Saturday 30 December 2006

Predictions for 2007

The inimitable Douglas Becker (that's not him in the picture) has suggested some predictions for 2007. Sounds like fun. Here are a few to get the ball rolling - feel free to chip in with your own!

Disclaimer: No crystal ball has been used, no apocalyptic texts twisted, no astrological charts checked, no witch of Endor consulted and no dice tossed.

* At least one major split will occur in one of the 5 biggest COG groups.

* One of the smaller splinters will quietly fold up and die.

* More of the Armstrong-generation "leading ministers" and administrators will shuffle off the scene.

* Joe Tkach will retain his unelected President for Life position in the WCG.

* COG membership will continue to decline.

* People will die because of the healing doctrine in hardline sects like PCG.

* WCG will resist any calls for greater transparency.

* RCG's website rankings will slip down the greasy poll to a more realistic level.

* Gerry Flurry will discover a new truth.

* The advertising content of The Journal will get even crazier.

* Rod Meredith will call a day of fasting.

* Ron Weinland will start qualifying and backtracking as he realises that he's painted himself into a date-setting corner.

* Nobody will flee to Petra.

The first three polls

Rather than ditch the previous poll results completely, they're being refiled here as blog entries in their own right. The others will follow once they've "done time" in the side bar.
Exactly what can be learned about the AW demographic from these "snapshots" I'm not sure, except that we're not the bunch of raving, demon-possessed "liberals" and "atheists" some might like to imagine. ;-)

1. Worldwide Women in the Pulpit.

2. Who do you say that he is?

3. Heading for Oblivion

Thursday 28 December 2006

Slip-sliding away

It's still a while before the scheduled monthly Alexa check of COG Web rankings (due mid-January) but one interim result already stands out. LCG is slip-sliding away. In fact, the most popular LCG website, number 12 on the list AW monitors, isn't even an official site. It's Bob Thiel.

Yes, Bob's “COGWriter” site is burning off the other Meredith minions. Here's the breakdown as it affects LCG only (as of today):

12. COGWriter (331,093)
13. Tomorrow's World (349,263)
22. LCG (903,452)
**. COGL member site (1,010,071)

Despite the squatzillions LCG throws at their websites (and if they don't, they need to try it!) Bob is outstripping the sect's best web designers and agencies. It must be an embarrassment of good fortune for Bob, who boasts how effective his church's tithe-funded media ministry is. If you click across to, and place your ear close to the speaker, you may even hear the sound of teeth gnashing in Charlotte. Rod may want to bring Bob to HQ to head up his Philadelphian Web Work.

Tuesday 26 December 2006

A COG Bible?

One of the scariest things I've heard of in recent days is Fred Coulter's plans to produce a “translation” of the whole Bible. Coulter, as you probably know, abandoned the ministry of the WCG in the late 70s to establish the Biblical Church of God which swiftly sank without trace. Fred then founded the Christian Biblical Church of God.

Fred's telephone directory-sized New Testament is already with us, it came out a couple of years ago, built around the text of his revised Harmony of the Gospels (to his credit, Fred at least knows how to read Greek, based on his time at AC.) His “Faithful Version” reads like a slightly updated and rather dull KJV, nothing like the first edition of his Harmony which was then in contemporary English (he's since moved to adopt a severely literal translation approach.) Most notable in his New Testament are the copious and rambling essays and explanations that have blown out the book to 880 pages. By my estimate at least 50% is made up of commentary. A hardback copy of Fred's Faithful New Testament (full title: The New Testament in its Original Order: A Faithful Version with Commentary) will set you back around $50 on Amazon, exclusive of postage.

Individual translators, as opposed to committees, have often produced colorful and stirring versions. James Moffatt, J.B. Phillips, Eugene Peterson (The Message) and John Henson (Good As New) spring to mind (Fred wastes 3 ½ pages attacking Henson in his NT preface, and 2 more attacking Peterson, but Fred simply isn't in this league.) What is remarkable though is his reliance on a corrupt Greek text - “the Stephens text of 1550” (which, of course, he passionately defends at tedious length as the most accurate!) The Stephens in question is “Stephanus” (Robert Etienne), a French printer who produced a revision of Erasmus' Greek text. This is part of the "Textus Receptus" tradition out of which the KJV came. But there are problems.

“No translation can be better than the text on which it is based... those were the days before the art of serious textual criticism had begun. They were able to use only those manuscripts that had been available to Erasmus (which he recognized to be defective) and to the Parisian printer Stephanus... These manuscripts were mostly of the Byzantine (or Koine) family of texts, which subsequent research has demonstrated to be amongst the least trustworthy.” (Robinson, The Thoughtful Guide to the Bible, 2004, p. 269-270.)

“When the AV/KJV was translated, the oldest and best Greek manuscripts had not then been discovered. The earliest used by Erasmus for his 1516 edition of the Greek NT dates back no further than the tenth century.” (Dewey, Which Bible? A Guide to English Translations, 2004, p. 195.)

Now Fred is “doing” the Old Testament. But wait, does Fred actually know any Hebrew? Not that I'm aware of.

The strategy seems to be to revise an already obscure translation called the Modern King James Version to produce an even more obscure one. Fred has paid out $20,000 for this privilege (courtesy, one assumes, of his tithe-paying supporters.) Troublesome verses are being duly “COGified”, so Genesis 1:1-2 will now read “ In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. And the earth became without form and void...” The inspired marginal notations are migrating into the text itself!

In essence this doesn't seem much different from Joseph Smith's rewrite of the KJV to produce the “Inspired Version” (still published, last I heard, by Herald House in Independence, MO.)

Fred has also decided to structure his Bible version “in its original order.” Original order? Certainly there's precedent for reordering the books of the Bible, but this one (which owes a good deal to Ernest Martin) has little to recommend it.

There is the consolation of knowing that the Coulter Bible, when it arrives, will be little noticed, as with his existing – and widely ignored – New Testament. This is largely because no other COG is about to give a rival the satisfaction of citing his Bible version in their own publications. Unless you are a collector of uncommon or abstruse Bibles, you may want to give this one a miss.

Saturday 23 December 2006

2006 highlights

It has been another rare and wonderful year in the history of the Churches of God. How quickly we forget the stories that made waves in our little pond over the last 12 months, so here is a quick reprise:

GOODBYES: Brian Knowles called it a day as a columnist for The Journal. Syd Hull jumped ship from LCG to reappear on the deck of the tug-boat SS Pack. Charles Bryce jumped ship from LCG and is still floating somewhere. Herberth Cisneros, UCG rep in El Salvador, rowed the lifeboat across to LCG but wasn't allowed to board. Dennis Leap walked the plank on the garbage scow SS Flurry and hasn't been seen since.

PUNCH-UPS: Mike Minton pulled the plug on The Painful Truth, and a heated war of words ensued on the PT forum. Eventually John Bowers, with the help of PT-founder Ed Mentell, resurrected the site.

SING ALONG: WCG dumped Dwight Armstrong's hymns into the public domain.

STICKS & STONES: WCG became Grace International Fellowship -- no wait, make that Grace International Communion -- no wait, make that WCG again.

FUNNY MAN: Jerold Aust, UCG minister and writer, shares racist humor directed at Asians on his blog .

PREDICTIONS: Ron Weinland declares 2008 the year of God's final witness.

RESURRECTIONS: After a 5 month absence AW returned in blog form.

BEST MATES: Clyde Kilough drops by for beer and pretzels with Rod Meredith at LCG HQ.

THOU SHALT NOT: blog. Kevin Denee reports the Packatollah's edict. RCG rewrites the Denee article to remove the Great One's name after the article achieves instant infamy.

CONDESCENSION: Joe Tkach clings to the Cuckoo Throne, but graciously deigns to admit women to the inner circle of the ordained.

POLITICAL NEUTRALITY: Melvin Rhodes - his ongoing display of "objective" and "impartial" journalism in The Good News. What an inspiration!

PAGE TURNERS: COG authors have had a busy year.
* Ron Weinland, 2008: God's Final Witness. Very weird.
* Greg Doudna, Showdown at Big Sandy. Revealing!
* David Hulme, Identity, Ideology and the Future of Jerusalem. Pointless.
* Thomas Geiger, Martyrdom in Milwaukee. Misnamed.
* John Morgan, Flying Free. Honest.
* James Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty. Provocative.
* Stephen Flurry, Raising the Ruins. Doh!

