Thursday, April 18, 2013

When a Cult Repents: The Transformational Story of the Worldwide Church of God

In my formative Christian years I was a fan of Walter Martin and other Christian apologists who became Kingdom watchdogs and protected the sheep from wolves. In subsequent years I began to realize that much of what passes as orthodox Christianity in evangelical circles is as cultic in behavior as unorthodox, Trinitarian-denying cults. Yet, even with my awareness of problems in modern evangelicalism, cultic organizations like Herbert W. Armstrong's Worldwide Church of God have remained anathema to me because of their aberrant beliefs, arrogant and abusive behaviors, and avarice.

That is why it is so refreshing to see the transformation taking place within the former Worldwide Church of God. Over the past twenty years, leaders in the WCG have renounced the beliefs of their founder Herbert W. Armstrong, adopted a Trinitarian view of God, emphasized the grace of God in delivering sinners (instead of obedience to God's law), and changed their name to Grace Communion International. GCI's magazine Odyssey has had some interesting articles, written by authors who have "a fresh awareness of the importance of grace, a high respect for Scripture, a willingness to do what the Scriptures say, and a spirit of rejoicing in the implications of Trinitarian theology." Not bad.

What I find even more fascinating is the public apology by the leaders of the new GCI. After giving a short history of the Worldwide Church of God and the two decades long transformation on their web page, the leaders of GCI wrote:

"...(W)e are now in full agreement with the statement of faith of the National Association of Evangelicals. Jesus Christ changes lives. He can change an organization, too. We have worked hard to inform our members about where we went wrong — and we say “we” honestly, for the current leaders of the church once believed and taught (Armstrong's) erroneous doctrines. We have criticized other Christians as false, deceived, children of the devil. We have much to apologize for. We are profoundly sorry that we verbally persecuted Christians and created dissention and disunity in the body of Christ. We seek forgiveness and reconciliation.   
We do not have any delusions of grandeur. We do not imagine that we will turn the world upside down. We do not think we will transform the church like Paul did. But we do expect God to use us to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. There may be a niche that needs our particular experience. Perhaps God is preparing us for situations that do not yet exist. We do not know, but we remain ready to respond to God’s leading. We emphasize grace, and we accept Trinitarian theology."
Without doubt, the authoritarian, legalistic, cultic Worldwide Church of God hurt a number of people in the 20th century. Yet, the organization seems to have changed during the last two decades. That's good news. GCI could be a model for other religious organizations in the 21st century who need to separate from authoritarian leaders who have used and abused people. It can be done.


Jordan said...

Thanks for the post. Encouraging.

Anonymous said...

I too consider the former Worldwide Church of God a cult.

But I must give them this much: when my aunt, a devout member, had to take her 5 kids and flee an alcoholic, abusive husband down in East Texas, the church fully supported her and her kids for years financially.

Sure made her sister's Baptist church look bad for just giving her grief for leaving him.


Wade Burleson said...

I ditto your conclusion Linda.

Rex Ray said...

Did the leaders of the WCG change their minds, or were the leaders replaced?

I would guess a lot of funerals took care of the problem. Maybe there’s hope for the SBC. :)

The new leaders said, “We do not think we will transform the church like Paul did.”

What time period are they talking about?

Obeying the churches’ suggestion caused him to die in prison.

His teachings caused the minority to withdraw fellowship when the majority started baptizing babies for salvation in 251 A.D., and then there’s Martin Luther.

Wade Burleson said...

"Did the leaders of the WCG change their minds, or were the leaders replaced."

Good question. In reading their public apology they sure gave the impression they were the same leaders, with different minds now.

Off The Cuff said...

Bro. Wade,
The fact that the leadership have changed their minds does not mean that the laity have also changed their minds. If the laity changed their minds simply because they were told to do so by the leadership then are they not still basically a cult?
If God is the motivator behind this change then "Hallelujah". However, the skeptic in me wonders if this is a business decision designed to revitalize an organization whose numbers are dwindling.
Having said that, I must say that the apology was well written.

Wade Burleson said...

Off the Cuff,

Good point. If you read the public apology, you will note that 50,000 people left the WCG because of the doctrinal changes - the remaining accepted the orthodox confession and eventually changed their name.

Johnny D. said...

I heard about this when it first happened.

Instead of questioning motives, I say we rejoice in God's transformative power. Thank you, Lord Jesus for bringing this FORMER cult to repentance. May we all learn from their humble apology.

Bob Cleveland said...

It's the leadership with which we would be concerned. The members are free to believe as they wish, just as are the ten or twelve MILLION Southern Baptists who don't show up at church any more. I think God orchestrated this so that all of us might see He still has the power to do that, when it pleases Him to do so.

Headless Unicorn Guy said...

Ah, yes. Garner Ted and The Plain Truth. Read it a lot in the magazine racks at LA County Public Library (Live Oak Branch) as a kid in the Sixties; always seemed a little bit weird.

Does GCI still have the big Ambassador College campus in Pasadena? (A fictionalized version of which appeared in Niven & Pournelle's global-disaster novel Lucifer's Hammer.)

Anonymous said...

I saw a copy of The Philidelphia Trumpet in my doctor's office.

Thin I read that it praised Herbert Armstrong and the publisher's address is Enid, OK.

What is this outfit, the loyal remnant of the 12 Tribes?

Anonymous said...

If these people repented maybe theres hope for Holdeman Menonites....

Anonymous said...

The celebration over the repentant cult needs to be tempered a bit. The leadership of post-1986 were the driving force behind the transformation. But many of the members did not change at all -- they simply left and formed new churches. In short, the cult did not change. Rather, the cult left the church that did change and set up shop elsewhere. Having said that, at least the kingdom of Herbert Armstrong is no more.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said,
Don't be delusional, for some of the followers of the Herbert W Armstrong teaching's still are living and practicing the view's of the old church. They do not believe in the Trinity and still follow the dietary law's and the Holy Day's. Their extreme loyalty to Herbert W Armstrong, they believe he was end-time prophet. Unless, your one on one with certain splinter group's you would never be aware of that because those internet sites of their's are very secretive and discreet. Some go directly into the "Armstrong Library", and download his sermon's, have all his booklet's, tape's,etc. So, their still out their. Just very discreet.

Anonymous said...

No, not all changed for the good. They just formed their own little flock and still live their lives by what Herbert w Armstrong taught. So, that's not all true about change.

elderlyrstaff said...

Is anonymous nuts? Discreet and secretive!! Who do you think you are kidding? You need a brain transplant. Secretive, discreet balderdash.

You need to go to pre-school and learn how to use the internet. I've seen young children do better than you. YOU SERIOUSLY ARE NUTS.