Chapter 10: The Agenda
“One of our greatest challenges has been trying to explain these doctrinal reforms to outsiders while maintaining our credibility internally, and some groups have greatly hindered our efforts by their reporting.”
— Joseph Tkach Jr.
Transformed by Truth
On December 17, 1994, Joseph Tkach Sr. delivered a landmark sermon, bringing out into the open several far-reaching doctrinal changes that centered around a “new” (actually mainstream) understanding of the Old and New Covenants. According to his son, “[I]t once and for all convinced the skeptics within our own church that the changes were for real and that they were permanent.”1 Later, he wrote,
[M]any of our members didn’t believe that the changes they were seeing in the church were real. Just as evangelicals have a hard time believing that the Worldwide Church of God has moved into orthodoxy, many of our members had a hard time believing their church was moving away from its peculiar doctrinal distinctives.2
Why would their own members have been skeptical about the changes being “for real”? Why would they find it difficult to believe the church was moving away from its past teachings?
It’s because after making the changes, the Tkaches then reassured the membership that nothing had really changed. And when rumors would circulate that more changes were coming, the Tkaches kept saying, “We will never change that”—right up to the point of actually making the change.
The change regarding the Old and New Covenants is one such example. Throughout 1994, Tkach Sr. vehemently denied rumors that the church was on the verge of doing away with its teaching on Sabbath observance, the holy days and the law.
Mr. Tkach gave a sermon in Pasadena on April 30, 1994 (a tape of which was later played in all wcg congregations), in which he denounced “rumormongers”:
They have no compunctions at all about exaggerating. Like I read from this list of rumors that are going around: We’re going to start keeping Christmas, and we’re changing the Passover, and we’re making changes to please the Protestants to get accreditation. [W]e’re going to do away with the Sabbath, we’re going to do away with the holy days and we’re going to do away with the law.3
At the Ambassador College commencement exercises on May 20, 1994, Mr. Tkach quoted Ted Koppel, who said, “What Moses brought down from Mount Sinai were not the 10 suggestions. They are commandments.” Mr. Tkach said,
Notice he used the word are and not were, because they are still in existence today, in spite of what others accuse us of saying—“that we are doing away with the law and the commandments of God.” Again I say, “garbage.”4
In an article written around that same time, Mr. Tkach assured the church membership that
we are also committed to upholding and walking in all the ways of God, including the observance of the Sabbath, the fourth of the Ten Commandments, as well as the annual festivals, during which we celebrate God’s plan of redemption and salvation of humanity through Jesus Christ.5
Later that year, on November 12, Mr. Tkach made several more strong statements in a Pasadena sermon: “Yes, we should keep the law”; “I’m not trying to minimize the importance of the law”; “I’m not trying to minimize the importance of the Sabbath.”6
Three weeks later, speaking in Washington, d.c., Mr. Tkach asked, “Does this mean that we are no longer obligated to obey the law?” His answer: “God forbid!” He later said, “Christ is saying the New Testament gospel is not contrary or contradictory in any way, shape or form to the Old Testament law.”7
Then, on December 17—just two weeks later, and after a string of denouncements against those spreading “lies” and “rumors”—Mr. Tkach did away with the church’s teachings on clean and unclean meats, tithing, the Sabbath, holy day observance and the law. This, according to Tkach Jr.’s book, is when skeptics in the church finally knew that the changes were for real.
Is it any wonder why church members might have thought such changes would never take place?
