Grace Communion International
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Grace Communion International (GCI), formerly named the Radio Church of God and the Worldwide Church of God, is a Christian denomination based in Charlotte, North Carolina, US.
According to the organization's website, the denomination has 30,000 members in 550 churches in 70 countries, is structured in the episcopal model and is a member of the National Association of Evangelicals.
In 1934, Herbert W. Armstrong, a former advertising agent turned radio- and televangelist, founded the Radio Church of God, a radio ministry in Eugene, Oregon. Armstrong's biography states that he had formerly been ordained in 1931 by the Oregon Conference of the Church of God (Seventh Day), an Adventist group, but split with them in 1933. On January 7, 1934, Armstrong began hosting a broadcast on a local 100-watt radio station KORE in Eugene. The program was essentially a condensed church service on the air, with hymn singing featured along with Armstrong's message. Armstrong later named his program The World Tomorrow, perhaps inspired by the theme of the 1939 World's Fair, "The World of Tomorrow". To facilitate the work of the growing church, Armstrong incorporated it on March 3, 1946, as the Radio Church of God. Although his views were rejected by the local congregation, he gained a following through his World Tomorrow broadcasts and The Plain Truth magazine.
In 1947, Armstrong incorporated his California ministry, relocated the church's headquarters to Pasadena, California, and founded Ambassador College as the denomination's educational arm. The broadcast of The World Tomorrow went into Europe on Radio Luxembourg on January 7, 1953. In 1968, the movement was renamed the Worldwide Church of God (WCG).
Under Herbert W. Armstrong (1934 -1986)Edit
The Worldwide Church of God adhered to the teachings of its founder, Herbert W. Armstrong, until his death. Armstrong practiced a blend of Christian fundamentalism with some tenets of Judaism and Seventh-Day Sabbath doctrine. Armstrong preached that Britain and the United States were populated by descendants of two "lost tribes" of Ancient Israel. Armstrong's doctrine included strict observation of the Saturday Sabbath, annual festivals and holy days described in Leviticus Chapter 23; the distinction between the flesh of ritually clean and unclean animals listed in Leviticus Chapter 11; the forbidding of medical interventions, and the required payment of three tithes to the church. Armstrong rejected what he regarded as pagan practices and beliefs that had been absorbed into mainstream Christianity. These included the idea of the holy Trinity, and the celebrations of Christmas, Easter, Halloween, and birthdays. Members were encouraged to follow a dress code during services. Armstrong's doctrine strictly opposed divorce and remarriage, and encouraged members who had divorced to seek reconciliation with their former spouses, even if they had remarried. These practices are still observed in several of the Church's remaining branches.
Armstrong explained that those "called" by God, who believed the gospel of the Kingdom, and received God's Spirit upon full-immersion baptism, became part of the true, biblical, 'Church of God'. Ministers were obligated to "disfellowship" any in their congregations who caused trouble or division. Such "disfellowshipments" were announced at services before the assembled congregation.
In 1956, Armstrong published1975 in Prophecy!, a pamphlet that predicted catastrophic draught, famine, and epidemic disease in the United States between 1965 and 1972, as well as an upcoming nuclear world war instigated by underground German Nazis, the subsequent enslavement of Christians in Europe, concluding in the return of Jesus Christ. Armstrong predicted that these events would take place for three-and-a-half years, and would conclude by 1975. Because of Armstrong's emphasis on these prophetic dates, the church grew quickly in the late 1960s. On January 5, 1968, the church was renamed the Worldwide Church of God.
By the mid-1950’s, Armstrong had his son Garner Ted Armstrong take over as host of the radio and television versions of The World Tomorrow. By the late 1960’s, Garner Ted was executive vice president of the church, vice-chancellor of Ambassador College (which by then had two more campuses in Texas and the United Kingdom), and executive editor of church publications including Tomorrow’s World, Good News, and The Plain Truth.
Armstrong's first wife Loma died in 1966.
