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The Worldwide Church of God

History. Splinter groups.

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Inspired by the teachings of "The Church of God, 7th day," Herbert W. Armstrong (1892-1986) started the Radio Church of God in Eugene OR in 1933 -- one of many churches which contained the phrase "Church of God." He changed the prefix to "Worldwide" in 1947. 11

He is often said to have been directly associated with the Seventh Day Adventist church, but this appears to be groundless. However, some of the belief system of the original Worldwide Church of God (WCG) was based on the Sabbatarian Adventist tradition, that:
bullet Saturday is to be recognized as the Lord's day, and
bullet The second coming of Jesus will happen in the immediate future.

Another foundational belief of the original WCG was Anglo/British Israelism: that the British (and by extension Americans, Canadians, Australians, and others) are the spiritual and literal descendants of the ancient Israelites.

Armstrong promoted his beliefs in the Sabbatarian Adventist tradition and British-Israelism through:
bullet His writings
bullet Ambassador College, in Pasadena, CA, launched in 1947-OCT. 12
bullet His organization, which was originally called the "Radio Church of God" which started in Eugene Oregon in 1933 (renamed the The Worldwide Church of God in 1968)
bullet The television program, called The World Tomorrow
bullet The magazines Plain Truth and The World Tomorrow

The founder's son, Garner Ted Armstrong (1930-2003) took over the TV programming in 1957, and the radio programs in the late 1960's. "During the 1960s and 1970s, he was seen by an estimated 20 million Americans on television every week, and his radio show was transmitted to every continent on about 300 radio stations." 11

With the strengthening of the counter-cult movement in the early 1970's, the WCG came under attack as a "cult". Many books and booklets condemned the Church for its many departures from historical Christian beliefs.

In 1972, Garner was accused of sexual impropriety. There were rumors that he was planning to leave his wife for an air stewardess. His father, Herbert, disfellowshipped (excommunicated) Garner for a brief interval, stating that he was "in the bonds of Satan."  Six months later, he was allowed to resume full duties. In 1978, Garner was disfellowshipped by his father for the final time, apparently because of his excessively liberal beliefs.

During the last decade of Herbert Armstrong's life, the church experienced a number of financial problems and theological changes.

"In 1978, several ex-members successfully brought a lawsuit to have the church placed in receivership pending a trial on charges of misuse of funds. The trial never occurred because the California legislature, lobbied by a variety of other churches, intervened to prohibit such actions against churches on the grounds of separation of church and state." 2

In 1979, the church did go into receivership. Herbert Armstrong died in 1986, "amid allegations that he had siphoned off more than $70 million in church funds for his personal use." 11 He had selected Joseph W. Tkach to succeed him as Pastor General. Tkach made major changes to WCG teachings, and brought them into much closer alignment with traditional evangelical Christian beliefs. After his death in 1995-SEP, his son Joseph W. Tkach Jr. assumed control and continued the changes.

Their membership peaked in 1986 at the death of Herbert Armstrong with about 150,000 members worldwide. By 1996, attendance dropped to approximately half that. U.S. membership slid from 89,000 to 49,000. By the end of 1999, they claimed a total membership of 70,000 in more than 100 nations; about half lived in the U.S. A decade later, they had further reduced to a group of "... more than 47,000 members, worshiping in about 900 congregations in almost 100 nations and territories.

In 2009-APR, they changed their name in the U.S. to Grace Communion International. 14

Splinter groups:

After Herbert Armstrong's death, about 30,000 members of the Worldwide Church of God left to create and join splinter groups, including:

bullet Church of God, a Christian Fellowship at: http://www.cgcf.org/ 
bullet Church of God International at http://www.cgi.org 
bullet Garner Ted Armstrong Evangelical Association
bullet Global Church of God, http://www.gcg.org/ 
bullet Intercontinental Church of God, http://www.intercontinentalcog.org/
bullet Living Church of God at: http://www.livingcog.org/ 
bullet Philadelphia Church of God at: http://www.pcog.org/ 
bullet The Church of God at: http://www.tcog.org/
bullet The Restored Church of God at: http://www.restoredcog.org/
bullet United Church of God at: http://www.ucg.org 