After Mr. Tkach’s “Old Covenant/New Covenant” sermon, some 20,000 people left the Worldwide Church of God. Many of them settled into the newly established United Church of God—originally headed by David Hulme. In his resignation letter to Mr. Tkach, Hulme wrote,
Several months ago you told me, “This church has been far too Old Testament, but I couldn’t tell the members that. No, not for five years.” I was surprised at the time, but not knowing what you meant exactly, I let it aside. Since then I have noticed that you have often responded with a categorical denial to the accusation that there is an agenda of doctrinal changes. Yet in discussion with one minister last December you described the change on tithing from gross to net (announced in the December 6, 1994, pgr) as simply a “stepping-stone” to voluntary tithing. This certainly sounds like an agenda. As you know, many have feared that “agenda” involves a move into the Protestant mainstream.8
Mr. Hulme had been a headquarters insider for some time—for many years heading up the communications and public affairs department in Pasadena. In fact, during the late 1980s and early 1990s, Mr. Hulme was often the one who contacted outside organizations to inform them of the “positive” changes in the church. The church, at that time, desperately wanted to remove the “cult” label many outside groups had pinned on it. So Mr. Hulme would not have been considered an ultra-conservative by any means. Early on, he was very supportive of the church’s changes—at least judging by his comments as the church’s spokesman. Yet by 1995, even he concluded that the Tkaches had an agenda from the beginning. Hulme continued,
The fact that [Mr. Armstrong] chose you on the basis of continuity of doctrine and practice when in fact you believed very differently, in my mind casts serious doubt whether he would have appointed you if he had known your beliefs. That you differed so much from your predecessor explains why almost every doctrinal and administrative change caused me to inform you that something was very wrong. It is only in the light of your comments about Richard Plache and Al Carozzo, however, that I have put it all together. Apparently you and I were not agreed in the first place. I thought you were upholding Mr. Armstrong, but it now appears you were not. By your own admission you were simply biding your time.
No wonder that my many protestations about radical change were never answered, and the changes proceeded as if no input had been given. And yet you continued to insist that nothing had really changed very much. Why? Prior to December 1994 did you feel it expedient to create the impression publicly that nothing had really changed in the church’s view of the law? Was the time still not right?9
As we noted at the end of Chapter 6, Tkach responded by admitting there was an agenda, but that it was Christ’s agenda. As if Jesus Christ would repeatedly try to deceive wcg members with lies and hypocrisy.
Please Be Honest
Three months after my dad was fired, Dennis Leap, a wcg local elder serving in Buffalo, New York, resigned from his post and joined the Philadelphia Church of God. He sent a letter to the wcg brethren in his area to apprise them of why he was leaving. In his letter, Mr. Leap gave three reasons for his departure: 1) the wcg’s discontinuation of Mystery of the Ages; 2) drastic changes in fundamental wcg doctrines; and 3) the wcg’s compromise with the truth in order to win favor with the world.
Mr. Leap was the first wcg minister to leave the church after my dad and Mr. Amos were disfellowshiped. So it was big news for our little church. And I’m sure it bothered wcg officials in Pasadena. Joseph Tkach Jr. decided to answer Mr. Leap’s letter himself on April 20, 1990. He wrote,
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.10
Would Jesus Christ say the “exact same message” of the book was being disseminated four months after firing two ministers and saying the book was “riddled with error”?
Tkach Jr. continued scolding Mr. Leap, “[D]on’t pretend to others that you are continuing to follow Mr. Armstrong’s way. Please be honest about it.”11 How ironic that statement turned out to be. It is now clear that this accusation is precisely what Tkachism was doing at the time Joe Jr. wrote his letter—dishonestly giving the impression they were continuing in Mr. Armstrong’s steps. Tkach Jr. wrote, “[N]one of the ‘seven mysteries’ explained in [Mystery of the Ages] has been changed or deleted.”12 The book was riddled with error and had too many doctrinal flaws to be reprinted or even revised, yet Tkach Jr. said that none of the seven mysteries had been changed or deleted?
Jesus Christ would not have given that false impression.
Assigning Scriptures to Names
The Tkaches were also dishonest and deceitful with the way they changed the teaching about assigning scriptures to names. Seven months before Mr. Armstrong died, Mr. Tkach Sr. identified Mr. Armstrong as the prophesied Elijah who came in this end time to restore all things.13 He reconfirmed this teaching shortly after Mr. Armstrong died, when he listed the “18 Truths” in the church’s newspaper, the Worldwide News. In that article, Mr. Armstrong is referred to as “someone who would come in the spirit and power of Elijah” and who restored “all things to the church.”14
Then, as we noted in Chapter 7, on February 9, 1988, Mr. Tkach explained the end-time Elijah prophecy much differently than anyone in the church ever had. He said “the church” now fulfills the role of the end-time Elijah15 and palmed it off on the membership as if it were something we had always known and believed.