1970s: Scandal & ConflictEdit
By the early 1970's, the church began to splinter. Members were disappointed that the events predicted by Herbert Armstrong had not occurred. Because church literature such as The Wonderful World Tomorrow, 1975 in Prophecy!, and many others had attempted to pinpoint the date of Christ's return, members continued to wait anxiously for the Second Coming. Some of Armstrong's evangelists, such as Gerald Waterhouse, had presented detailed, step-by-step accounts of the Second Coming in their sermons, which included Armstrong himself as one of two witnesses of the Book of Revelation.
In an article in the May 15, 1972, edition of Time magazine, Herbert Armstrong was reported to have ousted Garner Ted from his leadership roles in the church, on the grounds that Garner Ted was "in the bonds of Satan." When questioned about the specifics of his accusation, the elder Armstrong responded, "Look up I Timothy, Chapter 3, first five or six verses and Titus, Chapter 1, verse 6.". The article surmised:
Both passages make two points in common: that a bishop or church elder must be faithful to his wife and rule strictly over believing children. Had handsome Garner Ted succumbed to an old and common temptation? His father was cryptic: "The fault was spiritual, not moral."
In 1972, the Elder Armstrong declared Garner Ted repentant and named him the divinely ordained successor in the church after the latter signed a letter stating "I have sinned against my wife, the children and the church", though neither specified what Garner Ted's transgression had been. While some congregants speculated adultery, others guessed that father and son had disagreed on the format of their radio and television programs, or on some tenets of the church, such as the Elder Armstrong's vocal support for racial segregation. By March 1974, multiple ministers had quit or been ousted as dissidents, with several citing the church's unfairly lax response to Garner Ted's violations, denouncing elements of Armstrong's doctrine, and founding offshoot churches. Thirty-five ministers formed the Associated Church of God in Washington, D.C. Texas Minister Barry Chase sent an open letter to church members signaling his departure, citing "monumental immorality in the highest echelons of this church." Alfred Carozzo, former WCG director of ministers in the western US, sent an open letter to WCG members denouncing the church's tithe system, the Armstrongs' lavish lifestyle and expenditures, Armstrong's positions on divorce and remarriage, and alleging that Armstrong had treated Garner Ted leniently compared to church members accused of similar trespasses. Carozzo incorporated his own offshoot, the 20th Century Church of God. More departures followed, some retaining the Church of God component in their names based on Armstrong's assertion that this is the name God calls the Church in the Bible.
In 1977, Herbert Armstrong married Ramona Martin, a woman nearly fifty years his junior, and moved to Tucson, Arizona while recovering from a heart attack. During this time, Armstrong administered and guided church affairs through Stanley Rader, the church's general counsel, and the church administration. The church continued to be headquartered in Pasadena.
That year, six former students of Ambassador College published a pamphlet alleging that the church misused funds and violated church members' civil rights. The pamphlet asserted that the church's tithing system reduced members to poverty, costing up to 40% of their income, to support the Armstrongs' lavish lifestyle, including multiple homes, expensive cars, and a gulf stream jet.
By 1978, Armstrong had disfellowshipped Garner Ted and ousted him from the church permanently. Garner Ted began his own church in 1978 in Tyler, Texas, called the Church of God International. Herbert and Garner Ted Armstrong remained estranged for the remainder of the elder Armstrong's life.
About this time the gap between father and son was set when Garner Ted threatened to expose the secret of Herbert's molesting his sister in the later 1930s.
Despite the scandals of 1972, the church continued to grow in the 1970s. Armstrong began to preach around the world, with the help of some public relations aides and King Leopold of Belgium. He met with many world leaders to whom he would present expensive gifts, then preached to them simplistically that there were "two ways" of life: one of giving and the other, the way of getting.