Among these groups, two are particularly notable:

bullet Church of God International: In 1978, when Garner Ted Armstrong was permanently disfellowshipped from the WCG, he founded the Church of God International of Tyler TX. He also started a magazine "Twentieth Century Watch." Telegraph.co.uk called him "one of the most successful, but also the most controversial, of American television evangelists." They reported that:
"The sanctity of the family was, naturally, a staple theme; and [Ted] Armstrong specialized in highly charged sermons against our 'decadent society', lambasting wife-swapping and adultery (including 'spiritual adultery'), and demanding the enforcement of God's laws regarding sex. But his own sexual peccadilloes caused him to be suspended from the various churches he represented on three occasions, and led to a series of damaging scandals which undermined his ministry." 15

The peak membership of the Church of God International never exceeded about 5,000 members. In 1995, Garner Ted was removed from ministerial responsibilities following allegations of an incident involving massage therapy in which some believe he sexually harassed a female nurse. He then organized the Garner Ted Armstrong Evangelical Association. In 1998, he founded yet another new church, the Intercontinental Church of God. A new headquarters complex for the Association and the Church was dedicated on 2003-JUN-29 in Tyler, TX. He remained president of both groups at the time of his death on 2003-SEP-15 at the age of 73.

bullet Philadelphia Church of God: This appears to be the most successful of the splinter groups. It was founded by Gerald Flurry. He had joined the WCG in 1960, graduated from Ambassador College in 1970, and became a staff member of the church after graduation. He was ordained in 1973.

After the death of Herbert Armstrong, he became distressed at the early changes that were being made to church theology -- changes that repudiated parts of Armstrong's original teachings. Flurry expressed his concerns in a book titled Malachi's Message to God's Church Today. This resulted in him being fired from the WCG in 1989, along with his assistant John Amos. They immediately organized the Philadelphia Church of God in Edmond, OK. Their beliefs and practices differ little from the original beliefs of the WCG. Armstrong's writings are considered inspired, and close to the Bible in importance and accuracy. In 1993, they began a television program, The Key of David. The church also publishes The Philadelphia Trumpet newsletter. 16


  1. The Worldwide Church of God maintains a WWW site at: http://www.wcg.org/ 
  2. Vern Bullough, "The Will to Believe Keeps the Worldwide Church of God Afloat," http://www.secularhumanism.org/
  3. "Alphabetical List of Worldwide Church of God Publications," WCG, at: http://www.wcg.org/lit/
  4. "A Brief List of Doctrines of the Worldwide Church of God," WCG, at:  http://www.wcg.org/lit/
  5. In Transition: News of the Churches of God is an independent publication which describes activities in "the Worldwide Church of God and its offshoots". It is published by Clearinghouse Press at P.O. Box 450 Monroe, IN 46772 USA
  6. "The Painful Truth" is a counter-cult group which targets the Worldwide Church of God and its splinter groups. See: http://www.herbertwarmstrong.com
  7. H.W. Armstrong, "The United States and Britain in Prophecy", The Worldwide Church of God, Pasedena CA (1980)
  8. Mather & Nichols, Dictionary of Cults, Sects, Religions and the Occult", Zondervan, Grand Rapids MI, (1993), P. 320-325
  9. W.L. Ingram, "God and Race: British-Israelism and Christian Identity" , P. 119 - 126 of T. Miller, Ed., "America's Alternative Religions" , SUNY Press, Albany NY, 1995
  10. Camilla F. Kleindienst, "When your church says it's wrong," The Worldwide News, 1996-AUG-27. Online at: http://www.wcg.org/
  11. "Garner Ted Armstrong," Telegraph.co.uk, 2003-SEP-17, at: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/
  12. Ivor Fletcher, "The incredible history of God's true church; Chapter 14," at: http://www.giveshare.org/
  13. "Should we hold our worship meetings on Sundays instead of Saturdays?" WCG, at: http://www.wcg.org/
  14. "Information About Grace Communion International," at: http://www.wcg.org/
  15. Obituary: Garner Ted Armstrong," ReligionNewsBlog, 2003-SEP-17, at: http://www.religionnewsblog.com/
  16. "Gerald Flurry," S9 biographical dictionary, at: http://www.s9.com/

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Copyright 1996 to 2009 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2009-OCT-14
Author: B.A. Robinson

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