Sunday, March 13, 2005

on the Living Church of God

to date, police have not yet found why the gunman opened fire at the worship service of the Living Church of God in brookfield, wisconsin on march 12, killing seven people and then himself. in the face of this tragedy, one can't help but join the denomination in its prayers for the injured and for the families of the deceased and of the gunman.

upon learning that the denomination is an offshoot of the Worldwide Church of God (WCG), i became even sadder, as i had followed the history and the teachings of the WCG for many years. before the mid-1990's and certainly before the death of its founder herbert w. armstrong in 1986, the WCG held many beliefs and doctrines which were considered by many as diverging from the orthodox faith of traditional christianity. i will refer to some of these beliefs later. but when the WCG realized the error that it had been teaching for decades, the leadership of the denomination began to gently steer its members toward orthodoxy during the 1990's.

when the WCG in the mid-1990's publicly renouced some of the doctrines that it had found erroneous, many people fled from the denomination. when mr. armstrong passed away he left a denomination that numbered 120,000 people in attendance every week and that had an annual income of around $200 million. the denomination's membership is now half of what it was. various groups split from the WCG, some of which held on to the earlier teachings of the denomination.

that was truly a painful and heartbreaking time for the WCG as friends and even family members were torn--some leaving to form new denominations, while others stayed with the WCG. but those who stayed regarded the denomination's change in its doctrines as grace-filled. it was a real conversion by a congregation--moving from a fundamentalist interpretation of scripture to something more or less orthodox. the WCG subsequently became part of the national association of evangelicals. it has a nice narrative of its history here.

so, it is within this historical context that the Living Church of God was founded. its present leader, roderick c. meredith, was one of the original ministers ordained by the late herbert w. armstrong in december 1952.

as i looked at the official statement of fundamental beliefs of the Living Church of God, i can detect remnants of the doctrines previously held by the WCG. for instance, the belief that christians are called to worship on saturday is one, matching the old covenant's command to worship on the sabbath. they also believe that the old covenant command to observe the jewish high holy days is still binding on christians. so, they observe feasts such as passover, the feast of unleavened bread, the feasts of trumpets, tabernacles, and the day of atonement.

it also teaches that the descendants of the anglo-saxon tribe are directly descended from the ancient israelites, in particular, the lost tribes of manasseh and ephraim. moreover, the Living Church of God believes that the Godhead is comprised of the Father and the Son, and that the Holy Spirit is not a Being but is rather the "very essense, the mind, life, and power of God," contradicting the first ecumenical council of constantinople, held in the year 381, which taught the divinity of the Holy Spirit. the denomination holds other doctrines which can be viewed here. but perhaps it is the latter teaching on the Trinity that should stand out. most of these teachings stem from armstrong's own interpretation of the bible.

i should note that armstrong and the leaders of the WCG taught these beliefs sincerely, without any intention to maliciously deceive. so it was a very courageous move on the denomination's part to publicly admit its error and risk losing its membership. that they did just that deserves admiration, in my book.

and in a way one can understand why some, including the members of the Living Church, have chosen to hold on to these teachings. it can be more than disconcerting and dismaying to be told that the doctrines one has learned over the years are actually false. it takes a lot of humility to allow oneself to undergo conversion--and i should think double humility to undergo doctrinal conversion.

anyway, this is a sad time for the members, and for one who has so followed their teachings and beliefs for years, i truly feel their present loss.

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