Ambassador International Cultural FoundationEdit
During the 1960s, "Armstrong had sought to put into stronger action what he later termed God's way of give", which was said to include "the way of character, generosity, cultural enrichment, true education: of beautifying the environment and caring for fellow man." He began undertaking humanitarian projects in underprivileged locales around the world, which led to the creation of the church-run Ambassador International Cultural Foundation (AICF) in 1975. The Foundation worked in several countries, providing staffing and funds to fight illiteracy, create schools for disabled people, set up mobile schools, and conduct several archaeological digs at significant biblical sites. The church auditorium hosted, at highly subsidized ticket prices, hundreds of performances by noted artists such as Luciano Pavarotti, Vladimir Horowitz, Bing Crosby, Marcel Marceau, and Bob Hope. Armstrong used church tithe money to pay for these performances without informing his congregation of how "God's holy tithe" was being spent.
Quest periodical was published monthly by AICF from July 1977 to September 1981. Originally named Human Potential, the project was directed by Stanley Rader as a secular outreach of the church-funded AICF. Quest publishers hired a professional staff unrelated to the church to create a high-quality publication devoted to the humanities, travel, and the arts. The periodical was created in the aftermath of Armstrong's poorly received 1975 in Prophecy!, a publication which caused accusations of false prophecy to spread like wildfire. (The use of the year 1975 was defended by church ministers as a device to explain biblical prophecy, by contrasting it with the scientific world's declaration of 1975 as the year of technological "Utopia").
The AICF become secular in its approach and thinking and the church began to cut back on its funding. Eventually it was discontinued by Armstrong and its assets were sold to other interests.
Several members in good standing with the WCG prompted the State of California to investigate charges of malfeasance by Rader and Herbert W. Armstrong. A coalition of six ex-ministers brought accusations of misappropriation of funds against Herbert W. Armstrong and Stanley Rader to the Attorney General of California, contending that the two men were siphoning millions of dollars for their personal indulgences. In 1979, California Attorney General George Deukmejian placed the church campus in Pasadena into financial receivership for a half year. The State of California went through the church's records.
The matter gained the attention of Mike Wallace who investigated the church in a report for 60 Minutes. Wallace alleged that there had been lavish secret expenditures, conflict of interest, insider deals, posh homes and lifestyles in the higher ranks, and the heavy involvement of Stanley Rader in financial manipulation. No legal charges were leveled against Herbert W. Armstrong, Stanley Rader, or the WCG. Wallace invited Rader to appear on 60 Minutes on April 15, 1979. Wallace showed Rader a secret tape recording in which Herbert Armstrong clearly stated to C. Wayne Cole, who was made temporary acting head of the church by Herbert Armstrong, that Rader was attempting to take over the church after Armstrong's death, reasoning that the donated tithe money was the incentive and quite a "magnet" to Stan Rader. Rader abruptly ended the interview. This tape was made during a conversation about Stanley Rader by Herbert W. Armstrong, and C. Wayne Cole. Wayne Cole gave the tape to 60 Minutes for use in its exposé of Rader.
In the meantime, Herbert W. Armstrong switched the WCG Inc. corporations to "corporate sole" status, making him the sole officer and responsible party for the affairs of the corporations. All income, tithes and checks were then made payable to the personal name of Herbert W. Armstrong and sent to his home in Tucson, Arizona.
In referring to the investigation of the California Attorney General, Rader wrote Against the Gates of Hell: The Threat to Religious Freedom in America in 1980, in which he contended that his fight with the Attorney General was solely about the government's circumventing religious freedoms rather than about abuse of public trust or fraudulent misappropriation of tithe funds.
The California Second Court of Appeals overturned the decision on procedural grounds and added as dicta, "We are of the opinion that the underlying action [i.e., the state-imposed receivership] and its attendant provisional remedy of receivership were from the inception constitutionally infirm and predestined to failure."
Stanley Rader left his positions within the church in 1981. While remaining a member, he left the public spotlight as an attorney, retired, but continued to receive payments from the WCG on his lifetime contract, $300,000 per year, until his death from acute pancreatic cancer on July 2, 2002.
Analysis of ArmstrongismEdit
Walter Martin, in his book The Kingdom of the Cults, (1965) devoted 34 pages to the group, claiming that Armstrong borrowed freely from Seventh-day Adventist, Jehovah's Witnesses and Mormon doctrines. Armstrong said that all Church doctrine could be proven simply and effectively through the Bible.
