Sunday 28 July 2013

History of a Small Adventist Church

Everyone has heard of the Seventh-day Adventists, a religion equally famous for giving the world cornflakes as it is for bizarre interpretations of the book of Revelation.

Much less well known are it's sibling movements; Adventist bodies that went in other directions following the Great Disappointment. One such group is the Church of God (Seventh Day), a denomination that paradoxically is both more and less mainstream than the SDA church, depending on the criteria you choose.

Now, thanks to Douglas Becker, Ken Durham's 1980s Calvin College master's thesis, History of the Church of God (Seventh Day), is available online.

While obviously a bit dated, the thesis will be a helpful resource for anyone interested in the origins and development of the movement, including the defections of Andrew Dugger and Herbert Armstrong. This is however anything but a detailed history; the entire document runs to under 50 pages!

Given its brevity it's not surprising that Durham's treatment is a bit lightweight, and there are some irritating typos and flaws (for example the Worldwide Church of God is referred to as the World Wide Church of God, which is just plain sloppy), but presumably standards at Calvin College have never been particularly rigorous. Durham's work nevertheless provides a solid, broad overview. Later this year Robert Coulter's The Journey: A History of the Church of God (Seventh Day) is due to be released, hopefully with greater accuracy, detail and substance.


  1. there are some irritating typos and flaws

    Well, no, there aren't. The problem was the scanning from the typewritten text. I will attempt to fix them as I find time (and download 64 megabytes all over again).

    The original text was scanned in and put into an old version of Word in the 1990s, after this had been finished and submitted in the 1980s. That word document contained things that were just plain wrong (and some things that were never written, in fact). This flawed scan made it into Open Office and had to be cleaned up from that because Open Office found stuff the garbage collector in Microsoft Word missed on the save. Then, of course, was the transfer from LibreOffice to Microsoft Word 2013, the subsequent save to PDF and the transcription into flipping book format by Flip PDF Professional (ePageCreator did not have enough resolution for the proper quality and I'm not happy with Flipping Book Publisher because of its inflexibility). Somewhere along the way we lost a few " and ' in the words, among other various difficulties in formatting. It doesn't help that Microsoft Word 2013 can't read the original Word documents. Some of the more really strange and funny results of the scan were things like "Dugger" became "Bugger". Imagine the CoG7 with "Bugger and Dodd"! (Glad that didn't make it into the final!)

    They say not to judge a book by its cover, but in this case, it may be well not to judge a thesis by its apparent typos. We'll work on it.

    Now some of the material comes from sources unavailable to other resources. Ken Durham went to the Seventh Day Baptists to access their library. The Baptists had refused Armstrongists access because they knew that it would put them in a bad light. Ken had to convince them that he was doing valid research without grinding an axe with them -- so the thesis does contain material that was denied to the Cult of Herbert Armstrong.

    I'm personally grateful that it is brief. It is more concise than a lot of the Armstrongist's works which are a whole lot less than honest and are no where near as accurate.

    Sorry for the typos, but it's a production problem and maybe we can get some of it fixed over time.

    1. Yeah, I hate Word with a passion.

      Durham's bibliography struck me as completely inadequate, and a couple of times he failed to maintain academic impartiality. Mind you, I suppose that doesn't count for much at a sectarian school like Calvin. My first reaction was, if that's all you have to do to get a Masters then we could all cook up a thesis over the Summer vacation.

    2. Yes, and I was relieved that I didn't have to figure out how to insert footnotes to learn LYX and the vagaries of LaTeX, though I was also surprised as well (not to worry, I'll be learning it very well in the near future and now, especially since it has integration with Zotero for bibliographies [I was wondering if you used LYX for your theses?]). But yes, I was also disappointed, particularly about the part where he used the Seventh Day Baptist library.

      As for academic impartiality, it would seem that is part of its charm and the very reason it was included on After all, Armstrongists need drama, not some deadenly dull dry tome (although "Fragmentation" did achieve a nice balance, but I think that the same thing could be said about it in places). Academia is foreign to the Troglodytes of this world and what with such short attention spans it's risky to subject them to anything that requires much more attention span of my cat or they will wonder off, looking for adventure (or in the case of the Armstrongists, disaster to support their horrid beliefs in British Israelism ["Look! Look! It must be true! There was another earthquake today and thousands died!"].

      And say, that's a good idea! I can cook up a [sort of] thesis over the summer and put it on the Internet -- with colors, fonts, popups, even movies! Nary an attribution in sight! It works for me! Maybe I could format it to match Dennis Luker's Master's Thesis on how to be a regional director! [Talk about failing to achieve academic standards! Horrors!]

      And yes, I am having fun at this....