Wednesday 20 December 2006

Putting Mark back where he belongs

You might not know it from the Ambassador College Correspondence Course, but one of the first things students of the New Testament learn about is a little something called "Marcan priority."

The short explanation is that Mark, not Matthew, is the first Gospel, and by looking at the ways Matthew and Luke adapt Mark you can learn an awful lot about their agendas.

What do the 21st century COGs think of that? Who knows. Most COGs are too busy fiddling with their proof texts to pay much attention to issues like this. Fred Coulter has an opinion though, he thinks Matthew was the first Gospel writer, and he wrote it "at the time of Jesus' ministry from 26 to 30 AD." This remarkable statement is pretty much in line with Fred's other "scholarly" opinions. His "Faithful Version" deserves to be a party conversation piece if only because of the bloopers in its copious and repetitive notes.

We also know what James Tabor thinks, because he's addressed this very issue in his latest blog entry. Tabor goes further by drawing out what he sees as some implications of Marcan priority.

Whether or not you agree with Tabor's conclusions, Marcan Priority is pretty much one of the assured results of New Testament scholarship, whether among Catholics, Evangelicals or traditional Protestants. Sorry Fred.

After Jesus

A quick nod to those with access to CNN to check out the doco After Jesus: The First Christians, screening in the lead-up to Xmas. It features the incredible Bart Ehrman (the guy pictured), Amy-Jill Levine and Marvin Meyer. You'll need to check out listings for your region and time zone.

Hey, in exchange for two hours in front of the TV with a bowl of salted peanuts and a Steinlager or two, you'll get to know 97.4% more than Garner Ted Armstrong ever picked up over a lifetime of winging it.

If you can't get CNN, or you just want a taste of the program in advance, you can read questions posed to Levine and Meyer online.

Monday 18 December 2006

WCG loses 86 to 2

According to a posting on the JLF board, 86 Tkach congregations have disappeared since 1999. Eighty six. Two have been formed in that time. Net loss: 84.

Yes, the Lord sure has blessed the WCG, as Oral Roberts used to say, "real good." Or was that someone else?

And the credit goes to Joe and the team out in Glendora. Take a bow guys. Now Mike, no need to hide at the back. I think we all feel a praise chorus coming on!

Okay, so the JLF writer (Anne) has a proven track record, and featured several times as a guest writer on the old AW. She's going to have the details available in the near future. And, as Anne points out, these figures don't "cover the human loss and what condition the remaining congregations are in."

But 86... that's congregations, brethren! Disbanded, gone, kaput! In seven years. And that's just in the USA!

[Drag out calculator: 86 divided by 7, um, where's that = key?] That's twelve congregations down the gurgler per annum! One every month.

Twelve? Seven years? Quick, someone contact Willie Dankenbring and crack open the Book of Daniel: prophecy marches on!

No, okay, just kidding.

Now remind me again, Joe is still Pastor General and President because...

Sunday 17 December 2006

To Infidel and back over a flat white

I woke up this morning as an Atheist. This was a complete surprise as I fell asleep last night reading a book on church history. Well, OK, it was a reasonably boring chapter, but hardly enough to drive me into the ranks of the Godless Infidels.

But the evidence was incontrovertible. There in my in-tray was another forwarded message from that fount of all wisdom, the Original WCG Yahoo group.

"WEBSITE ATTACKING ME: An athiest [sic] recently attacked British-Israelite magazines by using the typical leftist ploy of 'guilt by association'.

"Imagine if a Christian or Jew quoted or used research such as an encyclopedia by an athiest [sic] or a book on the life of tigers by a Hindi [sic] - does that mean that such a one was pro-Hindi [sic]?

"The lack of thinking by these anti-British-Israel extremists is amazing ..."

Now the guy responsible is "Craig" and his moniker is "Surfer11", and that just happens to be the chap who is mentioned in the December 13 posting. I guess he was upset, but I need to make one or two small points of clarification.

1. The "attack" was on anti-Semitic, racist bigot Sheldon Emry and a particularly bizarre version of British-Israelism, not on Craig.

2. "Athiest" isn't in the dictionary.

3. Hindi is a language, not a religion.

Puzzled, I headed out for a Sunday newspaper and a decent coffee. Having returned, I'm now fully recovered from my brief dalliance with "Athiesm". But I do have a concern for Craig...

After all, he is a leading light in the BI movement, a widely read authority on the subject with a book to his credit and innumerable articles appearing on various websites. In other words, Craig is one of BI's elite thinkers, an intellectual giant in the field. Yet, judging from his comments on Yahoo...

1. He can't spell Atheist, despite using the word freely.

2. He thinks Hindi is a religion.

3. He endorses a website without doing any apparent research (it took me 5 minutes using Google to discover Emry's background.)

4. He labels me as an "Athiest", which is leaping to a conclusion based on --- what? Maybe he thinks it means non-fundamentalist. Maybe I should ask for my BTh course fees back...

It hardly inspires confidence. But then, what would an anti BI extremist "Athiest" know?


Friday 15 December 2006

And Joe sod pottage

On December 13 Pastor Generalissimo Joseph Tkach wrote:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
The Worldwide Church of God has now completed the doctrinal study on the topic of ordaining women to the office of elder. As an introduction to the completed study, we have prepared a video presentation, which you can access by clicking on this link: The final chapter of the study is attached to this e-mail update, and will appear in the new issue of Together, which will be mailed today.

Which in most churches would be good news, proof that the community of believers was moving ahead into the twentieth century, and might eventually meet up with the rest of us in the twenty-first.

Yes, I'm definitely of the view that the priesthood of all believers means ALL believers, not half the believers. No exceptions. The trouble with the splits and splinters is that most have absolutely no concept of the priesthood of all believers: it's too dangerous to promote in a rigid, totalitarian sect. Even WCG fudges the issue by using the watered-down substitute “ministry of all believers.” Priesthood means responsibility, and that responsibility is on each and every one of us, not a ministerial elite.

Regardless, within the next fifty years I'd predict that there'll be a woman in the office of Archbishop of Canterbury and women ordained to the Catholic priesthood. The sexism that has been institutionalised in the historic Christian denominations can't survive any more than the tolerance of slavery survived the nineteenth century.

So here comes the Tkach church to climb on board the bandwagon. But wait just a minute...

Why would any decent, sensitive, self-respecting woman want to buy into the WCG concept of leadership? Leadership without accountability. Leadership without representation. Leadership that preens and postures as “Episcopal” when it's no such thing.

We know why so many blokes wanted to be ordained. Status. Not many cared for the genuinely pastoral side of ministry, few pursued theological enquiry beyond the stale crumbs offered at Ambassador College. But to stand above the common herd on a stage, strutting behind a lectern and having the sheep hang on every word; that can be quite a trip.

The new, downsized WCG may be a little different, but last I heard Joe Jr. hadn't tendered his resignation and announced a new policy where the church (the people or the local congregations) could choose its own president. Joe is President for Life, a bit like Robert Mugabe.

Last I heard the church's board was still largely a rubber stamp body made up of appointees. No prizes for guessing who appoints them.

And now women are eligible to be inducted into the old boys club? I suppose a few will be tempted to snuggle up to the offer. Maybe that'll be a good thing in the longer term. A year or so ago AW suggested that Sheila Graham would make a great church president, and most readers agreed! But the compromises needed will be, one suspects, more than most Christian women could stomach. Accepting the baubles of office in such circumstances is a bit like Esau selling his birthright for a bowl of pottage.

Meantime, just watch the last remaining conservative, middle aged, tithe paying blokes balk at the prospect of having to listen to a woman preach!

The best defense

I'm not sure who first coined the expression "the best defense is a good offense", but the lesson seems to have not been wasted on LCG's leading independent commentator, Dr Bob Thiel. In the midst of a series of appalling gaffes and unwelcome publicity surrounding the apostasy of Charles Bryce, Dr Bob responded by (1) saying the least possible on the subject, and (2) drawing the heat away by attacking UCG.

Gary Scott (XCG) links to another independent "COG writer" who has documented Bob's diversion. This guy, who goes under the pen name "Buckblog" (hereafter BB) is a UCG member, and he's definitely not amused.

It all begins with Bob inferring that UCG has gone soft on Halloween.

"...when I visited V. Kubik's web page today, I saw a picture that I at first thought was a Halloween party. So, I am really wondering if UCG is somewhat trying to see how close it can get to worldly practices--and while I do not believe that this is intentional on UCG's part, seeing that picture, combined with the Winter Festival, gave me pause for concern."

