This article has been floating around on the internet this past week or so. Several have sent it to me.
Why The Church Of God Movement Is Doomed To Irrelevancy
(Written in 1997 on WCGnet))
What is the future of the WCG and its offshoots? Can good fruit come from a bad tree? The history of the Armstrongist movement shows that the answer is no. The current state of the church of God groups tends to confirm this. Fewer and fewer people are attending the WCG as dissatisfied former members stay away. As it turns out, the United Church of God isn't so united after all. Every few months we hear one congregation or another splitting, with one group establishing their own fellowship. The Global church continues to struggle along with its financial difficulties. And the Philadelphia church will not grow as the policy of its ministry seems to be to disfellowship one old member for every new member that joins.
In the future, the churches of God will continue to experience further decline and
fragmentation. Eventually, the large groups will shrink into insignificance, and most church of God members will belong to small, independent congregations. Armstrongism is a heresy built on a foundation of lies. It will not survive close scrutiny. Those whose critical thinking faculties have been dulled from years of mind control will remain. Those who are able to think for themselves will eventually move on as they discover that their belief system is a hoax.
When I say the membership will shrink, I am speaking of the lay members. The ministry is a different story. In society at large, when a group of people receives its support from transfer payments, the recipients are called welfare cases. When you have the same situation in the churches of God, the recipient group is called "the ministry." The church of God ministers are in no hurry to go anywhere. Heavens to Betsy, can you imagine one of them actually working for a living?
The United Church of God, An International Association is a case in point. Scores of WCG ministers left when the New Covenant doctrines were promulgated. What did they do? They formed an organization to collect tithes and redistribute the funds among themselves. Lay members were excluded from the governing body. The "ministers" distribute the funds as theysee fit. This doesn't sit well with some of the members (incredibly, some fully support the UCG governing body and feel the rest of the membership should be submissive. Some people never learn.), as the recent defections show.
The churches of God are doomed to shrink into insignificance. This is a good thing.
Armstrongism will always have a following as lazy individuals will choose not to exercise their minds and fully examine their belief system. But also, the decline of Armstrongism is means fewer will have their lives wrecked by following this pernicious ideology. Here, then, are the reasons why Armstrongism will wither away:
For Worldwide Church of God (WCG) offshoots that still subscribe to Armstrongism:
1. The theology itself.
For years the Armstrongist theology was shielded by an official embargo. Members were strongly discouraged from studying religious issues independently. They were to be dependent on the official pronouncements of headquarters, especially from Armstrong himself, and on the teachings of the local ministry. However, Armstrong's theology is so full of holes that it cannot survive close scrutiny. Because of the fragmentation of the churches in recent years, the embargo on outside religious information has weakened considerably. More and more members will study the Bible independently and, if they are open minded, they will inevitably conclude that Armstrongism is nonsense. They will leave the Armstrongist strongholds, hopefully for theologically sound Christian fellowships.
2. The incompetence of the ministry.
From the lamentations we've been hearing since the closing of Ambassador College/University, you would think that we were losing one of the world's great institutions of learning. Actually, Ambassador College would be a laughing stock if not for the harm inflicted on the WCG membership by AC graduates. Ambassador was a catastrophe, and the trail of the church of God movement is littered with the human wreckage left behind by Ambassador College graduates. The world is better off for its passing. Most WCG and ex-WCG ministers are nothing more than little autocratic know-it-alls whose knowledge of the Bible is limited to what they learned from Armstrong himself or one of his stooges. In other words, they don't know very much, and most of what they do know is wrong. WCG ministers were taught to fudge answers to the difficult questions they would be asked about the inconsistencies in WCG theology. A really effective minister had to think on his feet and come up with convincing answers in a hurry. Having known many such ministers, I can assure you that they were very, very good at it. Another thing they are good at is turning the tables on you. If you have painted them into a theological corner, they are so skilled in debating techniques that they will have you on the defensive in no time, and will soon have you apologizing for questioning them. Finally, they had to be able to isolate those who were incorrigibly anti-Armstrong. If the malcontent couldn't be defeated by debating techniques, the minister had to isolate him from the membership, lest he poison them with dissident ideas. All this was necessary to keep the tithes and offerings flowing freely through the money pipeline, lest Herbert Armstrong be forced to sell his jet and fly business class like everybody else. While all of this is helpful in ensuring a subservient, unquestioningly loyal laity in Armstrongist groups, these "skills" are of no use in genuine Christianity. They are mind control techniques, not ministering techniques. Which brings us to our next point.
3. Today's WCG and ex-WCG ministers are not as adept at mind control as Herbert W. Armstrong was.
Nothing is more disturbing to an autocratic minister than a member who thinks for himself. Love him or hate him, if there is one thing Joe Tkach, Sr. did for church members, it's that he made them think for themselves. He forced them to take a stand for or against Armstrongism. For the first time in years (possibly for the first time in their lives if they were born into the church) church members had to make a decision on their own. They had to decide whether to stay with the WCG or leave. Unfortunately, some made their decision and stopped thinking, submitting to whatever organization with which they allied themselves. But some continued to think independently. All WCG and ex-WCG members have been lied to, and there is not nearly as much trust for the ministry as there once was. Today, you'll rarely hear anyone say "If Mr. [fill in the blank: Hulme, Tkach, Meredith] tells me to jump, I ask how high." (Some may say that in Flurry's church, but they'll probably get disfellowshipped anyway.) In the past, the ministers would answer questions like "Is it OK to cook on the Sabbath;" or "What is the proper hair length for men?" Now they have to answer questions such as "Is it true that ministers only paid one tithe instead of three, and they got most of that back as an allowance to keep the Feast;" or "Did Herbert Armstrong really commit incest?" Failure to answer those questions satisfactorily is usually a signal to the member that it is time to move on. The various churches of God may be able to lure church members (or will they? See point 4.), but they will not be able to hold them because they are deficient in the art of mind control.
4. Today's churches of God don't sell their product as well as Herbert Armstrong did.
The followers of Armstrongism are an aging group, and there are few coming into the churches to replace them. True, some of the church of God splinters report growth in membership. But they will admit that the vast majority of their new members are defectors from other church of God groups. There isn't very much new blood coming into the church of God movement. Basically, the various churches of God are simply passing members back and forth between themselves. Time will reduce their numbers. As the older members die off, and as dissatisfied members leave, the churches will shrink. Once again, this is not a bad thing. The various churches of God embrace one version or another of Armstrongism, a harmful heresy. The fewer Armstrongists there are in the world, the better.