    3. I thought that impartiality was an absolute principle, which should be underpinned by objectivity and logic, and be maintained by everyone. Sadly, this is not the case when it comes to the character and writings of HWA, or the wholesome teachings of the bible.

  2. OK, here's one for you, Gavin: Just how likely is it that Robert Coulter will mention the defection of Dugger, let alone Herbert Armstrong and the Worldwide Church of God in The Journey: A History of the Church of God (Seventh Day)? If I were a betting man, I'd bet that sort of thing will be sorted out.

    Taking bets?

  3. Unless you've got some inside information that I don't I'd wager he will cover those things. Not much of a story without the drama!

    1. All that would ignore the fundamental core of the CoG7D these days: They aren't about drama -- they are about family, association, long term relationships with personal evangelizing, doing good works (such as providing free dental services to poor people in Mexico) and having a personal relationship with Jesus. This becomes clearer if you look at the tone of the articles in the Bible Advocate. Mostly happy, cheery with some caution about worldly influences.

      This is not the stuff of the Cult of Herbert Armstrong. Those of us exposed to CoHA have an expectation of hyperbole replete with death, disease, disasters, dystopia promoting the idea that the world is going to hell in a handbasket and they are selling handbaskets -- aggressively. There's nothing mild about the rhetoric decrying immorality and promoting God's Law of the Old Testament as Olde Testament Christians (there can be no such thing, but, as you know, that idea got started with Oliver Cromwell and lives today in Armstrongism).

      The CoG7D folks are not even rabid Adventists, even though they are seemingly built on that foundation. They preach that Jesus will come some day without being too specific about it and relating it to headlines of world news raising the stakes with speculation about the Beast and the Great Tribulation. There's none of that. They phased out the last of that over 30 years ago.

      Even the Seventh Day Adventists are more aggressive than CoG7D. If you were to compare them to standard Protestants, they'd sort of be Lutherans between Catholics and Baptists -- having a lower level of aggression and having more settle peace, which makes their religion very unattractive to Armstrongists because they don't even keep the Olde Testament Feasts! (Although the Lord's Supper is indistinguishable from the Armstrongist's "Passover" except for the grape juice, of course.

      So, no, I wouldn't expect Robert Coulter to mention anything about Herbert Armstrong. I could be wrong, but it just doesn't seem to be the mindset.

      On the other hand, I could be wrong.

      I just don't think on the balance it would be a safe bet, but we'll see.

  4. The sun never sets on the splinters of Adventism, especially rife in the Western Pacific "from Pitcairn to Cairns". There's the "Reform" and the "ReformED" SDAs who emphasize the last syllable to distinguish themselves.

  5. It always struck me as odd that no vestige of Quakerism survived in HWAs belief system. One would expect that Quakerism would have shaped his thinking enough to be detectable. He apparently fully renounced Quakerism to adopt Adventism.

    Sidebar: Quakerism early on adopted a position against slavery. AC Big Sandy leaned in the direction of the Confederacy through the influence of such men as Don Ward and John Robinson. Armstrongism provided the fertile ground for this revival of Southernism to occur.

    When I showed up on the Big Sandy campus in the early Seventies, I had a friend who had been an AC student in Pasadena but was then a campus employee. He was very much interested in the history of the WCG and its Adventist roots. He pointed out places in HWA's writing where HWA specifically opposed the beliefs of the Seventh Day Church of God. The text of his booklets was shaped by a foregoing debate with the CoG7thDay.

    These facts lead me to believe that HWA actually had a commitment to a "belief system", though in error. His beliefs had some thought behind them and they were not just a superficial "sales pitch."

    -- Neo

    1. Surprisingly, these fundamentalist roots survive even today today in Tkach-GCI,
      the "most sophisticated" modern manifestation of the HWA-COG7day division:

      For example, consider Tkach-GCI's amusing & outrageously antiquated Statement of Beliefs:

      "The Holy Scriptures are .. inspired .. They are the fully reliable
      .. and infallible in all matters .."

      Wow, it's hard to say who is Dumber, HWA or Tkach father/son!

    2. >For example, consider Tkach-GCI's amusing & outrageously antiquated Statement of Beliefs:

      "The Holy Scriptures are .. inspired .. They are the fully reliable
      .. and infallible in all matters .."<

      Perhaps you didn't have the time to say why the statement of belief was amusing and outrageous? When you get the time, it would be helpful to readers if you post the evidence or argument in support of your amusement and outrage. So that we can all, at least, smile with you.

    3. I have nothing to sell, it's you, Tkach, CoG7D .., who are trying to sell your
      Bronze-Age Human-Sacrifice Cult to a skeptical scientifically enlightened world.

      You could start by refuting the DNA work pointing to man's early emergence from
      Africa contrary to your claim of humans emerging from Middle East ~6000 yrs ago.