BB's response: "...he neglected to inform his readers that the costume party was December 9, nearly a month and a half after halloween so clearly there is no connection... One more cynical than myself might believe he unleashed his recent attack to take the focus away from other events."
Bob added on a little note shortly thereafter: "I am not trying to say that UCG endorses Christmas or Halloween (or that they ever will in the future). My basic point is that I have long had concerns that UCG has tended to be a bit more worldly-oriented than many other COGs, and thinking about these two events today did not lower those concerns."

You can read the full first posting by BB here.

But the story isn't over yet. Bob next cut out the offending comments without explanation or apology, and BB, far from satisfied, flew for the jugular.

"He first attempted to backtrack by saying that’s not what he was implying when it clearly was. Now he has removed all reference to it altogether treating his site like one would an Etch and Sketch, shake it and pretend what was there before wasn’t... He should also apologize and state he will be more careful about what is posted.

"I assume many people from different backgrounds check his site out. Those coming across yesterday’s original post who took what he said seriously could come away with a grossly distorted view of what is going on within UCG... he has a responsibility to not only remove it but to apologize for it on his site, not to pretend as if it never happened... I publicly call on him to do the honorable thing and post a mea culpa today."

You can read THAT full posting here.

And BB seems determined to see the issue through.

"This is day 3 of the Bob Thiel hostage crisis. His reputation and credibility remain captive to negligent error and gross misrepresentation. However this hostage crisis cannot be ended with hostage negotiators or a SWAT team but rather the truth.

"Yes, Mr Thiel the truth shall set you free. Just admit you messed up."

I'm ordering in the popcorn, as this could be a lengthy wait!

Wednesday 13 December 2006

"Excellent British-Israel Magazines"

Someone forwarded me a post by Craig White on one of the fundamentalist COG news groups. Craig, who hails from Australia, is a well-known apologist for BI in the Churches of God, and operates the Origins of Nations website. His message reads in part:

I would like to recommend two other balanced, quality British-Israel publications: ... - 'The Ensign Message' -

Intrigued at the possibility of "balanced, quality" BI material, I clicked across. What I found on the site was spiritual pornography of the most blatant kind in the form of an article called "Who Killed Christ?"
"Pastor" Sheldon Emry, currently rotting in hell, was a blatant anti-Semite and racist. His article has the sole purpose of perpetuating the obscene libel that Jews are Christ-killers. He was a leader of the "Christian Identity" movement, a deviation that melds Nazi sympathies with extreme biblicism. When he wasn't vomiting up filth about Jewish people, he was slagging off Blacks and Catholics.

Nice bloke! Very balanced. The quality speaks for itself.

"Emry was a major figure in the Christian Identity movement that argues that the White peoples are the Old Testament Israelites and, therefore, God's chosen people, Jews are Satanic in origin, and people of color are intended by God to be the servants of the Whites. Emry allied himself with the armed Identity group, the Citizens Emergency Defense System, and was frequently published in "Spotlight", the magazine of the anti-Semitic Liberty Lobby and, in the book sold by the CLR accused the Jews of starting World Wars One and Two, the Vietnam War, and the assassination of President Lincoln. Emry has also written denying the Holocaust." (Source)

This creep, a slimeball of the first order, is recommended to COG members for his "balance" and "quality"? To its credit, WCG - even under the Armstrongs - worked hard to distance itself from these extremists on the fringes of Fascism. The WCG version of BI was far more benign.

British-Israelism is usually as harmless as a thousand other loopy ideas that people adopt. But in the hands of sick, hate-promoting individuals and groups, it becomes something else again; something downright evil.

Monday 11 December 2006

Pack circus draws curious surfers

It's time to check out the month's rankings on Alexa, and the news is a mixture of bad and better.

Still in number one spot is Dave Pack's site, with another out of the same stable (Real Truth) in 3rd position. Both sites have been consistently tracking up since last month. A lot of the credit probably goes to smart marketing via ad links. Positions are unchanged except where noted.

01. Pack cult (RCG) 71,372
02. UCG 109,392
03. Real Truth (RCG) 151,903 (up from #5)
04. Born to Win (Dart) 159,725
05. WCG (Tkach) 186,239 (up from #7)
06. Bible Study 207,988 (up from #8)
07. Good News (UCG) 214,526 (down from #3)
08. Trumpet (PCG) 220,289 (down from #6)
09. Reluctant Messenger 263,689
10. Beyond Today (UCG) 270,988
11. AW Blog 327,689 (up from #13)
12. Tomorrow's World (LCG) 342,036 (down from #11)
13. Coulter 398,983 (down from #12)
14. COGwriter (Thiel) 408,141
15. Key of David (PCG) 533,148
16. ICG (Armstrong) 643,045 (up from #18)
17. Logon (Cox) 677,132
18. Vision (Hulme) 861,239 (up from #20)
19. CGG (Ritenbaugh) 915,331 (down from #16)

All other sites that we mentioned last time fell below the million mark. For those who like round numbers, the 20th position would probably go to The Journal (1,044,876).

Why include Reluctant Messenger? The webmaster appears to be a COG member, although a lot of other diverse material is carried on his site. At the very least it's worth a browse for the eclectic assortment on offer, ranging from the Bhagavad-Gita to the Gospel of Thomas (linked from the main page.)

The stats were sampled Monday 11 December PM (NZST).

Sunday 10 December 2006

The devil did it!

LCG's Douglas Winnail sounds the rallying cry in his latest member missive (December 7). Nothing original though, and not much that's particularly relevant either. After raising the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, Doug launches out on Kamikaze Chuck: it seems "the Devil did it!"

As members of the Church of God, we all need to remember that we are involved in a “spiritual war” not with “flesh and blood,” but with an evil and deceptive enemy (Ephesians 6:11-12) whose goal is not only to destroy the Church, but to deceive and devour each of us (I Peter 5:8). We need to be alert to the fact that Satan operates by devious methods (II Corinthians 2:11) and that we are all vulnerable to his attacks. For this reason, we must do our part to stay close to God through regular prayer and study (I Thessalonians 5:17) to nourish God’s Spirit so that we have the necessary spiritual discernment to perceive when Satan is working on us (II Timothy 1:6-7). We also need to stay focused on the big picture of why we are called and what our God-given mission is (Mark 16:15).

As many of you are already aware, Mr. Charles Bryce informed us last week that he has serious doctrinal differences with the Living Church of God (on wearing makeup, the explanation of Church eras, the definition of the gospel and Church mission, appropriate meeting halls, etc). He informed Mr. Meredith and me several times during phone conversations that it would be a waste of time to come to Charlotte to discuss the matter and that he would have to resign. Due to the adamant position that he has taken and his subsequent release of his list of issues to the entire ministry, we have had to terminate Mr. Bryce from being a minister with the Living Church of God. This was not a decision that we wanted to make, yet it was necessary for the protection of the Church and brethren. It is certainly our hope that Mr. Bryce will reconsider his actions. Up until last week, Mr. Bryce gave us no indication that he had serious concerns about any of these issues. He did not mention these issues during the years he served on the Council of Elders (he chose to resign from the Council a year ago when he moved to Texas). While he was Director of CAD he also had the opportunity to suggest changes in these areas, but nothing was said.

... The Scriptures inform us that the Church is given the charge to determine doctrine, not individuals (I Timothy 3:15), and we see how this operated at the council meeting in Acts 15. It is regrettable that Mr. Bryce did not follow these principles in this most recent situation. From calls that we have made around the country, it appears that very few ministers or members are sympathetic with the ideas in Mr. Bryce’s letter. Mr. Meredith is writing a letter to the membership to put this most recent situation into a bigger perspective. — Douglas S. Winnail

Actually Doug, you might think about tying your illustrious Presiding Evangelist firmly to a chair well away from writing implements and keyboards - just look at how he screwed up with his two letters last week!

It's XMAS Jim, but not as we know it

James Tabor's book The Jesus Dynasty has attracted the attention of top British Biblical scholar Geza Vermes (pictured). In his latest book, The Nativity: History and Legend, Vermes both lists it in his bibliography and notes that “The possibility that Panthera was the father of Jesus has been revived by James D. Tabor...” (167-168)

Also from the Vermes book, this quotation: “... the chances that Jesus was born on 25th December are 1 in 365 (or 366 in leap years). This date was invented by the Western church – as late as the fourth century under the emperor Constantine – as a way to replace the pagan festival of the Unvanquished Sun, and is first attested, to be precise, in a Roman calendar in AD 334.” (10)

The Nativity is published in the UK by Penguin, but not yet available in the US.

