Monday, 18 August 2014

Who killed the Worldwide Church of God? Part 1

I've been commenting on the bizarre, faction-ridden world of 'Armstrongism' for more years than I care to remember. The reality, through all the pain and division, posturing pastoral prima donnas and autocratic imitators, has been that the movement has been in relentless demographic decline; despite the ongoing soap operas, ministerial drama queens and slick, expensive media promotions. For those of us once invested in the Churches of God the passing decades have provided a combination of entertaining farce and chronic unease. Either way, it's been hard to ignore.

But it's impossible to deny the inevitable. Armstrongism - that particular strand of Sabbatarian Christianity that looks back to Herbert Armstrong as its founder - is now little more than a minor footnote on the pages of American church history.

The front page of the latest Journal illustrates the decline. In the face of dwindling numbers, competing sects are now cooperating. The Journal even uses the term 'ecumenical' (!) to describe recent funeral services which included "speakers and moderators" from more than one COG group. It's a sure sign that the rapidly greying constituency is looking backwards, not forwards.

Meanwhile in Chicago two COG congregations are in the process of merging. Merging! Imagine that. This is, after all, a movement that famously multiplies by dividing. The fires are burning ever lower.

It is often a quiet desperation that brings feuding family members together. The Armstrong sects are fading into complete irrelevance. The game is up, and misery must seek company and comfort where it can.

What a contrast to the high profile years of the past when almost everybody in the US was exposed in some way to the Worldwide Church of God - then a rigorously monolithic single-brand - through its cutting-edge media in radio, television and print.

Of course there are still buffoons loudly prating about their own sole legitimacy. But does anyone take them seriously as they stumble from one back-down to another? These are not vibrant faith communities but side-shows in a small-town circus. How many will still be around in ten years time?

So who if anyone is to blame? Who killed the Worldwide Church of God? Tkach Senior? Tkach Junior? Rader? Garner Ted?

Some further thoughts next time...


  1. Gavin, I agree with your assessment of the Church of God culture - the slide toward extinction. When I look back on my own history as a part of that culture, it is amazing to me that I surrendered so much of myself and thought processes to that circus! I look forward to your comments, but my own opinion is that Herbert W. Armstrong sowed the seeds of the WCOG's destruction when he founded it (originally as the Radio Church of God). Of course, we have the benefit of hindsight; but this baby was born handicapped. It flourished for a while because all of the other daughters of modern Christianity had glaring problems of their own. In my view, GTA, Tkach (Sr and Jr), Flurry and all of the others were almost inevitable products of the original flaws. I look forward to your thoughts on the subject in your next post.

  2. The Journal documents the asylum-like exaggeration and amplification of those seeds in the aftermath. The example HWA set in his usage of conspiracy theories alone is responsible for a high percentage of the farcical ads and offshoots. Also, if nobody were making any false prophecies, much of the remaining content would diminish as well. Basically, the Journal would then be a nostalgia paper, in which people shared their reminiscences.

    GTA was the only individual who had been groomed to take over. Once he had marginalized himself, the movement was pretty much doomed. As we all realize now, that was a good thing. The only problem is that the movement has taken an abysmally long time to complete its death spiral.


  3. I think WCG began a long downhill slide once it became apparent that "1975 in Prophecy" was not gonna happen. While HWA was still alive, he was able to keep a lid on things; those years were like treading water, or just a slow downhill slide. Once Tkach took over, the slide accelerated. His sermon of December 1994 and subsequent changes in Winter/Spring 1995 put a final stake in WCG's heart.

    Today, WCG no longer exists. What exists today is (1) an organization that managed to usurp all of WCG's assets but is completely opposite to all WCG stood for and (2) a couple hundred fringe groups of various sizes trying to cling onto something they once had.

  4. In my opinion what killed the WCG was the birth of the internet in the 80's. Once we all got on line and started to compare notes and had access to information which was previously hard to come by, it was all downhill from there.

  5. I'm reading the fascinating Feastsite list in the Journal. Pack & Flurry are too snobby to publish their sites - not very ecumenical of them. Surprise feast listing is WCG/GCI-UK and they're keeping the correct dates also! Tkach must tolerate these foolish Galatians or risk losing the last vestiges of UK members. WCG/GCI Australia/NZ who are keeping corrupted dates & fewer days are not listed.

  6. Minimalist, the GCI has no objection to members (or anyone else) keeping the Sabbath or the Holy Days. Most of our congregations have members who do one, the other, or both.

    1. I was wondering how that worked.
      Since manufacturing left California, religion is a very important part of their economy;
      GCI and SDA will do anything hold onto supporters these days.
      Tkach should have a Drag-'n'-Drop feature on his website where you can design your own belief system.

  7. I agree with everyone above this message. The failed prophesy of 1972 - '75 was the biggie that got the avalanche started. But, actually? The whole of Christendom failed when Jesus did not return as predicted in the generation of the New Testament writers. And, just as Christians held onto their beliefs about gaining eternal life if they held onto their beliefs back then, the remnants of Armstrongism will hang onto the same thing today. Christendom just doesn't get it, no matter what particular ship they are in, they are all in the same sinking ship that should have sunk 1900 years ago with the same failed prophesy.

  8. And yet... The Journal helps keep the vain hope of former glory resurrecting itself alive. Dixon knows very well that those advertising in its pages are kooks. It's stupid and useless except to provide infotainment for the jaded.

    All of the Cult of Herbert Armstrong Mafia is pathetic and Herbert Armstrong really managed to put the 'cult' in 'culture'.