On January 3, 1989, Mr. Tkach took it a step further—saying it was “not appropriate” to assign scriptures to Mr. Armstrong as though his leadership was prophesied in the Bible. In his 1990 letter to Mr. Leap, Tkach Jr. explained what his father meant by saying it was inappropriate:
The intent was not to question whether the end-time Elijah prophecies were being fulfilled. Indeed, church literature had mentioned over a period of many years that these prophecies were being fulfilled by the “work.” Mr. Armstrong, as human leader of the church, obviously was primary in accomplishing the prophesied task. He did not, however, claim to be the exclusive fulfillment of the end-time Elijah office. …
Mr. Armstrong illustrated his calling and work by comparing it with the work of Elijah and Zerubbabel at times. Lessons can be illustrated by these comparisons. But, some have gone much further than Mr. Armstrong himself did in such labeling ….
It may surprise you to learn that it has never been a doctrine of the church that men’s names should be applied to scripture. No member of the church has ever been required to believe that Mr. Armstrong was “Elijah” or “Zerubbabel” to be in good standing. Mr. Armstrong would have bristled with indignation had anyone tried to require that! He knew the difference between an illustration and a doctrine ….
While we have attempted to curtail speculation about individuals fulfilling specific prophetic roles, there has been no fundamental doctrinal change in this area. It has always been known that both Joshua and Zerubbabel were typical primarily of Christ.16
First of all, while Mr. Armstrong certainly acknowledged the indispensable role of the church in supporting him, he did, nevertheless, teach that his specific office and role was prophesied in Scripture, as reflected by the following passage:
Remember, God does things in dual stages. … As John the Baptist prepared the way, in the physical wilderness of the Jordan River for the first coming of the human Jesus (both man and God), then coming to His material temple, and to His physical people Judah, announcing the Kingdom of God to be set up more than 1,900 years later, so God would use a human messenger in the spiritual wilderness of 20th-century religious confusion, to be a voice crying out the gospel of the Kingdom of God, about the spiritual Christ, coming in supreme power and glory to His spiritual temple, to actually establish that spiritual Kingdom of God. …
Has this happened, in your days, and has God brought you into this prophetic fulfillment as a part of it?
Has anyone else done it?17
As Mr. Armstrong explained in Mystery of the Ages, it works like an organized team—with the coach and the players mutually depending on one another. But there is just one leader—one apostle. And for many years, the church taught that many prophecies referred to Mr. Armstrong’s office and work directly—and then to the church secondarily, or indirectly. The Tkach administration confirmed this fact before and after Mr. Armstrong died.
Then on February 9, 1988, Mr. Tkach Sr. said the “Elijah” prophecy referred to the church in general—from the Ephesus era in the first century until now. He didn’t even mention Mr. Armstrong as part of the fulfillment! And then in his letter to Dennis Leap, Mr. Tkach Jr. falsely stated that the wcg had always taught this, saying there had been “no fundamental doctrinal change in this area.”
Not Just an Analogy
In a 1991 Worldwide News article by David Hunsberger, we find the same false impression perpetuated more than a year after Tkach Jr.’s letter to Dennis Leap. Hunsberger wrote, “[Gerald Flurry] says that Mr. Armstrong was the prophesied Elijah ….”18 Yes, and so did Mr. Tkach—not to mention Mr. Armstrong, Gerald Waterhouse, and just about every other well-known wcg minister. Hunsberger went on to write:
Malachi foretold that an Elijah would come to prepare the way for the Messiah. Jesus said (and Mr. Armstrong taught) that this was fulfilled by John the Baptist, who prepared the way for the Messiah’s first coming (Matthew 11:14-15; 17:12-13; Mark 9:13).
Mr. Armstrong taught that he, with the church, was also fulfilling a type of the work in preparation for the Second Coming of Christ.19
Here again you see the teaching watered down significantly from what Mr. Armstrong actually believed and taught. And like Tkach Jr., Hunsberger led the reader to believe that this was something the church had always taught—even under Mr. Armstrong. Later, Hunsberger wrote, “Mr. Armstrong drew an analogy between his own work and that of Zerubbabel, but he did not believe that Zechariah predicted an end-time Zerubbabel who would finish building the church ….”20
That is completely false. Mr. Armstrong did not just draw an analogy between his work and Zerubbabel’s. He believed his work, supported by the church, was the fulfillment of a very specific prophecy.