On other matters: A while back AW reported on the unexpected visit by UCG's president to LCG headquarters. The public statements from the two church bodies were, in true COG style, 95% smokescreen, and we've now been advised that the UCG minister whose actions led to the unprecedented meeting - an abortive attempt to take his congregation over into LCG - was Herberth Cisneros of El Salvador. All references to Cisneros now seem to have been wiped from UCG's websites.

Meanwhile, damage control on the Bryce defection seems well underway in LCG, judging from the approach by LCG minister Wally Smith.

Friday 8 December 2006

Life in the LCG - ponder this!

It's about time to give the LCG stories a break for a while, but first...

If you've ever wondered what life is like in some of the more patriarchal, authoritarian parts of the Church of God, here's a tale that may shock you.

It's the recent story of an elderly couple under the tender "pastoral care" of LCG minister Carl Ponder - much of it in his own words.

It almost defies belief.

Thursday 7 December 2006

LCG in trouble?

It's not always easy to know just how hard groups like LCG are impacted by negative events, but there are signs the Charles Bryce defection has left Meredith's church reeling. Others - like Syd Hull - have walked away, but Bryce was one of the sect's top guns, and the church can probably only cope with so much dissent before the rivets start popping.

Indicator 1: Bob Thiel's reluctance to cover the sorry tale. He has buried it in an obscure section of his website rather than airing it on the main news page. First coverage was a highly selective cut and paste from AW. Bob omitted what, in my view, was the most important part of Bryce's December 5 letter. His latest comments, however, amount to less than fulsome praise for the actions of LCG's leadership. If Rod is having trouble raising cheerleaders like Bob to his cause, things are looking pretty grim.

Indicator 2: The following comments from an LCG member were forwarded from one of the discussion boards. It seems there are some unhappy folk out there in the congregations.

"This morning I went on the and the lcg member site & there were then still sermons by Mr. Charles Bryce on these websites; tonight I did a search and they are already wiped out.

"We have not even been told officially that he's been marked, fired or disfellowshipped, yet the sermons have disappeared.

"The place I first learned about this situation was on cogwriter and that is not an "official" church website and yet, there was the info supposedly given to Mr. Thiel by Mr. Meredith.

"Why is nothing on the LCG Member Resources site?

"Doesn't all this blogging & posting & etc. as we've seen and found out about this situation just encourage gossip & bad attitudes?

"I don't understand. Why is/was it done this way? Why were we as a church, the body of Christ, given no opportunity to pray about this or fast about it with Mr. Meredith and the Elders?

"Mr. Bryce was an Evangelist, wasn't he? I don't think his letter was an attack; it just doesn't come across that way. In fact I've always agreed with what he states about the issue of make-up and can back up what I believe by what I saw happen in the 1980's when it was allowed & I saw what happened to the attitudes of women and then men & the singles etc. as I was one of them. I am confused and saddened by this situation & how it was/is being handled. We are going to pray about this; we all need to very seriously pray about this and ask God to lead us and show us the real Truth of the matter."

LCG members have suffered a number of significant hits since the terrible events in Wisconsin. Cannibalism by the Pack cult must be a continuing worry. The church struggles to hold its hardline identity against the Armstrong lunatics who now crowd it out on the fringes. With this latest crisis the agony is visible for all to see. The timing has also been an issue with nothing being released till after last week's services, and a whole week for things to fester before the members can gather for "damage control." Did Meredith really believe his ministerial emails wouldn't leak like a sieve?

Which raises the question, has Rod Meredith, now well past his prime, got what it takes to ride the tempest out, or is this the storm that will see the lifeboats launched? One thing seems certain, this is neither a robust nor an optimistic fellowship, and the fumbling of the Bryce affair is the last thing it needed at the moment.

Wednesday 6 December 2006

Exchange of Fire

Incoming to LCG ministers from Charles Bryce:

Dear Fellow ministers,

Mr. Roderick C. Meredith has made public, contents of a letter we sent to H.Q. marked "confidential". Therefore we feel you deserve the following clarifications to the false charges he has made:

Time Line of Recent Events:

1) We Fedex'ed (to avoid them getting lost or delayed in the Xmas mail) four letters to Charlotte on Wed. Nov. 28, 2006. They arrived there the next morning.

2) I heard back from Doug Winnail on Friday, Dec. 1, 2006. We discussed the letter and agreed to talk again the next week, on Wed or Thurs, about my coming to H.Q. for meetings.

3) Mr. Meredith called on Sunday, Dec. 3, 2006 to discuss the "situation". We had a very congenial, brotherly talk which concluded with friendship. He said Doug Winnail would call me, this week, to discuss our coming to Charlotte and that maybe we could work things out.

4) We received a letter from Doug Winnail on Monday, Dec. 4, in which he mentioned random thoughts and observations about his views (incorrect thought they certainly are) of me and my problems, among other things, and concluded by urging me to come to Charlotte to discuss the issues contained in my letter.

5) Then last night, Dec. 4, 2006, someone sent me a letter by Mr. Meredith (he neither sent me nor my son-in-law, Larry Solomon, a copy) to the ministry making totally false charges and allegations and stating that Larry Solomon and I have defected. We are now confused over these inaccurate, contradictory statements and mixed-signals

For instance, Larry and I have not resigned. We have not started our own "organization". We have not been told that we are fired (at least that we know of), and we have not made a final decision about going to Charlotte. We were waiting to talk to Doug Winnail, this coming Wednesday, as previously planned, before reaching a final conclusion about that question. Obviously, in the light of what has now been said by Mr. Meredith and sent all over the world via the internet-- except to us--that decision has now been made for us.

In conclusion, we are sending you a copy of my letter to Mr. Meredith. Instead of just going by what he said it said, please read it for yourself, unvarnished and without spin and then draw your own conclusions about the actual facts and truth in this whole matter. Thank you very much for your time.

With love and best regards,

Charles and Sharon Bryce

(Letter dated December 5 - You can read Chuckie's original Nov. 28 Fed-Ex letter here.)

Return strike from Spanky:

TO: All Ministers
FROM: Roderick C. Meredith
DATE: December 5, 2006

Dear Fellow Ministers,

Mr. Charles Bryce’s letter to the ministry just came on the e-mail and certainly deserves an answer. Sadly to say, Mr. Bryce puts an unusual “spin”—as is often the case—on what actually has been happening. On his third point, he says that he and I talked on the phone to discuss the “situation that we had a very congenial brotherly talk which concluded with friendship.” What Mr. Bryce does not mention is that he definitely indicated that he would not come into Charlotte, that he saw “no reason” to come into Charlotte since we had our “iron clad” position and that he, also, had his iron clad position. He made it very plain that he would not be coming. Then, I asked him very plainly, “Are you then going to split the Church, Charles?” He said, “No, not in that way. I am not going to send out a big attack letter, but will simply let people know what I feel and then they can call me or come to my home and discuss the situation. I will try to serve those people that come with me in that way.” He said, “I plan to resign quietly and let things develop in that way.”

Perhaps I should have asked him to officially resign—on the phone—right then. But, trying to be charitable, I was hoping he might still back down. But he did say that—since neither of us would change our positions—he would “have to resign.”

Also, he failed to mention that his son-in-law, Larry Solomon, had a long talk with me Sunday morning and acknowledged that he would follow Mr. Bryce in leaving the Church and doing a different type of work if Mr. Bryce chose to do that. He made that very clear—though in a low key way.

Therefore, because of all of this—and many other things which we know and don’t want to get into in starting a “battle of words”—we find it necessary to terminate Messrs. Bryce and Solomon from the ministry of the Living Church of God and from their membership therein. Both of them have clearly indicated that they plan to do another type of work. They clearly intend to follow their version of “Armstrongism”—directing their people to give up make-up, stop acknowledging there are other true churches of God, and presenting the Gospel only as the “Gospel of the Kingdom of God”—not mentioning in that context the “Good News of forgiveness of sins through Christ’s sacrifice” which Mr. Bryce clearly condemned in his letter to us.

