Chapter 15: Peanut Shell
By Stephen Flurry
“I can’t believe that anyone would think that … Christ built this worldwide work through Mr. Armstrong and then blew it all. He didn’t choose the right one! He should have gotten someone that’s long-standing and that’s going to last in a stable manner forever like a ‘snow flurry.’”
— Gerald Waterhouse
Sermon, January 25, 1992
Church Administration announced my dad’s firing on page 6 of the December 19, 1989, Pastor General’s Report: “It is our unpleasant duty at this time to notify you that Gerald Flurry and John Amos, former pastor and associate of the Oklahoma City and Enid, Oklahoma, congregations, and Laura Flurry, a former Church Administration employee, have been disfellowshiped.”1
At the time, outside of Oklahoma, this announcement was not big news in the church. Even on the day it was announced, most congregations also received news of the possible headquarters move to Big Sandy, which largely overshadowed the fact that two unknown ministers from the Midwest had been disfellowshiped.
After our initial mailing of Malachi’s Message on January 11, the wcg made this comment to the ministry:
Many of you have called to advise us of the receipt of a manuscript written by Gerald Flurry. It appears that he mailed it to most church pastors, to many members where he and John Amos previously served, and to some people in neighboring areas. We thank you for your diligence in keeping us informed and in protecting the flock from heresy.
As always, we encourage your prayers to ask for God’s protection over His people as well as to grant repentance to those who have deceived themselves into thinking their righteousness is greater than what God gives to the church.2
This was the extent of the wcg’s response (or lack thereof) to the pcg in those early days. Nothing specific is said about the content of Malachi’s Message—only that it was “heresy” and its proponents are self-righteous. In fact, the church would not address any specific content in the book for another year and a half. During that time, they largely ignored Malachi’s Message and the pcg.
At the local level, however, the church did work quickly to troubleshoot isolated areas affected by pcg mailings. After Arnold Clauson announced the firings in Oklahoma City the weekend of December 9, Pasadena sent Dean Blackwell in for a week to help smooth the transition to its next pastor, Don Lawson, transferring in from Salt Lake City. Mr. Blackwell gave a sermon December 16 in which he tried to address some of the points raised in Malachi’s Message, but he hadn’t even read the book. He told the congregation that my dad had gotten a wealthy man to help him raise up the church, which was not true.
In the months that followed, Mr. Blackwell became the wcg’s unofficial troubleshooter for areas affected by Malachi’s Message—often ridiculing and belittling my father and the pcg because of how small it was and the fact that it was started by two unknown ministers.
But with every handful of people who responded positively to Malachi’s Message, we received more new names and addresses. And as the message spread, the wcg gradually broadened its attack against the pcg—first in an indirect way, and then later, head on.
First Sip of Being Exposed
When Mr. Tkach Sr. announced in September 1990 that the Plain Truth and World Tomorrow would adopt a more “religious” tone, he made it sound like times were changing and that their audience had changed, but in fact, the only thing that had changed was the church’s message. They no longer felt obligated to deliver the warning message of the gospel to the largest audience possible. Their focus had turned inward.
When Mr. Tkach elaborated on this change in the November 14, 1990, Pastor General’s Report, he left little doubt about them now proclaiming a different message:
First, the telecast is definitely not to copy the overly emotional character of certain other religious programs. On the other hand, it is also not to become confrontational, degrading others’ sincerely held beliefs, condemning, nor filled with hyperbole about specific prophetic fulfillments.3
Mr. Tkach prefaced this major change by pointing out obvious flaws in two opposite extremes. Then he stressed that they were only seeking to find a proper balance between the two. It was another attempt to obscure the fact that they were making a dramatic change.
“Prophecy programs will present a balanced, overall perspective of the purpose and value of prophecy, instead of attempting to interpret specific prophecies,” he continued. “Prophecy programs will not lose sight of the gospel message by trading the true gospel for a ‘10-nation/save-your-skin’ gospel”4—an unmistakable smear against Mr. Armstrong’s teachings.
Of course, the television program and the Plain Truth had already been watered down significantly, as my father had told Mr. Tkach Jr. a year earlier. Arnold Clauson, you will remember, even noted in his report to Tkach Jr. that my father felt that the tv program was too weak. And now, a year later, Mr. Tkach Sr. finally came forward and at least explained why the program had changed.
The Philadelphia Church of God, as small as it might have been in 1990, had already begun to expose the wcg’s deceitful transformation. The more our message spread, the more it forced wcg leaders to put forward some sort of response.
