Sunday, 3 March 2013

Fragments in Focus - 3

(Continuing the review of Fragmentation of a Sect by David Barrett.)

Chapter two attempts to provide an introduction to the doctrines of the Worldwide Church of God under Herbert W. Armstrong. Barrett makes the interesting comment that, unlike some other heterodox groups, WCG was upfront about its beliefs.  This is broadly true but it is also true, as this reviewer can personally attest, that new members were often surprised, after baptism, to discover some of the church's more demanding teachings.  Triple tithing, for example, was not widely advertised until people had joined the fold, nor the anti-medicine stance. Awareness of issues like these also varied depending on exactly when you joined the WCG. In the mid 1970s, for example, high demand requirements were deemphasized in church publications.

Barrett's discussion falls under four main headings:
- Sabbatarianism and Law
- Millenarianism
- Connections to Seventh-day Adventism (and possibly to Mormonism)
- British-Israelism

This material is intended to provide background information, and much of it will fall into the "general knowledge" category for readers already familiar with WCG.  Having said that, there may be some surprises. Barrett estimates, for example, that at its height in the 1920s the British-Israelite movement could claim only 5,000 or so members in the United Kingdom, and fewer still in nations beyond its borders. This would make WCG, which reached a 100,000 plus membership, the most significant BI body of all time.

In Barrett's view BI was the heart of Herbert Armstrong's message, and one he often claimed credit for through some sort of unmediated revelation. He applied Paul's words in Galatians 1:11-12 to himself, and in a 1976 sermon stated: "I came to the truth in a way I know of no other church leader. I know of no other minister who ever came to it by himself through the leading of God in that way."

Which is hardly the whole story given his prior exposure to the work of individuals like G.G. Rupert and J.H. Allen (author of Judah's Sceptre and Joseph's Birthright). Barrett quotes a 1928 letter from Armstrong to Allen's publisher, in which he floats the idea of his own book, acknowledging that it would essentially be a rewrite of Allen. Anyone who has read Armstrong's The United States and British Commonwealth in Prophecy alongside Allen's book will immediately recognise the substantial dependence (i.e. plagiarism) of Sceptre by Armstrong. And yet, as Barrett comments, this link "would be ignored for the next half century or more."

Also of interest are comments by John Halford in personal correspondence to Barrett about the use made of Worldwide's BI publications by Aryan supremacist groups (p.37).

The WCG's ties to William Miller's adventist revival, and through that to Seventh-day Adventism, are widely known. Barrett reminds his readers of the SDA church's early opposition to Trinitarianism, a denial that was preserved until recent times in Worldwide. He also notes the opinion expressed by this reviewer that the WCG owes a good deal to Mormonism both during its formative years alongside the Church of God (Seventh Day), and following separation from that body.

In chapter three the discussion turns to the origins and history of Worldwide.

To continue.

1 comment:

  1. There was an anti-WCG book c.1970 that also perceived that if one could refute BI, one could sink Herb's ship. The author then devoted the entire book to doing just that, believing it would then not be necessary to do tedious refutations of other heresies a' la Walter Martin.

    I believe he was mistaken, as at this same time HQ 'intellectuals' - including GTA - were already sidelining BI and getting away with it - that is until the purges of the late 70s.