They will apparently also teach all the other doctrinal points which they set forth in the letter which you all have and revive “Armstrongism” as it is interpreted by Charles Bryce. Again, fellows, Mr. Apartian and I knew Mr. Armstrong fifty times more than Mr. Bryce or Mr. Solomon. We know that he did not think in the tiny focus that they seem to project. He was innovative and forward looking and always wanted to “grow” in grace and knowledge and made changes from time to time in his approach to healing, make-up, Pentecost, divorce and remarriage and many other things as he went along. So we want to follow Mr. Armstrong as he taught us to. For he said, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” We certainly intend to do that, are doing that, and will continue to do that.

But the point is that we put Christ first! And we do not try to interpret every verse of the Bible through the lens of what we think Mr. Armstrong might have done. Rather, we follow Christ’s command, “Live by every word of God” (Luke 4:4). I am sure you understand these principles and I will be setting them forth soon in an even longer letter to all the brethren which you will soon be receiving. It is necessary for me, apparently, to “spell out” all these things as Mr. Armstrong had to do during the rebellion of 1974 wherein we lost about 30 ministers and 3,000 brethren. Again, we had this same type of upset in 1979 during the “Receivership Crisis”—and, at that time, lost a few dozen ministers and elders and many hundreds of brethren.

God is certainly “testing” His people and His ministry to see who is truly faithful to the government that He is now planning. He wants to see clearly who can be fully trusted to work as a “team” under His leadership and also find out who will be constantly looking for a “loose brick” and is “ready to leave” at almost any real or perceived error he can find. May God help all of you try to be faithful ministers of Jesus Christ and to see where He is working, where His Work is actually being done—now reaching the world with increasing power, and who is really following Mr. Armstrong as he followed Christ. For we certainly do want to follow Jesus Christ most of all!

Your brother in Christ,
Roderick C. Meredith

Oh what fun. Nothing like a good display of fireworks!

Tuesday 5 December 2006

Rod's Xmas Message

TO: All the ministry
FROM: Roderick C. Meredith
DATE: December 4, 2006

Dear Fellow Elders of Jesus Christ,

Greetings from Charlotte! An emergency situation has arisen causing me to want to write to you immediately. When Mr. Charles Bryce was dismissed from his post as the Director of the Ministry over a year ago, he stomped off as a very unhappy man, refusing to come and speak to me afterwards even though he was asked to do so twice by Dibar Apartian upon my behalf. He seemed to be licking his wounds and, we hear, was very unresponsive to many of the brethren there in the Texas area when they tried to call him and contact him for visiting and anointing. However he has now “made his move.” He sent a Fed-Ex package to us here in Charlotte on this past Thursday with identical letters enclosed for four of our Headquarters Evangelists—Apartian, Ames, Winnail and me. This letter explains how he is recreating his version of “Armstrongism.” He expresses that he is unhappy with a number of doctrines and teachings now, that seems a little strange to me, however, as Charles was with us for the last 11 or 12 years and suddenly decides to get upset now all of a sudden. His letter is simply a sort of “rehash” of the approach taken by Gerald Flurry and David Pack. He states his concern that, “LCG teaches that we live in a time of the ‘Greater Church of God’ made up of different branches or church groups.” Mr. Bryce goes on to say that this is wrong—indicating that we should not recognize these other groups as Churches of God.

He then says, “LCG seems to be preaching a mixed, confusing message about the gospel, i.e. that the gospel is the good news of forgiveness of our sins through Christ’s sacrifice and of the soon-coming kingdom and government of God and the name of Jesus Christ. There seems to be movement toward the gospel about Christ and the gospel of salvation.” He then goes on to state that Mr. Armstrong emphasized only the “good news of the kingdom of God”—and then indicates that us talking about Christ may be a dangerous thing!

He then states, “LCG teaches that several church eras exist contemporaneously and that we are living in the Laodicean era as a remnant of the Philadelphia church.” He thinks Mr. Armstrong taught something else and condemns us for this.

Later, he states, “LCG teaches that we have a three-fold commission. Mr. Armstrong taught the church has a two-fold commission—a) Preach the gospel and b) Feed the flock. The warning message is contained in that commission.” So Mr. Bryce here is implying we are wrong by apparently stating—from time to time that preaching the Ezekiel commission is part of our job. All of you know that I have never stated that the idea of the primary two-fold commission is wrong, but have indicated there are other things we should be doing also—just as Mr. Armstrong did.

Without going into every detail, fellow ministers, it is obvious that Mr. Bryce wants to recreate a certain version of Armstrongism and have his people follow that version—which he feels is set in stone. Near the end of his letter, Mr. Bryce states, “If all of us will come back to see the wrong places the church is in now and together get back to the faith once delivered—all the way back and not one iota short of it—we truly believe that God will pour out His blessing on His church and give us the real breakthrough we have all been anxiously waiting for since the beginning.” As you can see, fellow ministers, Mr. Bryce is adamant that we must change “not one iota” of what he thinks Mr. Armstrong was teaching at a particular point and time. However, Mr. Apartian and I who knew Mr. Armstrong fifty times better than Mr. Bryce spent thousands of hours with him both recognize—as Mr. Ames stated—“Mr. Armstrong was an innovating and forward looking man and would grow, modify and ‘tweak’ various doctrines and teachings from time to time when Christ led him to.” As you men know, Mr. Armstrong did change his approach to divorce and remarriage, to healing and medicines, to makeup—in fact back and forth three different times—and to Pentecost, and to quite a number of other things. He definitely would keep growing and modifying if he were still alive. Frankly, he would be surprised that we would think that he would not do this and that some individuals are now teaching that his ideas—at a particular time of their creation—were all “set in stone” as the Ten Commandments! Mr. Armstrong was not like that! So we, as a Church, intend to follow Mr. Armstrong and honor him as he told us to. For Mr. Armstrong said again and again, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” We intend to do that. And, as he would have wished, we intend to put Christ first and grow in grace and in knowledge as we are now in the 21st century, situations change and we need to move forward in many different ways as we reach the entire world in our modern time. We are not ever going to change or modify the Sabbath, the Holy Days or any basic doctrines—as I am sure you all know. But we do intend to follow Jesus Christ and His standards—not the ideas brought up in different ways by the likes of Gerald Flurry, David Pack and Charles Bryce. We are going to reach the whole world with the Gospel of the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. That is what God commands us to do, and I hope all of you men will join with us fervently and prayerfully in doing this. I hope the above information can help you answer the questions of our brethren as they hear about Mr. Bryce’s defection—along with his son-in-law, Larry Solomon, and perhaps a number of local elders or those who decide to join in this division which they are causing within the Church of God. Unfortunately, after a year or two, the “excitement” of their new organization will fade and they will probably sink into the obscurity that so many others have done who leave the Work which the living Jesus Christ is now doing through us—as He did through Mr. Armstrong. We will appreciate your communication, your prayers and your loyalty at this time.

Your brother in Christ,
Roderick C. Meredith

Commentary: Rod must've been thoroughly rattled - he calls the Church of God "Armstrongism"! An early reaction from one well informed LCG reader: "Remember how Meredith assured us all that Bryce had been begging and pleading to leave Charlotte and take up the quiet life of a regional pastor? Ah, how history changes. Now we are told he "stomped off as a very unhappy man." The rest of the letter speaks mostly for itself...

So far no comment on the Bob Thiel site.

Monday 4 December 2006

Deck the Halls

Okay, so it's an annual tradition. The AW carol and limerick-fest has been around for a few years now, and to be honest, I thought that when the old website disappeared that'd be the last of it. But it seems the poetic drive is still strong in us, like the Jedii Force. So here we go again...

My original suggestion was that contributions go straight to a dedicated Google group, from whence the ripest items could be plucked to adorn the blog. But what the heck - post 'em here as a comment.

Rules? A COG connection, humor, and possibly a seasonal theme, though that's optional.

Inspiration? From last year come these masterworks.

There was an old dude known as Herb
Who found Miss Ramona superb
‘Til she, tired of his con,
Put her makeup back on
Then he dumped her arse out on the curb.

Lea Anne

There was an old codger called Rod
Whose beliefs were incredibly odd
He said "the world's endin'
"Your tithes I'll be spendin'
"Just pretend that they're going to God."