To make a change in doctrine is one thing. But to make it and then say there is no change is lying. And the reason people lie is to cover up something—to obscure the truth.
This is important to understand: At that time in the wcg, the Tkaches did not want the members to know they had made such a radical change in their interpretation of these foundational prophecies. So instead, they first watered them down and then tried to sell the membership on it by lying that Mr. Armstrong had always taught it that way. Once the membership accepted this, then the administration could go all the way with the change—and with little or no backlash from the membership.
‘I Am Elijah’
The extent of Tkachism’s deceit is plainly evident in view of the way Tkach Jr. now remembers what the church used to teach about these end-time prophecies. Now that his motive has changed from trying to sell the church members on the changes to trying to paint Mr. Armstrong with the most extreme brush strokes possible, his descriptions are totally different. In his 1997 book, Mr. Tkach Jr. says, “Herbert Armstrong used to read Malachi 4:5-6 and say that it applied to him”21—not “him and the church” or “the church”—just “him.” Tkach then proceeded to quote pages 290-291 of Mystery of the Ages, where Mr. Armstrong referred to several end-time prophecies that he believed he fulfilled, with the support of the church (the same section of Mystery that editors chopped out of the serialized version of the book in 1986).
Mr. Tkach continued, “Herbert Armstrong taught that he was the real fulfillment of this passage and that John the Baptist was merely an [sic] foreshadowing.”22 But wait a minute! Didn’t Mr. Hunsberger say Mr. Armstrong taught that John the Baptist was the real fulfillment and that his own work was merely a “type” or an “analogy”?
Mr. Tkach elaborated further on Mr. Armstrong’s teaching: “After his first wife died and the idea started to play in Herbert Armstrong’s mind—as his own ego accepted the notion and certain people began to play on his ego—he began to accept that he was personally the Elijah”23 (emphasis in original). Mrs. Armstrong died in 1967! This is when these ideas supposedly started playing in his mind. How then does Mr. Tkach explain his comments from 1990—that Mr. Armstrong did not “claim to be the exclusive fulfillment of the end-time Elijah office”?
Mr. Tkach told Mr. Leap in 1990 that “some have gone much further than Mr. Armstrong himself did in such labeling.” In 1997, Mr. Tkach had now swung to that very extreme. Mr. Tkach continues with this amazingly vivid recollection:
In the sixties we would say that wcg was doing an Elijah-like work. In the seventies we said that Herbert Armstrong himself was fulfilling the role of Elijah. … In the last two years of his life, in several sermons, he was even more explicit when he said directly, “I am Elijah.” When Ron Kelly, one of our longtime ministers, heard Mr. Armstrong say this, he confessed to me, “I was alarmed when I heard him say, ‘I am Elijah.’ I could handle, ‘I’m in the role of Elijah.’ But ‘I am Elijah’—what did he mean by that?”24
Some five years or so after all these sermons in which Mr. Armstrong supposedly said, “I am Elijah,” Joe Jr. told Mr. Leap that Mr. Armstrong taught that: 1) these prophecies were fulfilled by the work; 2) he was not the exclusive fulfillment of the Elijah office; and 3) his calling could be compared to or illustrated by the work of Zerubbabel or Elijah. Even as late as October 1994, in another personal letter, Mr. Tkach Jr. wrote, “Mr. Armstrong taught that he was fulfilling the role of Elijah.”25
Now, of course, Mr. Armstrong is supposed to have said, in “several sermons” no less, that “I am Elijah.” He apparently believed, in a very literal sense, that he “was personally the Elijah.”
In actuality, there are no sermons where Mr. Armstrong said anything like that. What Mr. Tkach now says in his book, in an effort to make Mr. Armstrong look like a wild-eyed, cult-leading fanatic, goes much further than anything Mr. Armstrong ever believed or taught.
On the other hand, what Tkach Jr. said in 1990—all but removing Mr. Armstrong from those end-time prophecies—also misrepresents the truth of what the church once taught. What Mr. Armstrong believed is clearly explained in his co-worker letter from March 19, 1981.