After Armstrong (1986-2009)Edit
Armstrong's death and doctrinal changesEdit
On January 16, 1986, Herbert Armstrong died in Pasadena, California. Shortly before his death, on January 7, Armstrong appointed Joseph W. Tkach Sr. to succeed him "... as pastor general, in the difficult times ahead". Joseph W. Tkach took on leadership of the denomination. Tkach and other ministers came to the conclusion that a great many of their doctrines were not biblical.
Changes under new LeadershipEdit
As early as 1988, Joseph W. Tkach Sr. began to make doctrinal changes, at first quietly and slowly, but then openly and radically. The changes were presented as new understandings of Christmas and Easter, Babylon and the harlot, British Israelism, Saturday Sabbath, and other doctrines.
Tkach Sr. directed the church theology towards mainstream evangelical Christian belief, against the wishes of some of the membership. This caused much disillusionment among the membership and another rise of splinter groups. The changes, the church admitted, had brought about "catastrophic results," though they believe that it is spiritually for the best. During the tenure of Joseph Tkach Sr., the church's membership declined by 80%.
All of Herbert Armstrong's writings were withdrawn from print by the WCG, though they are still made available by other denominations. In the 2004 video production Called To Be Free, former dean of WCG's Ambassador College Greg Albrecht, declared Herbert Armstrong to be both a false prophet and a heretic.
In 1995, Tkach Sr died of cancer and his son, Joseph Tkach Jr., became the leader of the WCG. Tkach, Jr. affirmed his father's reforms within the church, and continued to make changes. As a result, many members and ministers left and formed other churches that conformed to many of the teachings of Armstrong.
Name Change (2009)Edit
In 2009, the WCG changed its name to Grace Communion International. In October 2018, Joe Tkach Jr. retired and installed Greg Williams as the President of GCI.
Contemporary Beliefs and practicesEdit
Much of GCI's current doctrine follows mainstream Protestant beliefs that faith in Jesus is the only way to receive salvation and that the Bible is the divinely inspired and the infallible word of God.
In 2007, the WCG decided to allow women to serve as pastors and elders. This decision was reached after several years of study. Debby Bailey became the first female elder in the WCG in 2007.
Name change to Grace Communion InternationalEdit
According to the organization's press release regarding their name change, the name Grace Communion International was chosen to "precisely describe" the denomination as "an international community, bound together by God's grace.”
The name change was revealed in 2009 during a conference of over a thousand ministers and their spouses that had gathered from around the world. The theme of the conference was “Renewed in Christ” and reflected the importance of the changes that had occurred within the church. The new name for the church was seen to truly reflect the nature of the church as it had been transformed in past years. GCI felt that these changes had come about by pastors being led by the Holy Spirit with a close examination of scripture.
Grace Communion SeminaryEdit
Grace Communion Seminary (GCS) originated from Ambassador College. Classes are delivered in an online format. Accredited graduate programs include courses on the Bible, theology, church history, and ministry.
Grace Communion International has a hierarchical polity. Its ecclesiastical policies are determined by the Advisory Council of Elders. Members of the Advisory Council are appointed by the President. The President, who also holds the title of Pastor General, is chief executive and ecclesiastical officer of the denomination. A Doctrinal Advisory Team may report to the Advisory Council on the church's official doctrinal statements, epistemology, or apologetics. The President may pocket veto doctrinal positions he determines to be heretical. However, the President is also a member of the Doctrinal Advisory Team, and so he is aware of and involved in the activities of that committee. Historically, Presidents, as chairmen of the board of directors, have appointed their own successor. This and the President's power to appoint and remove members of the Advisory Council have remained areas of concern even among those who applaud the church's doctrinal changes.
The Church maintains national offices and satellite offices in multiple countries. Membership and tithe income originate primarily from the eastern United States.
