert W. Armstrong.
Anywhere But the PCG
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!
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 noted above, had become a dirty word to former members of the wcg in the early 1990s.
So these ministers, after supporting and even encouraging many of the Tkach changes for years, had finally had enough by the mid-1990s. They 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
By the time the ucg got started in 1995, 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.
Two years later, 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— silent and inactive.
“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 10th 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, grade school and high school—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 our Christian-living magazine, Royal Vision to anyone who requests it, and the Philadelphia News to Church 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 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 strong with a large number of high-powered personalities and a sizable following and comfortable income soon after. But 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.
Since getting burned by the collegial experiment, Meredith has been singing a different tune on church government. And 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.’”
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.