The question is, why opposite explanations—both of them false—in 1990 and 1997? Well, in 1990, Tkach Jr. was trying to keep members from leaving the wcg. So he gave the false impression that they were only emphasizing something that Mr. Armstrong himself taught—which he didn’t. Since that is of little concern today and since they have aligned themselves with other evangelical groups that consider Mr. Armstrong a heretic, Tkach now makes Mr. Armstrong out to be a crackpot—one who supposedly said, “I am Elijah—personally.”
The Trinity Doctrine
On March 6, 1998, Pat Robertson interviewed Joseph Tkach Jr. and Greg Albrecht on his television program, The 700 Club. They talked about the wcg’s doctrinal transformation. In describing the changes that took place early on, Mr. Tkach Jr. said, “Starting in 1989, we realized that the trinity was correct and that it’s the only logical and historically [sic] way to explain that God is one in three.”26
For background, let us briefly examine what Mr. Armstrong taught on this subject. In Mystery of the Ages, he wrote, “The trinity doctrine limits God to a supposed three Persons. It destroys the very gospel of Jesus Christ!”27 In The Missing Dimension in Sex, he said, “God is not merely one Person, nor even limited to a ‘trinity,’ but God is a Family.” He then said, “The doctrine of the trinity is false. It was foisted upon the world at the Council of Nicaea.”28
Based on what Tkach Jr. told Pat Robertson, they realized Mr. Armstrong was wrong and that the trinity was correct in 1989.
In 1990, Philip Stevens wrote an article for the Good News titled “Who Was Jesus’ Father?” Somehow, this statement managed to sneak by wcg editors: “The concept of a trinity is nowhere found in the Bible. … The trinity hides from man God’s plan of salvation. The trinity doctrine maintains that the Godhead is a closed unit into which no one else can enter.”29
Three months after that article appeared in the Good News, Michael Snyder wrote a letter to Watchman Fellowship, a cult-watching organization based in Arlington, Texas. Mr. Snyder said,
The question of God’s disclosure to humanity is still open and the church awaits further scholarly discussion in the field of dogmatics concerning this topic. The article “Who Was Jesus’ Father?” from the November-December 1990 Good News has been declared officially null and void with respect to church doctrine.30
He later told the group, during a phone interview, “At one time the church lacked adequate scholarship and resources to fully understand how God’s disclosure to humanity had a relationship to the church activity on Earth. Now, we have reexamined it and we have come to see that it is an open question.”31
Of course, these declarations were made to outside organizations that were pushing for doctrinal reform in the wcg. As far as the church membership goes, very few, if any, would have known that the Good News article had been “declared officially null and void.”
Mr. Snyder also referred Watchman Fellowship to a study paper on the trinity written by the church’s Greek scholar, K. J. Stavrinides. It was printed in the January-February 1991 Reviews You Can Use, which was sent to wcg ministers only. Dr. Stavrinides wrote, “The Worldwide Church of God teaches the full divinity of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit—the biblical foundation for all trinitarian discussions.”32 That is about as trinitarian as you can get. Yet in that same issue, Mr. Tkach Jr. assured the ministry that the church’s position on the trinity had not changed, but rather its explanation for disproving it.
Around the same time, in the spring of 1991, David Hulme and Michael Snyder, his assistant, took part in discussions with the faculty at the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. During his presentation, Mr. Hulme said he had been invited to explain the church’s position on a “number of things” and to update them on the “changes” in the wcg. He said he wanted to take them through “some of the more important changes that have occurred in the last four to five years.” When he got to the subject of the trinity, Mr. Hulme relied on Dr. Stavrinides’ paper mostly, quoting several paragraphs from it, concluding with,
Even though the Worldwide Church of God considers some positions on the trinity to be heretical (for example, all forms of Arianism), it sees the Eastern, Western, Protestant and Modernist views of the nature of God as genuine attempts to reach a deeper understanding of God’s nature.33
As you might imagine, with these types of comments being made to those outside the church, all sorts of “rumors” and “gossip” began swirling on the inside. Was the wcg about to accept the trinity? some wondered. Fortunately for members, Mr. Tkach Sr. stepped forward to set the record straight. Toward the end of the summer of 1991, he wrote an article in the church’s newspaper titled “How Do You React to Change?” The article reflected much of the wcg’s latest discussions with Truths That Transform, Watchman Fellowship and the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Mr. Tkach clued the membership in on the church’s new position on man’s destiny to not become God. “No human being can be equal with God,” Mr. Tkach explained.34 “Our inheritance is to be children of God, definitely the supreme pinnacle and crowning glory of God’s creation, but not literally to be God himself.” Later, he explained, “We are, and will be, members of the family of God. But even when we are changed, we will still be distinct from the eternal, uncreated, without beginning, supreme and sovereign God.”35
Just so the reader knows, Mr. Armstrong never taught that man was destined to be on God’s level, insofar as rank, position or experience. He taught that we would be on God’s level in the same way a newborn son is on the same level as his human father—all members of one family. But Mr. Tkach said it was now inappropriate to use the father-son analogy to define our relationship with God.