Away in Ohio, no brains in the head
The little Lord David, speaks till we're near dead
The stars in his eyes looking out 'or the crowd
Doth hear that their babies are crying too loud

How dare thee interrupt me, The Lord David said
Doth Satan infest thee, sweet babies not fed
I ne'er have this sermon e'er given before
So Deacons and Elders now guard all the doors

Amazing to me, who would know, sure not I
Am Watcher, Apostle and the special guy
There is none just like me, so far as we know
So stick in thy chairs, for proof texting we go

The members are groaning, it's quarter past four
We've been here forever, please open the door
Oh no, I'm not finished, said Lord Dave most High
And let not thy babies not fed start to cry.

For Satan doth know I am special as he
And hates me so much for the guy that I be
My work is just awesome, the hits not a few
So give me your money, I've God's work to do.

Oh please Dear Lord David, just open that door
So I can revive my sweet child on the floor
For long of hot air is thy sermon today
I feel my life force slowly ebbing away.

We beg thee Lord David, get right to the point
And do not our eyes with your salve more anoint
For two hour sermons do make our butts sore
Please David, Lord David, Please open the doors


Dennis Diehl

Sunday 3 December 2006

Adam didn't do it!

Are we all really bad people who deserve to fry in an eternal place of punishment; imperfect, flawed and inherently evil? That's the view of the twice-born brethren who have a very dim view of human nature indeed. The Eternal is just so downright Holy, in the impassibly, impossibly Calvinist sense, that he (oops, He) just can't wait to clean His Multiverse up by purging Creation of these disgusting, dirty, sinful beings who screwed up His master plan - us.

"I a poor miserable sinner confess unto thee all my sins and iniquities with which I have offended thee and for which I justly deserve Thy temporal and eternal punishment…" (Lutheran liturgy)

Trouble is that the myths of Genesis - Adam sinning, a perfect Edenic world corrupted by human choice - is clearly well short of the mark. Millions of years before the first humans spread abroad on the African plains, carnivorous dinosaurs preyed on their herbivorous cousins. Death was a reality from well before the first trilobite did the backstroke off Gondwanaland. The travail of agony and unfairness, blood and pain, goes back well beyond any apple eating homo sapien. Adam didn't do it.

Dennis Diehl tackles these issues in his latest column, and as usual it's well worth clicking across.

Tuesday 28 November 2006

10 Bad Reasons to go "Bah, humbug!"

Unlike some of the articles the GN crew write, I usually take time to read Scott Ashley's stuff. Not to say I agree with him much, but judging from past correspondence he's a polite and generous spirited fellow. Melvin Rhodes I avoid. If I wanted right-wing rhetoric and Gingrich quotes (oops, sorry Mel, I mean MISTER Gingrich) I could read WorldNetDaily.

Anyway, in the latest GN Scott has reworked an ancient article from Tomorrow's World (the WCG one, not the pallid imitation from LCG) on why reasonable folk should shun the seasonal festivities of Xmas. I could be wrong, but I believe David John Hill churned out the original version in the early seventies. At the time I was mightily impressed.

So here's Scott's updated Ten Reasons, with some impertinent personal comments attached:

(1) Christmas is driven by commercialism. Indubitably. But so is Mothers Day.

(2) Christmas is nowhere mentioned in the Bible. Very true. Nor is Independence Day, Queen's Birthday, Labour Day or Waitangi Day (feel free to choose whichever relates to your jurisdiction.) Oh, and nor is Mothers Day.

(3) Jesus wasn't born on or near Dec. 25. Agreed. Then again, those of us in the Dominions loyal to Her Majesty (God bless 'er) officially celebrate her natal day on a date other than her actual birthday. Is that a problem?

(4) The Christmas holiday is largely a recycled pagan celebration. Absolutely. But so are the Old Testament Holy Days. Agricultural festivals were deeply rooted in the culture of the Middle East, and versions of Tabernacles, Pentecost and so forth all had their parallels in older fertility celebrations: check out any half-decent reference work. If it was good enough for God to recycle those dubious events, what's the beef with Mithras' birthday? Plenty of precedent!

(5) God condemns using pagan customs to worship him. Yes indeed. But if you take a pagan custom (an agricultural festival in the Autumn perhaps) and retread it with new significance, then it obviously isn't a pagan custom any more.

(6) Christmas is worshipping God in vain. Um, no. Not unless you believe worshipping God with genuine motives is capable of being in vain. If you think that, then you've confused means with ends. Can honest, loving acts of praise and thankfulness ever be in vain?

(7) You can't put Christ back into something He was never in. This is just slogan splitting. "Let's put Christ back into Xmas" is a PR line, probably dreamed up by an American ad agency, and I agree with Scott that it's not a very good one. But hold it, what if we said "let's put Christ back in the center of our family life"? Sound any better? But Christ was apparently a bachelor who on one occasion snubbed his dear old mum and siblings (Mark 3:31-35.) Does that mean that the thought behind the saying is wrong? If people "regard the day" in the sense Paul speaks of, who's to say Christ isn't there for them?

(8) The Bible nowhere tells us to observe a holiday celebrating Jesus Christ's birth - but it clearly does tell us to commemorate His death. The Bible nowhere tells men to wear suits and ties to Sabbath services - but this doesn't worry Richard Pinelli overmuch. The Bible nowhere mentions Winter Sports festivals for teens, SEPs or talent shows. Setting Christmas in opposition to the Lord's Supper is sheer sleight of hand: the two go together quite nicely.

(9) Christmas obscures God's plan for mankind. Oh, come on. If the festivals so clearly portray "God's plan", how come Judaism seems to have missed the obvious? Anyone who thinks this argument holds water should do a little reading on the significance Jews find in their festivals. Regrettably, to quote Scott out of context, the COG festivals are "a hodge-podge of unbiblical customs and beliefs thrown together with a few elements of biblical truth." I mean, does even Scott erect a booth in his back yard to celebrate Tabernacles the Biblical way?

(10) I'd rather celebrate the Holy Days Jesus Christ and the apostles observed. Okay, first valid reason. It's a choice, a preference, and fair enough. However I'm not so sure you could argue that Paul continued to observe the Holy Days, but that's opening up a whole extra issue.

Actually, I'm not fussed about Xmas. Those carols in the stores drive me nuts. But I recollect Xmases past when, as a kid, the extended clan would gather, the smell of pine needles in the house, the excitement of waking early on Xmas morning, shelling pea-pods as my part in the feast of home grown produce accompanying a roast meal, the pulling of Christmas crackers and the cautious consumption of Xmas pudding drowned in custard and cream (cautious because there were "thruppences" buried in that thing and you could break a tooth!) Pagan? C'mon Scott, get a grip.

Sunday 26 November 2006

Ronnie warns the world

"The end-time has come. Hundreds of millions will die in the worst time of tribulation the world has ever known. You need to be informed so you can know how to respond."
(Ronnie Weinland's COG-PKG website)

Weinland claims that "this coming year (2007) is the preparation year for the church (His Church), he claims that 2008 is the year of the final witness to the world."
(WCG Alumni post)

The End is nigh! Prophecy is being fulfilled!

Yeah, right.

Since the disappointment of 1972, any number of self-appointed "watchmen" have been waggling their tonsils and announcing the impending tribulation. Take Willie Dankenbring for example. "His latest significant failure was in stating that Bill Clinton would be successor to Kofi Annan as the U.N. Secretary" (WCG Alumni post)

The method of preference is "strongly suggested possibility." The typical Herbal Prophet begins with tentative phrases such as "could it be that next year will see X happen?" ... then they proceed as if it's a dead certainty before exhorting the sheep to "dig deep" for the final push.

Then they blame the sheep for jumping to conclusions when nothing happens!

But back to Ronnie. The former UCG elder, now running his very own designer sect, COG-PKG, has written a book all about 2008. And lo, he doesn't seem to be prevaricating about his chosen dates. Thus saith Ronnie:

"From now until the latter part of 2008, many prophecies are going to begin to be fulfilled, especially the Seven Thunders of the Book of Revelation, which the apostle John saw but was restricted from recording. Those thunders are revealed in this book, as well as detailed accounts of the final three and one-half years of man's self-rule on earth, which are recorded in the account of the Seventh Seal of Revelation.

"Some of these prophecies concern the demise of the United States over the next two years, which will be followed by man's final world war."