Not long after explaining the new format for the tv program and the Plain Truth, Mr. Tkach Sr. complained about the attitudes of certain members and ministers who had been put out of the church. Some of the more vocal ones, he wrote in the pgr, believe “[e]very word of Mystery of the Ages, along with every word of every article and booklet Mr. Armstrong wrote, except those they are personally aware that he specifically changed himself.”5 He went on to say that these dissidents bolster their argument by saying the wcg had “gone from Philadelphian to Laodicean.” He then mentioned how upsetting it was to find out how some of these former ministers were treating their brethren:
The minister places himself on a pedestal, usually along with his closest elders and deacons. Some people are afraid to counsel with him because he is harsh and intimidating rather than considerate and approachable. Members who become close to the pastor in this little clique pull out all stops in their efforts to get and stay “in good” with the pastor. Many become men-pleasers in their attitudes toward the leaders who are in the “in” group. A certain smug attitude develops among those who are in this “righteous” group toward those who are trying to be faithful to the church. Confidentiality becomes a problem, because things discussed with the ministers may be shared in this clique.
Let me stop right here to say that these things are abominable in the sight of God! They are the result of an arrogant, smug, deeply self-righteous and superior attitude that is the opposite of all that Jesus Christ taught and stands for! And all this sin-filled abuse of ministerial authority is cleverly disguised in a pious smoke screen of somehow being “loyal” to Mr. Armstrong and teaching the real truth!6
Strong words those! And since only a handful of ministers had left (or been fired by) the church at that time, that rebuke was aimed primarily at the “self-righteous” ministers in the Philadelphia Church of God.
‘Churches That Splinter’
On May 4, 1991, Dean Blackwell gave a sermon in Columbus, Ohio, during which he went through a list of 23 “splinter” groups that had left the Worldwide Church of God over the years. His main point was to show how all these groups had come to nothing. Of course, the pcg was his main target in that sermon.
Do you think a little group of 135 people is going to grow big enough to preach the gospel of the kingdom around the world for a witness when they say “Christ is coming back soon—Christ’s coming is imminent”?7
Actually, the pcg had between 200 and 300 members at the time of Blackwell’s sermon. Still, he wasn’t impressed. Blackwell said,
To me, one of the greatest blessings I’ve had in my job has been to go out into troubled areas when something like this happens and see if I can shut the door in the wolf’s face. I hate to see God’s people blinded and duped and deceived and hoodwinked and led off into a little fly-by-night peanut shell floating on a big ocean going nowhere doing nothing.8
He criticized the pcg—which began with 12 people and had only been around for 16 months—for not being on television or radio. “You’re going to know the church by the work it’s doing,” he later said.9 Yes, and we have said much the same for over a decade, as the pcg’s work has continued growing, whereas the wcg stopped doing a work long ago.
Mr. Blackwell also made some astonishing statements regarding Ambassador College.
People said Mr. Armstrong said we should never have accreditation. That’s not so. I’ve been in on every ministerial meeting ever held since 1955, and I’ve got that big, fat, thick notebook where I took notes vigorously and I can stick your nose in that book and show you right in the notes.10
And yet, Mr. Armstrong wrote this to the entire church:
We could now qualify for accreditation both at Pasadena and Big Sandy—but we shall not, because the government of the colleges would have to be according to that which is in force in this world’s educational institutions—God’s government would have to go. We already have the highest accreditation of all—that of Almighty God!11
Later, Mr. Blackwell said,
They said we moved the college to Big Sandy and Mr. Armstrong said to close it. That is ridiculous. Mr. Armstrong didn’t do any such thing. I don’t know how these people 3,000 miles away supposedly know what Mr. Armstrong said and I’ve been out there [in Pasadena] 13 years. I ought to know what he said. I’ve been in on all the meetings, the board of directors, and he didn’t say any such thing.12
Of course, we knew what Mr. Armstrong said because he wrote it in a letter he sent to all church members and co-workers.
Malachi’s Message Finally Referred to
Not long after Mr. Blackwell’s sermon in Columbus, the wcg finally mentioned my dad by name in one of its publications: the Worldwide News. The pcg had only begun just 18 months earlier—and with just 12 people. During that first year and a half, we had only mailed 4,000 copies of Malachi’s Message to wcg members. But the message in the book had apparently sent enough shock waves through wcg congregations that Pasadena felt compelled to address the subject directly.
In June 1991, Mr. Tkach criticized former ministers who had resisted changes as being only interested in gaining a following for themselves. “One dissident says I am destroying everything Mr. Armstrong did,” he wrote. “In fact, I am doing exactly the same thing Mr. Armstrong did—putting the word of God first.”13
Mr. Tkach again chose not to mention my dad by name. He left that to David Hunsberger, who wrote an article on page 4 of the issue, titled “What the Church teaches about Malachi and his message.” Mr. Hunsberger wrote,
In this article we will examine the claims of one critic of the church to show how his teachings contradict God’s word and how the attitude displayed in his writing is an affront to the Holy Spirit and contrary to Christian principles.
The subject for this study is a book titled Malachi’s Message to God’s Church Today © 1990 by Gerald R. Flurry.14
Mr. Hunsberger continued, “Mr. Flurry contends that since the death of Herbert W. Armstrong the church has changed ‘away from the Philadelphia standard’ and has become the Laodicean era.”15 Thereafter, he offered a rebuttal to some of the points raised in Malachi’s Message. To his credit, at least Mr. Hunsberger attempted to address some of the content in Malachi’s Message. Most ministers, like Dean Blackwell, simply ignored the content and focused instead on ridiculing Gerald Flurry.