In drawing these distinctions between man and God, the stage was now set for closing off the Godhead to three beings in one. As Mr. Armstrong correctly noted, the trinity limits God. It does away with the family of God.
At the end of his article, Mr. Tkach answered the critics (such as the pcg) who were saying the wcg was rejecting all the doctrines that made it distinct and different from Protestant churches. He then listed a number of distinctive doctrines that still made the wcg unique. Incredibly, included in the list, is this emphatic statement on the nature of God: “We do not believe the doctrine of the trinity.”36 Never mind that in a personal letter to Watchman Fellowship, Michael Snyder declared a Good News article “null and void” because of its comments in opposition to the trinity doctrine. Nor that, according to Snyder, the subject of “God’s disclosure” was now an “open question” in the church. Neither did Mr. Tkach mention that the church now taught the “full divinity of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit—the biblical foundation for all trinitarian discussions”—as Dr. Stavrinides had explained to the ministry months earlier. Nor did he draw attention to the fact that David Hulme had been involved in several discussions with trinitarians at the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
When you say, “We do not believe the doctrine of the trinity” without qualification, doesn’t that imply that the church rejects all forms and practices of the trinity? As far as unsuspecting members were concerned, putting Tkach’s “We do not believe the doctrine of the trinity” statement together with the November-December 1990 Good News article (declared “null and void” privately, but not in a church publication), the church was teaching the very same thing it had always taught about the nature of God.
One former wcg member wrote Mr. Tkach Jr. about what he perceived to be two different messages coming from the church—one to outside organizations in the evangelical world and a different one to its own members internally. Tkach Jr. had this response:
You also enclosed an interview with Mr. Michael Snyder and Dr. Ruth Tucker. In order to understand the statements made in this interview, we must first comprehend the atmosphere in which the interview took place, the people involved and the purpose.
Mr. Snyder is the spokesman for the Worldwide Church of God in relation to queries asked from sources outside the church. As such, he cannot answer questions directed at him by such sources with “in-house” terms, language and phraseology. Dr. Ruth Tucker is a professor of the Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Mr. Snyder had to address her questions in terms she would understand so that she could comprehend his answers.
Furthermore, it is an unfortunate fact that in the past some in the church chose to phrase our beliefs in ways that were not entirely correct. For example, the church has never believed in the concept of the trinity as embraced by many other churches. Quite frankly, those other churches cannot themselves agree on the exact nature of God. However, in our attempts to disprove their theories, we used some faulty reasoning of our own. This did not mean that we were wrong in rejecting the trinity doctrine, it merely meant that some of the proofs we tried to use to support our beliefs were invalid.37
Classic Tkachism: While we have made some changes, there is no real change. Wcg members heard these excuses for almost 10 years! We are not changing core doctrines—only rephrasing our beliefs to be more accurate technically. The reason it sounds like major changes are being made when you hear interviews with outside organizations is only because of phraseology, not because there is any real change. We must use different terms with outside observers or else they wouldn’t understand.
Eventually, of course, the church’s official statements to its membership gradually caught up with what they had been telling outsiders all along. Five months after he unequivocally said that the wcg did not believe in the trinity, Mr. Tkach wrote,
The newly printed Statement of Beliefs of the Worldwide Church of God will be mailed to you soon. … Let me make a few comments about one portion of the Statement. In the statement about God, you will notice that the final sentence reads: “The church affirms the oneness of God and the full divinity of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Someone may ask, “Does this mean we now accept the doctrine of the trinity?” No, it does not. The doctrine of the trinity in the Western Church attests the union of three Persons in one Godhead, so that the three are one God as to substance, but three Persons as to individualities. We do not accept that teaching; we believe that the word Person is inaccurate when referring to the Holy Spirit.38
In other words, we have accepted the trinity, but don’t misinterpret that to mean that we have accepted the trinity.