But let's cheat and flick to the last page of this insightful opus:

"As the spokesman of God’s two end-time witnesses and as His end-time prophet, I have fulfilled my responsibility in placing the contents of this book before you. What you do with it is up to you. Indeed, only a very short time remains before it will be evident that I am who I say or that I am not [Yes, it's all about Ronnie - GR]. In the past 1900 years, have you ever read or heard of a publication from any religious leader who has made such claims, laying out such a precise pattern for the near future with such precise timelines? You have not! [Yes we have! - GR] This is the evidence (witness, testimony) of the true God of Abraham!"
And pretty shonky evidence it is.

To his credit he's not selling the thing. You can get a copy for free either in hard copy or via download, and hey, I suggest you do. A perfect demonstration of the blind stupidity of the "prophecy marches on" mentality. Drag it out in 2009 and, once you've checked your kneecaps*, rejoice in the knowledge that the world is still here and that, despite all our human failings, the Super-Fascist Kingdom of Ron has not arrived.

Now THAT'S Good News!

*"Every knee shall bow," which led the Armstrong exegetes to speculate that the returning Christ might need to use his "rod of iron" to smash a few kneecaps in order to achieve the desired outcome.

Monday 20 November 2006

Ranking the COGsters

It's been almost a year since anyone, to my knowledge, has been silly enough to try ranking the popularity of the various COG-related websites. To tell the truth, that was me then too, just before I pulled the plug on the old website.

Okay, so call me crazy, but here's the current list from No.1 down, using the services of Stats were sampled November 20, PM NZST. Beside the website name is the current 3-month ranking, and in brackets the ranking on November 19 last year (rounded to the nearest thousand.) To state the obvious, the lower the number the better the ranking. And, good grief, is it just me who's disturbed to see who Alexa has as the big enchilada?

01 RCG (Pack) 87,517 (125k)
02 UCG 107,423 (73k)
03 Good News (UCG) 161,876 (110k)
04 Born to Win (Dart) 163,410 (NA)
05 Real Truth (Pack) 173,739 (635k)
06 Trumpet (Flurry) 174,179 (298k)
07 WCG (Tkach) 183,529 (86k)
08 Bible Study 205,410 (124k)
09 Reluctant Messenger 223,244 (189k)
10 Beyond Today (UCG) 259,007 (NEW)
11 Tomorrow's World (LCG) 277,266 (250k)
12 CBCG (Coulter) 374,673 (577k)
13 AW Blog (hey, that's us!) 486,180 (NEW)
14 COGwriter (Thiel) 537,292 (575k)
15 Key of David (Flurry) 556,799 (936k)
16 CGG (Ritenbaugh) 713,755 (287k)
17 CCG (Cox) 752,166 (632k)
18 ICG (Armstrong) 772,562 (1574k)
19 PCG (Flurry) 952,958 (1010k)
20 Vision (Hulme) 972,049 (1675k)
21 ASK (Martin) 1,016,661 (553k)
22 The Journal 1,053,687 (709k)
23 PTM (Albrecht) 1,113,268 (375k)
24 LCG (Meredith) 1,203,741 (210k)
25 GTA (Armstrong) 1,247,213 (570k)

Poor old Rod! Outgunned again by the wiley Packatollah. And as for Greg Albrecht, he really should give up all the self promotion (check out the amazing greg-o-rama currently featuring on his site... eeeech!) and take up a nice retirement hobby.

Saturday 18 November 2006

"None of these diseases"

A very long time ago I remember reading a book called "None of These Diseases." The author, S.I. McMillen, set out to prove just how good those ancient regulations in Leviticus and Deuteronomy were in keeping the Israelites healthy through, among other things, superior sanitation.

Now along comes James Tabor and blows that particular thesis right out of the cistern.

Tabor will be known to most readers as one of the few genuine Biblical scholars to come out of the WCG. Now he's brought new light to the vexed "Essene hypothesis" at Qumran, and in the process buried the McMillen book with its own paddle (as in Deut. 23:13 KJV).

The Essenes were super-strict about following the Pentateuchal laws. Bodily wastes were buried outside the camp, and the members were required to go through a cleansing pool before reentering the community.

Sounds sensible: thoroughly enlightened in fact. McMillen certainly thought so. And it probably is, anywhere except the desert around the Dead Sea.

Now Tabor and colleague Joe Zias have found the latrines of Qumran just where they would be expected in conformity to those Old Testament regulations. This in itself supports the consensus that Qumran was an Essene community rather than a fort or villa (as some have suggested.)

But Tabor has dug deeper, if you'll forgive the pun, to get to the real dirt.

Take that obsession with cleaning up in the pool. This wasn't just a rinsing of the hands, the Essenes climbed right in, baptism style. The water became a source of cross infection.

And those latrines, placed at a healthy distance from the camp, were even worse. The Essenes, in burying the waste, aided the parasites in their quest for survival. Along came the next devout Essene, carried the parasites away on the soles of his feet (it was a largely male order) and straight into the dipping pool. The savvy Bedouin, in contrast, simply left their waste out in the desert sun where it would quickly be zapped by the rays and rendered harmless. Smart Bedouin.

Says Zias: "The graveyard at Qumran is the unhealthiest group I have ever studied... the figure for people surviving to 40 falls to 6%..." These righteous, observant folk were afflicted with "Ascaris sp. (human roundworm), Taenia sp. (a human tapeworm), Trichuris sp. (a human whipworm) and a human pinworm, Enterobius vermicularis, that had not previously been reported in the ancient Near East. The soil sample from the stable contained the eggs of Dricrocoelium sp., a common parasites of ungulates. The control samples from the surrounding desert areas contained no parasites, human or animal." (Tabor, see blog link below)

Over in Jericho, where the attitude to such things was more relaxed, the evidence points to much greater health and longevity. Sure proof of the adage in Ecclesiastes (7:16) about not being overly righteous.

Tabor notes: "As a group, the men of Qumran were very unhealthy, but I think... they would have seen their infirmities as punishment from God or their lack of purity..."

Which is truly sad.

Related links: Stories in The Independent (Britain) --- The NZ Herald --- Jerusalem Post --- James Tabor's Blog

Friday 17 November 2006

Clyde comes-a-callin'

Okay, so there's this "confidential" email in the in-tray today. A COG insider - connected with either the LCG or UCG - who has some observations to share about the recent entente between the respective bodies. You'll recollect that the Latter-day Nehemiah came down to kiss Papa Smurf's papal ring in Charlotte a few weeks back. Considering all the subsequent blather intended to squelch rumors of merger, you'd have to wonder why it happened at all.

For what it's worth, here's the gist of it. Fact or fiction, you decide.

Dateline: "South of the Border" (we're talking tacos here.) A UCG minister is screwed around by the Ohio oligarchy. He thinks he's going to be honorably retired, but his alleged wrongdoings are spilled out from the pulpit while he and his family are right there in the congregation. Not a good look. Result? Unhappy campers.

Unhappy campers then forge contacts with local LCG as they're severely hacked off. Hiring a minister across the Siegfried Line of organizational borders is discussed. Members start turning up at LCG services. We're talking LEAKAGE brethren. "I think," says the source, "the UCG tried to head it off at the pass."

Yes, dear readers, if the report is accurate this was a boundary dispute. The UCG poodle wandered into the neighbours' back yard to water their cucumbers and sniff the back end of the crusty old fox terrier.

Again, that is simply my version of the tale told (the original was poodle-free), and I'm happy to hear from anyone in the UCG willing to "set the record straight." One can only observe that it makes a tad more sense than the prim press statements from UCG or the "nothin' ain't happ'nin'!" protestations from Charlotte.

Believe it - or not...

Thursday 16 November 2006

Death watch

It seems incredible now, but the Worldwide Church of God was once, in the not-so-distant past, a vital religious movement with a growing membership, distinctive customs which intrigued outsiders, a massive media ministry, a small university operation and an intellectually vibrant dissident tradition snapping at its heels.

The early 1990s was in some ways "the best of times." The church had survived the death of its founder, and even prospered. Ambassador College in Big Sandy had finally been accredited and emerged as AU. A past generation of troublemakers were receding in the consciousness of the brethren: Garner Ted, Ernie Martin, Ken Westby et al. The only hint of disquiet came from the blazing guns of John Trechak's Ambassador Report, a continual irritant, but determinedly ignored.

Then all hell broke loose and the WCG exploded.

In 2006 the dust has largely settled and the ruins are exposed for all to see. The harvest fields are a wasteland. In place of an impressive, monolithic, money-rich empire are a thousand feuding, ineffectual warlords, each turned inward and focused on the squatter in the neighbouring paddock. A gaggle of pathetic imitators try to raise the flag here and there, but their best efforts to defy fate seem futile. The hand of God seems to have dashed the proud dreams and deceits of Herbert Armstrong and his myrmidons* to the ground.