    4. (Posted on behalf of Greg Doudna)

      Neotherm, on your observation on the oddity that no vestige of Quakerism survived in HWA even though he attended an Evangelical Friends Church the first eighteen years of his life--some comments on that. 1) the main reason is the denomination of Quakers HWA was raised in, Evangelical Friends. They had abandoned the historic silent meeting, had adopted paid clergy (anathema to early Quakers), had abandoned the "peace testimony" (pacifism). Traditional Friends consider Evangelical Friends to be "Quaker" about like splinter COG groups consider Evangelical Communion International to be Church of God, i.e., there is an historical family tree connection but very deep differences otherwise. So that is the main context to understand. 2) Nevertheless even in Evangelical Friends some vestiges of traditional Quakerism survive. Some services (I understand) have a short period of "silent worship" (i.e. a few minutes), in which there is group silence with openness to anyone to speak out of that silence. Some Evangelical Friends do retain the historic "peace testimony", opposing war and systemic structures of violence. And they claim the same history or origins going back to George Fox, so there is some overlap. Either there was little or none of this overlap in the HWA family's particular church congregation in Iowa, or else if there was it never "took" with HWA. 3) My father, who was raised in the most conservative, traditional, branch of American Quakers, the "Conservative" or Wilburite Friends who still wear black-and-white and among themselves speak the "language of love" of thee and thou, and otherwise was a devout, sincere WCG member, always told me privately that HWA sure didn't seem to understand basics of Quakerism, for someone who said he was raised Quaker. For example, he commented to me on how HWA referred to old-fashioned Quakers who speak "thee" and "thou" as doing so out of being self-righteous! When that had absolutely nothing to do with it. (It originated as a social protest against vanity of the nobility in speaking of themselves as "royal plural" when that language had real social protest meaning, and then after the language had changed and it no longer had its original social protest meaning, they retained it simply as tradition among themselves, and it is humble and beautiful--I have been among Quakers speaking this language, and these people are anything but self-righteous.) HWA simply didn't have a clue on that point. In my book "Showdown at Big Sandy" I framed the story as HWA as an apostate Quaker in ironic parallel to my own detour and return to my own Quaker roots. But this is perhaps a fuller context on that, as I understand it.

      Greg Doudna

    5. "Perhaps you didn't have the time to say why the statement of belief was amusing and outrageous? When you get the time, it would be helpful to readers if you post the evidence or argument in support of your amusement and outrage. So that we can all, at least, smile with you."

      Good one, Tom! Don't ever change - you've got that tongue-in-cheek humor down pat! You almost had me believing you were serious!

    6. @ Tom:
      "You could start by refuting the DNA work pointing to man's early emergence from
      Africa contrary to (Bible)"

      The normally garrulous Christians enter a Vow of Silence?

  6. Hey Gavin,
    It appears my comments aren't being published. Is it an accident, or have my comments been deemed unworthy?

    1. Well, here's the thing. Your comments seem to be largely "Mother-in Law" advice about how you'd like me to change certain things about my blog. You know, the MiL who wants to rearrange the lounge furniture five minutes after arriving for a two-week visit.

      What I disclose about myself on the "About" page is, for example, what I'm comfortable with. Considering you blog under a nom de plume (!) and I don't, your curiosity doesn't impress me greatly.

      You question whether I need to moderate based on the fact that you don't. Again, all power to you, but I'm unconvinced, and that isn't going to change because you don't like it.

      You find something I've written unclear and ambiguous. I think it's pretty clear except under the most tendentious criteria. No one else seems to have read it that way.

      Earlier on you even rapped me over the knuckles over how I'd configured the comments section. Here's the news: I like the way it's configured.

      I enjoy your blog, which is why I link to it in the sidebar, so I think we can probably reach a mutually respectful understanding based on the principle that I won't tell you how to organise your blog if you quit doing the same for me.

      Of course I'm always happy to create a posting about "twenty things I find incredibly irritating about the way Sabio runs his blog..."

  7. The DNA work seems to only work well for British Israelism and the Mormons.

    1. I'm not sure what you mean by that, Doug. I attended a lecture at Princeton last year where the presenter showed how tracing mytochondrial DNA has enabled scientists to determine the migration of mankind out of Africa and into the rest of the world. Tracing gene differences and mutations, they are able to trace who migrated from where, and approximately when, even tracing multiple migrations to the same area. For example, they can trace which branches of mankind traveled through Asia and into America, which peoples originally populated the Phillippines and how they were later mixed with subsequent migrations, etc.

    2. "The DNA work seems to only work well for British Israelism and the Mormons."

      Nice bluff, but not gonna fly; Christians have their work cut out for them!