In its August 1992 booklet God Is …, the church stated, “God is one being, one entity”—“the Holy Spirit is also God”—and “the Bible does reveal three entities within the one Godhead.”39 When referring to the booklet in the Worldwide News, Mr. Tkach wrote, “The doctrine of the trinity did not originate in paganism, as we have traditionally thought.”40 But did all these statements mean the church had now accepted the trinity? Of course not, they continued to tell the membership.
The following year, in August 1993, Mr. Tkach wrote, “Simply put, the Bible proclaims plainly and clearly that there is one and only one God. … When the Bible says that God is one, the word one does not refer to a ‘God family,’ but to one God.” A little further in the article, Mr. Tkach wrote, “The Bible teaching is that there is one God who is the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.”41
And yet, two weeks after that was written, Mr. Tkach reassured members, “In our practice and experience nothing changes. … What we didn’t previously understand was how to put our belief down on paper in such a way it didn’t lead to biblical and theological problems.”42 Even as late as 1993, they were saying, “nothing changes.” They were only trying to get it completely accurate on paper.
Were it not for Tkach Jr.’s interview with Pat Robertson years later—where he admitted they realized the trinity was correct in 1989—it might still be safe to assume (within the church, of course) that the Worldwide Church of God in no way teaches the doctrine of the trinity.
The List Goes On
Mr. Tkach Jr. foisted off a number of other lies on the church membership, as evidenced by another letter he wrote to a member on March 16, 1992. On page 5, he said,
Those who minimize Christ and turn the focus on the gospel only to the millennial kingdom are not Christ’s ministers. They have glorified themselves and created an empty religion of human works and fascination with speculative details of prophecy and with labeling and judging others.43
Was he putting down Mr. Armstrong, who taught that the true gospel was a message God the Father sent through Jesus Christ about the kingdom of God? Not at all! “The true church has always believed that Christ is the central figure of the gospel,” Tkach Jr. wrote in the same letter. “You asked what the commission of the church is today. It is the same as Mr. Armstrong taught it was,” he continued. Yet later he told the member that Matthew 24:14 was not the church’s commission—again giving the impression that Mr. Armstrong had always taught this himself. Finally, Mr. Tkach Jr. wrote, “Mr. Armstrong did not deemphasize Christ!”44
That was in 1992. In his 1997 book, Tkach said Mr. Armstrong “programmed” wcg members “not to talk much about Jesus.”45 He said, “Rather than speak much about Jesus, we talked mainly about God. He was the Father, and He was in charge. … Throughout most of our years as a church, we struggled with theological inconsistencies about Him. We never developed a consistent doctrine of Christ ….”46 Again, he told a member that Mr. Armstrong did not deemphasize Christ in order to reassure him, at that time, that they hadn’t really changed anything. And now? Of course Mr. Armstrong deemphasized Christ!
Notice another comment Joe Jr. made in his 1992 letter:
All people who have the Holy Spirit in them are part of the one true spiritual church because it is the Holy Spirit that puts one into the church (1 Corinthians 12:13). However, Mr. Armstrong always believed that there were true Christians who were not on the official membership roll of the Worldwide Church of God. He spoke of the Church of God (Seventh Day) members as true Christians, for example.47
Yet in his book, Tkach said the wcg under Mr. Armstrong was “adamant that God had only one true church in the world, and we were it.”48 We “spent decades living in a cave, hurling big rocks—boulders, if we could lift them—at anyone who passed by our fortress,” he said.49 We taught that the “unregenerate would ultimately be annihilated”50; that Sabbath-breakers “were condemned to the lake of fire.”51
So in 1992, according to Tkach, Mr. Armstrong “always” believed there were true Christians in other churches. But in 1997, Tkach said Mr. Armstrong was “adamant” that his was the only true church.