For many years, Gerald Waterhouse was known in the wcg as the “traveling evangelist.” He traveled the world visiting hundreds of congregations, helping keep the brethren focused on headquarters. He played a lead role in stirring up zealous support for Mr. Armstrong in the years following the 1970s crisis.
He tried to drum up similar enthusiasm for Mr. Tkach’s leadership, but he lost much of his credibility when he found himself defending the very things he had condemned a decade earlier.
He had much to say about my dad in a sermon he gave in Tallahassee, Florida, on January 25, 1992:
I can’t believe that anyone would think that Christ, who said “I will build my church,” and “I will never leave nor forsake it,” and people come now and think that Christ built this worldwide work through Mr. Armstrong and then blew it all. He didn’t choose the right one! He should have gotten someone that’s long-standing and that’s going to last in a stable manner forever like a “snow flurry.” You ever notice how long they last? They come down and, “Well, where was it? There was a flurry, I saw it right here.”
Brethren, I want to make a strong point here. You need to grasp what people are hoodwinked by Satan the devil on. I know Gerald Flurry very well. I thought I did. I didn’t know some of the things he was doing behind the scenes. But he was never around Mr. Armstrong’s feet to be trained there. I was with Wayne Cole. We sent him up to [Washington] when I was with Wayne Cole in 1975. When the decision was made to send him, he was serving not in Pasadena, he was serving in [Norwalk]. We sent him up to Washington to handle those four churches: Yakima, Quincy, Tonasket and Pasco. That’s where he was for about 10 or 11 years. Then he went over to Oklahoma City.
How could he carry on for Mr. Armstrong? He wasn’t even trained around him, much less at his feet. Wasn’t even trained close to him. Wasn’t even trained at his coattail. Wasn’t trained within arm’s reach. He was miles away for about 13 or 14 years. Whom did God appoint to carry on for Moses? One trained at his feet: Joshua. That’s the smart way to do it.16
First of all, Christ did say He would build His church,17 but He did not say He would never leave the church! He said, “I will never leave you, nor forsake you.”18 Church history proves just the opposite of what Mr. Waterhouse said. God doesn’t leave His people, but His people can leave Him! Read Revelation 2 and 3. Then read Revelation 2:5 and Ezekiel 8:6 where it shows God will forsake a church that forsakes Him.
According to Mr. Waterhouse, Gerald Flurry couldn’t carry on for Mr. Armstrong because he wasn’t at Mr. Armstrong’s feet like Garner Ted Armstrong, David Antion, Albert Portune, Wayne Cole and Stanley Rader. Or what about David Jon Hill or Charles Hunting? Those men were all trained at Mr. Armstrong’s feet. But does being so trained guarantee someone will remain faithful to the teacher? Judas Iscariot was trained at Jesus Christ’s feet. Lucifer was trained at God’s feet.
Mr. Tkach was indeed trained at Mr. Armstrong’s feet. At a special service the day Mr. Armstrong died, Mr. Tkach said, “[W]e are a product of [Mr. Armstrong’s] dedication and service. … We can appreciate having the opportunity of being able to support and hold up the arms of the late Mr. Armstrong.” At that time Mr. Tkach promised to stay on the path Mr. Armstrong had established. He said,
And the admonishment is now for those of us still living who now have a task that is set before them, a course that has already been charted by God’s apostle. We need to maintain that course and not deviate from it one iota.
Then, during the final prayer at Mr. Armstrong’s funeral, Mr. Tkach said, “We readily admit and acknowledge that there is no man who can fill his shoes, but, Father, we aim to follow in his footsteps.”19
Following on the “coattail” of Mr. Armstrong did not prevent Mr. Tkach from changing every major doctrine Mr. Armstrong established, even after Mr. Tkach said that the course had “already been charted,” and that we were not to “deviate from it one iota.”
You get an idea of how the wcg reacted to Malachi’s Message and Gerald Flurry those first few years. They ridiculed the Philadelphia Church of God, calling it a “peanut shell” or “snow flurry,” because they thought—or at least they hoped—it would just go away.
But it didn’t. Our work kept growing.
Ironically, it’s the Worldwide Church of God that has been slowly melting away. Its income has plummeted. Its leaders have sold off all the property. There is no work being done. Even many of its leading men have died, including Tkach Sr. on September 23, 1995. Earlier that year, while operating on Tkach Sr.’s gall bladder, doctors discovered widespread cancer.
Yet Mr. Tkach’s physical demise is nothing compared to the spiritual disease he brought into the Worldwide Church of God. And those under him, instead of fighting against the cancer, actually helped it spread. As Mike Feazell said in his book, the church Mr. Armstrong devoted his life to building “had slowly ceased to exist.”20