Regional and localEdit
In the United States, denominational contact with local assemblies or local church home small group meetings, i.e., cell churches, is facilitated by district superintendents, each of which is responsible for a large number of churches in a geographical region (such as Florida or the Northeast) or in a specialized language group (such as Spanish-speaking congregations).
Local churches are led by a senior pastor, pastoral leadership team (with one person designated as a congregational pastoral leader), each of which is supervised by a district pastoral leader. Some senior pastors are responsible for a single local church, but many are responsible for working in two or more churches. Salary compensation for the paid local church pastor, if available, is determined by the local church.
The early WCG used a three-tithe system, under which members were expected to give a tithe or 10% "of their increase", usually interpreted as a family's income.
- The first tithe, 10% of a member's total income, was sent to church headquarters to finance "the work", which was all operations of the church, as well as broadcasting and publishing the church's message.
- The second tithe was saved by the individual member to fund the member's (and his family's) observance of the annual holy days, especially the 8-day-long Feast of Tabernacles. Unlike the first tithe, these funds were not sent into the church but retained by the member.
- A third tithe was required in the third and sixth years of a personal seven-year tithing cycle, and it was also sent to headquarters. The third tithe was used to support the indigent, widows, and orphans - distribution was decided privately at the discretion of the ministry.
In contrast to many other churches' religious services, the practice of the WCG was not to pass around offering plates during weekly church services but only during holy day church services (seven days each year). These funds were considered "freewill offerings" and regarded as entirely separate from regular tithes. The church also gathered funds in the form of donations from "co-workers," those who read the church's free literature or watched the weekly TV show but did not actually attend services.
Under Joseph W. Tkach Sr., the mandatory nature of the church's three-tithe system was abolished, and it was suggested that tithes could be calculated on net, rather than gross, income. GCI headquarters were subsequently downsized. The denomination sold much of its property, including sites used for festivals, camps built for teenagers, college campuses, and private aircraft. They discontinued publishing all the books, booklets and magazines published by Armstrong.
To further economize, the church sold its properties in Pasadena and purchased an office building in Glendora, California. That building was sold in 2018 and the home office was moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. Formerly, the church's membership - meeting in rented halls on Saturdays such as public school buildings, dance halls, hotels and other venues - sent all tithe donations directly to the denomination. Under the new financial reporting system, local churches typically use the majority of funds locally for ministry, including buying or constructing local church buildings for use by the congregations with around 15% going to the denominational office; depending on how the congregation is affiliated with the denomination.
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- Frank S. Mead, Samuel S. Hill, and Craig D. Atwood, Handbook of Denominations in the United States. Abingdon Press, 2001. ISBN 0-687-06983-1.
- J. Michael Feazell, The Liberation of the Worldwide Church of God. Zondervan, 2003. ISBN 0-310-25011-0.
- Gerald Flurry, Malachi's Message to God's Church Today. "A thorough explanation of how and why the Worldwide Church of God rejected Herbert Armstrong's teachings, and how to hold fast to Herbert Armstrong's teachings."
- Walter Martin, The Kingdom of the Cults. Revised and Updated Edition, Bethany House, 2003. ISBN 0-7642-2821-8. See Appendix A, pp. 471-494.
- Larry Nichols and George Mather, Discovering the Plain Truth: How the Worldwide Church of God Encountered the Gospel of Grace. InterVarsity Press, 1998. ISBN 0-8308-1969-X
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- Official website Grace Communion International
- Statement of beliefs
- Archive of the Ambassador Report publication published from 1975 through 1999
- Exit & Support Network - aiding those spiritually abused by Worldwide Church of God and offshoots
- God's Work NOW Holding fast to the teachings of Herbert W. Armstrong
- Bad News Religion: The Virus That Attacks God's Grace by Greg Albrecht, World Publishing (2004),ISBN 0-529-11954-4
- The Journal: News of the Churches of God independent non-denominational monthly newspaper
- Word of His Grace Ministries Support and Biblical Backing for ex-'Armstrong' members
- "Called to be Free" Documenting how the doctrinal changes in WWCG occurred after Armstrong's death, from the point of view of current WWCG leadership