One final example from Tkach Jr.’s March 16, 1992, letter to a wcg member:
Do you know what “British Israelism” is? It is a racist doctrine that sees the British Empire as the kingdom of God on Earth and the whites as God’s favorite people. Obviously this doctrine was more popular when England was more powerful! The church has never taught “British Israelism.” We have taught that descendants of Israel settled and populated much of Britain and the United States.52
This is a rare instance where Tkach Jr. actually got it right. Mr. Armstrong never used the terms “British-Israelism” or “Anglo-Israelism” to describe the church’s teaching. Indeed, you won’t find either of those terms in The United States and Britain in Prophecy—not once in 184 pages! Look for them in any other literature by Mr. Armstrong and you won’t find them.
Yet notice what Mr. Tkach Jr. wrote in his 1997 book: “British or Anglo-Israelism is a doctrine of little interest to most evangelicals. Some with a seminary or Bible college background might remember it as an esoteric doctrine associated with sects and cults, but for those of us in the wcg is [sic] was the central plank of our theology.”53 Another remarkable contradiction. In 1992, Mr. Tkach Jr. assured a church member that Mr. Armstrong never taught “British Israelism.” In 1997, Tkach Jr. told the world that “British Israelism” was the wcg’s “central plank” doctrine. Now, all of a sudden, everything Mr. Armstrong taught “sprang from this belief.”54 Why such a radical shift in Mr. Tkach’s recollection? Because now that the wcg has completed its transformation, it is safe to call Mr. Armstrong a racist. So in place of “United States and Britain in Prophecy” they insert “British Israelism.” That way Mr. Armstrong gets lumped in with all the others—many of whom actually are racist.
Their Greatest Challenge
By now you can see how convoluted and contradictory Tkach Jr.’s positions are. How could the explanation of Mr. Armstrong’s teachings change so dramatically between 1992 and 1997 when Mr. Armstrong died in 1986? Mr. Armstrong left an incredibly thorough written account of what he believed and taught. But that has not stopped Joe Jr. from dramatically altering his explanation of those teachings—all depending on the time period and the audience he was addressing.
Notice what Mr. Tkach Jr. says in his book about the difficulty they ran into when trying to explain the many changes:
Some cult watchers, ministries, churches, and pastors can be more of a hindrance when it comes to helping individuals or aberrant groups break away from their cultic theology and practice. One of our greatest challenges has been trying to explain these doctrinal reforms to outsiders while maintaining our credibility internally, and some groups have greatly hindered our efforts by their reporting.55
The reason he blames outside groups for hindering their efforts to make doctrinal changes within the church is that they reported what was actually happening! This became problematic for Tkachism because they were telling these outside groups about all the changes—even telling them that more were coming—while at the same time telling their own members that nothing was changing! They are the ones who hurt their own credibility—by lying.
In his book, Tkach Jr. explained how their church leaders, in the early 1990s, kept contacting evangelical groups in order to keep them apprised of the changes in the wcg: “As one thing led to another, we finally said, ‘You know, Hank Hanegraaff is a person we should talk to. We think he’d listen.”56 Greg Albrecht wrote a letter to Hanegraaff on January 5, 1994, and included with it an updated edition of the church’s Statement of Beliefs. He concluded his letter by requesting to meet with Mr. Hanegraaff. As Tkach Jr. wrote in his book,
A few days later Hank’s office called Greg to set up a meeting. From the first time we met, Hank recognized the enormity of our task [of changing the many fundamental teachings of the church] and understood that we were facing some tremendous battles. After thoroughly quizzing us about our faith and expressing satisfaction with our answers, he invited us to be guests on his radio program. Our fellowship was not ready for that at the time.57
Can you believe that? Joseph Tkach Jr., Greg Albrecht and Michael Feazell had no qualms about pouring their hearts out to Hank Hanegraaff, as long as it was in private. But they weren’t about to go on the radio with their “we’ve joined mainstream Christianity” heart-to-heart. And why? Because the membership wasn’t yet ready. The members, remember, were skeptical—they didn’t even think the changes were for real! They heard Tkach Sr., all throughout 1994, deny that the church was about to do away with the law.
Then, on December 17, the membership finally heard the same news Tkach’s fellows told Hank Hanegraaff 11 months earlier—that the wcg had now joined mainstream Christianity.