For a while it made a rivetting soap opera. Who would split from whom? What would happen when leader X died? What nonsense would evangelist Y next declare "new truth" as he chased the declining tithe dollars?

The fire has died out. Only the ashes remain. The machinations of Rod Meredith, the Flurrys, Mark Armstrong, David Pack and others are a pathetic caricature of times past. The splinter sects have no credibility even among their peers, let alone the general public. The decline is terminal. Even the mothership has downsized and moved to Glendora where its Pastor General (salary undisclosed) can't even manage to effect a simple name change.

From the halcyon days when John Trechak battled the Armstrong Empire, through the comedy of errors and unparalleled incompetence that followed Armstrong's death, we have finally arrived at the End Times of Armstrongism. The Plain Truth once proclaimed that, in the Great Tribulation, the unfortunate non-members would practice cannibalism to survive. That was partly right: today, in a ironic parody, the various schisms feed on each other.

Welcome to the death watch.

*myrmidons: a favourite term used by John Trechak to describe the besuited army of yes-men that fed off the tithes. The New Penguin English Dictionary defines myrmidon as "a subordinate who carries out orders unquestioningly."

Sunday 12 November 2006

Showdown review - British Israelism

Greg Doudna is no slacker. His name should be familiar to anyone interested in the Dead Sea Scrolls beyond the “Michael Baigent level”. In fact, I tripped over his cognomen quite by accident in the notes to a recent text on that subject (along with fellow WCG alumnus Lester Grabbe.) So, imagine for a moment an academic of this calibre turning his attention on the time-dishonoured theories of British Israelism.

Imagine no longer, but pull on your coat and gumboots, because the blood is up to the fetlocks and rising!

There are four chapters on this theme in Showdown. Doudna begins with a surreal tale surrounding a student paper he wrote in the 1970s at Big Sandy, where he tried to show that the church had things back to front: Ephraim was America, not Great Britain, and the English/Australians etc. were Manasseh. The paper was ignored at the time.

Fast forward to the late 1980s, and Greg was looking for a publisher for the first edition of Showdown. A copy of the manuscript was sent to William Dankenbring, including an outline of that original paper, now a curiosity piece set amid a thorough deconstruction of the BI doctrine. Willie however was converted to the tribal reassignment on the spot, and eagerly began to proclaim the “new truth” - much to Doudna's consternation. But lo, more was to follow. Ken Westby adopted the theory (without crediting its source), Norm Edwards championed it for a while, there was coverage in The Journal, while an upstart New Zealander (modest bow) opined that the whole idea was totally absurd either way. Doudna notes:

“In my dreams I would rather see myself credited with helping to put the Anglo-Israel idea in the grave where it belongs. The idea is factually untrue as an historical claim and has borne bad fruit...” (p. 227)

So it is that Greg is responsible for an Armstrong heresy without even trying. Providence obviously has a droll sense of humour!

The other chapters constitute a focussed discussion of BI that deserves to be read by anyone even remotely drawn to the Lost Ten Tribes theories. To cut to the chase, the historical sources used to justify the doctrine were abused and misused and sometimes created out of the whole cloth. Doudna spends some time demolishing the Tea-Tephi/Jeremiah fiction. “It may be an interesting story,” he writes, “but it is completely fabricated.” And then he proceeds to demonstrate just that in merciless detail.

As an aside, Greg relates how he once asked the great Doctor Hoeh whether he'd ever publish a new edition of his Compendium. The good doctor replied no, giving the reason that he didn't want to contribute to the world's paper shortage!

But back to the demure princess Tea-Tephi for a moment. It seems even that grand old dame of Biblical jingoism, the British Israel World Federation, no longer regards TT as a historical character. The whole story was a fiction from the beginning, and the supposed references in ancient Irish annals about as traceable as a leprechaun's pot of gold.

Having stripped the finery from the fair princess, Doudna takes a pneumatic drill to the Lia Fail Stone, and, barely pausing for a chapter break, asks “Were the Scythians Israelites?” Another fascinating anecdote: AC instructor Allen Manteufel taught Ancient World History using the legendary Compendium, but his other source materials were conveniently unavailable. Greg provides the following verbatim snippet from one of Manteufel's classes:

“Noah took his sons on a world tour to show them the world around the Mediterranean in 10 years. He began by the Black Sea, circled the Mediterranean, and left a colony on the Tiber River in Italy. Noah then retired to Armenia... He took another world tour in 2210 BC and spent 9 years in Spain. Then Noah arrived in Italy, found Gomer had died and the Italians were being corrupted by Ham. Noah kicked out Ham and ruled Italy himself. Noah died and gave the land to Saturn and one of Joktan's kids.”

Such was the depth of scholarship at AC!

Doudna, on a roll, proceeds to demolish the work of Anne Kristensen (cited by BI enthusiasts as a credible authority) and then turns to Herbert Armstrong's assertions that Adam and Eve were white (Mystery of the Ages, 148.) Next to feel the heat is Raymond McNair's loopy thesis Key to Northwest European Origins. He concludes with some apt observations on the dark side of BI: GTA referring to the Inuit peoples as “grunting savages”, and Bryce Clark calling Native Americans “heathen savages” who were therefore quite rightly dispossessed.

There are other books dealing with British Israelism, but this one has the benefit of coming from the keyboard of an incisive thinker and genuine researcher who has actually walked a mile in the moccasins of this “hallucinogenic” delusion. In short, it's priceless.

(Link: Showdown at Big Sandy)

Thursday 9 November 2006

Showdown review ... Part 1

Did you know that:

*The opening of the Ambassador Auditorium was marked by the appearance of streakers?

*Herb Armstrong claimed to be related to US president Richard Nixon?

*GTA proposed cancelling the 1975 Feast of Tabernacles so the members could send in their second-tithe direct to Pasadena?

*Rod Meredith held a shouting match with Black WCG elder Tom Hall over racial matters in a Doctrinal Committee meeting?

*AC Pasadena refused to recognise many of the courses taught at its Big Sandy sister campus?

Well, I didn't, and I'm indebted to Greg Doudna for plugging a number of gaps from the WCG's past. More specifically, the way the world looked from Big Sandy in the Seventies.

The WCG can probably be grateful that Greg wised up and found better things to do, for it's just plain scary to imagine what he would have got up to if he'd stayed and risen through the ranks. Just reading through his doctrinal papers from that time – positions he has long since moved beyond – indicate that this guy would have raised more than a little hell along the way.

The book in question is Showdown at Big Sandy, and the subtitle says it all: “Youthful Creativity Confronts Bureaucratic Inertia...” Doudna provides insight on a number of characters from the times: Dean of Students Ronald Kelly, for example, who is described as a hard working “company man”... one of many “yellow pencils” cut from the same mold... [who] did not try to disguise his lack of interest in things intellectual.

There are also anecdotes involving Herman Hoeh, Kenneth Herrmann, GTA, Charles Dorothy and other characters. The chapters on tithing and creationism are excellent, the treatment of healing and medicine is downright sobering, and the discussion of the old God Family doctrine is simply fascinating. (Let's all not tell Bob Thiel about that chapter, as he'd probably misunderstand it and gloat insufferably.)

But my favorite section of Showdown deals with the British Israel teachings. This is the best discussion of the subject I've seen yet, and it begins with Greg, in his youthful enthusiasm, floating a brand new theory which was later to be adopted by Willie Dankenbring, Norm Edwards, Ken Westby, Old Uncle Tom Cobbly and all. Only trouble being that Greg had already abandoned the idea and was amazed to find it being trotted out again long after leaving WCG behind. More details in part two of the review.

Greg can be restrained at times. He makes only passing reference to Armstrong's alcohol problems and steers clear of the incest allegations altogether. At other times his critique can be biting (you can almost see the tooth marks.) I read the 500 plus pages of Showdown over three days, and was left wanting more! There are some slower moments as, for example, he explains how he once tried to make all those numbers in Daniel add up to apocalyptic significance, but I guess this just goes to show that there's hope for even the most dogged date-setter.

If you're interested in the story of the church, or you still secretly wonder whether the church had some things right when it taught that the English-speaking countries were descended from Ancient Israel, this is one volume you really should add to your bookshelf. More details at

(Part 2 will follow in a few days time.)